NL News and Position Battles Update for March 20
The 2019 MLB regular season is fast approaching. The opening series in Japan is already taking place, and teams are looking to finalize their rosters before the official first pitch next Thursday. There is plenty of news as position battles are taking shape throughout the National League. Let’s go around the Senior Circuit and highlight some of the recent news and notes surrounding these position battles and their fantasy impact.
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National League News and Position Battles Update
Jake Lamb is dealing with stiffness in his back, but the club does believe the issue is minor. Lamb is moving to first base this season and could be a nice value pick this year. He is available well after pick 200 and averaged 85 runs, 30 home runs, and 98 runs batted in from 2016-2017. Back problems and a full season dealing with the humidor are concerns for Lamb, who has been awful against left-handers even during his big years. The 28-year-old owns a career .557 OPS and 32.3 percent strikeout rate against southpaws.
Outfielder Jarrod Dyson returned to action this week after missing several weeks due to injury. The speedster must compete with the newly-signed Adam Jones for fourth outfielder duties. Dyson has stolen base upside but is off the fantasy radar until further notice. Any steals he would accumulate would likely coming as a pinch-runner or a once a week starter.
Relievers A.J. Minter and Darren O’Day are expected to begin the year on the Injured List. Arodys Vizcaino is slated to share closing duties with Minter this season, but perhaps an early hot start can earn him some trust from the Braves’ brass. Vizcaino has had at least nine saves in each of the last four years, but his career high sits at just 16. The Braves seem to be out of the Craig Kimbrel sweepstakes for the moment, although that may change if Minter is out longer than expected.
The rotation is still full of question marks. Julio Teheran has been named the Opening Day starter, but he is not a true ace. Kevin Gausman threw four scoreless innings in the minors on Tuesday as he continues to rehab. He is hoping to be ready when the season begins.
Pedro Strop was in line to start the year as the Cubs’ closer while Brandon Morrow continues to ramp up his activity. However, Strop recently suffered a hamstring injury which threatens his ability to suit up for the opener. The Cubs have plenty of relievers who could mix and match until either Strop or Morrow return, but none would be a viable fantasy option.
Alex Wood will begin the season on the Injured List with a stiff back. The injury is not expected to keep the lefty out very long. Tyler Mahle will replace Wood for at least one turn in the rotation. Sal Romano has been converted to a reliever and should have a role in long relief for the Reds.
The position battle in center field has been an interesting one. Top prospect Nick Senzel is converting to the outfield and has made the transition seamlessly. However, Scott Schebler has had an incredible camp. It would appear the 28-year-old will start the year in center, with Senzel spending the first few weeks in the minors for “additional seasoning”. Schebler did hit 30 home runs two years ago in just over 500 plate appearances. If Schebler tears the cover off the ball, or if Senzel or one of Cincinnati’s corner outfielders struggle, Schebler could see more playing time than expected.
Garrett Hampson and Ryan McMahon continue to thrive as they battle for Colorado’s starting second base job. Bud Black will probably have a hard time sitting either player as long as both continue to rake. I would expect a platoon to start the season. Both are being drafted low enough that they would be considerable bargains if given the majority of reps at the keystone.
Chad Bettis appears to have the fifth spot in the rotation, but it is more by default than by merit. Antonio Sanzatela is sidelined with an infected blister on his heel and will miss the beginning of the season. I don’t think you need me to tell you to avoid Chad Bettis in fantasy leagues.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Clayton Kershaw will begin the season on the Injured List as he continues to battle shoulder inflammation. He will throw live batting practice on Wednesday and should return to the rotation in relatively short order. However, I would be wary. He’s still going as the ninth SP off the board. That is too rich for my blood. Meanwhile, Ross Stripling is among the under-the-radar options who will get a chance to showcase their potential while Kershaw recovers. Stripling is listed as an RP, which could be a nice little flexibility hack depending on your format.
In better news, shortstop Corey Seager is planning on being in the lineup on Opening Day. I have been skeptical about Seager mainly because of his health. But his talent cannot be questioned. I still think it’s a stretch to believe he will outperform his lofty ADP, but he should give his owners plenty of production.
Outfielder Alex Verdugo is expected to make the Opening Day roster as a reserve outfielder. I still believe Verdugo is behind Joc Pederson in the Dodgers’ pecking order, but he should be able to hit for a higher average than his counterpart. Depending on lineup construction, Verdugo could be a useful bench piece in deep leagues.
Caleb Smith had another outstanding outing in his second appearance this spring for Miami. Smith has now pitched nine innings, allowing two hits, one run, and no walks with 13 strikeouts. He may need to build up a little more endurance before he joins the big club, but he can be a nice endgame pick in deep leagues. He is going outside the top-100 starting pitchers and top 400 players overall.
Miguel Rojas has also had an excellent spring as he vies for the shortstop gig. Rojas is hitting .469 in 32 at-bats through Tuesday’s action. Rojas doesn’t possess a ton of power or speed, but he makes great contact and could be a nice compiler if he can get another 500 plate appearances this year.
Meanwhile, Sandy Alcantara may be on the outside looking in. Alcantara flopped in his last start and has now allowed 26 baserunners and eight earned runs in 15.1 innings. He may benefit from some extra fine tuning in the minors and does not need to be drafted at this point.
No official word has been released on Milwaukee’s rotation, but Brandon Woodruff is certainly making a case for inclusion. Woodruff has tossed nine shutout innings, allowing just three hits and struck out 12 thus far. Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta remain firmly in the mix as well, but Woodruff has been far superior in his spring audition. He could be a nice depth option in fantasy leagues in the hopes that his hot spring translates to regular season action.
Reliever Jeremy Jeffress is going to start the year on the Injured List. The Brewers signed reliever Josh Fields, though he is not expected to begin the year in the majors. Milwaukee has also discussed potentially bringing in Craig Kimbrel, which would bolster a bullpen that is already a major strength. Obviously signing Kimbrel would be a blow for Corey Knebel owners, though Josh Hader should thrive regardless of how he is deployed.
New York Mets
Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith remain neck-and-neck for New York’s starting first base job. Both players have hit well this spring, so the decision will likely come down to the wire. Reports suggest that the Mets prefer Smith’s glove at first, though that could be organization speak as the team looks for a reason to keep Alonso down enough to earn another year of control.
Jerad Eickhoff continues to pitch well in limited action as he continues to come back from what was essentially a lost season in 2018. Expect Eickhoff to open the year in AAA, but he could be up before too long.
We still do not have any more clarity on who will close games in Philadelphia this season. It appears that manager Gabe Kapler will mix and match between David Robertson and Seranthony Dominguez as he sees fit. It appears that owners of both relievers will have to start them and hope for a save or two in any given week.
The Pirates made some headlines in recent days by deciding on Jung Ho Kang as their everyday third baseman. It had long been assumed that Colin Moran would get the gig. Kang has five round-trippers this spring, but he has also struck out in half of his at-bats. With an ADP in the mid-400s, Kang is a worthy flier in Points leagues and Best Ball formats. But I would not go rushing to add the 32-year-old in Roto, even at his discounted price.
Pittsburgh also announced that Erik Gonzalez would be the team’s primary shortstop this season. Gonzalez beat out former first-round pick Kevin Newman, but I do not have much faith in Gonzalez. He is out of minor league options and good defensively. I believe those are the real reasons he beat Newman out. Both can be safely avoided in redraft leagues.
Nick Kingham threw five scoreless innings against Tampa Bay in his last outing as he looks to wrestle the fifth and final starting spot from Jordan Lyles. Regardless of who emerges victorious from this position battle, I would likely steer clear outside of deep NL-only leagues.
San Diego Padres
Right-hander Jacob Nix has been diagnosed with UCL damage in his elbow. Hopefully, Nix can avoid Tommy John Surgery, but needless to say, he will not be in the Padres’ rotation anytime soon. It’s a tough blow for San Diego, although its impact is lessened by the fact that they have 2019 Cy Young Award winner Chris Paddack to fall back on. (For the record, I don’t really think Paddack is on that level quite yet. But his stock has probably risen more than any other player this spring.)
Robbie Erlin appears to have locked in a spot at the back end of the rotation after beating out Bryan Mitchell, Nix, and others. Erlin has excellent control, which keeps his ratios in line. But he doesn’t offer much strikeout potential and does not figure to go very deep into ballgames. The Padres are also still seeking an upgrade on the open market, which makes Erlin’s grip on a starting gig tenuous at best.
San Francisco Giants
There hasn’t been a ton of news out of Giants’ camp in recent days. The major position battle still seems to be at closer, where Will Smith and Mark Melancon are competing for the job. Smith is a far better pitcher and has had an infinitely superior spring. But manager Bruce Bochy has still not publicly settled on a closer just yet. If Melancon gets the gig, it will most likely be in an effort to showcase the veteran for a potential trade.
St. Louis Cardinals
Tyler O’Neill is up to five homers this spring but is still not expected to crack the Cardinals’ starting outfield anytime soon. The slugger remains behind Marcell Ozuna, Harrison Bader, and Dexter Fowler on the outfield depth chart. Jose Martinez and Yairo Munoz can also play the outfield a bit. O’Neill is worth a deep flier based on his potential. However, I would not expect regular playing time in the season’s early going.
Dakota Hudson looks to have secured a spot in the rotation vacated by Carlos Martinez. The former first-round pick may have a chance to stick if Martinez is slow to recover from his shoulder injury or if long-in-the-tooth Adam Wainwright falters. Hudson does not have elite strikeout potential but should be a solid starter for as long as he is allowed to remain in the rotation.
Outfielder Michael Taylor has been diagnosed with a sprained knee and hip and will be out for several weeks. The speedster was supposed to platoon in the outfield and make a couple of starts per week, likely spelling Adam Eaton and/or Victor Robles. The injury probably pushes Eaton towards a 600 plate appearance pace. Normally, being assured more playing time would be a positive. But Eaton is oft-injured and could benefit from some controlled maintenance. Washington may have to make a move to acquire some depth to give Eaton a blow now and again.
Carter Kieboom continues his torrid spring, but the 2016 first-round pick will begin the season in the minors. Kieboom comes in behind only Victor Robles in our own Eric Cross’ Washington Nationals Top-25 Prospects list. The hard-hitting shortstop should contend for a spot in the starting lineup beginning in 2020.
Mick will be updating all the Spring Training Position Battles every Wednesday. For more great rankings, strategy, and analysis check out the 2019 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. We’ll be adding more content from now right up until Opening Day!
Mick Ciallela has been writing for FantraxHQ since July 2017. He has also written for Bleacher Report. He is a lifelong sports fan and has been an avid fantasy sports player for many years. Mick was the Overall Champion of both the 2016 Football Challenge – Roto and 2017 Play 3 Football contests hosted by CDM Sports. Mick was born and raised in Mount Vernon, New York and currently resides in New London, Connecticut.
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