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10 Players to Watch in Spring Training

Feb 19, 2019

Yu Darvish’s spring training performance may indicate how well he’s recovered from his elbow injury

The season draws nigh with spring training right around the corner. Baseball has returned, folks! In about a month, most of us will be either drafting our squads for the season or already have at least one fantasy team that we call our own. Before we reach that time though, we must understand that paying attention to spring training performances have value. While it’s not wise to put too much stock into these exhibition matchups, it can offer a window into how young prospects may fit in at the Major League level and whether athletes who suffered serious injuries last year have recovered. We can also get a glimpse into how some new faces in new places (like Manny Machado on the Padres) may fare with their latest club right out of the gate.

The Mariners and A’s will open things up for the Cactus Leauge on Feb. 21, while the Rays and Phillies will kick off spring training for the Grapefruit League on Feb. 22. On Feb. 23, all 30 MLB teams will then begin their spring exhibition campaigns. Who should you be watching once every squad hits the diamond? To help you answer that question, our featured experts have come to point you in the direction of some hitters and pitchers who should be monitored.

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Q1. Who is one pitcher you’ll be paying close attention to during spring training and why?

Yu Darvish (SP – CHC)
“Darvish is someone who fantasy owners should watch this spring, as he recovers from an elbow impingement that essentially ruined his entire 2018 season. He is going as the 40th starter off the board, behind the likes of J.A. Happ and Rick Porcello. First, that’s ridiculous, but second, that shows there is MAJOR profit to be made off of Darvish if he is even remotely healthy. After he was traded to the Dodgers in the second half of 2017, Darvish pitched to a 3.44 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP, and a 30.2% strikeout rate. There’s no reason he can’t come close to those numbers again if he can simply remain healthy, which is all fantasy owners should be looking for out of his spring.”
– Dan Harris (FantasyPros)

Chris Archer (SP – PIT)
“Will a full season in the National League cure the ills of Archer? Can renown pitching coach Ray Searage come up with a solution? Archer’s been the poster child for power stuff that somehow underperforms the peripherals on a yearly basis; now with his ADP sliding, we’re in a potential profit pocket if the Pirates can figure something out. Archer is one of the smartest pitchers in the game, and at times I wonder if it’s to his detriment. They told us in Ball Four, “Don’t think so much, you’re hurting the club.” However, I can’t help but think there’s one more dazzling step forward in his right arm, and the Pittsburgh context could be a wonderful elixir.”
– Scott Pianowski (Yahoo! Sports)

Clayton Kershaw (SP – LAD) 
“I’ll have my eye on Kershaw this spring. Per FanGraphs, his average fastball velocity dipped to 91.4 miles per hour in 2018, which is by far a career low. If he can regain some of his former juice in the preseason and show velocity approaching his career average of 93.7 miles per hour, his ADP, currently outside the top 30, will surely start to climb. Even if it does, Kershaw probably won’t crack the top 15 and that means he could still be a solid bounce-back value compared to his first-round pedigree from past seasons.”
– Greg Smith (The Fake Baseball)

Yusei Kikuchi (SP – SEA)
“I’ll be keeping an eye on Kikuchi for the Mariners to see what kind of stuff he is bringing over from Japan, as his numbers look great on paper, but you never know how they will translate to big league pitching. Most importantly, I want to see what his K-rate looks like, as it is sure to dip a bit off his 153 Ks in 163 IP he posted last year in Nippon.”
– KJ (Fantasy Team Advice)

Freddy Peralta (SP – MIL)
“Despite finishing top 10 in both strikeouts per nine innings and batting average against, Peralta is somehow not a lock to make the Brewers’ rotation. If he pitches well enough in spring training, I can assure you he will end up on every single one of my fantasy teams. He is among my favorite candidates to break out this season, but he’ll have to earn his shot first.”
– Bobby Sylvester (FantasyPros)

Q2. Who is one hitter you’ll be paying close attention to during spring training and why?

Josh Donaldson (3B – ATL)
“I’ll be watching Donaldson closely this spring because I think his ADP is going to rise or fall dramatically depending on how he looks. Donaldson has battled calf problems for the better part of two seasons, and although last year looked like a dramatic drop-off, he actually was close to his typical self when he returned in September. In 16 games after coming back from his injury, he slashed .280/.400/.520 with better strikeout and walk rates than his typical career lines. On a one-year pillow contract in a fantastic hitters’ park, Donaldson could be a huge value this year if he can show that he’s healthy and that his late-season surge was not a fluke. His spring should go a long way toward providing insight into how his season will play out.”
– Dan Harris (FantasyPros)

Nick Senzel (3B – CIN)
“Senzel has a chance to break camp with the Reds as their starting centerfielder. If he does, we could be looking at the NL Rookie of the Year winner. Senzel is a top-10 prospect Senzel and has batted .317 with 77 extra base hits and 22 stolen bases over 163 games in the past two years. The kid is a true five-category fantasy talent who could end up qualifying for every offensive position except first base and catcher, so don’t hesitate to snag him in your drafts if he plays well enough to earn the roster spot.”
– Bobby Sylvester (FantasyPros)

Shohei Ohtani (DH – LAA)
“This may be the Angels fan in me, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on Ohtani during spring training with the Angels. After Tommy John surgery in October, we know he won’t be pitching at all this season, but as a hitter, he hit 22 home runs in just 326 ABs last season. If he can eclipse 400 ABs in 2019 as an everyday player once he returns, then a 30+ home run season isn’t out of reach.”
– KJ (Fantasy Team Advice)

Ryan McMahon (1B/2B/3B – COL)
“McMahon’s major league credentials to date are pretty uninspiring, but he showed promising power in the minors. Now that D.J. LeMahieu has left Colorado, McMahon should have a chance to win the Rockies’ second base job. I’ll be watching him in spring training to see if he can fend off speedster Garrett Hampson for the gig. Whichever player wins will have a strong case as a late-round value thanks to the friendly park effects of Coors Field.”
– Greg Smith (The Fake Baseball)

Harrison Bader (OF – STL)
“I’d like to see Bader solidify himself as the St. Louis centerfielder. A full season of Bader would likely equal about 15 homers and 20 or more steals, and his plus defense should keep him in the lineup. As always with NL speed targets, we need to pay specific attention to the batting slot Bader gets.”
– Scott Pianowski (Yahoo! Sports)

Thank you to the experts for naming who they’ll be watching closely this spring. Be sure to give them a follow on Twitter and subscribe to our podcast below for all the latest discussions this season.

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