2014 Fantasy Baseball Position Battles -- NL Round-Up
A full run-down of all the key position battles in the National League
We’ve gone through quite a number of job battles over the last several weeks, from bullpen battles to crowded outfields to one-on-one fights for infield spots. To say that it has been an exciting last month would be an understatement. With teams finally making roster cuts and shipping off guys to minor league camps, some of the position battles have become more well-defined. Nothing etched in stone just yet, but a little more well-defined. So with that, we’re going to do a little round-up piece here and take a look at the entire league. We’ll mark off all the position battles we’ve discussed and add in any we haven’t touched on and just do a quick update. Because this is going to be sort of a two-stop -shop we’re not going to go into many hardcore details unless seriously warranted.
So sit back, get comfortable and get ready to start marking up those cheat sheets you’ve created for yourself. We’ll hit the National League first and then the American League for tomorrow.
Second Base – It’s still Dan Uggla versus Ramiro Pena but it would appear that Uggla is going to win this job with Pena looming as a utility infielder. However, once the first two months of the season pass, should Uggla be slumping, Tommy La Stella could find himself in the mix for the job if he’s succeeded at Triple-A
Starting Rotation – With the injuries to Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor, things aren’t looking so hot in Hot-lanta right now. We’re looking at Freddy Garcia back-dooring into a job, maybe newly acquired Zach Stewart in a swingman role and then Gavin Floyd in May. If any of that sounds enticing, I’m gonna want to smack you upside the head.
Shortstop – Fantasy owners are going to want to crack Kirk Gibson in the mouth for delaying this decision as word out of ‘Zona is that he’ll have three shortstops – Chris Owings, Didi Gregorius and Cliff Pennington – on the roster for the opening series in Australia. No word on who starts, but given the fact that none of them really distinguished themselves this spring, Gregorius could be the favorite as the incumbent.
Third Base – There seems to be a big logjam here that really doesn’t look like it will shake out until the last possible moment. Ideally, the Cubs would like to have one guy in the role and that could be Mike Olt if he could actually show something this spring. He really hasn’t to date and given his struggles in the minors, eye problems notwithstanding, he’s going to need a big showing in the next week. Should he fail, which really seems likely, then expect to see a platoon between Luis Valbuena and either Donnie Murphy or Emilio Bonifacio. It’s not an ideal scenario for fantasy owners, but if the Cubs can use Bonifacio for half the time at third and then maybe get some outfield work (see next segment), then he could be a great cheap speed guy to obtain late in the draft. Obviously though, anyone who earns playing time here is just keeping the spot warm for Kris Bryant.
Center Field – Assuming that the Cubs don’t screw around too much with their outfield, the battle comes down to Ryan Sweeney and Justin Ruggiano with Junior Lake just staying over in left all year. Since we all know Sweeney’s ceiling, which ain’t all that high, the hope is that Ruggiano earns the job and maybe gets spelled every so often by Sweeney and potentially Bonifacio (wink, wink; nudge, nudge). He sort of held down the fort for the Marlins but is definitely flawed, so pairing him up might be what’s best for real baseball; for fantasy though, it kinda stinks.
Starting Rotation – With Jake Arrieta still working his way back and questionable for the start of the season, it looks like it could come down to Tsuyoshi Wada and Chris Rusin for the fifth spot. Neither should be considered for fantasy purposes as the “winner” of this battle is strictly a placeholder.
Center Field – All eyes remain on Billy Hamilton who seems to be playing well enough for the Reds to leave him up with the big club to open the season. Of course, spring isn’t over yet and Hamilton needs to show that he can sustain a strong level of play against pitchers who have fully shaken off their winter rust. If he starts to fizzle and the Reds opt to play the arbitration clock game, then they could use a combination of Roger Bernadina, Skip Schumaker and Chris Heisey to hold them over. Hamilton seems likely to open with the Reds though, so the concern may not be warranted until he’s batting 1.85 with a .230 OBP at the end of April.
Second Base – So this one seems to have been decided already as it looks like the Rockies will go defense first and stick with DJ LeMahieu at the keystone. Josh Rutledge, the man who ruined many a fantasy team last year, will serve as the back-up. No need to look for LeMahieu in drafts outside of some NL-only play as he’s all glove and no stick.
Starting Rotation – What was once a battle for the fifth spot in the rotation is now a battle for two spots given the injury to Jhoulys Chacin. That means only one guy gets left out in the cold and that’s probably Franklin Morales who has experience in the bullpen anyway. The Rockies want to keep Juan Nicasio and Jordan Lyles as starters so expect to see the two of them. Believe it or not, each has some upside and should prove useful in NL-only play. I wouldn’t use them in mixed leagues though unless the league is super deep and/or they find some sort of a stable groove.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Second Base – I warned you last time in The Forgotten piece. Look out for Dee Gordon! Well, it seems now that Gordon has passed Alex Guerrero on the depth chart and is the favorite to open the season as the Dodgers’ starting second baseman. Nothing is definite just yet, but it definitely seems to be leaning that way right now. Should Gordon win the job, Guerrero will likely open the season at Triple-A.
First Base – Rarely do you see a position battle at first base and it’s even more rare that none of the candidates are particularly good. That means that the Marlins will likely go with a platoon that involves Garrett Jones, Jeff Baker, and should he stick around, Greg Dobbs. With any luck, by the time we get into the season, this will have sorted to something a little more fantasy-friendly, but for now, this is a situation to avoid.
First Base – Right. Rarely do we see….doh! OK, so here’s another one at first and again, it’s not looking so good for mixed league owners who are probably best served avoiding the situation outright. Mark Reynolds will likely be one half of the platoon while Juan Francisco and….wait for it…Lyle Overbay fight it out for the other half. Francisco should have the edge, having done this already last year, but Overbay is the much more sure-handed glove. The only potential excitement for fantasy owners would be if Reynolds opened up this season like he did last year and just raked for a month and then vanished until he re-emerged with the Yankees late in the year.
Second Base – What a surprise! Scooter Gennett has a golden opportunity to walk into camp with the keystone job being his to lose and what happens? Yup. He lost it. OK, so he didn’t officially lose it, but he’s beyond close right now with his slow start to spring. But Gennett was never a big bat, so it’s hard to imagine how this would be news to some. But apparently, Gennett hasn’t dazzled anyone on that front either and is now in danger of losing the job soon. Stay tuned as there’s always the possibility that Rickie Weeks improves his form and returns to being a starter, once again.
New York Mets
First Base – OK, fine. Joke’s over. Another position battle at first base here, giving us three straight teams who need to get it together at first. The Mets have Ike Davis who still seems to be struggling and are looking at pairing him up with Lucas Duda in a potential platoon situation. Davis has major batting average issues but could hit for strong power and Duda, well, he’s just got issues. If he can just pick the average up even a little bit, Davis should be the one who walks away with the job.
Shortstop – So Ruben Tejada is supposed to be the guy who has the leg up as the incumbent, but the Mets don’t seem to be too keen on the idea. They’re willing to give Wilmer Flores a look while also keeping an eye on Omar Quintanilla. Hard to say whether or not the Mets will make the move and replace Tejada, but with no clear-cut front-runner for the job, we’re just going to have to play the waiting game.
The Outfield – We covered the Mets’ outfield situation during one of the Crowded Outfield pieces and nothing has changed except for the fact that Terry Collins seems to want Chris Young to see full time. That means we’re looking at some sort of a platooning train wreck that involves Juan Lagares, Eric Young, Jr., and potentially Duda. Chris Young has the power while Eric Young and Legares have the speed. It should be tough to watch how Collins rotates everyone in, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to be anything more than a not so fantasy-friendly situation.
Third Base – While Cody Asche isn’t exactly having the strongest of springs, it looks like he’ll take the job to open the season as GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. said that Maikel Franco is more of a longshot to break camp with the big league club. However, even though Asche has decent power potential and needs to be given more of an opportunity at the big league level, Franco could steal it from him fairly early on in the season.
First Base – There’s still plenty of hope that the Pirates will open up their wallets and sign Kendrys Morales, but until that happens, we’re looking at a platoon situation. Gaby Sanchez will form half of the platoon with the battle for the other half coming down to Andrew Lambo, Travis Ishikawa and Chris McGuinness. We’ve probably seen Ishikawa’s ceiling and that’s pretty low, so look for it to come down to who finishes the spring on a higher note between Lambo and McGuinness. If Morales doesn’t get signed, Lambo makes for a nice sleeper as he could blossom and push Sanchez aside as well.
Right Field – Jose Tabata is the incumbent, although he always seems to be an injury away from being replaced on a regular basis. Travis Snider is running out of chances here but is still getting a look. Which one comes out on top is yet to be seen, but it almost doesn’t even matter as the team seems to be ready to bring up Gregory Polanco as soon as the time period passes for his arbitration clock to not kick in. Look for a possible call-up and switch sometime in May if Polanco tears up Triple-A pitching early.
San Diego Padres
Right Field – The injury to Cameron Maybin has likely pushed Will Venable into the starting center field job with Carlos Quentin in left. That leaves Chris Denorfia and Seth Smith to compete for the right field gig over the next couple of weeks. However, given their respective lefty/righty splits, this could/should end up as a platoon situation.
St. Louis Cardinals
Second Base – The Cardinals would really like to turn the job over to Kolten Wong this spring and while he seems to be faring well this spring, the club cannot ignore the contributions a veteran like Mark Ellis can provide both on the field and in the clubhouse. Wong hasn’t done anything this spring that would lead you to believe that he won’t ultimately win the job, but we’ve seen the Cardinals rotate players in and out of their lineups over the last few seasons, so Ellis still may have a shot to get some playing time in the end.
Center Field – Incumbent Jon Jay is currently battling with Peter Bourjos for the starting gig here and it looks like it’s a power versus speed situation. Bourjos’ speed and defensive prowess should give him the upper-hand in this one, but Jay hasn’t done anything to warrant losing the job outright. Still, he could just end up a fill-in guy for the corner outfield spots, especially when right field is being manned by the oft-injured Allen Craig.
Second Base – It was originally believed that Anthony Rendon and Danny Espinosa would battle it out for the starting second base job, but then GM Mike Rizzo turned around and said that Espinosa would be more of a utility player. Should all things remain the same this spring, Rendon will own the job and Espinosa will fill in whenever needed. However, he’ll fill in all over so Rendon remains a solid fantasy play, especially if he gets off to a hot start.