MLB Spring Training Positional Battles: March 9
Dan Malin goes around the league, rounding up all the information you need to know on the positional battles within each team entering spring training this season
So spring is in the air and the small sample sizes discussed last week have expanded a little. It’s still early and there will be the pundits touting “It’s only spring training. These numbers don’t matter,” but these performances do hold some weight with positional battles. So lets get to it.
Boston Red Sox Outfield
So with J.D. Martinez’s spring training debut with the Red Sox now in the rearview mirror we have some clarity on the outfield in Boston. As it turns out, Martinez will be the primary designated hitter this season in Boston. Luckily for fantasy players he’s still outfield eligible and don’t be surprised if you still see him log a few games here and there especially during interleague play. So the primary outfield will be Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mookie Betts. This is huge for Bradley Jr.’s value because he should see a healthy amount of plate appearances and new manager Alex Cora is giving Bradley the “green light” in terms of stealing bases. So look for Bradley as a late-round value for steals this season. The news of Martinez shifting to DH does mix things up with Hanley Ramirez and Mitch Moreland at first base. Currently Ramirez is listed at the top of the depth chart and Moreland will serve as the backup, but should get a few plate appearances each week to rest Ramirez. But for those considering drafting Ramirez, take a look at Howard Bender’s The Player You Must Avoid article that recently appeared in the 2018 Draft Guide.
New York Mets Starting Pitchers
A couple years ago no organization had a brighter pitching future than the Mets. With young arms like Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, Seth Lugo, and Robert Gsellman they were destined for success. After a trip to the 2015 World Series, the pitching staff, and the Mets in general, have both gotten off track. Heading into the 2018 season only deGrom and Syndergaard seem like sure things to be in the rotation. Jason Vargas signed a two-year deal with the Mets in the offseason at the age of 35 and it seems like he’ll mostly be used as an innings eater. So this likely leaves two spots and it seems obvious to rule out Steven Matz. It’s hard to imagine anybody having a worse spring than this poor guy. In just two starts he’s recorded a total of five outs and given up more earned runs (ten) than hits (eight). He has one strikeout with four walks, so it seems likely Matz won’t earn a rotation spot to start the season.
Harvey is a strong candidate to make the rotation, but don’t expect the Harvey of old. The velocity will be down and he may not be the strikeout machine he once was, but as a late-round draft pick he’s very much in play. So far this spring he’s given up one earned run on four hits in five innings with three strikeouts to just two walks. Wheeler and Lugo are both in play as well and will likely compete for the fifth rotation spot. Through just eight innings of work, Lugo’s given up two earned runs while recording six strikeouts. Wheeler on the other hand has five innings with eight strikeouts and zero walks. It seems like Zack Wheeler has the edge right now and if he can keep rolling with the strikeouts he could be worth considering in the later rounds.
Philadelphia Phillies Right Field
It’s quite possible that Nick Williams starts the year as the Philadelphia Phillies right fielder. And he’s worth drafting. But don’t discount Aaron Altherr just yet. Some of Altherr’s numbers do seem somewhat fluky. He hit 19 home runs in 107 games with a .516 slugging percentage and a .245 ISO. The ISO is pretty stunning for a guy who possessed modest power in the minor leagues. Nick Williams swatted 12 home runs in 83 games last year with a .473 slugging percentage and a .185 ISO. Currently Williams is listed as the starting right fielder in Philadelphia with Altherr as the fourth outfield option. Altherr should see enough plate appearances to warrant drafting, but it could be frustrating to start. Currently Altherr is 5-for-15 with a home run and a stolen base this spring. Williams is 6-for-14 with a double. If you can swing it later in drafts they’re both worth drafting. They both possess some upside and if you own both you’ll be able to swap them in and out of your lineup depending on who is starting on a day-to-day basis.
Colorado Rockies First Base and Left Field
As noted last week, Ryan McMahon seems to be a strong (albeit early) candidate to win the Rockies starting first base job. McMahon so far is hitting .387 in twelve games with a home run and three doubles. Ian Desmond is sporting a lackluster .063 (1-for-16) batting average in six games. If you’re drafting early on and miss out on a top-tier first basemen be sure to target McMahon later on as he’s becoming more popular among fantasy owners.
The outfield is a little more cluttered with Desmond still in contention. Raimel Tapia is hitting .250 with a home run, a pair of doubles and three runs scored. Mike Tauchman has looked great so far hitting .333 with a home run, two doubles, and two triples with a .667 slugging percentage. David Dahl is also in the mix and he’s hit a pair of home runs. There’s still a very long way to go to determine who will get the starting job in the outfield. Keep in mind Gerardo Parra is recovering from hand surgery so he’ll also be in the mix to recover his starting right field job once healthy. Needless to say the Rockies have no shortage of outfielders especially with news dropping last night that Carlos Gonzalez was close to re-signing with Colorado.
New York Yankees Infield
The second and third base battles continue to fascinate the fantasy community. This is largely due to the fact that Miguel Andujar has looked fantastic so far. He’s boasting an insane .846 slugging percentage through nine games and 26 plate appearances. He’s easily the front-runner for the third base job. Second base is a little more convoluted at this point. Gleyber Torres seemed like the obvious candidate to win the job, but he’s still recovering from Tommy John surgery. He’s had some defensive struggles while adjusting to second base and he’s just 3-for-19 this spring. It’s still early and he’ll likely win the job. He has too much talent to sit on the bench. However that doesn’t mean he isn’t facing competition. Danny Espinosa, Jace Peterson, Thairo Estrada, Tyler Wade, and Ronald Torreyes are also in the mix for the starting job, but oddly enough its newly acquired Brandon Drury who has made some nice contributions at the plate. Drury’s only 4-for-17, but he’s displayed some nice power early on with a home run, a triple, and a double. Will Drury beat out Torres? It’s unlikely. However, Drury will likely serve as a useful utility man to start and if Torres still struggles defensively and at the plate, Drury may be able to get more at-bats.
Chicago Cubs Outfield
Jason Heyward hasn’t really won over Cubs fans since his debut with the team two years ago. He’s hit just 18 home runs in two seasons with the Cubs and hasn’t had a slugging percentage over .400 in either season since joining the team. With that said, he’s still being paid a very handsome salary and it’s tough to imagine the Cubs taking him out of the lineup. So Albert Almora Jr., Ben Zobrist, Ian Happ, and Kyle Schwarber are battling it out for the other two spots and it’s pretty difficult to deny what Happ and Schwarber have done recently. Happ’s slugging percentage is at 1.222 and obviously he won’t sustain that, but he’s 8-for-18 this spring with four home runs and two doubles with a pair of steals. Schwarber, to his credit, has really slimmed down in the offseason. From July 8th to the end of last season he slashed .259/.341/.575 with a .916 OPS and 18 home runs. He ended last year with plenty of momentum heading into the winter. Now after slimming down he’s 6-for-18 this spring with a home run, a double, and three steals. Happ and Schwarber are making plenty of noise to warrant consideration to round out the rest of the outfield to start the 2018 season.
Milwaukee Brewers Starting Rotation
So with Jimmy Nelson likely out the first couple months the Brewers have some decisions to make with their starting rotation. Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, and Jhoulys Chacin are the obvious candidates for the first three spots in the rotation, but that still leaves two spots. Wade Miley, Brandon Woodruff, Junior Guerra, Brent Suter, Yovani Gallardo, and Aaron Wilkerson are all vying for those two rotation spots. It may be early in March, but Miley has looked fantastic so far. He’s logged eight innings of work, given up three runs (all unearned), and struck out eleven hitters to just one walk. Hey may only be signed to a minor-league contract, but he’s definitely looked the best out of everyone competing for a spot in the rotation. Suter has looked the next best out of the Brewers bunch. In four innings of work he has three strikeouts and there’s been a noticeable increase in his fastball velocity, although it’s only about 88-89mph. Will either of these players amount to more than being a streamer? It’s possible, but keep expectations in check. Miley is a former All-Star, but he has a 7.20 career K/9 so the high strikeout rate is due for some regression and Brent Suter isn’t exactly a stud either.
Los Angeles Dodgers Left Field
This outfield has appeared in the previous two positional battles pieces and the plot continues to thicken. Will the Dodgers keep Matt Kemp or trade him? He’s certainly turning heads and not just with his leaner physique. Kemp is 6-for-19 so far with three home runs and an impressive .842 slugging percentage. Likewise, Joc Pederson is just 4-for-25 and has pretty much fallen off the map since his runner-up finish in the 2015 Home Run Derby. If the Dodgers opt to deal Kemp and not start Pederson they can go with either Andrew Toles or Alex Verdugo. Both players have really impressed so far this spring. Verdugo is 8-for-20 with a pair of home runs and three doubles. Toles has also padded the stat sheet going 7-for-19 with a pair of home runs as well. It’s turning into a spoil of riches for the Dodgers in left field. It’s still possibly Kemp gets dealt before the season starts or during the season considering the Dodgers have two younger players ready for big league action.