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Spring Training Position Battles to Watch for Fantasy Baseball: AL East

The Spring Training battles series shifts now to the American League. After breaking down all three divisions in the National League, it is time to focus on the American League East. Will the Orioles let more of their young bats play? Can Austin Wells be an impactful fantasy asset? Keep reading to find out which battles are most important from all five teams.

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Position Battles to Watch in the AL East

New York Yankees – Catcher

The Yankees youth movement came to an abrupt end this off-season as the team acquired Juan Soto, Alex Verdugo, and Trent Grisham. These trades have filled many of the holes in their lineup although one remains at catcher.

Teams love to prioritize defense and veteran leadership at the catcher position which is why Jose Trevino still has a chance to receive the majority of the playing time. Trevino has never posted a wRC+ higher than 92 in his professional career and was especially bad last season. Even still, he started 55 games for the Yankees and posted an 87th percentile frame score according to Statcast. He has the trust of the Yankees’ veteran pitching staff and could continue to receive plenty of playing time in 2024.

The more exciting option for fantasy managers is Austin Wells. Wells made his Major League debut last season and has shown impressive power skills throughout his professional career. He is especially adept at pulling the ball which should translate well to Yankee Stadium. The issue for Wells is that his glove gets mixed reviews. He will need to show improved defensive skills this spring to calm any concerns the Yankees might have about putting him out there on a regular basis.

Fantasy managers have a clear player to root for in this battle. Trevino holds real-life value but holds no fantasy value. Wells has the potential to be a difference-maker in the home run category at the catcher position if given the chance to start regularly. If the Yankees seem set on platooning the two of them to start the year, Wells will not be a fantasy-relevant fantasy asset.

Toronto Blue Jays – Third Base

With the departure of Matt Chapman, the Blue Jays seem to have an opening at third base. Comments from the front office indicate they are confident in their in-house options at the position making this an intriguing battle to watch in Spring Training.

The signing of Justin Turner adds a bit more competition to the at-bats available at third base. That being said, Turner only played seven games at third base last season and is not expected to play there very often in 2024. The most obvious choice to start is Cavan Biggio. Biggio played in a career-high 111 games last season and slashed .272/.404/.361 with a 124 wRC+ during the second half last season. The biggest issue for Biggio is that he is too patient at the plate leading to high strikeout rates and low batting averages. If Biggio comes to spring with a new approach he could be an intriguing fantasy asset.

The team also has both Santiago Espinal and Isiah Kiner-Falefa on the roster. Both players have experience playing third base, but neither one profiles to be even average offensively. The Blue Jays are likely to rely on both in utility roles barring a change this spring.

The more exciting options to challenge Biggio are prospects. Both Addison Barger and Orelvis Martinez finished the season at Triple-A and could push for a roster spot during Spring Training. Their value trended in opposite directions last season as Martinez was excellent and Barger struggled. Martinez profiles as a prolific power hitter and has the highest fantasy ceiling of the group.

Fantasy managers should be watching this battle closely. Biggio holds sneaky value in OBP leagues where his walk rate provides a significant boost. Barger entered last Spring Training with a decent amount of hype and could become valuable again if he proves to be healthy this spring. The most intriguing player of the group is Martinez. If he dominates this spring, the Jays could have no choice but to hand him the keys to the starting third base job. He profiles to be a very similar hitter to how Matt Chapman performed in 2023 making him a perfect replacement option.

Tampa Bay Rays – Shortstop/DH

For the first time in this series, the Rays have two positional battles that are worth bringing up. Both shortstop and DH are up for grabs and we will see if the Rays are willing to go against their typical standards and open up the positions to unproven players.

The shortstop battle is a little bit easier to dissect. The team acquired Jose Caballero from Seattle and he profiles to be the starting shortstop. With Taylor Walls likely to start the season on the IL, the team needed a true shortstop who could hold his own at the Major League level. Caballero’s offensive potential is capped, but he did steal 26 bases in 104 games last season. He also posted an OAA of eight which ranked him in the 90th percentile. He profiles as the best real-life option at short.

The biggest competition for Caballero is likely Junior Caminero. Caminero also factors into the DH battle, making his Spring Training performance more intriguing to follow. Caminero is the Rays’ top prospect and one of the best prospects in the sport. He has sensational raw power with the biggest issue being the ability to get the ball in the air. His defensive skills at shortstop are suspect at best and he profiles better at third base long-term. There is a chance he gives the team no option but to play him at short with a strong spring or allow him to take over DH duties.

The Rays also have plenty of other options at DH. The incumbent for the spot is Harold Ramirez. Ramirez posted a 128 wRC+ last season which would guarantee him a starting role on almost any other team. That being said, his wRC+ dipped to 110 (only 10% above the league average) against right-handed pitching and the team could look to use him in a platoon role next season. Still, a strong Spring Training could earn him the Opening Day lineup spot.

The question boils down to whether the Rays trust their young talented players to step into a regular role. Jonathan Aranda is the most likely candidate to take over some of the DH at-bats against right-handed pitching. Aranda is now 25 years old and has nothing left to prove at the Minor League level. He hit 25 home runs with a .339 average in Triple-A last season but has struggled in limited Major League opportunities. A strong spring would go a long way to convincing the Rays he is ready to handle Major League pitching.

The team also has Curtis Mead and Johnny DeLuca who could factor into playing time considerations. From a fantasy perspective, any of these players could have value. Caballero has fantasy-relevant speed. Caminero is one of the game’s top prospects. Harold Ramirez has been an underrated producer in points leagues for years now and Aranda’s Triple-A numbers have been off the charts. Fantasy managers need to pay close attention to how the Rays are utilizing these players during Spring Training and who is performing the best.

Boston Red Sox – Outfield

Alex Verdugo is out, and Tyler O’Neill is in. With this move, there is still one outfield slot open on the Red Sox depth chart. The battle is likely to come down to two unproven young prospects making their Spring Training performance all the more important.

Although his spot in the lineup is likely safe, paying attention to Jarren Duran could provide a hint into how this battle will play out. Duran is currently projected to play center field, but there are plenty of questions surrounding his defensive abilities in center.

If the team believes Duran is better suited for a corner outfield slot that could skew the results in favor of Ceddanne Rafaela. Rafaela has blazing speed and has only really played center field in the Minor Leagues. Originally an infielder, he has shown off impressive defense in center and projects to stay there long-term.

Offensively, most of his fantasy value will come through his speed. He has hit for more power in the Minor Leagues than his 5’8” frame would suggest, but there are questions about how well that will translate to the Major League level. He posted a 74 wRC+ in his 28-game debut last season making his success in Spring Training all the more important.

If the team is comfortable with Duran in center it could open the door for Wilyer Abreu. Abreu was acquired from the Astros at the 2022 trade deadline and has done nothing but hit since being acquired. In contrast to Rafaela, Abreu posted a 135 wRC+ in his 28-game sample last season. Game power is more apparent in Abreu’s profile although there are concerns surrounding his hit tool. He whiffed 31.7% of the time last season and saw his stat line carried by a .437 BABIP. He has also struggled with left-handed pitching in the past which could give him some platoon risk.

This battle is wide open heading into Spring Training. Abreu’s power gives him a higher fantasy ceiling although Rafaela could still provide plenty of value with his speed. Both players should be on fantasy baseball radars heading into the 2024 season.

Baltimore Orioles -DH/1B

Everybody is going to be watching Jackson Holliday at shortstop, but he does not really have any competition. He is by far their best option at the position, and I am not sure how much of a battle that will be. The real battle is at first base and DH.

Both positions could be open depending on how Spring Training goes. The veterans in this battle are Ryan O’Hearn and Ryan Mountcastle. Mountcastle’s offensive performances have been inconsistent over the past two seasons. Last year he got off to a slow start before being one of the best hitters in baseball during the second half. His lineup spot is likely safe, but he does have pretty significant platoon splits. He posted just a 78 wRC+ against right-handed pitching last season and has struggled against righties throughout his career. The Orioles are not messing around now and a slow spring could land him on the short side of a platoon.

O’Hearn enjoyed a breakout 2023 season seemingly out of nowhere. He posted a 118 wRC+ with 14 home runs in just 112 games. The concerning part is that his .340 BABIP is likely to come down and he has an even bigger platoon split. He hit just .192 against left-handed pitching last season and does not have a strong track record of offensive performances. A recent contract extension could mean his starting lineup spot is not in jeopardy.

The Orioles could look to platoon Mountcastle and O’Hearn if one of their two young prospects has a strong Spring Training. Colton Cowser figures to have a slight edge in the battle thanks to his prospect pedigree and ability to play the outfield. Cowser has been one of the better offensive prospects in Minor League baseball the past two seasons even though he struggled in a small Major League sample last year. Baltimore has not given up on his potential and playing him in right field and shifting Anthony Santander to first base/DH would improve their defense.

The other young option is Heston Kjerstad. Kjerstad’s ability to overcome cancer and still turn into one of the game’s top prospects has been impressive. He also made his Major League debut last season and found slightly more success than Cowser. Kjerstad has significant power upside although he is not as good of a defender as Cowser. He still has a chance to work his way into the everyday lineup with a strong Spring Training.

Now would be the perfect time for fantasy managers to buy Cowser. He is extremely cheap and provides the most real-life value to the Orioles. There is a chance O’Hearn’s 2023 season was nothing more than a flash in the pan and Mountcastle’s struggles against righties are nothing new. Cowser has a chance to be an impactful fantasy asset if he gets close to full-time at-bats.

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