2018 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Position battles brewing in New York, Milwaukee
Chris Towers takes a look at those teams that might be too crowded to let everyone live up to their potential.
- Draft Prep Tiers: C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | SP | RP
- Heath's Sleepers | Breakouts | Busts |
- Scott's Top 100 prospects | Sleepers | Breakouts | Busts
The good thing about Fantasy baseball is, the best teams in real life tend to be the best teams for Fantasy, too. Whereas there are only so many touches and snaps to go around in New England – every touchdown Brandin Cooks scores is one Rob Gronkowski can't – that isn't an issue in Fantasy baseball.
In fact, the best teams often have a multiplicative effect in Fantasy baseball. Every Carlos Correa home run may not drive in George Springer, but at the very least, it keeps the lineup moving, bringing Springer one spot closer to another chance to accrue value. When it comes to lineups that are loaded with talent, the more the merrier.
As long as you're actually in the lineup, of course. Most teams aren't exactly overflowing with talent, with nearly every team in baseball sporting at least one or two lineup spots they aren't thrilled with. However, there are exceptions, where potential Fantasy difference makers find themselves either buried on the depth chart, or looking at a potentially limited role if they get off to a tough start.
Take Jonathan Villar, for example. Even if you expected him to regress from his 2016 high last season, he still seemed like a pretty safe bet for decent power and 40 steals. However, he couldn't do much of anything right in the first few months of the season, and by the summer, he was struggling to get into the lineup. Another team might have been willing to let Villar work through his early struggles, but the Brewers found themselves contending, with Eric Sogard and eventually Neil Walker simply representing better options.
Let's look at eight teams with a few too many players, and who might get squeezed if things go wrong this season.
Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton aren't going to lose any playing time, don't worry. With those two chiseled into the lineup every day, that leaves Aaron Hicks and Brett Gardner penciled into playing time right now. Both seem like safe bets to play regularly early on, but if either struggles, Clint Frazier and Jacoby Ellsbury loom as potential threats to snipe playing time once they get healthy. And, with Brandon Drury having logged more than 700 innings in the outfield in his career, it's not crazy to think he could move out there if top prospects Gleyber Torres or Miguel Andujar proves ready.
Of course, if everyone in the majors performs to expectations, Torres and Andujar may never get a chance. And, if Hicks can hit even close to the level he managed in 2017, there may not be many chances for Gary Sanchez to serve as DH – 20 percent of his MLB starts have come at DH.
If Ryan McMahon doesn't crack the Opening Day roster, this gets a lot easier to figure out: Ian Desmond at first, Carlos Gonzalez in right field, and Gerardo Parra in left. However, that still leaves prospects McMahon, David Dahl and Raimel Tapia on the outside looking in. All three could be Fantasy contributors, and it's entirely reasonable to think all three might outperform the three slated to start ahead of them if given the chance. Unfortunately, they won't get the chance early on. Gonzalez and Desmond are certainly worth drafting, but if they falter – or struggle with injuries, a distinct possibility given recent seasons – don't be surprised if they wind up buried by the wave of young talent about to hit Colorado.
I'm not completely sold on Domingo Santana's apparent breakout last season from a skill perspective, and that isn't the only knock on him. With Ryan Braun expressing concern about playing first base on anything like a full-time basis, it's starting to look like Santana may not have a regular spot in the lineup either. Christian Yelich is going to play left field, while Lorenzo Cain is set to hold down center, so if Braun isn't ready to become a regular at first, it's hard to see where Santana gets everyday playing time. He can fill in at any outfield position, and could spell Braun, Yelich, and Cain once a week each. Maybe twice for Braun… but where does he get the rest of the plate appearances? He's going near the top-100, and it's going to be awfully hard to justify that price if he logs 450 plate appearances by the end of the season.
The Dodgers actually have multiple starting-caliber catchers, a luxury that is likely to frustrate Fantasy players all season. The injury to Justin Turner could open up a start or two every week for Austin Barnes at second base for the first month or two, but after that, we could be looking at a situation where each player limits the others' appeal.
The situation may be just as confusing in the outfield, where Matt Kemp reportedly came into camp in great shape and has made a strong case to make the Opening Day roster. And not just as a reserve. Kemp is hitting .302 with a .968 OPS in spring, and could contend for regular playing time in left field. That could leave Joc Pederson squeezed initially, or it could push Chris Taylor back to the infield. That could cost Barnes those potentially valuable starts at second base… Yeah, this one could be confusing for a while.
Outside of Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, there probably isn't a player on the Cubs you can safely project for even 140 starts. They've got contingencies on top of contingencies, with Ian Happ, Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist capable of filling in all over the field. If Kyle Schwarber's bat and glove falter again, they can handle that. If Addison Russell continues to disappoint, they've got options. In Chicago, the story is pretty simple: Whoever produces is going to play. Schwarber and Happ have been absolutely dominant in spring, and both have sky-high upsides, so as long as they hit, they'll play. Let's just hope they establish themselves as mainstays with Rizzo and Bryant.
The outfield rotation has received plenty of press this offseason, and here's how it's going to work, at least at first: Adam Duvall will play in left field, and left field only; Billy Hamilton will play in center field, and center field only; Scott Schebler will play somewhere, because he can manage in all three spots; and Jesse Winker will play one of the corner spots. There are 486 starts to divide between the four of them in the outfield, which comes out to 121.5 per player, and… this isn't going to be easy. I would bet they don't keep up the rotation all season, and I would bet the eventual battle is going to come down to Schebler and Winker with Winker's pure hitting ability winning out.
And don't ignore the infield, where a bad month or two to open the season by either Scooter Gennett or Jose Peraza could lead to the debut of top prospect Nick Senzel, a natural third baseman who is now viewed as an option at second and short as well.
Like the Reds, the Phillies are going into the season planning on a full-time rotation in the outfield. We still expect Odubel Herrera and Rhys Hoskins to play everyday, so the playing time concerns come for Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr. Both have shown plenty of upside, with Altherr coming off an .856 OPS in 2017, while Williams had an .811 OPS of his own. Either could be a useful Fantasy option, but until and unless one takes on a lion's share of the work, neither is likely to be more than a Fantasy fill-in.
And eventually, the Phillies are going to have to make a decision in the infield, with infield prospect Scott Kingery looking now like he's ready to kick the door down. If Cesar Hernandez or Maikel Franco has an OPS in the .700 range come May, Kingery is going to force them to the bench for good.
Victor Robles wasn't quite ready in the spring, but he shouldn't be far off. Arguably the top non-Ronald Acuna prospect in baseball, Robles has the potential to hit .300 with solid pop and 40-plus steals, which would make him a rare Fantasy asset indeed. Michael Taylor has his own power-speed skills, but if his contact issues hold him back, don't be surprised to see Robles at some point soon, especially if he handles Triple-A the way he did Double-A last season.
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