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NL Spring Training Battles with Fantasy Relevance

Spring Training is an information-packed time for fantasy baseball players. On Sunday, I looked at position battles to keep an eye on throughout the American League. I detailed one to two battles going on for each team that fantasy players need to be paying attention to. Today, we shift our focus to the National League. There is plenty of intrigue for all 30 teams making this one of the most exciting times of the year. Let’s dive into the position battles with fantasy relevance for all 15 NL teams.

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NL East Spring Training Battles

Philadelphia Phillies

Position Battle 1: SP5

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Bailey Falter

Main Competition: Andrew Painter

Dark Horse: None

This battle excited me not only as a Phillies fan but as a baseball fan in general. Bailey Falter was quietly very solid for Philadelphia down the stretch. He posted a 3.38 ERA after the All-Star Break and his experience gives him the early edge in this battle. All that being said, it is hard to not root for Painter. One of the game’s top pitching prospects has a chance to be really special. He is only 19 years old but could crack the Opening Day rotation if he looks dominant in Spring Training.

Atlanta Braves

Position Battle 1: Left Field/Designated Hitter

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Eddie Rosario/Marcell Ozuna

Main Competition: Travis d’Arnaud

Dark Horse: Sam Hilliard

Yes, Marcell Ozuna is still on the Braves roster. He and Eddie Rosario are currently penciled in as the LF and DH although Travis d’Arnaud could change that. The trade for Sean Murphy pushed d’Arnaud out of a starting spot although he could DH. Rosario and Ozuna are both coming off terrible seasons which leaves the door open. Ozuna finished the season great (.321/.368/.585) providing optimism he can return to fantasy glory. If all Rosario and Ozuna both continue to struggle Sam Hilliard could get a shot after the Braves picked him up this off-season.

Position Battle 2: SP5

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Ian Anderson

Main Competition: Michael Soroka

Dark Horse: Bryce Elder

Ian Anderson was extremely disappointing last season but is still projected to be the Braves’ number-five starter. Early reports indicate he has added a slider to his repertoire which could help him return to relevancy. Meanwhile, Michael Soroka is yet to throw off the mound and seems to be losing ground already in this battle. Bryce Elder posted a 3.17 ERA in nine starts last season after Anderson was sent down. Nobody is giving him much attention and the stuff does not pop off the page, but he has a chance to beat out both arms ahead of him with a strong spring.

New York Mets

Position Battle 1: Third Base

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Eduardo Escobar

Main Competition: Brett Baty

Dark Horse: None

If you have kept up with me this off-season you know I am all in on Brett Baty. Escobar is the veteran and is listed as the starter, but many people are forgetting that he was originally benched for Baty last season. A strong end to the year may have put him back in favor with the Mets’ staff, but that could all change based on Spring Training. This is a battle to watch closely as whoever wins the job gets to bat in the loaded Mets’ lineup.

Position Battle 2: Catcher

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Omar Narvaez

Main Competition: Francisco Alvarez

Dark Horse: None

Francisco Alvarez is the Mets’ top prospect. He progressed through the Minor Leagues and got a five-game cup of coffee last season with the Major League team. The offense is all Major League-ready, but there are concerns over his defensive abilities. The Mets have a veteran pitching staff and likely want a veteran catcher to go with it. This is why they signed Omar Narvaez this season and Alvarez will need to show up to camp proving he can handle a full catcher’s workload if he wants to earn the starting spot. Narvaez has been a much better hitter against right-handed pitching throughout his career so there is a chance a platoon forms here. I suspect the Mets will either give Alvarez the starting job or send him back to Triple-A this year.

Miami Marlins

Position Battle 1: Outfield

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Bryan De La Cruz/Avisail Garcia

Main Competition: Jesus Sanchez

Dark Horse: None

The recent trade of J.J. Bleday helped provide a little bit of clarity to the Marlins’ outfield situation. However, there are still three outfielders for two spots. Bryan De La Cruz is a popular breakout candidate and is listed as the starter but posted a 48 wRC+ against lefties last year. The Marlins signed Garcia to a big contract prior to last season, but he posted a 66 wRC+ with career lows in almost every category. Jesus Sanchez is a threat, but his -18 wRC+ against lefties leaves PLENTY to be desired. There is a strong chance all three players end up rotating throughout the season, but I am watching Bryan De La Cruz, in particular, to see if he can break through this spring. He has the most fantasy upside of all three players.

Position Battle 2: SP5

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Trevor Rogers

Main Competition: Braxton Garrett

Dark Horse: Eury Perez

The trade of Pablo Lopez helped open some space in Miami’s starting rotation, but there is still a battle for the fifth starter spot. Trevor Rogers is listed as the starter but posted an extremely disappointing 5.47 ERA last season. Garrett meanwhile posted a 3.58 ERA last year. Both pitchers have shown flashes of fantasy relevance, and this is a battle to watch closely. Top prospect Eury Perez could force his way into the conversation, but that is a long shot. He seems like a safer bet to debut late in 2023 or early 2024.

Washington Nationals

Position Battle 1: Designated Hitter

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Dominic Smith

Main Competition: Stone Garrett

Dark Horse: Carter Kieboom

The Nationals lineup does not profile to be very intimidating in 2023. However, there are a few interesting battles. After falling out of favor with the Mets, Dominic Smith landed with the Nationals and profiles to be their DH/1B. The Nationals also acquired Stone Garrett who posted a 131 wRC+ in 27 games with Arizona last year. If neither person wins the job outright, they could end up in a platoon. The dark horse here is Carter Kieboom. The former top prospect did not appear in a game last season, but still has an outside chance of cracking the Opening Day lineup.

NL Central Spring Training Battles

Cincinnati Reds

Position Battle 1: Shortstop

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Kevin Newman

Main Competition: Chad Pinder

Dark Horse: Elly De La Cruz

The first two names in this battle do not hold much fantasy relevancy. Kevin Newman came over from Pittsburgh this off-season and has a career 77 wRC+ with below-average defense. Chad Pinder signed a Minor League deal with the Reds and has better quality of contact metrics than Newman. He has not played much shortstop in his career, so he will have to demonstrate solid fielding this spring to win the job. The one everybody cares about is Elly De La Cruz who is the dark horse in this competition. The Reds’ top prospect has only played 47 games at Double-A but could pull a Julio Rodriguez with a strong Spring Training.

Position Battle 2: Center Field

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Nick Senzel

Main Competition: Will Benson

Dark Horse: Nick Solak

Nick Senzel is the projected starter, but he is currently injured and is unlikely to be ready for Opening Day. This leaves the door wide open for somebody else to snag the center field job. The Reds recently traded for Will Benson who posted a 153 wRC+ for Cleveland’s Triple-A team last year before struggling in 28 Major League games. He has the speed and power to be fantasy relevant. If Nick Solak has a strong spring he will not end up in center but could shift TJ Friedl to center field and win the left field job.

Milwaukee Brewers

Position Battle 1: Second Base

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Brice Turang

Main Competition: Brian Anderson

Dark Horse: Abraham Toro

After Kolten Wong departed for Seattle, the Brewers were left with a hole at second base. Former first-round pick Brice Turang appears to have the early edge in the competition but will need to prove he is ready for Major League pitching this spring. His defense is excellent which should provide him with some slack at the plate. Brian Anderson will not be playing second base but could be enough of an offensive threat to move Luis Urias over to second base. Last year was a lost season for Anderson, but he posted a 115 wRC+ from 2018-2020 for the Marlins. Abraham Toro has never quite put it all together offensively but will be given a chance to prove he is the right man for the job during Spring Training. He is a long shot to win this job.

Chicago Cubs

Position Battle 1: Third Base

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Christopher Morel

Main Competition: Patrick Wisdom

Dark Horse: None

This is another position battle with significant fantasy relevance. Christopher Morel is listed as the starter but was terrible during the second half of the season. He plays below-average defense and has shown real issues making contact. Wisdom has shown similar contact and defensive issues but has hit at least 25 home runs in each of the last two seasons. Both hitters have a lot to prove this spring. The Cubs could opt to keep Morel in a utility role and hand Wisdom the everyday third base job.

Position Battle 2: First Base/Designated Hitter

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Eric Hosmer/Trey Mancini

Main Competition: Matt Mervis

Dark Horse: Edwin Rios

Matt Mervis seemed like he was going to get a shot to play first base for Chicago in 2023 and then the team signed Eric Hosmer. This was fine since Mervis was still going to get to DH, but then the team signed Trey Mancini. Mancini is more of an offensive threat than Hosmer, but both players are projected to start for Chicago. Hosmer has been on a downslide offensively the past couple of years leaving the door open for Matt Mervis to win the starting job with a strong spring. Edwin Rios also has an outside chance of making the roster, but he posted a 39.1% strikeout rate last year and is a long shot to win the job.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Position Battle 1: Catcher

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Austin Hedges

Main Competition: Endy Rodriguez

Dark Horse: None

The Pirates signed Austin Hedges this offseason to fill their hole at catcher. Hedges is a good defender but is one of the worst offensive players in baseball. Even with his defense, he was worth -0.6 WAR last year. He is the veteran and has an edge but will have to fight off Endy Rodriguez. Rodriguez hit .323/.407/.590 in the Minor Leagues last year and if he can prove he is up for the task defensively Pittsburgh will have no choice but to give him the starting catcher spot.

St. Louis Cardinals

Position Battle 1: A lot

Locked In Starters: Tommy Edman, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Willson Contreras, Tyler O’Neill

Projected Starters: Dylan Carlson, Juan Yepez, Brendan Donovan, Lars Nootbaar

Need to Earn the Spot: Jordan Walker, Nolan Gorman, Alec Burleson

The Cardinals had too many position battles going on to write about them individually. Second base is a key point of contention as Nolan Gorman tries to revive his value and earn a spot. Brendan Donovan projects as the starter, but Gorman has another chance to win a job at DH over Juan Yepez. Then there is the battle in the outfield which could always spill over into DH as well. Dylan Carlson and Lars Nootbaar project as the starters. Nootbaar feels safer in his place than Carlson. Tyler O’Neill has been working out in center field potentially opening up left field for Jordan Walker. Walker is beyond exciting and will be a big-time fantasy asset if he makes the team. Alec Burleson is also in the DH and outfield competition although he feels like a long shot to beat out those ahead of him.

NL West Spring Training Battles

Los Angeles Dodgers

Position Battle 1: Center Field

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Trayce Thompson

Main Competition: Chris Taylor

Dark Horse: James Outman

Now that Cody Bellinger has departed for Chicago, the Dodgers have an opening in center field. Trayce Thompson figures to get the first crack at the everyday job. Thompson posted a 142 wRC+ in 80 games last year but also struck out over 36% of the time. His numbers could come crashing down and open the door for veteran Chris Taylor who is coming off his worst season in a Dodgers’ uniform. James Outman has an outside chance to win the job after swatting 31 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A. A good spring could help him make the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster.

San Francisco Giants

Position Battle 1: Third Base

Roster Resource Projected Starter: David Villar

Main Competition: Wilmer Flores

Dark Horse: Casey Schmitt

Third base is wide open for the Giants this season. David Villar projects as the starter right now after hitting 36 home runs combined between Triple-A and the MLB. His 9 home runs in 181 Major League plate appearances is a 30/600 pace. The issue is a high whiff percentage and below-average defense. Villar’s biggest competition is Wilmer Flores who profiles better as a utility man than an everyday starter. Casey Schmitt is the player nobody is talking about, but he broke out in 2022, is an elite defender, drew the start in San Francisco’s Spring Training opener, and hit a home run. He has a chance to earn the job if this level of performance continues.

Position Battle 2: SP3/4/5

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Ross Stripling/Sean Manaea/Alex Wood

Main Competition: Anthony DeSclafani

Dark Horse: Jakob Junis

After Logan Webb and Alex Cobb, the Giants have a lot of uncertainty with the rest of their rotation. Free agent signings Ross Stripling and Sean Manaea profile to get a chance to start, but Manaea was terrible in 2022 and a rough spring could push him to the pen. Anthony DeSclafani currently looks like the odd man out after posting a 3.17 ERA in 2021 but only pitching 19 innings in 2022. If he looks healthy this spring, he could push one of the other starters out of the rotation. Junis started 17 games for the Giants last season but appears to be more of an insurance policy right now.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Position Battle 1: Center Field

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Alek Thomas

Main Competition: Kyle Lewis

Dark Horse: None

The Diamondbacks transformed their outfield this off-season by sending out Daulton Varsho and bringing in Kyle Lewis and Alek Thomas. Lewis won rookie of the year in 2020 but has struggled to stay on the field the past two seasons. Alek Thomas got off to a great start in 2022 but posted a 40 wRC+ during the second half including really struggling against lefties. One of these two should win the third outfield job (if Lewis wins Corbin Carrol would likely shift to CF), and it will likely come down to who has a better Spring Training.

Position Battle 2: SP4/5

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Zach Davies/Ryne Nelson

Main Competition: Drey Jameson

Dark Horse: Brandon Pfaadt

The back end of Arizona’s rotation has plenty of fantasy intrigue. Veteran Zach Davies is projected to earn a spot, but he is uninspiring to stay the least. Ryne Nelson is the prospect with an edge after posting a 1.87 ERA over three starts in 2022. Drey Jamieson was even more impressive with a 1.47 ERA over four starts. Then of course there is Brandon Pfaadt who is one of the off-season’s biggest prospect crushes. I would not be surprised to see Arizona push Davies from the rotation if one of Jameson and Pfaadt has a strong Spring Training.

San Diego Padres

Position Battle 1: Designated Hitter

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Nelson Cruz

Main Competition: Matt Carpenter

Dark Horse: None

This feels like the Padres went out and signed two of the same exact players that hit from opposite sides. There is a strong chance Cruz and Carpenter end up platooning once Fernando Tatis Jr. is eligible to return. Cruz is coming off a career-worst season while Carpenter is coming off a late-career revival. This spring should show if Cruz has anything left in the tank and if Carpenter can continue his success from 2022. If they platoon, Carpenter would be on the strong side of it, but Cruz is the projected starter and could win the job if he outperforms Carpenter during Spring Training.

Position Battle 2: SP4/5

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Michael Wacha/Nick Martinez

Main Competition: Seth Lugo

Dark Horse: Adrian Morejon

Right now, it looks as if Nick Martinez is in control of a starting spot. He opted to re-sign with San Diego under the premise that he will be in the rotation. The team also made the same promise to Seth Lugo before signing Michael Wacha. Lugo is 33 and has been primarily used out of the bullpen since 2018. He currently profiles to be the sixth man out of this group. Adrian Morejon has the stuff to profile as a starter, but the Padres have been resistant to give him a real opportunity in the rotation. The signing of all three players above him makes his chances of cracking the rotation slim.

Colorado Rockies

Position Battle 1: Designated Hitter

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Sean Bouchard

Main Competition: Nolan Jones

Dark Horse: Elehuris Montero

Randal Grichuk’s hernia surgery has opened a spot in Colorado’s lineup at DH/RF. Sean Bouchard seems to have the early edge in this competition after posting a 158 wRC+ in 27 games last year. However, the Rockies traded for Nolan Jones this off-season who profiles as a solid strong side platoon option. Jones has never hit lefties well, but he could earn significant playing time with a good spring. Then there is Elehuris Montero who is the opposite of Jones. Montero hits lefties but has struggled some with righties. All three players could end up splitting time or one could win the job outright this spring.

Position Battle 2: Shortstop

Roster Resource Projected Starter: Ezequiel Tovar

Main Competition: Alan Trejo

Dark Horse: Coco Montes

Everybody is hoping that the Rockies just let Tovar play. Tovar hit .319/.387/.540 in the Minor Leagues last year but is still just 21 years old. The Rockies have a history of slow-playing prospects so there is a chance they send him back to Triple-A. Trejo Montes is somebody not many people have heard of but is a dark horse to win the shortstop job. He hit .274 with 20 home runs in Triple-A last season and is another option for Colorado.

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