NL Spring Training Battles (Fantasy Baseball)

by Eric Cross | Featured Writer
Mar 11, 2018

Archie Bradley is a high-end reliever, but a winter transaction has muddied Arizona’s back-end bullpen roles

Every year there are Spring Training positional battles that carry plenty of intrigue in the fantasy baseball world. This year is no different, especially in Chicago. Last week, we looked at some battles on American League teams.

This week, the senior circuit takes the spotlight. Below are five battles on National League teams that everyone should have their eyes on when drafting. First up is a cluster of a battle at three different positions for the 2016 World Series Champs.

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Chicago Cubs Second Base, Center Field, and Left Field

In Running: Ian Happ, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr.

Ah, the joys of a Joe Maddon managed team. Actually, the mental and emotional agony is more like it. The Cubs have too many hitters and not enough positions to put them. As it stands today, catcher, first base, third base, shortstop, and right field look like locks.

Jason Heyward has plenty of flaws but his contract will likely keep him in the lineup 80+ percent of the time. So that leaves the four men mentioned above vying for playing time at second base, left field, and center field. Ben Zobrist also figures to factor into this but is the low man on the totem pole at this stage of his career.

If only the Cubs player in the American League. Having the DH would make things so much easier here, as Schwarber could plop his rear end there instead of clogging up left field. Since he can’t play anywhere besides left, expect Schwarber to get the most starts there out of this quartet, especially against right-handed starters. He’s likely to get some at-bats against lefties every now and then, but his splits against southpaws, as seen below, will likely limit him to sporadic appearances against them.

 Player Vs. RHP Vs. LHP
AVG OPS AVG OPS
Baez 0.258 0.747 0.315 0.934
Happ 0.243 0.863 0.276 0.789
Schwarber 0.221 0.814 0.171 0.648
Almora 0.271 0.711 0.342 0.898

 

Schwarber’s batting average stunk any way you look at it, but at least he was able to generate plenty of power against righties, slugging 27 home runs in 340 at-bats. Defensive ability will also play a role in all of this. Almora is the best outfield defender of this bunch and should get most of the starts in centers against left-handers.

However, his offensive ceiling isn’t as high as the other three and he is by far the least intriguing option for fantasy purposes. He’s shown the ability to hit for a solid batting average but has never even hinted at having impactful power or speed.

The man on the other side of this platoon in center is Happ. A natural second baseman, Happ showed his flexibility last season by starting 60 games total in the outfield along with 28 starts at second base. That flexibility is going to be key as Happ has the highest offensive upside on this roster, outside of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.

His splits last season were interesting, to say the least. Happ, a switch-hitter, displayed more power against righties, but better overall contact against lefties.

If Happ can get 500 at-bats, he’s likely going to finish the season as a top-10 2B and top-100 overall player. He’s going off the board around pick 120-130 in most leagues.

You can lock in 400+ at-bats for Baez this season as a bare minimum. He’s proven to be a strong defender at second and can also fill in at short during one of Addison Russell’s inevitable prolonged slumps.

He has enticing fantasy potential, but would be better suited in a different organization where he can get more at-bats. At is stands now, he’s nothing more than a mid-round target.

Likely Outcome: Matchup based, but with Happ, Baez, and Schwarber getting the most at-bats.

Arizona Diamondbacks Closer

In Running: Archie Bradley and Brad Boxberger

Finally, with Fernando Rodney out of the picture, the path to a closer’s role has been cleared for Archie Bradley!

** The Arizona Diamondbacks have acquired Brad Boxberger from the Tampa Bay Rays **

Damn it. This should hopefully only be a minor speedbump for Bradley ascending to the full-time closer role.

After failing as a starter, Bradley moved into the bullpen last season and morphed into one of the most effective relievers in the Major Leagues. Bradley recorded a 1.73 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 9.7 K/9 across 73 innings and posted a sub 2.30 ERA in every month besides September.

Boxberger, on the other hand, racked up 41 saves in 2015, which accounts for 93.2% of his career saves. Yup, he only has three saves outside of 2015 and has only made 57 appearances since that season with so-so results. He was better last season with a 3.38 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 12.3 K/9.

So, we have the classic battle of the better pitcher versus the one with closing experience. Expect somewhat of a timeshare early on with Bradley finally seizing the role for good after a month or two. Bradley should be able to nail down 25-30 saves and flirt with a top-10 RP finish this season.

Likely Outcome: Split to start the season with Bradley pulling away eventually.

Los Angeles Dodgers Catcher

In Running: Yasmani Grandal and Austin Barnes

Talk about a late bloomer. The general consensus didn’t even know Austin Barnes existed until the second half of last season.

Now he’s being drafted as a borderline top-10 catcher in most leagues and even ahead of his teammate Grandal. It’s like everyone forgot that Grandal was a top-10 fantasy catcher in each of the last two seasons.

Now, that’s not to say Grandal is some elite catching option or anything. While he has provided solid power for the position, his .247 average from last season is the highest he’s had in his career over a full season. That’s part of the reason why Barnes overtook him down the stretch and into the playoffs.

His .408 OBP led all Major League catchers, barely edging out Buster Posey. If only we could combine Barnes’ hit tool/OBP with Grandal’s power. That’d be one damn good fantasy catcher right there. Get on it scientists.

Even though Grandal fell out of favor last season, his 2018 outlook is still promising. He’s not going to become the full-time back-up or anything. His improving defense and elite pitch framing are highly valuable, especially to the Dodgers who thoroughly rely on their pitching staff to win games.

Expect Grandal to lead this platoon with something close to a 60/40 split. Both backstops are worth drafting as top-15 catcher options and Barnes added 2B eligibility is some leagues gives him a little boost in value.

Likely Outcome: 60/40 platoon in favor of Grandal.

Los Angeles Dodgers #5 Starter

In Running: Hyun-Jin Ryu and Walker Buehler

This Dodgers pitching staff might be one of the best in the majors one through five. However, health has been and will continue to be a major concern for this rotation. None of their five current starters made 30 starts last season and I highly doubt they’re all magically going to become durable this season.

Ryu especially, who has only made 25 starts combined in the last three seasons, with 24 of those starts coming last season. If/when one of the current five lands on the DL, the Dodgers have one of the top-10 pitching prospects in baseball, Walker Buehler ready to step in.

The 23-year-old Buehler pitched 88.2 innings across three minor league levels last season, finishing with a 3.35 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 3.1 BB/9, and 12.7 K/9. He attacks hitters with a mid to upper-90s heater and two plus breaking balls (slider and curve) that induce plenty of strikeouts. His change-up isn’t as developed as the rest of his arsenal, but has flashed plus potential at times and should at least be an average offering for him.

How much Buehler pitches this season is still up in the air. We don’t know how his spring is going to play out,” Roberts said. “We know he’s going to pitch meaningful innings for us at the major league level. We don’t know when. At that point in time, we just have to let things play out themselves.”

To start the season, expect Buehler to work in a long relief role out of the pen pr perhaps even head back to Triple-A to keep him stretched out as a starter. However, it’s only a matter of time before an opportunity opens up for Buehler to join the Dodgers rotation full-time. He’s worth a late-round flier as a high-upside stash.

Likely Outcome: Ryu wins job and gets injured fairly quickly.

Atlanta Braves #5 Starter

In Running: Luiz Gohara, Lucas Sims, Max Fried

This really shouldn’t be much of a competition, but of course, Gohara just had to strain his left groin and set himself back on his spring regimen. He was slated to make his spring training debut on Sunday, but a sprained ankle will set him back even further and now his status for opening day is in doubt.

Gohara easily has the highest fantasy upside of this bunch. He pairs an 80-grade fastball with a filthy 70-grade slider and can rank up the strikeouts with just those two offerings. Control has often been an issue, but Gohara was refined that as he’s matured as a pitcher and only walked 3.2 batters per nine innings in the minors last season and 2.5 in his five Major League starts.

Gohara truly has fantasy SP1/2 upside and should still be drafted even if he’s forced to miss a start or two to open the season. Both Sims and Fried are better left on the waiver wire.

Likely Outcome: Luiz Gohara starts on the DL but takes over once healthy and is a top-50 SP this season.

AL Spring Training Battles (Fantasy Baseball)

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Eric Cross is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Eric, check out his archive and follow him on Twitter @EricCross04.

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