This season for Fantrax, I will be doing a weekly article detailing lineup notes from around the league. My planned format is a bi-weekly report for each league. I will rotate National League and American League to make sure fantasy managers are up to date with trends occurring on each team. With Spring Training winding down, now seems like a good time to look at each roster and how lineups and playing time seem to be shaking out. Since the season has not officially started, this article will note nine handpicked teams around the league and notes to be aware of from each. I will start with the league specific reports after the season begins. This is an excellent chance to get ahead of some other managers in your league and get insight for what to expect early in 2022!
Spring Training Update
Heading into the off-season, it looked as though Garret Cooper was going to be the odd man out. The Marlins signed Jorge Soler which was thought to fill the DH position. This does not appear to be the Marlins’ plan. They have already optioned Bryan de la Cruz to AAA and have been playing Jesus Sanchez in center field throughout Spring Training. Soler has been primarily playing left field, while Avisail Garcia has been in right. This leaves a spot in the everyday lineup for both Garret Cooper and Jesus Aguilar.
I wrote an article earlier this off-season about why Cooper could be an excellent pick in your fantasy leagues. You can check out that article here! If Cooper is able to stay healthy, he can be one of the biggest steals of 2022. He has put up excellent numbers for Miami since being given a chance to play. Over his past 499 plate appearances, he has hit 0.282/0.359/0.468 with a 126 wRC+. This is an excellent hitter that is essentially free in drafts. The way Spring Training has gone, Cooper needs to be added to a team in every league and should provide great value.
Initially, the thought was that Bryson Stott would capitalize on his strong 2021 and displace Didi Gregorius at shortstop. That no longer seems to be the case. Gregorious has had a strong spring right when he needed to slashing 0.273/0.333/0.591. Despite a strong spring from Gregorious, Stott still appears likely to be a part of the everyday lineup for the Phillies. Stott has been nothing short of excellent this spring hitting .540/.640/.800. Although it is only Spring Training, Stott has the looks of a star in the making for Philadelphia.
The Phillies appear likely to have Stott playing every day at third base instead of Alec Bohm. Stott has started two games there in the past week and Bohm has continued to struggle at the plate. Not only has Bohm struggled at the plate while Stott has excelled, but Stott is also a far superior defender to Bohm. All signs point to Stott taking the everyday lineup spot from Bohm, and fantasy managers need to be aware. I wrote an article a few months ago for Prospects Worldwide detailing all of the reasons fantasy managers should be excited for Stott and him likely earning an everyday lineup spot only fuels my hype. During draft season Bohm has been going almost 150 picks higher than Stott and those two ADPs should be flipped. If Stott is available in your leagues you should pick him up fast before it is too late!
New York Mets
Initially, the Mets planned for Cano to take most of the at-bats at DH this year. Things however might be shifting in another direction. Dominic Smith has had an excellent start to camp and a lot of sources close to the Mets say he looks like a different player than last year. According to Smith, he battled injuries for much of 2021 and is back healthy this year. Smith has been playing all over in camp. He has made starts at DH, left field, and first base. The Mets seem to be intent on getting his healthy bat back into the lineup. This will likely come at the expense of Cano more than anybody barring an injury somewhere else.
Smith was incredible for the Mets in 2020. Across 50 games, Smith posted a .316/.377/.616 slash with a 166 wRC+. He was one of the best hitters in baseball that season. If the injuries were impacting his play in 2021, he could have a huge bounce back in 2022. The Mets seem to think this is the case and will likely get him into the lineup on an almost everyday basis to start the season. This is worth monitoring because if Smith carves out an everyday role, he has the potential to be one of the top hitters in all of baseball. I would keep a close eye on Smith early, and find a better alternative if you planned on trying to get any value from Cano in 2022.
Despite the current tradition amongst MLB ball clubs of sending down top prospects to “work on their defense”, it appears the Mariners might have Julio Rodriguez on the Opening Day roster. Rodriguez has been great this spring and has been playing every day in center field. Rodriguez spent much of the off-season slimming down and getting in better shape so that he could maximize his chances of making the team. People close to the Mariners have come out and said that Rodriguez will be in the Opening Day lineup. Rodriguez is a special talent that has a chance to be as good as Ronald Acuna. Throwing around that comparison is lofty and bold, but the talent is that good. He could return top 20 talent and at the very least he has proven that he will be up early in 2022.
Initially, the biggest hit to playing time will likely be on Abraham Toro. Toro was in line to receive additional at-bats at DH early in the season. However, Rodriguez making the team would shift one of Winker or Haniger there. Looking ahead, if Rodriguez capitalizes on the opportunity and produces, Kyle Lewis appears to be the odd man out. After injuring his knee and missing most of 2021, Lewis could struggle to find his way back into the lineup once he returns. If Lewis does force his way back in, Winker could lose time against lefties or Kelenic could see his chances diminish if he struggles again. The outfield in Seattle has become crowded and Rodriguez’s timeline being moved up only complicates the matter. The only thing that is clear is that Rodriguez has a chance to be special and could cause playing time issues for others.
The Astros are going to let Jeremy Peña play every day. I mostly wanted to write this blurb on the Astros just to say how excited I am for him in 2022. Peña has some real pop that has developed recently and could thrive playing his home games in Houston. He slugged .579 last season in the minors. He also has shown an excellent ability to pull the ball and get the ball in the air. His pull power could thrive with the Crawford Boxes and Peña could be in store for a huge 2022.
What has been interesting about the Astros lineup this spring is their willingness to let Peña hit lead-off. He has seen more time than any other Astros player in that spot and that could help boost his value even more. Hitting in front of Altuve, Bregman, Tucker, and Brantley would lead to a lot of run-scoring opportunities for Peña. It will be interesting to see if the Astros follow through with this but hitting first compared to 8th or 9th could be a huge value boost for Peña. Fantasy managers should monitor this situation closely early in the season.
This one seems less major than the others, but it appears that the Orioles are going to be Giving Jorge Mateo everyday at-bats. Mateo can play both second base and shortstop for Baltimore. The Orioles seem like they will be playing Urias at short against lefties and Odor at second against righties. Mateo figures to rotate between the two positions depending on matchups.
Mateo was a former top prospect with the Yankees years ago and stole 10 bases in just 89 games last season. Although he might not be a major threat at the plate, he could be an excellent pick if you are trying to add steals late in drafts. Going just inside the top 400 according to NFBC ADP data, Mateo could be a great late-round target for your teams. He has the upside to steal 25 bases if the Orioles let him play every day.
Early in the off-season, I was excited for the breakout potential that Tyrone Taylor had. I thought his skillset had 20/20 potential and that the Brewers were finally going to give him a shot. My optimism and excitement was shot down when the Brewers went out and signed Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen is not the player that he used to be, but he still put up elite numbers against left-handed pitching last year. There is a strong chance he will receive a lot of playing time against lefties and some against righties. Taylor still figures to share the opposite side of this platoon with Cutch, but the absence of an everyday role diminishes any value Taylor had.
Throughout Spring Training this has been the case for Taylor. He has played a lot against right-handed pitching but has seemed to be the odd man out against lefties. There is still a glimmer of hope for Taylor to receive regular at-bats throughout the season. Cain and Yelich both have a history of injuries and McCutchen is 35. If any of those players get hurt, Taylor could get a chance to play every day. However, at this moment there is not a strong reason to roster him unless something in Milwaukee changes.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals shocked the world by bringing back Albert Pujols. While the deal is great from a PR perspective, it really hurts several prospects in the Cardinals system looking for playing time in 2022. The DH spot will now likely be a platoon with Corey Dickerson playing against righties, and Pujols playing against lefties. The previous competition was between Dickerson, Lars Nootbaar, Juan Yepez, and Nolan Gorman. Cardinals management made it clear early in the off-season that the players who did not win the job would be sent back to the minor leagues for regular at-bats. This appears to be the case now with Pujols back in the picture.
Cardinals’ management can only be responsible for so much of the blame for the signing. Pujols is amazing for the sport of baseball, and all three of the young players competing have struggled this spring. Yepez has looked the best, but he has limitations defensively and has only hit 0.250 so far. I think Yepez has the highest ceiling and the most potential out of this group, but fantasy managers will likely have to wait until 2023 to see him. Gorman and Nootbaar will be waiting for an injury to get a chance to prove themselves.
Kansas City Royals
With every passing day, it seems more and more likely that Bobby Witt Jr. will open the season on the Major League roster. Witt is one of the top prospects in baseball and has been regularly playing this spring at 3B. Not only has Witt been playing regularly with the starters, but he has been as good as advertised. So far this spring, Witt has slashed .458/.500/.833 and has shown no reason to be sent back to the minors. After starting the spring hitting toward the bottom of the lineup, Witt has consistently been batting second. This is an excellent position for him to score and steal a lot. Both things are huge for his fantasy value.
With Witt likely taking the opening at third, it seems like Hunter Dozier will primarily play DH. This will likely leave both M.J. Melendez and Nick Pratto without a spot in the lineup early in the season. Both players will likely be called up at some point during the season. Carlos Santana has struggled in recent seasons and Hunter Dozier is coming off a terrible 2021. If either player struggles, Melendez and Pratto will be the first players in line to receive additional at bats. Injuries could also open up an opportunity for them in 2022. Both players have had an excellent spring and deserve to be in the majors. They still have value in dynasty and keeper leagues, but their value takes a hit in redraft leagues for 2022.
A common perception was that Steven Kwan would take over in the outfield for Cleveland in 2022. After hitting .311 and walking more than he struck out last season, Kwan seemed like a sure bet to be a part of the Guardians’ plans. However, monitoring their outfield deployment this spring, this does not seem to be the case. Since the 21st of March, Kwan has only started three games for Cleveland. Instead, most of the playing time has gone to Myles Straw, Oscar Mercado, and Bradley Zimmer. Also, Josh Naylor has returned from injury and Amed Rosario has been given multiple starts in left field. With Straw all but guaranteed a lineup spot, this leaves two positions open for Mercado, Zimmer, Kwan, and Rosario if they want Gimenez to play shortstop. Throughout spring, it looks like the Guardians are more intent on giving Gimenez an opportunity than Kwan.
Kwan should be given an opportunity to play. Mercado has been given multiple opportunities in the bigs and has struggled. He has even struggled this spring. Bradley Zimmer has struck out 13 times over 22 at-bats this spring and has shown no signs of breaking out. Meanwhile, Kwan has been excellent this spring hitting .455 over 22 at-bats and most impressively not striking out once. Kwan has a rare ability to make contact that nobody else in the Guardians outfield possesses. The Guardians will likely get him into the lineup soon, but it does not seem likely to be on Opening Day.