Another year, another trip down into the fantasy silver mine, a prospecting tour that endeavors to dig up the National League’s hidden gems, best buys and underpriced jewels. If you’re a returning customer to this column, then you know the procedure: Each week, we look at a handful of players who are sitting on the open market in too many leagues, those would-be fantasy contributors blessed with the talent and playing time to make a significant splash—if only they had a home.
As the 2013 season dawns and fantasy owners take stock of new faces and wait for position battles to conclude, here are a number of interesting players who are likely available in your league.
Patrick Corbin | Arizona Diamondbacks | SP | 1 percent Yahoo ownership; 0.1 percent ESPN ownership
Oliver ROS: 4.13 ERA / 1.367 WHIP / 6.58 K/9
Let’s start with a broad statement: The Diamondbacks, blessed with the likes of Corbin, Randall Delgado and Tyler Skaggs, aren’t hurting for a fifth starter with upside in 2013. Trouble is, with just four days to go before they play the season’s first game, manager Kirk Gibson is mum on whether Corbin or Delgado, who both continue to pitch in spring training, will get the first crack at the job.
Corbin, 23, is probably the leading candidate as of this writing. The left-hander logged 107 innings and made 17 starts last year, posting a 4.54 ERA (4.00 FIP) with a 7.2 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9. He’s outpitched Delgado this spring, averaging nearly a strikeout per inning and coming off a strong performance last Saturday in which he allowed two runs on three hits in five innings. If you take away a bad inning against the Royals on March 6, his spring ERA is under two.
Assuming Gibson taps Corbin, look for him to build upon his 2012 stats, when an inflated HR/FB rate and BABIP conspired to boost his ERA. I wouldn’t expect lights-out production, but I could see Corbin outdoing his Oliver projections by a tad and becoming a useful fantasy pitcher on a team that should provide him with opportunities at wins. The Diamondbacks, with an off day on Thursday, probably wouldn’t use their fifth starter in the first week, but if Corbin is the man, his ownership numbers will shoot up in plenty of leagues.
Recommendation: Keep an eye out in case Corbin is not the fifth starter, but he’d be an immediate add in all NL-only leagues and deeper mixed leagues.
Jordany Valdespin | New York Mets | OF / 2B | 1 percent Yahoo ownership; 0.4 percent ESPN ownership
Oliver ROS: .264 / .311 / .390
I’ll say this: Valdespin is the kind of player you want to cheer for. He’s got flair, he’s got a bit of a brash streak in him, and in all-too-brief flashes last year, showed off the kind of athleticism that says “upside guy” in a ballplayer.
Unfortunately, reality—in the form of underwhelming plate discipline numbers and an inability to walk—has kept Valdespin from making good on his promise in his rookie year. But he was hitting .323/.371/ .538 in 21 spring games entering Thursday’s action, and can add steals for a fantasy owner.
Ultimately, what might be most intriguing about Valdespin is his position eligibility. He played 16 games at second base last year, not enough for most leagues entering 2013, but with Daniel Murphy recovering from an intercostal strain, it’s possible that manager Terry Collins could use Valdespin in the infield occasionally. Murphy has begun appearing in spring action and says he’ll be ready for Opening Day, so I’d be slightly bearish on Valdespin adding another position in the immediate term.
Meanwhile, in center field, where he’ll play the bulk of his games to start the season, he’ll likely sit against lefties in a platoon with Colin Cowgill.
Oliver is a bit optimistic on Valdespin, as it expects 29 steals to go along with a .264 average, 11 homers and 69 runs batted in. Such production, coupled with the allure of positional eligibility, could make Valdespin a serviceable fantasy option in 2013.
Recommendation: Worth a look for owners who need steals in NL-only leagues.
Hyun-Jin Ryu | Los Angeles Dodgers | SP | 37 percent Yahoo / 19.5 percent ESPN ownership
Oliver ROS: n/a
I’m not a scout, and thus, I don’t have much to add to Ryu’s scouting reports, some of which you can read here, here and here. I’ll simply say this: the Dodgers, a team that could very well contend for a World Series title this year, believe Ryu is worth a $36 million, six-year contract, which leads me to think there’s something about this guy that makes him a fantasy target. In a perfect world, assuming I had the space on my roster, sure, I’d pick this guy up and see what happens.
But here’s the thing: How certain is it that Ryu will have a spot in the starting rotation? Josh Beckett and Chris Capuano’s arms haven’t fallen off yet, Aaron Harang is still hanging around, Chad Billingsley seems to be returning soon from a finger injury and Ted Lilly still receives paychecks from the Dodgers organization. Assuming Clayton Kershaw, Josh Beckett and Zack Greinke, inflamed elbow and all, are locked in for three slots, that leaves five starting pitchers for three spots.
We’ll start with Lilly, who’s coming off shoulder surgery and has appeared in just four spring games, posting abysmal numbers in the process. Call me defeatist, but I just don’t see the 37-year-old having much of a place in the Dodgers’ rotation, certainly not at the season’s outset.
What about Harang, who gave the team nearly 180 innings last year? Manager Don Mattingly is on record saying he doesn’t see the burly right-hander as a bullpen arm, though a rough-and-tumble spring didn’t do much to help his cause as a starter. Consider him a man in search of a starting gig for the time being. Capuano? At last check, his chances don’t seem to be all that great to crack the rotation.
Ryu is scheduled to take the ball on April 2, a decision influenced in part by Billingsley’s roster logistics. But, barring some kind of disaster, I’d say it’s a safe bet that he’ll hang around in the rotation for the long run while the Dodgers trade away or banish to the bullpen some of their excess arms.
Recommendation: Worth a pickup in mixed leagues.
Mitchell Boggs | St. Louis Cardinals | SP | 54 percent Yahoo ownership / 25.3 percent ESPN ownership
Oliver ROS: 3.10 ERA / 1.205 WHIP / 6.94 K/9
Obviously, if you’re in a tight league and were betting on Jason Motte to hold down a relief role, you’ve already picked up Boggs as a handcuff. So I guess my question is: How long will you have to roll with this guy?
What we know for sure: Motte, 30, has been diagnosed with a flexor muscle strain—considered a slight tear of the tendon—in his elbow, and a disabled list stint is likely. I’m not a doctor, but this doesn’t sound good.
Just in case, let’s say Boggs is the closer for the foreseeable future. If so, he’d bring four career saves to the job, all of which stem from a brief stint in early 2011 when he took over from Ryan Franklin to be the Cardinals’ closer. Back then, Boggs was burned so badly that that he was demoted to Triple-A three weeks after taking the job. Obviously, that’s an experience from which Boggs can learn, and there’s no reason to think the 29-year-old hasn’t matured a bit since then.
At the back end of the Cardinals’ pen, Boggs will bring mid-90s heat to go along with a slider and occasional change-up, which helped him post solid numbers last year (4-1, 34 holds, 2.21 ERA). But I have to wonder whether a .245 BABIP (more than 50 points below his career average) and lofty 82.4 percent strand rate will conspire to bring those numbers down to earth, closer’s role or not.
Boggs is talented, and in a new season, one might as well be optimistic. But if he was headed for a regression in 2013 as Motte’s caddy, fantasy owners shouldn’t look at him as a bullpen savior now that he’s stepping up to the top spot to start the year.
Recommendation: A worthwhile pickup in NL-only leagues and deeper mixed leagues, but not a must-own until he gets some saves under his belt.