MLB fantasy roundtable: Hosmer's struggles, Chapman's future, more
Young hitters like Eric Hosmer often struggle in first full major league season
Aroldis Chapman has arm to become one of the game's Top-5 closers immediately
Wade Miley, Bryan LaHair among fast starters who may decline as year moves on
Each week of the baseball season a committee of SI.com fantasy experts will meet at pitching mound and offer their insights into the most intriguing questions facing fantasy players.
1. Eric Hosmer came in as one of the game's best young rising stars but he has struggled to hit this season. What do you expect he'll do the rest of the way?
Will Carroll: He'll be better, but the Royals have a hard time taking talent from the minor leagues and getting it to the major leagues. They're not quite the mid-00s Angels, but close. Does Hosmer have the skills or was he yet another overhyped prospect? I'm not sure, but the Royals see what relying on a lot of those can do. Hosmer's not this bad, but I'm not sure he was ever that good.
Eric Mack: Hosmer is due. Young hitters can slump for a couple of months, particularly in their first full season in the majors, and then come out of it. He has already proven capable of hitting major-league pitching, so we should expect the numbers we saw a year ago to start coming soon. Buy low now for a potential breakthrough.
David Sabino: If someone told you in March that come May 22, Hosmer would have the same number of RBI, fewer home runs and just over half of the batting average of Omar Infante, you'd have said that person was crazy. But that's exactly where the young first baseman and Marlins second baseman are. It's certainly not uncommon for youngsters with great potential to struggle in the majors, even after having some success like Hosmer did last season. However the Royals are all in on their youth movement and have no apparent plans to demote the big first baseman. Not many think he's as bad as his .174 batting average and .243 on-base percentage (sixth-worst among qualifiers) suggest, especially since he's providing some value (5 HR, 20 RBIs). Baseball is a game of averages, so I can see the South Florida native getting hot as the temperature rises, although in keeper leagues I would entertain trade offers from those teams starting to fade from the race.
2. Aroldis Chapman has been all but unhittable and now has been named the Reds closer. Do you expect more of the same this season or will the pressure of the ninth inning, or Dusty Baker, make his stay a short one?
Carroll: Dusty likes "his guys," and Sean Marshall, for whatever reason, was never his guy. I'm not sure if Ryan Madson was going to be his guy, but he had the "proven closer" tag coming in, so I think Dusty would have trusted him. Chapman looks like a closer and throws like a closer, but he prepped to be a starter this spring. The rules that Baker used a couple seasons ago seem to be off him, but we don't know how Chapman will respond to a heavier usage pattern. Marshall offers an easy option if Dusty doesn't want to go back to back to back, but then again, if he's worried, why not just keep things as is? What does naming Chapman gain for anyone?
Mack: Chapman is the Reds' best pitcher, not just reliever. While Baker is not quite sure he is the full-time closer for the rest of the season, we should be viewing Chapman as such in fantasy. With that arm, assuming he stays healthy and in command, we should be looking at one of the top five closers in fantasy. That said, this is a closer, and this is 2012, so anything can happen.
Sabino: Chapman has one of the strongest arms in baseball and the only reason that he hadn't been used in the closer's role before was because the Reds didn't think he was prepared for pressure situations. He hasn't allowed an earned run since Sept. 10 and has been striking out batters at a rate of 1.74 per inning, which are two of the main traits you want from a closer. However, off-the-field problems (this past week he was accused of helping the Cuban State Security service capture a Cuban-American who was then imprisoned and tortured, and he was arrested for driving 93 mph with a suspended license) leave the slightest opening for failure, but for now, he's a full-speed ahead closer to target.
3. What players are you selling high on right now? Who don't you trust to maintain their performance?
Carroll: There are some ridiculous paces ... David Wright's not going to hit 400. Josh Hamilton isn't going to hit 80 homers. Ted Lilly's not going to go 20-0. But those are all good, solid MLB players. Lilly's not a star, but there's always a guy who has things break right for him in a given year. I have a harder time with young players like Wade Miley or Bryan LaHair, who the league might adjust to after they see them a while.
Mack: Any of the young pitchers going well right now are sell-high candidates. They always are. That includes Brandon Beachy, Lance Lynn, Tommy Milone and Wade Miley. If other fantasy owners are on to your age-old strategy of selling pitching for hitter, particularly young arms, consider Carlos Beltran, Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Reddick and Austin Jackson candidates to slow their current roll. These are free-swinging, streaky slugger types that tend to be streaky and are due to cool off.
Sabino: I'm jumping off of the older set at the height of their value, so Carlos Beltran, Derek Jeter, Rafael Furcal top my list of hitters to try to deal. On the mound, I can't see Derek Lowe keeping up the virtually unhittable pace he's been on while his teammate Chris Perez has talked himself into a very tough situation with the Cleveland fans and is in a situation that could turn ugly.
4. Carlos Ruiz has posted an All-Star season thus far. Will he return to earth? What other players do you think will surprise for the entire season?
Carroll: Ruiz always seems to pick things up when needed. It's uncanny. With Howard and Utley closer, I think Ruiz will ease off a bit. I'd like to see him get a bit more time off, but he's not the typical catcher. I don't think Derek Jeter is a surprise, but he's playing like the Jeter of old, not the old Jeter. He could seriously test 4,000 hits, and if he does that, does he stick around to chase Pete Rose? (And yes, I think Jeter could be a player/manager, plus he could be the DH if needed as long as he's relatively productive.) I like what I've seen from Carlos Zambrano in another Ozzie Guillen reclamation. I also think Brandon Beachy -- you know, the Kokomo Kid -- is going to get Cy Young votes, if not the award.
Mack: I like the renaissance of the White Sox's Adam Dunn and Jake Peavy, the breakthrough of Adam Jones (he turns 27 this season) and the resurgence of David Wright. These are all good players performing to potential after a few years of fantasy disappointment. They very well can sustain this and carry fantasy owners to titles this year.
Sabino: The rigors of a long season as the primary catcher plus the oddly large number of RBI opportunities he's gotten so far will bring Ruiz, one of the better catchers in the NL, back down to earth. However, he's not someone to get rid of as good offensive catchers are far and few between. As for others, you can count me as a believer in Adam Jones, Andrew McCutchen, Andre Ethier in a contract year, Bryan LaHair, Jim Johnson, Tommy Milone, the man he was traded for, Gio Gonzalez, Kyle Lohse, and Wade Miley.