Depth Chart Battles: AL (2020 Fantasy Baseball)
While the beginning of this spring training has been unlike any other, one constant of each new baseball season is the competition for starting spots. Understanding who has the inside track on position battles will only make you smarter come draft day. This year, the AL has one main theme: the classic young hotshot up against the grizzly vet. There are also a couple of AL East battles to monitor that will have an impact in the middle-to-late rounds of drafts as well.
Youngsters vs. the Vets
Texas Rangers, CF: Danny Santana vs. Nick Solak
Early reports in Texas are that Solak is being given every chance to be the everyday center fielder, which would designate Santana to a super-utility role. Santana broke out last year, going 28/21 and hitting .283/.324/.534 with the peripherals to back it up. However, Santana is known to be a terrible defender, no matter the position. He reminds me a lot of your typical third-round pick in middle school kickball — the guy or girl who could kick the snot out of the ball, but then you just stashed him in the middle of nowhere on the field.
Prediction: Solak wins the center field job, but Santana moves all around the diamond and gets five starts a week, largely due to the ineffectiveness of Todd Frazier — who has averaged just 516 plate appearances over the last three years — or a Joey Gallo injury.
Chicago White Sox, 2B: Nick Madrigal vs. Leury Garcia
Garcia offers almost nothing in the way of fantasy value, as seen in his career 74 wRC+. The key to watch here is if Madrigal impresses enough to put his stamp on the second base job coming out of camp, or if he will get the Kris Bryant treatment and get called up in mid-to-late April. From a fantasy perspective, you’ll get Madrigal at a better value if the Sox hold him down in the minors, knowing he’ll be called up within a month.
Prediction: The Sox let Garcia provide some veteran stability to the lineup for a few weeks before Madrigal comes up, hits above .280, and steals 20+ bases.
Houston Astros, RF: Kyle Tucker vs. Josh Reddick
This is going to be my favorite battle to watch this spring. Tucker has tantalizing potential, and Reddick has been in decline over the past two years. Dusty Baker is known to favor veterans, so Tucker will really have to outdo himself to even be considered the starting right fielder. In addition to all the off-field questions, Baker might be faced with the question of: “How did you let a youngster who hit .300/.400/.500 in the spring go to the minors?”
Prediction: Reddick starts for the first month as the Astros get their footing from all of the foul play the last few years, but he and Tucker finish with a similar amount of plate appearances. Tucker nearly goes 20/20 en route to a superstar career.
If Adell made any sort of splash at Triple-A last year, he would be the no-doubt starter on Opening Day. Instead, he slashed .264/.321/.355 over 132 plate appearances. Goodwin quietly put together a 109 wRC+ for the Angels last year and is four percent above league average in his career. That Joc Pederson almost-trade tells us that the Angels do not want to call Adell up until he is ready.
Prediction: Adell isn’t called up until after the Super 2 deadline, angering fantasy players everywhere. However, injuries to Justin Upton or Mike Trout result in Adell playing nearly every day in the second half.
AL East Battles
New York Yankees, 3B/1B/LF: Miguel Andujar vs. Gio Urshela/Mike Tauchman/Luke Voit
The Yankees have already begun their annual injury parade, and it’s not even March yet. The good news for our entertainment, but bad news for fantasy value certainty, is that this spring training battle will happen regardless of Aaron Judge‘s cranky shoulder. Roster Resource currently has Gardner as the starting center fielder, with Tauchman sliding in at left. However, there have been reports out of Yankees camp that Andujar is learning the outfield, as well as some first base. Both Urshela and Tauchman are above average defensively at their positions, so Andujar will have to prove that he can play at least adequate defense in the spring to be a viable option.
Prediction: Judge is healthy, Giancarlo Stanton proves to be healthy and starts in left, with Andujar outhitting Tauchman and starting at DH.
This is a hodgepodge of good talent that is difficult to determine how the already-complex Rays will handle all of these players.
DH/1B: Choi played well enough last year to garner most of the DH at-bats, and Lowe has so much promise that he should win the first base job outright. I’m expecting Tsutsugo to get the majority of the backup first base at-bats.
CF: Kiermaier is one of the best center fielders in the league, so he will keep the job until he gets injured.
RF: Renfroe plays significantly better defense than Martinez, which should result in him getting at least four starts per week there with Margot getting the others.
Boston Red Sox, CF: Kevin Pillar vs. Jackie Bradley Jr.
With the news that Alex Verdugo will likely make a delayed start to the season, Boston added Pillar as an insurance policy. However, Pillar and Bradley have performed at a similar level offensively in the last two years. Bradley walks much more than Pillar (and plays better defense), but Pillar has the significantly better bat-to-ball skills. A platoon would make sense, as Pillar hits lefties better than righties, and the opposite holds true for Bradley.
Prediction: Assuming Verdugo doesn’t make his Red Sox debut until mid-April, both will play out of the chute. Once Verdugo comes back, Bradley will be favored due to his defense. But, an eventual platoon between the two players results in neither getting in a rhythm offensively, causing both players to max out at 500 plate appearances and rendering them both outside of the top 200 in fantasy production.
Others to Monitor
I’m generally staying away from all the players involved here, due to 1) too much uncertainty as to how this will play out over the course of the season and 2) these players likely won’t provide a ton of fantasy value. Predicted winners (i.e., the ones who get the most plate appearances) are in bold.