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Spring Training Notes from the Field - Early Reactions

Finally, baseball is back. There might be no better feeling than being able to turn on the television and see a live game, even if it does not count for anything in the win column. While some of the players are new to fans, and some players even lack names on their jerseys, the energy is back in fantasy baseball. Spring training does offer a bit of a trap for players, as there are plenty of options (Madison Bumgarner springs to mind) that have a history of underperforming this time of the year. While many are down on Bumgarner, compare his spring numbers to the regular season to see how little these stats honestly matter.

And yet, the spring also gives owners a chance to jump to conclusions on players that are either targets now or players that might emerge later. I took some time out of an annual trip to Arizona to soak up Cactus League action to take some player notes in order to share with our readers. What follows is a snap reaction that shows whether a player's stock is moving up or down. Small samples are one thing, but hot or cold starts can help owners shift a player a round or two up or down in their rankings.

With that, read along to get my early notes from the spring that can impact and change fantasy drafts. Mixing in personal game viewing with the news wire, keep an eye on the following players as the spring continues.  

Editor's Note: Get any full-season MLB Premium Pass for 50% off, with exclusive access to our season-long articles, 15 in-season lineup tools and over 200 days of expert DFS research/tools. Sign Up Now!


Spring Training Risers

Jake Bauers (1B/OF, CLE)

Entering the 2019 season there might not be a writer higher on Bauers at RotoBaller or anywhere else in the fantasy community. Part of this is the individual player profile, with a swing that got longer trying to sell out for power in the second half, fueling a slump. In addition, Cleveland is a perfect fit for Bauers' skills and playing time needs, with the organizational approach and park fit.

For a team that is planning to walk teams to death to generate runs, Bauers is an excellent option with a plus hit tool and eye at the plate. Add in that he is a threat to steal from the first base position, on a team that ran more than most in the Majors last year, and the fit is there. On Friday night, versus the Dodgers, Bauers’ fifth inning proved what he might produce. After falling behind in the count, he bounced back to lay-off pitches on the outside corner to draw a walk. He then stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch. The quick decision to move on a loose ball that was close to the plate underlies the baserunning IQ.

In both games this weekend he started in the outfield, and that is where Cleveland might use him to maximize playing time. If he can stick there, and shorten the swing to create more contact, Bauers is one of the players to watch in 2019.

Meibrys Viloria (C, KC)

With an injury sidelining Salvador Perez for most of, if not all, of this year, the catching job in Kansas City is wide open. On paper, Sam Gallagher will be the starting option to begin the campaign, but if Viloria keeps hitting, there is a good shot he takes the gig. Watching him Sunday afternoon versus Cleveland, Viloria demonstrated a compact swing that generated two singles in five ABs. Add in two walks, and the full show was on display.

As a batter, Voloria crowds the plate, keeping pitchers away from the inside pitch, and allowing him to spoil outside pitches to keep the count moving. Both hits went to the pull side, and that is the batted ball profile he showed in the minors. The downside is that there will not be much power in the swing, and do not expect much in the future. The caveat on his good game was the opposition he faced, batting against Cleveland arms that are not in line to make the team. And yet, these are arms that should start at Triple-A so not far off for his age.

An excellent defensive catcher, Viloria could also be an average batting source for a catcher with a .240-.250 target. Pair him with a power source, like Austin Hedges, and this could be a solid, average catching tandem that will not hurt your team.

Michael Pineda (SP, MIN)

After missing all of last year with Tommy John surgery, Pineda looks to be ready to cash in on the two-year deal he signed with Minnesota last offseason. In his first appearance of the spring, he pitched two scoreless innings and threw 70% of his offerings for strikes. Even better news was that the fastball touched 95 MPH, showing that the stuff is back. If he stays healthy, there is a good chance that Pineda will be starting games for the team this year.

Currently he is slotted as the number four starter according to Roster Resource, but fantasy owners should hedge that a bit. If he can stay healthy, Pineda has the skills to be a good fantasy starter - and with a team looking to push Cleveland for the division this year, there will be chances and wins for fantasy teams. He will never top the K charts, but expect overall solid ratios with some wins to boot, making him a nice reserve stash in all formats.

Chance Sisco (C, BAL)

With a catching field that's the weakest it has been in years, owners are looking to get any value at the position. For some time, the catching position in Baltimore has been appealing due to the slight run and homer boost that playing in Camden gets - but the prospects and options have just not panned out. In steps Sisco, who has long been thought of as the future at the position for the Orioles. So far this spring he has chipped in four homers and five runs in eight plate appearances. Add in only one strikeout and two walks in those chances, and Sisco is the small-sample breakout of the spring.

With every opportunity to earn the starting job walking away, if he continues to hit, Sisco should be jumping up draft boards into the late-20 rounds for teams punting catcher until late. Owners should take advantage of the prospect burnout that is turning other owners away, and add Sisco as a top option for a two-catcher league spot. 

Miguel Cabrera (1B, DET)

By all reports, Cabrera is healthy this spring and looks like it so far at the dish. With six hits through his first 11 ABs, Cabrera might still be one of the aging options at the spot but looks to have the swing back. With a good contact rate, the power is not needed to be a good source of batting average at the position as well. Three walks and two strikeouts also hint at the plate discipline - and with that comes hopes that he could return to being an above-average bat at the very least.

While there is still time for the age to show its head, right now Cabrera is looking to be worth the value in drafts. The Tigers offense is better than some give it, so this is not a drain on overall run production in roto leagues. Cabrera stands out as a cheaper option at a top-heavy first base position. For owners who miss out on the top talent, Cabrera could be that next option. 

Leonys Martin (OF, CLE)

If one player was moving up my draft board more than any this spring, it is Martin. He is nearly guaranteed to be the starting center fielder with Cleveland and even has an outside chance to start the year at the top of the lineup. In six of his early ABs, it was already apparent that he looked ready and much bigger, in a good way, from last year. The ball shot off his bat - he had four hits and a walk in those chances to demonstrate his versatility.

On Sunday, versus Kansas City, he crushed a ball into the right-field seats and this is the power stroke that could be the breakout attribute for him this year. Baseball Savant grades him as above-average in Hard Hit %, and in the 80th percentile for xWOBA and xSLG. Fantasy owners and baseball fans alike should be excited to see a player who literally almost died last fall, and is ready to get back on the field. If it all goes well, Martin has an outside shot at 100 runs this year from the top of that roster.


Spring Training Fallers

Yu Chang (SS, CLE)

Chang seems to be the preferred replacement for Francisco Lindor until the latter recovers from an offseason injury. To date, Chang has not done much to impress in that role, and fantasy owners might need to look outside the organization for a replacement for April. In three ABs on Friday, Chang looked lost in two of them with bad strikeouts. In the first chance, he started off ahead in the count, and then could not lay-off the pitches outside the zone. Bad swings, on slow offspeed pitches, seemed to be the main issue. And yet, in between, he crushed a homer to deep center that hit high off the batters eye.

There is power in this bat, and he profiles nicely long-term as a plus bat at third base. For the time being, the impact on batting average will be there, and even with some run production, owners are better off trying to target platoon options while they wait for Cleveland’s star shortstop to return.

Patrick Wisdom (3B, TEX)

Wisdom was one of the hipster picks at third early in drafts, and since then, the addition of Asdrubal Cabrera seems to have limited his chances to make the team in a starting role. Add in eights Ks in his first 16 ABs this spring, and Wisdom appears to be losing that chance quickly. There are real questions about the plate approach dating back to last season, highlighted by the 32.8 K% in 32 games.

He did hit four homers, but that power is not nearly enough to make up for the outs at the plate. Add in that 20-plus homer pop is just not that much in today’s game, and Wisdom loses the appeal that made him a target this winter. The move to Texas is good for Wisdom as there's a better route to playing time, as opposed to what he had in St. Louis, but there is no real reason to draft him before reserve rounds this year in most formats.

Joc Pederson (OF, LAD)

Entering the 2019 draft season, Pederson was a player that was inching up my draft boards. Part of this was the fit with the Dodgers, but there was also some value with his increased ability to deal with both handed pitchers. While a small sample of 13 ABs is not much this spring, eight Ks in those chances does raise some red flags. In the game he played in front of my seats, his three Ks in three ABs that were not even close. He was chasing and seemed not to be willing to take. Add in that he looked the worst versus A.J. Cole, and there is not much to be excited about here.

Pederson does have a homer this spring, but that is the one positive item on his resume. For those who thought that Pederson could be a mid-round target for an outfield spot, you may want to think again. If he looks this bad to a fantasy baseball writer, imagine what the team is thinking.

Jurickson Profar (2B/SS/OF, OAK)

Profar was one of the fantasy darlings entering this year, offering a bit of Marwin Gonzalez with the position eligibility and some offensive upside. But so far in camp, he has not produced, with a .188 batting average in 17 plate appearances. There's not much to be worried about yet, but so far he has not shown much pop with the bat. Power is not vital to his game, but when most of the balls are on the ground, there is some concern. The best ball he hit on Saturday was a fly out to the left fielder that never had much of a chance to get out.

The other piece that made it onto the scorecard was his defense. Profar looked slow getting to balls at second and almost allowed two runners to reach with slow throws to first. Spring training is one thing, but Profar has a history of disappointment. 2018 might be the best year we ever see from him.

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