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Fantasy Baseball Insider Report: Early-Season Views From the Press Box

Nolan Jones - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, MLB News

Scott Engel’s Fantasy Baseball Insider Series continues on RotoBaller. Every year during the season, Scott chats with prime MLB sources to gather exclusive insights. Interviewed on the condition of anonymity, current and former players, team executives, MLB scouts, media members, and others inside the game provide their unfiltered observations on notable players. Scott adds in fantasy baseball analysis on the information shared.

The newest edition of the FSWA award-winning Insider Series features the early-season takes of a national baseball writer who has covered Major League Baseball for over 25 seasons. He also has played fantasy baseball for 30 years, so this well-established source knows how to provide analysis that will resonate with fantasy players.

These views will be valuable as resources when considering where you may have already drafted players, but will mostly serve as reminders to not overreact to small sample sizes and reiterate what to expect over a long season. You may come away with some interesting trade targets or be less apt to deal some guys based on the scouting reports contained here.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball lineup tools and weekly lineup resources:

 

Wyatt Langford

“Everything about him is off the charts in terms of talent and makeup. He’s already married to his hometown sweetheart, and you want to see little things like that, which indicate his maturity. He can handle the inevitable slump that will happen at some point. If you drafted Wyatt Langford, you have to feel pretty good.”

“He’s in a great spot in Texas for a young prospect. He can meet his potential right away without too much being put on his plate. Bruce Bochy is a championship manager. The defense is questionable, but it doesn’t matter because the guy will hit wherever you put him.”

Insider Angles: We have yet to see Langford bust out, as he was hitting .261 with no home runs, four runs scored, and six RBI after the first 11 games of the season. The ISO was at .061. There is obviously no reason to grow impatient yet, as the 22-year-old has not been in a major slump, and a surge is likely ahead at some point soon.

Langford has struck out 19.6 percent of the time, so he is not looking overmatched. The ATC projections in the RotoBaller Season Pass forecast Langford to hit .258 with 20 home runs and 15 stolen bases. You should be able to enjoy a healthy run of offense from him in the near future. The fact that he is already married is the type of intangible that can illustrate a player’s mentality beyond the numbers in the eyes of those who cover and work inside the game.

 

Oneil Cruz

“He is feast or famine in my mind. It blows my mind that this guy is older than Juan Soto by a few weeks. He has not played a full season in the Majors yet. It could go either way, where he hits 40 HRs and steals 30 bases, or he could be a guy we talk about three to four years from now that didn’t really work out. But he is worth the risk. With fantasy league championship talent like that, you had to take the shot in drafts."

Insider Angles: In his first 12 games of the season, Cruz hit .298 with two home runs and seven runs scored. The BABIP of .429, strikeout rate of 34.0, and xBA of .234  may point to a cold spell not too far ahead. Ultimately, Cruz is projected to hit .234 with 22 HRs and 21 SBs. You may have to buckle in for a roller-coaster ride that is easier to handle in rotisserie formats than head-to-head leagues. The upside remains apparent and has not been fully revealed yet, though, so the peaks could be very enjoyable.

If you were one of the drafters who picked Cruz at an ADP of 61st overall, the potential ups and downs were already in mind when rostering him. If you didn’t draft Cruz, exploring a trade for him when a slump happens could be a move that turns out to be a league-winning transaction. At this early stage of the season, the Pirates’ young star remains a compelling and tempting fantasy option.

 

Yoshinobu Yamamoto

“He will be fine, but I think it will be hard to bring back the return for where he was drafted. He was so hyped up, but L.A. always plays some games with their guys and he is not going to throw too many innings. Kodai Senga threw just under 170 innings last year and now he is hurt."

"I can see 150 to 160 innings. He’s going to be really good, but I don’t see him being a Cy Young contender right out of the box. Senga is a good baseline of what to expect in terms of the workload. The ERA should be in the low 3.00 range and 190 strikeouts seems reasonable.”

Insider Angles: Yamamoto was chased early by the Padres in his MLB debut, but over his next two starts, the 25-year-old allowed no runs and seven baserunners with 13 strikeouts in 10 innings. The three-time Japanese pitching Triple Crown winner was limited to five innings in each start, confirming how the Dodgers may limit his overall workload. He has an ERA of 4.09, but the xFIP is at 2.89, and Yamamoto is projected to strike out 176 batters in 164 innings.

The ADP of 43 may prove to be a bit high for what the final totals can be, yet with all the pitcher injuries we are seeing across fantasy baseball, Yamamoto may prove to be a stabilizing starting pitcher and an advantageous option in terms of efficiency.

 

Nolan Jones

“I think he is going to be really good. He had a higher OPS on the road last year. I’m surprised that Cleveland, which has been looking for offense forever, let him go. He still may have flown under the radar a little bit, because Colorado is bad. He is obviously in a great hitting environment, and he is going to really mash. He is the one player on that team that can break out."

"He underwent baptism by fire in Cleveland, where he really struggled when given his opportunity, and I often like those kinds of guys who can learn from such struggles and then produce. “

Insider Angles: Jones has slumped early in 2024, batting .174 with no HRs and four RBI, striking out 38.5 percent of the time. In recent games, he has been dropped to the sixth and seventh spots in the Colorado lineup. This is a case where we should not get down on the player early, as Jones has never logged a true full season in the majors and we all know the home park can be an advantage.

Jones already had five hits and five runs scored in five games at Coors Field since the Rockies returned from a seven-game road trip to open the season. He had a .935 OPS in road games last season (.928), so Jones can  make the needed adjustments to perform well enough in away games again, too.

 

Triston Casas

“What a great second half last year, especially in terms of his OPS (1.034). He hit 15 homers in 54 second-half games and should double that this season. He is so young, only 24. It feels like he is a guy who figured it out last year. He is in a great spot in Boston to be their first baseman well into the next decade. Whatever you paid for him in a draft, Casas will be worth it for a long time to come.“

“The BABIP was a little high last year (.317), so that will come down a little bit. He is in a good environment for a lefty hitter and is going to have a real breakout year. He hit .317 over the second half of last year, which tells me he is a guy who can make adjustments and handle being adjusted to. His confidence won’t be shaken by a slump.”

Insider Angles: In his first 11 games, Casas hit .241 with one HR and three RBI, so we haven’t seen much of his second-half form of last season just yet. The .341 SLG has a .455 xSLG behind it, so this seems to be just a matter of a mediocre start that can soon give way to better production. For the season, Casas is projected to hit .254 with 27 HRs and 80 RBI, with a .358 OBP. He can indeed deliver 30 homers with promise for more.

 

Tanner Bibee

“I love this guy. The window has slammed shut to buy lower on him in a dynasty league. A team like Cleveland always seems to find these kind of pitchers. That’s a staff that had Shane Bieber, a Cy Young winner, and Triston McKenzie, who was really good before he got hurt, and Bibee was their best pitcher last year. Terry Francona is gone, but that is still such a well-run organization. They draft and develop so well and just replenish every year.”

“An ERA under 3.00 in 142 innings last year was really remarkable. I would not be surprised if he gets some Cy Young votes and is their staff ace next year, as Bieber will be a free agent.”

Insider Angles: This interview was conducted before Bibee turned in his second disappointing start in three turns to open the season on Wednesday. He allowed five runs on six hits and three walks in 4.1 innings against the White Sox in another down outing against a lesser opponent. Bibee also allowed three runs in just four innings to Oakland in his first start of the year. In his next appearance against the Twins, though, he allowed one run and struck out nine in 5.1 innings, and better times may be ahead. The second-year man still has the opportunity to step forward and earn a role as a true leader of the staff with Bieber out for the season. Bibee is projected to finish with a 3.76 ERA and 24.6 strikeout rate.

Heading into Wednesday, opponents were hitting .154 against Bibee’s slider and had a .193 xBA against the pitch last season. Bibee was the 110th player off the board in NFBC drafts and can be a very good early buy-low trade target for those who have lost Bieber or another prime pitcher. Later in the season, this bumpy start to the campaign might be a faded memory, even if Bibee does not quite soar to the lofty heights projected by this source.

 

Jackson Chourio

“It's a long way to go, but he is looking like a five-tool talent. He really seems like he belongs in the Majors, as he is patient for his age at the plate. Milwaukee is a small market team, but some teams find guys and don’t really miss. He is their best prospect in a while. David Stearns always did a good job of finding some mid-range players, but he really developed a stud here. They signed him to a long-term contract and locked him up before he even arrived in the big leagues.”

“He has high expectations right away, and he is playing right away, but he doesn’t have to be a superstar yet. He just turned 20 and there will be some growing pains. Everything is set up for him in terms of development and being in a spot for success. If he slumps there, no one is going to go crazy. He can hit in the .250 range with 20 HRs and 20 steals.”

Insider Angles: In his first nine games played this season, Chourio hit .278 with two HRs and seven RBI. He struck out at a 31.6 percent clip in those games, so that is one indicator of some tougher times ahead. The projections fall in line with the scouting report here, at .248 with 16 HRs and 22 steals. Chourio has definite promise in terms of the counting stats, and he has already flashed a lot of all-around ability to cement himself in the Milwaukee lineup. You may have to deal with some challenging cold spells, but the final statistical rewards can be satisfying enough.

 

Chris Sale

“I love him this season. He looked good when he came back last year and the Braves seem like a perfect fit. They signed him to an extension that is reasonably priced. The days of him being an even 180-inning guy are over. Atlanta will be ecstatic to get 160 out of him as they want to have him healthy for October starts like Texas did with Nathan Eovaldi last year. The ERA was high last year, but he struck out nearly 11 batters per nine, which was right up there with the career norms. The strikeout-to-walk ratio was a little low.”

“He will make 25 starts and strike out 11 guys per nine. You worry about his health, and any little hiccup he has will make them sideline him. But the stuff is still so good. He will go on the IL at some point, maybe just for maintenance. He could pitch 150 innings, yet I wouldn’t be stunned if he pitched 50. He is determined to prove he can stay healthy, though, as he had a better winter. The guy is always in shape.”

“Atlanta is always a place where they get the most out of their players. They have a lot of ways to maximize Sale and keep him healthy. He is positioned well physically and mentally to have a bounce-back year.”

Insider Angles: Sale has allowed two earned runs in 5.1 innings pitched in each of his first two starts this season. The seven-time All-Star registered 13 total strikeouts in the first two turns of the season. Sale is projected to make 26 starts with a 3.81 ERA and 28.7 strikeout percentage. The 35-year-old’s presence looms larger in the Atlanta rotation because of Spencer Strider’s elbow injury. If he can actually stay healthy, Sale can be a difference-maker this season, especially for fantasy players who have lost other key starters already.



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