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We’ve been covering a number of position battles occurring this spring and I have to say, there are quite a few more than I thought there would be. While that makes spring training that much more exciting, it’s really screwing with the heads of fantasy owners who are drafting right now because all these battles are leaving far too many situations up in the air. Some might not affect those of you in more shallow leagues – 12 teams or fewer – but for those who play in deeper leagues and are counting on a more expansive player pool…well…these battles are a huge pain in the ass.
Two more situations that require your attention can both be found at second base and both in the NL East. The Washington Nationals are trying to give Danny Espinosa a chance to win the starting job over Anthony Rendon while Ramiro Pena is having a strong spring and pushing for playing time over Dan Uggla. Both situations have the possibility of a serious impact on the fantasy game as Uggla, though saddled with a dismal batting average, is a rare power-hitter at the keystone while Rendon was, and likely still is, one of those highly-touted youngsters who everyone always seems to covet.
The situation in Atlanta has a number of questions surrounding it. Can Uggla cut the strikeouts and pull his average back over the Mendoza line? Can Pena actually contribute with the bat? Would a platoon of the two even work? Does anyone even care?
Uggla has been the Braves primary second baseman over the last three seasons and while his power did return last year, his strikeout rate has continued to increase while his batting average has continued to plummet. He can still draw a walk, as evidenced by his 14.3-percent walk rate, but his contact rates have steadily dropped, particularly his Z-Contact% which has now steadily dropped to a below-average level. If he were still banging 30-plus home runs, then you might be able to forgive the atrocious average and strikeout levels, but he’s not and things have gotten bad enough that his average is more of a drain to fantasy owners than his power is helping. Things this spring haven’t changed much as he’s just 4-for-17 with no home runs and seven strikeouts. Five walks, but that’s no surprise.
Meanwhile, Pena has no bat history of which to speak. He’s never had a full-time job, he’s shown next to nothing in real power nor has he shown any type of real speed. He’s a defensive guy. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but for fantasy purposes, you may as well leave the roster spot empty. Unless, of course, this spring is a sign of better things to come. Pena is currently 8-for-22 with four doubles, four RBI and only two strikeout thus far and is really pushing for Fredi Gonzalez’ attention. He’s a switch-hitter who, if he can maintain his contact rates over a full season, could be an interesting table-setter at the bottom of the order.
Chances are, the job will stay with Uggla and Pena will remain a utility player, though. He could push Uggla for a significant amount of playing time if he [Uggla} sits with a sub-.200 average again, but his versatility could end up working against him as he could be used to spell both Chris Johnson and Andrelton Simmons as well. But continue to monitor the situation as there is no telling how much leeway Fredi Gonzalez is going to give Uggla this spring.
Of course, fantasy owners should all be on the lookout for Tommy LaStella who could get a quick call-up and supplant them both. Who? Doh!
As for the situation in Washington, it is more than just worth monitoring. Those who have drafted already could be in-line to lose one of their starting infielders. There’s nothing worse than being forced to your waiver wire before the first pitch of the 2014 season is even thrown.
We’re all very much aware of the disappointment Espinosa was last season. After two straight years of a crappy average yet still sitting on the cusp of 20-20 seasons, Espinosa completely went in the tank last year. He continued to strike out at a high rate, his barely-average walk rate vanished, and his increased swing rates just made him look like he was blindly hacking away while at the plate. But the Nats, and justifiably so, don’t want to give up on him. Or at least that’s what they’re saying. Maybe they’re just talking him up and trying to showcase him for a potential deal. Either way, he’s supposed to be getting a fair crack at regaining the job this spring and is putting forth a pretty good effort. He’s only batting .235 (4-for-17) right now, but he’s got a .350 OBP and has struck out only twice. Nothing earth-shattering, but he’s doing enough good things to keep him in the discussion.
Rendon, a guy who many prospect-hounds have been ogling over the last year and a half, is probably doing enough to maintain his edge over Espinosa for the job, but barely. Yes, he’s batting .313 (5-for-16), but he’s got just a .294 OBP and has struck out seven times already. We know he’s got a good glove, but his limited minor league track record makes it tough to really gauge his overall hitting potential. Some speculate that he has 20-plus power while others consider him more of a 15-homer guy. Me? I probably side with the latter which is why I’m saying that if Espinosa continues to showcase himself in a positive light, Rendon might not have such a secure grip on the job after all.
Unlike the situation in Atlanta, it’s difficult for me to make a prediction for the Washington scenario. It’s easy to say that Espinosa sucks and won’t come close to regaining his job, but that’s pretty ignorant. You don’t go from flirting with 20-20 two years in a row to total crap without there being some mitigating circumstances – you know, something like a torn rotator cuff? Even if the Nats turn around and make him a utility guy and give Rendon the starting job, how long will it last should Espinosa regain his form and Rendon struggles? It’s not like his .265/.329/.296 slash line and .131 ISO were dazzling anyone last year.