- Greg Pokriki - Fantasy Focus
Josh Donaldson - Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have assembled a solid lineup with slugger Josh Donaldson at the center. The AL East has plenty of ambiguities, so this could be the perfect year for a Toronto run. With the talent in Donaldson’s new lineup, he’ll be well protected and often in good RBI situations. With 29 home runs last year, he very easily could knock out more than 30 in the climate controlled Rogers Centre dome. The AL East also is not exactly packed with pitching power, so he should see some favorable at bats within the division. The bottom line is that Donaldson should be a top notch MLB fantasy asset this season.
Max Scherzer- Washington Nationals
It's not exactly fantasy baseball news that Max Scherzer has been one of the league's elite pitchers for the past two seasons. But as good as he's been, he may be even better with his new team, the Washington Nationals. He's benefited greatly from being surrounded by other amazing pitchers and somehow, in his switch to Washington, has found an even better rotation to lead. Scherzer also goes to a weaker division. With the Braves selling so fiercely during the offseason, the main competition for the division is the much improved Marlins who are likely no match for Washington.
Not that he needs the help, but multiple factors are shaping up in Scherzer's favor. Playing in the lackluster National League East in a league without the DH, Scherzer is primed for an even better season than his last two—if that's even possible.
James Shields- San Diego Padres
The Padres may have the most questions surrounding their 2015 campaign. More than half of their projected opening day lineup is compiled of new players and each of those players have questions of their own. But the one thing that is known for sure is that PETCO Park is a pitchers park, and that's great news for James Shields. Pitching in PETCO is a dream for every pitcher and Shields arrives at a time when the Padres have assembled a formidable lineup to support their staff. Leaving the American League Champs is tough, but without the DH and the perfect conditions for pitching, Shields will likely be in for an even bigger year on his new mound.
Lakers PF/C Jordan Hill has been relatively successful since his return from a hip injury, putting up solid numbers in his first 5 games back. He has been strong on the glass and with Coach Byron Scott calling out his bigs for being soft, Hill's minutes are sure to rise.
Hill is having his best NBA season to date, with career highs in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and free throw percentage. Since returning from injury, his numbers have been pretty consistent, and his value in standard fantasy basketball formats is legitimate, with a chance of steady increase.
His 12.4 points and 8 rebounds per game make him worth an add if your team is in need of a big man. The Lakers have zero chance of making the playoffs and will look to continue to develop the players they look to keep in the years to come.
With Robert Sacre and Carlos Boozer most likely not in the plans for the future, Hill's minutes should extend upwards of 30 per game, making him one of the more exciting NBA players to keep on your radar. Kobe Bryant's season-ending surgery also leaves the Lakers struggling to find scoring options Hill might have to step up in that area as well. With an uptick in court time, it is not too far fetched to expect 9-10 rebounds, in addition to 14-16 points per game.
For the latest in fantasy NBA news and advice, stay tuned to ASL!
- Tim Haberin - Fantasy Focus
Fantasy Baseball News -
With a new season set to unfold, MLB fantasy owners can get themselves started off on the right foot with an effective draft strategy. Every baseball fan knows that a lot can change over the course of 162 games, meaning your fate is by no means sealed on draft night. But implementing a solid plan can help you set a strong foundation for your team and get ahead of the competition.
Keep the following points in mind when you make your selections:
Know your league:
The size and scoring format of your league can make a significant difference in how you draft. An owner vying with 11 others will need to look at roster depth and player valuation differently than one in a smaller league. In addition, specific scoring categories can make a player worth a premium in one league and virtually worthless in another. More leagues are counting less-traditional statistics such as holds and quality starts. Make sure you know if yours is one of them. Players in head-to-head leagues will sometimes tank individual categories (typically the more erratic ones like saves), but you should use the draft to ensure your squad is productive in every area.
Be smart in the early rounds:
Make-or-break is a somewhat dramatic term to use at any point in a fantasy baseball draft. However, the importance of the first few rounds in shaping your team cannot be overstated. It's hard to whiff on your first draft choice and not have it considerably alter your fortunes. Let the draft board come to you in the opening couple of rounds, and try to select well-rounded players who will make a daily impact for your team. If Clayton Kershaw is the best player available when you make your first pick, don't hesitate to take him. But in general, try to set one or two cornerstones for your lineup into place before building your pitching staff.
Consider positional scarcity:
Some positions simply have fewer viable options than others. After Buster Posey, for instance, the pool of catchers grows increasingly less attractive. Take note of what the pecking order looks like for each position and strategize accordingly. Unless you're taking the premier catcher, shortstop or second baseman, you can afford to look at other areas first. Make sure you're getting ample production out of your corner infield spots, outfield, and starting pitching. Don't blow a pick on a subpar player just because you need to fill a position.
Take risks later in the draft:
There's an element of fortune-telling to any fantasy draft. Winners and losers are often separated by whoever strikes gold on the right breakout star. Today's fan enjoys access to an unprecedented level of statistical analysis and projection to help identify potential fantasy baseball sleepers. Some of the factors that lead to a breakthrough season, however, aren't found in the numbers. Examine team depth charts and consider factors such as age, injury history and positional versatility to develop an idea of who might get an opportunity to shine in 2015. It's better to gamble a little in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft than to wait and hope you can scoop an emerging player off the waiver wire.
- Aneesh Ahuja - Fantasy Focus
Zach Wheeler - New York Mets
During his first full season in the majors, Wheeler posted a 3.54 ERA with 187 strikeouts in 185 innings. Wheeler showed some encouraging signs last season, possessing a fastball in the mid 90s and at times reaching 98 MPH. Wheeler has a plus curveball and is adding a slider to his repertoire. He posted at 54 percent ground ball rate, so he does a good job of keeping the ball in the park. Wheeler is 24-years-old and has not had a major injury thus far, so look for him to reach 200 innings without an innings limit this season. He can be a middle of the road starter for your fantasy team so try to grab him in the middle rounds of your draft.
Carlos Carrasco - Cleveland Indians
In 2014, Carrasco only pitched 91 innings as a starter. In that sample size, however, he had 14 starts with a 9.99-strikeout rate and a 1.98 walk rate. His fastball averaged 95.3 MPH last season and his velocity will continue to progress as he returns to full health. In 2015, Carrasco will look to grow as a pitcher and maybe surprise some people as a dark horse All-Star candidate. Carrasco is one of the hardest throwing pitchers in the American League and hitters had a tough time catching up to his fastball last season. Drafting Carrasco in the mid rounds of your draft makes sense because he is one this season's top fantasy baseball sleepers.
Marcus Stroman - Toronto Blue Jays
Stroman debuted for the Blue Jays last May and looked impressive during 2014 posting a 3.65 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 130 innings. He posses a six pitch repertoire that continues to get stronger by the day. Although he was roughed up in a few outings last season, Stroman has the potential to put up sub 3.00 ERA. His fastball hits the mid 90s and has a sinker that froze hitters last year. Stroman’s potential is through the roof. In most leagues he is falling to the late rounds of the draft and would be a steal for your team.
Shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope cooled off last night against the Wizards, but has been on fire for the past two weeks making him one of the more popular fantasy NBA plays. Before Saturday night's game, he scored in double digits in five straight games with a windfall of three pointers mixed in. Despite KCP's stellar play, the Pistons are limping out of the gate since the All-Star break and have dropped 6 of their last ten games.
Despite Detroit's struggles, Caldwell-Pope has quietly averaged 16.6 points, 3.4 3-pointers and is shooting just under 45 percent. Caldwell-Pope is widely available in Yahoo fantasy basketball leagues seeing an ownership of about 35%. If he keeps scoring and nailing 3-pointers the way he has been, he won't be left on may waiver wires at all.
The scary thing is that Caldwell-Pope is still light years away from reaching his full potential and he could become one of the better NBA players. He has a hard time finishing inside the paint and still needs to work on his consistency. But he's really broken out during his sophomore season. Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy obviously likes what he sees with KCP averaging more than 32 minutes per contest.
The Pistons probably won't make the playoffs this year, but Van Gundy has a young team that boasts size and athleticism and could become a power in the East next season.
- Aneesh Ahuja - Fantasy Focus
Fantasy Baseball News -
Steven Souza - Tampa Bay Rays
The highlight of Steven Souza’s 2014 season was saving Jordan Zimmerman’s no hitter. But many don’t know that Souza batted .350 with 18 HR and 26 stolen bases in Triple-A. Souza has the talent to easily hit 15-plus HR and steal 15 bases this upcoming season. He will be an everyday player for the Rays and will continue to grow as the year goes on. His strikeout total might be a little frustrating, but his ceiling is too high. Souza is the ultimate sleeper for this upcoming fantasy season. He should be available very late in the draft which could translate into a late round steal later in the season.
George Springer - Houston Astros
George Springer posted 20 homers and 5 steals in 295 at-bats last season. Springer only batted .231 last season, but look for him to improve in his first full season in the majors. Springer gives your team much needed power and speed at a low price. Other names such as Ryan Braun, Yasiel Puig, and Bryce Harper might catch your eye but expect Springer to put up similar production. Although Springer does not seem like a sleeper, he continues to be left off draft boards. Springer, however, can be the exact player your team needs to put you over the top.
Austin Jackson - Seattle Mariners
Jackson was in a terrible slump after he was dealt to the Mariners last season, but during the previous four years, Jackson was arguably a top five fantasy outfielder. Jackson has the potential to be a .300 hitter again and hit 10-plus homers. Jackson should steal more than 20 bases for you and accrue 90-plus runs in a new Mariners lineup. Many are writing Jackson off this season, but look for him to set the table for Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz. Jackson’s strikeout totals are high, but if he continues to stay healthy, he could play every day for your team. Jackson will be an asset to your team at a low cost compared to other outfielders. If Jackson is available in the mid-to-late rounds of your draft, there's no reason to pass on him.
Based on stats and production, Amari Cooper (Alabama) is the clear-cut #1 fantasy WR coming out of the 2015 NFL draft class. Cooper absolutely torched opposing defenders in the SEC this year and finished the season with a gaudy 124 Receptions for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns. He had three games with more than 200 yards receiving against SEC opponents.
On paper, Kevin White (West Virginia) is widely considered as the #1 fantasy WR coming out of the 2015 draft class. White did not disappoint at the NFL combine, measuring in at nearly 6'3" and 215 pounds while running a 4.35 40-Yard dash. His 4.35 40-time was second best among wide receivers. Combining White's physical features and stats from this season (109 Rec, 1,447 Rec Yards, 10 TD's) it's clear why Cooper and White are viewed as the two best receivers in this draft class. Both of them have made the list of top NFL fantasy sleepers.
Last year's draft had Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans as the #1 and #2 ranked receivers in the draft class, but it was the Odell Beckham Jr (#3 ranked receiver) who actually stole the show, had the biggest fantasy football impact, and is even considered one of the top fantasy football keepers. Last year's results beg the question as to who might be one of this year's top fantasy sleeper picks. Who's the receiver that's flying under the radar who might have a huge fantasy impact?
It's hard to speculate which receiver that might be because a huge factor depends on which team that rookie gets drafted by. Based on ability, stats and potential, that player is DeVante Parker (Louisville). Parker missed the first seven games of the 2014 season with a broken foot but racked up at least 120 receiving yards in five of the six games he played in. Parker has decent size at nearly 6'3" and 208 pounds and ran a 4.45 40 at the combine.
Based on ability and recent production, Parker could be this year's Odell Beckham Jr if he stays healthy and winds up on a team with a QB who can get the ball to him.
- Greg Pokriki - Fantasy Focus
Troy Tulowitzki - Colorado Rockies
Tulowitzki is the sure fire number one shortstop entering this season, but he’s not on everybody’s board. He possesses the most power of any shortstop, hitting 21 home runs in just 91 games in 2014. Tulowitzki is also surrounded by a talented supporting cast, with protection ahead and behind in the lineup. The straight scoop is that Tulo can help you win a MLB fantasy championship or he can leave you with a painful void at a critical every day position. If you draft him, you must roster another decent backup shortstop.
Ian Desmond- Washington Nationals
Desmond also has some power in his bat, making him an instant fantasy favorite. He’s hit 20-plus home runs each of the last three seasons. Desmond also got close to 100 RBI in 2014, finishing with an impressive 91. Desmond has also tallied more than 20 steals in each of his last four seasons, adding another dimension to his game. An all around player in a good lineup adds up to Desmond being a solid shortstop pick.
Jose Reyes- Toronto Blue Jays
An argument for Starlin Castro could be made here, and he’s probably a great pick in keeper leagues because he’s only 24-years-old, but even with that he hasn’t cracked my Top 3. Also, I ruled out Hanley Ramirez because he’ll probably be playing left field this season (and I still like Reyes better). Reyes has hit over .290 in nine of his 12 MLB seasons. He also stole more than 30 bases in eight of those 12 seasons, nabbing 78 bags in 2007. In the leadoff spot Reyes will put up a big OBP and score plenty of runs. Reyes is the total package. Like Tulowitzki, if he can stay healthy, he’ll be an impact player in 2015.
- Tim Haberin - Fantasy Focus
New York's crosstown rivals find themselves in similar situations concerning the starting pitchers expected to lead their staffs. The Yankees and Mets hope that Masahiro Tanaka and Matt Harvey will be able to set aside injury woes and help their respective teams entering the 2015 season. Both suffered partial tears in the ulnar collateral ligaments of their right elbows. While Harvey underwent Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2014, Tanaka chose to forgo the procedure and treat the injury with three months of rest and rehab.
Fantasy owners must decide how much these injuries dampen the young starters' prospects in 2015. Both have put up sparkling numbers when they have taken the mound, albeit in relatively small sample sizes. Harvey earned an All-Star starting nod in his first full season in 2013, posting a 2.27 ERA and a stellar 9.6 K/9 rate. Arriving from Japan to much fanfare, Tanaka surpassed even the most optimistic expectations in the early stages of his debut season, collecting 12 wins to the tune of a 2.51 ERA before going down with his injury in early July of last year.
The early word on both pitchers' first Spring Training bullpen sessions has been expectedly positive. It's difficult, however, to not feel better about Harvey's chances to have a healthy, productive 2015. He has already put the Tommy John experience behind him, while Tanaka, if he re-aggravates his elbow, the surgery may become unavoidable.
The Mets expect to be more competitive this year, which may lead to a boost in win totals to go along with Harvey's other strong statistical categories. An elbow injury is never a minor concern for a pitcher, however, and it might take several starts for these guys to find their footing.
Neither should be the first starting pitcher you draft, but their talent and upside are too hard to ignore completely. These pitchers are not fantasy baseball sleepers that will catch anybody by surprise.
Tanaka simply appears to have more potential factors in his way that could diminish his fantasy value, such as the Yankees floating the idea of using a six-man rotation to ease the load on him and other injury-plagued starters. Don't be afraid to roll the dice, but leave yourself a safety net in the form of other more dependable starting pitchers.
- Tim Haberin - Fantasy Focus
The Texas Rangers were dealt a significant blow with another shoulder injury to young infielder Jurickson Profar. He underwent surgery for a torn right labrum earlier this week ending all hopes of playing in 2015. The lost season is especially frustrating considering Profar missed all of 2014 with the same injured shoulder, but elected not to have surgery then.
Despite limited time on the field, Profar's name has remained prominent among lists of the game's future stars. In 2013, Baseball America selected the then 19-year-old switch-hitter as its number one prospect in baseball. He enjoyed a very modest first 94 games, batting .231 with 7 home runs and 26 RBI. Texas' hope (and that of fantasy owners) was that more experience would see Profar make good on the hype. A troublesome shoulder has made that experience difficult to come by.
Easily lost amid news of the disappointing setback is the fact that Profar is still only 22 years old. He certainly stands a good chance of getting healthy and making a big league impact worthy of his advance promotion. The Rangers caution, however, that he will likely not be able to resume baseball activities for at least a year. Along with the presumed necessity of an extended minor league stint, Profar may not be a factor at the major league level until the 2017 season, and then hopefully he stays off our injury updates list.
In the meantime, Texas will make do with Elvis Andrus and Rougned Odor manning the middle of the infield. Odor, only 21 years old himself, might be a shrewd pickup for fantasy owners seeking infield depth. The second baseman did not look overmatched last year during his rookie season, hitting .259 with 9 home runs and 48 RBI over 114 games. Continued improvement could result in a solidly productive sophomore season.
Andrus is a 2-time All-Star shortstop and has long been valued for his glove more than his bat, but the Rangers held off on trading him this winter and expect big things from him in 2015. He did swipe 27 bags last year and is two seasons removed from stealing 42, so owners looking for stolen base numbers might consider him.
Fantasy players hoping to reap the benefits of Jurickson Profar's potential breakout season will have to wait a while longer, due to fantasy injury updates. When he does return and proves himself healthy, his talent and positional versatility around the infield can quickly lead to fantasy relevance.
Stay tuned for the latest MLB and NFL injury updates!