Everyone is always trying to be ahead of the curve when it comes to spotting players that might be poised to break through and deliver more fantasy value than their draft position suggests. However, it’s just as important to identify players on the opposite end of the spectrum; ones which aren’t going to be worth selecting where they’re likely to come off the board. The following 15 players I believe could fall into the latter category.
Nelson Cruz, OF, Mariners
Cruz gambled and lost last offseason, turning down a $14.1 million qualifying offer from the Rangers before eventually having to settle for a one-year, $8 million deal from the Orioles. As it turned out, he still wound up getting paid, as Cruz landed a four-year, $57 million contract from the Mariners this winter following a season in which he led all of baseball with 40 home runs. Congrats if you were able to land the veteran outfielder in your draft last spring, but don’t target him this spring as though we’ll see a repeat performance. While Cruz was able to play 159 games in 2014, it was just the second time in his career that he’s topped 128 games. He can’t be counted on to stay healthy, especially now that he’s no longer playing for a big contract. Cruz is also going from a park that was the seventh-easiest to homer in last season to one that was only the 18th-easiest to go deep in. Regression here is inevitable.
Masahiro Tanaka, SP, Yankees
The Yankees forked over $155 million to Tanaka last offseason and the right-hander was fantastic in his first year in pinstripes when he was able to take the hill. Tanaka posted a 2.77 ERA over his 20 starts while also putting up a superb 141/21 K/BB ratio across 136 1/3 innings. Unfortunately, the reason Tanaka was only able to take the ball 20 times is because in July he was diagnosed with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. The tear is very small, as Tanaka was able to rehab and return to make two starts in September. But while it’s possible he’ll be able to pitch for a bit longer with the ailment, it’s a matter of when, not if, Tanaka’s ligament eventually snaps. I’m not willing to take the risk where he’s likely to be drafted.
Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros
Altuve returned quite an investment last season, as he was selected around the sixth round of fantasy drafts and wound up finishing as the top fantasy hitter in all of baseball. The diminutive second baseman hit just seven homers and drove in only 59 runs, but he scored 85 runs and was a monster in two categories, leading all of MLB with a .341 batting mark and the American League with 56 steals. That huge year has led to Altuve being selected as high as the first round in some early drafts. Altuve is a fine player, but I’m not going near him at that price. The 24-year-old was a career .285 hitter prior to last season’s batting title, which was aided by a .360 BABIP. Also, his 56 steals topped his previous high-water mark by 21. I’m passing.
Michael Cuddyer, OF, Mets
Cuddyer was pretty great for the Rockies over the last three seasons when healthy, sporting a .307/.362/.525 batting line with 46 homers and a 2013 batting title. However, the red flags with him heading into the 2015 campaign are numerous. The biggest one is probably the move from Coors Field to Citi Field, as Cuddyer’s OPS at home versus on the road was 114 points higher in 2012, 145 points higher in 2013 and 521 points higher in 2014. The fences being moved in at Citi Field will help a bit, but Cuddyer almost surely isn’t going to find his home confines as friendly in 2015. The other big bugaboo with Cuddyer is his health, as he played just 49 games last season and has averaged a mere 93 contests over his last three campaigns. There’s also the fact that Cuddyer will turn 36 just before Opening Day. All the arrows are pointing down.
Joey Votto, 1B, Reds
We’re going to need more ADP data before I can definitively say Votto is going to be overvalued in 2015, but I think it’s likely to be the case. The Reds’ first baseman was limited to just 62 games last season and saw his numbers fall off dramatically when he was on the field, as he produced a .799 OPS after entering the year with a career .960 mark in that regard. Votto had left knee surgery in 2012 and dealt with a distal quad strain near the same knee last season and hasn’t been the same hitter since the leg issues cropped up. The former MVP homered once every 22.2 plate appearances pre-leg problems to one every 36.8 plate appearances post-leg issues, and he’s seen his rate of two-baggers drop, as well (one every 15.7 PA to one every 20.5 PA). Votto will surely remain a useful player when he’s on the field, as his on-base skills remain intact, but he’s a health risk whose power is fading.
Michael Wacha, SP, Cardinals
As is the case with Tanaka, it’s all about health when it comes to Wacha. The number nineteen overall pick in the 2012 Draft, Wacha has been fantastic both in the regular and postseason during his young career, putting up a nifty 3.04 ERA and 159/52 K/BB ratio over 171 2/3 innings during the regular season and a 3.48 ERA and 33/13 K/BB across 31 frames in the playoffs. Unfortunately, he was limited to just 19 starts in 2014, as he dealt with a stress reaction in his pitching shoulder. It’s an unusual ailment, as Brandon McCarthy is the only other well-known case. McCarthy figured out a way to combat the issue in 2014, building up his upper body last offseason before making a career-high 32 starts. But, before that he made seven trips to the disabled list due to the issue. Obviously, that doesn’t necessarily mean Wacha is slated to go down the same path as McCarthy. But there’s no doubt he’s a red flag heading into 2015 and it’s that uncertainty that will likely steer me away from him.
Nick Markakis, OF, Braves
Markakis was a reliably productive player for his nine years in Baltimore, playing at least 147 games in eight of nine seasons, sporting a .793 OPS and 113 OPS+ while playing good defense. It’s that durability and solid production that landed him a four-year, $44 million contract from the Braves in December. Unfortunately, Markakis has a few things working against him as he prepares for his first season in Atlanta. The 31-year-old will be moving from Camden Yards, which is one of the best places to play if you’re a left-handed batter, to Turner Field, which ranks right in the middle for lefties. He’ll also be going from a good Orioles lineup to a Braves lineup that really struggled to score runs last season even when they still had Jason Heyward and Justin Upton. To top it all off, Markakis underwent surgery over the winter to repair a herniated disk in his neck. The Braves are confident that it’s no big deal (they wouldn’t have signed him had they believed otherwise), but it’s just another reason to be hesitant about taking Markakis in your draft this spring.
Josh Harrison, 3B/OF, Pirates
It was a big breakthrough season for Harrison in 2014, as the 27-year-old batted .315/.347/.490 with 13 homers and 18 stolen bases on his way to the first All-Star Game appearance of his career. Harrison batted .308/.358/.437 in the minors, so the production last year didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. That said, I’m expecting some notable regression here in 2015. A .250 hitter with a lowly .282 on-base percentage his first three years in Pittsburgh, Harrison was able to bat .315 last season even as he saw his strikeout percentage (14.7%) go up along with his walk percentage (4.0%). The .353 BABIP almost surely won’t be repeated, as we’re likely to see his average tumble in a big way in 2015. Harrison’s power could also fall back after his 13 longballs in 2014 nearly doubled his previous professional high.
Edinson Volquez, SP, Royals
Volquez in 2014 became the latest starter to rediscover his game under terrific Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage, as he put up a 3.04 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 140/71 K/BB ratio across 192 2/3 innings. The enigmatic right-hander gladly traded in some strikeouts for better control under Searage, as his 3.3 BB/9 ratio was easily a career-best mark. Volquez’s fine work last season earned him a two-year, $20 million pact from the Royals. It’s certainly not a bad landing spot on paper, as Kauffman Stadium is a pitcher-friendly venue and Kansas City has arguably the best defense in the game. However, Volquez will also have to face the designated hitter for a full season for the first time in his career, and, it’s simply hard to trust a guy who’s been so maddeningly inconsistent throughout his career and who has a 4.44 ERA over 10 seasons even after last year’s swell season. It’s possible Volquez will retain all the lessons he learned under Searage’s tutelage and thrive on the Junior Circuit, but I’m not counting on it.
Danny Santana, SS/OF, Twins
Santana was a fantasy darling in 2014, as he went undrafted in virtually every league before going on to finish as the number seven fantasy shortstop ahead of the likes of Troy Tulowitzki and Hanley Ramirez. That’s all well and good, but we’re simply not likely to see him perform at remotely close to the same level in 2015. A career .273/.317/.391 hitter in the minors, Santana far exceeded everyone’s expectations with a .319/.353/.472 batting line with the Twins despite the fact that he sported a horrid 98/19 K/BB ratio. The 24-year-old had an other-worldly .405 BABIP to thank, a mark that was tops in all of baseball for those accumulating at least 200 plate appearances. Santana will still have fantasy value, as shortstops with 30-steal ability aren’t easy to find, but there’s a good possibility he’ll only be a major contributor in that single category.
Kyle Hendricks, SP, Cubs
Hendricks was a mainstay in the Cubs’ rotation after being promoted last July, producing a 2.46 ERA and 1.08 WHIP while going 7-2 over 13 starts. The young right-hander’s success didn’t totally come as a surprise considering his 2.69 ERA and 386/81 K/BB ratio over 452 1/3 innings at the minor league level. However, you’d be silly to consider him as anything more than a late-round flier in fantasy leagues. With a fastball that sits in the high-80s, Hendricks falls under the “crafty” rather than “overpowering” category. The right-hander struck out just 47 over 80 1/3 innings with the big club, as he can’t be expected to contribute in that category even though his minor league track record says otherwise. Hendricks should begin the upcoming season as the Cubs’ number five starter, but with the team having some other options for the spot, his leash doesn’t figure to be long.
Steve Pearce, 1B/OF, Orioles
The Orioles thought so little of Pearce last April that they designated him for assignment in order to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for T.J. McFarland. By the end of the season, however, he was one of the club’s better hitters, sporting a .293/.373/.556 batting line to go along with 21 homers and 49 RBI over just 383 plate appearances. Pearce put up some nice numbers in the minors, but he was never considered a major prospect and batted just .238/.318/.377 over his 847 plate appearances in the majors prior to last season. He is a career .280/.364/.515 hitter versus left-handed pitching, so it’s not hard to see Pearce continuing to be useful versus southpaws. However, Baltimore appears poised to use him in an everyday role and that seems unwise. Let someone else take a shot on the 31-year-old.
Mat Latos, SP, Marlins
Latos suffered through an injury-plagued 2014 season, as his recovery from offseason elbow surgery was interrupted by a knee ailment that required an additional procedure. He then started having more elbow issues in early April, which delayed his season debut until mid-June. Latos posted a 3.25 ERA over 16 starts when he was able to toe the rubber, but he finished the year with more elbow issues and had a stem cell procedure over the winter. Even though he put up a nice ERA, Latos was showing signs that the elbow was a definite concern, as his velocity dropped a full two mph and his K/9 ratio fell to a career-low 6.5. Going from Great American Ball Park to Marlins Park is undoubtedly a good thing for any pitcher, but I just don’t trust Latos to hold up health-wise.
Todd Frazier, 3B/1B, Reds
Frazier was ignored by many fantasy owners in drafts last spring following a 2013 season that saw his average fall all the way to .234. However, he proved the doubters wrong with a breakout season that included career highs across the board with 29 homers, 80 RBI, 88 runs and 20 stolen bases. Those numbers were good enough to make him the third-best fantasy third baseman and 15th-best fantasy hitter overall. You could be in for a rude awakening if you draft Frazier expecting him to reach those levels again. The 29-year-old should still hit for power, but he was somehow able to top his previous career-best total in homers by 10 even though he hit fewer flyballs than he had in 2012 and 2013. Frazier also saw his average go up 39 points even though his strikeout rate was up and walk rate was down. The final nail in the coffin is the fluky 20 steals, a total that doubled what Frazier put up over his first two-and-a-half seasons.
Alfredo Simon, SP, Tigers
Simon unexpectedly had to step into the Reds’ rotation last season and wound up blowing even the most optimistic expectations out of the water. The 33-year-old won 15 games for the Redlegs, posted a 3.44 ERA and 1.21 WHIP while accumulating 196 1/3 innings and making his first All-Star team. Seeking to plug the hole left by the vacated Rick Porcello, the Tigers dealt for Simon over the winter. Unfortunately for Detroit, I don’t see the big right-hander’s 2015 campaign going as smoothly. The warning signs for a regression are plentiful, as Simon benefitted greatly from both a low BABIP (.268) and LOB% (77.5%), which allowed him to keep the runs at a minimum even though he posted just a 5.8 K/9 ratio. There’s also the second-half fade (4.52 ERA), and it’s possible his arm won’t bounce back after he threw 108 2/3 more frames than he did the previous season. And, of course, Simon will have to now deal with the designated hitter while back in the American League. I just don’t see any mixed league value here.