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Depth Chart Battles: AL (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

Feb 25, 2021

Players of all positions have reported to spring training sites in Florida and Arizona. Quickly following that, preseason games will begin. 

It’s here, everyone. Baseball is back. With that, the questions typically answered in March are on fantasy players’ minds. Among the most important of these: Who will win the various position battles across the league?

This article will bring some of the American League’s position battles into focus. 

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Los Angeles Angels – 1B: Albert Pujols vs. Jared Walsh
The very seasoned is up against the very raw in the Angels’ competition at first base. Pujols needs no introduction. He’s a 20-year veteran headed to Cooperstown who sits among the all-time leaders in an array of offensive categories. Pujols is prepping for what could be the final season of a 10-year, $240 million contract. Although the 41-year-old still has some home-run pop, his skills have significantly diminished in recent years.

Walsh stepped into the Angels’ lineup for 108 plate appearances during the pandemic-shortened campaign last year and proceeded to hammer his way to a .971 OPS with nine homers. The 27-year-old powerhouse almost certainly has the edge over Pujols, but the former has an incredibly limited major-league track record. A straight platoon is a possibility. 

Prediction: Walsh is, at minimum, deployed on the strong side of a first-base platoon for the Angels. Pujols will back Walsh up and see at-bats as the No. 2 DH behind Shohei Ohtani

Oakland Athletics – 2B: Chad Pinder vs. Tony Kemp vs. Jed Lowrie
Lowrie is the most interesting name (for fantasy purposes) among the trio slated to compete for Oakland’s keystone position. Returning to the A’s on a minor-league pact, he got a mere eight major-league plate appearances over the past two seasons with the Mets due to injuries.

Lowrie previously enjoyed a banner year in 2018, earning the only All-Star selection of his career while smacking 23 homers and driving in 99 runs. He will turn 37 in April and must prove himself again in spring training. If Lowrie cannot earn the role, the A’s seem likely to go with a platoon of Kemp and Pinder. Kemp has been a light hitter throughout his career, while Pinder features some pop but little else. 

Prediction: Lowrie will prove healthy and still able to provide some steady offense. That will allow the A’s to deploy Kemp and Pinder in more suitable utility roles while seeing some starts in relief of Lowrie at second base. 

Detroit Tigers – CF/RF: JaCoby Jones vs. Nomar Mazara vs. Victor Reyes
The Tigers brought in Robbie Grossman on a two-year contract this offseason, so that basically locks up left field. They also signed Mazara, who got non-tendered by the White Sox. He struggled mightily in 2020 but put up a .754 OPS with 79 home runs across the previous four seasons in Texas.

Jones is the longest-tenured Tiger of the outfield group, but injuries have largely stunted his growth into the regular power-speed center fielder he’s shown flashes of in past years. Then there’s Reyes, who can play all three spots but might still find himself in the fourth-outfielder role to begin the season, much to curious fantasy player’s chagrin. Reyes has fashioned a .293 batting average with 17 stolen bases in more than 500 plate appearances for the Tigers since the beginning of the 2019 season.

Prediction: Jones gets the everyday role in center field. Mazara and Reyes share duties in right field in a straight platoon, hindering each’s fantasy value (particularly Reyes). 

Cleveland Indians – CF: Oscar Mercado vs. Bradley Zimmer vs. Billy Hamilton
Zimmer grabbed attention around the fantasy world with a decent rookie effort in 2017, but we’ve only since seen injuries and poor performance. Mercado, similarly, enjoyed a nice 15-15 rookie campaign in 2019, only to disappoint everyone by appearing completely lost over 93 plate appearances last season. Hamilton has never found a consistent bat or a base he did not plan on stealing. He also plays some of the best center field in the game with limitless range. This is one to watch, as any of three could provide fantasy value if they were to land the role outright.

Prediction: Zimmer is now 28 with just one minor-league option remaining. Cleveland will give him another shot. Mercado may need a huge spring to avoid being sent to Triple-A, while Hamilton’s elite speed-defense combo makes him a valuable bench piece who can start in a pinch. 

Cleveland – SS: Amed Rosario vs. Andrés Giménez
Cleveland acquired not one but two shortstops in the blockbuster deal that sent Francisco Lindor to the Mets this offseason. Rosario is by far the more experienced of the two, as he’s appeared in 403 major-league games and been the Mets’ primary shortstop the last three years. In that span, Rosario has posted a .710 OPS while averaging 13 homers and 20 stolen bases per 162 games.

Giménez is just 22, but he played 49 games for the Mets last year due to his ability to man three spots in the infield and handle the bat fairly well against top-level pitching. Over 132 plate appearances, Giménez turned in a .263/.333/.398 slash line with three homers and eight steals. 

Prediction: Giménez earns his way onto the roster due to his versatility, while Rosario’s experience wins him the everyday job a short. There have been rumors of Rosario getting traded again. If that happens in the spring or regular season, Giménez takes over at shortstop for good and becomes a highly sought-after fantasy asset.

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Nate Miller is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Nate, check out his archive and follow him @Miller_RotoDad.

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