Baseball is officially back! After that roller coaster of an offseason, I am sure everybody is excited that they get to sit back and watch. As I mentioned in my article last Friday, I am going to be writing a weekly article on lineup analysis for Fantrax. This article will rotate weekly between AL and NL. I will discuss trends that fantasy managers should be aware of for each team. Since Opening Day was not until yesterday, I only have one lineup to go off of for each team. I decided to start with the NL since there are more teams playing on Thursday than in the AL. If a team did not have a game yesterday, I decided to include a quick summary of things that I am watching for when their first lineups are released. Without further ado, here comes the first lineup analysis report of 2022!
NL Lineup Notes
The Phillies’ first game is not until Friday. However, there are a few things that fantasy managers should be keeping an eye on early. The most important being the playing time of Bryson Stott and Alec Bohm. When it was announced that both players made the team, Girardi came out and said that both players would be a part of multiple platoon situations early on. I figure that Stott will play almost every day and Bohm will primarily play against lefties to get Gregorious out of the lineup. However, the situation is fluid and definitely worth monitoring.
I was going to write a quick note on Mickey Moniak, but news broke yesterday that he has a fractured hand and is out 4-6 weeks. Anybody chasing upside with him will have to wait. Matt Vierling is set to be the everyday center fielder for the Phillies to start the season.
New York Mets
The Opening Day lineup for the Mets was interesting and is definitely something to watch going forward. The Mets opted to put Jeff McNeil in LF, Canó at 2B, and played J.D. Davis at DH. With Brandon Nimmo out of the lineup, McNeil is a superior outfielder to Davis and Dominic Smith which is why he moved out there. This is allowing Canó to get into the lineup. Playing Davis over Smith likely signals a platoon situation. With Patrick Corbin on the mound, Showalter opted to put Davis in over Smith. Davis is 10/29 with 4 home runs off of Corbin in his career, but I would expect Dominic Smith to enter the lineup against a righty. The Nimmo injury is worth monitoring because with him in the lineup it is between Canó, Davis, and Smith with only the DH spot open.
Dansby Swanson seems destined to hit toward the bottom of the lineup. He hit ninth last night, and the Braves will only get stronger when Acuña comes back. This is disappointing to those rostering Swanson when you could have had Adames at a similar price. When Acuña comes back, it will likely come at the expense of Alex Dickerson. He batted eighth and was DH last night. Duvall, who manned center field, will likely move to the DH spot. I am curious to see if Eddie Rosario continues to lead off after Acuña returns. If he proves himself during these next few weeks he could score a ton of runs hitting ahead of Olson, Acuña, and Riley. In that case, Albies and Ozuna would likely slide down the lineup some.
There is not too much to note from the Nationals’ everyday lineup. Throughout Spring Training, they have been batting Cesar Hernandez leadoff which is where he was last night. He will have a lot of chances to score hitting ahead of Soto, Cruz, and Bell. I am curious if Lane Thomas could find himself hitting leadoff as the year goes on. I am not sure if Hernandez is the best hitter for that spot, but we will watch that as the season goes on.
The Marlins are another team that has to wait until Friday to play. A lot of their lineup decisions were made during Spring Training when they sent Bryan De La Cruz to AAA in favor of rolling with Garrett Cooper. I wrote some about this in my previous article which you can check out here. I am curious to see if Joey Wendle gets more playing time than people think. He is a career .287 hitter against right-handed pitching so he could see a lot of playing time in multiple positions. Miguel Rojas has only hit .244 against righties in his career and I have been very vocal this offseason about the likelihood of Chisholm busting in 2022. Keep an eye on Wendle in deeper leagues, he might have more value than people are giving him credit for.
The Cubs do not figure to be very good this season. The most noteworthy area to watch is the outfield. Happ and Suzuki will be playing every day. That leaves CF and DH for Heyward, Frazier, and Ortega. Heyward and Ortega go the start on OD leaving Frazier on the bench. Early on, it looks like Frazier and Ortega might be platooning with Ortega starting against the righty and Frazier coming off the bench against the lefty. Frazier has the most fantasy upside of the three players battling for playing time, but that means nothing if David Ross does not put him in the lineup.
While Luis Urias is hurt, Jace Peterson is going to get most of the time at third base. He does not have much fantasy value at the moment. With a righty on the mound for Chicago, Tyrone Taylor found himself on the bench. This is not surprising, but still disappointing for those hoping to see him get a chance. Andrew McCutchen was hitting cleanup for the Brewers. He struggled a lot against righties last season, but it looks like he is going to hit in the middle of the order. He could get a lot of RBI chances in that spot and is a great pick-up if available. I was a little bit concerned that the Brewers might sit him against righties, but at least through the first game that does not appear to be the case.
St. Louis Cardinals
Mike Kurland knows more about lineups than anybody I have ever met. He has discussed a lot this spring that the Cardinals should have Dylan Carlson hitting leadoff over Tommy Edman. The Cardinals heard him and on Opening Day put Carlson in the leadoff spot and Edman hitting ninth. This is obviously a boost to Carlson’s value as he is a breakout candidate and a hit to Edman’s value. Edman figures to have fewer run-scoring opportunities hitting at the bottom.
I am interested to see how Pujols holds up during the season. He was batting fifth at DH on Opening Day. He has struggled the last few seasons, especially against righties. From 2019-to 2021, he has hit .236, .218, and .180 against right-handed pitching. As much as he means to the city and team, the Cardinals are trying to win this year. If he struggles the Cardinals could find more at-bats for Corey Dickerson or Laars Nootbaar. Both of those batters are left-handed and honestly at this point are more valuable to the team than Pujols.
The most significant takeaway from the Opening Day lineup was Aquino hitting second against lefties. He and Naiquin might be platooning, but it’s possible Aquino could run away with the starting spot. People forget he hit 19 home runs in 2019, and if he keeps hitting high in the lineup he could be an excellent add to your fantasy team.
Nick Senzel hit sixth last night. The former top prospect appears to be healthy this season and could provide a nice blend of speed and contact to your fantasy team. If he has a strong start he will be a hot commodity in all leagues he is available in. He is worth a flier now before it is too late.
This lineup is not great. Everybody was excited to see what Ke’Bryan Hayes could do this season, but he left early with an injury. This is concerning because it seems like injuries keep finding him. If you roster Hayes, you might need to find a new third baseman depending on how serious the injury is. They are saying it was spasms in his forearm which is concerning considering the wrist injuries he has battled last season. This could be a good opportunity for Diego Castillo to receive some playing time. Castillo had a great spring and is somebody to monitor in deep leagues going forward.
Yoshi Tsutsugo hit cleanup on Opening Day. There might be some value to him, but I am still skeptical of the overall talent level. Hitting cleanup does not do a lot for him if the Pirates batters ahead of him cannot get on.
Daulton Varsho is in fact hitting leadoff for the D-Backs. I am skeptical of his 2021 second-half success, but the Diamondbacks are high on him. Seth Beer is a young player that has a lot of potential. He batted seventh last night. He hit .286/.398/.511 last season in the minors. Beer has a strong track record of hitting in the minors but has never been given a full chance in the bigs. This could be his opportunity to breakout and fantasy managers should be watching his production closely.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The most talented team in the National League on paper does not open their season until Friday. After the A.J. Pollock trade, an everyday lineup spot opened up. Many people including myself believe that Gavin Lux will be the main beneficiary of this deal as it looks like the Dodgers are finally going to give him a chance. Lux can play 2B and OF for the Dodgers depending on where they want Chris Taylor. Another option is that Edwin Rios starts to steal some at-bats if Lux struggles. This situation is worth monitoring because another season without consistent playing time is likely the writing on the wall for Lux in fantasy.
Cody Bellinger will almost definitely be in the Opening Day lineup, but there are uncertainties about how long his leash is. He was a disaster last season and has not looked much better this spring. If he continues to struggle this could open the door for Miguel Vargas to potentially get a call up at some point (Muncy to 2B, Lux to CF, Vargas to DH).
San Diego Padres
This Opening Day lineup surprised me a lot last night. The Padres decided to keep their top prospect in the majors to start the season, but he was not in the Opening Day lineup. Austin Nola hitting leadoff is a big surprise. Nola is only rostered in 35% of leagues. He is hitting ahead of Machado, Cronenworth, and Voit. A catcher hitting leadoff is rare and he could be a great pickup if you need a catcher or are waiting for a prospect like Adley Rutschman.
A big note is Trent Grisham was hitting ninth. Hitting lower than Myers, Hosmer, Profar, and Kim is concerning. I worry that Grisham’s lineup spot is not as secure as we originally thought. Hitting at the bottom of the lineup will also lead to fewer opportunities than anticipated. However, Myers hitting fifth is great for his value. Based on this, it is clear that the Padres still have a high valuation on Myers. He was excellent in 2020 and maybe he will come back to life in 2022.
I am interested to see how the playing time shakes out in this lineup. After the Rockies traded for Grichuk one of Connor Joe and Sam Hilliard is without a starting spot. The team appears to be high on Joe and I think he will get the first chance. Hilliard is more versatile defensively and I think he has more upside than Joe. Fantasy managers should monitor which player gets most of the opportunities. There is also a chance Garrett Hampson receives some playing time, but I doubt it.
San Francisco Giants
There are a lot of unknowns surrounding the Giants’ lineup which we will have to wait until Friday to find. There are two specific spots that I am going to be watching closely. The first is Joey Bart at catcher. He is likely to start, but Kapler has come out and said that the team will use Casali a lot. Bart was a former top prospect and No. 2 overall draft pick. There is upside there and although he has not been receiving any buzz, I am curious if he can rediscover his swing in 2022.
The other is how much will Darin Ruf play. Ruf played 33 games in LF last year, but after the team signed Joc Pederson it is unlikely Ruf will play much out there. He will likely play primarily 1B and DH. He looks to be on the strong side of a platoon with Wade Jr. and Pederson. If Ruf can get enough at-bats against righties he could be an asset for fantasy teams. He posted a 144 wRC+ for the Giants last season and could be in store for similar results in 2022.