Fantasy Baseball: Spring Training Battles And Potential Breakouts
Greg Jewett goes around the league breaking down all the key position battles and potential breakouts for the upcoming fantasy baseball season.
Continuing to digest all of the information pertaining to spring training positional battles along with players displaying the tools for a potential breakout, remember it’s spring. Facing sometimes inferior competition presents inflation on some statistics, so focus on strikeouts versus walks for pitchers and hitters plus if adjustments get reported or insinuated in articles or broadcasts. Last, in terms of playing time battles, owning minor league options makes for intrigue. Going by league and by team in alphabetical order, this week’s column covers a wide range of names with varying degrees of interest as the season draws within three weeks of beginning.
While one upside player moves up in average draft position, could the savvy veteran’s salary and manager’s preference of them affect playing time? Neither Kyle Tucker nor Josh Reddick seem to be setting the spring on fire with one hit between them spanning 24 at-bats. However, an article by beat writer Jake Kaplan suggests a split in playing time between the two battling to start in right field. This pokes a major hole into the value of Tucker in drafts seen as a potential 20 home run and stolen base upside play.
Once again, could Houston be the thief of dreams regarding their fifth starter? Josh James continues to flash with no earned runs or runners on base during his two innings of work with three strikeouts. But, Kaplan references James struggling to repeat his delivery as a potential problem limiting him to a relief role. Austin Pruitt could win the last spot in the rotation already working six innings spanning two outings with a 3.00 ERA and 0.83 WHIP. Stay tuned.
New York Yankees
- Who plays in the outfield?
- Fifth starter
With Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge likely unavailable for the start of the season, it’s going to be a fluid outfield in the Bronx. Brett Gardner moves atop the list for playing time since he’s going to log most of the games in center field until Aaron Hicks can return. Last year’s waiver wire darling, Mike Tauchman should get the lion’s share of work in left field and hit .315 with a .977 on-base plus slugging in the second half of 2019. Miguel Andújar continues to get work in the outfield and may split time in left while getting at-bats at designated hitter. This year will be the year for Clint Frazier , right? While this feels like an evergreen statement, Frazier’s raking so far with all three of his hits this spring going for extra-bases (two doubles, one home run). For the upset crowd or deep league searchers, Rosell Herrera owns a .500 average with a .714 slugging through 14 at-bats with a double and a triple driving in four. Could he be last year’s Tauchman?
As for the fifth spot in the rotation, Jonathan Loaisiga owns a career 4.79 ERA in the majors. He’s recorded nine strikeouts over five innings this spring and could need an opener (paging Chad Green ) but track his progress in the next two weeks. Deivi Garcia tossed his hat into the contest with his upside reaching Triple-A at the age of 20. Garcia’s only worked two innings with three strikeouts versus one walk so far. Clarke Schmidt flashes upside with six strikeouts and two walks through five innings this spring but not logged an inning pitched above Double-A. Mike King may be the sleeper of the bunch. He’s worked 6.2 innings with a 4:1 K:BB, 2.70 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP.
- Second base logjam
Veteran Tony Kemp owns the inside track to a roster spot due to his ability to play second base and the outfield. Kemp’s slashing .364/.440/.545 so far with five runs, a double and one home run. Jorge Mateo cannot be optioned to the minors, so if he does not make the team, he will hit waivers along with Franklin Barreto . Mateo’s stole three bases with a .300/.417/.300 line with four walks and five strikeouts. Barreto’s batting .273/.360/.405 with three walks, five strikeouts, a double, triple and stolen base. Sheldon Neuse seems on the outside looking in but there’s time for all of this to play out. Track where Mateo and Barreto end up if Oakland decides to go with Kemp as the primary second baseman. Also, do not forget about Chris Bassitt late in drafts since he’s lining up as the fifth starter in light of the recent A.J. Puk news.
As the roster takes shape, Jake Fraley will get first shot at right field. Fraley’s only hitting .188/.300/.438 with a double, home run and a stolen base with three walks versus four strikeouts. It’s apparent Jarred Kelenic will open the season in the minors, but for how long?
Just look at this swing:
???????? pic.twitter.com/i3X9bK3r8Z— Jarred Kelenic (@JKelenic_1019) March 5, 2020
Kelenic’s hitting .357/.471/.643 with a double, a home run, and two walks with two strikeouts. If things go badly for Fraley or Kyle Lewis after the first month, Kelenic could be up sooner rather than later.
It’s easy to overlook J.P. Crawford , but he’s in better shape and looking spry this spring. Crawford owns prospect pedigree and swiped two bases going 6-for-13 to this point in spring. League only fantasy owners take note. Last, but not least, there’s some potential intrigue late in the rotation. Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn and Yusei Kikuchi are showing signs of breaking out so far. Monitor this closely along with Taijuan Walker working in the back fields with an uptick in velocity:
Add in the beat writers suggesting it could be Greg Bird who starts at first base. Ronald Guzmán and Solak could start the year in the minors depending on how the roster takes shape. Each owns a minor league option giving Texas time to decide how to deploy them as the season ensues. At his current price, Solak’s quite a risk right now unless he starts hitting. Just when it seemed safe to give up on Rougned Odor :
This is Odor’s leg kick this year, which I believe is ever so slightly more subtle than previous years pic.twitter.com/ZobS5n5sZf— Evan Grant (@Evan_P_Grant) March 4, 2020
Odor’s slashing .368/.400/.842 with a double, triple and two home runs through his first 19 at-bats. Plus, he’s only struck out three times with one walk in them.
Toronto Blue Jays
While the rest of their league mates deal with injury news, Toronto’s benefitted from nice spring outings by top prospect Nate Pearson and the debut of Matt Shoemaker . Pearson’s recorded six strikeouts in three innings of work giving up no hits or walks. Pretty, pretty, pretty good. Of more interest, he’s hitting 100 MPH on the radar gun. And:
Shoemaker notched five strikeouts during his first 2.2 innings as well. If the pitching improves and the “Baby Jays” rake, things could get interesting in July for this team.
- Third base battle, loser goes to Triple-A?
- Fifth starter
In a classic case of veteran versus prospect, it appears Johan Camargo owns the inside track to the third base job but this depends on the source for Atlanta. Camargo’s hitting .389 with a double and a home run while Austin Riley ’s batting .316 also with a double and one home run. Personally rating this too close to call right now but the roster comes with limited space and manager Brian Snitker wants the loser in this battle to get full-time at-bats at Triple-A.
Veterans Sean Newcomb and Félix Hernández seem set to open the season as the fourth and fifth starters in the rotation. Kyle Wright seems on the precipice of taking over a spot eventually retiring 15 of the 17 hitters he’s faced through five innings with seven strikeouts. Once he’s promoted, he could stay the rest of the season. Lost in the sauce, Cole Hamels will likely usurp Newcomb in the rotation once he’s ready. Plan accordingly.
- Fifth starter
It’s a dirty feeling rostering Tyler Chatwood , but he’s still in position to start the year as the Cubs fifth starter. So far in spring, he owns a 7:2 K:BB with a 3.00 ERA and 0.83 WHIP through six innings. Alec Mills depresses hard hits and appeared in three games with a 4:3 K:BB with no earned runs. Jharel Cotton represents the long play wild card. Coming back from injury, Cotton may need seasoning in the minors to return to past form, but his 4:1 K:BB during 3.1 innings provides some hope.
- Outfield rotation
Perhaps a surprise, David Dahl will start in center field and not Sam Hilliard . Given Dahl’s litany of injuries, logging innings in the biggest home outfield could cause eventual problems. Ian Desmond could get more starts due to his contract, but he and Hilliard could become a platoon in left field.
- Prospects booming
It seemed like Miami lost all their trades when reading the grades of the trade. Jazz Chisolm could make or break his deal. Starting hot, Chisolm’s cooled a bit but still owns a .273/.429/.364 slash with a double and two stolen bases. More encouraging, his three walks against three strikeouts. Edward Cabrera could be more intriguing than Sixto Sanchez . Cabrera owns a fastball which can touch 100 MPH and a change-up between 92-to-94 MPH. J.J. Bleday may rocket through the system fresh out of college. His approach might land him in Double-A Jacksonville. Spring tease Lewis Brinson seems to be up to his old tricks hitting .412/.412/.941 with a double, triple and two home runs. While many focus on Brinson, do not overlook Monte Harrison and his four stolen bases. If he’s promoted at some point, Harrison could be worth rostering for stolen base upside.
- Starting rotation
This off-season, many sounded the alarms on the Brewers starting pitching. However, no team owns more intrigue. Corbin Burnes owns a 7:2 K:BB with a 0.83 WHIP over six scoreless innings. Freddy Peralta found his slider during winter league resulting in a 5:1 K:BB with a 0.40 WHIP in five innings and fresh five-year contract. Eric Lauer joined the team via trade and off to a robust 9:1 K:BB during his first 5.1 innings of work. Odd man out could be wily veteran Brett Anderson but there’s nothing assured in the starting pitcher realm yet for the Brew Crew.
A tweak in his swing could yield a nice bounce back by Orlando Arcia . Perhaps the team adding Luis Urías spurred this? Arcia’s launched three home runs with eight RBI and a 1.000 slugging percentage through 15 at-bats. This is not a typo.
- Cole Tucker stash?
- Closer upside?
For anyone who remembers, Cole Tucker garnered huge FAAB bids last year upon his promotion only to disappoint owners. Tucker’s displaying strong discipline so far in the spring with six hits in 17 at-bats, a double, home run and four RBI with a stolen base. He’s walked twice with two strikeouts as well. If Adam Frazier or Kevin Newman struggle, Tucker could be up sooner rather than later. Who feels great taking Keone Kela as a closer? Really? Ignoring his injury past along with being an awful teammate, Pittsburgh will open the year with him installed in the ninth inning but only to showcase him for a trade. If Kela records a save in September without losing any time to injury as a Pirate, I will be shocked. Shocked, I tell you. Injuries also accompany Nick Burdi but he’s popping 100 MPH in two of his three outings in spring. If he can stay on the mound, he takes this job by July, or once the team jettisons Kela.
San Diego Padres
- Second base
- Outfield upside
When the Padres traded for Jurickson Profar , it seemed like they filled their void at second base. Adding veteran Brian Dozier muddles the picture. If Profar cannot turn around his recent struggles at the dish, Dozier could steal playing time going forward which could matter in deep formats. It seemed like Sam Hilliard owned the higher ceiling for fantasy but with Trent Grisham in line for the right side of a platoon in center field, and hitting .412 with a home run along with a stolen base so far, he could be a steal at his present price point in drafts. Speaking of which, Wil Myers cratered last year. Yet:
Representing a fantasy free space right now, Myers owns a robust .421/.476/.1.000 line in spring with two doubles and three home runs. Everyone’s searching for speed and ignoring Myers.
San Francisco Giants
- Dubon’s du-lovely?
Without a position, Mauricio Dubon seems on the precipice of mixed league worthy interest with a strong spring. To this point, Dubon’s hitting .421/.476/.824 with a double, two home runs and a stolen base.
As for the ninth inning, it’s a wide open race. Veteran Tony Watson could close but remains sidelined by a sore shoulder. Trevor Gott pitched well in relief last year but he’s been a bit wild this spring with four walks and four strikeouts. Tyler Rogers throws with an extreme sidearm motion but been tossing frisbees this spring striking out four in 3.1 innings with a 0.33 WHIP. As a last round dart, Rogers could open the year as the “closer” with some upside. Strange days indeed.
St. Louis Cardinals
- Outfield rotation
- Pitching questions
While fantasy owners continue to push up Dylan Carlson’s average draft position, he’s not assured of starting the season with St. Louis. Carlson owns a .400/.520/.650 slash line with three doubles and five walks against four strikeouts. He probably cannot play center field, so a corner spot could be his by May at the latest if things do not change for Dexter Fowler . Forgotten in all of this, is Tyler O’Neill and his massive power upside as well. He’s launched two home runs with four walks and five strikeouts in spring with a .267/.450/.667 line.
A tweak in approach could unlock more production for Paul DeJong ? Well, so far, so good. DeJong’s crushed three home runs with a .571/.563/.1.286 slash line with seven RBI. A shortstop potentially hitting cleanup with a depressed price seems interesting to say the least.
Two arms to track, Junior Fernandez and Daniel Ponce de Leon . Through four outings, with eight strikeouts against zero walks, Fernandez could gain a high leverage role for the Cardinals. With the rotation in flux, Ponce De Leon owns a 10:3 K:BB with matching 1.13 ERA and WHIP.
- Fifth starter
As the fantasy community pines for Austin Voth to win the last spot in the Nationals rotation, Joe Ross has other ideas. Over five scoreless innings and with a 0.40 WHIP, Ross looks good. Voth owns a 2.25 ERA with a 1.00 WHIP through four innings but reports indicate it’s Ross’ job to lose.
With three weeks remaining, be sure to stay focused on all the reports centered on roles and playing time. Also, do not forget to check out Jen Piacenti’s video on Dylan Cease with these two tidbits in mind:
White Sox starter Dylan Cease said he had his best fastball command "EVER." 5 Ks over 4 IP with 1 ER so it was pretty darn good at the very least.— Doug Padilla (@DougPadilla) March 4, 2020
Just watched Cease and something stood out.— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) March 4, 2020
Instead of seeing an approach focusing on high four-seamers, Cease is pitching to a LOW target.
And it makes sense. Here's a typical strikezone plot when he tried to hit the top of the zone. It was bad.
This could be everything. pic.twitter.com/p1Fo19TxUU