2017 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Top 30 position battles of spring training show Cam Bedrosian and Greg Holland in line to close
How are the Nationals, Angels, Rockies and Padres closer battles shaping up? What's the latest on Michael Wacha and Greg Bird? Scott White updates the top 30 position battles.
Suddenly, things are falling into place.
Injuries have a great deal to do with it -- the baseball equivalent of Ian Malcolm’s “life finds a way” -- but in some instances, like the Rockies closer battle and the Cardinals fifth-starter battle, one player is simply pulling away from the others.
Time for an update, then. In only three of these 30 battles am I willing to declare a winner, but the complexion for most all of them has changed in some small way. In some cases, the favorite is completely different from just two weeks ago.
Keep an eye out for updates. More to come here, I’m sure.
Likely choice: Parra
Preferred choice: Dahl
Latest Update: I didn’t really buy that this was a competition until Dahl came down with a rib injury that has 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 he’ll have less time to prove himself. Plus, Parra is still owed a lot of money, which sometimes has a say.
Likely choice: Kelley
Preferred choice: Kelley
Latest Update: Glover has had a sensational spring, and manager Dusty Baker gets a gleam in his eye whenever he talks about him. The 23-year-old is beginning to emerge as a dark horse for a role the Nationals neglected this offseason. Kelley’s numbers last year -- a 2.64 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings -- are certainly closer-caliber, but the Nationals wonder if he can meet the demands of the role with two Tommy John surgeries in his history.
Likely choice: Gomez
Preferred choice: Neris
With a 2.58 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings last year, Neris clearly deserves this job, but putting Benoit or Gomez in the role would be one way for the out-of-contention Phillies to manufacture some trade chips. Plus, it would keep Neris’ eventual arbitration cost lower. Manager Pete Mackanin has already declared Gomez the front-runner.
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, and because Pomeranz has his own elbow concerns, not to mention a favorable track record as a reliever.
Pomeranz 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 better half of a lefty-righty platoon.
Likely choice: Gsellman
Preferred choice: Wheeler
With reports of Zack Wheeler likely beginning the year in extended spring training, Gsellman is the clear front-runner here and deserves to be after looking like the next Dan Warthen success story last September. But Wheeler is the more proven bat-misser and higher-end talent if he could only get over the Tommy John hump.
Gsellman still has to beat out Lugo officially and will always be looking over his shoulder for Wheeler.
Likely choice: Bedrosian
Preferred choice: Bedrosian
Latest update: 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 reasonably go? Bailey hasn’t been able to hold down a bullpen job, much less the closer gig, since 2011.
Bedrosian was far and away the Angels’ best reliever last year, compiling a 1.12 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings, and is really the only choice to close, so I’m beginning to target him as such.
Likely choices: Broxton, Santana
Preferred choices: Broxton, Brinson
The real question is if Brinson, the Brewers top prospect who has made a strong early impression in camp, makes the roster, because if he does, the three would likely split time between two positions with Brinson getting the lion’s share. It seems like a long shot, though, since Santana and Broxton have so much to offer themselves -- Santana as a pure power source and Broxton as a speedster with some pop.
Likely choice: Margot
Preferred choice: Margot
Latest update: 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, makes this battle as relevant as ever. The good news is that the loser will still probably get at least 350 at-bats since the Padres figure to use several lineup variations, and that’s enough to provide some late-round steals help in Rotisserie leagues.
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. It’s mostly a matter of how quickly he bounces back and regains his barely legal hop-step delivery. Only 12 months removed from Tommy John surgery, opening day may be a little ambitious, but you shouldn’t get attached to Maurer.
Likely choice: Holland
Preferred choice: Holland
Latest update: 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 I’d like a more official announcement before declaring him the winner, especially since Ottavino is such a promising alternative.
Likely choices: McCarthy, Wood
Preferred choices: Wood, Urias
Latest update: Kazmir is inexplicably topping out in the low 80s and already has the inside track on the fourth starter job, and Urias is sure to spend most of this year in the majors. The only question is if the Dodgers hold the 20-year-old back -- whether by sending him to the bullpen, Triple-A or extended spring training -- to preserve his innings for the stretch run. It may actually be the wise move given their abundance of alternatives, but if that’s the way it’s going to play out, why would you care to invest in those alternatives?
Likely choice: Wacha
Preferred choice: Weaver
Latest update: Wacha has handled a starter’s workload with aplomb this spring, putting concerns about last year’s scapular trouble to rest, so the job is probably his. With Weaver battling back spasms and Rosenthal only recently back from a lat strain, Wacha is more or less competing against himself, but I’ll wait for the official announcement.
Likely choice: Hutchison
Preferred choice: Glasnow
Latest update: Glasnow’s spring got off to an electric start -- and he is, of course, an electric talent -- but he has fallen on hard times since then, with manager Clint Hurdle recently admitting “he’s got more work to do.” None of the other three have exactly stood out this spring, but it would take a heaping helping of Ray Searage magic to make any of them mixed league-relevant anyway.
Likely choice: Andriese
Preferred choice: De Leon
Andriese has relief pitcher eligibility, which is an asset unto itself, but of course you’d rather see 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 even if he wins, he probably wouldn’t delay De Leon for long. And De Leon’s fly-ball tendencies should fit well at Tropicana Field.
Likely choice: Valbuena
Preferred choice: Cron
”He’s going to play,” general manager Billy Eppler said after signing Valbuena to a two-year deal in January, which may not have been as controversial as it sounded since Albert Pujols was working his way back from foot surgery and Valbuena could also sneak in some starts at third base. But it did seem to call Cron’s playing time into question, which would be a shame after the 27-year-old emerged as a genuine Fantasy asset last year.
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. You’d think, then, he’s the insurance policy except that he’s getting paid $3.5 million for ... what, exactly? It wouldn’t even be such a big deal except that Montgomery’s relief pitcher eligibility and wins potential could make him a points league darling.
Likely choice: Madson
Preferred choice: Doolittle
I’d be more interested if I was completely sure the Athletics would settle on just one closer, but free spirits that they are, they’ll probably lead baseball in number of pitchers with eight saves or more. I’m guessing if they settle on one pitcher out of the gate, it’ll be last year’s leader, Madson, just for familiarity’s sake.
Likely choice: Iglesias
Preferred choice: Iglesias
This is interesting precisely because the Reds have hinted they won’t have just one ninth-inning option, but then, that pretty much ruins everyone’s Fantasy value, right? I’m still betting they’ll settle on one pitcher even if it doesn’t start out that way, and it’ll probably be Iglesias if he proves he can pitch back-to-back days. I can’t imagine Cingrani is a sincere possibility after the way last year went.
Likely choice: Musgrove
Preferred choice: Musgrove
Kind of surprising this is 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 how much more we need to see from Fiers. But the Astros will let it play out. I’m confident enough that I’m more or less drafting Musgrove like he’s the starter, which is why this battle is so far down the list.
Likely choice: Platoon
Preferred choice: Bird
Latest update: This battle has become much more interesting since the initial rankings, namely because it’s an actual battle now. Bird has had as good of a spring training as any hitter, putting to rest concerns about his surgically repaired shoulder, so manager Joe Girardi has acknowledged that he could play against lefties. I’m still betting the Yankees work in Carter in the early going -- he did lead the NL in home runs last year, after all -- but his streaky profile prevents him from gaining a foothold in a part-time role, allowing Bird to run away with the job.
Likely choice: Profar
Preferred choice: DeShields
Latest update: DeShields has upped the intrigue with his performance this spring. The surprise rookie from two years ago slimmed down this offseason and has gone back to his roots of getting on base and stealing bases after trying for more power last year. And as scarce as stolen bases are in today’s game, that’s more valuable than whatever these others could offer. The job will still probably go to Profar because the Rangers have to make an effort to redeem his potential at some point. Gallo, meanwhile, hasn’t made much of a case this spring.
Likely choice: Owings
Preferred choice: Marte
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, assuming he holds on to the job.
Likely choice: Bourjos
Preferred choice: Engel
Latest update: Tilson was on the road to recovery from a stress reaction in his foot when he suffered a setback in mid-March and had to be placed in a walking boot. He’ll have to stay off the foot for the rest of the month -- perhaps even beyond -- so his appeal as a deep sleeper for steals is quickly fading. Engel was an even better base-stealer in the minors but wasn’t as good of a player overall. The White Sox have played this one pretty close to the vest, so a timeshare seems likely.
Likely choice: Triggs
Preferred choice: Triggs
Sonny Gray’s lat strain should sideline him into the regular season, but it won’t last forever. Eventually, one of Hahn and Triggs will have to emerge. Hahn has the more impressive spring numbers, but Triggs’ are skewed by one bad start. The converted reliever is the more interesting of the two for Fantasy purposes since he’s relief pitcher-eligible and looked good down the stretch last year, but Hahn was a decent sleeper at one point and is aiming to become a ground-ball specialist again after attempting to reinvent himself last year.
Likely choice: Judge
Preferred choice: Judge
OK, young guy doesn’t automatically get the job. We get it. But if the Yankees opt for Hicks here, it means something has gone so horribly wrong for Judge that you’d have to wonder about his viability long-term. He’s not without his flaws, of course, but he’s the only one of these two who could make a real impact in Fantasy. So why the low ranking? Well, it’s hard to care when we already know the outcome, right?
Likely choice: Peralta
Preferred choice: Gyorko
Gyorko was clearly the more productive of the two last year, out-homering Peralta 30 to eight, but he doesn’t bring anything else to the table and is streaky as all get-out. Plus, Peralta has familiarity going for him and hasn’t proven to be as versatile as Gyorko, so he may be better off in a fixed role. Truth is both figure to play a lot either way.
Likely choice: Parker
Preferred choice: Parker
This could 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 if he is the preferred option. That he’s only now getting this chance at age 28, though, speaks to his lack of upside.
Likely choice: Vargas
Preferred choice: Vargas
This job looked like it might be handed to Vargas after Park was designated for assignment this offseason, and in such a role, the 26-year-old Vargas would be worth a late-round look in Rotisserie leagues after the power he showed as a part-timer last year. But Park is back in Twins camp and has made all the noise early. We may not have heard the last of him.
Likely choices: Sanchez, Norris
Preferred choices: Norris, Boyd
Latest update: Norris and Boyd have both performed well this spring and looked like they might topple the higher-paid Sanchez, but after making a mechanical adjustment, Sanchez dazzled in his last outing March 15, throwing four no-hit innings. His contract probably gives him first dibs, which means the battle is really between Norris and Boyd. Norris would be the odds-on favorite both because of his pedigree and the way he performed down the stretch last year.
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