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AL Spring Training Battles with Fantasy Relevance

Baseball is back! Not quite the regular season yet, but Spring Training is still an exciting time. Our first look at players on new teams and top prospects we are dying to see. This is our first chance to see how some of our off-season fantasy baseball predictions look and start to get a feel for how playing time will shake out. This article looks at one or two spring training battles for each American League team that you should be aware of for fantasy baseball.

The season is not here yet, but why not get a head start and jump in a Fantrax Classic Draft contest? Get a jump on the season with a Best Ball league or maybe a Draft and Hold. Or put some green on the line with a new season-long league to try and conquer. There’s no better time than now to get your baseball on!

AL East Spring Training Battles

New York Yankees

Position Battle 1: Shortstop

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Oswald Peraza

Main Competition: Isaiah Kiner-Falefa

Dark Horse: Anthony Volpe

The Yankees traded for Isaiah Kiner-Falefa hoping to solidify shortstop prior to the 2022 season. IKF struggled offensively with an 85 wRC+ and was a major disappointment defensively. He is back with the team after signing a 1-year, $6M deal to stay in New York, but is not the projected starter. Oswald Peraza appears to have the edge and I already wrote a breakout article about him this off-season. He hit .291/.365/.511 at Triple-A from June forward and combines impressive contact skills with plus speed. The Yankees’ top prospect Anthony Volpe is also in consideration for the starting job although he is more of a long shot than anything. With only 22 games of experience above Double-A, Volpe is likely to start the season in the Minor Leagues.

Position Battle 2: Third Base

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Josh Donaldson

Main Competition: DJ LeMahieu

Dark Horse: Anthony Volpe

37-year-old Josh Donaldson finally saw a major drop in production last year. In his worst offensive season since 2012, Donaldson hit .222 with just 15 home runs during his first season in pinstripes. He experienced major regression in his contact rates, chase rates, and barrel percentage. The Yankees are paying him $25 million this year so he will likely still get a chance to start. DJ LeMahieu is coming off an injury-riddled season but was still productive while he was on the field. LeMahieu figures to find himself in the lineup regularly playing some position in the infield, but we are not sure where. Third Base might be his best option. If both Donaldson and LeMahieu are struggling to produce, the Yankees could slide Volpe to third base, but this is a long shot.

Toronto Blue Jays

Position Battle 1: Second Base

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Whit Merrifield

Main Competition: Santiago Espinal

Dark Horse: Addison Barger

Whit Merrifield is another veteran that fell off the proverbial cliff last year. He salvaged his season with a hot final month (.338/.361/.588) but is far from a lock for everyday playing time this year. Santiago Espinal will compete with Merrifield for the starting second base job. Espinal is not flashy or exciting but could win the job if Merrifield scuffles again. Top prospect Addison Barger could also force his way into consideration if both Espinal and Merrifield struggle. Barger slashed an impressive .308/.378/.555 between Double-A and Triple-A last season and is already 23 years old.

Position Battle 2: Designated Hitter

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Brandon Belt

Main Competition: Danny Jansen

Dark Horse: Cavan Biggio

The Blue Jays made bringing in more left-handed bats a priority this off-season. Brandon Belt appeared in just 78 games for the Giants last season marking his second straight injury-riddled campaign. He will likely get the shot to open on the strong side of the platoon with Danny Jansen although Jansen could force his way into the lineup with strong production. Jansen posted a 140 wRC+ in the 72 games he appeared in last year. Cavan Biggio is the other lefty in the competition although he profiles better as a utility bat for Toronto.

Boston Red Sox

Position Battle 1: Rotation Spots 4/5

Roster Resource Projected Starter: James Paxton/Garrett Whitlock

Main Competition: Brayan Bello

Dark Horse: Tanner Houck

The Red Sox seem intent on letting both Garrett Whitlock and Tanner Houck get a chance to start. Both pitchers will be competing for a back-end rotation spot with James Paxton and fellow young pitcher Brayan Bello. Bello is enticing from a fantasy perspective and has spent time working with Pedro Martinez this off-season. Paxton has only thrown 21.2 innings since 2020 and you have to wonder how rusty he will be. This competition is wide open heading into Spring Training with big-time fantasy upside in some of these profiles.

Position Battle 2: Second Base

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Christian Arroyo

Main Competition: Enmanuel Valdez

Dark Horse: None

The loss of Trevor Story looms large in this position battle. When Adalberto Mondesi returns from injury there is a chance, he plays shortstop and slides Enrique Hernandez over to second base, but for now, the battle is between Arroyo and Valdez. Arroyo very quietly had an excellent second half of the season (.329/.355/.451), but that came with a .391 BABIP and he does not have a strong Major League track record. Meanwhile, Valdez came over in the Christian Vazquez trade and is yet to reach the Major Leagues. He hit .296/.376/.542 in the Minor Leagues last year and could earn the starting job over Arroyo.

Tampa Bay Rays

Position Battle 1: Third Base

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Isaac Paredes

Main Competition: Jonathan Aranda

Dark Horse: Curtis Mead

The Rays love to platoon batters and they figure to do plenty of that in 2022. This is likely the outcome that will result here as Aranda bats lefty and Paredes bats right-handed. Aranda dominated Triple-A last season and the Rays will likely want to see what he can do with consistent at-bats in the Major Leagues. Paredes meanwhile is the projected starter and hit an impressive 20 home runs in just 381 plate appearances last season (31/600 pace). Curtis Mead is another one of Tampa’s top prospects who is knocking on the door. All three players can play all over the infield but with Brandon Lowe and Wander Franco locking up the middle infield spots, third base seems like the only opening.

Position Battle 2: Right Field

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Manuel Margot

Main Competition: Josh Lowe

Dark Horse: None

This is one of the competitions nobody is talking about. Manuel Margot is the presumed starter, but he has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career and continues to post mediocre offensive numbers. The Rays could decide to give an exciting prospect the chance if he performs well in Spring Training. Lowe will have to earn that spot though as he performed poorly in his first chance at the Major League level last season. The Triple-A numbers are there, and if Lowe can demonstrate improved contact skills this spring he could force Tampa’s hand.

Baltimore Orioles

Position Battle 1: Left Field

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Austin Hays

Main Competition: Kyle Stowers

Dark Horse: Colton Cowser

Austin Hays is the starter right now, but he was abysmal during the second half of last season (featured in an article to come). He began to lose playing time and could find himself on the short side of a platoon with Kyle Stowers. Stowers will need a good spring to earn the job, but there is a good chance it happens. Stowers could also earn the designated hitter role which would help Hays. However, the Orioles have plenty of options and Colten Cowser could thrust himself into their 2023 plans with a strong spring. The 2021 fifth-overall pick made it to Triple-A last season and has a chance to make the Opening Day roster.

Position Battle 2: SP4/5

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Dean Kremer/Grayson Rodriguez

Main Competition: Tyler Wells

Dark Horse: DL Hall

The back end of the Orioles rotation is wide open and has the chance to provide plenty of fantasy value. Kremer has the edge after posting a 3.23 ERA through 21 starts last season. Grayson Rodriguez who is one of baseball’s top pitching prospects will be with the team at some point in 2023 but needs to prove he is ready for the Major Leagues during Spring Training. Wells was slightly less impressive than Kremer during the 2022 season but has good spin rates on both his fastball and secondary offerings. DL Hall is another prospect who has excellent stuff, but major control issues. If he shows up this spring with improved control the Orioles might have no choice but to insert him into the rotation.

AL Central Spring Training Battles

Kansas City Royals

Position Battle 1: Second Base

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Michael Massey

Main Competition: Nicky Lopez

Dark Horse: Johan Camargo

Nicky Lopez was a major fantasy baseball disappointment last season. While the speed is still enticing, he will have to beat out Michael Massey for the second base job. Massey had his moments last year and put-up solid quality of contact metrics. The offensive ceiling is much higher for Massey and he will have every opportunity to show he deserves the second base job during Spring Training. The Royals also signed veteran utility man Johan Camargo to a Minor League deal. There is an outside chance he could win the starting spot if both other players struggle.

Position Battle 2: Outfield

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Edward Olivares/Kyle Isbel/Nate Eaton

Main Competition: Nick Pratto

Dark Horse: Tyler Gentry

The injury to Drew Waters made this situation a little bit clearer for the time being. When Waters comes back he will likely eat into somebody’s playing time but for now, three players will be given a chance to start. Right now, Olivares, Isbel, and Eaton project as the starters, but I am not so sure. Olivares has the most fantasy potential of the three. Nick Pratto was a top prospect heading into last season and has seen some time in left field. They could also let Pratto DH and play Melendez in the outfield. Tyler Gentry feels like a name nobody is talking about, but he posted a .321/.417/.555 slash line in Double-A last year. If some of the other names struggle, he could find himself in the Opening Day lineup.

Cleveland Guardians

Position Battle 1: Center Field

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Myles Straw

Main Competition: Will Brennan

Dark Horse: None

Myles Straw’s defensive prowess gives him the upper hand in this battle, but he is so bad offensively you have to wonder how long the leash is. Last season, Straw posted a 64 wRC+, and a similar level of production this spring could remove him from the lineup. Meanwhile, Will Brennan is an under-the-radar prospect who hit .357 in his 11-game Major League debut last year. He has posted solid offensive numbers since being drafted in 2019 and could earn the starting spot over Straw with a strong spring. He isn’t Straw, but still profiles as an above-average defender.

Position Battle 2: Catcher

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Mike Zunino

Main Competition: Bo Naylor

Dark Horse: Cam Gallagher

This comes down to how much the Guardians want to push Bo Naylor. Naylor made it from Double-A to the Major Leagues last season with excellent numbers but then struggled in a small sample. The Guardians went out and signed Mike Zunino, but he has only one good season in his last five. The Guardians might opt to go with the veteran, but Naylor could force his way into the Opening Day lineup with a strong spring. Cam Gallagher figures to be the backup, but if both Zunino and Naylor struggle this spring he could also win the job.

Detroit Tigers

Position Battle 1: Left Field

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Akil Baddoo

Main Competition: Matt Vierling

Dark Horse: Kerry Carpenter

Matt Vierling is one of my favorite breakout candidates this year after a trade to Detroit. Akil Baddoo is listed as the starter, but a 65 wRC+ last season does not inspire much confidence. Vierling has excellent quality of contact metrics and should earn the job. There is a chance these two players platoon, but I expect Detroit to give one of them a full-time run. Kerry Carpenter also has a chance to win the job, but he is a long shot at this point.

Position Battle 2: Second Base

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Jonathan Schoop

Main Competition: Cesar Hernandez

Dark Horse: Nick Maton

Jonathan Schoop has come out and said he worked all offseason to fix his swing and approach at the plate. This is needed after he posted a 57 wRC+ last season. The Tigers also signed Cesar Hernandez to a Minor League deal, bringing in another veteran to compete for the job. If both players struggle, the Tigers could opt to move Nick Maton from third to second to fill the hole. I expect Schoop to start, but the competition is wide open.

Minnesota Twins

Position Battle 1: Outfield/Designated Hitter

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Joey Gallo/Byron Buxton/Max Kepler/Nick Gordon

Main Competition: Trevor Larnach/Michael Taylor

Dark Horse: Royce Lewis

After injuries decimated the Twins’ outfield last season they went out and added plenty of depth. Right now, the starters at both OF and DH project to be Gallo, Buxton, Kepler, and Gordon. Gallo and Kepler are both platoon risks and the Twins could opt to DH Buxton in order to keep him healthy. Trevor Larnach is most likely to threaten Nick Gordon for playing time and Michael Taylor could force anybody out to get Buxton off his feet. Royce Lewis might not be ready for Opening Day, but will be a factor as soon as he returns. He is a name to remember as this all unfolds.

Chicago White Sox

Position Battle 1: Right Field

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Gavin Sheets

Main Competition: Oscar Colas

Dark Horse: None

Gavin Sheets is listed as the starter on Roster Resource, but Oscar Colas has been the one generating most of the buzz. Colas hit .314/.371/.524 in the Minor Leagues last year, but strikeout issues could lead to struggles against tougher competition. Meanwhile, Sheets had an excellent second half to 2022 and might have an advantage heading into Spring Training.

AL West Spring Training Battles

Los Angeles Angels

Position Battle 1: First Base/Shortstop

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Jared Walsh/Luis Rengifo

Main Competition: Gio Urshela

Dark Horse: David Fletcher

The Angels currently have six infielders for four spots. This is never a bad thing with injuries and struggles but creates a playing time issue right now. Jared Walsh is coming off major surgery and is projected to be the starting first baseman right now. If Walsh does not appear to be ready this spring, he could lose his job to Gio Urshela who performed well down the stretch for Minnesota last season. David Fletcher is also still hanging around and is just two seasons removed from batting .319. Walsh and Rengifo project to be the starters now, but that could change as Spring Training moves along.

Position Battle 2: SP6

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Tucker Davidson

Main Competition: Chase Silseth

Dark Horse: Griffin Canning

With Shohei Ohtani, the Angels figure to use a six-man rotation. Tucker Davidson is listed as the starter, but a 6.75 ERA in 11 starts last season leaves the door for that spot wide open. Chase Silseth tore through the Minor Leagues after being an eleventh-round pick in 2021. He struggled in his Major League debut but has a solid fastball with three secondary offerings that provide upside. Griffin Canning is the forgotten man in all of this. He missed the entire 2022 season with an injury but is reportedly ready to go for the 2023 season. He has a chance to earn the last rotation spot this spring if he proves to be healthy.

Texas Rangers

Position Battle 1: Designated Hitter

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Brad Miller

Main Competition: Mitch Garver

Dark Horse: Josh Smith

The Rangers will likely utilize a platoon with their DH spot. Mitch Garver lands on the strong side of that platoon, but Garver has not played more than 68 games since 2019. Brad Miller is the veteran and is coming off the worst season of his career. Both of these facts open the door for Josh Smith to make a run at a starting job. Smith has a Minor League track record of producing and could get a chance with a strong spring.

Position Battle 2: Outfield

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Robbie Grossman/Leody Taveras

Main Competition: Bubba Thomposn

Dark Horse: Ezequiel Duran

Outside of Adolis Garcia, the outfield is wide open. Robbie Grossman and Leody Taveras project as the starters with Taveras’ lineup spot feeling slightly more stable. Thompson is a player I am avoiding in fantasy, but the Rangers might be inclined to give him a chance. Duran is primarily a third baseman, but the Rangers seem intent on finding a way to get his bat in the lineup. If he shows he is capable of handling an outfield spot, he could get a spot in the Opening Day lineup.

Seattle Mariners

Position Battle 1: Second Base

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Kolten Wong

Main Competition: Dylan Moore

Dark Horse: Tommy La Stella

The Mariners made signing Kolten Wong a priority this off-season. He is expected to be in a platoon with Dylan Moore since Wong hit .138 off lefties last year. I wrote about Dylan Moore recently as a player with star potential and believe he could win this job if given the chance. Moore is currently battling a minor injury though which opens the door for veteran Tommy La Stella to earn some playing time.

Position Battle 2: Left Field/Designated Hitter

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Jarred Kelenic/A.J. Pollock

Main Competition: Sam Haggerty

Dark Horse: Evan White

Jarred Kelenic looks to be getting another chance in 2023 to prove he is as talented as his Triple-A stat line suggests. AJ Pollock is coming off a disappointing season in Chicago, but actually was excellent during the second half. His second half is backed up by xwRC+(more on in a future article) and will likely get the chance to DH. Sam Haggerty is on the outside looking in but could platoon with Pollock or take the LF job if Kelenic continues to struggle. It has been forever since Evan White was a top prospect, but he is back and healthy and a strong spring could force him into the DH conversation this season.

Oakland A’s

Position Battle 1: Third Base/Shortstop

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Jace Peterson/Nick Allen

Main Competition: Aledmys Diaz

Dark Horse: Jordan Diaz

As the Athletics continue to rebuild, there is plenty of opportunity for young players to earn starting spots. Right now, Jace Peterson projects to be the starting third baseman with Nick Allen playing short. Allen is young and a fine defender but looked lost at the plate last season. Peterson and Diaz should not stand in the way of a young prospect coming up. Jordan Diaz is generating buzz as a player who is adding loft to his swing in hopes of a power breakout. He performed well in the Columbian winter league and could be in the Opening Day lineup if he continues this success in Spring Training.

Position Battle 2: SP5

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Ken Waldichuk

Main Competition: Kyle Muller

Dark Horse: None

The battle for the last rotation spot comes down to two recently acquired young pitchers. Waldichuk broke out with the Yankees last season and looked impressive during his final two starts of the season with Oakland. Kyle Muller has consistently looked good in the Minor Leagues but was never able to get things to click with Atlanta. A change in scenary could help to unlock his potential. This is a battle to watch closely as both players could have a fantasy impact in 2023.

Houston Astros

Position Battle 1: Catcher

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Martin Maldonado

Main Competition: Korey Lee

Dark Horse: Yainer Diaz

A veteran manager and veteran team give Martin Maldonado a distinct edge in this playing time battle. Maldonado however is not getting any younger (36) and has a career wRC+ of 72. Korey Lee smashed 25 home runs in Triple-A last season and could steal the starting spot away from him. Diaz is the best offensive option behind the dish but will need to show improved defense during Spring Training if he wants a shot at the catcher job.

Position Battle 2: Center Field

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Chas McCormick

Main Competition: Jake Meyers

Dark Horse: None

Chas McCormick is not flashy but was very solid for Houston last season. He posted a 114 wRC+ while being a well above-average defender. Meyers meanwhile has a strong track record of offensive success in the Minor Leagues but has yet to exhibit this at the Major League level. The job is McCormick’s to lose, but there is a chance Meyers forces Houston’s hand.

For more great analysis check out the 2023 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit!

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