As the calendar turns to February and the NFL season is put to rest, it is time to focus on the upcoming season and begin preparations in earnest for another rotisserie fantasy baseball season. Pitchers and catchers will be reporting to Arizona next week for the Dodgers and D-Backs, a week earlier this year because of their two regular season games in Australia later this month.
I reported to Scottsdale, Arizona last week, also ahead of schedule, and have already begun formulating my plan-of-attack for seeing as much baseball as possible. In the past few springs, I’ve seen upwards of 30 games. The Cactus League setup allows for easy travel to all 10 stadiums. I’ll be out to all of them this year watching games and practices and hopefully providing some information for other roto enthusiasts who are looking for Spring Training news.
Each season, before I embark on this month-plus journey of spring training games, I jot down a few notes on what I’m looking for from each MLB team during the spring. Today, I’ll share some of my thoughts on the Cactus League’s American League teams. Then I’ll follow later in the week with what I’m watching for from some NL teams.
American League Preview - Spring Training 2014
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Jose Abreu, 1B: In last year’s Cactus League I feasted eyes on another Cuban import for the first time, the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig. I’m not a scout, but from day one, it was clear that Puig was a stud. He looked like a man amongst boys next to the other prospects in Dodgers’ camp and feasted on Cactus League pitching. When he was called up in early June, I couldn’t hit the waiver wire fast enough and it paid off. This year, I’m looking to see if Abreu has that same look. The White Sox thought enough of him to give him a six-year deal and the first base job. He is a hitter that once hit 33 HR in a 66-game Cuban season. How does that translate to American ball? Who knows? But this spring’s games should shed some light on his potential.
Carlos Santana: Rumors are that the Indians will take a look at Santana at 3B. If he can add the hot corner to his positional eligibility, that could add a boost in his fantasy value as he’d add versatility to his resume of fantasy assets. Santana is not a stranger to the position, having played there a bit when he first arrived in the majors. But after several seasons of squatting behind the plate or filling in at 1B, I’m curious to see how he looks in the field and whether he’ll be a passable regular at the position.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Fifth Starter: The Royals are one of the most intriguing teams fantasy-wise. The once number-one farm system in baseball has graduated its young players to the major league level with mixed results. While this is a make-or-break year for 3B Mike Moustakas and a potential breakout for 1B Eric Hosmer, I’ll be keeping my eyes on the battle at the back-end of the KC rotation. Manager Ned Yost has already said his front four will be James Shields, Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie and Bruce Chen, leaving one open spot for Danny Duffy, Wade Davis, Yordano Ventura amongst others. I’ll be interested in seeing if either Duffy or Ventura can perform well enough this spring to nab that final spot.
Duffy won a rotation spot out of spring in 2012 and tore his UCL after only six starts. He returned at the end of last season for a very successful five-start sample. He’s a guy who, with a full, healthy season, can easily provide double-digit wins with about a strikeout per inning. The problem is that the Royals already have two lefty starters and may be hesitant to add a third – assuming that Chen can hold off both young guys when they break camp.
From everything I’ve read, Ventura is a rookie-of-the-year candidate and potential ace. Is it too early to count on him fantasy-wise? I’m looking forward to see what he has to offer against major league hitters this spring, as this could be the beginning of a long, successful career. If Duffy or Ventura wins the job at the back end of the Royals’ rotation, either will be a fantasy steal in the mid-to-late rounds.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
Stars on the rebound? I remember fondly last spring, sitting in the stands at Tempe Diablo Stadium in March and wondering if any MLB lineup could match the Angels. I watched as they trotted out Trout, Hamilton, Pujols, Trumbo, etc. and wondered how this team wouldn’t score six runs every game. Well, the answer was that Hamilton and Pujols haunted fantasy owners with the worst seasons of their careers. Hamilton was mostly mired in a season-long slump where he may as well have been blindfolded at the plate. Pujols was hampered by a foot injury that cut his season short. Their 2013 performances will certainly free fall both former MVP’s down draft boards, but how far? Is it possible that either Pujols or Hamilton could be considered a “sleeper” on draft day? Or are both men too far past their prime to bother with on draft day? A glimpse of both fallen Angels in Cactus League play could go a long way to answering those questions.
Scott Kazmir: I’ve never run so hot AND cold over a fantasy pitcher as I have over Scott Kazmir. After leading the league in strikeouts in 2007, I thought I was the smartest guy in the room when I drafted him as my first starter in the 8th round of a 12-team draft. Then I watched as his career plummeted first off the fantasy radar, then off a Major League roster. I watched him get torched in the 2011 Cactus League before making one horrendous start for the Angels in 2011 that I figured would end his career.
Kaz somehow resurfaced with the Indians in 2013, surely went undrafted in all leagues, yet returned ten wins and 162 strikeouts in 158 innings. I still wasn’t convinced. Then the A’s signed him to a two-year contract this season. Typically, in Billy Beane I Trust, but I’m still skeptical. The A’s plan to put the former ace in the number two rotation spot to take some pressure off their young pitchers. With a full workload in a pitcher-friendly stadium, he may be able to pay dividends to those who believe. It will take a solid spring to count me amongst the believers.
Outfield: The Mariners are another interesting fantasy situation with their offseason acquisitions and young starters stepping up to rotation spots. I’ll probably have a lot more to write on the Mariners later, as I’m certain they are not done with their roster construction, but as of now I have some interest in how their outfield situation develops.
It seems that Dustin Ackley has been plopped down in center (maybe In a platoon with Franklin Gutierrez) and Logan Morrison will be installed in left. I’m not so hot on either of those guys’ fantasy potential, though in leagues where Ackley qualifies at 2B, he could be a desperation play. The player I am interested in checking out Michael Saunders. In real life, I don’t see Saunders as an everyday starter, but if given 500 at bats, he could turn in a 20 HR/20 SB season. He’ll likely kill your batting average while he’s at it, but when looking for that late-round pick as your last outfielder, you could do worse. Of course, if the M’s sign Nelson Cruz, Saunders’ fantasy value is toast. I’d like to see how the M’s handle the outfield situation in the spring and if they commit to Saunders out there every day.
Prince Fielder: The blockbuster of the offseason landed Prince in Arlington and into the Cactus League for the first time since his Brewers days. Fielder, a former first-rounder in some formats, did not perform at that level in 2013 as he fell off in every 5x5 category (except SB, where it’s impossible for him to drop off). Paul Goldschmidt, Chris Davis, Edwin Encarnacion and others have passed Fielder on most preseason fantasy rankings – which means the big guy may be a sneaky pick if he falls as far as projected. The big question will be if the hitting environment in Texas (and protection from Adrian Beltre) will provide an uptick in value or if 2013 is the beginning of a fantasy decline a la Ryan Howard.
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, please contact me through Rotoballer or via Twitter @baseballscotty or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m in Arizona for the next few months and can check in with any players or teams that are training out here.