If you want to know how warmly to dress for the Twins’ home opener on April 7 consult a meteorologist. For the answers to the team’s biggest fantasy baseball questions read on:
1) Is this the year to jump on Joe Mauer? He will occupy the “Napoli Zone” in 2014. He will be a player carrying catcher eligibility, but he’s not expected to don the tools of ignorance for even one game. Looking at his injury history this is a good thing. Roughly 90% of his bumps and bruises look like catcher-specific maladies. He also hit for more power in 2013 than at any time in the Target Field era. That came with a small hike in strikeout rate and swinging strike percentage, but that appears to be a conscious decision to swap some contact for more damage. On two strike counts he whiffed more but also soundly beat his career OPS averages. The batted ball data suggests he is still in his prime as well. He finished third in line drive rate while popping up 1.1% of his fly balls. Consider him neck and neck with Buster Posey for fantasy’s top catcher this year.
2) Are there any starting pitchers worth considering in mixed leagues? First, rule out anyone from the 2013 staff. That leaves free agent signees Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco. Left handed batters tormented Hughes at New Yankee Stadium and Target Field plays well south of neutral for lefty home runs. The move is not a cure-all however, Hughes still has a middling strikeout rate and indicators well north of 4.00. Also, to borrow a phrase, the only park where a pitcher with a 46.0% fly ball rate will not have home run issues is Yellowstone.
Nolasco posted his best K/BB (3.59) since 2010 while mixing in more breaking balls. He induces far more grounders than Hughes, but Target will still help him contain left handers, against whom his FIP jumps 0.95 over his career. He has a long record of underperforming his indicators, so assuming a 3.50 ERA that his FIP and xFIP point to is not wise. Count me as uninterested in 12-team leagues, but both hold possibilities if the pool goes 15 teams deep. Nolasco has the better track record, but Hughes has youth on his side.
3) Is Brian Dozier legit? He ended up 17th at 2B, a tidy profit since he was acquired for nothing. His 18 HR immediately look out of place considering he hit five, nine and eight the previous three years. Hittracker’s data says fifteen found the no doubt/plenty range though. His 0.92 GB/FB does not raise a red flag either. He has been good for fifteen steals every professional season, but the 14/7 SB/CS ratio is disconcerting. The news is better on the plate discipline front, where he was more selective and made better contact. His BABIP was .278 but at least one calculator put his xBABIP at .317. While possible regression in power and steals exists there is upside in his .244 average. Take him as a late round MI with confidence.
4) Oswaldo Arcia flashed some exciting power, is he a sleeper? Coming off draft boards near pick 250, he is not a player many are clamoring for. That is a little strange considering he was 22 and hit fourteen home runs in just over half a season. He also had decent walk rates in 2011 and 2012. A quick check of some deeper hitting stats reveals a boatload of issues. He struck out in 31.0% of his PA with a 0.20 BB/K. His swinging strike rate was 15.8%. Craig Kimbrel could not even match that. “At least he is selective enough to work deep counts” you assume? Wrong, he hacked at 51.3% of pitches. Arcia had a .336 BABIP in 2013, but nothing suggests that he should carry an above average mark. He has a low speed score, his UZR/150 is terrible and his line drive rate was 17.1%. He could make the necessary adjustments to fully take advantage of his power in time, meanwhile expect a harsh sophomore slump.
5) So, when do we get a look at uber-prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano? Both were invited to major league training camp, but they have plenty of seasoning in store before cashing a big league paycheck. For one thing, there is no incentive for the Twins to start the service clock while they battle to stay out of the AL Centeral basement. Buxton only advanced to High-A ball in the regular year. That is impressive for a high school draftee in 2012 but does not ready him for the big leagues. He went to the Arizona Fall League and hit .212/.288/.404.
Sano made it to Double-A last year and appeared in more games than Xander Bogaerts did at the level in 2012. He has a shot at a late season call up, but first must remain healthy through some elbow trouble and must tame the strikeouts (over 25%). Steamer projects a .299 OBP if he faces big league pitching.