It's Opening Day! Nearly every MLB team will be hitting the field, weather permitting, and stats will start to add up for our teams. What is the one situation or player you're watching most closely over this first 11-day scoring period? What do you expect to happen with that player/situation, and how will it impact your values/approach?
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Tristan H. Cockcroft: There are still a few positions ultimately left up for grabs, at least from a season-long perspective, and while I'd like to say how the New York Yankees handle Greg Bird's absence or the Texas Rangers' closer strategy are the ones that first come to mind, what has me most curious are the Colorado Rockies' decisions to be made at first base and the corner outfield positions now that Ryan McMahon has made the team.
Practically any starting hitter for the Rockies warrants fantasy attention, and before the team re-signed Carlos Gonzalez, McMahon profiled as the team's starting first baseman, with what I estimated was .275, 18-homer potential, and probably more in terms of batting average.
After McMahon batted .319/.365/.522 this spring, however, he made the team anyway, clouding the picture at three of the Rockies' starting positions. Ian Desmond might see the bulk -- if not all -- of his time in left field, something hinted at when the team demoted Raimel Tapia, but it'll be worth tracking the team's first few lineups to get a better sense of their plans. McMahon, meanwhile, is a worthy speculative corner infielder even in standard leagues because he'll be opening in the majors.
Additionally, who is the real Carlos Gonzalez? The one who wasn't even a fantasy consideration during the first half of 2017, or the one who, thanks largely to a different grip on his bat, hit .314/.390/.531 after the All-Star break? The answer is important to those who might be seeking value from prospect David Dahl, who, like Tapia, will begin the season in the minors.
Eric Karabell: The early lineups for Phillies manager Gabe Kapler and Brewers leader Craig Counsell are going to be very interesting, because these teams have more offensive weapons than can be deployed on a daily basis.
The Phillies paid prospect Scott Kingery and it is clear he will play, so that means some combination of infielders Cesar Hernandez, J.P. Crawford and Maikel Franco, and perhaps center fielder Odubel Herrera, might not.
The Brewers acquired outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain this winter to an outfield/first base crew already featuring Ryan Braun, Domingo Santana, Eric Thames, Keon Broxton and the underrated Jesus Aguilar -- and again, they can't all play at the same time.
Hernandez and Santana were the top offensive performers on the ESPN Player Rater for their respective teams last season, and each figures to lose some degree of regular playing time. I suspect that even though they do not deserve this treatment, that will be the case early on until Franco disappoints, opening up third base for Kingery, and Braun gets hurt again. Not that I am rooting for either scenario!
AJ Mass: I'm going to be staying up late here on the East Coast, watching as much of the first six games of the season for the Arizona Diamondbacks -- all at home -- as I can. Certainly, one week in April is not going to tell the whole story, but with the team using a humidor to store baseballs this season at Chase Field (a topic analyzed by Todd Zola during the preseason), we're going to get our first data points as to how this might impact fantasy stats going forward. After Colorado installed its humidor, home run totals decreased significantly.
People far more fluent in the "sciency stuff" than I have postulated that Arizona's home games this season could potentially see similar reductions in offensive output. As a result, I was hesitant to draft players like Paul Goldschmidt and his lineup mates as high as I would have without the move.
For Robbie Ray and his pitching brethren, they all got draft day boosts. If Week 1 produces a whole lot of 13-10 slugfests, I may well regret having done so. On the other hand, a slew of 2-1 pitching duels would indicate the direction in which future D-backs home games might lean. That will definitely be a huge factor in setting future lineups in all formats, as well as DFS, with Chase Field potentially becoming a location to avoid, in direct opposition to previous seasons.
Kyle Soppe: Let the games begin! The closer situations for the Angels and Diamondbacks is the easy answer here, but given the fluid nature of bullpens, I'm focusing more on a pair of players who can most greatly impact my 2018 outlook with two starts on this long week: Masahiro Tanaka and David Price.
Closer situations don't have to be ironed out this week, and any hitter in the league can struggle during an 11-day stretch, but we've seen greatness from both of these pitchers in the past -- and considering, based on our projections, Tanaka is slated to make 6.9 percent of his 2018 starts and Price 8.7 percent, you are going to have to make a stand on them sooner than later.
I am more bullish on Tanaka than Price, but I will be closely watching both of their outings during Week 1, and if they look even reasonably good, I'll be looking to increase my exposure to both. As far as what I need to see: If Tanaka can deliver two quality starts, I'll be looking at him as a fringe top-15 SP, and if Price can strike out a batter an inning while throwing 90-plus pitches in both outings, he will land inside of my top 30 SPs the rest of the way.