As we head towards pitchers and catchers reporting, we also head towards fantasy league time. If you look around SB Nation's baseball sites, you'll find most sites have a post like this, giving an insider's look at their team from a fantasy baseball perspective. Those are certainly worth a look if you want the hot scoop on who'll be getting playing time in 2012, want to get the jump on what prospects could make an impact, etc. [And while I'm here, Division 1 invites to returning manages went out this afternoon, so people should have received those. If you didn't, your Yahoo! profile address may need updating]
For the Diamondbacks, I'll be trying to answer the big fantasy issues after the jump.
There's a good number of fantasy-related questions with regard to the infield. Firstly, there's Paul Goldschmidt, who is currently being picked at an average spot of #139, behind the likes of Billy Butler. That seems low, especially if Goldzilla lives up to the Bill James projection, of batting .266 with 32 HR and 99 RBI. ZIPS is slightly more conservative in its expectations - but not much, at .250/30/92, and even that would make Goldschmidt a steal if he's still on the board outside the top hundred. This is likely the last year that will be the case for Goldschmidt, if he develops as Arizona fans hope.
Expectations are a great deal lower at second-base, Aaron Hill is so far down the rankings he may not even be selected in mixed leagues, with an average pick of #254. That's more than forty spots below the man he's replacing in the Diamondbacks line-up, and it doesn't seem public opinion thinks Hill will be an upgrade. ZIPS tends to agree, rating Johnson at a 101 OPS+, though Hill's projected 95 OPS+ would likely be respectable enough for most non-fantasy purposes.
The question at shortstop is, of course, whether Stephen Drew will be healthy enough to play? That's very much up in the air right now, and we probably won't know until several weeks of spring training have passed and we see how his lateral movement is progressing. This uncertainly is clearly reflected in his average draft position of #227, a long way below what it has been in previous years. The SnakePit Division 1 draft is currently set for late March, and things should be considerably clearer, one way or the other, by then.
At third-base, Ryan Roberts is getting a lot of love, having been drafted in 98% of leagues thus far, a likely reflection of the significant amount of playing time. However, he has mostly been a later-round pick thus far, averaging #224. Mark Reynolds,. as a comparison, is going at #115 on average, but that makes sense because most fantasy leagues do not penalize players for strikeouts. Miguel Montero seems a bargain as the 8th-ranked catcher, behind the likes of Alex Avila, but there's a long gap after Miggy at #108, till the next catcher, J.P.Arenciba, down at #175.
No prizes for guessing who the jewel in the Diamondbacks is from a fantasy perspective. Coming in at an average 12th spot, and trailing only Matt Kemp (3rd) and Jose Bautista (6th) among outfielders, is Justin Upton. He's the rare kind of player who can help you in almost every category, from batting average through home-runs to stolen bases. If he remains healthy, there's little doubt he'll probably live up to these expectations, and could possibly even blow them away, given his young age.
The rest of the Arizona outfield follow some way behind, with Chris Young next, down at #141. He's a bit of a double-edged sword: the home-runs and stolen-bases he gives you are nice, but a .240 career batting average is definitely lower than you would want - his walks are more help in real baseball than in the fantasy game. Interestingly, there's no room for Gerardo Parra despite his .292 average last season, because defense and outfield assists are deemed unimportant in the fantasy world. The doubts about his playing time may also be affecting his ranking: likely LF replacement Jason Kubel comes in at an average pick of #248.
The rankings of the five expected starters for the Diamondbacks is as follows:
1. Ian Kennedy, average pick #81
2. Daniel Hudson, #101
3. Josh Collmenter, #238
4. Trevor Cahill, #248
5. Joe Saunders, not listed.
This does not necessarily reflect true performance, because one of the key factors for fantasy baseball is the strikeout category, in which Saunders fares very badly. WHIP (walks + hits per inning) is also another standard measure, and Saunders is below average there too, though he was significantly better for Arizona last year. Indeed, of the 90 pitchers to throw 400 inningss since 2009, Saunders has the seventh-lowest strikeout rate. [Three of the bottom ten pitched for AZ last year, with Zach Duke at #5 and Jason Marquis #9!] Cahill is #19 in K-rate, which is likely why he's below Collmenter.
Out of the bullpen, J.J. Putz comes in at #106, which put him in the top ten ranking for major-league relievers. He's the only "true" bullpen arm mentioned for the Diamondbacks, which reflects his lockhold on the closer's spot - in fantasy baseball, if you don't close, your value is very significantly reduced. Interestingly, however, Collmenter qualifies both as a starting pitcher and a reliever, which makes him more useful, since most leagues will insist on you having a set number of relievers.
As we saw with Collmenter and Goldschmidt, players not on the radar at the start of the season, can still be valuable contributors by year's end. On the Diamondbacks, attention will largely be focused on the pitching staff. Will Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs make their major-league debuts this year? It doesn't seem they will be on the Opening Day roster, barring injury, and Arizona does have a slate of pitchers in reserve, who possess more experience, e.g. Wade Miley. But, just as Goldschmift forced his way into the picture with is dominating performance in Double-A, it's possible the same may be true for our pitching.
And don't forget about our two outfielders, A.J. Pollock and Adam Eaton, both of whom were spoken highly of by Kevin Towers when we chatted with him recently (more on that tomorrow!). If there's an injury to any of our four outfielders, it's likely one of them will be called up to the big-leagues.