Step one, pitchers and catchers report to camp. Step two, positional players arrive, and the full-squad is assembled. Next, exhibition baseball games before organizations trim the MLB roster. And that is exactly what brings us to discuss fantasy-relevant Spring Training position battles on several teams here.
This Spring Training feels a bit different than others in terms of fantasy. After a bit of back and forth from the MLBPA and MLB, it appears we will go into the season without the universal DH. Also, in recent news, it would appear that Triple-A baseball is pushed back until May.
This unsettled feeling can go by the wayside because, hey, we will have baseball shortly. There is a bit of importance for some of these battles because they can dramatically enhance a player’s fantasy potential. I wanted to focus on 10 total Spring Training position battles; five in the NL and five in the AL.
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Spring Training Position Battles
Boston Red Sox
Closer: Matt Barnes vs. Adam Ottavino
The front-runner is likely Matt Barnes, mainly due to the fact he saved nine games in 2020. No doubt, this will not be a role just handed to Barnes-especially after he also blew four saves. While he wields a robust 30.4% strikeout rate, it comes with a dreadful 13.7% walk rate. Allowing free passes to batters has plagued Barnes in the past and could be his undoing again.
Boston’s offseason included acquiring slider extraordinaire Adam Ottavino. Much like Barnes, Ottavino puts up gaudy strikeout numbers but gets dinged for the walks too. While he posses the stuff to be a closer, he has never really don’t it in the past-only 19 career saves in 463 appearances.
Chicago White Sox
Starting Pitcher: Carlos Rodon vs. Reynaldo Lopez vs. Michael Kopech
There is a glut of youthful arms waiting to break into the rotation. Unfortunately, this trio is very unproven and struggled at times. Carlos Rodon is the expected starter but hasn’t pitched over 100 MLB innings since 2018 due to injury. Reynaldo Lopez has an on-going walk problem mixed with giving up too many home runs. Michael Kopech opted out of last season and would be the likely favorite if he wasn’t already announced to begin 2021 in the bullpen.
The White Sox are a team primed to make waves in the AL Central. Grabbing the fifth starter on a winning team could be worth a lot. We could see a mixture of all three arms at some point this season if they don’t go out and sign another free agent (Jake Odorizzi). This is definitely a Spring Training battle worth keeping an eye on.
Shortstop: Andres Gimenez vs. Amed Rosario
Cleveland landed both Gimenez and Rosario when they traded away Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco. The two infielders find themselves competing for the same spot after the organization signed second basemen Cesar Hernandez. Rosario is fresh off a season to forget as he finished with a .277 wOBA and 75 wRC+. In contrast to that, Gimenez showcased some tools by swiping eight bags and hitting three dingers in only 132 plate appearances.
There are talks of Gimenez starting the season in the minors because he still has an option. Both players have the ability to give you double-digit stolen bases much later in your draft. Monitor this battle closely, as stolen bases are becoming a rare commodity.
Starting Pitcher: Julio Teheran vs. Tarik Skubal vs. Casey Mize
We were all excited to see Skubal and Mize facing MLB talent in 2020, but the outcomes were not what many hoped. Both future front-of-the-rotation starting pitchers struggled immensely and didn’t look ready to take the next step forward. Teheran likely starts the season in the rotation while the Skubal and Mize get another year of seasoning under their belts.
Teheran warrants little to no fantasy value, except in the deepest of redraft formats. Skubal and Mize are very intriguing young arms if they can put it all together. We will likely see them at some point this season-just not to begin the season unless they are totally lights out in Spring Training.
Outfield: Alex Kirilloff vs. Brent Rooker vs. Jake Cave
The departure of Eddie Rosario opens up playing time in the outfield. The ballclub didn’t sign a replacement but rather elected to turn the duties in-house. The three potential candidates are Alex Kirilloff, Brent Rooker, and Jake Cave.
Kirilloff is the name everybody wants to see win the starting role. However, the 15th overall pick in 2016 will likely start in the minors and make his way later. Kirilloff has never played above Double-A ball but has the raw power to light up a scoreboard.
Cave could be the darkhorse to take this job if the team wants to send either rookie down to the minors. His strikeout rate has been a major reason for the lack of a full-time role, but he doesn’t sport a .197 career ISO and 25 HRs in 660 plate appearances. Cave is also subpar vs. southpaws as he sports a career 76 wRC+ and over 40% strikeout rate. This will likely be a platoon between Jake Cave and Brent Rooker.
Starting Pitcher: Kyle Wright vs. Mike Soroka
Atlanta is a premier team in the National League East, and the fifth starter spot is worth garnering your attention. On paper, it seems like a runaway for Soroka to win the job. However, he is still recovering from the Achilles injury that sidelined him last season. Reports are hopeful on Soroka’s return, but we are too close to the season’s start.
Kyle Wright has a control issue that leads to too many walks. It’s been his Achilles heel in development as he sits over 14% in each of the previous two seasons. The strikeout rate is less desirable than you want as a fantasy starter, but wins could be there. Drafting Wright has its fair share of risk.
Second Base: Brendan Rodgers vs. Garrett Hampson
The Rockies have finally moved Nolan Arenado amidst a few years of rumors. The move slides Ryan McMahon over to the hot corner and frees up much-needed space on the infield. Even with that space open, there is still a few potential starters at second base: Brendan Rodgers and Garrett Hampson.
Coors Field makes all fantasy owners, and especially when it’s a pair of players, the dynasty community has been anxious to see. Hampson has the ability to lead the MLB in stolen bases but has never been able to live up to the hype. Sadly, part of that is due to a lack of consistent playing time. This may be his chance, and the draft price has never been better.
Standing in the way of Hampson is a third overall pick by the organization. Rodgers has quickly risen the ranks in the organization and looks to be fully healthy. Will this be the year for Rodger’s breakout? It’s hard to say at this exact moment, but this is definitely a battle worth monitoring in Spring Training.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Second Base: Chris Taylor vs. Gavin Lux
Chris Taylor is the human swiss army knife. Since 2019, he has played every outfield position and all the infield except for catcher and first base. His ability to stay in the field will help keep him in games and pile up the stats in your lineup. His ADP has fluctuated heavily with the news of no universal DH. Nevertheless, Taylor has been a productive player over the past few year-wRC+ over 100 in each of the previous four seasons.
Lux isn’t exactly free in drafts but has plenty of upside potential if full-time at-bats come his way. If Lux were guaranteed the same number of plate appearances as Taylor, I would take Lux due to the higher ceiling. In 15-team NFBC drafts, both players only get drafted five spots from each other. So taking either may come down to roster preference. Do you want safe and boring or upside and risky?
Closer: Hector Neris vs. Archie Bradley vs. Jose Alvarado vs. Brandon Kintzler vs. Tony Watson
This is a three-headed monster I would avoid at all costs. While I commend the Phillies for realizing the bullpen was a laughing stock of the MLB. The closer situation is still an utter mess. If you notice, I listed most of the bullpen as a potential closer-mainly because it could be anyone any night.
The entire bullpen is a boom or bust pick. My suggestion is to completely avoid this situation and let another fantasy manager deal with figuring out who will close the games out. The whole setup has a feel that is very much the like Tampa Bay Rays, where three pitchers end the season with eight to 10 saves.
San Diego Padres
Second Base: Jake Cronenworth vs. Ha-Seong Kim
This could be a messy battle for playing time all season long. Both of them can play multiple positions on the infield, and no universal DH really hinders their production. It is effortless to imagine both players playing fairly regularly due to the versatility. Still, they are likely not removing Fernando Tatis Jr. or Manny Machado from the lineup very often.
The likely outcome is Cronenworth, and Kim split time at second base while providing days off here and there to others. We still are yet to see how Kim’s game will translate to the MLB, but he is well-known for being a successful base stealer. At the same time, Cronenworth may have the edge in power at the dish.
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