Spring Training Risers and Fallers (Fantasy Baseball)
After going four bitter months without baseball, fantasy players will devour any new stats they can get. Even if they are just from Spring Training.
No matter how often it backfires, drafters will keep reacting to spring happenings. It’s not all empty noise, especially if a player is returning from an injury and fighting for a starting job. A pitcher allowing a few runs isn’t typically a reason to panic, but two have already yielded a lot of runs with minimal whiffs.
With nearly two weeks of Spring Training under wraps, let’s look at some noteworthy risers and fallers.
Jason Kipnis (2B – CLE)
This is how someone goes from discarded to desirable in early March. An ambivalence to Jason Kipnis yielded a 244 ADP in February NFBC drafts. Despite tallying 23 homers and 15 steals in 2016, nobody wanted the second baseman as more than a place-holding middle infielder after he hit .233/.291/.414 through an injury-plagued 2017.
Kipnis, who went deep six times in 2014, has already circled the bases six times in seven spring games. He’s not a launch-angle disciple, but the 30-year-old is healthy. While fantasy managers never know what to expect from a fit Kipnis, they always receive something.
After stealing 83 bases from 2012 to 2014, he batted .303 in 2015 before filling all five categories in 2016. So perhaps the productive big leaguer was getting unfairly overlooked following one tumultuous season sabotaged by three trips to the disabled list.
Having averaged 145 games over the previous five seasons, it’s not fair to label him injury prone either. He’s useful in the right setting as long as drafters temper expectations to a solid 20/10 campaign.
Amir Garrett (SP – CIN)
There’s always a young pitcher who forces his way into the mixed-league conservation during Spring Training. This March it’s Amir Garrett, who struck out 10 of his first 16 batters faced without allowing a hit or walk. Even after a messier third turn, the 25-year-old has now coughed up two runs over seven frames with 11 strikeouts.
“Amir was as good as I’ve ever seen him,” Reds manager Bryan Price told Cincinnati Enquirer‘s John Fay following Garrett’s spotless first outing. “He had velocity with command and threw the slider and changeup for strikes. He was filthy. That’s the type of performance you want to see from a guy that’s coming off of a tough season.”
Let’s not forget that Garrett also generated buzz early last year. Although he finished with a ghastly 7.39 ERA and 1.61 WHIP, the lefty began 2017 with 21 strikeouts, three walks, and a 1.83 ERA through three starts. After demanding ownership everywhere with a 12-strikeout gem, he got branded for 10 runs by the Brewers to conclude April.
Garrett is a cruel example of how quickly everyone will discard a newcomer who doesn’t dominate. Just last year, he ranked a slot behind Ronald Acuna as Baseball Prospectus’s No. 32 prospect. Now he’s only fighting for a rotation spot after turning heads in the Cactus League.
Command and job uncertainty, however, still prevent Garrett from warranting a feeler in standard mixed leagues. Things can change in a hurry for erratic young hurlers. Just look at Tyler Glasnow, who could have easily received this recognition days ago before surrendering three walks and seven runs on Wednesday.
All the Rookie Hitters
Some of this season’s most hyped newcomers have no interest in waiting for a starting role. I entered spring cautioning patience on Acuna, a 20-year-old prospect on a non-contending team. The budding star has scoffed at my skepticism by collecting 11 hits in 10 games.
He took an express train through the minors last year, batting .325/.374/.522 with 21 homers and 44 steals in High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A. Forget holding his own; he improved each element of his slash line when moving up a level. At 19 years old, the outfielder notched a .413 wOBA in 243 Triple-A plate appearances.
Although initially dubious of Atlanta giving him the Kris Bryant treatment-starting him in the minors and promoting him in mid-April to garner an extra year of service time-he may just force his way into the Braves’ starting lineup as soon as possible. This strong performance will likely boost his already sky-high stock into the top 100 of redrafts.
Miguel Andujar is making a strong case to join a thunderous Yankees lineup with four Grapefruit League home runs. The 23-year-old third baseman has a yet to take a walk in 26 plate appearances, so don’t catapult him too high up the ranks. Besides, the bat was never a concern.
If he doesn’t win the job, it’s because New York is not comfortable with his defense at the hot corner. Gleyber Torres is conversely off to a slow start at the plate, but he’d offer a superior glove at second with Brandon Drury sliding over to third.
This is still an open competition, so continue to treat Andujar and Torres as end-of-draft fliers in standard mixed league. While Andujar has not flaunted this sizzling power over his career, he should provide a steady average floor if given the role.
Scott Kingery has quickly displayed a skill set ready for the grand stage (and especially five-by-five fantasy leagues) when given the call. While flaunting his speed with two steals, he has also resumed 2017’s power breakout with three home runs and a double. The problem, of course, is finding an opening on Philadelphia’s depth chart.
Cesar Hernandez’s .372 on-base percentage is too valuable atop the batting order, so Kingery shouldn’t have a chance of starting at second base. He has also taken reps at third base, shortstop, and center field. The Phillies look intent on clearing room for him eventually, which means Maikel Franco and J.P. Crawford can’t afford a sluggish April.
Ryan McMahon has scattered a dozen hits over 13 games with three doubles and a homer with a 114-mph exit velocity. As the front-runner to open as Colorado’s starting first baseman, he’s gaining some, but not nearly enough buzz. Although his NFBC ADP has jumped 58 spots in March, 272 is still too low for a hitter moving to Coors Field after batting .355/.403/.583 with 20 homers and 11 steals in Double-A and Triple-A.
Steven Matz (SP – NYM)
After getting torpedoed to a 6.08 ERA in 13 starts last year, Steven Matz needed a strong spring to climb back into drafters’ good graces. He’s instead sending everyone running from the hills. In 1.2 disastrous innings, the 26-year-old southpaw has relinquished eight hits, four walks, and 10 runs with one strikeout.
Perhaps simply being healthy and not throwing in the 80s is all the Mets wanted to see in early March, but persisting struggles could evict him from the Opening Day rotation. Matt Harvey has looked decent enough to offer a glimmer of bounce-back hope.
Matz, meanwhile, has failed to avoid the disabled list since arriving in 2015. He underwent elbow surgery after unraveling last year, and his previous quality start occurred on July 3. Already more of a late mixed-league flier before the bumpy start, he’s not worth the hassle for anyone drafting this weekend.
Miles Mikolas (SP – STL)
Early in his United States return, the Miles Mikolas bandwagon has a flat tire. His allure has quickly faded by allowing 13 hits and 10 runs with one strikeout over 4.2 innings.
Instead of looking at his improvements in Japan, drafters now remember him getting chased out of MLB with a 5.33 ERA and 6.11 K/9. By his own admission, the same stuff that flummoxed Japanese hitters hasn’t led to any whiffs in the Grapefruit League. At least he showed superior command in his second start, throwing 42 of his 56 pitches for strikes.
“I was hitting my spots pretty well,” Mikolas told MLB.com’s Zak Kerr. “I have a few adjustments to make on some of the breaking balls, but overall I felt pretty good. It’s a step forward. A lot better fastball command, strikes early in the count. I could be better putting guys away with two strikes.”
Don’t erase the 29-year-old from any cheat sheets just yet. Regaining a better feel for his curveball could help him miss major league bats, and a minuscule walk rate will help fantasy investors in the WHIP column.
However, he’s probably best reserved as a late-round selection in deeper leagues. In a shallow mixed format, it makes more sense to take a higher-upside flier.