MLB Spring Training Positional Battles: March 11
Dan Malin goes around the league, giving an update on some of the more notable position battles thus far with just a few weeks until the start of the season.
At the time of this writing the 2019 Major League Baseball season gets underway in just two-and-a-half weeks. Now is the time where spring training battles are in full swing and we can get a sense of who is getting ahead and where some battles currently stand. So without further ado let’s get to it!
Boston Red Sox Catcher – I mentioned this one a couple weeks ago in the first edition of the spring training battles piece. This battle is between Christian Vázquez , Blake Swihart , and Sandy León . The Red Sox have made it clear they don’t want to carry all three on the big league roster and they’re all out of options so shipping one to the minors is out of the question. The most likely scenario is one gets traded. And they all bring something different to the table. Vazquez is clearly the best defender and one of the best in the league at gunning down runners attempting to steal second base. Blake Swihart probably has the most offensive upside as he’s gone 4-for-12 so far this spring, but the power hasn’t been on display yet. And Sandy León brings plenty of experience and leadership and he’s done well enough in spring training so far going 4-for-15 with a home run under his belt. It’s worth mentioning Vazquez is 3-for-22, but he’s locked into a pretty lengthy contract and Boston would prefer not to deal him especially because he’s a valuable defender. My best guess is the Red Sox prefer to roll with Vazquez and Swihart in 2019, but this battle is still very much in the air.
New York Mets First Base – In a perfect world the Mets would concede and just give the job to Pete Alonso right now. He’s done nothing but rake so far in spring and sure, we all fell for Ryan McMahon with the Rockies a year ago and by “we all” I mean me. But in nine games this spring Alonso is 11-for-26 with three home runs and three doubles. Dominic Smith has also looked fine so far this spring as he’s off to a 10-for-23 start with a home run of his own. There is also the likelihood that Todd Frazier gets a few starts at first coming out of spring because he’s “earned it” based on his veteran merit. I call shenanigans on this because nobody was thrilled about the Toddfather’s numbers in his first season with the Mets. Frazier’s still at a point in his career where he can contribute, but at the same time he’s dealing with an oblique injury and he hasn’t batted over .250 since 2015. The Mets may make the smart organizational move and start Alonso down at Triple-A for the first few weeks to gain an extra year of control over him. But don’t overlook the young stud one bit. He should still be drafted and he could win the NL Rookie of the Year this year once the Mets bring him up towards the end of April to be the true starter at first base for New York.
Houston Astros Fifth Starter – Typically I don’t cover too many starting pitching battles. The fifth starter is largely an afterthought in fantasy baseball, but this one is incredibly intriguing because, well, it’s the Astros. Everyone has seen how smart this organization can be with its pitching staff. They rejuvenated an aging Justin Verlander as well as gave new life to Gerrit Cole a year ago. So this particular battle could pay dividends if it goes to Brad Peacock , Framber Valdez , or Josh James . Baseball fans and fantasy owners would probably like to see Josh James break camp with the job. I don’t know how likely that is given the other two have more experience at the big league level and James is currently dealing with a quad injury. James projects to be a great big league pitcher one day, but for now fantasy owners should plan on targeting Brad Peacock in the later rounds. Don’t forget that in 2017, Peacock went 13-2 with a 3.00 ERA and a 10.98 K/9. He’s had issues with giving up the long ball, but the strikeout potential is there and that’s what fantasy owners like to see.
Boston Red Sox Closer and Other Bullpen Notes – This bullpen looks AWFUL so far. They’ve just been pure trash in spring and sure “it’s only March,” and blah blah blah but holy crap they’ve given up 36 earned runs in 41 innings and Ryan Brasier and Heath Hembree have yet to pitch and Steven Wright is now suspended 80 games. Matt Barnes likely breaks camp as the closer and Brasier could get the job when he’s healthy if Barnes struggles. But right now this bullpen is in rough shape and there’s no sign of them bringing in help in the short-term. This could be an eyesore the Red Sox try to tread water with for the early months of the 2019 season.
Colorado Rockies Second Base – One has to hope that Garrett Hampson breaks camp with the starting job, but Ryan McMahon is putting up a fight. McMahon is currently 13-for-30 with two home runs and four doubles. But we saw this charade from McMahon a year ago and he struggled heavily in the regular season especially on the road. Hampson is a promising prospect going 8-for-26 this spring with three home runs and five steals. He certainly has more versatility than McMahon and provides steals when there’s plenty of power in this lineup as it is. Nolan Arenado , Trevor Story , and Daniel Murphy will man the other positions in the infield and it’s perfectly possibly Hampson and McMahon break camp in a timeshare for this job. But Hampson seems like the more interesting option as of right now.
New York Yankees First Base – Recent comments from Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman suggest the Yankees will not want to carry both Greg Bird and Luke Voit into the regular season. D.J. LeMahieu will likely serve as the backup first basemen and the Yankees may need to carry more than a dozen pitchers so there likely won’t be room for both Voit and Bird. Voit probably has the upper hand on the battle based off his production toward the end of last year, but Bird has looked good to start this spring. Bird is 8-for-21 with a home run and three doubles. Voit is 5-for-17 with two home runs. Voit was red hot at the end of 2018 and Bird has struggled the past few seasons with staying healthy and fortunately for the front office, both men have minor league options so either of the two can start the year at Triple-A. Hopefully more clarity is provided sometime in the next week.
Atlanta Braves Fifth Starter and Closer – It’s been a pretty rough spring so far for Atlanta because it seemed like every other day they had a pitcher going down with injury. As of right now Mike Soroka , Mike Foltynewicz , and A.J. Minter could all miss the start of the season. The Minter news likely hands the closer’s job to Arodys Vizcaíno . The final spot in the rotation likely goes to Touki Toussaint who has looked okay in spring so far so the job could go to him despite his growing pains that were on full display in 2018. Granted he’s given up seven earned runs in six innings, but take it with a grain of salt. He could simply be trying new things and different ways to attack hitters with his arsenal. He still has eight strikeouts in six innings, but has given up a pair of dingers. He carries some risk, but the run support should be there for the rookie if he does earn this opportunity.
Milwaukee Brewers Second Base – So this isn’t as much of a “battle” as it is more of an update, but oddly enough Mike Moustakas will be the full-time second basemen heading into 2019 for the Brewers. Travis Shaw will play third and Moose will man second and Moustakas has never played second base in his entire career. When asked last week if he’s comfortable playing second base he simply said “yes,” so we’ll take him at his word, I guess. So far Moose is 5-for-18 with a home run and a pair of doubles in eight games. Moustakas hasn’t made an error at second base yet, but to be frank the second and third base eligibility give him added value for fantasy baseball especially in that Milwaukee lineup. If he does struggle Hernán Pérez , Tyler Saladino , or Cory Spangenberg could find more playing time but neither of the three possess the offensive upside that Moustakas brings to the table.
Arizona Diamondbacks Closer – Heading into spring training the Diamondbacks were hesitant to name a closer out of the gates even though Archie Bradley should get similar treatment to Matt Barnes of the Boston Red Sox. But the good news is that Greg Holland has looked terrible so far this spring that you have to imagine Arizona will have no other choice than to go with Bradley as the closer in a few weeks when the season kicks off. In 2.2 innings so far this spring Holland has given up two home runs, five earned runs, has struggled with his velocity and he’s surrendered six hits and a walk. Bradley, on the other hand, have struck out five in two innings while allowing just one run and four hits. Arizona won’t boast the lineup they had a couple years ago especially after the trade of Paul Goldschmidt to St. Louis so there may not be as many opportunities for saves, but as of right now it looks like Bradley is the clear winner.
Cincinnati Reds Outfield – This is one of the most watched position battles because of how loaded the Reds are at talent in the outfield. Red manager David Bell has gone on record saying that he would like to give Jesse Winker a job based on the production and development the Reds saw last year but Winker is just 4-for-22 this spring, but he does have a pair of home runs so far. Bell has also said he’d like to see Scott Schebler play a little center field, but Schebler most likely fits in at one of the corner outfield spots where Winker won’t be playing and it actually feels like Nick Senzel could be the starting center fielder for the Reds or, worst case scenario, the Reds bring him up later in April after having him start the year in the minors. But the Winker/Schebler discussion is tough to read because you have to imagine the Reds get Yasiel Puig in the lineup as often as possible also. Puig is 7-for-21 this spring with a home run and he was a big acquisition for Cincinnati this past offseason and if April rolls around and Senzel is brought up, then playing time for Schebler and Winker is even more limited. There’s almost no spot for Matt Kemp right now who does have two home runs and Phillip Ervin (four home runs this spring) will likely serve as depth in the outfield. Unfortunately an injury would clear this battle up, or news on Senzel’s status for the start of the season, but it does seem like it's down to a four-man race for the three outfield jobs between Winker, Schebler, Senzel, and Puig.
Philadelphia Phillies Center Field – With the big acquisition of Bryce Harper for Philadelphia it looks like the corner outfield spots are secured by Harper and Andrew McCutchen . Roman Quinn seems unlikely to win the job as he’s been dealing with a minor injury that’s limited him to three games this spring. Nick Williams does not seem to be as great of a center field option as Odubel Herrera or Aaron Altherr do. Altherr struggled at the plate in 2018 with a .181/.295/.333 slash line with just eight home run in 105 games. He’s solid defensively so he should be the fourth outfield option for the Phillies if McCutchen, Harper, and Herrera ever need a day off. I include Herrera in that discussion since he seems like the favorite to win the starting job in center. Herrera didn’t have the greatest numbers last season and his power profile was down despite hitting 22 home runs. But he’s still young and could bounce back in an improved lineup with better hitters around him.
Milwaukee Brewers Closer – Well well well, it looks as if Corey Knebel will reclaim the throne that once was his after a 2018 campaign plagued with injuries forced him out of the closer role. Jeremy Jeffress has been experiencing some shoulder problems and has been limited to just one appearance. Personally, if you know me, I want Josh Hader in the closer role because he’s a monster in any fantasy baseball league that implements ratio categories for pitchers, but Milwaukee loves using him in longer relief as well as high leverage situations. So far in three innings of work he has eight strikeouts. All I want is Hader in the closer role or put him in the rotation. Is that too much to ask for?! But with Jeffress unable to perform right now it looks like Milwaukee will turn back to Knebel as the closer and to be fair to him, he’s looked good so far this spring. He’s given up just two hits and a walk in three innings of work and he looks like his old self. With this team anybody in the Milwaukee closer role is primed to be an elite relief pitching option. And I still like Knebel in this role, he’s proven he can shoulder the responsibility before. But it would be nice to see Hader collecting more than just holds.