Spring Training Trends – Part 1

Beginning tomorrow, this space will be filled each morning with actionable fantasy baseball insight on all 30 MLB teams and their goings-on from the prior day’s game.

While we’re not a big proponent of drawing major conclusions from Spring Training, there are always trends that merit tracking in to the opening weeks of the season to judge whether a player is worth acquiring.

As mentioned in our opening post, the format in which this information will be delivered each morning will be a work in progress based on your feedback and our comfort level with the value it has for the reader.

To start, we’ll be delivering a few Spring Training trends for every team, and valuing them from 1 to 10 based on how closely you should be tracking them as the games that count start today. Think of a 1 as “if this trend keeps up for the first week of the season, I’ll make a note of it” and a 10 as “I need to do something about this right now.”

This morning, we’ve got the first half of the league, going by alphabetical order – the Arizona Diamondbacks through the Miami Marlins. Later this afternoon, we’ll continue with the second half – the Milwaukee Brewers through the Washington Nationals.

Arizona Diamondbacks

  • OF Jarrod Dyson and SS Ketel Marte are both likely to be in the Opening Day lineup against Colorado, but not at the top of the order where their respective top skill, speed, will be maximized. OF David Peralta and OF A.J. Pollock will go 1-2, which means it’s worth tracking how this impacts Dyson and Marte’s stolen base totals. (Impact: 6)
  • SP Taylor Clarke may be the first option to move in to the rotation if one of their top five starters struggles or gets injured. His upside isn’t astronomical, per John Sickels of Minor League Ball, but he would be a definite add in most 12-team and larger leagues the second he’s given a rotation spot. (Impact: 2)
  • RP Brad Boxberger was anointed the closer to start the season yesterday, but RP Yoshihisa Hirano remains worth tracking. Boxberger has shaky reliability between injury history and recent struggles, and it’s very unlikely the D-Backs would shift Archie Bradley from his multi-inning relief ace role if Box struggles. Hirano is one of the best “next man up” stashes – if he isn’t in the role by mid-May, you can consider freeing up the reserve spot he’s holding. (Impact: 3)

Atlanta Braves

  • Atlanta is only carrying two catchers after considering keeping a third in C Chris Stewart, so C Kurt Suzuki and C Tyler Flowers are once again in line for a near equal playing time split, at least to start. Flowers has the higher upside, so if he starts picking up 60-65 percent of the at bats behind the plate, he’s a potential low-end C1. (Impact: 4)
  • SP Brandon McCarthy is always worth tracking when he’s healthy. He’s had a decent spring, so if he looks good Saturday against Philly and next week in the most difficult of matchups at Colorado, consider him an immediate add. He’ll provide value as a back-end rotation filler and you can easily dump him when the injury bug pops up. (Impact: 3)

Baltimore Orioles

  • OF Anthony Santander was the O’s Rule 5 pick in 2016, meaning he has to spend about a month and a half in the majors to remain in the organization (he was injured last season). He’s also starting today and has shown power potential this spring. Because of the mandate to keep him up, he’s another guy that’s worth monitoring this week – if he starts hot, he’s likely to play every day and can be dumped easily if/when he goes to the minors in mid-May. (Impact: 5)
  • Buck Showalter has hinted that 1B Chris Davis could hit leadoff. In roto leagues, Davis stands to gain outsize value if this happens even occasionally, because you’re likely counting on him for power and nothing else. More plate appearances mean more opportunities to run in to one. Of course, it also lowers the floor for his already dangerously flat batting average, but this is a risk proposition worth taking. (Impact: 3)

Boston Red Sox

  • DH Hanley Ramirez is likely to gain eligibility at first base very quickly. He’s starting there today against the Rays and hitting second. Ramirez is a low-risk, moderate-upside bat that may be available on the waiver wire in many leagues. If he can get out of this first week and a half playing 4-5 times a week in the top third of this lineup, he’s a target. As it stands now, you should consider using a reserve spot on him if he’s available in your league. (Impact: 7)
  • Just a note about the Sox overall rotation: Eduardo Rodriguez, Drew Pomeranz, and Steven Wright are all hurt and, in the case of Wright, also facing a 15-game suspension. David Price has his own health questions after last year’s truncated season that ended in the bullpen. Keep an eye on Brian Johnson and Hector Velasquez in their respective first turns through the rotation. If one or both perform well, just know they are in a good spot to continue getting turns this season due to injury from one or more of the other four aforementioned starters. (Impact: 4)

Chicago Cubs

  • 2B/OF Ian Happ is scheduled to be the leadoff hitter today when the Cubs open in Miami, but Joe Maddon has a penchant for tinkering with his lineup. Keep an eye on OF Albert Almora and where he’s slotted in the order, as well as if he’s showing improvement against right-handed pitchers. If the latter starts to happen and the former happens even twice a week, Almora will be a no-doubt starter in deep leagues, offering higher-than-average production in runs scored. (Impact: 4)
  • With RP Brandon Morrow the preseason favorite to lead the Cubs in saves, it may feel like it isn’t worth speculating on a host of similar backup options, including former closers Steve Cishek and Justin Wilson. I’m here to tell you that the guy to watch closely (get it?) is Carl Edwards Jr. Morrow has a shaky health record and Edwards has shown the dominance that Maddon’s most valued in closers throughout his managerial career (Rafael Soriano, Fernando Rodney, Wade Davis, etc.). The second you hear about Morrow needing rest or a medical exam, grab Edwards. He has top-10 closer upside. (Impact: 5)

Chicago White Sox

  • Hopeless teams like the White Sox (yes, they are hopeless for 2018) are often great sources for under-the-radar fantasy value, especially once the early season dust has settled and the manager (in this case, Rick Renteria) has found guys he’s comfortable with. I’m going to label the White Sox, as well as a few other teams, as (Impact: 7) for the first month of the season. Let’s go through two examples of guys to follow on the south side.
  • SP Reynaldo Lopez has been overshadowed by rotation-mate Lucas Giolito and the Sox’ next next-big-thing-starter Michael Kopech. But Lopez is the number three starter to open the season and will tell you early on whether he’s captured the strikeout-per-inning level he showed in the minors.

Cincinnati Reds

  • SP Tyler Mahle earned a spot in the middle of the rotation with a 19-inning spring sample where he flashed a 15-to-3 K-to-BB ratio. He gained some helium as draft season went on, but if Mahle is strong in his opening start Sunday against the Nationals, he’s an immediate add. He pitched 144 innings and started 24 times last year, to the tune of 2.06 ERA, meaning there are signs that this is a legit breakout in the (Impact: 8)
  • If you drafted OF Billy Hamilton to anchor you in the Stolen Bases category, keep an incredibly close eye on how he starts the season in terms of lineup position and plate discipline. Manager Bryan Price didn’t hesitate to publicly put Hamilton’s leadoff spot in jeopardy last week, and with SS Jose Peraza and OF Jesse Winker natural options to also bat first, a slow start from Hamilton could snowball. Conversely, if either Peraza or Winker is available in your league, keep an eye on them. (Impact: 3) 

Cleveland Indians

  • The starting rotation here is the primary reason the Tribe are considered a near-lock for the playoffs, but SP Josh Tomlin is a pretty shaky #5 option. SP Danny Salazar is the natural solution if Tomlin struggles, but Salazar is hurt (again) and also performed poorly last year. So keep an eye on two minor leaguers: Shane Bieber, ticketed for AAA, and Tristan McKenzie, ticketed for AA. (Impact: 1) 
  • 1B Yonder Alonso seems unopposed for every day starts, with Edwin Encarnacion likely to stick at DH and Mike Napoli ticketed for AAA. If you don’t own Alonso, I’d recommend watching him early in the season and also checking if Napoli performs well in AAA. Alonso could easily go unopposed most of the season and earn 150 or more starts, which would increase his value considerably as he slots in fifth behind Encarnacion in the lineup. (Impact: 4)

Colorado Rockies 

  • The outfield logjam in Denver is pretty incredible. After Charlie Blackmon, the Rox have four realistic options for the two corner spots – David Dahl, Gerardo Parra, Carlos Gonzalez, and Ian Desmond. Even Pat Valaika, primarily an infield, has a chance to get starts in left or right. This is an impossible situation to handicap, so track the lineup cards in Colorado these first two or three weeks to see who is getting the starts and where they are hitting. Any of these guys earning even 75 percent starts makes them a nice sleeper. (Impact: 6)
  • RP Wade Davis has some level of safety as the closer, but he’s just one season removed from injuries that put his reliability in doubt after several dominant years in Kansas City. Should Davis go down, there are three options to replace him – Jake McGeeBryan Shaw, and Adam Ottavino. If you have the time, once a week I’d give a quick check where they are being used in games to determine who the best Davis backup is. Of course, I’ll also be doing that daily in this space. (Impact: 1)

Detroit Tigers

  • We’re on to “no hope” team number two. New pitching coach Chris Bosio worked some magic in his previous stop with the Cubs, so the Tigers’ young starters bear watching in April. Michael Fulmer is almost definitely rostered in any league, but Matt BoydDaniel Norris, and, even though he’s starting the season in the bullpen, Buck Farmer all bear watching. I would wager a decent sum that one of these three guys finishes the season as a top-60 starting pitcher. You’ll know by mid-April which one is on that track, though the return of Mike Fiers in late April could diminish the pool a little. (Impact: 6) 
  • The bench in Detroit is pretty thin, with Niko Goodrum the only threat to steal time in the infield. 3B Jeimer Candelario has some level of prospect pedigree, is hitting second in the lineup and, once again, seems short on competition. This is another guy that is worth adding now if you have a reserve spot, because he’s going to play every day this month and a hot start will likely set him up for a 600-plus at bat season. (Impact: 8)

Houston Astros

  • Manager A.J. Hinch is going with just three bench hitters to start the season, though that could change when 1B Yuli Gurriel returns from his hand injury. IF/OF Marwin Gonzalez is the winner from this setup, in my mind. While there are a few reasons to doubt his ability to perform like he did last year, he’s not going to be short on opportunities to repeat. Gonzalez was drafted in all leagues, but makes for a smart early season trade target if he’s playing every day at any of the six positions he can cover. (Impact: 3) 
  • In addition to a potentially dominant starting rotation, Hinch has three former starters in his bullpen between Chris Devenski, Brad Peacock, and Collin McHugh. Devenski thrived in a multi-inning relief role the last two years, but check the usage patterns early on these three guys to see if any of them emerge in that spot this year. If I had to guess, I’d say Peacock earns it, with Devenski settling in to more of a 3-appearance per week role and McHugh likely to be traded this month. (Impact: 8)

Kansas City Royals

  • Much like the Tigers, the Royals rotation has one guy owned in every league (Danny Duffy) and a bunch of guys who could produce anywhere from fringe SP5 value to absolutely nothing or, worse, negative value. The most interesting of the group is Nathan Karns and Jake Junis. Karns is the guy to watch closest early on, because his injury history and lack of a workload track record could limit his contributions to the first half of the season. If he looks good Monday against Detroit, consider him a potential immediate add. Junis, on the other hand, may be better watched from afar for the first three or four starts of the year. That said, he does hold higher upside than Karns over the course of the season. (Impact: 7)
  • C Salvador Perez will miss the first 4-6 weeks due to a torn MCL, so watch how manager Ned Yost works the batting order in his absence. In particular, the likely 4-5-6 run of 1B Lucas Duda, 3B Cheslor Cuthbert, and OF Jorge Soler are going to battle for a larger chunk of the RBI opportunities with the Royals top two hitters, 2B Whit Merrifield and 3B Mike Moustakas hitting in front of them. Whoever settles in to that 4 spot could be valuable in April. (Impact: 7)

Los Angeles Angels

  • 2B Ian Kinsler is dealing with groin tightness, and while it may not lead to a disabled list stint, keep an eye on how it impacts his performance. Kinsler is set to leadoff, but he’s also turning 36 in June, and if he misses time and/or struggles, there’s a great deal of value in the player who moves in to the leadoff spot. The most likely candidates? SS Andrelton Simmons, 3B Zack Cozart, or OF Kole Calhoun. (Impact: 5)
  • The closer role has been publicly pushed as a toss-up between Blake Parker and Cam Bedrosian, but Jim Johnson lurks on the fringes as a “proven closer” that could earn manager Mike Scioscia’s confidence in low-leverage work early and parlay that in to save chances by mid-May. This is not something that bears taking action on right now, but with a team that hasn’t had a single pitcher with more than 20 saves since 2015, it’s clear that Scioscia is open to trying multiple guys and hot hands. (Impact: 2)

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • In 41 games last April and May, OF Matt Kemp hit 10 home runs and batted well over .320. He’s made the Dodgers roster, seemingly as a platoon partner for OF Joc Pederson, but if Kemp gets off to a hot start this weekend, he could be worth an immediate add, because it’s clear he’s still got some juice as long as he’s healthy. Realistically, though, he’s likely to be hurt and/or worn down again by early June, meaning he’s an OF5/Utility type that you can ride early in good matchups. (Impact: 7)
  • The Dodgers gained some notoriety last year for effectively using the new 10-day disabled list to extend the shelf life of their starting rotation. I expect the same thing to happen this year, and there are two beneficiaries. The obvious one is SP Walker Buehler, the team’s consensus top prospect, but a name to keep an eye on for a June/July call-up is SP Yadier Alvarez. Alvarez had control issues after a promotion to Double-A last year, but he’s set to start there again in 2018, and the Dodgers could decide that his powerful right arm is better suited for a multi-inning relief role as they begin to build their playoff roster. (Impact: 5)

Miami Marlins

  • We’re on to “no hope/hopeless” team number three, and while the Marlins lineup isn’t quite as bad as it seemed it could be after its November/December fire sale, the rotation is an abject nightmare, especially with SP Dan Straily set to start on the disabled list with the dreaded forearm injury (a pre-cursor to a larger ligament injury and usual Tommy John surgery suggestion). SP Sandy Alcantara was the prize of the Marcell Ozuna trade, and while he’s set to start the season in AAA, I’d consider him an immediate add the second he gets called to Miami, which I expect in mid-to-late May. Keep an eye in him as he starts his season in New Orleans. (Impact: 7)
  • How much will manager Don Mattingly run this season now that 2B/OF Dee Gordon has moved on to Seattle? This is a very important trend to watch in the first two weeks, because OF Lewis Brinson and OF Cameron Maybin could move in to the top-40 at their position if they are given an open invitation to run at well. (Impact: 8)

 

7 thoughts on “Spring Training Trends – Part 1”

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