In my previous post, I covered something I’ll be watching from each of the American League teams training in Arizona this spring. Today I cover a little something from each of the National League teams. As the spring progresses, I’ll revisit some of these questions and position battles and re-evaluate how they’ll affect the fantasy baseball landscape.
American League Preview - Spring Training 2014
Shortstop: Barring a trade, one of the more contentious positional battles to watch this spring will be at shortstop for the Diamondbacks. Arizona sent a hefty package in a trade last offseason to acquire Didi Gregorius, a defensive specialist who disappointed fantasy owners with his bat, hitting just .252 and not stealing a base despite a .332 OBP. Even if Gregorius were to hold onto the job in the spring, he’s a viable fantasy option only in the deepest of leagues. He may provide a desperate 10 HR from the position, but has little value in other standard categories. The D-Backs (and fantasy owners) would certainly like to get better offensive production from the position.
Enter Chris Owings, rated at the #3 prospect in the system by MLB.com. Owings tore up the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League in 2012, hitting .330 with 12 HR and 81 RBI in Reno, adding 20 SB. If those numbers translate to the majors, Owings could be a tasty fantasy sleeper at a hard-to-fill position. The D-Backs have sent him to play in the Arizona Fall League the past two seasons in order to hone his defensive skills. In the field, he’ll never be as good as Gregorius, but he’s superior with the bat, which is what fantasy owners care about. If Owings wins the job this spring, he could reward those who nab him with a mid-to-late round pick. It’s a Spring Training battle worth watching.
Third Base: Mike Olt was sent to the Cubs in the Matt Garza trade last summer after riding a roller coaster in Arlington the past three seasons. Once thought of as the heir-apparent to Adrian Beltre at 3B for the Rangers, Olt was untouchable in trade talks and his star shined bright. Trouble with injuries, including blurred vision and a broken collarbone, and an unimpressive cup of coffee in 2012, Olt’s stock fell and he was sent to Wrigleyville where he’ll compete for the third base job with the Cubs.
I’m sure the Cubs would love to see him take firm control of the job this spring so that the likes of Luis Valbuena, Donnie Murphy and Ryan Roberts can take their place on the bench, where they are better suited. If he’s healthy and playing every day, Olt could reward fantasy owners with at least 20-25 home runs and plenty of walks in OBP leagues. But he’ll have to prove he’s ready In Arizona this March.
Billy Hamilton: Hamilton will probably be THE most-watched player this spring. His speed is undeniable and, with Shin-Soo Choo heading to the Rangers, he will likely get the chance at regular at bats with the Reds. Make no mistake about two facts: 1) Hamilton will be a stolen base monster in roto leagues. If you draft Hamilton, you can focus on other stats for the rest of the draft. You’re set in steals; and because of this 2) he will be drafted way too early in roto leagues.
Nowadays, we get caught up in prospects and projections, but let’s remember that Hamilton only reached base at a .308 clip in AAA. I want to see how he works to get on base, because a jump from a .300 OBP to .320 could mean the difference between a 70-steal season and a 100-steal season.
CLOSER: I am a roto manager who refuses to use an early or even mid-round pick on a closer. While my opponents are taking the Kimbrels, Nathans and Papelbons, I’m building my offense and am left scrounging for cheap save sources late in the draft. The Rockies are usually a fertile source of cheap saves. This year LaTroy Hawkins is penciled-in as the pre-spring closer. I say “penciled-in” because Hawkins is 40 years old and has a long history of injuries.
The men in line behind Hawkins are a motley crew that includes Rex Brothers, Boone Logan and Adam Ottavino among others. And then there will be the arms that don’t make the Rockies’ rotation and who may be forced into the pen - guys like Franklin Morales, Jordan Lyles and Juan Nicasio. Any one of these guys could jump in and take the closer’s job, should Hawkins slip up or break down. I’ll be watching how Walt Weiss uses these arms in the Cactus League so I’m prepared to jump on cheap saves either late in the draft or on the waiver wire.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
Alexander Guerrero: We have no idea what type of player Guerrero is, but what we do know is that he’s in line to get all the second base at bats in one of baseball’s best lineups. We don’t know what type of leash Don Mattingly will put him on, but with the Mark Ellis safety net signing with the Cardinals, there aren’t many organizational alternatives. With even an average season, he could be worth a flyer in deep leagues.
I’d like to see how the Dodgers handle the position this spring. They’ve been moving former prospect Dee Gordon around the infield and even into center field to add to his versatility. They signed veteran Chone Figgins as a cheap insurance policy. But for now, the job at second is Guerrero’s to lose. Let’s see if he comes out this spring and impresses.
Second Base: Rickie Weeks vs. Scooter Gennett. Even if this settles into a convenient platoon (I think it will), Weeks’ days as a draftable fantasy commodity are likely over. It’s a shame, really. At 31 Weeks is not THAT old, but multiple leg injuries have aged him quickly and will probably force him to another position soon where his 20-HR potential will not play as well fantasy-wise as at the keystone. That is, if he can even put up those numbers again.
The diminutive Scooter Gennett is taking over at 2B and, even in a platoon, figures to get the bulk of the at bats at the position. Gennett had a successful debut season in 2013, posting a .300+ average, but he does not hit for power, doesn’t walk a lot and will probably max out at around ten steals. There are probably better late options to fill your 2B or middle infield roster spots, but I’m still interested to see what Gennett can do with full-time at bats.
SAN DIEGO PADRES
Catcher: Call me a baseball nerd, but I think I’ll be spending a lot of time looking behind home plate at the Padres’ catchers this spring. Yasmani Grandal missed the beginning of last season on a PED suspension and the end of the year with a knee injury. It seems he’ll be ready this spring to try to stake a claim as the full-time catcher in San Diego.
Pushing Grandal will be Nick Hundley, who set a career-high with 13 homers last season, but offers little else fantasy-wise. The Padres will also have top prospect Austin Hedges in camp. His bat is a work in progress, but his arm is regarded as one of the best in the game. Unless you play in an exotic league that credits caught-stealing percentage, Hedges won’t be any use to your fantasy team. So Grandal will be the man to watch this spring. If he’s healthy and playing every day, he would be a low-end sleeper and breakout candidate – particularly in OBP leagues.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
Lineup Construction: The Giants are a team with no position battles that should affect fantasy drafts. What I’m curious to watch this spring is how Bruce Bochy sets his lineup, as the batting order could have a big impact on players’ numbers. Specifically, I’m interested to see who the Giants bat in front of Buster Posey, who will presumably be in the 3-hole.
1B Brandon Belt had a mini-breakout last season and, with Posey’s protection, could add even more to his value. I see him as a guy with .280 BA/25 HR potential with a high OBP and a lot of doubles. Batting in front of Posey, Pence, and Panda, he could thrive in the runs category as well – because Belt WILL get on base. Seeing more fastballs in front of Posey would mean a boost to his batting average and homers, making him a solid mid-round selection after the top first-basemen are off the board.
These are just some of initial thoughts as I await the guys to take the field in the coming weeks. If anyone else has any players or position battles to watch that interest you, contact me via Twitter @baseballscotty or email: email@example.com. I’m in Arizona for the next few months and can check in with any players or teams that are training out here.