If you were a statistician with MLB.com, your nightmare month would be starting this week with roster expansion as you tried to track replacements between innings for teams giving their fuzzy faced youngsters a chance (note that Jackie Robinson Day, when everyone wears #42 is actually even tougher).
But, for the fantasy world, this means both a look at newbies and a chance for dominant teams to pick upon the weaker squads, and that means roto teams with a complement of players with postseason possibilities can pad some stats with the likes of Jose Altuve matching up against the likes of Henry Owens.
Speaking of the Red Sox, the team advanced one of their most prized prospects in Yoan Moncada, a 21-year-old Cuban import who hit .277-4-28 over 101 games in his home country, also bagging 21 steals while posting a solid .388 OBP (40 walks to 69 strikeouts). The youngster has kept impressing, biding time while hitting .287-23-100 over 187 minor league contests with 91 steals and a spectacular 52% of his hits going for extra bases. Moncada will get every chance to become the starting third sacker at Fenway, and should be owned in all formats, now and till he proves he is not worth the investment or roster slot. But, the bottom line, he looks dynamite.
The Royals, no strangers to having prospects, advanced Hunter Dozier, the younger sib of the Twins' Brian, and a player I have been watching for a few years. A third sacker who has also played some outfield, Dozier has a .262-50-240 line over 456 minor league games wherein he swiped 21 and managed a .344 OBP (203 walks to 407 strikeouts). Just 25, Dozier has some possibilities on a team with some question marks for the coming season, but owning Dozier is not nearly as compelling as the chance to own Moncada.
Pittsburgh also took the cue, and promoted 23-year-old Domincan infielder Alen Hanson, another fellow I have tracked since he went .309-16-62 with 35 steals and 13 triples playing for West Virginia as a 19-year-old in 2012. The mostly shortstop has been toiling at Triple-A Indianapolis for the past two seasons, hitting .265-14-75 with 75 swipes over 227 games played at that level. Hanson does have some strike zone issues with 69 walks to 169 strikeouts (.316 OBP) playing the International League, and as an investment, is somewhere between Dozier and Moncada on the lick your chops scale. Hanson should have a chance to play full-time starting next season.
The Fish are pretty well set at catcher with J.T. Realmuto, but the team also has Venezuelan Tomas Telis, a 25-year-old who has impressive numbers (and strike zone judgement), notching .290-42-380 totals over 755 minor league games. Over that span, Telis made great contact, walking 149 times and whiffing in just 305 at-bats. This past year, Telis hit .310-6-45 over 336 at-bats with 26 walks to 42 whiffs (.362 OBP). Telis might not see daylight with Miami, but he should get a chance to play somewhere, and as a result is worth tracking.
There are many more prospects to look at, but let's save some for the coming weeks and focus a bit on players we gambled on over the past couple of years who struggled, and now are back, starting with the Mets and Michael Conforto. We all drooled over Conforto after he posted .297-12-54 totals in the Minors last year, and then splashed at Citi Field, going .270-9-26. But he struggled with full-time play, hitting just .220-11-33 over 87 games and showing how overmatched he was with just a .301 OBP. Conforto certainly needs no more time at Triple-A after hitting .422-9-28 at Las Vegas following this year's demotion, but he probably needs next season to get comfortable and understand he belongs. That is if he can get that. I am banking he will, and will be quite good, meaning Conforto might be a dismissed sleeper in 2017.
Much the same can be said about 22-year-old Twins prospect Byron Buxton, who hypnotized us with .302-39-182 totals over 325 minor league games that featured 40 triples and 112 swipes. Buxton managed well controlling the zone in the Minors, with 149 walks to 303 whiffs and a .380 OBP. However, those numbers have not as yet translated in the Majors with a .211-5-27 line and .258 OBP over 112 games. Like Conforto, this is a good time for Buxton to grab some sea legs at the Show and move towards really settling into full-time play next year. But, he is a commodity worth owning.
On the other hand, there is now 30-year-old Darin Ruf, who went .317-38-104 in 2012 at Double-A Reading and set the ownership Pavlovian motions in order. I was never that high on Ruf. He did have a fine year, but at age 25, he was old to be making a mark at that level, especially in the context of the other prospects mentioned today. Let him go. Ruf will never be more than a Brandon Wood pipe dream.
We can finish with one of the more frustrating hurlers of this decade in Alex Cobb, who has been injured every year since 2011, but then missed all of 2015. The problem is when Cobb pitches, he is very good with a 35-23, 3.22 line with a great 1.189 WHIP over 503.6 innings (433 whiffs). Still just 28, Cobb went five innings allowing a couple of runs while striking out seven in his first start since returning from the MASH unit, and I would certainly gamble on him down the stretch. Over the course of a season, however, I would tread lightly and bring a lot of slings and bandages.