Fantasy Baseball Spring Training Takeaways: 10 spring developments that aren't getting enough attention
Matt Harvey, Greg Bird and Pablo Sandoval are three players whose spring performances you've probably heard something about, but these other 10, maybe not. Scott White highlights some of the quieter spring developments.
The New York Mets have gotten all the attention this spring.
From Matt Harvey’s latest velocity reading (he was touching 97 in Sunday’s gem) to Steven Matz’s balky elbow (he’s altering his mechanics now -- what?) to the unending debate about how best to deploy Zack Wheeler (don’t get too comfortable, Seth Lugo ) to the latest Tim Tebow sighting (that’s the last you’ll see of him with the big club ... oh, until tomorrow), we all have a pretty good idea what’s going on with them.
And of course, everybody’s heard about the Bird. Greg Bird , that is, who seems to homer every other day and walk every plate appearance in between. You may have also seen somewhere that Pablo Sandoval lost 40 pounds in the offseason and is knocking the cover off the ball this spring.
(New York and Boston. Go figure.)
Those storylines are certainly notable and deserving of all the attention they get, but that attention is so persistent that it drowns out the many other developments that could be of some significance to Fantasy owners.
Which isn’t to say any of these 10 should turn your draft board upside-down. None of the associated players cracked myor list. But these are some of the ideas you’ll want percolating in your mind at the start of the year, when the waiver wire is at its most active.
Because every year, there are surprises, and often they begin in spring training.
Delino DeShields is suddenly everything the Texas Rangers want in a leadoff hitter
Delino DeShields tried to add power to his game last season, and it just didn’t take. So the Rangers asked him to go back to his roots -- i.e., getting on base and running out of his mind -- and after shedding 15 pounds this offseason, that’s exactly what he has done, tying for the spring lead with 14 walks and going a perfect 12 for 12 on stolen bases.
Rajai Davis and Trea Turner are the only projected major-leaguers with even half that many steals, and you may have heard those are in short supply in Rotisserie leagues. DeShields is now the front-runner for not only the starting left field job but also the leadoff spot, so I don’t see how he goes undrafted in that format.
Hyun-Jin Ryu is both healthy and effective
He may not have regained all the velocity from before he tore the labrum in his left shoulder, but Hyun-Jin Ryu was a pitcher who succeeded more on command and deception anyway. His results this spring would seem to support as much.
He did serve up two home runs in his last start, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio is exactly what you want to see from him. The Los Angeles Dodgers are convinced, naming him their No. 4 starter even with Brandon McCarthy and Alex Wood both healthy. I’d like to see Ryu take it into the regular season first, but he was a Fantasy mainstay once upon a time.
Wade Davis hasn’t put his concerns to rest
The fact the Royals got only a disappointing ex-prospect with one marketable skill in exchange for their top-shelf closer suggests there was more to Wade Davis’ strained forearm last year than just a couple of DL stints, as is so often the case with that particular injury. So does his spring performance:
The Chicago Cubs say they aren’t concerned because his velocity is fine, but command is often the first thing to go with serious arm injuries. Maybe it’s just a case of an established veteran focusing more on process than results this time of year, but after last year’s health concerns, drafting Davis like he’s the same pitcher who put together a 0.97 ERA between 2014 and 2015 is just asinine.
Raul Mondesi is showing real offensive potential
Some might argue it’s fake offensive potential. The Royals’ spring training venue in Surprise, Ariz., has prompted a few Fantasy fakeouts over the years, and there is some question as to the quality of Raul Mondesi’s competition this spring. But the fact is, even with all his struggles against minor-league pitchers over the years, the prospect hounds still rated him among the best at a talent-laden position, and he’s finally getting something out of his quick bat and even quicker legs.
Granted, winning the starting second base job is just the start for him, but if keeps it up through April, you wouldn’t want to ignore him just on principle. It’s not outside the realm of possibility he’s the next Jimmy Rollins (check out his minor-league numbers).
Charlie Morton is the Astros’ latest data darling
Charlie Morton is throwing 97 this spring, which itself would suggest something new and wonderful is afoot. But it goes even deeper than that. The Houston Astros uncovered some data telling them he was wasting his potential as a pitch-to-contact ground-ball specialist and signed him with every intention of turning him into a power fastball-curveball guy. The 33-year-old has bought in, and with his performance this spring, I don’t know that we shouldn’t.
That’s especially true because the Astros have a history of doing this sort of thing, most notably transforming Collin McHugh from a scrapheap Quadruple-A type into a reliable Fantasy option through a similar arsenal change in 2014. Who’s to say Morton can’t be this year’s out-of-nowhere pitching breakout?
Corey Dickerson has been a more complete hitter
Corey Dickerson has had such a good spring that the data-savvy Tampa Bay Rays are now planning to bat him, a player who hit .245 with a .293 on-base percentage last year, leadoff against right-handed pitchers. That suggests to me we don’t know the full story about his transition from Colorado to Tampa Bay.
It’s true that his strong finish -- he hit .326 with six homers and a .970 OPS in 24 games -- coincided with a change in hitting coach, who discouraged Dickerson from tinkering so much. It’s also true that Dickerson’s drop in line-drive rate from 29.8 to 17.5 likely had nothing to do with his home venue. And now this. In a five-outfielder league, I’m willing to gamble on a 27-year-old who we once thought to have top-20 upside.
Shelby Miller is throwing harder than ever
It may not mean much, but it almost certainly means something. Over the four spring starts recorded by Brooks Baseball, Miller has averaged 96.6 mph on his fastball. The most he averaged over a full major-league season, again according to Brooks Baseball, was 95.1, which not so coincidentally came during his All-Star 2015 season for the Braves. He averaged just 93.5 last spring, which also not so coincidentally kicked off a disastrous mess of a campaign.
The results haven’t always been there for Miller this spring, but results are secondary to process. And the process shows a pitcher whose stuff is vastly improved from a year ago. Seeing as 2016 is the one year Miller didn’t matter in Fantasy, we may not want to bury him now.
Byung Ho Park has given the Twins something to think about
Byung Ho Park wanted so badly to impress his new team last year that he played through a wrist injury right up until August, when he finally gave in to surgery. It overshadowed the fact that he homered nine times in his first 98 major-league at-bats, but the power was no mirage. He averaged 417 feet on his 12 homers and was top-10 in exit velocity on balls hit in the air. And of course, there’s the little detail of him putting together back-to-back 50-homer seasons in Korea.
His removal from the 40-man roster gives him a longer road back. Even with Kennys Vargas away for most of spring training for the World Baseball Classic, Park wasn’t able to secure the Minnesota Twins DH job. But it may not be long before he forces the rebuilding club’s hand. I wouldn’t rule out him becoming sort of a better Chris Carter .
Jae-Gyun Hwang has had no trouble adjusting to the U.S. game
A report over the weekend suggested Jae-Gyun Hwang would likely begin the year in the minors, but the 29-year-old responded with his fifth homer Monday, all while making contact at a rate that would suggest he’s not the least bit intimidated in his first look at major-league pitching. Through Monday, he was batting .349 with eight strikeouts in 43 at-bats.
Hwang hit .330 with 26 homers and 24 steals for the Lotte Giants of the Korean Baseball Organization last year, numbers that weren’t as eye-popping as Byung Ho Park’s in that same league but weren’t out of line with Jung Ho Kang’s. And unlike Park, the strikeouts aren’t an obvious liability.
The longtime shortstop is mostly being sent down to refine his defense at third base, where obvious bust candidate Eduardo Nunez currently resides. Coincidence? Probably not.
Bradley Zimmer is about to break down the door
Perhaps no prospect did more to reclaim his stock this spring than Bradley Zimmer, who quickly rose the ranks in 2015 before suffering through a miserable 2016. He was overhauling his swing during that time, though, redirecting his bat path to keep it in the zone longer (thereby cutting down strikeouts) and generate more power. It was a painful adjustment, but it appears to have paid off
His combination of power, speed and on-base ability is one early-rounders are made of, and seeing as Zimmer is already 24, Lonnie Chisenhall may not be able to hold him off for a long. He’s a worthy stash, particularly in five-outfielder leagues.
Bonus: Anibal Sanchez has been near unhittable since a mechanical change
Through his first three spring starts, Anibal Sanchez, who had already suffered through two miserable seasons, had a 17.47 ERA, having allowed 11 earned runs on 15 hits in 5 2/3 innings. Then, he worked with pitching coach Rich Dubee to change his arm slot, going to more of a three-quarters delivery, and his three starts since have been ... notably different.
The crazy part is his pitches didn’t gain any velocity with the change, but they sure gained effectiveness.
“Best way to describe it, instead of fading as it approaches my glove it is exploding through it,” catcher James McCann told the Detroit Free Press. “You can tell it is getting on hitters.”
Matt Boyd had an impressive spring from start to finish, so Sanchez will begin the year in long relief. But if he keeps this up, it’s only a matter of time before he works his way back into the rotation mix, and he obviously has a history.
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