NL Spring Training News and Position Battles
As we embark on this week’s NL Spring Training roundup, we have finally found the resolution to our biggest query of the winter. Yes, we finally know where Mike Moustakas will be playing in 2019! Oh yeah, apparently that Machado guy signed also. Before we get to the M & M boys, let’s take a look at some of the National League’s position battles and how they have developed over the past week.
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NL Spring Training Notes
The DBacks recently signed Caleb Joseph to an already muddled catcher group. Carson Kelly is reportedly still in line for the most at-bats, but I’d set the over/under at about 300. He is a two-catcher option at best.
Craig Kimbrel is still on the market, and neither of his former teams (Atlanta and Boston) seems too enamored at the prospects of a reunion. Arodys Vizcaino remains the favorite for now, but I would not set expectations too high. His price as the overall RP19 feels a bit high.
There is some encouraging news for a couple of young hurlers looking to secure roles. Mike Soroka is on the same schedule as the rest of the pitchers after initial plans were to ease him into action. I still think Touki Toussaint will win the fifth starter’s job, but this will be one to watch especially if Soroka can stay within striking distance early. He and Toussaint have virtually identical ADPs, currently 277.4 and 278.75, respectively. Luis Gohara is not currently in the rotation, but the lefty has reportedly lost 35-40 pounds this offseason. Gohara has struggled with conditioning in the past, so this could be the boost he needs to finally tap into his tremendous potential. The lefty is still just 22 years old.
There hasn’t been a lot of fantasy-relevant news coming out of Cubs’ camp. Chicago recently signed relievers Xavier Cedeno and Junichi Tazawa, but neither is a lock to earn a role in a crowded Chicago bullpen.
Yu Darvish threw a live bullpen session on Tuesday and looked good according to manager Joe Maddon. Darvish is currently the 40th starting pitcher off the board in drafts. He has an incredibly wide range of outcomes given his health, but this was an encouraging first step.
Swingman Mike Montgomery is set to ramp up his throwing program after successfully completing long-toss without any issues. However, the spot-starter is an afterthought in all but the deepest of leagues.
Manager Buddy Bell confirmed that Raisel Iglesias will not pitch strictly in the ninth inning. Many fantasy owners will freak out, but I think the impact of such a proclamation is minimal. He might “lose” 5-10 saves over the course of the year, but he could gain a couple of wins pitching in higher-leverage situations. In weekly leagues, you will have no idea when the week starts how exactly he will be used, so if you draft him (or a closer in a similar situation), you are just going to have to play him and hope for the best.
Cincinnati is willing to give Nick Senzel a shot in center field, and the former No. 2 overall pick in the MLB Amateur Draft has impressed with his athleticism. Senzel can be a real asset in the later rounds with a combination of power and speed. He also could be a hot commodity as an infielder who may quickly gain outfield eligibility.
The Reds recently signed Derek Dietrich to a minor league contract. Dietrich may not be fantasy-relevant, but it’s a nice real-life pickup for the club as Senzel insurance. The veteran played in 149 games last year spent most of his time in the outfield last season and hit .265 with 16 home runs. He is going right around pick number 500 in drafts.
The Rockies have seemingly settled on an outfield alignment. They will employ David Dahl in left, Ian Desmond in center, and Charlie Blackmon in right. Having subpar outfielders who are changing positions in spacious Coors Field seems like a bad idea for those investing in Colorado’s pitchers. Then again, Desmond manning center field is probably no worse than Blackmon, he of the -12.7 UZR in 2018.
Starter Jon Gray reportedly gained weight this offseason by eating anything and everything in an effort to combat fatigue and diminished velocity. Same here. The potential is obviously there for a bounceback. But I’ll likely let someone else take the leap.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Corey Seager’s recovery from Tommy John surgery is going well as he hopes to be ready in time for Opening Day. I’m probably out on him as the overall SS6 in drafts given the uncertainty, but he is still just 24 years old and hopefully in line for a comeback season.
Alex Verdugo and Joc Pederson are competing for at-bats in left field. Pederson is no longer the three true outcomes player he was upon his arrival in the bigs. He has improved his much-maligned contact rate and decreased his strikeout rate in each of the last four seasons. He still can’t handle left-handed pitching, but I would expect him to get most of the playing time against righties.
Ross Stripling figures to start the year in the Dodgers’ bullpen. This will throw a monkey wrench into the plans of those who figured they were getting a starter at RP. Stripling is being drafted 20th among relievers thus far and has no clear path to innings, wins, or saves.
Julio Urias is likely ticketed for the minors when the season begins. Manager Dave Roberts said that the club will enforce an innings limit on the 22-year-old. Urias could be a short-term asset at some point depending on how things break but is no sure to contribute in shallow leagues.
Curtis Granderson could see time at leadoff, according to manager Don Mattingly. Granderson did have a .351 OBP last season and would have finished second in the majors in pitches per plate appearance had he had enough plate appearances. But the Marlins’ lineup is weak and Granderson will take a backseat to a younger player at some point in the year. He could be worth a flier in deep OBP leagues, or an early-season stopgap for a player starting the year in the minors due to service time concerns.
Neil Walker and Martin Prado figure to platoon at first base for the Marlins. Walker still has a bit of pop and some positional flexibility. You can do worse at an ADP of 566.03.
Though the Marlins seem content to begin camp with their current roster, there have been rumors linking them to Carlos Gonzalez. The former Rockie is going outside of the top-400 in drafts, but that’s still higher than Peter O’Brien, who is the frontrunner for Miami’s right field job.
Caleb Smith faced live hitters over the weekend as he attempts to return from last year’s lat surgery. A return to health could net him a spot in the rotation, but he is yet another Marlin who is a tough sell despite an ADP that’s basically free (423.45).
The Moose is no longer loose! Mike Moustakas re-upped with the Brew Crew. Moustakas has great power, slugging 66 homers over the past two seasons. But his pull-happy tendencies lead to a lot of defensive shifts, which puts the batting average at risk. Moustakas will try his hand at second base in the spring, so that may lead to some nice flexibility down the road.
Milwaukee is making a couple of interesting adjustments to their pitching staff. They are stretching Brandon Woodruff out in hopes of making him a starter while trying to move Junior Guerra to the pen. Woodruff hits 96 MPH on his fastball and had a solid 26.7 strikeout rate last season. He will likely compete with Corbin Burnes, another reliever turned potential starter. Both are going about pick 300, but Burnes is listed as a reliever, which could be helpful for those looking for an edge.
New York Mets
Peter Alonso has allegedly looked better than expected at first base as camp begins. The Mets also claim that service time will not factor into their decision on whether Alonso makes the Opening Day roster. I’ll believe both of those tidbits when I see it, but they are encouraging signs for investors.
Jason Vargas has been named the club’s fifth starter. The 36-year old’s first-half numbers were downright atrocious, but he acquitted himself well in the second half. Vargas posted a 3.81 ERA and 1.12 WHIP with a 23.2 percent strikeout rate following the All-Star break. He’s worth a late flier in deep leagues to see if he can get off to a hot start.
Jeff McNeil figures to be New York’s preferred replacement for Yoenis Cespedes in left field, at least against right-handers. McNeil could be a sneaky source for batting average towards the end of drafts. He has elite contact skills and should have infield/outfield eligibility by the end of April.
Adeiny Hechavarria has signed a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite. Hechavarria doesn’t figure to be more than added infield depth and has little to no fantasy value on his own. However, he is a great defender, which is a plus for a pitching staff that keeps the ball on the ground.
The Phillies lost out on Manny Machado, which should help Maikel Franco secure the everyday job at third base, though Scott Kingery looms. I still think Franco is a nice value at the hot corner. He needs to improve the quality of his contact, specifically his hard-hit rate. But he does have three 20-plus HR seasons under his belt before the age of 26. That’s far from a zero-value player.
Recent rumors suggest that Bryce Harper is iffy about accepting the team’s contract offer. I still wouldn’t rush out to reach for Nick Williams, but he would be the biggest beneficiary should Harper land elsewhere.
Jerad Eickhoff threw a bullpen session over the weekend in his quest to come back from injuries and grab a spot in the rotation. He will be someone to keep an eye on in really deep leagues but can be avoided for now in most formats.
Jake Arrieta and Cesar Hernandez have both admitted that injuries were mostly to blame for their poor second halves last season. Hernandez had just five steals and hit .228 after the break last year. He is still a career .276 hitter with four 15-plus SB seasons under his belt. A return to good health could lead to Hernandez becoming a mid-round bargain. As for Arrieta, he suffered a torn meniscus in June, which may have accelerated his second-half decline. The former Cy Young winner started the season hot last year, and it wouldn’t cost much (ADP: 223.11, SP 60) to see if he can stay healthy and be a serviceable third or fourth starter in fantasy.
Gregory Polanco began a throwing program as he rehabs from left shoulder surgery. He still projects to miss the first 4-6 weeks of the regular season but could still approach 20 homers and 10 steals barring any setbacks.
Jameson Taillon has been named the team’s Opening Day starter. The move hardly comes as a surprise after Taillon enjoyed a breakout campaign. He has a full offseason to develop his new slider, which offered hitters a different look. The former number-two pick in the draft is poised to place himself among the game’s top starters in 2019.
San Diego Padres
I think I heard somewhere that San Diego landed prized free agent Manny Machado on Tuesday. Waiting for confirmation… The landing spot might not be ideal for our purposes, but the move will not hurt Machado enough to affect his draft stock. He’s still worth a late first-round fantasy pick in redraft leagues. Petco Park is not great for hitters, but it’s also not the worst park for right-handed power. The 26-year-old also joins a club with a solid lineup that sports the game’s best farm system. Machado actually could get a boost in dynasty league value because of this.
Before signing Machado, it had been widely assumed that Luis Urias would begin the year at shortstop until Fernando Tatis, Jr. was ready to be called up. Urias would then shift to second base and Ian Kinsler would shift to third. Now, there is potential that all three will cannibalize each other a bit. Tatis is the only one of the three currently being drafted in the top-300. I’d be a bit wary considering that he figures to begin the year in the minors.
The Padres are still in the market for Bryce Harper as well. This could further complicate things and create a similar logjam in San Diego’s already crowded outfield. Hunter Renfroe and Franmil Reyes are both being drafted as top-50 outfielders, and Wil Myers should be the Padres’ everyday left fielder. Renfroe and Reyes both finished inside the top-100 among all qualifying hitters in exit velocity, hard-hit percentage, and barrels/PA last year. I believe that each could be a nice bargain given a full season’s worth of at-bats.
San Francisco Giants
Manager Bruce Bochy stated recently that he would not announce his closer for a few weeks. That statement is making me a bit nervous about investing a mid-round pick on Will Smith. Mark Melancon is far from elite, but he does have plenty of experience in the role. He could be a real bargain to begin the year if he somehow manages to pry the role. It is also possible that either or both get traded to another team and lose out on saves altogether.
The Giants have been plenty busy over the last week, though none of their signings will offer the name value of a Harper or Machado. San Francisco has recently signed Gerardo Parra, Cameron Maybin, Yangervis Solarte, and Craig Gentry. It remains to be seen who will make the Opening Day roster and what their roles will be. Parra likely has the clearest path to playing time as a fourth outfielder.
One player whose role seems pretty secure is fellow outfielder Steven Duggar. Bochy has said he would like to bat Duggar either first or second. Duggar has outstanding speed, but it remains to be seen if he can make enough contact to be worthy of a spot at the top of the lineup. Owners can justify a late-round flier in deep leagues given the speed and lack of better options in San Francisco.
Jeff Samardzija threw a successful live batting practice session on Tuesday. The veteran missed most of last year with a shoulder injury and is basically an afterthought in drafts. Skepticism is warranted, of course given the nature of the injury. But prior to last year, “Shark” did post five straight seasons of 200+ innings and had an xFIP under 4.00 in four of those years. He is currently going just outside the top 100 starters and may be worth a flier at the end of drafts.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals have shut Carlos Martinez down for two weeks in order for him to gain strength in his troublesome shoulder. Cardinals brass including president John Mozeliak essentially called out Martinez this week for not following the team’s offseason workout regimen. There are also still questions about whether he should start or pitch in relief. This recent setback could point to an early-season relief role until he is back to full strength. He also lost over a mile per hour on his four-seam fastball last year. With all of the uncertainty and given the circumstances, I’ll let someone else draft Martinez among the top-30 starting pitchers.
Nationals’ manager Dave Martinez has stated that Jeremy Hellickson is currently in the lead for the team’s fifth rotation spot, ahead of Joe Ross. Hellickson is going roughly 150 picks after Ross. Needless to say, that makes Hellickson the better target. But Hellickson is still just a spot starter in fantasy leagues. He made 19 starts last year but totaled just 5 wins and 65 strikeouts in 91.1 innings. Those numbers on a per-start basis make him very tough to justify in drafts.
Assuming Washington doesn’t re-sign Harper, Victor Robles figures to secure an everyday outfield spot. Robles has elite speed and makes excellent contact, traits that have him being selected among the first 100 players in most drafts. But Robles figures to bat at the bottom of the order, perhaps even ninth. That would obviously limit his potential for runs and perhaps stolen bases as well. I would be a bit nervous about investing too much draft capital until circumstances change a bit.
Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki are likely to split time at catcher this season. I expect Gomes to get a little more playing time than his counterpart. But he’s also going 40-50 picks higher in most drafts. I think the value for both is pretty similar, and I’m fine with drafting either one as my second catcher.
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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