Fantasy Baseball: Spring Training Position Battles
Greg Jewett goes around the league breaking down all the key position battles
In what will be a weekly segment assessing how spring training could provide insight to player’s roles and potential values for fantasy, the initial segment of Spring Vibes focuses on position battles by team with games about to ensue. There’s no guarantees about playing time and with injuries already taking effect on fantasy outlooks: Luis Severino (forearm), Carlos Carrasco (hip), Mike Clevinger (knee) and Aaron Judge (shoulder), one cannot ignore how players do in the spring. Will this translate to the regular season? Absolutely not, but honing in on which players rise to the top of the depth chart while using statistics like air outs versus ground ball outs and strikeouts against walks hint at future breakouts or adjustments by a player. With all of this in mind, consider this Vibe as a pulse of positional battles to focus on going forward.
Although most of the intrigue surrounding the Orioles in 2020 will be how they handle Austin Hays , Ryan Mountcastle and Adley Rutschman, bad teams need saves too, right? Mychal Givens seemed like the pitcher with the inside track as the closer last year but only accrued 11 saves over 58 appearances. Givens made strides owning a career best strikeouts minus walks percentage and swinging strikeout rate (15.8 percent) but early struggles and usage as the extinguisher in high leverage capped his upside as a traditional closer. Enter Hunter Harvey who transitioned to the bullpen last year after a myriad of injuries as a starting pitcher. Harvey surged as a reliever culminating in 11 strikeouts in only 6.1 innings last season. A strong spring could catapult one of these guys into the lion’s shares of saves or it could continue as a fluid bullpen situation.
Boston Red Sox
Adding Kevin Pillar as a bridge in the outfield until Alex Verdugo can return takes away some of the drama in the Red Sox lineup. But, this spring could determine if it’s Chavis or Peraza at second base and if Moreland shifts to a platoon role at first base. Chavis struggled in the second half but health potentially contributed to his swoon. Still, he owned a 33-plus strikeout percentage in each half which tempers his average upside. Peraza is only 25 years old with three seasons of at least 20 stolen bases prior to last year’s cratered results. Moreland’s best suited for at-bats versus right-handed pitching with a .262/.338/.549 slash line and 18 home runs in 275 plate appearances. Not too shabby. Chavis also will log some repetitions in the outfield as could Peraza. Stay tuned.
Chicago White Sox
Of course, service time comes into play when it’s a rookie versus a veteran. Garcia appeared in 140 games last year with a respectable .279/.310/.378 slash with 93 runs and 15 stolen bases. However, manager Rick Renteria already announced Yoán Moncada and Tim Anderson will hit in the top two spots of the lineup pushing Garcia to the bottom. Madrigal could provide stolen base upside upon his arrival swiping 35 in 48 attempts in the minors last year in 120 games with a .311 average across three levels. For now, Nomar Mazara stands to benefit from an improved lineup but with whispers of Yasiel Puig signing with Chicago or Colorado, his value could change appreciably as a result.
Knowing Dusty Baker’s propensity to prefer resting players to around 150 played plus his preference of veterans over rookies, ignoring Kyle Tucker will be tough to do. Tucker produced 34 home runs with 30 stolen bases in 125 games at Triple-A last year and four home runs with five steals in a 22 game sample with Houston. He may only hit in the .260’s, but it’s time to see what Tucker can do in the majors. Can he be worse than Reddick’s .134 isolated power in 141 games last year? As for the rotation, Peacock spread his wings in the rotation last year but cannot stay healthy in the role. Post-hype sleeper Josh James seems primed to swoop this role and run with hit. Armed with an electric fastball, James may be a favorite sleeper arm to stash late in drafts until his big spring drives his price up. Intrigued??
Josh James channels Gerrit Cole in quest to starthttps://t.co/ExeFFARGUD— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) February 20, 2020
Kansas City Royals
First Base: Ryan O’Hearn vs. Ryan McBroom
Not every spring battle comes with excitement, but when promising to provide deep content, it lands on the Ryan supremacy struggle for the Royals. O’Hearn’s teased with Statcast upside atop a flawed approach. He did increase his contact rate by over five percent last year and his walk percentage to double digits but hit under the Mendoza line. McBroom whiffed in 30 percent of his major league at-bats with a .293/.361/.360 slash in a 23 game sample but surged at Triple-A with 26 home runs in 117 contests. League-only interest only but Salvador Pérez owners will root on O’Hearn so the veteran catcher can log at-bats at first base preserving his health.
Los Angeles Angels
In the midst of a breakout season, Tommy La Stella lost time to a fractured tibia. He logged 80 games in 2019 with a career best 16 home runs and robust .295/.346/.486 slash line. La Stella hit 10 career home runs in his previous 396 contests in the majors. So, outlier or power breakout? Points of interest for La Stella include his 93.6 Z-Contact (in the strike zone) percentage and minuscule 4.2 swinging strike rate. But, his competition includes David Fletcher armed with a 96.1 Z-Contact and 3.2 swinging strike percentage but a paltry .094 isolated power. Perhaps a platoon? It seemed like Luis Rengifo would head out of town in a deal which evaporated with the Dodgers. Rengifo excited fantasy owners with stolen base upside based on his 35 steals in the minors in 2018 but he only stole two in the majors over 108 games.
New York Yankees
Depth and forward thinking kept the Yankees afloat in 2019 when injuries ravaged the roster. It seems like a carry over effect lingers with James Paxton out due to back surgery to remove a peridiscal cyst for three-to-four months. Then, this news broke on Friday:
Luis Severino is scheduled to travel to New York on Monday for a battery of tests. He was examined by Dr. Chris Ahmad this morning.— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) February 21, 2020
Already hoping for a bounceback by J.A. Happ in the rotation, the Yankees will potentially be auditioning roles for the fourth and fifth spots as well. Jordan Montgomery makes his way back to fantasy relevance. He debuted with nine wins in 2017 with a 3.88 ERA in 155.1 innings then needed Tommy John surgery in 2018 and suffered shoulder soreness working his way back last year. Deivi Garcia owns upside but a propensity to issue walks. ZiPS forecast Garcia for a 7-7 record over 107.2 innings and a 4.68 ERA in 2020 if he can win a spot in the rotation but with 129 strikeouts. It feels like every year will be Loaisiga’s, not sure if he can hold a spot down even with two starters possibly out.
As for first base, Luke Voit ’s breakout in 2018 seems to be overlooked by the fantasy community. Prior to Voit’s abdominal injury, he owned a .280/.393/.509 slash with 17 home runs in 349 plate appearances. Trying to return too soon, Voit scuffled to a .228/.345/.368 slash his last 161 plate appearances with only four home runs. Mike Ford stepped in when Voit cratered hitting .259/.350/.559 in 50 games with 12 home runs. A wild card, Miguel Andújar ’s learning first base and outfield returning from a lost 2019. Andujar’s one season removed from 149 games, 27 home runs and 92 RBI with a .297/.328/.517 line in 2018. By the way, free Clint Frazier and trade for starting pitcher depth please. Asking for a friend of Gingers.
Not your normal dog fight for a position with a WWE battle royale about to ensue. Both Barreto and Mateo cannot be optioned adding to the intrigue. For a primer on Barreto, click this link:
As for who wins, it’s up in the air. Barreto’s teased with big springs before but an inflated strikeout percentage in the majors. However, at Triple-A last year, Barreto appeared in 98 games with a .295/.374/.552 slash with 19 home runs and 15 stolen bases, which makes one feel a certain warm fuzzy. But, ZiPS sees Barreto hitting .226/.287/.423 in 2020 with 20 home runs and 11 steals. Less fuzzy by far, which makes projections fun and frustrating. Heed his spring and role.
Tony Kemp does not jump off the page but could be the safe veteran play at second for a contending team. Kemp hit .212/.291/.380 in 279 plate appearances with eight home runs and four steals last year. Mateo or Neuse could be wild cards. Mateo’s power surged last year, bouncy baseball alert, popping 19 home runs with 24 stolen bases at Triple-A in 119 games. He also hit .289/.330/.504 in them scoring 95 runs. Neuse owns the highest power ceiling of the group launching 27 in 126 games at Triple-A last season driving in 102 runs with a .317.389/.550 slash. Confused? Hard same.
Handicapping the Mariners bullpen gets dicey, especially dispersing save chances to Anthony Bass and Matt Magill over the last six weeks with no discernible usage pattern. Magill returns to the bullpen with the inside track it seems. He surged from August until the end of the season with five saves in 22.1 innings and a 28:5 K:BB. His ERA fell to 3.63 with a 3.34 xFIP and 1.16 WHIP. More importantly, his swinging strike percentage rose to 15.7 percent cutting contact to 67.2 percent. Yes, Yoshihisa Hirano , Dan Altavilla and Sam Tuivailala loom, but pay attention to who pitches in the fifth inning of spring contests.
Feel good story of Taijuan Walker returning to Seattle for a second chance comes with reports of his velocities below his pre-injury levels. There’s a chance Justin Dunn could wrest the fifth starting spot from Walker during the spring. More of a league only battle to track but worth monitoring in deep formats.
Tampa Bay Rays
Closer: Well, it feels like anyone could win the role…
Infield: See above...
Outfield: See above again…
Welcome to the most confusing roster in baseball. Tampa Bay traded 2019 saves leader Emilio Pagán to San Diego for Manuel Margot . Over the last two seasons, Pagan led the team last year with 20 saves and Sergio Romo led the Rays with 25 in 2018. But, Kevin Cash seems to prefer a match-up approach of late in high leverage meaning Nick Anderson , Diego Castillo , José Alvarado , Colin Poche and even Peter Fairbanks could be factors for saves in a loaded bullpen. Anderson curries favor with the fantasy community due to his 41 strikeouts versus two walks with a 2.11 ERA in 23 games with Tampa Bay. Feeling lucky?
In the infield, Nate Lowe starts the first game of spring at third base but Yandy Díaz and his major league 19th best average exit velocity (91.4 MPH) should get the majority of playing time at the hot corner. Lowe could fight for at-bats at first base with Ji-Man Choi along with José Martínez . Brandon Lowe projects to start at second base and Willy Adames at shortstop with Joey Wendle backing up all over the infield.
As for the outfield, Kevin Kiermaier and Manuel Margot could platoon in center field with Hunter Renfroe potentially the primary left fielder with Austin Meadows in right field. But, Brandon Lowe could see time in left field as well with Yoshi Tsutsugo as well, though the Japanese import should be the primary designated hitter with power upside. If investing in any of the peripheral Rays, be sure to track spring usage closely along with where they hit in the lineup.
Fusing these two positions seems odd but only Guzman falls into the fray at first base. He’s holding on to his spot by a thread due to a .229/.307/.415 slash through his first 210 major league contests. Danny Santana recorded 28 home runs with 21 stolen bases and a .285/.324/.534 slash in 130 games last year. Nick Solak made a positive impression with fantasy owners hitting .293/.393/.491 with five home runs and two stolen bases in 33 games. He reported to camp early to take fly balls in center, could play first base or second if Rougned Odor struggles as well. Eli White projects as a possible double digit potential target for home runs and stolen bases.
This seems like a foregone conclusion when looking at average draft position data. Gallen won two of his five decisions with Arizona last year with a .289 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 43.2 innings. Kelly went 13 - 14 with a 4.42 ERA and 158 strikeouts in 183.1 innings for the Diamondbacks last year. Kelly could end up as the long reliever barring injury but Gallen may need to win his role in the rotation. Think Gallen’s relatively safe, plus Arizona owns upside arms in Alex Young and Jon Duplantier as well, mercy.
What a difference a year makes. Johan Camargo emerged in 2018 hitting 19 home runs with 139 runs plus RBI and a .272 average then cratered to a .233 average last year with seven home runs along with only 63 runs plus RBI. Reportedly in the best shape of his life down to 187 pounds, Camargo enters spring games battling Riley for third base and potentially hitting fifth in the lineup. Riley surged his first 42 games averaging a home run every 11.5 at-bats then the league adjusted limiting him to a .495 on-base plus slugging percentage his last 38 contests. On the periphery of batting fifth includes Dansby Swanson and the catching platoon.
Transitioning to the rotation, veterans Sean Newcomb and Félix Hernández project to win the last two spots for Atlanta. However, big springs along with struggles by either Newcomb or Hernandez could open the door for Kyle Wright , Bryse Wilson or Ian Anderson (longshot) to emerge. Monitor this closely.
Well, if anyone harbors intrigue for Tyler Chatwood , let’s get a beer as you must be fearless. League only and deep format players can secretly pull for Alec Mills to win the fifth spot in the Cubs rotation. Mills logged 36 innings in the majors last year with a 48.9 ground ball rate, 2.75 ERA, 3.98 xFIP and 42:11 K:BB. Not stellar, but pretty, pretty good. Adbert Alzolay also owns an outside shot at this spot but his walk rate tempers any excitement in the role ala Chatwood. Throw strikes kids. By the way, Kris Bryant could hit leadoff for this team changing his RBI projections, plan accordingly if this occurs.
Outfield: Everything except Nick Castellanos at-bats are up for grabs…
Primed for a platoon in center field and left field, some will depend on the health of Nick Senzel along with how Shogo Akiyama plays in the spring. Post-hype sleeper potential lies with Jesse Winker and will Aristedes Aquino be demoted since he can be sent down one more time? Filter this situation closely since it could be fluid.
Outfield: Sam Hilliard vs. Team development of rookies
It’s possible Garrett Hampson fills a utility role playing all over the diamond and stealing bases for his owners. Ryan McMahon could build on his breakout of 24 home runs. Colorado could continue to stifle rookie production not using Sam Hilliard , though his 35 home runs with 22 stolen bases in 126 Triple-A contests will be tough to ignore. He’s also the only player on this roster capable of playing center field other than Hampson. Yet, nothing with this team ever surprises anyone. Oh, and they’re rumored to be considering Yasiel Puig , so there’s that.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Starting Rotation: Wash, rinse and repeat…
Vacating the roster, Rich Hill (free agency) and Kenta Maeda via trade, both to Minnesota. Would it be funny if Hill’s return bumps Maeda to the bullpen in August? Anyways, focusing on the Dodgers, it appears Julio Urías owns the inside track to gain a spot in the rotation. He’s projected by THE BAT for a 10 - 7 record with a 3.80 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 137 innings. Not bad, but not a full season. Alex Wood could be the fifth starter and his projections by the same system yields a 8 - 6 record with a 4.18 ERA, 123 innings and 103 strikeouts. Last, but not least, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin also may factor making starts throughout the season as well. Health and spring performances could factor highly in who wins their role, so watch with razor focus.
San Diego Padres
Before attempting to figure out who Valera may be, Profar produced back-to-back 20 home run seasons with 10 steals in one year and nine last year. But, his average fell to .218 in 2019 compared to a much more palatable .254 in 2018. So, who will Profar be? It remains to be seen but he’s worked on his throwing mechanics and reports suggest he will remain at second base this spring. Wild card, Valera who cannot be optioned but hit .315/.388/.515 in 83 Triple-A games for the Yankees last year with 13 home runs and eight stolen bases. If Profar cannot recover against right-handed pitching (.192 average last year), the door opens a bit for Valera.
San Francisco Giants
Closer: Projected committee, sigh…
Not only did Will Smith leave via free agency, he joins former teammate Mark Melancon in Atlanta. This leaves a void in San Francisco for the ninth inning in the midst of a rebuild. Tony Waston should receive some save chances, he recorded 25 between 2016-to-2017 and pitched well prior to a blowup prior to his injury which cut his season short. Shaun Anderson closed out 13 games in college for the University of Florida. Anderson yields a high rate of fly balls, nice at home but less than optimal in road contests and needs to hone his command if he wishes to close games in the majors. Jandel Gustave also could close some games but also suffers from issuing too many free passes. Wild card?
Tyler Rogers was absolutely dominant in live BP. One hitter yelled “progress!” when he popped a pitch straight up, another walked out of cage after striking out and looked at teammates like ????— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) February 20, 2020
St. Louis Cardinals
Closer: Potential committee, eye roll emoji…
Sorry this article’s running so long. St. Louis will use a bunch of guys in high leverage among Andrew Miller , Giovanny Gallegos , John Gant and John Brebbia . But, ignoring Ryan Helsley as the potential closer until Jordan Hicks can return may be a mistake. Especially when reading the beat writer reports surrounding this spring competition.
Not much went right for Matt Carpenter in 2019 and he looks to 2020 as a reset button. However, if his health continues to limit production or he continues to struggle, Tommy Edman lurks in the wings. Edman racked up 11 home runs with 15 stolen bases in 92 contests last year with a .304/.350/.500 slash. Not sure Edman can carry over this pace to a full season, but also not convinced Carpenter can hold this spot all season.
For those like me who like to dream:
Carlson breaking camp with this team would be a game changer to his average draft position. Speculate in the end game on this talented outfielder.
Third Base: Carter Kieboom vs. the field
While the Nationals signed about every multi-positional infielder this off-season to a contract, news of Kieboom entering camp on the precipice of winning the third base job makes for some intrigue. Kieboom struggled upon his promotion last year but did not pout in the minors. He recorded a .303/.409/.493 slash over 109 games in Triple-A with 16 home runs and five stolen bases. ZiPS projects Kieboom for 16 home runs and five steals with a .253/.333/.412 line in 2020 in 125 games. There’s room for more. If Kieboom fails, he gives way to Asdrúbal Cabrera . By the way, Starlin Castro will start at second base, he’s basically a fantasy free play in current drafts. Last, our own Jim Bowden interviewed the front office and they plan on Daniel Hudson sharing saves with Sean Doolittle .
Be sure to check back weekly for spring training tidbits, potential breakout candidates and how all of these battles evolve in actual games with performance being a factor. Forget about scandals, and focus on games. Baseball’s back baby.