Fantasy Baseball: Spring Training Battles
Greg Jewett goes around the league breaking down all the key position battles.
More confusing than sorting out the voluminous positional battles in the major leagues, how will baseball handle the upcoming season amongst the Coronavirus pandemic? Without any clarity at the time of the submission, contingency plans need to be accounted for, mostly covered in this article by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, it’s a free link. One scenario, the season gets cut to 144 games, another with no All-Star break and neutral home sites with domes or retractable roofs for the playoffs. No matter how it happens, readjusting values could occur with injured players potentially not missing time makes for intriguing drafts this weekend.
With so many layers of topics, this week’s position battles and breakouts will go by team in each division with some thoughts and potential hot takes. Use spring training statistics with a grain of salt but eying usage patterns.
American League East
While no official word on how long Trey Mancini could be sidelined, fantasy owners can hone in how the team will use Ryan Mountcastle , this may push up his arrival time. It’s tough to ignore Chris Davis with nine walks versus three strikeouts, a .467 average and 1.682 on-base plus slugging percentage. As for the bullpen, it seemed like Hunter Harvey received the stamp of approval from his manager in an interview with Craig Mish, but it also remains potentially fluid with Tanner Scott (7:3 K:BB, 4.2 IP, 1.93 ERA) tossing his hat into the three-ring circus. As for this team’s rotation, tread lightly.
Boston Red Sox
Perhaps it’s reputation or just potential regression, but Eduardo Rodríguez presents himself as a possible bargain this year. Rodriguez recorded 10 strikeouts in an outing on Wednesday moving his spring K:BB to 20:2 over 11 innings. Nate Eovaldi could also provide sneaky value with a 12:1 K:BB through his first eight innings spanning three contests. In deeper formats, Mitch Moreland should be on the right side of a first base platoon, he’s hitting .417/.533/.664 with three walks versus four strikeouts and owns strong Statcast data. Kevin Pillar seems like a forgotten commodity but with Alex Verdugo still sidelined, Pillar’s hitting .355/.394/.484 with four doubles.
New York Yankees
Although most of the focus with this team centers on the array of injuries, the middle of the rotation seems to be taking shape. Jordan Montgomery continues to surge with a 16:1 K:BB in 11 innings and a 0.73 WHIP. J.A. Happ owns a 16:1 K:BB with a 0.62 WHIP in 13 innings and Jonathan Loaisiga maintains a minuscule 0.29 WHIP with 11 strikeouts against zero walks. Each day Gary Sánchez misses work, his owners should track Kyle Higashioka . He’s hit three home runs with a .974 on-base plus slugging through 27 at-bats. However, with no outfield clarity, it’s too early to predict potential playing time other than Brett Gardner logging most of the time in center field.
Tampa Bay Rays
A fluid infield does not affect Willy Adames , he’s locked in as the shortstop. Plus, he’s showing well so far with a .364 average and 1.052 on-base plus slugging. Adames displayed some strides in the second half of last year and may be a sneaky play in deeper formats. Speaking of which, while everyone’s chasing speed Randy Arozena flies below the radar. Arozena’s hitting .471/.654/.647 with nine walks and three stolen bases with no strikeouts.
Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto’s “Baby Jays” continue to rake this spring and this could be a dangerous lineup at times. Post-hype poster boy Danny Jansen hit a grand slam, his fourth home run of spring and he’s walked three times against one strikeout. Randal Grichuk also seeks to improve his plate discipline and checks in with five walks versus six strikeouts, three home runs plus a 1.153 on-base plus slugging percentage. In the battle for first base, Rowdy Tellez and Travis Shaw continue to underwhelm. Good news for the rotation, through 6.2 innings Matt Shoemaker carries a 9:1 K:BB as he builds up arm strength. Toronto’s bullpen needs depth and A.J. Cole could gain a high leverage role if he continues his strong spring. Long term, it’s Rafael Dolis but he’s hurt right now.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox
News of Edwin Encarnación nursing a sore hip means Yermin Mercedes could break camp with the team. Mercedes presently owns a .381 average with a 1.409 on-base plus slugging percentage with four home runs. No one seems to want to win the second base job, but it appears Leury García will open the season with the job. A tremendous return to the mound for Michael Kopech hitting 100 MPH on the radar in a scoreless inning. His innings will be capped and his command needs work, but his upside remains.
Reports speculate Opening Day will be a stretch for Carlos Carrasco , his owners take solace in the MRI showing no structural damage in his elbow. Franmil Reyes continues to flash his power in spring with a 1.148 slugging percentage including four doubles and five home runs. César Hernández could benefit from the Ocsar Mercado injury. Hernandez could hit second at the onset of the season. So far, he’s walked three times versus two strikeouts with a .333/.448/.583 slash in spring. Both Aaron Civale (5 IP, 9:2 K:BB, 0.60 WHIP) and Zach Plesac (8.1 IP, 9:2 K:BB, 1.08 WHIP) represent upside plays at their present price points.
Keeper league owners will drool over the potential Triple-A rotation for Detroit. Casey Mize , Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal possess tremendous ceilings for an organization in a deep rebuild. No one seems to want C.J. Cron but he’s launched three home runs, walked more (five times) than he’s struck out (four) this spring and owns a 1.274 on-base plus slugging percentage. Deep sleeper alert, Spencer Turnbull (8 IP, 10:2 K:BB, 0.80 WHIP). By the way, Matt Boyd’s changed his arsenal, racked up 12 strikeouts in 9.1 innings and a 1.07 WHIP.
Kansas City Royals
Mining bats from the Royals seems like a losing proposition but the Ryan battle at first base continues with both producing. Ryan O’Hearn (five home runs, .343/.395/.857) and Ryan McBroom (three home runs, three walks, 1.026 on-base plus slugging) seem to be making the manager’s decision tough. Fan favorite Alex Gordon could lose time as the season progresses if Bubba Starling (three home runs, three stolen bases, 1.208 OPS) maintains the gains. It seemed like fantasy owners could trust Ian Kennedy as the closer, but reports suggest the high leverage innings could be shared. Trevor Rosenthal seems to be rising from the ashes with nine strikeouts through five innings. Drifting in drafts, Danny Duffy upped his velocities so far and owns a 0.83 WHIP with nine strikeouts versus one walk over six innings.
American League West
An injury to Justin Verlander made this rotation more murky. Lance McCullers continues building arm strength slated to be the second starter right now. Behind him, Jose Urquidy owns a bloated ERA along with one of the higher average draft spots. Josh James (8.2 IP, 9:3 K:BB, 0.92 WHIP), Austin Pruitt (9 IP, 3:1 K:BB, 0.78 WHIP), Framber Valdez (10.1 IP, 11:4 K:BB, 1.06 WHIP) and Bryan Abreu (8 IP, 13:4 K:BB, 0.88 WHIP) all stake their claims for the remaining spots in the rotation. Sore knees cloud Yordan Alvarez opening the season on time but it could translate to steady at-bats for Kyle Tucker . Stay tuned.
Los Angeles Angels
Owners of Shohei Ohtani need to file away his day to pitch could be Wednesdays, not Sundays like in 2018 with off-days on Thursdays meaning he can hit on Fridays.
Second base remains hotly contested with three players showing well and two fading:
Tony Kemp - 29 at-bats, home run, stolen base; .345/.412/.483
Vimael Machin - 30 at-bats, six walks; .333/.444/.400
Franklin Barreto - 36 at-bats, four doubles; .306/.359/.528
Jorge Mateo - 26 at-bats, six walks, four stolen bases; .231/.375/.231
It appears like Barreto and Kemp own the inside track to make the team while Mateo could be traded. Meanwhile, Jesús Luzardo flashes his ceiling with 13 strikeouts against one walk in 8.1 innings.
News of Braden Bishop heading to minor league camp does not sound any alarms, but it opens the door for Tim Lopes or Dylan Moore to win a spot on the roster. Each possesses stolen base upside so monitor their progress in camp. Seattle also announced a timeshare at catcher between Tom Murphy and Austin Nola . Deep league owners searching for a catcher without sacrificing batting average may be able to mine some value in Nola. Additionally, each could receive at-bats as the designated hitter versus left-handed pitching. While Matt Magill tries to ramp up his throwing, Brandon Brennan may work his way into a high leverage role with a strong spring. Brennan’s logged 5.2 innings with a 5:1 K:BB and 0.71 WHIP to this point.
One of the hottest hitters in spring, Isiah Kiner-Falefa owns a .378 average with a 1.167 on-base plus slugging percentage and four home runs in 37 at-bats. If Ronald Guzmán and Greg Bird continue to struggle in camp, Todd Frazier could shift to first with Kiner-Falefa stealing at-bats at third base.
National League East
Competition can yield tough decisions and one looms for the Braves at third base. Austin Riley currently carries a .333/.379/.630 slash line with two doubles, two home runs and four RBI in 27 at-bats. Johan Camargo owns a .308/.333/.500 slash with two doubles, one home run and six RBI over 26 at-bats. Loser heads to the minors?
If you feel a need, a need for speed, pull for Monte Harrison to land a roster spot in Miami. Harrison’s swiped six bases this spring with five walks against six strikeouts along with an alluring .381/.500/.524 slash so far. As the bullpen turns for the Marlins, it’s still Brandon Kintzler ahead but Brad Boxberger (5.1 IP, 6:1 K:BB, 0.38 WHIP) and Yimi Garcia (7 IP, 8:1 K:BB, 0.14 WHIP) keep gaining ground.
Visions of Victor Robles hitting leadoff seem to be dust in the wind. This makes Trea Turner owners happy with the upside of his running atop the lineup. Kurt Suzuki faces an uphill climb to at-bats with Yan Gomes receiving the lion’s share of work at catcher according to manager Dave Martinez. All articles about the fifth starter seem to focus on Joe Ross despite his four walks against three strikeouts in 7.1 innings. Autsin Voth pitching well out of the bullpen seems to be working against him even though he’s pitching better this spring (7 IP, 6:1 K:BB, 1.00 WHIP).
National League Central
No front runner at second base with a capsule of the competition to this point:
David Bote - 24 at-bats, five walks, six strikeouts; .333/.448/.375
Nico Hoerner - .310/.429/.404 line with five walks against six strikeouts
Jason Kipnis - .182/.208/.273 line and seven strikeouts with one walk
Daniel Descalos - .160 average with nine strikeouts and three walks
Encouraging quotes from Craig Counsell regarding Freddy Peralta and Corbin Burnes coincide with Eric Lauer nursing a shoulder injury. Burnes (10 IP, 13:3 K:BB, 0.90 WHIP) and Peralta (12 IP, 15:6 K:BB, 1.00 WHIP) make for intriguing dart throws in drafts.
Finally, news which makes sense in regards to a new Pirates philosophy:
Sources: #Pirates have approached at least four players - RHP Joe Musgrove, OF Bryan Reynolds, SS Kevin Newman and 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes - about extensions. Hayes, like #WhiteSox CF Luis Robert, has yet to play in majors, but agreeing to deal might ensure place on Opening Day roster.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) March 10, 2020
Of interest, Ke’Bryan Hayes getting to the majors sooner rather than later. He’s walked more than he’s struck out in spring with a .292/.414/.458 slash. Still hyping Nick Burdi for eventual saves. Keone Kela remains a ticking time bomb and Burdi’s off to a strong spring with an 8:1 K:BB in 4.2 innings.
St. Louis Cardinals
Absolutely no clear picture of this outfield, even with another week of contests. With Byung-Hyun Kim and Daniel Ponce de Leon staking claims to the rotation, this clears a path for Alex Reyes to potentially close games. Making the call it’s him and not Giovanny Gallegos at the onset of the season. Could be wrong, but it remains in the tea leaves.
National League West
For the Zac Gallen truthers, Mike Leake still on the sidelines paves a way for him to stay in the rotation. Carson Kelly struggled with right-handed pitching last year and off to a slow spring. It’s crazy, but the door remains open for Stephen Vogt to find his way to mixed league intrigue in 2020.
As a second catcher in league only formats, Elias Díaz in Coors Field owns a spring slash of .429/.458/.521 with two walks and one strikeout. Ryan McMahon finished the second half second to only Nolan Arenado in home runs and RBI. McMahon’s walked five times with five strikeouts, batting .296 with a 1.073 on-base plus slugging and three home runs in spring. Could Raimel Tapia beat out Sam Hilliard ? Stay tuned.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Most of the fantasy community focuses on the pending coronation of Julio Urías , but ignores veterans David Price (4.1 IP, 10:3 K:BB) and Alex Wood (5.2 IP, 7:0 K:BB). Luckily you will not make the same mistake.
San Diego Padres
Noting the outfield taking shape with Wil Myers hot camp and Trent Grisham hitting well, second base and the fifth starting pitcher job remain up for grabs. In a potential platoon role, Greg Garcia owns the inside track to playing time while Brian Dozier battles Jurickson Profar . In bigger news, Joey Lucchesi could lose his spot in the rotation to Cal Quantrill . It’s too early to call, but Lucchesi (4.2 IP, 3:6 K:BB, 2.57 WHIP) needs to step up while Quantrill (7 IP, 9:1 K:BB, 0.43 WHIP) stakes his claim.
San Francisco Giants
Fantasy owners know Billy Hamilton will not hit for a high average, but he’s on track to start in center field and could steal 20 or more bases with a chance for 30 if he accrues 400 or more plate appearances. Of course, he cannot steal first base. Darin Ruf stays hot with a .429/.469/.1.000 line with three home runs. As for the bullpen, and especially closing, Shaun Anderson gives up too many fly balls and it’s costing him this spring. Trevor Cahill remains in the hunt for the rotation but could move to the bullpen. His 8:1 K:BB so far makes him interesting. Tyler Rogers flies as far below the radar as his arm compared to his shoulder when releasing a pitch. But, Rogers owns a tidy 0.46 WHIP with a 7:1 K:BB in 4.1 innings. Dark horse, Trevor Oaks armed with a 0.60 WHIP in five innings with a 5:1 K:BB. Tony Watson remains sidelined with a shoulder injury.
As this gets sent to the editor, take note of the changing landscape with more news pending:
MLB execs are meeting all day. There will be an update sometime today. Measures will be taken. postponements/cancellations are on table.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) March 12, 2020