Spring Training Trends – Part 2

Earlier today, we posted the first part of this series examining a few Spring Training trends for every team that are worth keeping an eye on in the first few weeks of the season. We’re valuing these trends from  1 to 10, with 1 being “if this trend keeps up for the first week of the season, I’ll make a note of it” and a 10 being “I need to do something about this right now.”

Part 1 looked at the first 15 teams in the majors, in alphabetical order, starting with Arizona and ending with Miami. We continue now with the other 15, starting with Milwaukee and ending with Washington.

And, again, starting tomorrow, for the next 186 days (through October 1, the day after Game 162), check back here every morning by 11 am Eastern for the actionable fantasy items on all 30 teams’ previous day of work, whether they play or not. You can get a first draft of that daily check in, which will cover the one thing you need to know for all 30 teams, every morning by 8 am Eastern, just by emailing fantasybbnow@gmail.com and putting “Subscribe to FB Now in the subject line.

Milwaukee Brewers

  • 1B/OF Eric Thames was one of the least popular players we personally observed during drafts this spring. That’s anecdotal, but we understand why – Ryan Braun is set for increased duty at first base, Domingo Santana is too young and perceived to be too high upside to sit regularly, and Thames really sucked against lefties last year. But there’s no denying Thames’ power and for all his struggles against lefties, last time I checked most major league teams were fielding primarily right-handed heavy pitchers. Braun is older and injury prone. Santana could easily play himself in to a bench role after his luck-fueled 2017. Watch Thames’ playing time this week and pounce if he’s getting in there even four days a week. (Impact: 6) 
  • The double play combo of 2B Jonathan Villar and SS Orlando Arcia are slated to hit eighth and seventh in the batting order, respectively. For Arcia, this is nothing new – he only hit higher than seventh in the order five times last year despite playing 153 games. But how will it impact Villar, whose fantasy value is predicated primarily on speed? It’s worth tracking how manager Craig Counsell deploys these two on the basepaths, especially with an improved top of the order. (Impact: 6)

Minnesota Twins

  • SP Kyle Gibson is one of the only pitchers I’d recommend making a snap judgment on after his first start. Gibson improved in the second half of 2017, but he opens up on the road against a power-hitting Orioles lineup that knows how to use their homer-friendly park. If Gibson can keep the ball out of the air and/or limit hard contact on fly balls, thus allowing his improved outfield defense to make plays, he’s worth an immediate add. Not saying he needs to be in your lineup every turn, but this is the type of the guy that can show something in three starts in April and never leave your lineup again. (Impact: 9)
  • This may be cheating, but see the Brewers comment about Villar and Arcia? Just take OF Byron Buxton’s name and apply the same thing. Buxton hit in the bottom of the order 88 times last year, though he did hit primarily fifth (and sometimes third) during his red hot September finish. He’s likely to hit eighth today in Baltimore. For someone who was being taken as a top 50 pick in high-stakes leagues, how does that impact his ability to steal bases? His defense is going to keep him in the lineup, so don’t worry about that, but do be sure to take a look at how often manager Paul Molitor sends him. (Impact: 5) 

New York Mets

  • With new managers, we always like to observe their lineup tendencies early in the season, and Mickey Callaway is probably the most interesting of 2018’s new skippers on this front (sorry, Gabe Kapler, we’ll give you your due in a bit). The Mets are set up to start the season with three platoons, all of which have a middling amount of fantasy impact. The one worth focusing on most, though, is at catcher, where Kevin Plawecki and Travis d’Arnaud are set to share duties. Plawecki is a better hitter against righties than d’Arnaud. He’s also got a cleaner injury track record. If d’Arnaud once again struggles to stay healthy, I could easily see Plawecki getting 100-plus games and threatening to move in to C1 territory. (Impact: 4) 
  • With today’s news that RP Greg Holland is close to signing with St. Louis, the Mets’ offer likely the most lucrative unsettled closer situation. Lucrative, in the sense that we see the Mets as a mid-80s win team that will have 40-45 save opportunities this season. I’m labeling RP Anthony Swarzak as the guy to watch here should RP Jeurys Familia and RP A.J. Ramos struggle early, which isn’t out of the realm of possibility. (Impact: 3) 

New York Yankees

  • There isn’t a lot of interesting developments with the Yankees – new manager Aaron Boone has a three-man bench with nobody likely to threaten their starters, at least until 1B Greg Bird and OF Jacoby Ellsbury are healthy. But you should be watching Boone’s lineup cards closely. Last Friday, he put OF Aaron Judge at leadoff and OF Brett Gardner, who led off 139 times last year and 80 times in 2015, in the nine hole. There’s been talk about it, and it is arguably one of the most impactful batting order decisions for fantasy this year. It’s something we’ll be checking in on daily here at FB Now. (Impact: 6)
  • Another Boone-related trend to follow is the usage of RP Chad Green, one of the few definite middle relievers that was drafted in almost every league format this spring. The Yankees have some rotation question marks, between CC Sabathia’s age and knee, Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow, and Luis Severino’s increased workload from 2016 to 2017. Keep an eye on Green’s innings pattern, because if the Yankees need a starter, I’m willing to bet he’s got just a good a shot at moving in to the rotation as hotshot prospects Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield. (Impact: 4) 

Oakland A’s

  • SP/RP Trevor Cahill signed late in spring, and likely won’t be ready for the rotation for a few weeks, but with the A’s lack of proven rotation options, Cahill bears watching the second he gets called up based on his performance in 11 starts last year with San Diego. This is another one of those guys who may even be worth adding before his first start – watch him two or three times, and if he’s performing, make him a roster mainstay. If he’s not, dump him. (Impact: 7)
  • Can C Jonathan Lucroy take advantage of the lack of competition on this team and claim 120+ starts this season? C Josh Phegley is dealing with a hand injury and C Bruce Maxwell is a clear backup. If Lucroy performs well and the A’s are out of it early, he’s going to be a popular trade chip, which means the A’s will want him out there often to show his value. In one catcher leagues, he may be available, and I’d consider even using a reserve spot on him because of the volume of playing time he’s likely to receive relative to other low-end C1s like Yasmani Grandal and Brian McCann. (Impact; 6) 

Philadelphia Phillies

  • We promised we’d get to Gabe Kapler, who has probably generated the most individual excitement of any of the new managers thanks to his perceived unique approach and affable personality. Where is it best to watch how that manifests itself? We’ll say the outfield, where OF Rhys Hoskins is the only starter with some level of guarantee that he’ll play a full season if healthy. Keep an eye, specifically, on OF Odubel Herrera, who should be safe thanks to his defense, but now has the threat of 2B/OF Scott Kingery and, shockingly, OF Aaron Altherr, who is starting today in center instead of Herrera. If Herrera isn’t playing every day, he doesn’t have much value beyond a reserve slot. (Impact: 8)
  • SP Sixto Sanchez is an incredibly high upside arm who will likely be in Double-A before he turns 20 this summer. This is one of the few minor league starters this is worth checking the box score on after every start – in a rotation full of options with checkered health pasts and presents (Vince Velasquez, Jerad Eickhoff, Mark Leiter) and short track records (Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta) a mid-to-late July call for Sanchez doesn’t seem impossible. (Impact: 2)

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • 3B Colin Moran is going to bat seventh to start, but his late season power breakout and shot at every day playing time means he’s a watchlist guy for the first few weeks. I’d consider adding Moran next week if he gets off to a hot start – let’s say something like a .270/.340/.480 slash line in his first 20 plate appearances. If he gets rolling, he’s not going to come out of the lineup for a team that is starting to rebuild for its next run at contention. (Impact: 8) 
  • This is a starting rotation with all right-handed pitchers and, in Tyler Glasnow, a right-handed number six. So what if manager Clint Hurdle decides he really needs a lefty in the rotation? SP Taylor Hearn, a 23-year-old, is likely to debut at Double-A after getting a stint in the Arizona Fall League this year. He’s also the closest lefty starter the Bucs have to the majors. Check on Hearn at the end of April to see he’s started in Altoona. For an NL league, he may be worth adding when he begins getting Triple-A seasoning. (Impact: 1) 

San Diego Padres

  • The Padres oddly chose to carry three catchers to start the year. How will this impact the playing time of Austin Hedges, whose fantasy value lies primarily in compiling numbers by way of staying in the lineup for defense? If either of the backups – A.J. Ellis and Raffy Lopez – are taking away 2-3 starts a week, then Hedges immediately becomes waiver fodder, even in two-catcher leagues. (Impact: 6)
  • SP Tyson Ross falls in the Matt Kemp camp of “get him while the getting is good.” If/when Ross is getting regular turns in the Padres rotation after his minor league stint to start the season, he’s worth rostering, solely because of his dominant past and the fact that he’s liable to break down again at any time. Ross could be the type of guy that only gives you 8 starts and 55 innings this year but strikes out 75 guys in that time. It’s important to roster these types of players who produce in spurts between DL stints, especially in the starting pitcher category, because they keep you from having to chase wins and Ks in September when the pitching pool becomes incredibly diluted due to roster expansion. (Impact: 7) 

San Francisco Giants

  • As we were writing this, RP Mark Melancon went on the disabled list with with a flexor strain. This is another one of those “precursor to surgery” injuries that make a guy worth dumping. RP Sam Dyson and RP Hunter Strickland are the obvious fallbacks, but watch for the usage of RP Tony Watson. Watson is not the only lefty in the Giants’ bullpen, so he isn’t going to be held solely to matchup duty with left-handed batters. He’s also got a better recent track record than Dyson and the closing experience that Strickland doesn’t (if that matters to manager Bruce Bochy). (Impact: 8)
  • Bochy didn’t run much last year, and the Giants’ 76 steals ranked 10th in the National League. But he has OF Austin Jackson in center field this year, and Jackson stole 17 and 20 bases in his last two seasons as a starter. OF Steven Duggar may take Jackson’s place, but watch these first couple of weeks to see how Bochy uses him in the order and on the bases. He could be a cheap steals source as long as he’s starting. (Impact: 7) 

Seattle Mariners

  • 2B/OF Dee Gordon isn’t really a 2B/OF…he’s an OF who will have 2B eligibility for this season, and that’s probably the end. Now he’s a center fielderm to be exact. If you play Scoresheet or another sim-style league, this may already be on your radar, but I’d encourage all fantasy players to keep an eye on Gordon’s defense and how it is impacting his offense. There’s no debating that center field involves much more running than second base. Will that hurt Gordon’s stolen base ability, which is what drove his top 30 average draft position in most leagues? There’s a fine line to walk here – if you’re the Gordon owner, I wouldn’t panic if he only has two steals in the first two weeks of the season. Conversely, if you left you draft short on steals and Gordon starts slow, it would be worth seeing if you can sell that narrative to the Gordon owner to try to get him at reduced value. (Impact: 7)

St. Louis Cardinals

  • As we were writing this, RP Greg Holland signed with the Cardinals. RP Dominic Leone and RP Luke Gregerson are not worth rostering at this point, though I would argue that Leone has some value for these first two or three weeks as Holland ramps up. Holland immediately becomes a top-15 closer. (Impact: 10)
  • If SP Miles Mikolas wasn’t drafted in your league, I would put him in the same bucket as Kyle Gibson of the Twins – one good start, add him. Mikolas improved as the spring went on and is going to have the advantage of lacking a solid scouting report for the opposition, as he’s a completely different pitcher than he was in his first stint in the majors before several dominant years in Japan. (Impact: 9) 

Tampa Bay Rays

  • Yet another injury to SP Nathan Eovaldi leaves the Rays with just three guaranteed starting pitchers. Their “bullpen day” gambit will be tested very early in the season, and if they are pressured to add regular fourth and fifth starters to the rotation, these are the guys worth watching for usage and performance in the first few weeks. This is in order of our preference to add them should they become regular starters: Yonny ChirinosRyan Yarbrough, Matt Andriese, Austin Pruitt. It would also be prudent to do a weekly check of the Durham Bulls’ box scores for the performances of Anthony Banda, who the Rays acquired in the Steven Souza Jr. trade. (Impact: 8) 
  • The Tampa Bay front office willingly moved on from high-strikeout hitters, even at the expense of dumping 95 home runs from their lineup in the form of Souza, OF Corey Dickerson, and 1B Logan Morrison. Watching how that manifests itself in the Rays’ day-to-day lineups will be key, especially for 2B Joey Wendle, 1B C.J. Cron, and 3B Matt Duffy. These are three players that I could see having breakout seasons if things fall right, but they need to avoid falling to platoons, which manager Kevin Cash has not been shy about using. (Impact: 4) 

Texas Rangers

  • As we were writing this, RP Keone Kela was named the closer, with RP Kevin Jepsen as the next in line. This craters any value for RP Alex Claudio, though I’d keep him on your watchlist because he’s still an effectively reliever and will likely retain manager Jeff Banister’s trust. (Impact: 10)
  • Banister’s choice of leadoff hitter is one to watch on a day-to-day basis. OF Delino DeShields Jr. gained a ton of draft helium late in the spring when he was declared the starter in center field, primarily because of his high stolen base upside. But if he struggles, both 1B/3B Joey Gallo and minors-bound OF Willie Calhoun offer alternatives as, respectively, a high on-base guy and a high-contact guy. (Impact: 3) 

Toronto Blue Jays

  • The Jays have one pure left-handed hitter on their 25-man roster, OF Curtis Granderson. While it looks like he’s going to platoon with OF Steve Pearce, I do think there’s a chance Granderson gets 450-500 at bats simply because they need a regular left-handed option. 1B Justin Smoak and DH Kendrys Morales are both switch hitters, but perform much better as right-handed batters. If Granderson plays five days a week and leads off even half of the team (2B Devon Travis is going to start the season in the one hole) he’s a starter in 12-team and larger leagues. (Impact: 7)

Washington Nationals

  • Much like the Yankees, the Nats are a boring team in the sense that they have a seemingly entrenched starting lineup and rotation, a deep but unpredictable bullpen (in the sense that if the closer falters, there’s no clear next option the manager would go with), and a new manager. In DC, it is Dave Martinez, a Joe Maddon disciple. But, again, this is a roster with very few intriguing bench options for platooning and mixing/matching, which Maddon has a history of doing. The only thing I can discern from this right now is that OF Michael Taylor is worth keeping track of, both for his batting lineup spot and his plate discipline. With OF Victor Robles looming as one of the game’s top prospects, Taylor can’t afford to struggle early or he may find himself in a timeshare or, worse, a bench role. (Impact: 3)

3 thoughts on “Spring Training Trends – Part 2”

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