AL Spring Training Battles (Fantasy Baseball)
Doesn’t it just warm your soul to hear the crack of a bat barrelling up a baseball, or ball smacking into leather? Spring Training is in full swing and with it come plenty of position battles that carry fantasy relevance. Whether it’s a rookie trying to force his way into the lineup/rotation or a battle for the ninth-inning job in the bullpen, all of these moves impact fantasy values in one way or another.
Some players below you’ll have to take a gamble on winning a starting job because if you don’t, someone else will and reap all the benefits. But there are some lower-profile situations you can let pan out and pounce on a player sitting on waivers when it looks like he has a leg up in the positional battle. Below are some of the more intriguing positional battles for fantasy purposes in the American League this spring.
New York Yankees Second and Third Base
In Running: Miguel Andujar (3B). Gleyber Torres (Both), Brandon Drury (Both).
We all know who we want to win these two spots. Brandon Drury isn’t exciting any fantasy owner anytime soon. We all want the two top-100 prospects in the Yankees Opening Day lineup. But do they feel the same way?
Gleyber Torres is the gem of the Yankees system and widely regarded as a top-10 prospect in baseball. He’s currently blocked by Didi Gregorius at his natural position of shortstop but has been working on his defense at second base in preparation for transitioning there full-time this season. He would’ve already been up late last season if Tommy John had minded his own business.
Assuming he proves himself ready physically, Torres should be the Yankees starter at second base and has immediate .270/20/15 upside this season. Not quite enough immediate upside to make him your starter, but a fine middle infield or utility bat for sure.
The Yankees didn’t bring in Drury to be a long-term starter and his defensive flexibility is an asset off the bench. Plus, Miguel Andujar is raking to start Spring Training with two homers in his first four games. If he keeps hitting well this spring, it will be tough for the Yankees to send him back down to Triple-A. If given the starting job, Andujar could easily end up at .280/20 over a full season.
Predicted Outcome: Torres at 2B, Andujar at 3B, Drury in super-utility role.
Toronto Blue Jays Corner Outfield Spots
In Running: Randal Grichuk, Anthony Alford, Curtis Granderson, and Teoscar Hernandez.
The Blue Jays just had to make this situation difficult, didn’t they? When the calendar flipped to 2018, this outfield was set. You had defensive stalwart, Kevin Pillar, in center with youngsters Anthony Alford and Teoscar Hernandez at the corners. Not anymore! For some reason, Toronto decided to go out and acquire Randal Grichuk from the Cardinals and sign soon to be 37-year-old Curtis Granderson. So, instead of giving their young players a chance to prove themselves, they’ve brought in two aging veterans.
None of these four guys are going to supplant Pillar in center field. His defense is simply too valuable. So, we have four guys vying for two spots. The first name getting voted off the island is Granderson. At this stage in his career, he’s better suited as a fourth outfielder/pinch hitter off the bench that can provide some pop. His paltry batting average just doesn’t get it done anymore, and he can be easily ignored in fantasy leagues.
The Blue Jays likely don’t want to go with two unproven players in the outfield, so I’m awarding one of the corner spots to Randal Grichuk. The 26-year-old outfielder batted .238 with 22 home runs in 412 at-bats last season and has averaged 31 home runs per 600 at-bats in his career. Unfortunately, his approach at the plate is terrible, so expecting him to hit above .250 is a stretch. Nonetheless, he’s a decent later-round target due to his power upside.
The last spot is 50/50, but I’m going with Alford. He’s spent the last six seasons in the Blue Jays system, displaying plus wheels and a knack for getting on base with a career .375 minor league OBP. Alford dominated the Mexican Pacific Winter League, hitting .352 with two home runs and eight steals in 105 at-bats. His speed and on-base abilities are two things Toronto could really use near the top of the lineup. If he wins a starting gig, Alford is a very strong late-round sleeper with the potential for 30+ steals.
Predicted Outcome: Grichuk and Alford starting, Granderson as 4th OF, Hernandez at Triple-A.
Cleveland Indians Catcher
In Running: Yan Gomes, Roberto Perez, Francisco Mejia.
The only reason why this has any fantasy intrigue is due to Francisco Mejia. The 22-year-old is the top prospect in the Indians system and the top catching prospect in baseball. The Indians gave him a taste of the Major Leagues after he hit .297 with 14 home runs in 347 Double-A at-bats. That’s just the thing, though. Mejia skipped Triple-A altogether.
With Cleveland already having one of the best lineups in the American League, they really have no need to rush their prized catching prospect. Unless he tears the cover off the ball this spring, which could happen, expect Mejia to start in Triple-A and take over sometime before the All-Star break. Once he’s called up for good, Mejia has the upside in both average and power to be a top-10 catcher option for the remainder of the season.
Both Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez have very limited upside and can be ignored outside of deep two-catcher or AL-only formats.
Predicted Outcome: Gomes and Perez platooning until Mejia gets called back up in May.
Cleveland Indians No. 4 and No. 5 Starters
In Running: Danny Salazar, Josh Tomlin, Mike Clevinger.
Why is Josh Tomlin still a thing? Sure, he has great control. That’s wonderful. But he had a 4.98 ERA last year, a 6.5 K/9 the last two seasons, and is annually amongst the league leaders in highest HR/9. This shouldn’t be a competition, but unfortunately, it is.
Danny Salazar and Mike Clevinger are easily the two most talented pitchers out of this trio. Salazar’s ERA rose from 3.87 in 2016 to 4.28 in 2017, even though all his peripheral numbers were the same or even better. His H/9, BB/9, and HR/9 all stayed around the same and his K/9 rose to 12.7. The fact that Salazar’s FIP dropped too shows that he was just a little unlucky last season.
For a stretch last season, Clevinger was one of the Indians best starters. He finished the season with a 3.11 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 10.1 K/9 in 121.2 innings. His 4.4 BB/9 is a tad high, but he did improve in that department in 2017 and showed better control and command in the minor leagues. After his strong 2017 showing, Clevinger should be able to lock up a rotation spot this season with a decent Spring Training showing, this pushing Tomlin into a long relief role in the bullpen.
Assuming both Salazar and Clevinger win rotation spots, they can be looked at as borderline top-50 fantasy SP due to their high strikeout upside.
Predicted Outcome: Salazar and Clevinger in the rotation, Tomlin in pen as long relief.
Editor’s Note: With Salazar heading to the DL, Clevinger and Tomlin will fill out the team’s starting rotation to begin the regular season.
Baltimore Orioles Closer
In Running: Brad Brach, Mychal Givens, Darren O’Day.
After a three-year run as one of the best closers in baseball, Zach Britton endured a rough 2017 season. His ERA was still under three at 2.89, but he became much more hittable. Britton relies heavily on his plus sinker and only occasionally changes things up (about one in 20 pitches) with an average looking slider.
The sinker is the key. He wasn’t commanding it nearly as well, leaving it higher in the zone where it would get hit hard. A thigh-high sinker is basically a meatball just waiting to be clobbered. The results were a 1.53 ERA, 9.4 H/9, and 4.3 BB/9 which were all nearly double his 2016 numbers.
Regardless, Britton was expected to be Baltimore’s full-time closer this season until he ruptured his Achilles right before Christmas. He will now likely be out until at least mid-season, opening up the closer role in Baltimore.
The most likely candidate to step in is right-hander Brad Brach, who converted 18 saves last season in Britton’s absence. However, he tends to leave his fastball up a little too often and can get victimized by the long ball. Orioles skipper Buck Showalter wouldn’t commit to any one player as his closer, which leaves the door open for guys like Mychal Givens and Darren O’Day, who have each had decent success as relievers.
It’s likely that all three men get save chances throughout the first half of the season, but Brach is the best pitcher with the best arsenal and should get the lion’s share of the opportunities, making him a top-20 closer until Britton returns.
Predicted Outcome: All three get save ops with Brach handling the bulk of the role.
Texas Rangers Closer
In Running: Basically Everyone.
When I said everyone, I meant everyone. Even Tim freaking Lincecum has been mentioned as a candidate to close. This will likely be one of those throw a bunch of crap against the wall and see what sticks type of scenarios in Spring Training. Unless you play a deeper league, all members of this pen can be ignored for the time being until more clarity presents itself
Predicted Outcome: Literally flip a seven-sided coin. Best guess right now is Alex Claudio.