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Thursday 14th Dec 2017

I submitted my Hall of Fame votes for the Internet Baseball Writers of America Association (IBWAA) last week, and though we can vote for up to ten players, I only voted for a couple.

Somehow the Baseball HOF is one of those great examples of perspective, like politics and religion, where we are all experts, and know all there is to know about said subject. But, just as we can despise or adore Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, the same can be said about Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Curt Schilling, all members of this year's nominee list.

And, these arguments are as old as the Hall, which I have visited twice during induction weekend. And the arguments pro and con as to who should be enshrined is as polar as Trump/Clinton, though those diametrics have been going on for a lot longer than the recent election.

For example, I wonder if Pete Rose is verboten, why Ty Cobb is still in? Or, why Jim Kaat, who led the league in wins in 1966 with 25, who won a total of 283 games, and who won a record 16 Gold Gloves is not in the Hall? Tommy John, who won 288 and has the iconic surgery named for him belongs, while Darrell and Dwight Evans, along with Bill Buckner, Al Oliver, and even Steve Garvey deserve some consideration.

And, you might sneer at Darrell Evans, but at the time he retired he was a Top 10 all-timer in RBI and walks, and was the oldest guy to hit 40 homers and the only guy to hit 40 homers in each league. As for Dwight, his numbers are not that far off from his teammate Jim Rice and Dewey's defense was the best in the game in right. But, if Rice, or Andre Dawson get the nod, these guys all made contributions as great in my view.

Of course, that is my view, and I am indeed an expert when it comes to the world of Lawr, just as you are the unchallenged expert in your universe.

But, choosing who deserves it among Bonds, Schilling, and Clemens is weird, for I feel strongly that Bonds does indeed belong, but I would not vote for either Clemens or Schilling, mostly because aside from being as intransigent as Pete Rose, I don't like either. But, I am willing to forgive Bonds' HGH use because I figure even if Barry hit an extra 200 homers thanks to juicing, he still hit more dingers than anyone else.

I do indeed understand that my rationale is completely flawed and hypocritical, for I like Bonds because he is a Northern California guy, but I understand fans outside the Bay Area having the same disgust for Bonds as do I for Schilling and Maddux.

The thing is I like it that we are all experts and are right, at least with respect to baseball, which is a game, and is a source of pleasure and much more of an outlet as a rule than religion or politics, and any of you calling me an idiot for supporting Kaat and not Jack Morris are probably correct.

It is, however, this subjective insanity that exists for each of us baseball fans that sends the what ifs of a baseball game into further stratospheres of wonder and imagination than does any other game or sport. 

And, that is why I similarly don't endorse Instant Replay, or challenges to calls, for the ruling of the arbiter of the base, in the moment, is good enough for me. I understand sometimes those jurists of the diamond make mistakes, but as often, even with replay, it can be tough to determine exactly what the true disposition of any given play is.

But, I also think most of the time the umps get it right, and that over the long haul the good and bad breaks even out for all players and teams. And, just like I am ok with the Writers selecting the Hall's inhabitants, without question, similarly I can accept the ruling on the field.

That is because we human beings who play the game and judge the game and are fascinated by the game and argue about the game are full of the flaws that direct our lives in other strange, yet wonderfully human ways.

For we are indeed all human beings, and being one is generally a lot of fun.

As for voting, Bonds and Moose were the only human beings I felt good about (note Edgar Martinez, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines are already in the IBWAA HOF).

But, since I am too a human being, you can try to change my mind.

Follow me @lawrmichaels.

As we reach yet another Christmas holiday, we are similarly headed for a New Year, and that usually means it is time for my annual Top 250 Prospect List. 

I have been a little slower in finishing the list up this year mostly as some post-Thanksgiving surgery has slowed me a bit, but I am in the throes of the final data scrub, editing and reviewing, which is likely to last till the middle of January when the release of the full list is projected.

But, to tantalize a little, I will present a cluster of players who achieved my sleeper status this year. Last year, when fine tuning the list, I noted the cells of the guys I thought were really worth watching in blue, and this year I have repeated the process.

Whereas in the past, it seemed the Top 250 was much better suited to players in a Dynasty format, with minor leaguers being advanced so much more rapidly than in the past, there are indeed players to mine on the big list. For example, among the players highlighted as sleepers last season were Nomar Mazara (#18), Mallex Smith (#185), Willson Contreras (#212) and Trevor Story (#241), all of whom likely made some roster contributions on fantasy squads last year.

So, as I reveal some of the sleepers for this year, please do have the best and safest of holidays with family and friends! 

 Luis Urias (19, 2B, Padres): .333-6-55 last season mostly at High-A Lake Elsinore, with a fantastic 45 walks to 37 strikeouts, good for a .404 OBP. Urias could indeed spend time at Petco before the end of the 2017 season. He did make a three-game show in El Paso to finish 2016, so Urias could be fast-tracked on this rebuilding squad, especially since he can play second and third as well.

Yohander Mendez (22, P, Rangers): Went 12-3, 2.19 over 111 minor league innings last year with 113 strikeouts before a brief appearance in Arlington. Mendez could indeed make the roster out of camp. He sports a 1.093 WHIP over 292.6 minor league frames, and he is a 6'5" lefty, meaning a nice downhill angle for a hard thrower.

Brent Honeywell (21, P, Rays): Arguably the best pitcher I saw at the Fall League, I wrote as such just a few weeks back, so it is not much of a surprise Honeywell did well on the list. Went 7-3, 2.34 over 115.3 innings last season with 117 strikeouts and a 1.032 WHIP.

Phil Bickford (21, P, Brewers): 7-7, 2.92 at two levels, over 120 innings with 135 strikeouts and a 1.150 WHIP. The Brewers thought enough of Bickford to get him in exchange for Will Smith.

Eloy Jimenez (22 OF, Cubs): .329-14-81 with 40 doubles at the Midwest League at age 19. Could learn some patience with just 25 walks, but only struck out 99 times and should improve with experience. And, the Cubs indeed can have some patience with their prospect.

Ramon Laureano (22, OF, Astros): .319-15-73 with 43 steals at two levels with a solid 79 walks to 119 strikeouts, good for a .428 OBP. This included a solid performance at Double-A Corpus Christi (.323-5-13 over 36 games).

Chance Adams (22, P, Yankees): Went 13-1, 2.33 at two levels over 123.3 frames with 144 strikeouts and a spectacular 0.903 WHIP. Adams finished at Double-A Trenton, going 8-1, 2.07 with a whiff an inning, so he could be ready real quick.

Victor Robles (20, OF, Nationals): Played at three levels, finishing at High-A with an aggregate line of .280-9-42 with 37 steals and a solid 32 walks to 77 strikeouts. Really quite good for a 19-year- old. 

Follow me @lawrmichaels.

I have done little to hide my love for the Oakland Raiders, especially the last couple of years as the team has risen from the ashes in a Phoenix-like fashion that probably makes the Cardinals blush.

The Raiders hit me in 1962, when Cotton Davidson was their quarterback and the team played at Frank Youell Field, which was the gridiron associated then with Laney Junior College. Since I was born in Oakland and was, as also acknowledged, contrary, despite living in 49er-land, the Raiders became my team. Over the years since, I moved from the Dodgers to the Royals to the Blue Jays to pretty much the Athletics and Giants in baseball, and I have had my attractions with the Seahawks and Ravens and other teams doing a great job of rebuilding.

But my love for the Raiders has been steadfast, and for many years--like 1965-1990--Oakland rewarded me with the winningest franchise in sports. However, since losing in the Super Bowl 14 years ago, the Raiders have been among the most pathetic and rudderless of sports organizations.

This was sad to me, for I saw Al Davis grow from brilliant head coach to part owner to managing partner of the Raiders, to head of the AFL, to becoming the driving force behind the league merger over 50 years ago. And, that was indeed one of the more significant mergers in sports history, paving the way for the NFL we all enjoy today.

Davis was a smart judge of talent to be sure, but he also knew how to get the most out of the Island of Misfit players, as guys like Lyle Alzado, Ted Hendricks and John Matuszak all flourished beneath the Silver and Black and their motto of "Just Win Baby."

However, as Davis aged, and the league changed and grew and adjusted to itself--something that beautifully continues with innovations like the Patriots defensive schemes--the Oakland owner was stuck, trying to assemble a team as he had in the past, and well, wrecking the whole mess. With disasters like Jeff Hostetler and JaMarcus Russell, Oakland floundered until a few years ago, when Davis passed.

The good side of that is new thinking came vaulting into Oakland, and suddenly we have a once again exciting team with Amari Cooper and Derek Carr and Khalil Mack, to name the marquee guys.

Truth is I did expect Oakland to make the playoffs this year. In fact, I made a few bets supporting just that, but certainly I did not expect a 10-3 mark at this point, hoping the guys would do 9-7 as they improved this year, becoming a serious Super Bowl threat next year.

I still think this is true, but believe it or not, the Oakland loss to the Chiefs last week has given me some optimism that maybe more is in store for Oakland than I imagined this time.

And, though my reasoning here is Oakland specific, the example holds true for most any competitive team in almost any competitive sport. For Oakland did win six straight games--many in the final quarter, let alone minutes--which is pretty tough to do. I mean successfully doing anything six straight times is tough, let alone winning an NFL game. 

So, for one, the loss pulled the streak equation out of the bag for Oakland, just as it did for the Cowboys, who also saw their 10-game winning streak halted last weekend.

Since both these teams--Oakland and Dallas--are young, I did expect that as the season wore on, the team play would tighten along with experience, making the youngsters seasoned vets by this time of year, well used to the weekly patterns of game preparation.

Furthermore, the Raiders may have been confident going into the Thursday night game last week, but the team similarly had chances they could not convert, and I am guessing this loss was both sobering, and more important, a learning experience for both the players as individuals and the team as a whole.

And that should make Oakland a better, stronger, and tougher club.

I think of my time in the IT world, especially when things were new, that we would try to solve problems in certain ways and hit a roadblock. Almost always, out of this frustration grew both a solution as well as potentially providing a solution for the future with the failed idea of today. But, mostly, I learned from this process that we learn a lot more from our failures, if we pay attention, than from our successes, and I would be sure that same opportunity affords itself to both Oakland and Dallas.

As it is, Kansas City does look tough for the Raiders to hurdle, although they now are the team trying to protect the streak. Similarly, I think the Patriots, as the best coached team, possibly ever, will be beyond tough for the Oaklanders to get by looking ahead to post-season play.

But, I also think Oakland could well surprise me beyond belief with their learnings, and come back the final weeks with confidence that makes them a hot team. For, it is the hot team that usually cashes in when the post-season arrives, irrespective of discipline.

If you remember "Bull Durham," you must remember Crash Davis' great speech about respecting the streak, and to a large degree, everything he says is correct. But, I think in this instance, the pressure is off, and maybe those Raiders can indeed come through as a Cinderella team this year, and maybe even face those equally surprising Cowboys. Wouldn't that be fun?

You can follow me @lawrmichaels.

Among all the Winter League activities, I find the Rule 5 Draft to be the most fun and interesting, and the exercise with the most possiblities, especially for fantasy speculation.

Rule 5 players are those who have been signed by a Major League team, have been under contract for five seasons, have never appeared in the Majors and are not protected on the 40-man roster. It is interesting that this year's picks are all from lower levels of play, suggesting that as prospects are advanced more quickly than in previous years, teams are going younger and the pool of places to look goes lower. The question then becomes one of experience and maturity as much as skill.

Teams who participate can take a shot, and sometimes the likes of Geronimo Berroa or Kevin Millar result. But most of the time, the lack of advancement and protection prove to be justified.

But, the trick is a team drafting a Rule 5 player must keep him on the active Major League roster--or hide him on the DL, which does indeed happen--or return the player to his original team.

This means if nothing else, there is as close to a guarantee of Major League roster time for Rule 5 guys as there ever will be for a marginal gamble. I do indeed like grabbing Rule 5 Catchers, for example, for a buck, thinking if the player pans out he will help in a deep league, and if he is marginal, the playing time stats will not hurt my numbers. And if the guy goes on the DL, well that just gives me an extra reserve guy to consider as part of my overall strategy.

So, who are the Rule 5 players this year that are of interest? Here are my thoughts on the first eight drafted, and you can check out a complete list. Also note that there are both Major League and Triple-A Rule 5 rounds, and I will be covering just the Major League portion.

Miguel Diaz (22, RHP, to Twins from Brewers): First pick of the draft, Diaz is 8-18 over 236 minor league frames, but he has 222 strikeouts to go with a 1.263 WHIP and just 11 homers alowed. The Twins can indeed use some arms, and Diaz might indeed have some talent, but he has never pitched above A-ball, so a jump to the Majors is enough of a challenge at this point.

Luis Torrens (20, C, to Reds from Yankees): Torrens is exactly the kind of guy I would grab as a #2 catching gamble in an NL-only format. With literally a full season of games (161) under his belt in the Minors, Torrens produced a line of .250-6-51, with 31 doubles and a reasonable .342 OBP (73 walks to 123 strikeouts). His .686 OPS is a bit anemic, and again, Torrens has not played above A-ball, but he will likely be a third stringer, and likely a buck, so purchasing Torrens gives you $259 to spend on your remaining 22 players.

Allen Cordoba (20, SS, to Padres from Cardinals): An intriguing selection for a team looking to youth and rebuilding, Cordoba has 206 games under his belt, with a solid .309-4-63 line that also includes 150 runs and 52 steals. 70 walks to 109 strikeouts mean a great .375 OBP, and since Cordoba can play second, third, and short, breaking him in on the bench as a pinch runner/utility player is perfect, it seems. I do indeed have a serious interest in Cordoba in my Dynasty leagues at this point.

Kevin Gadea (21, P, to Rays from Mariners): More intriguing numbers, as Gadea registered a 17-6, 2.64 mark over 225.3 innings with 228 strikeouts and a 1.167 WHIP. Like his predecessors, Gadea has spent his time at the lower levels, although again, successfully. Gadea did at least pitch at Clinton last year, going 3-0, 2.15 over 50.3 innings.

Armando Rivero (28, P, to Braves from Cubs): A Cuban import, Rivero makes a nice gamble because of his age and experience playing Cuban ball. He did throw at Triple-A Iowa last year and went 5-3, 2.13 over 43 relief appearances and 67.6 innings, earning a save amidst 12 starts. Rivero has a fantastic 303 strikeouts over 220 innings, over which he had a 1.209 WHIP. Clearly, Rivero will throw out of the pen, at least to start, and he too makes a fun gamble on a team doing good things with their rebuild.

Tyler Jones (26, P, to Diamondbacks from Yankees): Originally drafted by the Twins in 2011, Jones then went to the Braves and then Pinstripes, going 19-7, 3.55 over 296.3 innings with a solid 361 strikeouts. Jones went 6-3, 2.61 over 89.6 Double-A innings, with 116 whiffs, and could work his way into the rotation. Note that at 26, he was older than his Double-A brethren, so the numbers might be deceiving.

Caleb Smith (25, P, to Brewers from Yankees): Apparently the Yankees were younger and deeper than we thought, with this third selection from the Pinstripe repository. Last season at Double-A Trenton, Smith went 3-5, 3.96 over 63.6 innings with 70 punchouts. He had a fine 2015 at Trenton, going 10-7, 3.38 over 130.6 innings, but was torched (three runs over 4.1 innings, so small sample) at Triple-A that year, so maybe the Yanks know something that is not obvious?

Justin Haley (25, P, to Angels from Red Sox): A sixth-round pick of Boston in 2012, out of Cal State Fresno, Haley went 8-6, 3.59 over 86.6 innings at Pawtucket last year, with 67 strikeouts and a 1.123 WHIP. Those numbers are actually decent enough, but again, if Haley was that good, why didn't the Sox give him a shot in the Majors when an injury occurred, let alone protect him? That said, teams do make mistakes.

Follow me @lawrmichaels 

I am having a pretty good year with my Fantasy Football teams. One squad is a solid 8-4, with two logging in at 7-5, two at 6-6, one at 5-7, and a final going 4-7-1, meaning playoffs loom for sure in three, and there could potentially be a post-season all around.

I do attribute much of this season's success to a lot of mock drafting, for among the various mocks I did--and especially Howard Bender's fantastic #MockDraftArmy--I did a good 20 mocks to precede the eight actual season long leagues in which I made selections.

So, while seven of my teams are indeed basking in the glow of potential post-seasons, my eighth team is completely finished, living in tenth place, some 39 games out of first place.

"What?" you ask yourself. "The fantasy season is usually 13 weeks, plus playoffs, and the NFL season 17 weeks, plus, so how could anyone be 39 games out of first?"

What you are asking would be correct for a standard league, but in the Kathy League Gifford, we enforce "play all", which means I have 11 matchups facing each of the other teams in the league every week. So, no squeaking by with a 125.85 to 125.65 (this one came up this season) wins or losses in this format.

Adding to the fun, in Kathy League Gifford we have the option of using two Quarterbacks each week, and also play individual defensive players, meaning each week we start 12 guys out of the 19 we draft. League Gifford is also a keeper league, and each player moves up three slots from the previous season, meaning the top three rounds of selections automatically fall back into the free agent pool the following draft season.

In the Gifford League, I have a lot of the same guys I play on my winning teams this year: Willie Snead, Theo Riddick, Michael Crabtree, Julian Edelman, Doug Martin and Sebastian Janikowski, in particular, save in Gifford, my signal callers are Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan, with Jared Goff--who will be a keeper next season--salivating on the bench waiting for an opportunity.

On my other teams, the Quarterbacks are either Cam Newton, Derek Carr or Russell Wilson, who are not bad guys, but Rodgers and Ryan are each having big years, averaging 26.5, and then 25 points respectively, so why is the rest of my squad tanking it so badly?

Well, maybe the answer is not so much in those guys tanking, as it is my average score per week in Gifford is commensurate with my H2H leagues, meaning the luck of the draw and matchup really are a lot more significant than we would like to imagine. 

As in:

League W/L AVG PF AVG PA TOT PF TOT PA
 Kathy League Gifford*  53-76  109.6  114.6 1315 1260.1
 FSTA (co-managed w/Lord Z  7-5  114  109.6 1368 1315
 Knights of the Passover Table**  6-6  80.4  90.37 965.22 1084.44
 Expert Schmexpert  4-7-1  106.3  112.8 1276 1354
 Udder Genius  5-7  116.4  125.7 1397.3 1509.1
 NAIFFL  8-4  136.4  135.8 1636.5 1629.2
 Sirius/XM Fantasy League  6-6  113.2  114.8 1359.4 1377.8
 Sirius/XM Dynasty League  7-5  132.9  129.8 1595.1 1558.4

* Total Points Against 15122 over course of play all season divided by 12 to give average.

** Not PPR

What does prove interesting is not just how close the margin of error between win and loss is in each setup, but that the smallest margin is in a league that does seem to have the most generous scoring system (note that all the leagues are similar in scoring save KLG, but there are minor differences).

Compounding the confusion is that in KLG my aggregate Points For is the second-highest positive point differential among my teams, yet that team is the worst in the standings. And, that suggests I had a couple of monster weeks accompanied by a lot more mediocre ones.

There is no question--at least to me--how much fun playing Fantasy Football is. But, as we all seem to know, there is frustration in football, as trying to assemble a winning squad, be it DFS or season-long format, can be tougher than other sports simply because the stat-base is smaller, less player positions are generally part of our teams, and less games are played.

Of course this is nothing new to any of us, and long have I preached about the goofiness of football where Napoleon Kaufman bags 60 yards of a drive, rushing, but Zack Crockett comes in to punch the ball into the end zone. For in baseball, Ted Williams was only pinch-hit for once, and no one would ever spell LeBron James or Steph Curry in the same fashion.

Still, games and numbers are fun, and well, puzzling, no?

Follow me @lawrmichaels.

The draft seasons grow longer and longer, which actually is not such a bad thing, especially if you like drafting. I happen to, and so, among the mocks and mag drafts I have done thus far pointing to 2017, perhaps the most fun and interesting was the 50-man Draft and Keep sponsored by Tim Wagner and our good friends at Fantrax.

The league, comprised of a bunch of good and successful NFBC players, is essentially following their format: 50-man drafted roster, playing a 23-man, with two roster move slots per week and no waivers or free agent pool from here on out.

Now, I have only done a couple of leagues like this, and once I finished third (with 12 teams) and the second time, sixth (with 15 squads). And, my opponents are as noted, skilled guys like Dan Kenyon, Mike Diedrich, Bryan Vogel, and of course our host, Monsieur Wagner.

Because the emphasis on such a league is truly preparing for the marathon, as opposed to walking out of the draft room with a competitive team, and adjust from there, despite the proclamations of the great Satchel Paige, we must all draft looking over our respective shoulders, in fear of ineffectiveness, or injury, or God forbid, both.

I do tend to draft power light, so I tried to focus on homers and extra-base hits, also looking somewhat at saves, but at steals, but also thinking of playing time, opportunity and flexibility.

There is not much need for me to identify all 50 picks for sure, but here are some of the guys and rounds I either liked a lot, or who gave me buyer's remorse. Note that I drafted in the 13th slot, just far enough along to have to think when it became my turn, but not quite deep enough to double up picks effectively in my opinion.

Irrespective, here goes:

1) Starling Marte (OF, Pirates): Ack, I really wanted Anthony Rizzo here, but scrolled around and could not find him, so I made the dumb assumption he was gone. So, I went some power and a lot of speed with Marte. Mistake to start. Not good. No margin for error.

2) Freddie Freeman (1B, Braves): Dude had a monster season (.302-34-91) and is going into his peak seasons with a team that is indeed improving around him. If I missed it on Rizzo, I had targeted Marte for Round 2, so I am hoping the combination of Freeman and Marte is just as productive as Rizzo/Marte might have been/will be.

5) Julio Teheran (P, Braves): Great numbers for another youngin' who should emerge as the ace in this rotation. Actually, I had targeted Johnny Cueto with my fourth pick, but he was grabbed two picks before my turn. So, I went another round of hitting (I took Andrew McCutchen) before pitching, and once I hit the hurlers, I took one each round for the next nine rounds.

14) Devon Travis (2B, Jays): I love Travis covering middle infield, for I feel confident that should he get in a full season, he will give some great numbers. As in, over his career, Travis has played 163 games with a line of .301-19-85, and that I will take.

16) Jacoby Ellsbury (OF, Yankees): This could be a great pick, or last year was indeed a harbinger, and Ellsbury has lost it. In the 16th round, I can gamble and hope for .290-15-70 with ten swipes. He is getting paid the big bucks, so Ellsbury will likely play, so the question is what is left in the tank?

20) Jorge Soler (OF, Cubs): Certainly new toys lose some gloss if they don't live up to expectations, but Soler is still just 25, and his overall numbers last year were not so horrible at .238-12-41 with 31 walks to 66 strikeouts (.333 OBP). But, Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist are free agents, and however funky Soler's 2016 was, it was better than Jason Heyward's. I am thus guessing Soler will get every chance to play every day and show what he can do, and I think he makes the leap a la Javier Baez (who is decidedly not an outfielder). So, grabbing this potential this late seems too good to be true.

26) Kyle Barraclough (P, Marlins): In the 23rd round, I nabbed Ryan Dull with eyes on potential closers for 2017, but I think Barraclough, who whiffed 111 over 72.3 frames last year, might really be the guy who emerges with some saves.

33) Clay Buchholz (P, Red Sox): A possible starter with strikeout potential this late? Well, these later rounds are the campgrounds of uncertain arms, and guys like Jeff Locke, Ubaldo Jimenez and Buchholz fell to me after round 30 as crapshoots. Buchholz is a potential Saberhagen-metrics darling, and in 2015, he logged a 1.209 WHIP and 3.26 ERA, and in 2013, a 1.025 WHIP and 1.745 ERA, so this year must be it, right?

39) Brock Holt (Mult/Red Sox): Getting a solid multi-positional guy this late seems like a good thing.

46) Sam Travis (1B, Red Sox): Someone has to play first base for the Sox next year, and I am betting that Travis will emerge. The first sacker lost most all of last year with an ACL injury, but the 23-year-old has a .202-22-151 line across 245 minor league games with a .364 OBP, and that includes 47 games at Triple-A with a .272-6-29 line. He's as ready as anyone.

Don't forget you can hit me up @lawrmichaels.

 

Perhaps no lure within the world of fantasy baseball entices owners more than the desire to discover the next big thing. 

And, let's face it, if you are in a Dynasty League with a cheap Corey Seager or even Mike Trout, you are one step ahead of the rest of your league just within the context of your freeze list.

In fact, Mastersball releases our Top 250 Prospect List to facilitate just those selections for owners prepping for drafts in deeper leagues (note I am furiously working on the Top 250 now, and plan on an early December release as part of our Platinum Package).

Well, what if we got a league full of analysts who draft teams with just rookies, trying to anticipate who will not just get some time in 2017, but players who might have an impact?

Well, the braintrust at BBHQ wondered that very question, so as part of the presentation at First Pitch Arizona (FPAZ), we did just that. Eric Karabell, Eric Longenhagen, Clay Link, Chris Blessing, Jock Thompson, Jeff Zimmerman, Brian Walton and I selected 14-man rosters consisting of nine position players and five starting pitchers for a league that will indeed track our totals, sans saves. And, that means selecting the team with the most MLB playing time is going to have an advantage.

That meant choosing from among players who already seemed to have a job, if not playing time locked up, a la Alex Reyes or Hunter Renfroe in deference to the likes of Josh Hader, who has talent, who has nowhere to go but the Show, but who has to take advantage of the opportunity.

So, rather than tell you about who I drafted, I will go through the first ten rounds and tell you who I like among the picks, and why.

Round 1. Josh Hader (Brewers, P): My pick and sort of contrarian in that Alex Reyes--taken by my mate Brian Walton as the next pick--actually has a gig in the Cards rotation. But Hader, who has nothing else to prove in the Minors, has whiffed 11.5 batters per nine innings and clearly Taylor Jungmann is not going to be the dominant starter Hader can be.

Round 2. J.P. Crawford (Phillies, SS): Considering Crawford will be 22 in January, he did pretty well, hitting .244-4-30 at Lehigh Valley over 336 at-bats, with a .328 OBP. Over 406 minor league games, Crawford has a .278-25-154 line with 62 swipes and a great .372 OBP (232 walks to 243 strikeouts). Jeff Zimmerman thinks Crawford will be the Opening Day shortstop in the City of Brotherly Love.

Round 3. Robert Gsellman (Mets, P): The next in line from what seems like a limitless supply of hot new arms, Gsellman went 4-2, 2.42 over seven starts at Citi after going 4-9, 3.99 over 115 minor league frames split between Double-A and Triple-A. Gsellman ostensibly goes into the rotation, all of which told RotoWire's Clay Link that Gsellman was a smart play irrespective of how we pronounce his surname.

Round 4. Andrew Toles (Dodgers, OF): No question the Dodgers seem to have trouble getting and keeping outfielders healthy, such that Toles, who logged 105 plate appearances and then made some post-season play as well, has a shot to start at Dodger Stadium. Add in his nice .314-3-16 line as a stretch run contributor, and we know why Brian Walton nabbed the flychaser.

Round 5. Gleyber Torres (Yankees, 3B): Torres, who turns 20 next month, was rumored to be the best looking prospect at the AFL where he hit a cool .403-3-11 with a .513 OBP and 1.158 OPS. He may be a long shot for third with the Pinstripes, but the rebuilding team does not have a lot to lose giving the kid a shot depending upon how he fares at Double-A. Eric Longenhagen figures that Torres, who has a .282-16-163 line with 53 steals and a .356 OBP over two minor league seasons, is going to be the go-to guy.

Round 6. Francis Martes (Astros, P): Again, a rotation with some question marks despite the presence of a Cy Young guy a couple of years back. Martes, just 21, rocked it pretty well at Corpus Christi last year, going 9-6, 3.30 over 125.3 frames, with 131 punchouts. Thus, Jock Thompson, one of the HQ guys, grabbed him. 

Round 7. Sam Travis (Red Sox, 1B): I was surprised that ESPN's Eric Karabell grabbed Travis this early, as he was injured the bulk of 2016. That said, the first sacker hit .272-6-29 for the PawSox before a torn ACL ended his season. Travis was successful at Triple-A, and well, then the question is who does Boston have to play first base these days? All of this factored into Eric's smart selection. 

Round 8. Cody Bellinger (Dodgers, 1B/OF): No idea where this kid will play, but he can definitely rake, hitting .314-3-17 at the Fall League following a .263-23-65 stint at Tulsa. Like Travis, I wanted Bellinger, but Mr. Longenhagen beat me to the punch.

Round 9. Jacob Nottingham (Brewers, C): I have heard that Nottingham can be tough to get along with, that he has a swing with holes, that he is flat footed, and that catching is not in his future. That said, I have seen him twice at the AFL and once at Spring Training and he has clobbered at least a double plus some other hit, meaning at least six hits over three games, half for extra bases. Since the Brewers have a bit of a hole behind the dish, amongst other places, I think the former Athletic gets a chance to play.

Round 10. Jake Bauers (Rays, OF): Bauers hit .274-14-78 at Montgomery with a solid .370 OBP (73 walks to 89 strikeouts) and could indeed be in the works for the Tampa outfield. At least that is what Jock Thompson thinks, and I suspect Jock might be onto something.

Check in next week when I look at the draft and hold team I assembled as part of a Fantrax NFBC-style tourney coordinated by the inimitable Tim Wagner.

Follow me @lawrmichaels.

The Fall is a good and fun time of year, with the Series going full throttle, along with the NFL, while Hockey and Hoops are warming up. The holidays are on the horizon, and that means my annual trek to Phoenix for the BaseballHQ First Pitch, that is part of the Arizona Fall League.

So, in and among all that good Fall stuff, Diane and I toddled down to the Valley of the Sun, and I caught four games including the AFL All Star Game, so here are my thoughts about some of the players I saw.

The numbers identified with the player are his ranking on the 2016 Mastersball minor league ranking, part of the Top 250 package. NR means the player had not yet appeared above A-ball for the requisite at-bats to be rated. The 2017 Top 250 will be published shortly and is part of our Platinum Package

Brent Honeywell (P, Rays #29): A second-round selection of Tampa in 2014, Honeywell has been nothing short of brilliant over 279.3 minor league innings, whiffing 284 while going 18-10, 2.59 with a 1.060 WHIP. He was the All Star Game starter for the West, and he whiffed five of the six batters he faced. Pretty dominant.

Willie Calhoun (2B, Dodgers NR): Drafted in the fourth round by the Dodgers in 2015, Calhoun is a spark plug (5'8", 190 lbs.) who has a quick bat and some pop to boot, as witnessed by his .264-27-88 2016 at Tulsa. Calhoun does like to swing the bat, but he similarly makes contact with strong numbers: 45 walks to 65 strikeouts over 560 plate appearances. The Keystone guy had a monster Fall Stars game, going 3-for-3, banging two singles and a big homer, knocking in three and scoring twice. Calhoun made it to first a fourth time via a Catcher's Interference call.

Cody Bellinger (1B/OF, Dodgers #94): A kid I like a lot went 2-for-4 with a walk during a league game, then struck out three times at the Stars game, but similarly crushed a 430-foot bomb that certainly caught the eyes of everyone. Bellinger was a fourth-rounder in 2013--out of high school--who hit .263-23-65 at Tulsa last year. The question might be where does Bellinger play, but the answer is if he hits, he will play somewhere. A lot like Joc Pederson.

Jacob Nottingham (C, Brewers #110): Flat-footed, not fantastic defensively, and apparently there are holes in his swing, but every time I see Nottingham play, he bangs a double off the center field wall. As in he has done this three straight times, including Spring Training. Hit .234-11-37 at Double-A in 2015.

David Paulino (P, Astros #97): The 6'7" righty kind of harkened to the days of J.R. Richard with a pair of perfect innings, one AFL game, one during Fall Stars. He whiffed four, and though Paulino does not seem to be as dominant as Richard, he did strike out 106 over 90 innings last year at three levels before a Houston cup of java. I like this guy.

Brian Anderson (3B, Marlins #1311): A little lower on my radar, the 23-year-old hit .265-11-65 split between A+ and Double-A last year. Facing Glendale, at Mesa, Anderson went 3-for-4, banging a single, double and dinger and contributed a single and a run to the Fall Stars game.

Harrison Bader (OF, Cardinals #282): Bader, who singled, doubled, and scored twice during the Fall Stars game, was a third-round selection of the Cards in 2015. The University of Florida alum had a solid 2016, hitting .267-19-58, albeit with a lot more whiffs than walks, split between Double-A and Triple-A. Bader was shut out on an 0-for-5 earlier in the week, so the jury is still out, but he should be ready for Major League time shortly.

Michael Kopech (P, Red Sox #12): Kopech hurled two shutout innings during Fall Stars, whiffing three, coming off a 4-1, 2.08 season of 56.3 frames over which he struck out 86. The first-round pick of the Sox in 2013 is just 20, so he is probably a year or so away from Fenway, but the future does look like he will need shades.

Francis Martes (P, Astros #3): Another hurler I was anxious to see, though the results, in a very small sample, were less than stellar. Martes, nearly 21, got dinged for three hits and three runs, allowing a three-run jack to Ryan McMahon. Martes fared well at Corpus Christi last year, going 9-6, 3.30, with 131 strikeouts over 125.3 innings. 

Scott Kingery (2B, Phillies #1065): Kingery, a second-round selection of the Phils in 2015, had a pretty good season, hitting .281-5-46, with 36 doubles and 30 swipes largely at Clearwater. I had not really paid much attention to Kingery, save the right-handed hitter drove a grounder into the hole during the Fall Stars game and on what looked like a routine play, was only thrown out by a step-and-a-half, meaning the kid is really fast. REALLY fast. 

Gleyber Torres (3B, Yankees #66): Torres had a tough Fall Stars game, whiffing three times, but rumor in the booth was he was the best looking prospect at the Fall League. Torres, 19, could be strong enough to make the Yankees roster coming off a .270-11-66 season during which he was part of the Aroldis Chapman swap.

Follow me @lawrmichaels.

 

Thanksgiving might indeed take place in the Autumn, but the best weekend of the season is the first one in November when BaseballHQ holds the annual First Pitch Arizona conference, or as it is known in the trade, FPAZ.

Aside from reconnecting with friends within the industry, and fantasy players from around the country, First Pitch affords discussions, seminars, a handful of Arizona Fall League games, and a like number of drafts. Among those drafts is the Experts Fantasy League, or The XFL as we call it.

The XFL, as noted, is the toughest league in which I play with a deep roster for our teams and rugged competition in the likes of Jeff Winnick, Don Drooker, Peter Kreutzer, Jeff Erickson, Ron Shandler, Trace Wood and Steve Moyer.

The XFL catch is we can freeze up to 15 players, but at the draft table we get no props: no magazines, no laptops, no cheat sheets: just our smiling faces, draft savvy and experience, and ideally good memories for player stats.

It is not necessary for me to document just how much I have indeed struggled to try and win the league, which is now 15 years old, but I can say nothing I have tried has worked yet.

So, this year, I had a reasonably good freeze list, but nothing spectacular. I did trade for Kyle Hendricks, hoping to drive my pitching staff with the Cubs hurler and Dallas Keuchel, whom I froze, and I went into the draft with $112 to spend for 11 players. 

The challenge was that the player pool this year was very lean, with Miguel Cabrera, who went for $47, leading the names of available options, and though Miggy is surely a fine investment, my fear was the inflation factor due to the limited number of stars available.

I did figure that the things I needed were homers and speed, areas where my squads always seem derelict, but how could I add 100 or so dingers and 70 or so swipes without getting gouged?

So, who did I get? Listed below are the results, with the new additions bolded (I left the comments I made within my earlier article on freezes for the league). Note too that we do have a 17-player expansion draft in March that allows us to ideally fix gaps and changes that occur during the off-season and Hot Stove.

Here we go:

Russell Martin (C, $20): The XFL counts OBP, and catcher in the league always seems to be a sinkhole. But the Jays backstop, with a career .350 OBP, has banged 20-plus homers the past two seasons, so Martin was a good fit.

Adrian Gonzalez (1B, $21): A-Gon is not Miggy, but he is pretty good, and last year Ron Shandler dropped $42 on the Dodgers first sacker for .285-19-80. Hard to turn a profit on that, but for half the price, I think I got a pretty good deal as well as another good power source with even a little upside.

Jedd Gyorko (2B, $13): Gyorko was trade spoils four years ago, and as a result, his salary only goes up $3 a year. He is close to value, though the 30 homers the infielder belted last year came along with a paltry 59 RBI. But, Gyorko has pop, is cheap, and has position flexibility up the wazoo.

Kyle Seager (3B, $26): I have had Seager for five years now, grabbing him as a $1 guy with his salary moving up $5 a season. He too is at value, but Seager also manages to improve his totals by just enough every year. 

Marcus Semien (SS, $10): Another guy with a $3+ salary, and one who provided pop and should indeed improve.

Nick Castellanos (CI, $13): One more $3+ who was on his way to a breakthrough season last year when he broke, through the rest of the season.

Aledmys Diaz ($10, MI): I got Diaz as part of a dump trade where I let go of Craig Kimbrel at the deadline, and he's a steal for $10 if he can repeat last season's totals. I doubt he is a keeper in 2017, but for now, the bulk of my infield is covered. What I need is pop at first.

Yoenis Cespedes (OF, $16): Cespe was part of the spoils of my draft six years ago, when I spent a wad on Roy Halladay and Albert Pujols, and then swapped both for prospects. Cespe also has a $3 controlled salary, and I think still has a monster year living within him.

Alex Dickerson (OF, $8): Dickerson, whom I acquired as a rookie, has a $3 controlled salary as well, and a lot of pop. He crushes the ball and has ok on-base numbers, and at this price should help with my power totals. 

Kole Calhoun (OF, $25): No question I have a thing for the Angels flychaser. His .271-18-75 totals of last year were a little low for the price I paid, but my hope is he can push the power back towards the 26 big flies collected in 2015.

Michael Brantley (OF, $17): Another guy I like, who suffered a tough injury-plagued 2016, and whom I hope can return to his 2014-15 form. Meaning .285-15-80-15 works well and are totally reasonable targets.

Kevin Kiermaier (OF, $9): Another player coming off a somewhat disappointing season, Kiermaier does have 20/20 potential, and I am willing to gamble he can pick things up and get close to his .263-10-40-18 totals of 2015. In fact, I think he can do better as a now seasoned vet.

Steven Souza Jr. (UTIL, $5): Kiermaier's OF mate has both power and a little speed and was essentially cheap. He can hit 15-plus dingers and swipe 10 if healthy.

Kyle Hendricks (P, $13): I just acquired Hendricks in a trade which cost me Hunter Renfroe and a fourth-round pick next spring. I just like the guy, who has great stuff.

Dallas Keuchel (P, $16): I received Keuchel in exchange for Matt Kemp towards the middle of last season, and the former Cy Younger is certainly worth keeping for one more season. I am hoping the Keuchel/Hendricks combo is a solid 1/2 pair of starters for me.

Danny Duffy (P, $6): Finally, Duffy, who put up a 12-3, 3.51 mark with 188 whiffs over 179.6 innings and a 1.142 WHIP, did what we thought he could. Ideally, a full season in the rotation makes Duf a solid #3 behind my mainstays.

Brandon Finnegan (P, $8): Again, willing to gamble on the young and hard-throwing Finnegan, who won ten and tossed 172 innings last year.

Jordan Zimmermann (P, $2): The Tigers starter came out of the box hot in 2015, going 5-0, 0.55 in April before injuries wiped out that good work and shortened his season. For $2, I can assume the risk Zim is back to form.

Sonny Gray (P, $11): An even more forgettable year than Zimmermann, injuries messed with Gray. But if healthy, at $11, Gray could really be a fantastic top flight complement to Keuchel and Hendricks.

Mike Foltynewicz (P, $5): Love this kid, who is still struggling to put it all together, but on a young rebuilding team, I think Folty will establish himself as a solid gambit in the coming season, doing 180-plus innings and grabbing close to a whiff per inning.

Tony Cingrani (P, $1): I have always been a fan of the Southpaw, and he collected 17 saves when moved to the pen. I think that is his niche.

Arodys Vizcaino (P, $4): There are indeed always closers available in the March supplemental, so I purchased Vizcaino and Cingrani figuring they should get saves cheap, and this will still allow me to grab a few more conversions in the future draft.

Yesterday was pretty fun. As it turned out, it was my birthday, and one of the great things about league expansion and extended playoffs and wild card games is there is almost always a World Series game for me to watch.

As it was, Diane and I came up to the mountains for one more stay before winter really takes hold of the Lake Tahoe area, and for the day we drove near Reno, to Sparks, to spend the afternoon with our friends Reid and Elaina. Mind you, Reid is a sports junkie. He had golf on when we got to their house, and over the weekend there is always golf or baseball, NFL or college football on, so once the Cubs/Tribe pre-game came on, that is where the TV went.

Unfortunately, by then it was getting dark, and the day was rainy, so we decided we should beat it back across the border to Soda Springs, which was ok with me, as I do indeed like listening to baseball on the radio. So, on the 50 mile drive back to Soda Springs, that is what we got.

I do indeed enjoy baseball on the radio, especially in the car, and this fun, throwback Series between a couple of old franchises pulls me back to when I first loved the game. This was when there were two leagues with eight teams each, and winner took all, and well, the Cubs had trouble beating the rest, while the Indians could sometimes do it.

But, when I think of those teams, these are the names that come up: Jimmy Dykes. Sonny Siebert. Rocky Colavito. Don Kessinger. Glenn Beckert. Ken Hubbs. Billy Williams. Jimmy Piersall. Ron Santo. Ernie Banks. Glen Hobbie. Max Alvis Woodie Held. Tito Francona.

I guess you get the idea.

Needless to say, I am as happy as the media--hell as we all seem to be--that both these fine old teams, who have struggled for the ultimate seasonal success, are actually duking it out with one another, meaning at least one of our big cities will finally have an end to their pennant chasing drought.

But, the whole thing, through three really fine games thus far, is indeed a sort of national tonic for us at a time when contentiousness could not be more plentiful.

Not that I want to be politicial. Nor, with the presence of teams who at least for now remind us of the "good old days" which in many ways, for many of us, were really not all that good. 

But, it is great to see that Terry Francona, who won in Boston for Theo Epstein and ended their drought, now gets to try to outsmart his former boss on the field while the great tactician Joe Maddon gets to carve Theo's name for eternity by ending said droughts, first in Boston and the Curse of the Bambino, and now, maybe the Curse of the Billy Goat can similarly be exorcised. And, if that happens, who knows, maybe Cleveland will be Theo's next stop.

But, back to this Series, it is great, and we did indeed listen into the fifth, missing only the removal of Kyle Hendricks in between getting home, and getting into the house where my brother Eric had figured out how to stream on our TV (we have no cable in the mountains, as the object is to get away from it, though we do have movies).

And, while it surely is fun to watch live, again, the radio, like the old teams, reminds me of Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons and ads for Chevron while calling the Giants games, in contrast with Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett talking up Union 76, reporting Dodger Blue.

I guess this all makes me feel and sound nostalgic, but as noted, I really am not. But, I do know what is in my comfort zone.

Mashed Potatoes. Pho. Pasta with Bolognese. Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Lying in the sun with a book. Playing acoustic guitar by myself, right here on the porch of the Soda Springs house in that very same sun.

And listening to baseball.

About six months ago, my niece Lindsay, with whom I share music, completed her exhortations in getting me to subscribe to Spotify. 

"We can share playlists," she said.

"We can do that anyway," said I.

"No commercials," said she.

"I listen to the Truckee independent radio station, and they have all local commercials, and I like them. They are funky," said I.

"You can listen to baseball without commercials," she said.

"But, I like listening to baseball on the radio. I grew up listening to baseball on the radio," said I. "I love listening to baseball on the radio."

That was the end of the conversation, and in the end, Lindsay won. I got us a Spotify subscription, and the reality is I like it a lot.

But, I still listen to baseball on the radio the old way. Finding the announcers on AM by hitting the seek button till paydirt arrives.

And, well, I can tell you: For some reason, this Series seems extra special on that radio, scratchy reception through the mountains and all.

Don't forget you can find me @lawrmichaels.

I need to start this treatise by stating that by nature, I am not a patient human being.

As a kid, I was certainly quick, and I suppose smart enough to be pushed ahead in school, but the whole process made me a little impatient and often sloppy.

So, much of my challenge as I have aged was learning to slow down. My friend Stan Cohen keeps imploring me to remember my "clicks": that each click is a beat of the heart and we are each allotted just so many clicks before we move on. Thus, we don't want to squander our clicks.

I do, in fact, credit my late son Joey with forcing me to slow down, for Joe had multiple birth anomalies, and was in diapers and a wheelchair for all of his 22 years on the planet, and well, I could only go as fast as he could. Meaning if we were ready to leave the house, and Joey needed something--like a diaper change--everything stopped and that took precedence.

As a result, I was forced much more into the moment than I could ever anticipate. And, around the time Joey arrived, I also started playing fantasy ball, and I like to think some of the lessons I got from my son with respect to patience then fell onto my strategy and game playing. I do try to be very patient the first month or so of the season, allowing the players on my baseball rosters to get into a groove, or be sent to the oblivion of the Minors, not transitively jettisoning anyone unless absolutely necessary. Because, the season is long and strange, and the guys who sucked the first month might well be really good in August.

So, when it is time to actually draft my football teams, I try to mostly get everything I think I will need over the course of the season, minus a slot here or there.

It isn't that I don't like to play the waiver wire, either, but I like to give my players a chance which means at least a month of play (just like baseball) so I can see things shake out. Either that, or I will impulsively drop Fozzy Whittaker on a Wednesday for Matt Asiata, and two days later Whittaker will tear his ACL as Jonathan Stewart returns to his starting spot, while Asiata is benched for Jerick McKinnon.

OK, maybe that is a bit melodramatic, but you know the drill. And, with just weekly games, football presents more sporadic stats than in baseball, and for me it gets hard to judge on Tuesday after a game exactly who in the waiver pool might be of help.

More to the point, I try to draft as comprehensively as I can: A pair of QBs, three-to-four each of Running Backs and Wide Receivers, and some combo of Tight Ends and Kickers, the best defensive matchup I can get at the bottom of the draft pool, and some rookie crapshoot somewhere. That usually gives me one roster slot I can shift around during bye weeks.

But, the bottom line is it takes a month to be sure that Willie Snead and Theo Riddick will even get to play and generate points regularly, so that means I just cannot feel right dropping them willy nilly. Or, so it seems.

What is tough is the same patience that was so difficult to attain, and which largely serves my tactical purpose in baseball, seems to be my bitter enemy in Fantasy Football.

But, again, the reality is on Tuesday morning, just as the orgy of weekend games have concluded, I am hardly ready to think in terms of who to replace or grab 144 hours out. 

Hell, I barely can figure out who to play at 9:30 in the morning on football Sunday.

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