Spring is sprung, and battles are to be won.
Not all are of great significance to Fantasy Baseball owners, but some are. These 30 are.
For some reason, I've ranked them. I don't know -- it's more fun that way. I've ordered them roughly by the one of most interest to me to the one of least interest to me, whether because of the upside of the players involved or the legitimacy of the competition (because let's face it: not all of these jobs are truly up for grabs).
For each, I've declared a likely choice and a preferred choice, so draft accordingly. And look out for updates throughout spring training. As winners emerge, they'll be identified here.
Likely choices: McMahon, Parra
Preferred choice: Dahl, McMahon
Dahl was a popular breakout pick last year before a stress reaction in his ribs wrecked his season, but while he's back to 100 percent this spring, the Rockies have shown an early preference for Ryan McMahon, who himself broke out with a .355 batting average and .986 OPS in the minors last year. A broken hand has Gerardo Parra racing to get back for opening day, which could open the door for both Dahl and McMahon to claim a role, the former in right field and the latter at first base.
Likely choices: Braun, Santana
Preferred choices: Braun, Santana
Manager Craig Counsell has already said Braun won't be playing any right field this year, which would seem to suggest they're committing to him at first base given that new acquisition Christian Yelich doesn't have the arm for right field either. It's seemingly good news for Santana, who initially looked like the odd man out with the Brewers' offseason additions, but would they give up on Thames so quickly?
Likely choice: Bradley
Preferred choice: Bradley
Bradley has the look of a stud closer and would seem to be the obvious front-runner with the departure of Fernando Rodney, but the Diamondbacks may not want to move him into a role they'll have a hard time moving him out of whenever they decide he's an option for the rotation again. Boxberger is a former All-Star closer who bounced back nicely last season and would seem to be a reasonable fallback.
Likely choices: Clevinger, Tomlin
Preferred choices: Clevinger, Salazar
Clevinger was the Indians' third-best pitcher last year, demonstrating some serious bat-missing ability en route to a 3.11 ERA, so the fact his role is even in question is flabbergasting to me. But they've long had a affinity for Tomlin and have demonstrated unusual patience with Salazar. Salazar's rotator cuff inflammation this spring may finally be his ticket to the bullpen, though.
Likely choices: Drury, Torres
Preferred choices: Andujar, Torres
The Yankees acquired Drury to play somewhere, and for now, GM Brian Cashman has said that somewhere is third base, where Andujar, for all his natural hitting ability, has struggled to measure up with the glove. That's a potentially seismic development given that stud prospect Torres is the top choice to play second base if Drury doesn't, but he has to prove his surgically repaired elbow is OK first.
Likely choice: Parker
Preferred choice: Parker
Parker's numbers should make him the obvious front-runner -- and a potential top-12 closer, given how competitive the Angels figure to be -- but manager Mike Scioscia took so long to come around to the idea last season that you can't assume he'll take the obvious path. Bedrosian was in the same boat Parker is in a year ago, so we can't rule him out, and as disastrous as Johnson might be, he does have the most closing experience.
Likely choices: Duvall, Winker
Preferred choices: Duvall, Winker
You could argue manager Bryan Price has already made a ruling here, describing the outfield as "rotational." But he also said "unless performance dictates otherwise," and Duvall and Schebler both have the sort of all-or-nothing profile that could slump them out of contention. Winker showed impressive bat skills, a good batting eye and more power than anyone suspected late last year.
Likely choice: Platoon
Preferred choice: Anything but a platoon
The Phillies' decision to sign Carlos Santana this offseason not only forces them to shift Rhys Hoskins to the outfield, where he has limited experience, but also forces them to choose between two young outfielders who showed serious promise last year. Williams bats lefty and Altherr righty, but considering a platoon might hamper the development of both, I wouldn't rule out an outright victor -- or a trade.
Likely choice: Gyorko
Preferred choice: Martinez
Martinez has the sort of batted-ball profile that could allow him to compete for a batting title, and the Cardinals were at their best starting him at first base and Matt Carpenter at third down the stretch last year. But they'd much rather use Carpenter at first base, and Gyorko's presence makes it easy enough to do.
Likely choice: Gregerson
Preferred choice: Lyons
Gregerson is the stated front-runner and has a strong track record with some closing experience, but he comes up short in the velocity department and was miserable for the Astros last season. Norris, after some early success saving games, turned out to be no better for the Angels. Lyons' 2.83 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings last year would appear to make him the best equipped for the role, but his left-handedness may make him too valuable for it.
Likely choice: Vizcaino
Preferred choice: Minter
Closers come from all kinds of backgrounds and usually emerge by happenstance, but Minter is the rare relief pitcher prospect whose talent is so evident that he's projected for that role before even breaking into the big leagues. Vizcaino is passable as a closer and will probably retain the role just for familiarity's sake, but it's only a matter of time before Minter overtakes him.
Likely choice: Robinson
Preferred choice: Calhoun
Calhoun has been the presumptive starter for draft purposes, but there seem to be serious doubts about his fitness for left field after playing mostly second base -- and quite terribly -- in the minors. He's an interesting hitter for sure, boasting big power with an unusually high contact rate, but Robinson himself homered six times in 107 at-bats with the big club last year.
Likely choice: Claudio
Preferred choice: Kela
Claudio proved capable in the role after Sam Dyson and Matt Bush both faltered in it a year ago, but he doesn't miss bats like a closer should, thriving instead on an elite ground-ball rate. The ninth inning is not the time to put your team at the mercy of luck, as batted balls are known to do, and with a 2.79 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings last year, Kela looks like the future here.
Likely choice: Travis
Preferred choice: Solarte
The Blue Jays acquired Solarte this offseason partly as insurance for Travis, who always seems to have a shoulder, hand or knee something going on (presently, he's recovering from a bone bruise in his knee), but I'm not so sure Solarte isn't better. He's certainly more versatile, so both players will get there share of at-bats (provided Travis is healthy). It's just a matter of who gets the bigger share.
Likely choice: Hays
Preferred choice: Hays
This one would rank higher if I believed it was a legitimate competition. More likely, the Orioles decided they needed a fallback plan in case the 22-year-old Hays looked overmatched this spring, which is why Rasmus is only on a minor-league deal. They should already have an inkling of Hays' readiness from his performance last spring, and it's no wonder he's on the fast track after posting one of the most impressive stat lines in all the minors.
Likely choice: Villar
Preferred choice: Villar
For as much as we enjoy Villar's recklessness on the base paths in Fantasy, it's an impediment to his real-life team, and he doesn't always justify it with his bat. But last year's Band-Aid, Neil Walker, is removed, and what remains is a festering sore for a team with playoff aspirations. Villar may continue to start just because no one else is better, though Perez could be a pretty good steals source himself.
Likely choice: Pirela
Preferred choice: Pirela
The winner of this competition wouldn't be a surefire mixed-league pickup, but Pirela probably has the better chance of becoming one after averaging as many Head-to-Head points per game as Yasiel Puig last year. Renfroe still has some untapped potential but is a little too all-or-nothing for today's power-laden environment.
Likely choice: Timeshare
Preferred choices: Gattis, Gonzalez
This one is probably less a competition than just an understanding that certain members of the Astros starting lineup are going to play less regularly than others. Maybe this spring will offer some insight as to the distribution. Playing Gattis every day at DH would mean playing Gonzalez every day in left field, which would be a waste of his versatility, and they want to get the kid involved out there anyway.
Likely choices: Almora, Baez
Preferred choices: Baez, Happ
Similar to the Astros situation in that all three figure to play quite a bit, with Happ being the one bouncing back and forth. If any comes close to everyday duty, he'll be worthwhile in standard mixed leagues, but otherwise, it's a stretch. And let's not forgot Ben Zobrist is likely to factor into this mix as well.
Likely choice: Soria
Preferred choice: Soria
The last of the closer competitions is for one of the bottom-feeder clubs, so you should expect a modest save total regardless of the outcome. Soria has a history in the role, and his peripherals were better than the results last year. Still, even if he's awarded the job, it'll mostly be to build up his trade value.
Likely choices: Gohara, Newcomb
Preferred choices: Gohara, Newcomb
That enough arms for you? The Braves' treasure trove of pitching prospects is beginning to spill into the majors, and it'll get even more crowded once Mike Soroka and Kolby Allard get their fill of Triple-A. Gohara flashes ace upside, and Newcomb and Fried aren't too far behind. The Braves aren't quite ready to give up on these others, though, including a reconstructed Kazmir.
Likely choices: Brinson, Maybin
Preferred choices: Brinson, Maybin
Brinson is the one surefire prospect the Marlins acquired in their offseason purge, and seeing as he's already 23, he probably would have gotten more than just a cursory glance in Milwaukee if the Brewers weren't overflowing with outfielders already. Cooper has some impressive minor-league numbers but is 27 and would be playing out of position. Maybin is a better bet and a sleeper for steals.
Likely choice: Musgrove
Preferred choice: Glasnow
Assuming Trevor Williams and Chad Kuhl are locks -- and they probably should be given their numbers last year -- only one of these two higher-upside arms can make the cut, and while Musgrove would seem to have the early advantage thanks to his success out of the bullpen last year, he also has a balky shoulder. I'm still stumping for Glasnow, who had a 2.45 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 13.7 strikeouts per nine innings over his final seven minor-league starts last year.
Likely choices: Gallardo, Suter
Preferred choices: Suter, Woodruff
Really, this one comes down to Woodruff, who's the one of these pitchers who looks like he could make an honest-to-goodness difference in Fantasy. It's a shame the Brewers brought in so many retreads to get in his way, especially after he threw a couple seven-inning gems last September. He led the minors in strikeouts two years ago and gets a pass for pitching at Colorado Springs last year.
Likely choice: Fowler
Preferrred choice: Fowler
Fowler was thought to be the favorite coming into spring training and has a Brett Gardner-like skill set that Rotisserie owners especially would be thrilled to target in the late rounds. But he's coming back from catastrophic knee injury (ruptured patella tendon) suffered in his first ever major-league inning last season and is of course completely untested against major-league pitching.
Likely choice: Ramirez
Preferred choice: Ramirez
New manager Alex Cora called Ramirez his No. 3 hitter at the start of spring training, which would seem to suggest this competition is over before it even begins. But Ramirez is coming off shoulder surgery and not exactly a sure thing at first base, where he'd have to play every day with J.D. Martinez occupying DH. The upside is intriguing, but the role may not be entirely realistic.
Likely choice: Healthier of Matz and Wheeler
Preferred choice: Healthier of Matz and Wheeler
I'll never quit on talent, and both Wheeler and Matz are still dripping with it. Their struggles last year were mostly the result of pitching through injuries, which, to be fair, is more or less the story of each's entire career. As a fallback, Gsellman isn't a total lost cause, but if either of the other two wins the job, there's real sleeper appeal.
Likely choice: Gonzalez
Preferred choice: Smith
Smith disappointed the Mets in a September tryout last season and then disappointed them again by showing up late for the first spring training game, earning him a spot on the bench. But they still consider him the first baseman of the future, and he has nothing more to prove in the minors, where his natural hitting ability was evident. Even if Gonzalez wins it, his chronic back issues and diminished production won't cut it for long.
Likely choice: Romano
Preferred choice: Stephenson
Basically, Stephenson and Mahle could matter in standard mixed leagues, but Romano and Garrett (based on what we saw of him last year) probably won't. Even Stephenson and Mahle have their red flags. The former had a 2.50 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings over his final 10 appearances (nine starts) but still has major walk issues. The latter had a 2.06 ERA and a no-hitter in the minors but is mostly fastballs and could be Tony Cingrani 2.0.
Likely choice: Blanco/Jackson platoon
Preferred choice: Duggar
Jackson might have some low-end sleeper appeal if there was a chance he could win the job all to himself (he did bat .291 with a respectable .756 OPS against righties last year), but since going the veteran route would more likely result in a platoon, the hope is the rookie takes hold of center field this spring. Duggar has reached base at a .384 clip over his minor-league career and could steal a few bags.