2014 Fantasy Baseball Position Battles -- AL Round-Up
A full run-down of all the key position battles in the American League
We covered the National League over the weekend, so let's just get to it and hit the American League today...
Second Base – It started out as Ryan Flaherty versus Jemile Weeks, but with Manny Machado out, Flaherty has been working more at third and will likely fill in there until Machado is back. That could have left the door wide open for Weeks, but while he’s not having a terrible spring, Jonathan Schoop is having a phenomenal one for himself. Buck Showalter won’t commit to Schoop just yet and they might hold him down in the minors for arbitration clock reasons, but it’s starting to look like he could get the call sooner than later. If he does go down, look for Weeks to man the keystone and, if successful, hold off Flaherty when Machado returns.
Left Field – It looks like David Lough will be in there against right-handed pitching, but with a southpaw on the mound, Nelson Cruz should move off the DH spot and into the outfield while Nolan Reimold takes at-bats as the designated hitter. No, the irony of Reimold as a designated “hitter” is not lost on me.
Starting Rotation – It looks as if this job will go to Bud Norris to open the year, but that could still change over the next two weeks should Zach Britton, Kevin Gausman, Steven Johnson and Brian Matusz perform at a higher level. Gausman is likely to start in Triple-A again and Matusz is probably more valuable as a lefty arm in the bullpen. No word on whether the other two will be sent down or just bumped to long-relief.
Boston Red Sox
Center Field – The Sox have been featuring their projected starting lineup quite a bit this past week, but Jackie Bradley and Grady Sizemore have both seen time with the regulars so this battle looks like it’s going to continue for at least a little while longer. Bradley probably has the edge as there are still concerns about how many days Sizemore can actually play per week, but Sizemore does seem to be seeing the ball a little better. Bradley needs to pull up that .185 spring average and show the team that he can hit with some consistency, but when push comes to shove, the team will probably stick with the younger player with more upside to start and allow Sizemore to fill in some of the gaps and spell Bradley every so often.
Starting Rotation -- The big battle here…though technically it’s not that big, is Felix Doubront versus Chris Capuano for the fifth starter’s job. While Capuano is the more seasoned hurler, it’s Doubront who is killing it this spring. We’re not supposed to put too much stock in spring numbers, but it’s hard to ignore six shutout innings with just three hits, six strikeouts and no walks. Meanwhile, Capuano isn’t doing poorly, but his overall numbers and strikeout rate are substandard in comparison. Look for the Sox to stick with what they know is working and for now, that’ Doubront.
Chicago White Sox
Catcher – Last season Tyler Flowers struggled enough that the team was adamant about bringing Josh Phegley along quickly. He was showing some decent power in the minors but failed to deliver the goods when finally brought up and now, that’s resulted in the club giving Flowers another crack at earning and keeping the primary job behind the plate. All things considered, neither is doing much to distinguish himself, which could actually open the door for Rule 5 pick Adrian Nieto who just might be able to out-hit the both of them.
Third Base – Jeff Keppinger is likely to start the season on the disabled list, so that’s keeping the battle between Matt Davidson and Conor Gillaspie alive and well. They’ve split time fairly evenly this spring, but Gillaspie has proven to be more reliable and consistent bat while flashing a pretty decent glove as well. Davidson, while adept with the glove himself, is batting .192 with slightly less power and no speed as well. If he were even hitting equally to Gillaspie I’d say the Sox would give him a whirl, but Davidson is likely to start the year in Triple-A.
Outfield – Based on the White Sox attempts to pull off a trade and the way the team’s official depth chart looks, it would seem that Avisail Garcia is going to handle right field and Adam Eaton will be patrolling center. That means Dayan Viciedo and Alejandro DeAza are going to be competing for playing time in left field. Sort of. They could be turned into a strict lefty/righty platoon if the club fails to deal one of them, but considering Viciedo hasn’t been too successful against southpaws, Robin Ventura could just opt to go with the hot bat. We can call it a “wait-and-see” situation which means fantasy owners can probably leave them be outside of the deepest of leagues.
Third Base – If you can consider the decision to move Carlos Santana to third base a potential battle, think again. He’s there to be protected from the injury risk that comes with working behind the dish, so he’ll get his time there regardless of who his platoon partner would be. The real question is just how much time he’ll get and is there a chance that we don’t see Lonnie Chisenhall too much? I just shook my Magic 8-Ball and while it said, “It is decidedly so,” I think we’ll see Chisenhall at least a little bit. Not enough to make him fantasy relevant, but a little bit.
Fifth Starter – The Tribe have a number of candidates they can try out here, but despite that, circumstances such as remaining options could dictate the move instead. Veterans like Shaun Marcum (injured) and Aaron Harang don’t seem to really mesh with what the Tribe has going on here and neither, in my opinion, has anything pleasing on the horizon. Trevor Bauer will be more highly considered someday, but that day will not be now. That leaves Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin as the likely top-two candidates. Both are pitching well this spring which makes it tough to decide, but maybe because Carrasco is out of options, he has a slight edge.
Left Field – With Andy Dirks undergoing back surgery, the Tigers had a fleeting moment of thought that Rajai Davis was going to be able to handle the job on his own. Then someone woke up and realized that he can’t hit right-handed pitching and that they were likely going to have to platoon him with someone. There’s always a chance they go outside the organization for the complement, but for now it looks like it will be either Don Kelly or Steve Lombardozzi. Neither one is a particularly enticing option for fantasy owners, but Lombardozzi could always be an interesting choice given his multi-position eligibility.
First Base – While Jonathan Singleton is the expected heir-apparent here, the super-slow spring showed that he’s not quite ready yet. Well that and the Astros won’t want to give up an extra year of control. So that means Chris Carter, Jesus Guzman, Japhet Amador and/or Marc Krauss will be vying for playing time. This also bleeds into the DH spot as well as the corner outfield, so we could be looking at any number of combinations here. Amador seems the least likely to nail anything down right now, but the other three should see a fair amount of playing time early in the season. Carter will probably see the most consistent time and be worth the most to fantasy folk, but both Guzman and Krauss should see enough work to make them worthy of plug-and-play work in AL-only leagues.
Corner Outfield – So the two incumbents, if we can even call them that, Robbie Grossman and L.J. Hoes could get first crack at the job, but Guzman can handle left and Krauss can handle right. If all of them break camp with the club then we’ll see a number of lineup permutations and while that might work in the real world, the fantasy community will be overlooking most of them. It’s like a group of interchangeable parts so until the Astros actually find a configuration that works best for them, we’ll just have to tolerate the frustration.
Starting Rotation – Well this is just a mess of mediocrity here. Scott Feldman and Jerome Williams probably have the first two spots locked down, but after that, we’ve got Jared Cosart, Brad Peacock, Brett Oberholtzer, Dallas Keuchel and Lucas Harrell all vying for the last three spots. Keuchel is having a great spring so far, so that should earn him a stronger look and likely land him one of the spots. Oberholtzer may not be a good fantasy option but he’s paid some dues and could find himself with the fourth spot. After that, it’s an ugly battle for the final spot. My money is on Cosart, but Peacock isn’t too far behind.
Kansas City Royals
Fifth Starter – It’s most likely going to be Yordano Ventura in this spot once Opening Day hits. He’s got great stuff but does have the occasional command issue. However, even on one of his worst days, Ventura is still looking better than Danny Duffy is right now. But the team doesn’t want to give up on him, especially as a starter, so look for him to land in Triple-A until he can pitch with the confidence needed to succeed. Ventura will hold down the job so long as he’s pitching effectively. If not, well then, Duffy could get a shot sooner than later.
Los Angeles Angels
Fifth Starter – One would think that if the Angels are paying Joe Blanton to start for them, then given the investment made, the job should default to him. But, as expected, he looks terrible this spring and he just might be a more worthy bullpen guy. Not because he’ll do better in a new role but because he sucks so much in his old one That means it’s coming down to Tyler Skaggs or Wade LeBlanc. Skaggs has the most upside and looks pretty good this spring but like any youngster, he’s had his share of control problems. LeBlanc has done both the bullpen and starter’s role, so the battle between the two seems like it will come down to which guy finishes the strongest.
Center Field – We all know that no matter who earns this job, they’re just keeping it warm for Byron Buxton. However, while we all think that he should be arriving this season, there’s no guarantee and he could be nothing more than a September call-up. So that leaves us with a three-man battle between Alex Presley, Aaron Hicks and Darin Mastroianni. All three are of the garden-variety light power/some speed but there’s nothing exciting about any of them. Presley was probably the favorite walking-in, but it’s Hicks who seems to be swinging the bigger bat this spring. Mastroianni is hitting just between the two. Give it another week and see where everyone lands then.
New York Yankees
Third Base – The job is mostly Kelly Johnson’s, but Eduardo Nunez and Scott Sizemore could get a piece of the action. A lot is going to hinge on the health of Brian Roberts right now. If he’s fine, then no problem at all. But if he’s hurt, then look for Johnson to start pulling time at the keystone with Nunez handling third. Sizemore, should he even be on the roster, would likely spell them both at varying times.
Starting Rotation – With news that A.J. Griffin is being shut down for three weeks and Jarrod Parker possibly hurt and headed to Dr. James Andrews, it looks like Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir will be joined by Dan Straily, Jesse Chavez, Drew Pomeranz and possibly even Dan Otero. Out of those four, Straily is the only one I would give a look to in a fantasy league.
Shortstop – The signing of Robinson Cano pushed Nick Franklin off his job and into a competition with Brad Miller over at short. However, the Mariners seem pretty content with Miller so Franklin is likely headed for bench duty or, if the Mariners can swing it, headed out the door. The Tigers, having just lost Jose Iglesias, have ben inquiring about Miller who would be a fit….well, anywhere else but Seattle.
Tampa Bay Rays
Fifth Starter -- The fifth starter’s spot looks like a battle between Erik Bedard and Jake Odorizzi. Not the best of options out there, but something to monitor nonetheless. Odorizzi has the higher ceiling at this point as Bedard is waaaay past his peak, but you just never know with Joe Maddon and what kind of changes he would like to run with.
Closer -- Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria continue to battle it out this spring and both are looking like strong options. Soria has a slight edge in spring numbers but it’s fairly negligible in the grand scheme of things. Rangers manager Ron Washington has been real cagey about the battle and it doesn’t look like this one is going to be decided until the last minute.
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