The baseball season is in full gear as not only is MLB spring training in its second half, but we also have the World Baseball Classic semifinals on the horizon.
It’s an invigorating time to be a baseball fan and a fantasy baseball manager. That being said, there are some depth chart battles going on that will have a sizeable effect on the fantasy baseball campaign.
Let’s identify some fantasy-relevant depth chart battles shaping up in the National League!
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Depth Chart Battles: National League
Philadelphia Phillies: Closer
Candidates: Jose Alvarado, Seranthony Dominguez, Gregory Soto, Craig Kimbrel
The Phillies sure have plenty of options to close out games at the back end of their bullpen this season.
Last season, Seranthony Dominguez recorded nine saves, and Alvarado recorded a pair of his own. However, it was a closer-by-committee approach for the Phils in 2022, as a whopping 11 different pitchers recorded at least one save. Gregory Soto closed out 30 games for the Tigers last season, while Craig Kimbrel recorded 22 of his own with the Dodgers.
After struggling between the 2019 and 2020 seasons, Kimbrel sports a 3.01 ERA and 34.7% K% across the last two seasons, locking down 46 saves between the Cubs, White Sox, and Dodgers in that time. ATC projects 13 saves for the future Hall of Famer, a figure that could lead the Phillies depending on how this competition plays out this season.
Jose Alvarado sports 22 career saves but had just two in a less-crowded bullpen last season. He worked to a quality 3.18 ERA but also a 1.92 FIP and 37.9% K% across 59 appearances.
There are many closing battles going on across baseball, but few feature as many options as the Phillies bring to the table in 2023.
St. Louis Cardinals: Second Base
Candidates: Brendan Donovan, Nolan Gorman
Which Cardinals youngster can earn the lion’s share of reps at second base for the club this season?
Brendan Donovan is regarded as the safer real-life play, given his bat control, plate discipline, and contact skills. In 126 games with the Cardinals in 2022, he hit .281 with a 12.8% walk rate, 15% K-rate, and 129 wRC+ across 468 trips to the plate. He lacks power and speed with just five homers, a .097 isolated power, and two stolen bases from a season ago, but certainly impressed in his big-league debut.
Nolan Gorman’s mold is more of the boom-or-bust variety. He sports a lengthy minor-league history of big-time raw power and hit 30 home runs between Triple-A and the big club last season in 132 games with 14 homers and a quality .194 ISO in 89 games with the Cardinals. On the flip side, he also struck out in 32.9% of his plate appearances, continuing a concerning trend he established in the minors. His bat was still above league average, with a 107 wRC+ in the big leagues a season ago.
With Donovan, second base isn’t his only route to playing time. In fact, he saw time at every position save for pitcher and catcher last season. His 264 1/3 innings at second base represented his heaviest usage at any single position, however.
At the same time, if Gorman’s strikeout issues continue to drive down overall production, he could be in trouble.
Gorman remains the superior fantasy asset, given the home run upside. He also carries notable risk, given the competition at his primary position and his boom-or-bust profile at the plate.
Chicago Cubs: Third Base
Candidates: Patrick Wisdom, Christopher Morel
There’s a healthy battle growing at the hot corner for the Cubs this season between the 32-year-old Wisdom and the 23-year-old Christopher Morel.
Wisdom made 534 trips to the plate in 2022, clubbing 25 home runs with an excellent .220 ISO just one season after launching 28 homers with a .287 ISO in only 106 games. He also adds some stolen-base potential, with 12 steals over the last two seasons and eight in 2022. However, he also hit just .207 while he sports major swing-and-miss tendencies with a career 37.1% K-rate in 283 big-league contests.
The youngster Morel also flashed power last season, hitting 16 homers with 10 steals across 113 games with the Cubs. He added seven homers and three stolen bases across 28 games at the Triple-A level. That said, he, too, struck out a lot at the big-league level, getting rung up in 32.2% of his plate appearances. He also sports some elevated strikeout numbers in the minors, although he’s long played well above his age bracket en route to the big leagues.
Like with the aforementioned Donovan, third base isn’t the only spot we should see Morel, as he can play the outfield, where he logged 467 innings last season. However, with Cody Bellinger now roaming center field along with Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki locked as everyday players in the corner outfield spots, he’s not likely to see nearly as many outfield reps as he did a season ago.
The battle is most important for Wisdom, given his general lack of defensive versatility. ATC projects his plate appearances to dip from 534 last season to 359 in 2023. Strikeout issues are the foremost concern surrounding the late bloomer.
Whoever wins this job comes fantasy relevant, given both offer solid power potential along with some stolen-base upside.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Closer
Candidates: Evan Phillips, Daniel Hudson, Brusdar Graterol, Alex Vesia
This one is a doozy, as the primary closer on what’s been the best team in baseball over the last few seasons is a mouth-watering fantasy asset. However, like with the Phillies, this could be a closer-by-committee approach from skipper Dave Roberts.
Evan Phillips enters the season as the closing favorite following a lights-out 2022 campaign in which he hurled a 1.14 ERA across 64 appearances. His work was backed up by a 1.94 FIP and an excellent 26.6% K-BB% while locking down a pair of saves. Phillips is being drafted as the first reliever off the board for the Dodgers, with an ADP trending around 273.
Daniel Hudson won’t begin the season on time after suffering a torn ACL last June but has thrown live batting practice this spring. He remains a later-round draft-and-stash option, as ATC still projects him for 11 saves this season. That figure could increase if Phillips struggled as he did earlier in his career. The odds of that aren’t great after his dominant 2022 season, but it’s a possibility. He’s still being taken as the second Dodgers reliever off the draft board.
The fire-balling Brusdar Graterol has a closer’s demeanor and excellent stuff. He turned in a 3.26 ERA across 46 outings last season, locking down the first four saves of his career in the process. However, despite averaging 99.3 mph on his heater in his career, he owns a subpar 19.9% K-rate across 113 appearances. He also sports an excellent 5.9% BB%, 0.54 HR/9, and 60.3% ground-ball rate for his career, all of which you look for in a closer. ATC projects seven saves for Graterol as the third Dodgers reliever off the board on draft day.
Finally, Alex Vesia worked to a stout 2.15 ERA/2.12 FIP with a 34.8% K% across 63 appearances a season ago. He also lowered his home-run rate from 1.35 HR/9 in 2021 to a 0.33 mark in 2022, although a 35% ground-ball rate leaves plenty to be desired. Regression on his tiny 3.9% HR/FB clip can be expected, but he still projects for six saves, according to ATC. Predictably, he’s the fourth Dodgers reliever coming off the draft board.
It’s likely down to Phillips to start and potentially a share of opportunities with Hudson down the line, but the Dodgers have closing options at the back end of their bullpen.
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