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Fantasy Baseball 2015: Early Love List

It’s only February but Adam Pfeifer already knows who he’s targeting in fantasy baseball drafts.

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There is no offseason.

At least, not for me.

I write almost everyday. Whether it’s football, basketball, baseball, hockey, water polo, rugby, you name it. I write because it’s right–it’s like breathing, eating, walking. The origin? When I was in elementary school I would sit at my desk and write short stories about superheroes, villains, and battles. Ten years later, I’m still here, writing, but about a different fantasy.

In the grand scheme of things, fantasy sports aren’t going to change the world. But, some day, they will change my world. Heck, in a way, they already have. During my four years since embarking on this journey, I’ve done things that I didn’t ever think I’d be doing. I’ve had my work featured in magazines, draft guides, etc. I’ve been on radio shows and podcasts. And sure, all of that stuff is a blast, and I always want to do it. But that’s not why I write. I write because when I’m punching the keys, it’s the only place in the world where I feel invincible. I write to inspire and I’m inspired to write. I write to change, to learn, to tell and to escape. So, with football season over, hockey winding down and basketball nearing the All-Star break, here I’ll remain.

Writing.

Everyone plants their flags. You know. Targeting guys that you like and making cases for them in fantasy drafts. Tons of baseball content is out there, as the season is rapidly approaching. So, like everyone else, I decided to plant some of my flags, but this time, on the diamond, rather than the hardwood or gridiron. Baseball is always interesting to analyze because there are so many different variables to take into consideration when projecting a player. What ballpark is he in? Is the lineup around him vaunted? How disciplined is he at the plate? Now I hate math, so variables and numbers tend to bother me– unless, of course, they relate to sports. So let’s dive into some guys I’m fond of for the upcoming season.

What the heck? I’ll write about it.

Players I Love

Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles-

You. Yeah, you, right there. You probably have more walks in your baseball career than Adam Jones. I won’t lie. Jones’ not walking is rather annoying when it comes to his fantasy value, which hurts his OBP. And, even if he did get on base more, the guy just doesn’t run much anymore, either. He had the second-lowest walk rate in all of baseball last season, but I don’t care. I love Adam Jones and I don’t care who knows it. He’s as consistent as they come, basically serving as a lock for a .280 batting average with 27-30 home runs and 85-100 RBI. I mean, just look at his numbers over the last three seasons:

2014: .281 AVG, 29 HR, 181 H, 644 AB.

2013: .285 AVG, 33 HR, 186 H, 653 AB.

2013: .287 AVG, 32 HR, 186 H, 648 AB.

Pretty consistent, no? When I use a first round pick on a guy, I’m aiming for safety, and Jones is one of the safest outfielders in the game today. During this three-year span, he’s missed a total of five whole games, and also leads the Majors in plate appearances over the last three years. And while he saw his walk rate drop to a lowly 2.9 percent, his strikeout rate remained under 20 percent once again. Jones may not be the sexiest top-12 pick in fantasy leagues, but he’s emerged as one of the safest players in the game, and it was nice to see him improve against left-handed pitchers, climbing from a .251 average all the way to .344, smashing nine home runs against southpaws. Good player (four-time All-Star), good ballpark, and good lineup, Jones is a guy I’ll be targeting in drafts, for sure.

Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays-

Donaldson had a breakout 2013 campaign–and then he was even better last season. He improved and set career highs in home runs (29), RBI (98), runs (93), and at-bats (608). Interestingly enough, I think he can improve for the third-straight season during his inaugural season in Toronto, heading to a very home run-friendly ballpark. Donaldson has raw power, and playing away from the Coliseum should bode well for him, as 62 percent of his home runs came away from home last year. Having Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion in the same lineup is a whole lot of power, but also a whole lot of RBI and run potential for Donaldson. Over the last two seasons, the Rogers Centre has averaged the third-most home runs per game, and Donaldson has some of the best power capability in the Majors right now.

George Springer, Houston Astros-

Only five players in all of baseball last season recorded at least 20 stolen bases and 20 home runs. Carlos Gomez, Ian Desmond, Brian Dozier, Michael Brantley and Todd Frazier round out the list, but as long as health is on his side, Springer is going to accomplish that feat in 2015. The touted prospect got off to a shaky start last year, but really hit his stride in a big way during the month of May, hitting .294 with 10 dingers and 25 RBI. The 25-year-old has 30 home run power, launching 20 bombs in under 300 plate appearances for the Astros last year, and has at least 20-steal speed and ability. The most exciting thing about Springer, though, is that he is going to get better. His strikeout rate of 33 percent last year was off-putting, but he doesn’t swing at many bad pitches, so as he improves his contact rate, the more he’ll get on base. And hopefully a manager change allows the young stud to be a bit more aggressive on the basepaths. Springer is too talented to attempt just seven steals in 78 games like he did last year, and I expect Houston to unleash their burgeoning star. I’m all in.

Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals-

I love players who do it all. Ian Desmond does it all. Over the last three seasons, only one player in all of baseball has posted a 20/20 season each time. It’s not Mike Trout, it’s not Carlos Gomez. It’s Desmond, folks, who, again, isn’t the sexiest name or player to draft, but he’s safe, playing at least 154 games in four of his six seasons in the Majors. A guy who has basically been a lock for at least 20 steals, Desmond has seen his walk rate increase in three straight seasons, so the more this guy can get on base, the more productive he’ll be. Batting fifth in a strong Washington lineup, Desmond should score at least 70 runs, and entering the final year of his contract, Desmond will want to prove that he’s worth the big money. Shortstop is one of the ugliest positions in all of fantasy, and Desmond contributes in all four major counting categories. If you’re tired of getting burned by the risk of investing in Troy Tulowitzki, Desmond makes for an awesome pivot with less upside, but boatloads more security.

Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox-

This is contingent on whether or not Betts bats leadoff for the Red Sox, and it’ll be interesting where he plays. A true infielder, Betts played second base for Boston, and was moved to the outfield later on. That allows him to have multiple position eligibility this season, which is always valuable for fantasy purposes. He was very, very impressive during his 213 plate appearances with the big club last year, batting .291 with five home runs, 34 runs, 18 RBI and seven stolen bases. The only real issue is that Boston brought in  Allen Craig, and Dustin Pedroia will obviously be manning second base, while newly acquired Hanley Ramirez will start at shortstop. But then again, Betts is far too talented and valuable to be sent back down to the minors. He’s an extremely smart hitter, walking nearly 10 percent of the time and swinging at less than 20 percent of pitches landing outside of the strike zone last year, an impressive number. Betts’ bat speed is very strong, too, making it easier for him to adjust to fastballs. If he opens the season as Boston’s leadoff batter, he’ll be looked at as a top-100 overall fantasy player, and for good reason. Boston’s lineup is stacked with talent, adding Hanley and Pablo Sandoval. Betts could easily score 100 runs at the top of this lineup, and will steal upwards to 30 bases if he plays everyday for the big club.

Christian Yelich, Miami Marlins-

Giancarlo Stanton draws all the attention (as he should), but Yelich is a very talented player in his own right. Batting atop the Marlins’ order, he drew an impressive 70 walks (10th in NL), which resulted in 94 runs, which ranked fifth in the entire National League. From 2013, Yelich became a more patient and disciplined hitter, swinging at two percent fewer pitches landing outside of the strike zone, while swinging at three percent fewer pitches in general. Yelich has the ability to post at least 15-20 numbers this season, and the Miami offense has improved from last year, so it certainly wouldn’t shock me to see him among the top run scorers in the league again in 2015. Good batting average, high BABIP, speed and decent pop, Yelich is a legitimate breakout candidate in year number three.

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