National League Spring Training News and Position Battles
Things are heating up around the Majors as Spring Training continues. Let’s take our weekly look around the National League and point out some of the recent happenings and their potential impact as the regular season approaches.
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National League Spring Training Update
One of the toughest position battles in Arizona is at the back end of the Diamondbacks’ bullpen. Early returns suggest Archie Bradley may have a tighter grip on closing duties in the desert. Not because he has done anything special, though he did impress in his Cactus League debut on Tuesday. But Greg Holland has been patently awful. Perhaps even worse is that his fastball has been sitting at 89-90 MPH. Bradley believes his fingernail issues are behind him which will allow him to throw his curveball more. It remains to be seen whether Bradley can pull further away, but his ADP is right around 250 (RP27) and he could be a nice late-round value should he, in fact, win the job.
Speaking of pitchers not helping their cause, Merrill Kelly went just 1/3 of an inning in his spring debut. He allowed three runs on three hits and walked a batter. Kelly is penciled in as Arizona’s fifth starter but is not on the fantasy radar at the moment.
Reliever Silvino Bracho has been diagnosed with a partial UCL tear in his right elbow. It’s a tough break for the right-hander, who was likely to make the Opening Day roster in a middle relief role.
Atlanta’s pitching staff is quickly resembling a MASH unit. Starters Mike Foltynewicz (elbow) and Kevin Gausman (shoulder) have yet to pitch, though both are working their way back toward doing so. Foltynewicz resumed throwing on Tuesday and Gausman is scheduled to make his spring debut in the next few days. Both should be available right around Opening Day barring any setbacks. Mike Soroka and Luis Gohara have also been dealing with shoulder soreness, likely wiping away any faint hopes either had in starting the season in the rotation.
Reliever A.J. Minter left Friday’s outing with shoulder tightness. The injury is not thought to be severe, but it is something to keep an eye on in the coming days. Minter is in an early competition with Arodys Vizcaino for the closer role in Atlanta barring the Braves reuniting with Craig Kimbrel.
Brandon Morrow has begun long-toss work and is scheduled to throw his first bullpen session on March 25. If all goes well, he could be a candidate for extended spring training, putting his return sometime around the end of April. That’s a big “if”, though. Morrow is still being drafted 70 spots ahead of Pedro Strop. That is too high for my liking given the uncertainty surrounding Morrow. There are multiple scenarios where Morrow sees very few save chances this season.
Mike Montgomery threw two simulated innings on Monday as he recovers from early shoulder soreness. The lefty is on track for Opening Day but will begin the year in the bullpen. His return could put fellow swingman Tyler Chatwood on the chopping block. Chatwood had an abysmal 2018, walking nearly 20 percent of batters faced on his way to a 5.30 ERA and almost unheard of 1.80 WHIP.
Jesse Winker and Matt Kemp have gotten off to hot starts as they fight for at-bats in the Reds’ crowded outfield. The duo is likely to platoon in left field at the beginning of the season. Scott Schebler will likely open the year in center but may be merely keeping the spot warm for top prospect Nick Senzel. Senzel has impressed thus far, and manager David Bell stated that Senzel has what it takes to handle the position. However, odds are the club will probably keep him down in the minors when camp breaks under the guise of needing additional work in center. In reality, he will be held for service time reasons.
Sonny Gray threw a side session on Saturday and a bullpen on Tuesday as he recovers from tightness in his elbow. The veteran is a popular pick to have a resurgence in Cincinnati, but the party has been put on hold for now. If anything, the injury could suppress his draft stock just a bit, which could present a nice buying opportunity for wannabe investors.
Garrett Hampson and Ryan McMahon appear locked in a battle at second base. Hampson and McMahon have both impressed thus far. Hampson is likely the favorite and has elite speed and stolen base potential. However, McMahon will figure into the mix, and elite prospect Brendan Rodgers looms. Manager Bud Black has already discussed his potential lineup, and odds are that whoever wins the job will bat seventh or eighth. Hampson is currently being drafted 19th among second basemen, over 100 spots ahead of McMahon.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Clayton Kershaw’s status for Opening Day is very much in doubt, though he was reportedly excited following a Monday throwing session. You know who’s not excited? Everyone who has already drafted him. Even if reports are encouraging over the next few days, it will be a risky investment to call Kershaw an SP1 in fantasy, which is where he is still being drafted. After Walker Buehler, the remaining candidates for rotation spots can all be had at relative discounts. One of those candidates is Julio Urias. The fireballing lefty is more likely to begin the year in the minors or in long relief but is a good bet to make some noise later in the year.
While Byron Buxton grabbed early headlines this spring as 2019’s former top prospect-turned-bust-turned-potential breakout candidate, Lewis Brinson has been just as impressive. The former first-round pick has swatted an MLB-high five homers in just 20 plate appearances through Tuesday’s Grapefruit League action. Unlike Buxton, Brinson is going for a song in drafts. He is still going outside the top-350 overall and is 90th among outfielders. There are certainly worse flier candidates given Brinson’s skill set and the fact that he figures to be given plenty of opportunity in Miami.
Pablo Lopez has been opening some eyes early. He has allowed just one run over five innings thus far. The right-hander has excellent control and the ability to hit spots with his sinking fastball. He is not a great strikeout threat but is adept at inducing ground balls. Lopez is probably not worth a draft pick at this juncture but is a name to keep tabs on if he can earn a starting rotation spot out of camp. He is likely fighting with Caleb Smith and Sandy Alcantara for Miami’s fifth and final rotation spot. Alcantara has walked eight batters in just 7.2 spring innings thus far, while Smith has yet to take the hill.
Jimmy Nelson reported no issues following a 20-pitch bullpen session on Monday. That is great news as he continues to work his way back from shoulder surgery that cost him the 2018 campaign. Nelson has a wide range of outcomes attached to him, as he looked to be entering the upper echelon of starters in 2017 before his injury. Going as the 67th starting pitcher off the board, Nelson is a worthy flier late in drafts.
Corbin Burnes bounced back with a solid outing on Tuesday, tossing three scoreless innings against Colorado. If he can put a couple more quality efforts together, he may be able to stick at the back end of Milwaukee’s rotation. Otherwise, he would be a middle inning reliever which would sap any potential value from the right-hander.
Jeremy Jeffress has yet to pitch this spring due to shoulder soreness but is expected to make his debut on Wednesday. Jeffress is a key cog in the Brewers’ dynamic late-inning corps alongside Corey Knebel and Josh Hader. But expecting anything resembling his 2018 numbers would be a bit much.
New York Mets
Shortstop Amed Rosario avoided a scare when x-rays came back negative on his left hand. Rosario was hit by a pitch on Monday but managed to escape with only a bruise. The 23-year old is a popular mid-round pick due to his impressive speed and a solid finish to the 2018 season.
While Pete Alonso has gotten off to a fast start and will most likely be the Mets’ starting first baseman by the end of April, Dominic Smith has been tearing the cover off the ball this spring. He is batting .500 through Tuesday’s games. Smith altered his swing mechanics as well as his diet and workout regimen this offseason. A career .300 hitter in the minors, Smith is actually younger than Alonso. He was also a first-round pick, so the pedigree suggests he has plenty of upside. He will most likely be ticketed for the minors when the season begins but could be worth watching if Todd Frazier struggles to return from his oblique injury.
I can’t think of anything that has happened surrounding the Phillies in the past week. Check back next week for updates.
In all seriousness, the signing of Bryce Harper is good for both he and the rest of the lineup. This is not exactly news. Harper is currently the 12th hitter off the board in Fantrax drafts. I don’t think that changes much now that we know his landing spot. As I have stated in previous editions of this column, this kills any faint hope that Nick Williams had of being relevant.
Jake Arrieta pitched three perfect innings on Sunday with four strikeouts against Minnesota. Arrieta believes that a knee injury was partly to blame for his poor finish last season. He will never reclaim Cy Young status but is a solid speculative draft pick. He is currently going outside the top-200 overall and is being drafted as the 60th starting pitcher on average.
Catcher Elias Diaz has come down with a viral illness and his status for Opening Day is in question. Ah, the ol’ 24-day flu. That can be a tricky one… I liked Diaz a lot in two-catcher leagues, but this news will probably cause me to pass. If the team is already saying his status is questionable, it seems like something that can reoccur or linger.
Lonnie Chisenhall has missed the last several days with what is being called lower extremity soreness. Chisenhall wasn’t moving the needle in fantasy circles anyway, as he is really just keeping right field warm for Gregory Polanco. Chisenhall does not need to be on the fantasy radar.
San Diego Padres
The fantasy community let out a collective groan upon news that Jose Castillo was suffering from left forearm tightness. He was subsequently diagnosed with a left flexor strain and placed on the 60-day Injured List. Castillo was a popular late-round flier in early drafts, but he can be safely avoided going forward.
San Diego has signed a trio of relievers in hopes of piecing together a bridge to closer Kirby Yates in Castillo’s absence. The team inked Adam Warren, Paco Rodriguez, and Chris Rowley. Rowley is unlikely to stick, but Warren and Rodriguez have a good chance to leave camp with the big club. Rodriguez is a left-handed specialist, but Warren has experience as a starter and out of the pen. He may be employed as an opener on occasion given the lack of quality starters the Padres figure to trot out to the mound this season.
Speaking of their rotation, Bryan Mitchell has a 7.71 ERA and has walked eight batters in just seven innings of work. Mitchell wasn’t exactly stellar last season, pitching to the tune of a 5.42 ERA and 6.11 FIP. That sound you hear is the Chris Paddack hype train approaching, although Matt Strahm is perhaps more likely to usurp Mitchell should San Diego decide to cut bait. Mitchell is out of minor league options and is only owed $910,000 this season.
San Francisco Giants
Buster Posey returned to action and all appears well as he rounds into form. He is looking to bounce back after an injury-riddled past couple of seasons. Posey is being drafted as the sixth catcher off the board on average in Fantrax drafts. His current ADP can be seen as a sign of owners placing faith in the former MVP. It may also be viewed as an indictment of the catcher position itself. Either way, owners should tread lightly. Posey will likely be eased into action and he has totaled just 17 home runs over the last two years.
Jeff Samardzija has thrown five scoreless innings this spring. It’s a good sign for the veteran, who made just 10 unspectacular starts last year. Samardzija may be a worthy flier for those looking to acquire pitching depth at the very end of drafts.
Outfielder Cameron Maybin was arrested on suspicion of a DUI last Friday. Maybin is just 2-19 this spring with six strikeouts. This transgression is not going to help what is considered to be his tenuous hold on a roster spot. Even if he does hang on and break camp, he is no more than a fourth or fifth outfielder in San Francisco and can be ignored for fantasy purposes.
St. Louis Cardinals
Not much was thought of the Cardinals signing veteran catcher Matt Wieters to a minor league deal last week. But primary backup Francisco Pena has been shut down due to an oblique injury. Wieters now has an excellent chance of leaving camp with the big club. Even at this stage of his career, his offensive potential is better than Pena’s. Let’s not forget that as awesome as Yadier Molina is, he’s 36 years old and coming off knee surgery. He’s also logged over 15,000 innings behind the dish in his career. Wieters could be a deep league pickup for those desperate at catcher.
Tyler O’Neill is making some noise this spring and has a real chance to earn a roster spot. The 23-year-old outfielder has incredible raw power. However, the slugger needs to improve his plate discipline. O’Neill mashed 35 homers between Triple-A and the majors last year. But he also struck out in over a third of his plate appearances, including 40 percent of his 142 MLB trips to the plate. He can be a nice source of cheap power for those speculating late in drafts.
Jack Flaherty is not competing for a spot but makes the news this week for striking out nine hitters on Tuesday. That is almost unheard of in spring training, especially in the first week of March. Pitchers are still working their way back to full strength, and Flaherty needed only four innings to complete the feat. The impressive outing serves as a reminder of Flaherty’s tremendous punchout potential. Flaherty struck out nearly 30 percent of hitters in his rookie year. If he can harness his control, he has the potential to be an ace as early as 2019.
Washington has been linked to free agent reliever Craig Kimbrel recently. Signing the top free agent reliever would be quite the coup for the Nats, and may ease a little bit of the sting of Bryce Harper’s exit. But Washington may be reluctant to sign Kimbrel because doing so will put them over the luxury tax threshold. Sean Doolittle is being drafted as a top-10 reliever, and his fantasy value would be greatly reduced if Washington decided to bring Kimbrel into the fold. Doolittle will provide excellent ratios and rates regardless of role, but we’re paying for saves at his current price. As for Kimbrel, I wouldn’t worry about him being this year’s Greg Holland, because he’s vastly more talented. But I would start to drop him down my board a notch or two if he doesn’t sign somewhere soon.
Veteran utilityman Howie Kendrick has been diagnosed with a left hamstring strain and he will likely sit out for a couple of weeks in hopes to be ready by Opening Day. The injury may give Wilmer Difo a larger role when the season begins. Neither is an option in fantasy outside of the deepest leagues.
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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