2014 NFL Mock Draft

A few notes before we begin. First, I’m not projecting trades in this draft, though in many cases, I did note where a trade would make sense. Secondly, this is not pick projection. These are the choices I would make if I were acting as the GM for all 32 teams. That’s why you’ll see some players be picked higher than they likely will be come draft night, and others who are picked lower (including a big name at #20). A full recap of the mock, with every team’s picks, will be up tomorrow. The number next to the team name is the overall selection in the draft. Without further ado, here’s the Hotcorner’s full 2014 NFL Mock Draft

1st Round

1. Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE: Lining up Clowney next to the league’s best pass rusher in J.J. Watt? Plenty of opposing QB’s will have nightmares about facing this duo.

2. St. Louis Rams: Sammy Watkins, WR: Offensive line won’t be as big of a need once Jake Long returns from injury, so the Rams finally get Sam Bradford a true #1 receiver.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Khalil Mack, OLB: The Jags took a tackle Luke Joeckel with the second overall pick in last year’s draft, so although Greg Robinson is tempting here, Jacksonville goes with the guy who can be the cornerstone of their defense.

4. Cleveland Browns: Blake Bortles, QB: I don’t think Bortles is the best quarterback in this draft right now, but the Browns aren’t built to win right now. If they can correct some of his mechanical flaws, he has the size and talent to become a great quarterback. This may be a reach for Bortles, in which case a tackle-needy team could trade up to this spot.

5. Oakland Raiders: Greg Robinson, OT: The Raiders get absolutely blessed here, as the best offensive lineman in this draft falls all the way to #5.

6. Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT: They miss out on Robinson, but Matthews, who could easily turn out to be the better player, is a pretty good consolation prize.

7. Tampa Bay Bucaneers: Justin Gilbert, CB: The Bucs need a wideout to play alongside Vincent Jackson, but I don’t think Mike Evans is worthy of a pick here. They can fill another need by picking up the best corner in the draft in Gilbert, and grab a receiver in the second round. Another spot where a trade down would make a lot of sense.

8. Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, QB: The Vikings are built around Adrian Peterson, which means that they are built to win right now. Bridgewater may not have the highest ceiling of the QBs in this draft, but he certainly has the highest floor. This is, in my opinion, a perfect fit

9. Buffalo Bills: Taylor Lewan, OT: Lewan is another potential cornerstone tackle. His experience playing cold-weather games in Ann Arbor makes him a perfect fit.

10. Detroit Lions: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S: The Lions desperately need help in the secondary, and Clinton-Dix is a plug-and-play safety. Zack Martin is another possibility here.

11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB: If the Titans are going to be moving to a 3-4 defense, they’ll need a pass-rusher like Barr, who is arguably the best 3-4 OLB in the draft.

12. New York Giants: Eric Ebron, TE: Eli Manning has played his best when he’s had consistent tight end play around him. Ebron is an athletic specimen who can split out wide like a receiver or help out as an extra blocker.

13. St. Louis Rams: Zack Martin, OT: Martin may be the perfect player for the Rams in this situation. He can be an absolutely serviceable left tackle until Jake Long returns from injury, and then play an exceptional right tackle.

14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT: Aaron Donald was arguably college football’s most dominant player this year, and he’ll help plug up a defensive line that was a weakness for the Bears last year.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, CB: The Steelers are battling age-issues up and down their roster. Dennard is a very talented corner who can step into coverage immediately and help plug some of this defense’s gaps.

16. Dallas Cowboys: Ra’Shede Hageman, DT: The Cowboys were shuffling players in and out of their defensive line all year. They desperately need stability in the unit. In Hageman, they get an absolute monster of a defensive tackle. Calvin Pryor is also an option here.

17. Baltimore Ravens: Mike Evans, WR: Some may be shocked that Evans could fall this far, but despite his size and leaping ability, he’s not that great of an athlete, with subpar separation skills. That said, he could play a role similar to that played by Anquan Boldin during their Super Bowl run two seasons ago– a possession receiver to complete the deep threat that is Torrey Smith.

18. New York Jets: Odell Beckham Jr., WR: It’s no secret that the Jets desperately need to beef up their wide receiving corps. Beckham gives them a legitimate deep threat but also an advanced route runner. He can help take some of the pressure off free agent acquisition Eric Decker.

19. Miami Dolphins: Morgan Moses, OT: The Dolphins need as much offensive line depth as possible after losing both Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin. Moses is a versatile lineman who can help fill the gaping holes left in the trenches.

20. Arizona Cardinals: Johnny Manziel, QB: Please, save the hate for letting the draft’s most polarizing player fall all the way to the 20th pick. I’m not exactly the biggest Johnny Football fan in the world, but if he’s given the chance to develop behind Carson Palmer in Arizona, and correct his major footwork issues, then he’s worth the risk at this point.

21. Green Bay Packers: Calvin Pryor, S: The Packers need a safety, and Calvin Pryor is a very good one. Perfect fit.

22. Philadelphia Eagles: Marqise Lee, WR: Lee won’t be able to immediately feel the void left by DeSean Jackson, but he’s a really talented receiver who has the best chance after Watkins to be the top receiver in this class.

23. Kansas City Chiefs: Brandin Cooks, WR: Cooks isn’t the best fit for the Chiefs, as they aren’t really a vertical offense, but he’ll give Andy Reid another potential weapon who can take some of the load off of Dwayne Bowe.

24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kyle Fuller, CB: One of the draft’s biggest risers, Fuller fills the Bengals’ biggest needs.

25. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB: Verrett is undersized, but his talent makes up for it.

26. Cleveland Browns: CJ Mosley, ILB: It’s not the biggest need for the Browns, but he’s too good of a value to pass up here. He can be an instant starter for the Browns.

27. New Orleans Saints: Bradley Roby, CB: Another team in need of a cornerback. Roby has some character questions, but if there’s a team that can handle that, it’s the Saints.

28. Carolina Panthers: Cyrus Kouandjio, OT: The Panthers need receiver help but also need a future left tackle. Kouandjio has the prototypical left tackle measurements and is only 20.

29. New England Patriots: Timmy Jernigan, DT: Jernigan is an explosive defensive tackle who can help against the pass and the rush. He’s sorely needed on a thin Pats D-line.

30. San Francisco 49ers: Cody Latimer, WR: Another fast riser, Latimer barely cracks the first round for the receiver-needy Niners after a huge pro-day. Niners could certainly trade up with their abundance of picks.

31. Denver Broncos: Ryan Shazier, OLB: Shazier is an athletic, versatile linebacker who can play as a weakside outside linebacker or even at inside linebacker in a pinch. Fills a void left by Wesley Woodyard.

32. Seattle Seahawks: Allen Robinson, WR. Robinson is a big, physical receiver who complements Percy Harvin well.

 2nd Round

33. HOU: Derek Carr, QB: The Texans get a first round talent and their QB of the future.

34. WAS: Lamarcus Joyner, CB. A versatile defensive back fills at least one big hole.

35. CLE: Marcus Roberson, CB. A pretty technically sound corner who can effectively fill the void next to Joe Haden.

36. OAK: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB. A star at Tony Romo’s alma mater who has the potential to develop into a star.

37. ATL: Kony Ealy, DE. Falcons fill a major need with this talented pass-rusher.

38. TB: Davante Adams, WR. A solid #2 receiver who complements Vincent Jackson well.

39. JAX: Zach Mettenberger, QB: The Jags get arguably the strongest arm in the draft class. He’s a work in project, but you have to like what you see so far.

40. MIN: Scott Crichton, DE. Jared Allen can’t get after opposing QB’s for ever, so they get their future with this pick.

41. BUF: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE: A very athletic tight end who fills a need.

42. TEN: Antonio Richardson, OT. The former Vols standout stays in-state with a chance to become a dominant left tackle.

43. NYG: Stephon Tuitt, DE. Provides a pass-rushing element that the Giants have lacked since their last Lombardi Trophy.

44. STL: Aaron Colvin, CB. A pretty technically sound corner who can probably play right away, but isn’t a superstar.

45. DET: Kelvin Benjamin, WR. The Lions get the player who may be the perfect complement to Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate.

46. PIT: Jace Amaro, TE. Another athletic tight end, who fills a huge hole on offense.

47. DAL: Deone Bucannon, S. The Cowboys get their badly needed safety.

48. BAL: Ja’Wuan James, OT. Replaces Michael Oher at right tackle– may be better than Oher.

49. NYJ: Jeremiah Attaochu, OLB. Jets get a long-term solution in their 3-4 pass rush.

50. MIA: Joel Bitonio, OT. Another versatile offensive lineman for the Dolphins.

51. CHI: Jimmie Ward, S. The Bears need a safety more than anyone in the league.

52. ARI: Terrence Brooks, S. The Cardinals need a long-term solution at safety.

53. GB: DeMarcus Lawrence, DE. The Packers need to upgrade their pass rush.

54. PHI: Ahmad Dixon, S. A lot of teams need to upgrade the safely spot.

55. CIN: Louis Nix, III, DT. At this point in the draft, Nix is an absolute steal for the Bengals.

56. SF: Pierre Desir, CB. The Niners get a talented, albeit raw, small-school standout

57. SD: Paul Richardson, WR. The Chargers get a legitimate deep threat in Richardson.

58. NO: Jack Mewhort, OT. He’s probably a right tackle, but the Saints need a ton of O-line help.

59. IND: Jordan Matthews, WR. With their first pick in this draft, the Colts finally get Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton some help.

60. CAR: Keith McGill, CB. Another big cornerback, he helps a mediocre group of defensive backs.

61. SF: Marcus Martin, C. It may be a little early for a center, but this is a glaring need.

62. NE: Weston Richburg, C. See above.

63. DEN: Jarvis Landry, WR. Helps fill the void left by Eric Decker.

64. SEA: Cameron Fleming, OT. He may be a bit of a reach here, but the Seahawks really need a starting-caliber right tackle.

 3rd Round

65. HOU: Daquan Jones, DT

66. WAS: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB

67. OAK: Dee Ford, DE

68. ATL: Troy Niklas, TE

69. TB: Xaveir Su’a-Filo, G

70. JAX: Bruce Ellington, WR

71. CLE: Donte Moncrief, WR

72. MIN: Brock Vereen, S

73. BUF: Chris Borland, ILB

74. NYG: Phillip Gaines, CB

75. STL: Dion Bailey, S

76. DET: Bashaud Breeland, CB

77. SF: Dominique Easley, DT

78. DAL: Marcus Smith, DE

79. BAL: Louchiez Purifoy, CB

80. NYJ: Jaylen Watkins, CB

81. MIA: Bishop Sankey, RB

82. CHI: Antone Exum, CB 

83. CLE: Ka’Deem Carey, RB

84. ARI: Vic Hampton, CB

85. GB: C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE

86. PHI: Brent Urban, DT

87. KC: Trai Turner, G

88. CIN: Martavis Bryant, WR

89. SD: Will Sutton, DT

90. IND: Adrian Hubbard, OLB

91. NO: Kyle Van Noy, OLB

92. CAR: Kevin Norwood, WR

93. NE: Brandon Coleman, WR

94. SF: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE

95. DEN: Trent Murphy, DE

96. MIN: Devin Street, WR

97. PIT: Gabe Jackson, G

98. GB: A.J. McCarron, QB

99. BAL: Tom Savage, QB

100. SF: Robert Herron, WR

 4th Round

101. HOU: Carlos Hyde, RB

102. WAS: Billy Turner, OT

103. ATL: Chris Smith, DE

104. NYJ: Cyril Richardson, G

105. JAX: Tevin Reese, WR

106. CLE: Craig Loston, S

107. OAK: Josh Huff, WR

108. MIN: Brandon Thomas, G

109. BUF: Preston Brown, ILB

110. STL: Aaron Murray, QB

111. DET: Nevin Lawson, CB

112. TEN: Shaq Evans, WR

113. NYG: Caraun Reid, DT

114. JAX: Kareem Martin, DE

115. NYJ: Marcel Jensen, TE

116. MIA: Seantrel Henderson, OT

117. CHI: Tre Boston, S

118. PIT: John Brown, WR

119. DAL: David Yankey, G

120. ARI: Carl Bradford, OLB

121. GB: Ego Ferguson, DT

122. PHI: James Gayle, DE

123. CIN: Logan Thomas, QB

124. KC: Dontae Johnson, CB

125. SD: Jeremy Hill, RB

126. NO: Jalen Saunders, WR

127. CLE: John Urschel, G

128. CAR: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, OT

129. SF: Telvin Smith, OLB

130. NE: Jake Murphy, TE

131. DEN: Ross Cockrell, CB

132. SEA: Taylor Hart, DE

133. DET: James Hurst, OT

134. BAL: Dez Southward, S

135. HOU: Mike Davis, WR

136. DET: Colt Lyerla, TE

137. NYJ: Jeff Janis, WR

138. BAL: Jared Abbrederis, WR

139. ATL: Charles Sims, RB

140. NE: Jeoffrey Pagan, DE

5th Round

141. HOU: Dexter McDougle, CB

142. WAS: Kelcy Quarles, DT

143. TB: Tre Mason, RB

144. JAX: De’Anthony Thomas, RB

145. CLE: Damian Copeland, WR

146. SEA: Lamin Barrow, OLB

147. ATL: Andre Williams, RB

148. MIN: Michael Campanaro, WR

149. BUF: L’Damian Washington, WR

150. JAX: Travis Swanson, C

151. TEN: Garrett Gilbert, QB

152. NYG: Max Bullough, ILB

153. STL: Chris Watt, G

154. NYJ: Ed Reynolds, S

155. MIA: Christian Jones, OLB

156. CHI: Yawin Smallwood, ILB

157. PIT: Aaron Lynch, DE

158. DAL: Dan McCullers, DT

159. JAX: Matt Hazel, WR

160. ARI: Dakota Dozier, OT

161. GB: Rashaad Reynolds, CB

162. PHI: Terrance Mitchell, CB

163. KC: Arthur Lynch, TE

164. CIN: A.C. Leonard, TE

165. SD: Brandon Linder, G

166. IND: Ty Zimmerman, S

167. NO: Dri Archer, RB

168. CAR: Anthony Steen, G

169. NO: Russell Bodine, C

170. SF: Shayne Skov, ILB

171. DEN: Justin Britt, OT

172. SEA: Chris Kirksey, OLB

173. PIT Andrew Jackson, ILB

174. NYG: Charles Leno, OT

175. BAL: Ronald Powell, OLB

176. GB: Bryan Stork, C

6th Round

177. HOU: Matt Patchan, OT

178. WAS: Pat O’Donnell, P

179. JAX: Zach Fulton, G

180. CLE: Shamar Stephen, DT

181. HOU: Richard Rodgers, TE

182. ATL: Jordie Tripp, OLB

183. CHI: Bene’ Benwikere, CB

184. MIN: Terrance West, RB

185. TB: Michael Sam, DE

186. TEN: James White, RB

187. NYG: Wesley Johnson, C

188. STL: Anthony Johnson, DT

189. DET: Marion Grice, RB

190. MIA: Ryan Groy, G

191. CHI: Josh Mauro, DE

192. PIT: Isaiah Lewis, S

193. KC: David Fales, QB

194. BAL: Storm Johnson, RB

195. NYJ: Avery Williams, ILB

196. ARI: T.J. Jones, WR

197. GB: Bennie Fowler, WR

198. NE: Keith Wenning, QB

199. CIN: William Clarke, DE

200. KC: Isaiah Lewis, S

201. SD: Prince Shembo, OLB

202. NO: Spencer Long, G

203. IND: Trey Hopkins, G

204. CAR: Antonio Andrews, RB

205. JAX: E.J. Gaines, CB

206. NE: Rob Blanchflower, TE

207. DEN: Marqueston Huff, CB

208. SEA: Cody Hoffman, WR

209. NYJ: Crockett Gillmore, TE

210. NYJ: Justin Ellis, DT

211. HOU: Conor Boffeli, G

212. CIN: Jabari Price, CB

213. NYJ: Ben Gardner, DE

214. STL: Jordan Zumwalt, OLB

215. PIT: Howard Jones, OLB

7th Round

216. HOU: Khairi Fortt, OLB

217. WAS: Jeremy Gallon, WR

218. CLE: Tom Hornsey, P

219. OAK: Zurlon Tipton, RB

220. ATL: Allen Hurns, WR

221. TB: Stephen Morris, QB

222. JAX: Zach Kerr, DT

223. MIN Jake Pedersen, TE

224. BUF: Walt Aikens, CB

225. CAR: Maurice Alexander, S

226. STL: Cassius Marsh, DE

227. DET: James Stone, C

228. TEN: Nate Freese, K

229. DAL: Chaz Sutton, DE

230. PIT: Khyri Thornton, DT

231. DAL: Morgan Breslin, OLB

232. IND: Dre Hal, CB

233. NYJ: Tyler Larsen, C

234. MIA: Josh Stewart, WR

235. OAK: Kendall James, CB

236. GB: Cornelius Lucas, OT

237. PHI: Marquis Spruill, OLB

238. DAL: Tajh Boyd, QB

239. CIN: Jonotthan Harrison, C

240. SD: Terrence Miller, TE

241. STL: Jaz Reynolds, WR

242. SF: Kain Colter, WR

243. SF: Chris Whaley, DT

244. NE: J.C. Copeland, FB

245. SF: Matt Hall, OT

246. DEN: Jemea Thomas, S

247. OAK: George Uko, DT

248. DAL: Deandre Coleman, DT 

249. STL: Lache Seastrunk, RB

250. STL: Trey Millard, FB

251. DAL: Jonathan Newsome, DE

252. CIN: Solomon Patton, WR

253. ATL: Jonathan Brown, OLB

254. DAL: Ryan Hewitt, FB

255. ATL: Jordan Lynch, QB

256. HOU: Beau Allen, DT

2014 MLB Preview: Atlanta Braves

As always, for a full glossary of statistical definitions, go to http://www.fangraphs.com/library.

Prediction: 2nd place NL East

2013 Recap: The Braves kind of came out of nowhere in 2013, and surprised a lot of people en route to their NL East title. The offense was led by a breakout campaign from Freddie Freeman, the pitching from breakout years from Kris Medlen and Mike Minor. And don’t forget Craig Kimbrel, the best closer in the league.

2014 Preview: Ervin Santana was blessed by two things in 2013: A sudden drop in BB/9 (from 3.08 to 2.18) and a very low BABIP (.267). I’d expect the walks to shoot back up considerably, the BABIP to do so only slightly– both to slightly above Santana’s career averages. The makes his ERA fall somewhere between a 3.50 and 3.90. Mike Minor’s 42.9% FB% worries me, because that means he could see a serious ERA spike if more of those fly balls turn into home runs. I think his HR/FB will land somewhere between 2012’s 11.7% and 2013’s 8.8%– in other words, a little less 10.5%, which would leave him with an ERA just below 2013’s xFIP of 3.64. I think his BB/9 will rise slightly, which should leave him right around a 3.55 ERA. I think Julio Teheran can develop into the ace of this staff. His 8.24 K/9 and 2.18 BB/9 are both terrific. I think we’ll see the BB/9 rise up to around 2.60, but I think his K/9 will rise as well as he develops some feel for his changeup. Nothing about 2013 points to significant regression. This a 2.90 ERA guy for me. With Kris Medlen out for the year, I’m not really sure which starters fall into line behind those three. I’m not a big Alex Wood fan. His delivery has a lot of moving parts, and is difficult to repeat– he seems more like a reliever to me. Aaron Harang just doesn’t have the stuff or command to be a very successful big league pitcher anymore. Offensively, Freddie Freeman is legit– his peripherals seem to indicate a near exact replication of his excellent 2013 campaign in 2014. You might see his average and his slugging percentage drop a couple of points as his LD% and HR/FB% drop ever so slightly, but that’s still an incredible player. Jason Heyward is one of my big breakout players this year. Now that he’s hitting lefties, I think he’s due for a BABIP spike to around .310, as well as a power bump as he gets older. That translates to roughly a .280/.360/.470 line. I think Justin Upton’s FB% will rise this year, but his HR/FB will fall. That, combined with a BABIP that I think will also fall, makes Upton a .250/.350/.480 player for me. Andrelton Simmons’ only value as a hitter comes from the fact that he doesn’t strike out that much. He has moderate pop, but it would be a fools errand to assume he’ll hit 17 dingers again this year. He doesn’t hit, and doesn’t walk. He’s an amazing defensive shortstop, which makes him valuable, but don’t count on his for offense. I think Dan Uggla will have a small enough bounceback season that he’ll actually be somewhat valuable. If his BABIP gets up even to .260 (it was at .225 last year), I think he can be a .230/.340/.430 player. But unless he learns how to hit breaking pitches, which is unlikely at 34 years old, he’s probably closer to .210/.320/.410. Evan Gattis’s hot start was a terrific feel-good story, but I think the 1st half/2nd half splits (.246/.310/.563 in the 1st half; .241/.272/.406 in the 2nd half) make it clear that he shouldn’t be an every day player. Chris Johnson has always been a high-BABIP guy, but not quite as high as the .394 number he posted last season. It wouldn’t surprise me if his BABIP fell into the .330 range, and he posted a .270 average, which, with his poor BB%, has absolutely no value. BJ Upton is a guy who could be in line for a breakout campaign (somewhere around a .260/.340/.410 line), but that’s assuming he gets a massive BABIP spike. He’s probably a .210/.300/.360 player.

2015 and Beyond: The farm system is pretty barren beyond Lucas Sims, who many people seem to regard more highly than I do. However, there is a lot of young talent at the major league level in the form of Teheran, Minor, Medlen, Freeman, and Heyward– enough to make them viable contenders for a long time.

Fantasy Stud: The Braves have a couple of breakout players in Jason Heyward and Julio Teheran. Freddie Freeman is a beast, and Justin Upton should be better.

Fantasy Dud: Be aware that Mike Minor carries risk. Don’t expect Simmons and Gattis to display the same power they did last year. Same goes with Chris Johnson and batting average. And don’t expect BJ Upton or Dan Uggla to be the players they were back in the Sunshine State.

Overview: The Braves have a lot of good pieces, but simply have too many holes in both their lineup and the rotation to be able to usurp the Nats in the NL East. This is still a playoff team, though, and a 90-win season should be their expectation.

2014 MLB Preview: Washington Nationals

As always, for a full glossary of statistical definitions, go to http://www.fangraphs.com/library.

Prediction: 1st place NL East

2013 Recap: The Nats fell well short of expectations after being pegged by many during the offseason to win the World Series. They weren’t a terrible team, though. They got very good seasons from Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, and Jayson Werth at the dish, while their big three of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmerman performed as well as expected. However, Dan Haren really struggled on the mound, the team struggled to pin down a fifth starter, and Adam LaRoche performed much worse than his breakout 2012 campaign.

2014 Preview: The Nats success starts with Stephen Strasburg, who is an elite ace. It’s rare to see a guy with such a dominant combination of stuff and command (9.39 K/9; 2.75 BB/9 last year). He’s a true ace, and he’s probably the pitcher with the best chance of challenging Clayton Kershaw for the NL Cy Young. Jordan Zimmerman can’t match Strasburg’s strikeout ability, but he posts insanely low BB/9’s (1.69 last year). He probably won’t be able to contend for a Cy Young because he doesn’t post huge strikeout numbers, but he’s a safe bet to post all-star caliber numbers. Gio Gonzalez’s BABIP last year (.286) was right around his career number. Considering that number is below league average, which is .300, there is a chance that his BABIP balloons and that he posts a subpar season, but I don’t think that’s likely. With his very good K/9 (8.50 last year), and modest BB/9 (3.50), I think he’ll post another 3.30-3.40 ERA. Then there’s Doug Fister, the best number four starter in baseball who the Nats acquired in a steal this past offseason with the Tigers. He’s a ground ball pitcher who won’t blow you away with his stuff (6.86 K/9) but who, like Zimmerman, has impeccable control (1.90 BB/9 last year). Considering his BABIP was at a fairly extreme .332 last year, I think that he’ll fall into a comfortable .310 BABIP range, which should put him in the 3.20-3.50 ERA range. At the dish, the Nats are expecting a big season from Bryce Harper, and rightfully so. He displays a skill that many young players do not: The ability to hit a curveball (5.0 wCB in 2013). With his tools, he’ll be a perennial .300/.400/.500 guy in no time– though this year, I think he’s closer to a .290/.380/.490 guy. Two aspects of Ryan Zimmerman’s game are declining– his throwing and his power. His throwing problems have been well document, and I think he’ll have to move to first base by next year. Offensively, he’s posted the three lowest FB%’s of his career over the past three years (33.8%, 33.5%, 33.8%). In 2012 and 2013, he posted inflated HR/FB’s (16.0% and 17.6%), but in 2011, he posted a 10.9% HR/FB, which led to just a .443 SLG. I think he’ll post something around that this year– it’s not a bad number, but it’s not up to par with what he used to put up. Ian Desmond is a good player, but not a great one. With his below-average line drive rates, I think he’s more of a .270 hitter than a .280 one. He also doesn’t have great patience (career 5.6% BB%). That said, his power and speed are both legit. He’s a solid bet to put up a .270/.330/.450 line with a moderately efficient 20 steals– great production for a shortstop. I actually think Jayson Werth’s huge bounceback season is actually somewhat sustainable. No, he won’t hit .313 again, but he’s decreased his strikeout rate dramatically over the past two seasons to the point that he can put up a .275 average without a great BABIP–and that’s with a terrific walk rate, too (11.3% last year). His power output may not translate into the .532 SLG that he put up last year, when he posted an 18.0% HR/FB (career: 14.8%), but that doesn’t mean he can’t put together a .480 clip. I think this is a legit .275/.360/.480 player. I think Anthony Rendon can put up big numbers in his first full major league season. His walk and strikeout rates in the minors were very good, and I think that will translate well to the majors. I think he’s a .265/.350/.430 player. Adam LaRoche’s average tanked last year due to a dip in BABIP, so I think it comes back up, at least into the .250 range. With his on-base skills, though (12.2% BB% last year), that makes him a moderately valuable player. Denard Span isn’t great at anything, but is a nice player who you can stick either at the top or at the bottom of your lineup and be fairly sure he’ll do something productive, be it make a nice defensive play in centerfield, draw a walk at the plate, or steal a base.

2015 and Beyond: In trades for Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister, the farm system has been somewhat depleted. That said, two very good right handed pitching prospects in Lucas Giolito and AJ Cole highlight the system. In addition, the core of this team– Strasburg, Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond– is still very young. This team has a bright future.

Fantasy Stud: Strasburg and Harper are stars who are about to have their breakout seasons. Jordan Zimmerman is also a very good pitcher. Anthony Rendon could have good position versatility and value as a late pick in a deeper league.

Fantasy Dud: Ryan Zimmerman is on the decline. Jayson Werth will still have a good year, but don’t expect him to do what he did last year. And Gio Gonzalez has the potential to blow up this year.

Overview: Strasburg, Zimmerman, Gonzalez, Fister. There isn’t a better rotation in baseball. This team is a legit World Series contender.

2014 MLB Preview: Houston Astros

As always, for a full glossary of statistical definitions, go to http://www.fangraphs.com/library.

Prediction: 5th place AL West

2013 Recap: Coming into the season, the Astros were pegged to be the worst team in baseball, and those predictions proved to be dead-on. The Astros were absolutely abysmal last season, winning only 51 games. If there was one bright spot, it was catcher Jason Castro, who posted a .276/.350/.485 line. But really, that’s it.

2014 Preview: The Astros traded for Dexter Fowler from the Rockies to become their leadoff hitter. Fowler’s dramatic home-road splits have been well-publicized, but whether or not he’s in Coors Field, he still posts terrific walk rates (career 12.3%), so although his average and slugging stats will probably fall, I think his on-base skills will still make him a productive player and leadoff hitter. Jason Castro’s breakout year last season may seem like a fluke, but I think it’s actually somewhat sustainable. Maybe his average falls a bit as last year’s .351 BABIP comes down to Earth, but with his LD%’s over 25% in both 2012 and 2013, I think Castro can still put up a decent batting average. His HR/FB was not that extreme either, and I think he can put up a .440 SLG. The diminutive Jose Altuve seems like a productive hitter, but I don’t really think he has that much value. Sure, he’ll put up a consistent .280 average, but with no on-base skills (career BB% of 5.2%) and not power (career .376 SLG), it’s an empty .280. I think he’s overrated. I like that the Astros are giving Marc Krauss, LJ Hoes, Robbie Grossman, and Matt Dominguez significant playing time. They are all mid-level prospects who may not have gotten a chance on other teams, but who all have the ability to be significant major league contributors. The Astros’ rotation is rather barren. Their workhorse is Scott Feldman, who posts good BB/9’s (2.77 last year) with subpar K/9’s (6.54 last year). His career FIP is a 4.45, but with a good defensive infield behind him, I think that he could post around a 4.00 ERA. Jarred Coasrt always walked too many batters in the minors leagues without particularly noteworthy strikeout totals, and I think that trend will only be worsened at the big league level. He probably won’t be as bad as he was over 60 major league innings last year, when he walked more batters than he struck out, but I don’t see him being particularly productive, either. Dallas Keuchel could have a surprisingly solid year. He wasn’t nearly as bad as his 5.15 ERA last year indicated– he had decent peripherals (7.20 K/9 and 3.00 BB/9), but got unlucky with his BABIP (.340) and HR/FB (17.4%). With his below average velocity, that HR/FB may not fall that much, but I think the BABIP will fall significantly. He could post a sub-4.00 ERA this year, but more likely than not he’ll be in the 4.10 range. Brett Oberholzter has very good command, but he’ll need to strike out more batters in order to become better than a borderline starter.

2015 and Beyond: Fear not, Astros fans, hope is on the way. The farm system is absolutely loaded with position players like Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Jon Singleton, and pitchers like Mark Appel and Lance McCullers. They’re also loaded with tons of midlevel prospects like Delino DeShields and Mike Foltynewicz. Plus, they have the first overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, and will likely have a very high pick in the 2016 Draft, and perhaps even the 2017 Draft. This team completely rebuilt, and it looks like that’s about to pay off.

Fantasy Stud: Of the four young position players to whom the Astros have been giving playing time early this season, I think Robbie Grossman is the best of them, and the only one who will end up being a noteworthy entity in your league by the end of the year. Although Altuve isn’t a particularly valuable player in real life, if you need an average-booster for your team, Altuve is your guy at second base. Jason Castro may not be as good as last year, but the numbers he puts up are still valuable for a catcher.

Fantasy Dud: I don’t think you really want Scott Feldman on your team. Dexter Fowler won’t be as good as he was in Denver, and the skill that makes him valuable regardless of where he plays– his OBP– is not counted in most fantasy leagues. If it is, though, Fowler still has some value.

Overview: The Astros will be in contention for the worst team in baseball once again, though they’ll be in a dogfight with a few other teams. But that’s exactly what the Astros want. They’re perfectly happy to continue stockpiling prospects. And when those prospects develop– look out.

2014 MLB Preview: Seattle Mariners

As always, for a full glossary of statistical definitions, go to http://www.fangraphs.com/library.

Prediction: 4th place AL West

2013 Recap: 2013 was a rough year for Seattle, as they lost 91 games. Among the few bright spots, however, was the emergence of Hisashi Iwakuma as the Robin to Felix Hernandez’s Batman. Kyle Seager put together a solid season at third, and Kendrys Morales produced from the DH spot, but other than that, there was nothing much to celebrate for the Mariners.

2014 Preview: The M’s made the biggest splash of the offseason when they signed Robinson Cano to a 10 year, $240 million contract. While there is concern for how Cano will age throughout the length of the contract, he’ll continue to be elite in 2014. His power numbers may slip a bit as he goes from Yankee Stadium to spacious Safeco Field, but he’s still the best second baseman in the game. I think Brad Miller will improve greatly in his first full season in the majors. Now that he’s faced major league pitching, I think he’ll be able to improve his BB% from the 7.2% he posted last year into the 11-12% range he posted throughout his career in the minors, as well as improve his Z-Contact% from the 89.2% mark he put up last year. He could feasibly be an all-star at short. I think Kyle Seager is also due for a big spike in offensive production. His stats from 2012 to 2013 basically stayed the same, save for a small spike in BB% that I think is sustainable. Throughout his career, however, he’s posted below average HR/FB rates (career 9.2%). I think that spikes this year to somewhere over 13%, and that, as a result, he hits 30+ homers. I’m not sure what the Mariners were trying to accomplish by acquiring Logan Morrison. His calling card is supposed to be power, but he hasn’t slugged over .400 since 2011, and has a career GB% of 46.1%. A move to Safeco Field certainly won’t help bring his power back. Nobody knows what Corey Hart is going to do in 2014. After undergoing surgery to both knees last year, Hart’s power may very well have been sapped. Especially at the age of 32, it’s unfair to expect Hart to pick up where he left off. I don’t think he’ll hit for much average, either. That being said, I think that if Hart gets enough time at first base or at DH, his knees will be spared enough that he can be a .255/.330/.440 guy. It won’t really matter whether Franklin Guttierez or Michael Saunders ends up playing center field. Neither can hit, but both can field, although I’d call Guttierez the superior defender of the two, while Saunders is less of a liability at the dish. Mike Zunino posted an atrocious K% last year, fueled by his inability to hit major league breaking balls. I doubt it’s a skill he can learn in just one offseason, and I think he’ll struggle again in 2014. The Mariners have one of the best pitchers in the game in Felix Hernandez. I think he’s in for a monster year. After posted a BABIP above league average for three seasons in a row, I think he’s due for a fluky-good season, similar to his 2010 campaign. He posted another elite FIP, and although his increased K/9 from last year is probably just a spike, his regular K/9, as well as his BB/9, are both exceptional. I don’t think his decreased fastball velocity is much of a concern either, given that he’s relying less on his fastball and more on his increasingly valuable changeup. Hisashi Iwakuma posted a minuscule 1.72 BB/9 last year, which he probably won’t be able to repeat, but he could very well post a BB/9 in the low 2’s. His lethal splitter helps him get ground balls, which should keep his ERA in the 3.20 range. After those two, however, the Mariners will be forced to rely on contributions from their top pitching prospects: Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and Danny Hultzen. Walker is the top prospect of the three, with absolutely nasty stuff. He’s struggled with control in the minors, which limits his long term ceiling, but for 2014, his strikeout ability could make him a reliable number three starter. Hultzen was supposed to be nearly major league ready when the Mariners used the second overall pick in the 2011 Draft. He’s battled shoulder injuries over the past few years, but if he can stay healthy this year, he’s got enough command and stuff to put together a good year, should he pitch in the majors. James Paxton probably doesn’t have the command to be able to be a successful starter in the major leagues, but I think you could throw him in the bullpen as an elite late-inning reliever.

2015 and Beyond: The Mariners have a deep farm system highlighted by Hultzen, Walker, and Paxton, as well as a very good hitter in DJ Peterson. Mike Zunino still has time to improve. Kyle Seager and Brad Miller are also still young. The M’s future really hinges on how Cano ad Hernandez age. If they age well, the M’s are primed to be a contender in years to come.

Fantasy Stud: Felix Hernandez will have a Cy Young-caliber year in 2014. Kyle Seager could hit 30 homers. Brad Miller gives late-round value at shortstop. And Robinson Cano is still the best second baseman in the game.

Fantasy Dud: The Mariners whom I’ve projected to have subpar seasons here probably aren’t in consideration for being drafted. Don’t expect Hisashi Iwakuma to put up the numbers he put up last year, but he’ll still be a valuable pitcher.

Overview: The Mariners don’t have the tools to compete in 2014– their pitching is too reliant on production from their young guns. Hultzen and Walker could be very good, or they could be total busts. Offensively, they lack firepower outside of Cano, Miller, and Hultzen. Wait until 2017, and the Mariners will be World Series contenders.

2014 MLB Preview: Los Angeles Angels

As always, for a full glossary of statistical definitions, go to http://www.fangraphs.com/library.

Prediction: 3rd place AL West

2013 Recap: A season that began with hype ended in disappointment for the Angels. The Angels were touted by many to win the AL West after adding Josh Hamilton to a lineup that already included Albert Pujols and Mike Trout. But while Trout thrived once again, Pujols and Hamilton both struggled mightily, battling injury while putting up their worst seasons in recent memory. Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson formed a formidable 1-2 punch on the mound, but got little help behind them. The same went for Trout on the offensive side of the ball. The Angels had a few standouts, but were exposed by their lack of depth.

2014 Preview: Everything for the Angels starts with Trout, who is the best player in baseball and will likely win the AL MVP this year. He’s a once-in-a-generation talent. Albert Pujols was once that type of talent, but his best days are clearly behind him. The two stats that really trouble me are his rising O-Swing% (career highs of 36.4% and 34.3% the past two seasons, respectively), and the falling ISO (he’s posted the three lowest numbers of his career over the last three seasons). If he’s fully recovered from the foot injury that limited him last year, he may see some improvement, and a decline in skills for Pujols is still a very good player, but I’d say that, more likely than not, his ceiling is a .280/.345/.450 line– again, those are good numbers, that’s his ceiling, and chances are he falls short of those numbers. Josh Hamilton’s strikeout problems will likely be his downfall. He’s posted the two highest K%’s of his career over the past two seasons (25.5% in 2012, 24.8% last year), while his O-Swing% has skyrocketed to above 40% for the past three seasons. Plate discipline issues are something that are only exacerbated with age, so my projections for Hamilton are pretty pessimistic. And that’s assuming he even plays a full season, which, with his injury history, is far from guaranteed. The Angels acquired David Freese to fill their void at third base, and I’m conflicted as to whether or not the move will pay off. On one hand, Freese has played at a high level before, putting up a .293/.372/.467 line in 2012. On the other hand, he put up a BABIP of .352 and a HR/FB of 20.0% in that season, suggesting that it may have been a fluke. I’m inclined to say that the power is fluky, but that he can still be a decent batting average hitter. He’s always been an extreme ground ball hitter (career GB% of 52.4%), which limits his power potential, although I think he can post a higher HR/FB than the 10.5% mark he put up last year. However, he’s always been a solid line drive hitter (career LD% of 22.0%), which means he can probably be a solid batting average hitter, though his 21.0 career K% limits a lot of the batting average upside. With his decent on-base skills (career 8.6% BB%), I think Freese will be a .285/.350/.415 hitter. Kole Calhoun is a player I really like. He hasn’t played a full major league season yet, but he’s shown the on-base ability (both in the minors and in the majors) necessary to become a solid major league contributor. He’s also been a very good line drive hitter during his time in the majors, with power potential. Nothing about his major league peripherals indicate something fluky. It’s not a stretch to say he’ll be a .290/.360/.440 player in right field. Howie Kendrick put together a nice year last year, but that’s absolutely a fluke. The .439 slugging was fueled by a 15.7% HR/FB (career: 9.6%), while the .297 average was fueled by a sudden LD% spike to 27.4% (career: 20.2%). He won’t repeat what he did last year. And we know he won’t take a walk (career BB% of 4.4%). On the pitching side, I think Jered Weaver is in for a down year. He’s never been much of a fireballer, but his average fastball velocity has fallen an additional three miles per hour, down to 86 MPH, since the start of 2010. His FIP has been above 3.75 each of the past two seasons despite his ERA being below 3.30 in both years. With BABIPs below .270 in both of those seasons despite line drive rates over 21% and fly ball rates over 42%, it becomes clear that Weaver has been one of the luckiest pitchers in baseball over the past few years. I think he’ll be lucky to post another elite season in 2014. CJ Wilson has found his niche. After over-performing in 2011 and underperforming in 2012, he landed right in the middle in 2013 as a solid #2 starter. His velocity and his peripherals are good, and I think he’ll be right in that same range in 2014. Hector Santiago was acquired from the White Sox this past offseason. He’s got great stuff (8.28 K/9 last year), but he also struggles with command (4.35 BB/9 last year). He got lucky last year with a 3.56 ERA despite a 4.44 FIP. His strikeout ability limits some of his downside, but his lack of command limits his upside. I think he’ll be a guy who puts up an ERA around 4.00 in 2014. The Angels also traded for Tyler Skaggs from the D-Backs, after giving him up in the Dan Haren trade in 2010. Skaggs has electric stuff and demonstrated great command in the minors, and I think he could be an AL Rookie of the Year contender in 2014. The Angels also revamped their bullpen this past offseason, acquiring Joe Smith and Brandon Lyons to bolster a bullpen that was among baseball’s worst last year.

2015 and Beyond: The Angels have one of baseball’s worst farm systems, with no significant prospects to speak of. They’re saddled by the massive Pujols contract, as well as the large Hamilton and Wilson deals. But they do have a bright young pitching prospect in Skaggs, and the best player in baseball in Mike Trout–and he’ll only get better.

Fantasy Stud: If you have the first pick in your draft, don’t hesitate to take Mike Trout. CJ Wilson is also a relatively safe pick. In deeper leagues, Kole Calhoun and Tyler Skaggs have upside.

Fantasy Dud: Josh Hamilton is on the decline. Jered Weaver is due for a bad year. Albert Pujols has limited upside.

Overview: The Angels improved their pitching depth, but even if Jered Weaver pitching like his normal self, they aren’t good enough to compete with the elite teams of the American League. Their staff isn’t good enough, and their lineup is full of empty average hitters. It’ll be difficult for them to improve as long they are saddled with so many big contracts.

2014 MLB Preview: Texas Rangers

As always, for a full glossary of statistical definitions, go to http://www.fangraphs.com/library.

Prediction: 2nd place AL West

2013 Recap: For the first time in a long time, the Rangers were carried by their pitching staff. Yu Darvish pitched like a bona fide ace, while Derek Holland pitched very well as the second starter in the rotation. Martin Perez was also great in 20 starts. Offensively, the Rangers struggled, but Adrian Beltre was once again sublime. Alex Rios played well for the team after he was acquired at the trade deadline, and Ian Kinsler bounced back to have a solid, albeit unspectacular, year.

2014 Preview: Adrian Beltre keeps chugging along, even at the ripe old age of 34. His plate discipline stats have actually improved from what they were five years ago, as have his contact rates. His BABIP has gotten a little bit of a bump over the past two years (.319 and .322 in 2012 and 2013, respectively), but with his low K% (11.3% last year), there isn’t big batting average downside. Even with a little batting average regression, Beltre still profiles as an excellent offensive player who provides power, decent on-base skills, and stellar defense at third base. Beltre’s newest partner-in-crime is Prince Fielder, whom the Rangers acquired this offseason in exchange for Ian Kinsler. Fielder’s mini-decline last season was fueled by a career-low HR/FB (13.5% last year, compared with a 19.2% career rate), but his other peripherals– his line drive rate, chase rate, contact rate, walk rate, and strikeout rate– were all in line with his career numbers. He should probably be played at DH instead of at first, but on offense, I think he’ll bounce back to somewhere close to the elite player he was before, as opposed to just the very good one he was last year. The reason the Rangers were able to trade Kinsler is because of the emergence of former top prospect Jurickson Profar. The second baseman exhausted his rookie eligibility last season, but played in a brief enough sample size of games that there’s not really much statistical evidence to base a projection off of. That said, projecting .270/.340/.420 with 15 homers and 15 steals doesn’t seem like much of a reach. If anything, that may be too modest. His keystone partner is Elvis Andrus, who is one of the few guys in baseball who makes base stealing worthwhile. He posted an 84% success rate on stolen bases last year while stealing a total of 42, making him among the league’s best. He doesn’t walk a ton (last year’s 7.4% BB% is mediocre), but doesn’t strike out a ton, either (13.9% K% last year). His excellent chase rates, and his ability to stay healthy, make him a very safe bet to have a solid season. The big free agent acquisition for the Rangers was Shin-Soo Choo. Choo is known as an OBP machine, and rightfully so. He posts very good walk rates coupled with exceptional chase rates. He’s always been a high-BABIP guy (career .350 BABIP) thanks to his solid line drive rate (career LD% 21.8%). That means that there isn’t a ton of potential for Choo to grow in batting average, but there is a risk for catastrophic decline in that category. Even if the batting average falls (which I don’t think it will), his on-base ability is good enough that he’ll still be valuable. After posting an SB% of just 65%, though, he should probably give up base stealing for a little while. Alex Rios is somehow just 33 years old. He miraculously stole 42 bases while getting caught only seven times last year. The 42 was easily a career high, and is probably more of an aberration than the new normal. Although the stolen bases will probably decrease, the fact that he’s maintained his chase and contact rates, as well as his BABIP (a reasonable .311 last year) suggest that he can probably maintain most of his other stats. No, he won’t walk much (6.2 BB% last year), which limits his value, but he seems like a lock for .275/.325/.430 which an efficient 30 steals. A lot of people think Leonys Martin is this season’s breakout candidate, but I’m not really buying it. The guy only hit .260 despite a .319 BABIP last year. He doesn’t walk at all (5.5% BB% last year, with nothing in the minors that suggests he can do otherwise) and strikes out to much for a contact/speed guy (20.5% K% last year). He does steal bases well, though (36 steals with an 80% success rate), and is a very good defensive center fielder. He’s a nice piece at the bottom of a loaded lineup, but don’t look for him to carry much of the offensive load. On the bump, Yu Darvish is a true ace. He did a great job of decreasing his BB/9 from 4.19 in 2012 to 3.43 last year. The latter mark isn’t tremendous, either, but his (easily) league-leading 11.89 K/9 more than makes up for it. The velocity and batted ball numbers are good, and there’s nothing to suggest that Darvish can’t continue to dominate in 2014. I expect regression from Martin Perez. He posted just a 6.08 K/9, and his good-not-great 2.68 BB/9 isn’t really enough to offset that kind of number. He was never a huge strikeout guy in the minor leagues, either, which suggests that he probably won’t suddenly improve that number. Although he posted a 3.62 ERA last year, his 4.23 FIP suggests he was somewhat lucky. The fact that he gets a high number of ground balls probably mitigates a lot of that ERA risk, but I wouldn’t be surprised if his ERA jumped up to the 4.00 range. Alexi Ogando is largely the same, but with more room for regression. He posted a below average K/9, too (6.21), but with a worse BB/9 (3.54). The disparity between his ERA (3.11) and FIP (4.36), means that he was very lucky last year. Throw in his high FB% (41.3%– a number that will only be exacerbated in Texas) and extremely low BABIP (.254), and you’ve got all the makings of a pitcher who is about to implode. Meanwhile, Derek Holland will likely miss the beginning of the season while recovering from offseason knee surgery, but when he is pitching, he’s solid. He posted a good K/9 (7.99) and BB/9 (2.70) last year, and, as a result, his ERA (3.42) was right in line with his FIP (3.44). There is room for risk in that he does give up a relatively high number of fly balls (career 37.5 FB%), which can be a recipe for disaster in Texas. However, his velocity is good, and there’s a good chance of him duplicating last season’s numbers rather than crashing and burning. The real question will be when he’ll be able to pitch again.

2015 and Beyond: The Rangers have mortgaged a decent amount of their future in the Matt Garza and Alex Rios trades. That said, there are some interesting prospects in the minor leagues. Joey Gallo has arguably the best power tool in the minors, if he can ever learn to hit consistently. Jorge Alfaro has long been one of the better offensive catchers in the minors, with good on base skills. Luis Sardinas can hit, and may end up being a very good utility infielder when all is said and done. Righty Alex Gonzalez probably has a future as a number three starter in the major leagues. At the major league level, Profar is still young, with tons of potential, and Darvish and Andrus are relatively young, too. Still, this is a team built to win now.

Fantasy Stud: Prince Fielder could be a steal in leagues. Adrian Beltre is well worth his high draft slot. Darvish is a legit ace.

Fantasy Dud: Some people think that Leonys Martin will break out this year–don’t be one of them. And avoid Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando at all costs.

Overview: The Rangers recognized that their offense disappointed in 2013, and they addressed the need aggressively this offseason. But now, while they may have an offensive juggernaut, it remains to be seen who will pitch behind Darvish. Holland will get back eventually, but even when he does, a lack of starting pitching depth will hurt the Rangers– that’s what’s holding them back from an AL West crown. If they get one more really good starter, they become the AL West favorites.

2014 MLB Preview: Oakland Athletics

As always, for a full glossary of statistical definitions, go to http://www.fangraphs.com/library.

Prediction: 1st place AL West

2013 Recap: It was another magical year for Billy Beane’s A’s. They won 96 games and the American League West. As usual, their pitching staff, led by 40-year-young Bartolo Colon and a lights-out bullpen, was terrific, ranking 7th in ERA. The offense, led by MVP candidate Josh Donaldson, was also very good. Despite a down year from Yoenis Cespedes, the A’s used a variety of platoons to score the fourth most runs in baseball.

2014 Preview: Josh Donaldson has shown the type of improvement that you like to see in young players. He’s improved his contact rates significantly every year he’s been in the big leagues, which helped contribute to his decreased K%. His BB% also increased to numbers similar to what he posted in the minors. Even accounting for a little bit of strikeout and batting average regression, he can still be .280/.360/.480 guy, with more homers as he gets older and bigger. Yoenis Cespedes is probably somewhere closer to the player he was in 2012 than he was in 2013, but more likely than not, his 2014 line settles in between those two seasons. He was terrific in 2012, to the tune of a tremendous .292/.356/.505 line, but then posted a .240/.294/.442 line last year. He doesn’t walk enough to post consistently high OBPs (6.4% BB% last year), and probably strikes out a little too much to be a super high batting average guy (23.9% K% last year), but the dude has power that is impossible to ignore, with a cannon for an arm in left field. With a little regression to the mean, it wouldn’t surprise me if he posted a .270/.330/.480 line in 2014. Jed Lowrie is one of the most underrated players in baseball. He provides solid OBPs and power at a premium defensive position, which makes his offensive production even more valuable. He doesn’t strike out all that much (career 16.7% K%), and walks a solid amount (career 9.2% BB%). Maybe he won’t hit .290 like he did last year (fueled by a .319 BABIP), but he’s improved his LD% every year since 2009, culminating in a 23.4% mark last season, which makes me think that he can be a .280/.340/.430 guy. If he can stay healthy, he’ll be a real nice player. Brandon Moss quietly mashed 30 homers with a .522 SLG over a full season. He does have huge platoon splits (.649 OPS vs. lefties, .904 OPS vs. righties), which makes him a platoon player more than an every day starter, but he still racked up over 500 plate appearances last year. Combined with Nate Freiman, who posted an OPS of .805 versus lefties last year, the A’s have a first base platoon that could post a combined 40 homers at the position. Coco Crisp probably won’t hit 22 homers again (a career high, powered by a career high 12.4% HR/FB), but you know what he will give you: Good baserunning, low K%’s (career 12.8%), and solid BB%’s (career 8.0%). He won’t give you super high batting averages, but there’s room for a potential BABIP spike, and thus a batting average spike. I think he’s a .270/.335.,410 player this year. Scott Kazmir’s sudden and unexpected comeback was fueled by a sudden increase in velocity– his 92.5mph average fastball velocity was his highest since 2005, and is probably attributable more to his overcoming of various injuries than a lucky spike.  Throw in a BABIP decrease from the .324 mark he put up in 2013 (which could regress to a .280 mark) and a boost from playing in the spacious O.Co Coliseum, and you get a guy who could well outperform his 3.51 FIP last year. Jarrod Parker’s potential is limited by high low strikeout numbers (just 6.12 K/9 last season). That being said, his numbers last year were hurt by a nearly 10% spike in FB%, which should fall back to normal this season. They were helped by a low .260 BABIP, but that’ll happen Oakland, and I feel pretty confident that it’ll stay below league average. A.J Griffin posted a ridiculously low BABIP of .242 last year. It won’t stay that low, but like Parker, it should stay relatively low because of the pitcher-friendly park they call home. His FB% also experienced a 10% spike, which inflated his FIP last year. I think his FIP will fall back comfortably around the 3.80 range, with his ERA falling slightly below that. If Sonny Gray makes 30 starts, he could be an ace. He posted an exceptional 9.42 K/9 with very good 2.81 BB/9 last season, albeit in just 64 innings. Even accounting for regression, those peripherals are a recipe for success. The best part of this team, however, will be the bullpen, which is probably the best in baseball. Jim Johnson is a “proven closer” whom the A’s practically stole from the Orioles. He doesn’t post exceptional K/9’s (7.17 last season), but he also does a great job of not walking batters (2.30 BB/9 last year) and getting ground balls (58.0% GB% in 2013). Pitching in Oakland should only help his stats, as he’ll likely see a decrease from the .327 BABIP he posted last year. The best pitcher in this bullpen is Luke Gregerson. He’s posted K/9’s of 9.04 and 8.68 in the past two seasons, with BB/9’s of just 2.64 and 2.44. The dude has been a model of excellence throughout his career, and that shouldn’t change in Oakland. And Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle are great, too.

2015 and Beyond: Addison Russell is the only elite prospect in this farm system, but boy, is he good. He may outgrow shortstop, but his bat plays at any position. In a best case scenario for the A’s, he stays at short, moving Jed Lowrie to second base and allowing Josh Donaldson to stay at third. Raul Alcantra and Michael Ynoa have the potential to be major league contributors, but they probably aren’t aces. The guy who I’m intrigued by is Renato Nunez, whom the A’s gave a $2.2 million signing bonus in 2010. Despite the thin farm system, the core of this team is so young– Donaldson, Cespedes, Parker– that they’ll be competitive for years to come.

Fantasy Stud: Jed Lowrie is sorely underrated, and he’ll only cost you a late round pick. Scott Kazmir could have his best season since the Tampa Bay days, and Sonny Gray could be an ace. Keep an eye on Gregerson– he could end up plucking that closer role away from Johnson. And Brandon Moss is sorely underrated, and has value if you’re in a daily league.

Fantasy Dud: Josh Donaldson won’t be bad, but he could end up being drafted higher than he should be. Parker and Griffin will carry risk just because they posted such low BABIPs last year. More likely than not they’ll be alright, but there are probably safer options.

Overview: This team doesn’t have stars, but it is ridiculously deep. Practically everyone in that lineup will be productive, and that rotations doesn’t have any bad pitchers. Plus, the bullpen is filthy. The more this young core ages, the better they’ll get, and right now, that’s good enough for a third straight AL West crown.

2014 MLB Preview: Minnesota Twins

As always, for a full glossary of statistical definitions, go to http://www.fangraphs.com/library.

Prediction: 5th place AL Central

2013 Recap: Just about nothing went right for the Twins last season. Joe Mauer was basically the only productive player they had in the starting lineup last year. He was the only player with at least 150 plate appearances last year to post an OBP over .345 or a SLG over .430. But even Mauer was injured for much of the year, playing in only 113 games. On the pitching side, the Twins struggled as well. They had the 2nd worst ERA in baseball, with the 4th worst FIP. The only real bright spot was the emergence of closer Glen Perkins.

2014 Preview: I love that the Twins are moving Joe Mauer to first base, where he’ll finally have the ability to play in 150 games. Mauer posts exceptional walk rates and line drive rates, with solid strikeout rates. His BABIP may fall a hair from the .383 mark he posted last year, but with his excellent line drive rates, it shouldn’t fall too far, minimizing any kind of batting average risk that may exist. He’s also probably closer to a .440 SLG than a .470 SLG, too. Trevor Plouffe saw his only redeeming quality– his slugging ability– disappear last year. After slugging a healthy .455 in 2012, he posted just a .392 mark last year. His walk rates and strikeout rates aren’t terrible, but when combined with his low batting average, he becomes a barely-replacement level player. I think his HR/FB will fall somewhere between the 10.4% number he posted last year and the 16.7% mark he put up in 2012, leaving his slugging percentage in the middle of the two years, too. But a .430 slugging, with his peripherals, makes him a below average player. And, the fact is, the same can be said about a lot of players in this Twins lineup. Pedro Florimon and Brian Dozier are decent defenders at shortstop and second base, respectively, but they won’t hit a lick. Josh Willingham’s best days are behind him: His isolated slugging dropped to its lowest number since his 2004 cup of coffee with the Marlins, while his strikeout rate rose to its highest number since that same season. His Z-Contact% and Contact% have both dropped to their lowest numbers since 2004, which means he hasn’t lost his plate discipline (he posted a very good 14.0% BB% in 2013), but rather that his ability to put the bat on the ball is eroding. He won’t be very productive this year. Josmil Pinto is part of the reason the Twins moved Mauer to first, but if they are delusional if they think he’ll repeat the numbers he posted in 83 plate appearances last year. His .342/.398/.566 line was fueled by a ridiculous .440 BABIP and an equally absurd 22.2% HR/FB. He’s always been prone to strikeouts in the minors, and has never been a huge walker, so I don’t think he’ll be that good. Maybe a .240/.310/.400 line. Oswaldo Arcia posted an awful K% last year of 31.0%, with a BB% of just 6.1%. Like Pinto, he’s been a high-strikeout, low-walk guy throughout his minor league career. I think that his BABIP, which was .336 despite a LD% of just 17.1%, will fall slightly to around .315, and, as a result, his average will probably fall, too. I don’t think he’ll be a very valuable player, either. The player I am interested in is Aaron Hicks. The Twins undoubtedly rushed him to the major leagues from Double-A, and he struggled mightily against the superior competition. But the one area where Hicks was good was in his power. Despite his abysmal batting average, he posted a solid .146 isolated power. Usually, power is the tool you want to flash in a major league debut. He’ll always be somewhat of a high-strikeout guy, limiting a lot of the batting average potential, but his walk rate will undoubtedly improve, too– he never posted a BB% below 12.2% at any minor league stop he made. If he gets playing time this year, I think he could be a .260/.350/.430 guy this year, which is pretty solid for a 24-year old. The Ricky Nolasco signing troubles me. The Twins are giving $12 million per year, for four years, to a guy is pretty clearly in decline at age 31. His fastball velocity has decreased about one full mile per hour since his prime from 2008-2010, down to 90.3mph last year.  In the same period, his K/9 has decreased significantly, too. His BB/9 is still excellent, but Nolasco seems like the type of guy who will get hit harder as he ages because of his  low velocity and K/9. I’m not optimistic about what he’ll do this year, especially now that he’s moving to the American League. The Phil Hughes signing is interesting, because he’s posted such striking home/road splits throughout his career. He posted an FIP of 4.12 on the road last year, compared to a 4.82 at home. Basically all of his peripherals remained constant between his home and away games, but a significant one changed: Her posted a HR/FB of 15.0% at home, compared with a 6.7% mark on the road. Last year, home for Phil Hughes was Yankee Stadium, complete with its classic short right field porch. This year it’ll be spacious Target Field. He won’t be a great pitcher, considering he still doesn’t strike guys out at a super high clip (7.48 K/9 last year is solid, but not elite), but the velocity is good and he could be a 3.90-4.20 ERA guy this year. Kevin Correia has posted K/9’s below 5.00 in each of the last three seasons. He’s a ground ball pitcher, but when a pitcher posts strikeout totals that low, it’s something to be wary of. Glen Perkins probably won’t be as dominant as he was last year, when his K/9 spiked suddenly from 9.98 to 11.06, but even if he settles somewhere closer to that 9.98, he’ll still be a very good closer.

2015 and Beyond: The Twins have one of baseball’s better farm systems. It’s headlined by five-tool stud Byron Buxton, who is considered by many to be the best prospect in baseball, and Miguel Sano, who is considered by many to have the best power tool in the minors. Tommy John surgery shouldn’t be too much of a concern for a position player like Sano. There are a couple of good pitching prospects in Alex Meyer and Kohl Stewart, but you’d like to see another headline arm down there. Guys like Aaron Hicks and Kyle Gibson also have the potential to be solid contributors.

Fantasy Stud: I love Joe Mauer this year. Like Carlos Santana, he’s one of the few guys who can play you 150+ games with catcher eligibility, although you will need to balance him with some guys who will give you big home run, RBI, or stolen base totals. Aaron Hicks could become a surprise contributor in what I view as a weak outfield class. Phil Hughes could be a factor in really deep leagues.

Fantasy Dud: I think Ricky Nolasco gets hit hard this year. And Josh Willingham isn’t going to get any better. But let’s be honest, aside from Mauer and Glen Perkins, how many of these guys are really in fantasy consideration this year?

Overview: This team is just not very good. Mauer is an elite player, and Perkins is a good closer, but then what? Hughes could be better, but he won’t be considered good. The rest of the pitching staff isn’t very talented. And this lineup pretty much stinks behind Mauer. When the farm system comes to fruition, they’ll be contenders, but right now, they just don’t have the talent to be competitive.

2014 MLB Preview: Kansas City Royals

As always, for a full glossary of statistical definitions, go to http://www.fangraphs.com/library.

Prediction: 4th place AL Central

2013 Recap: 2013 was a mixed bag for the Royals. Eric Hosmer finally had his first elite season in the big leagues. James Shields proved to be an excellent acquisition for the Royals (although they did pay a steep price). Ervin Santana came out of nowhere to have an exceptional season on the mound. Billy Butler and Salvador Perez continued to produce, while Greg Holland became an elite closer. Alex Gordon struggled, though, Mike Moustakas continued to play horribly, and the back of the rotation was abysmal.

2014 Preview: James Shields is a workhorse– a shade below an ace, but an excellent hurler nonetheless. Perhaps of concern was that his K/9 fell precipitously from 8.82 in 2012 to 7.71 last year, but the 8.82 was way above the numbers that he had been posting in 2010 and 2011, and I think that the 7.71 was merely regression, as his fastball velocity did not slip. I think his K/9 will normalize in the 8.20 zone, and he’ll be fine. After Shields, however, who is going to pitch? Ervin Santana is a free agent. Jason Vargas was signed as a free agent, be there’s little, if any, room for upside there. He hasn’t posted a K/9 above 7.00 since 2005– the same year he posted his last sub-3.95 FIP. He’s unspectacular, and on a World Series-contending team, he’d be something like a 4th starter, whereas the Royals are penciling him in as their #2, it seems. Jeremy Guthrie’s 4.04 ERA last year was a complete fluke (4.79 FIP, 4.72 K/9), and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him post an ERA above 5.00. The 3.27 ERA that Bruce Chen posted last year in mixed relief and starting work was also a fluke. His K/9 was just 5.80, and his FIP was 4.12, but the xFIP was a staggering 4.93, due to a sky-high FB% (51.9) and a fluky-low HR/FB (6.7%). The bullpen should be solid, however, with Greg Holland as their 9th inning anchor. The Royals made a couple of moves to solidify their offense. I really liked the Norichika Aoki trade. He’s the prototypical leadoff hitter: He barely strikes out (5.9% K% last year), walks a solid amount (8.2% BB% last year), and has speed (20 steals last year). His low strikeout rates minimize the risk for a batting average collapse. I didn’t love the Omar Infante signing as much. He’s played over 140 games only three times in his career (2004, 2011, 2012), and even when he has been healthy, he hasn’t been very productive. Yes, he hit .312 last year, but it was fueled by a .333 BABIP. He doesn’t walk much (4.2% BB% last year), and it seems like he was overpaid by the Royals. I don’t know that Eric Hosmer is ready to become an upper-echelon hitter just yet. His power potential is diminished by the fact that he posted a GB% of 52.7% last year, and a GB/FB of 2.11– both numbers usually put up by contact and leadoff types. He does a good job of minimizing strikeouts, though, and I expect the walk rate to climb towards 10% as he gets older. The batting average probably won’t stick above .300 for now (.335 BABIP last year), but I think he can be .280/.350/.440 hitter. Not elite, but solid. Billy Butler will probably never be the 25+ homer guy he looked like he’d be. Like Hosmer, he posted very high GB/FB and GB% (2.01 and 53.1%, respectively) last year. His averages are fueled by high BABIPs (.326 BABIP, .289 average last year), which means that, if he just gets a little unluckier, hit batting average, and his value, will plummet. That said, he doesn’t strike out too much (15.3% last year), and posts good walk rates (11.8% last year), so his floor is higher than that of most players, but be aware that there is risk. Mike Moustakas remains a mystery to me. He doesn’t have noticeable left/right or home/away splits. The walk rate (6.2% last year) and K% (16.1% last year), aren’t elite, but they aren’t terrible. He gets the ball in the air enough for a power hitter (44.5% FB% last year). The simple fact appears to be that Moustakas isn’t that good of a hitter. A low HR/FB for one season is an anomaly; for two seasons, it’s a trend; after three seasons, it becomes a fact of life. For three seasons, Moustakas has posted substandard HR/FB, which tells me that he doesn’t hit the ball far enough. Truth be told, I don’t see Moustakas becoming a valuable major league contributor. Alex Gordon may be on the decline. It seems like his power numbers have normalized, and he’ll probably be a .150 isolated power guy for most of his career. What’s troubling to me is that his chase rates have increased every year since 2010, culminating in a career-high 30.0% O-Swing% last season. I do expect a bounceback, but not to the levels of his 2011/2012 numbers. His line drive percentage will probably rise closer to his career average of 21.4%, as will the BABIP, to his career average of .321. I think that his walk rate will also rise somewhat from last year’s lowest since 2007. He’s probably a .275/.350/.425 guy who plays a really, really good left field. Salvador Perez doesn’t walk at all (career BB% of 4.0%), but doesn’t strike out a ton, either (career K% 11.1%). He’s posted good line drive rates over his career (23.0% career LD%), which suggests that he can maintain his high-.290 averages. He also posts decent slugging rates– he has a career .150 isolated power. These aren’t elite numbers, but at catcher, where he plays stellar defense, they are very good. He’s a .290/.320/.430 guy behind the dish. Alcides Escobar couldn’t hit a beach ball with a telephone pole, but he’s a wiz with the glove. Same with Lorenzo Cain out in center field.

2015 and Beyond: Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez are forming this offense’s young core. Hosmer can develop into a star eventually, but not in 2014. Butler is just 27, Gordon is only 30, and Aoki is 32, meaning they have the ability to contribute a little ways down the road. Kyle Zimmer is far from a sure thing, but he’s also one the minors’ top pitchers. If he makes it as a major leaguer, he and James Shields will be a filthy one-two punch at the head of that rotation. Bubba Starling hasn’t quite panned out the way the Royals hoped when they selected him 5th overall in the 2011 draft, but he’s only 21 years old– he has the potential to be something special when his 6’4 frame really starts to fill in. If Zimmer and Starling make it, the future is bright for the Royals.

Fantasy Stud: James Shields could be a tick better than he was last year, which is saying something. Norichika Aoki can fill in a few key categories for you (runs, average, steals) as a late round pick. Salvador Perez will post good numbers for a catcher.

Fantasy Stud: Guthrie and Vargas are absolute no-no’s. Hosmer is probably getting overhyped in drafts–he’s not elite just yet. Billy Butler could be in for a real down year, and there’s not much power potential. Plus, he’s probably only eligible at DH, which limits what you can do with him.

Overview: This team has some nice offensive pieces (Hosmer, Perez, Butler, Gordon, Aoki), with a couple of exceptional defenders in Escobar and Cain. However, I just don’t think the pitching staff is good enough to allow the Royals to seriously be competitors. After James Shields, the rotation is barren.