2017 Fantasy Baseball Position Battles Update: Zack Wheeler returns to the Mets starting rotation, and Blake Treinen emerges as the Nationals closer
Zack Wheeler is in. Shawn Kelley and Koda Glover are out. Delino DeShields suddenly matters again. Scott White puts a bow on his top 30 position battles, revealing the winner (or presumed winner) for each.
That’s a wrap.
There’s a chance one of these teams throws us a curveball between now and opening day -- rosters aren’t final until they’re final, after all -- but I think it’s fair to say these 30 position battles are more or less resolved.
Which isn’t to say they were predictable by any stretch. The Nationals pulled a fast one by naming Blake Treinen their closer, and the Twins somehow justified leaving Byung Ho Park off their roster. The Mets, meanwhile, decided Zack Wheeler was more ready than any of the rest of us thought.
By now, the order of these 30 is irrelevant. Injuries rendered some of them not so impactful in the long run, and ones that were excluded the first time around turned out to be a much bigger deal (like Luis Severino cracking the Yankees starting rotation).
But hopefully, this update brings us some closure heading into the final draft weekend.
Likely choice: Parra
Preferred choice: Dahl
I didn’t really buy that this was a competition until Dahl came down with a rib injury that sidelined him for weeks rather than days. It still seems like the Rockies would opt for Dahl if they had their druthers -- he was a high-end prospect who thrived right out of the gate last year, with the benefit of the most hitter-friendly venue in baseball -- but now he’ll have to hope Parra doesn’t carry his red hot spring into the regular season.
Likely choice: Glover
Preferred choice: Kelley
Latest Update: For a while there, Glover had all the momentum in this battle, but the couple times Dusty Baker used him earlier than the ninth inning -- i.e., against actual major-league hitters -- didn’t go so well. Of course, Kelley is the best pitcher of the three, but the Nationals hinted all along that they didn’t want him, with two Tommy John surgeries in his past, in such a demanding role. So by process of elimination, Treinen is the winner, and though it could work out fine for a contending club, he’s clearly one of the closers with the shortest leash.
Likely choice: Gomez
Preferred choice: Neris
This decision appeared inevitable when manager Pete Mackanin declared Gomez the favorite at the start of camp, but it doesn’t make any more sense now than it did then. Gomez actually lost the job to Neris late last year, and Neris, who had a 2.58 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings in 2016, is clearly the more effective pitcher. It may be a case of the Phillies straining to keep Neris’ eventual arbitration cost down, but Gomez could still slump his way out of the job.
Likely choices: Rodriguez, Wright
Preferred choices: Pomeranz, Rodriguez
With David Price’s elbow injury forcing him to the DL to begin the year, this competition was over before it started. It’ll continue into the regular season, though, since eventually Price will come back. Because Pomeranz has his own elbow concerns, not to mention a favorable track record as a reliever, he may ultimately be on the outside looking in, particularly if 23-year-old Rodriguez picks up where he left off with a 3.30 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings over his final 11 starts last year.
Likely choice: Wolters
Preferred choice: Murphy
Another winner by default. My concern here is that by the time Murphy returns from a fractured forearm, which may be as early as late April, pitch framer extraordinaire Wolters will have entrenched himself behind the plate, leaving Murphy with no hope of a fair shake. I still think Murphy could become something like the Trevor Story of catchers in the thin air of Coors Field, but if Wolters is halfway respectable with the bat, the best Murphy can hope for is, in all likelihood, the lesser half of a lefty-righty platoon.
Likely choice: Gsellman
Preferred choice: Gsellman
Winners: Gsellman, Wheeler
Steven Matz’s elbow injury created two openings instead of one, so everything Fantasy owners could hope for is coming true. Well ... almost. The right pitchers are there, but Wheeler was far from economical this spring and will have to contend with a tight innings restriction after losing the last two years to Tommy John surgery. Gsellman has been steadily moving up mixed-league draft boards, though.
Likely choice: Bedrosian
Preferred choice: Bedrosian
(Presumed) Winner: Bedrosian
Street will miss more or less the entire month of March with a strained lat, and Bedrosian has crushed it since having the start of his spring delayed by a strained groin. What other direction could the Angels have reasonably gone? Bedrosian was far and away their best reliever last year, compiling a 1.12 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings, and Bailey’s limitations go without saying.
Likely choices: Broxton, Santana
Preferred choices: Broxton, Brinson
Winners: Broxton, Santana
As if Brinson, the Brewers’ top prospect, didn’t already have his work cut out for him, the outfield picture has become only more crowded with Hernan Perez and Jesus Aguilar putting together big springs (the latter could bump first baseman Eric Thames to the outfield from time to time). As things stand now, Broxton is the only surefire mixed-league pick for his potential as a power-speed threat.
Likely choices: Margot, Jankowski
Preferred choices: Margot, Jankowski
(Presumed) Winners: Margot, Jankowski
Alex Dickerson, who looked like he’d be the preferred option in left field, will miss the first few weeks of the regular season with a protrusion in his back, but the emergence of Jabari Blash, who ranks among the spring training leaders in home runs, has taken this battle down to the wire. The good news is that the loser (among the three healthy) should still get a decent number of at-bats since the Padres figure to use several lineup variations.
Likely choice: Maurer
Preferred choice: Capps
Capps was looking like the most dominant reliever in baseball before being shutdown midway through 2015 and then having his elbow reconstructed the following spring, and ultimately he figures to take over as the Padres closer. He barely made it back for one Cactus League appearance, though, so he’ll have to continue his rehabilitation on the DL for now. It’s mostly a matter of how quickly he regains his barely legal hop-step delivery.
Likely choice: Holland
Preferred choice: Holland
(Presumed) Winner: Holland
Having taken a solid 18 months to recovery from Tommy John surgery, Holland is positioned to make the opening day roster, and beat writers for both The Denver Post and the Rockies official website have offhandedly referred to him as the team’s closer. He’s throwing in the mid-90s and seemingly doesn’t have any more hurdles to clear, but if he encounters any hiccups, Ottavino is a promising alternative.
Likely choices: McCarthy, Wood
Preferred choices: Wood, Urias
Winners: Ryu, McCarthy
Ryu’s sudden return to health after he missed the better part of two seasons with shoulder woes . He could stand to add a little velocity still, but it’s hard to argue with the results. Whether McCarthy or Wood won the fifth starter job, he’d just be keeping the seat warm for the 20-year-old Urias, who will be held back to keep his innings down.
Likely choice: Wacha
Preferred choice: Weaver
Wacha has handled a starter’s workload with aplomb this spring, putting concerns about last year’s scapular trouble to rest, and with Weaver battling back spasms and Rosenthal contending with a lat strain, this battle was over before it started.
Likely choice: Hutchison
Preferred choice: Glasnow
(Presumed) Winner: Glasnow
Hutchison took himself out of the running with a miserable spring, and Brault failed to impress. Glasnow, one of the top pitching prospects in the game, appears to have peaked at the right time. Trevor Williams, who doesn’t have nearly Glasnow’s upside, has also pitched fairly well, but it’d be a major upset for him to beat out Glasnow at this point.
Likely choice: Andriese
Preferred choice: De Leon
Andriese has relief pitcher eligibility, which is an asset unto itself, but of course we would have rather seen the prospect win, especially one with the strikeout history of De Leon. Andriese may be best suited for a swingman role in the long run, so while he has the job for now, he may not delay De Leon for long. And De Leon’s fly-ball tendencies should fit well at Tropicana Field.
Likely choice: Valbuena
Preferred choice: Cron
General manager Billy Eppler insisted after signing Valbuena that the 31-year-old would play, much to the chagrin of Fantasy owners, who saw Cron take another step forward last year. The former Cub and Astro made it easy on everyone, though, straining his hamstring late in spring training. Valbuena will now miss April and beyond, giving Cron a chance to cement a full-time role and making him mixed league-viable again.
Likely choice: Anderson
Preferred choice: Montgomery
Montgomery is a former prospect who looked like he was being handed the job when the Cubs declined Jason Hammel’s team-friendly option back in November, but then the Cubs went out and signed Anderson, who is both brittle and unexciting unless ground balls are your thing. Turns out he wasn’t just an insurance policy. Head-to-Head points owners especially will want to keep the relief pitcher-eligible Montgomery close, though, given Anderson’s injury history.
Likely choice: Madson
Preferred choice: Doolittle
(Presumed) Winner: Madson
I’m giving Madson the nod just because he hasn’t done anything to lose the role he had for most of last year, but the Athletics, being the free spirits that they are, have said they might not have a set closer this season. This is one bullpen situation to avoid for Fantasy purposes.
Likely choice: Iglesias
Preferred choice: Iglesias
(Presumed) Winner: Iglesias
Even before the Athletics did so, the Reds hinted that they wouldn’t have just one ninth-inning option this year, but that’s mostly because they questioned Iglesias’ ability to pitch back-to-back days. It’s not any less of a question now that he’s working his way back from a bone bruise in his elbow, so here’s yet another closer situation to avoid if possible.
Likely choice: Musgrove
Preferred choice: Musgrove
Kind of surprising there was even a competition after the potential Musgrove showed in the second half last year -- he almost has to try to walk hitters, basically -- and I don’t know that we need to see anything more from Fiers. Collin McHugh’s late start to the exhibition season because of a dead arm issue made it easy on everyone, though.
Likely choice: Platoon
Preferred choice: Bird
I think this best sums it up.
Likely choice: Profar
Preferred choice: DeShields
DeShields was an afterthought coming into spring training, but the surprise rookie from two years ago slimmed down this offseason and went back to his roots of getting on base and stealing bases after trying for more power last year. As scarce as stolen bases are in today’s game, that’s more valuable than whatever these others probably would have provided. He’s also expected to bat leadoff.
Likely choice: Owings
Preferred choice: Marte
(Presumed) Winner: Owings
For someone who can clearly run, Marte hasn’t shown much stolen base potential in the majors so far, and he’s certainly no power hitter. He is considered the upside player of the three, having come over from the Mariners in the Jean Segura deal, but I’m not so sure we wouldn’t just prefer the 21 steals Owings is likely to provide.
Likely choice: Bourjos
Preferred choice: Engel
The plan was for Tilson to win the job and hopefully steal a bunch of bases, but because he has the stress fracture that just won’t heal, the White Sox were forced to scramble. They were happy to take whatever they could get for Bourjos, who’s now with the Orioles, and apparently didn’t trust Engel’s bat. They probably shouldn’t trust May’s either -- he’s a career .273 hitter with a .711 OPS in the minors -- but he’s the last man standing.
Likely choices: Triggs, Hahn
Preferred choices: Triggs, Hahn
Winner: Triggs, Alcantara
I jumped the gun on this one a couple weeks ago, declaring Triggs and Hahn the winners when it became apparent Sonny Gray’s lat strain would sideline him into the regular season, but I completely overlooked Alcantara, who lo and behold has a spot. Triggs is the only one worth the trouble in mixed leagues, and that’s only because of his relief pitcher eligiblity.
Likely choice: Judge
Preferred choice: Judge
Joe Girardi had us guessing right up until the final weekend, but ultimately the Yankees made the only decision they could make if they’re serious about this youth movement. Judge is about to turn 25, meaning it’s sink-or-swim time, and he did cut down on his strikeouts this spring. And of course, his raw power is off the charts.
Likely choice: Peralta
Preferred choice: Gyorko
Gyorko is the more versatile of the two, so it makes sense to have him in the utility role. He was clearly the more productive of the two last year, though, out-homering Peralta 30 to eight, but there’s a good chance he plays more than Peralta anyway, just bouncing all over the infield.
Likely choice: Parker
Preferred choice: Parker
This battle resolved itself, with Williamson suffering a quad injury about halfway through spring training. It could still eventually morph into the most uninspiring of platoons, but Parker has shown big power in limited playing time, homering 11 times in 176 at-bats across two seasons, and could emerge as a fifth outfielder type in Rotisserie leagues now that he’s getting the first crack.
Likely choice: Vargas
Preferred choice: Park
Turns out Park never even had a chance. Last year’s big international signing did everything he needed to do to win the job this spring, ranking among the minor-league leaders in home runs, but because the Twins removed him from the 40-man roster this offseason, he’ll have to prove it in the minors first. And because Vargas didn’t play much in the World Baseball Classic and is now contending with a foot injury, the Twins have opted for the least interesting choice.
Likely choices: Sanchez, Norris
Preferred choices: Norris, Boyd
Latest update: Norris, Boyd
Norris and Boyd started out hot this spring and looked like they’d easily topple the higher-paid Sanchez, but after making a mechanical adjustment, Sanchez dazzled the rest of the way. It’s a case of too little, too late, but we probably haven’t seen the last of him as a starter, especially if Norris can’t overcome the dead arm issue that sabotaged his last start.
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