Fantasy Baseball Spring Training Notes: Austin Hays looks like a sleeper again while Alex Reyes looks like a reliever
Austin Hays is having the spring we all hoped he would last year while Caleb Smith, Trevor Richards and Pablo Lopez are showing big strikeout potential for the Marlins. And does it matter where Ronald Acuna bats? Scott White looks at the latest spring happenings.
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Heading into last year, Austin Hays looked like the sort of prospect for whom everything came a little too easily.
He had just completed his first full professional season split evenly between high Class A and Double-A, and despite being only a third-round pick the year before, he dominated both levels, batting a combined .329 with 32 homers and a .958 OPS. It earned him a late-season promotion and a chance at winning the starting right field job last spring.
But he was sidelined for much of the exhibition season with a bad shoulder and then a sore back. He didn't look like himself back at Double-A and eventually learned he was playing with a stress fracture in his ankle, which ultimately required season-ending surgery.
So he lost weight this offseason and went to work on his mechanics, looking to regain what had been warped by playing through pain. And suddenly. everything is looking easy to him again. Check out these numbers:
They not only have him in contention for the right field job he couldn't secure last spring but they've made him the presumptive winner already.
Not to mention a post-hype sleeper for Fantasy owners. I was grabbing him as my fifth outfielder everywhere I could last year, and now he goes virtually undrafted.
No relief for Reyes owners
What seemed apparent is now confirmed: Alex Reyes won't be a part of the Cardinals starting rotation to begin the year. Because of the havoc wreaked on his arm the past two seasons, he didn't make his spring debut until March 5 and has yet to throw multiple innings in an appearance.
There simply isn't enough time to build him up for a starter's workload.
The bigger question is whether it's even a priority for them anymore. The Cardinals have four pitchers — John Gant, Dakota Hudson, Austin Gomber and Daniel Ponce de Leon — competing for their final rotation spot, and that's with Carlos Martinez on the IL to begin the year. Presuming they make Martinez a starter upon his return, it only narrows Reyes' path further.
So if you're drafting the 24-year-old with the electric arm and ace pedigree, understand it'll be a wait before that pick pays dividends. And if he claims a bullpen spot and becomes too vital of a contributor there ... well, let's just say there are no guarantees.
Minor step for Lindor
When Francisco Lindor first strained his calf in early February, he was given a 7-to-9-week timetable that seemed too far down the road to project with real honesty, particularly for an injury that's notoriously finicky.
But he was scheduled to play in a minor-league game Wednesday, according to The Plain Dealer, which would represent a big step forward in his recovery.
Now, before you get too excited, understand it's not the same as a true rehab assignment. The Indians can change the parameters for Lindor in a minor-league spring game, allowing him to jog to first base and play modified defense. Sounds like it's more about getting his bat up to speed so he can make a quick return once he clears the biggest hurdles, which are manning shortstop and running the bases.
He's not out of the woods yet, in other words, but so far seems to be on track with the initial timetable, which has him potentially returning the lineup by opening day. It's still fair to wonder how favoring the calf, which would be only natural, might impact his steals total this season.
Acuña cleaning up
Ronald Acuna had a single, double and triple in three at-bats Wednesday, is now now 8 for 8 with two homers in his past three games and is clearly a major asset no matter where he bats in the lineup. But it's looking more and more like he won't be batting leadoff, where he hit .322 with 19 homers, 14 steals and a 1.028 OPS upon taking over there after the All-Star break last year.
From beat writer Mark Bowman of MLB.com:
"When the Braves have had most of their regulars in the same lineup [this spring], Ender Inciarte has filled the leadoff role and Acuna has batted fourth. While the order could change before the season, and possibly multiple times within the season, it appears manager Brian Snitker is leaning toward putting Acuna in position to maximize the value of run-producing opportunities created by Josh Donaldson and Freddie Freeman. "
It's how Snitker was leaning in the first place, though he hedged when Acuna reaffirmed his preference to bat leadoff. It makes sense for the team to bat its best power hitter behind its best OBP guys, but it's not the news Fantasy owners want to hear given that Acuna was a markedly better base stealer from the leadoff spot, swiping 14 bases in 67 games compared to two in 42 games everywhere else. Devoting a first-round pick to Acuna would be much easier to justify, at least in a standard Rotisserie league, if you could count on him being a 20-steal guy, but that's not typically how the Braves have handled their middle-of-the-order hitters.
Marlins pitching a fresh catch
You may remember a point early last season when Caleb Smith attracted significant attention on the waiver wire. It began during a three-start stretch in late April and early May in which he struck out 26 while allowing just seven hits and two walks in 18 2/3 innings. His slider and changeup were both generating whiffs at a pretty good rate, but it was his fastball, featuring one of the highest spin rates in the league, that really set him apart.
Inconsistencies followed. He struggled with command and control. But he never fell too far off the mixed-league radar until suffering a season-ending lat strain in June. So the question entering this spring was whether he made a strong enough impression to have the inside track on a rotation spot, and with the Marlins holding him back to begin the exhibition season, we could only guess as to the answer.
Well, he debuted Wednesday. He debuted with a vengeance:
Maybe that's enough to secure him a spot right there, but if you haven't noticed, Marlins pitchers as a whole have done some impressive work this spring. Trevor Richards, who had 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings across 25 starts last season and struck out 17 in 13 2/3 scoreless innings while debuting a curveball in his final two starts, has made waves of his own:
It sounds, too, like the curveball is here to stay, giving him a well-rounded arsenal instead of just one dominant pitch.
"We pretty much have found out that changeup is pretty much as good as it gets," manager Don Mattingly told MLB.com. "But, if we narrow him down to two pitches, it gets him in a lot more trouble. He has to really locate the fastball. I think the breaking ball, something going down makes them honor that."
And then there's Pablo Lopez, who had a 1.44 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning in 12 starts between two minor-league levels last year. As for this spring ...
Mattingly also praised the development of Lopez's breaking ball after the 23-year-old's last outing Saturday, when he struck out four without allowing a baserunner against the Nationals.
"It's come a long way from when we saw more of a rolling breaking ball to more of the one he can throw," Mattingly said. "You're not seeing any difference in the arm speed."
Unfortunately, the Marlins may feel obligated to award three of their rotation spots to Jose Urena, Wei-Yin Chen and Dan Straily, which means only two of Smith, Richards and Lopez will have a job from the get-go. I'm betting on Smith and Richards right now, but all three could end up making surprising contributions in mixed leagues before the year is done.
Mahle has renewed hope
If you owned Tyler Mahle at any point in 2018, you'll recall there were extreme highs and extreme lows. Partly, it's because he leaned so heavily on his fastball, which is a pitch that propelled him to great heights in the minors but left him too predictable in the majors.
"Guys started canceling stuff out," Mahle told MLB.com. 'He's not going to throw the changeup in the strike zone, so I won't look for it. Same with the slider.' I saw that, so it would be nice to go out and pitch and make people have to respect that I can throw the other stuff for a strike. That makes my fastball play better."
Mahle, fittingly, has put his efforts into developing a better secondary arsenal this spring, namely a curveball and a split-changeup, and so far it's paying dividends. He struck out six in three scoreless innings Tuesday, giving him 11 strikeouts in six innings overall.
Does anything he does matter, though, with all the upgrades to the Reds starting rotation this offseason? Well, there's a good chance Alex Wood's sore back puts him on the IL to begin the year, and Mahle would be one of the top candidates to replace him.
"I think Tyler is part of that discussion, for sure," manager David Bell said. "He's going to be an option certainly for helping us, whether it's the beginning of the season or shortly thereafter. He's definitely part of that picture."
At this point, it's fair to assume Mahle has more upside than Anthony DeSclafani, which means he could end up keeping the job if things go well from the start.
So which Fantasy Baseball sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued pitchers can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy Baseball rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Scooter Gennett's huge breakout last season, and find out.
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