In the Bullpen
Diamondbacks Closer: Currently it looks like Archie Bradley is the odds on favorite to win this job. He was arguably the best relief pitcher in 2017 for Arizona. He finished the year with a 1.73 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 73 innings of work and he gave up just four home runs all year. Perhaps what is most impressive about Bradley is that he gave up just one home run after Memorial Day last year. He did stumble in two of his last three outings where he gave up five of his 14 earned runs on the year. However, don’t let that deter you from taking Bradley. With a mid-to-high 90’s fastball he could easily finish as a top ten closer especially with Arizona’s potential to win 90 games and Chase Field will be a little more pitcher-friendly with the addition of their humidor. The Diamondbacks haven’t yet committed to Bradley as the closer. Brad Boxberger will likely have a chance on paper to compete for the job. Don’t forget he recorded 41 saves in 2015 for Tampa Bay.
Cardinals Closer: Currently Luke Gregerson is on tap to be the Cardinals closer. He’s coming off a 2017 season where he collected just one save with a 4.57 ERA while surrendering 1.92 HR/9. Needless to say it was a far cry from the success he had in 2015 and 2016 where he collected 46 total saves. This job is a little more wide open as Gregerson could potentially lose the job if he doesn’t keep the home runs in check. Tyler Lyons, Bud Norris, Alex Reyes, and recently-signed Jason Motte could compete as well. Reyes might be the most exciting name as he was once considered the second-best prospect in all of baseball, but he underwent Tommy John surgery about a year ago. He’s likely out until May and the Cardinals GM recently said it’s unlikely that Reyes would fit in to the closer’s role at any point this year while trying to control his innings workload. Tyler Lyons and Bud Norris are worth taking flyers in deeper leagues especially if Gregerson loses the job.
White Sox Closer: Juan Minaya finished the season as the White Sox closer, but his 4.53 ERA, 4.12 BB/9, and 1.44 HR/9 are concerning numbers for any bullpen arm, let alone a closer. Nate Jones is another candidate to be the closer, but like Minaya he has some concerns with walks although he possesses a high-octane fastball. The logical answer to be the White Sox closer would be newly-acquired Joakim Soria who does have over 200 career saves. Chicago will likely play it safe to start the season and go with the more experienced player, but Jones and Minaya are worth keeping an eye on.
Twins Closer: Currently Fernando Rodney is in line to get the save opportunities for Minnesota. But he’ll be 41 years old by the time the season starts and of all the projected closers in the majors his job might be least secure. Despite 300 career saves, Rodney’s job isn’t safe. Addison Reed, almost 12 years younger than Rodney, could replace the elder closer. Reed has 125 career saves to his name and is great insurance for Minnesota if they keep Rodney on a short leash.
Starting Rotation Wars
Cleveland Indians: If the Indians could string together healthy seasons from all their pitchers they could be deadly. But you could say that about any team really. Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco have secured spots in the rotation. Trevor Bauer, presumably has a spot also after posting a 17-9 recorded while averaging ten strikeouts per nine innings. That leaves Danny Salazar, Mike Clevinger, and Josh Tomlin vying for the last two spots. The early belief is that Clevinger will start the season in the minors while Salazar and Tomlin get the last two spots in the rotation. Salazar makes sense. He’s a great pitcher when he’s healthy. In 103 innings of work last year he had a 4.28 ERA, but a 3.48 FIP and a 12.67 K/9. The downside is that Salazar struggles to stay healthy so he’s a big risk if you draft him, but there is massive upside. Josh Tomlin might get the fifth spot in the rotation, but he may not hold on to it. Tomlin gave up a career high 36.2% hard contact rate in 2017 and he didn’t even average 7.00 K/9. He just doesn’t offer much as a fantasy pitcher so hopefully the Indians don’t keep Clevinger down too long because he showed promise down the stretch last year. Over his last eight starts (33.1 innings) he gave up just three earned runs, collected 38 strikeouts and didn’t surrender a home run. Add in the fact his fastball increased in velocity as the season progressed and Clevinger proved to be a commodity last in the season. Lets hope he impresses the coaching staff during spring training.
Tampa Bay Showdown - Andriese vs. Honeywell: Long-term there is no doubt that Brent Honeywell is seen as a future ace for Tampa Bay. He’s only 22 years old, but he has great strikeout potential and three very good pitches. He’s one of the top prospects in all of baseball, but the Rays may go with Matt Andriese as the fifth starter to open 2018. Andriese won’t wow fantasy owners with his numbers. He doesn’t have great strikeout upside, he’s prone to giving up home runs, and he gave up 38.7% hard contact last year. Honeywell should find his way into the rotation, but he may end up starting the year in the minors. A stellar spring might make this decision difficult on the front office. Update: So Honeywell suffered a “right forearm strain” during a live bullpen session early on in training camp and has now been diagnosed with a torn UCL that will require Tommy John surgery thus ending his season.
Fights for the Infield
Gleyber Torres Conundrum: Torres is one of the top prospects in all of baseball and he’s fresh off Tommy John surgery. Yes, it’s a bit rare for a positional player to undergo this type of surgery, but it happens! Given the timing of Torres’s surgery (June of last year) there may be concerns about his health. If he’s healthy and develops some power he could be a candidate for a 20/20 season. However if he’s not healthy enough to start the year at second base then Ronald Torreyes will likely be named the starter with Tyler Wade in contention as well. Speaking of Torreyes and Wade, this is a great segue to…
Yankees Third Base: Assuming Torres is named the starter at second base, Torreyes and Wade will find themselves fighting for third base with Miguel Andujar. Andujar might be the best option to start the year despite his minimal experience in the big leagues last season. He still possesses some good power potential and has improved his defense. Wade is good enough in the field and possesses great speed, but not much power. Torreyes has the most experience of all three, however, the Yankees know what they have with him. He does enough to get by, but if they’re looking for power upside then Andujar will be the way to go. With all the offensive upside in the Yankees lineup this matchup will be worth keeping an eye on. Association with the Yankees lineup alone could raise their value. Update: Let us also not forget recently acquired Brandon Drury, who while a utility player in Arizona, is projected to anchor at third bas during his upcoming stint with the Yankees. He's no lock to win the job out of camp, but the Yankees are certainly high on his potential, just like they were with Didi Gregorius when they too acquired him from Arizona a few years ago.
Colorado Rockies First Base: First base is an insanely deep position across baseball, but if you’re looking for a first basemen to grab in the mid-to-late rounds then look no further than Colorado. The only issue is there’s not much clarity yet on who will win the starting job between Ryan McMahon and Ian Desmond. McMahon has played at second and third base in the minors, but finished last season playing mostly first base. McMahon possesses some good power and line drive potential that could make him an effective hitter in Coors Field. For now he will be in a first base battle with Ian Desmond. Desmond battled some injuries last season and played in just 95 games and hit a mere seven home runs. However, he did also swipe 15 bags last year. Regardless it’s likely that McMahon wins the starting job heading into the season because of Desmond’s rather high strikeout rate (23.3%) and low walk rate (6.4%). With the battle at first base in Colorado it also clogs things up in the outfield…
The Rockies Outfielders: If Desmond does lose the first base job to McMahon he’ll likely be a contender for the starting left field job. Charlie Blackmon doesn’t have to worry about his job. He’s the starting center fielder, no questions asked. Gerardo Parra is a good candidate to be the starting right fielder and Desmond could win the left field job. However, don’t forget about Raimel Tapia and David Dahl. Tapia and Dahl are both younger than Parra and Desmond, but lack the experience of the elder players. Keep an eye on how this could unfold. If McMahon starts the year at first base then the outfield will become pretty crowded.
Boston’s Vaunted Outfield: With the recent acquisition of J.D. Martinez, Boston now needs to decide how to proceed with the outfield. It’s pretty easy to say that Mookie Betts and Martinez will be regular starters every day. Sure they’ll get the occasional day off, but those two possess enough experience and talent to be regulars. That leaves Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr. The latter has been the subject of trade rumors throughout the offseason although said rumors have amounted to nothing. Benintendi did put together a 20/20 season in his first full year in the majors, but nobody patrols center field better for Boston than JBJ. Don’t forget that Hanley Ramirez is currently the Red Sox designated hitter and either of the Boston outfielders could play DH to get Ramirez a day off as well. Spring training should shed more light on this new found position battle so definitely keep an eye on how things develop.
Cincinnati Reds Outfield: Billy Hamilton will be the starting center fielder for the Reds in 2018. If it weren’t for the steals Hamilton would be worthless. He’s a career .248 hitter with just a .298 OBP. Yet he’s recorded at least 55 steals in four straight years despite the struggles to get on base. The important thing is that when he does get on base, he makes it count. Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler, and Jesse Winker will compete for the corner outfield spots. Both Duvall and Schebler are coming off a 2017 season where they both hit 30 home runs. All three will find playing time, but the Reds may lean more towards the veterans to start off with Duvall and Schebler getting more starts. Don’t discount Winker though. He posted a .904 OPS in 47 games last year with a .231 ISO so he possesses plenty of power in his own regard.
Dodgers Outfield: Despite coming within one game of winning the World Series last season the Dodgers have some questions in the outfield. Chris Taylor will likely be an every day starter in the lineup even though he experienced offensive struggles at home. Yasiel Puig should start the season as the starter in right field despite clubhouse issues and character concerns. That leaves left field pretty wide open. Joc Pederson, Andrew Toles, Matt Kemp, and Kike Hernandez will all contend for the job. To clear the air Matt Kemp could end up with another team. However, he’s lost some weight this season and previously played his best baseball with the Dodgers before stints in San Diego and Atlanta. The weight loss could be a return to form for Kemp as he fights for playing time in the outfield. Joc Pederson has shown pretty good power in the past. He hit 51 home runs between 2015 and 2016. Pederson does possess a decent walk rate, but at the same time he does strike out a lot also and his batting average in 2017 (.212) was nothing to write home about. If Kemp doesn’t stick around with the Dodgers, then Toles likely ends up as a starter because of his defensive capabilities. However, don’t count out Kemp.
Phillies Right Field: Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr will find themselves fighting for the right field job. Rhys Hoskins will move to left field so Carlos Santana can play first base and Odubel Herrera is locked in at center. So both Williams and Altherr will fight for right field. These two could very well end up splitting time unless an injury clears the way to playing time for both. They both possess good enough offensive potential to be considered for your fantasy team. They both posted an OPS over .800 but Altherr had the slightly better ISO numbers (.245 to Williams’s .185). See how spring training unfolds and watch out for a clear winner.
Yankees Center Field: Jacoby Ellsbury still has three years left on his massive contract, but Aaron Hicks is hot on his heels. With Aaron Judge and Brett Gardner locked into the corner outfield positions (Giancarlo Stanton is also in play here), Hicks and Ellsbury will fight for center field. Ellsbury hasn’t come close to replicating his monster 2011 season with the Red Sox where he hit 32 home runs and slashed .321/.376/.552 all while swiping 39 bags. In total, he’s hit just 39 home runs in four years with the Yankees and his .716 OPS the last four seasons isn’t impressive. Aaron Hicks, over 361 plate appearances last year, hit 15 home runs and stole ten bases. He’s clearly the better player and he has more upside than Ellsbury at this point. The Yankees will give Ellsbury the opportunity to win the job as a courtesy, but they’d be making a big mistake not starting Hicks to open the 2018 season.