I'm helping out the fantasy guys with a mock draft. It's a 10-team, AL-only, head-to-head league. You can get the ESPN Fantasy top 300 rankings here, but I thought it would be fun to indicate 10 guys I like for 2016 (beyond the obvious "Mike Trout is good" and "Don't pass on Carlos Correa" kind of stuff).
I've reviewed Keuchel's 2015 numbers every which way, and I just don't see any reason to believe last season was a fluke. OK, he doesn't light up the radar gun, but he has turned into sort of the evolutionary crafty left-hander, because he manipulates that outside corner but also strikes batters out. He ranked tied for 22nd among qualified MLB starters in strikeout rate -- seventh in the AL -- with the same 23.7 percent rate as Zack Greinke and just below Gerrit Cole and just above Felix Hernandez. But he doesn't have to be a high-strikeout guy, because he does all the little things well. He had the second-highest groundball rate, fields his position and controls the running game (he allowed five steals in 2015, just one in 2014). I think he'll be a Cy Young contender again.
Here's an interesting top-10 list of the starting pitchers who most often threw the first pitch of a plate appearance in the strike zone: John Lackey, David Price, Max Scherzer, Jose Quintana, Wei-Yin Chen, Jordan Zimmermann, Clayton Kershaw, Bartolo Colon, Walker, Michael Wacha. The next two are Jacob deGrom and Chris Archer. That's a list of good pitchers. The only three with ERAs over 3.50 were Zimmermann (3.66), Colon (4.16) and Walker (4.56). Walker's issue at times was throwing too many hittable strikes, and since he throws his fastball up in the zone, he gave up 25 home runs. But after posting a 7.33 ERA through his first nine starts, he went 10-3 with a 3.62 ERA over his final 20 with 118 strikeouts and just 17 walks in 126.2 innings. If he fine-tunes his command, he's a breakout performer.
This is an endorsement of his 2015 breakout. I like that he finally hit left-handers -- both for average (.282) and power (10 home runs) -- and that after focusing on going the other way in the first half with an overhauled swing, he produced more power in the second half, with 15 home runs and a .522 slugging percentage. He'll do better than the projections suggest.
4. George Springer, RF, Houston Astros
The fantasy guys have him ranked 37th overall, so he's not exactly a sleeper. He hurt his wrist last year, but he cut his K rate by 9 percent from his rookie season and was hitting for power before the injury. Double his first-half numbers over 75 games, and you get 26 home runs and 28 steals. He could go 30-30, and the lower strikeout rate means he could hit .276 again.
In 19 starts with the Rays since coming over in the David Price trade, he went 8-3 with a 2.52 ERA and 121 strikeouts in 114.1 innings. He'll give up some home runs because he pitches up in the zone, but he has a lot of deception in his delivery and Kevin Kiermaier in center field to run down his fly balls. He just needs to stay healthy.
6. Brad Miller, SS, Tampa Bay Rays
He's ranked 14th among shortstops on the ESPN list, but I think he could end up higher than that. Over at FanGraphs, Tony Blengino (who also contributes to ESPN Insider) has been doing a series that looks at ball-in-play profiles of players at each position. Miller's overall BIP speed in mph led AL shortstops, just ahead of Correa, and he trailed only Correa in average mph on fly balls and line drives. As Tony wrote, "Miller showed offensive progress last season, utilizing the entire field, cutting his pop-up rate sharply, and hitting the ball harder than all of his AL shortstop peers." He still struggled against left-handers and the Mariners traded him because of his erratic defense, but I think the Rays will give him a year at shortstop (although he may platoon with Tim Beckham) and he should produce some nice results.
You saw his high-octane upper 90s velocity in the postseason (so did Jose Bautista). After coming over from the Marlins, Dyson went on a great run, with 30 strikeouts and just four walks in 31.1 innings. Shawn Tolleson presumably starts the season as the Texas closer after doing the job in 2015, but Dyson has a good chance to take over if Tolleson stumbles. Either way, Dyson is a main guy in what could be a deep and effective bullpen in Texas.
I'm not 100 percent confident on this one, but Rodon has obvious breakout potential given the quality of his stuff. His walk rate was way too high as a rookie (4.6 per nine innings), and he's not going to turn into a strike-throwing machine overnight. But he did post a 2.28 ERA over his final nine starts while holding batters to a .209/.297/.322 line. Overall, Rodon was worth 1.6 WAR; I think he can be a 3-WAR pitcher in 2016, maybe 4 if his innings aren't restricted and his command tightens up.
This one is perhaps fairly obvious: Pineda had a 4.37 ERA but 3.34 FIP. His batting average allowed on balls in play was .335. Among pitchers with at least 100 innings that was tied for eighth-worst. You can't assume it was bad luck, but it seems like there was some bad luck involved here. (Although teammate Nathan Eovaldi was fifth-worst with a .339 BABIP, so maybe there was something peculiar going on with the Yankees.)
Yes, all the errors in the first half were embarrassing, but give Semien and the A's some credit: He didn't seem to take his fielding issues with him to the plate. They stuck with him, and he improved. He finished with 35 errors, the most by a shortstop since Jose Valentin in 2000, but had 24 in the first three months and 11 in the final three. He hit .257/.310/.405 with 15 home runs, and I believe there's better production to come as he heads into his second full season.