When will the starting pitching position catch a break?
As was the case last week and the week before it, this past week -- the "St. Paddy's Day Week," we should call it -- was headlined by more starting pitcher bad news, the headliner being the latest to succumb to Tommy John surgery, Zack Wheeler. He'll have his operation either Tuesday or Wednesday next week, and he estimated on Friday that, as the standard rehabilitation is 14 months, he expects to return sometime in June 2016.
Wheeler dropped out of the "redraft-relevant" rankings tiers, naturally, just as Yu Darvish and Marcus Stroman did before him, but the impact of his absence upon the Mets' starting rotation shuffled other individual ranks. Let's get to those, and the week's other developments:
Wheeler fallout: Initially projected No. 6 starter Dillon Gee (up to No. 353 overall, No. 106 SP) became the favorite for fifth-starter duty for the Mets once the Wheeler news broke, though the Mets continue to keep Rafael Montero (up to No. 290 NL-only player overall) stretched out as a starter in the event of another injury or if they change their minds. Gee is now a relevant NL-only late-rounder, though his wide home/road split (3.36 ERA home, 4.56 road, in his career) makes him seem a matchups-type even in those. Fantasy owners would probably prefer to see Montero emerge; his long-term ceiling is considerably higher mostly thanks to a significantly greater strikeout rate (23.4 percent of total batters as a pro; Gee's in the bigs is 17.1).
Prospects Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz also benefited from the Wheeler development, though neither improved upon his reserve-pick-in-deep-NL-only ranking, as both are midseason call-up considerations.
As for the impact on the Tampa Bay Rays' rotation, well, when Matt Andriese, Nathan Karns (up to No. 303 AL-only player overall), Burch Smith, Enny Romero and Everett Teaford are your remaining five candidates for three rotation spots, you're not going to be moving and shaking the rankings. Karns and, to a lesser degree, Romero improved slightly, but neither is more than a late-round gamble in an AL-only league.
Anthony Rendon (down to No. 22 overall): It's a three-spot drop and doesn't influence his ranking among either second or third basemen, but any move within the top 25 players warrants mention. Rendon is dealing with a minor MCL sprain in his left knee, and with a return date to Grapefruit League games unclear, he's a bit too risky for second-round status.
Jacoby Ellsbury (down to No. 32 overall, No. 10 OF): As with Rendon, Ellsbury is dealing with a seemingly minor ailment that could turn out to be significant enough to cost him a brief DL stint to begin the regular season. Ellsbury's is an oblique strain, which is typically a three-week issue midyear.
Masahiro Tanaka (up to No. 101 overall, No. 26 SP): After two starts, so far, so good. I've watched every pitch he has thrown, as promised, and can attest that, while both starts were against the light-hitting Atlanta Braves and therefore irrelevant from a stat-line perspective, his breaking pitches (curveball, slider and splitter) were every bit as sharp as I saw from him at any time during his healthy 2014 stints. As is the case for so many pitchers during spring training, the fastball -- both command and velocity -- seems to need a little work, though he's also usually a 90-91 mph pitcher with that offering, so bumping what seems like 89 mph right now isn't a big jump. Tanaka will never escape the extreme-risk/reward classification during this draft season, but I'm feeling increasingly confident that he's a top-100 overall, top-25 starter candidate.
Leonys Martin (up to No. 103 overall, No. 30 OF): News that he'll probably lead off daily for the Texas Rangers fully explains this one, and colleague Todd Zola on Wednesday had a good take on what that might mean for Martin in terms of 2015 stats.
Kris Bryant (up to No. 160 overall, No. 16 3B): No player in all of baseball had a more buzz-worthy week than Bryant, whose six home runs entering Friday's spring training play was twice as many as anyone else and who has been the subject of endless debate about baseball's service time rules. Nothing has changed as far as Bryant's arrival in Chicago as a result of his Cactus League performance; the Chicago Cubs presumably decided weeks ago whether keeping him in the minors for the requisite 12 days to buy an additional year of his service before free agency, or that the nine games that they have scheduled during that time are too important to their 2015 competitive chances, is more important. (Hint: It's the former.) For fantasy purposes, all that has changed is that he looks like a player who will adapt to major league competition quickly, and it's for that reason that there's every reason to value him as a 25-homer candidate at your draft table.
Cincinnati Reds rotation: They made their rotation plans official this week, with Anthony DeSclafani (up to No. 503 overall, No. 154 SP), Jason Marquis and Raisel Iglesias (up to No. 447 overall, No. 139 SP) in, and Paul Maholm and Tony Cingrani (down to No. 564 overall, No. 167 SP) out, with the impact upon Cingrani the most fantasy relevant. Though he could adapt to setup work, he's no threat for saves in Cincinnati, and he'll need to earn manager Bryan Price's trust quickly to be a holds factor as well. DeSclafani and Iglesias are worthy NL-only stashes, though DeSclafani is the "safer" of the two, thanks to his superior control between the two.
Micah Johnson (up to No. 363 overall, No. 30 2B): Word that he might well win the Chicago White Sox's wide-open second base competition had Johnson soaring up the rankings, among the largest upward movers of the week. If he indeed does win that job, this might be a massive under-rank; he has the kind of speed that can rival Dee Gordon's, but he has noticeably better plate discipline than Gordon. Perhaps no player, even Bryant, has done more to increase his 2015 fantasy stock this spring.
Cliff Lee (out of the top 600 overall): He's not only out of the redraft rankings following news of his 60-day DL status, he's a non-factor in keeper leagues, too. I'm rooting for Lee to return to major league action someday, but his odds are long.
Evan Gattis (down to No. 116 overall): Though the Houston Astros claim that Gattis should resume hitting off a batting tee this weekend, that his wrist injury has cost him an entire week is a concern from a draft perspective, especially in shallow mixed leagues like ESPN's 10-team, one-catcher. Gattis buzz has swirled out of control in the fantasy community; I can no longer say that I'm confident he'll reach the 30-homer threshold.
Keeper Top 250
Bryant (up to 29): See, this is where the Bryant hype is justified. Anything he does in the Cactus League increases confidence that he makes a quick adjustment to the majors once he arrives, and alleviates any remote concern of an adjustment period long term, which is critical in estimating his dynasty-league value. What if he's indeed a .250-hitting, 25-homer hitter in 2015? That's valuable in a redraft format, sure, but what matters in dynasty is that it could portend a .260-30 (or 35) line in 2016 ... and that's a huge increase in confidence in his short-term -- OK, somewhat short-term -- prospects.
Javier Baez (down to 90): With whispers that he might not make the Cubs' Opening Day roster, Baez's keeper-league stock suffered somewhat, partly because he's a prospect on a team that has a lot of competition among them in the infield ranks. So far this spring, he has shown no improvement upon the performance that earned him a greater than 40 percent strikeout rate in the majors in 2014, and it's not a big leap to suggest that he's in danger of losing 2015 as a productive fantasy campaign if he doesn't do so soon.
Cobb (down to 99): This isn't a significant drop in his ranking, but it's a good handful of spots nonetheless. It's also perhaps reactionary; we do not know yet whether his injury will cost him more than 3-4 weeks of the 2015 season. The chance that it could be something more severe, though, makes him a much, much riskier dynasty-league pick if you're drafting this weekend.
Wheeler (out of the top 250): He's the only significant mover and/or shaker in this week's update, and those who follow this column weekly might find it puzzling that he fell out of the rankings entirely, whereas other out-for-2015 pitchers such as Darvish and Stroman remained within it. The answer is twofold: Both Darvish and Stroman already have shown us peak-level results that exceed that of Wheeler's career to date, and in the example of Stroman specifically, his timetable for recovery would put him in line to pitch at the onset of 2016 spring training, giving him a good 3-4 months' head start on Wheeler.
I'm still a fan of Wheeler's from a dynasty-league perspective, but the league would need to be awfully deep to justify spending bench/DL spots -- if these are precious to you -- on a pitcher with his career-to-date skill set.