Fantasy Baseball Spring Training Takeaways: 16 under-the-radar developments from Blake Snell to Blake Swihart
Headliners like Ronald Acuna and Scott Kingery aren't lost on anyone this time of year, but plenty of notable developments can slip through the cracks in spring training. Our Scott White shares a few.
- Draft Prep Tiers 3.0:
- Heath's Sleepers | Breakouts | Busts |
- Scott's Top 100 prospects | Sleepers | Breakouts | Busts
But then there are those other developments -- the ones that haven't gotten as much pub but are reshaping the Fantasy Baseball landscape in their own way.
Here are 16 such developments that I wouldn't want you to miss.
Blake Snell is figuring things out
Snell has 14.0 strikeouts per nine innings compared to just 2.6 walks. Between some changes to his approach late last year, when he moved to the other side of the rubber so he wouldn't be throwing across his body, and some personal victories since then, as chronicled by Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, he's giving us some strong indicators that a breakout is on the horizon.
"I just think it was off-field stuff I needed to situate before I could start focusing on what I needed to do on the field," Snell said. "I know what I want to do and how I want to do it. There's nothing really messing with my mind or in my way right now."
Definitely a priority pickup in the middle rounds.
Delino DeShields is a potential 50-steal man
Delino DeShields earned a spot on this list last year in the hope he'd emerge as the Rangers left fielder and leadoff man, but Jeff Banister ended the suspense pretty early, complete with the prediciton he could steal 50 bases this year.
"I think that's a legitimate goal just based on his previous on-base performances and his speed," Banister told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "We feel that he's that type of player."
Predictions from a manager count for more for me than from a player -- particularly predictions of that nature. Stolen bases are as much about ability as inclination, after all, so it's obvious DeShields will have the green light whenever he's on base. And seeing as he's a pretty good on-base guy to boot, he's looking like a miracle fit in the Round 14 range of Rotisserie leagues, when the big base-stealers are typically long gone.
Jack Flaherty is becoming a big deal
Jack Flaherty, breakout prospect of a year ago, has had a start where he struck out seven in four innings and one where he struck out eight in five innings. A spike in velocity made all the difference for him last year, but it's his two-seamer, particularly when paired with his slider, that's earning rave reviews now.
"Think about it from a right-handed hitter's perspective," manager Mike Matheny told MLB.com. "When you're dealing more with the ball bearing in on you, that would lead to more success with the ones breaking away. I think he's maximizing his best pitch by adding movement with his fastball."
And now that they're awarding the 22-year-old him a rotation spot with Adam Wainwright sidelined by a strained hamstring, this could really go places.
Jorge Soler has another chance
After making fools of the Royals as the sole return for Wade Davis last year, Jorge Soler worked with scout Mike Tosar this offseason, the same guy who helped improve Yonder Alonso's approach last season, according to The Kansas City Star, and showed up to camp 20 pounds lighter. He has put on one of the biggest power displays of spring training.
Making consistent contact against regular-season pitching remains a major hurdle, but the stripped-down Royals are giving him another chance to make good on the potential that once rated him alongside Kris Bryant in the Cubs organization. And he seems motivated to take advantage.
Daniel Vogelbach may have forced his way into the lineup
Daniel Vogelbach has been the best all-around hitter of spring training, not only leading all qualifiers with a .400 batting average but sitting just one off the lead with six homers and exhibiting the plate discipline that defined his minor-league career with 13 walks to 10 strikeouts.
He's a surprise addition to the major-league roster after the Mariners picked up Ryon Healy to be their first baseman this offseason, but one detail that's being overlooked is that 44-year-old Ichiro Suzuki is in line to be the Mariners opening day left fielder. It's because Ben Gamel is currently sidelined by an oblique strain, sure, but who is Ben Gamel that the Mariners need to reserve this spot for him?
Couldn't Nelson Cruz move back to the outfield, if only occasionally, to accommodate Vogelbach at DH? And then if Healy also accommodates him some at first base, we're onto something.
Brandon Belt is a-OK
Brandon Belt's third concussion in four years sidelined him for the final two months last year and had us wondering if he'd go the way of Justin Morneau, who went from perennial All-Star to journeyman stopgap after a lengthy bout with concussion symptoms in 2011. But here's how Belt has bounced back this spring:
Which puts a new spin on things: The 29-year-old was making big strides as a power hitter before the concussion last year. He was hitting only .241, which overshadowed his career high .228 ISO, but he also had a .284 BABIP when he's normally up in the .250 range.
We might already view him as a power hitter if he played anywhere other than AT&T Park, but even if he only has the capacity for Eric Hosmer numbers where he currently is, he shouldn't be a complete afterthought on Draft Day.
David Dahl is back to form
You look at David Dahl's overall spring line, and it's ... fine. Good, you might even say:
But does it scream, "GIVE THIS GUY A JOB ALREADY!" Well, maybe not. You have to realize, though, he got off to a 0-for-15 start after missing basically a whole year with a stress reaction in his rib cage.
So really, it's .364 with all five of those home runs in his last 47 at-bats. And as excited as he got us in 2017, he didn't even demonstrate his best-stealing prowess back then -- something manager Bud Black wants all Rockies hitters to do more this year.
The job will be his soon enough.
Matt Carpenter embraces versatility
After some back soreness sidelined Matt Carpenter for roughly the first two weeks of spring training, the Cardinals intimated that bouncing around the infield may not be in the best interests of keeping him healthy. But in the two weeks since returning, that's exactly what he's done, making four starts at third base and two at second.
The impetus seems to be the bat of Jose Martinez, who is once again looking like a ready-made .300 hitter:
Carpenter himself seems fully on board with moving around the infield, especially to get that bat in the lineup, and the added versatility could help him stand out in a crowded first base field.
Blake Swihart is getting the Marwin treatment
Speaking of bouncing around, former top prospect Blake Swihart has still gotten time behind the plate this spring but has also manned left field, right field, first base and third base as the Red Sox try to find him more at-bats.
And rookie manager Alex Cora offered a bold comparison for how they intend to use him this year.
"The Marwin Gonzalezes of the world are good for the manager," Cora told MLB.com. "With Swi, the way he's moving around and the way he's swinging the bat, I don't want to get ahead of myself and say super utility, but that's what you envision, like Marwin."
With the possibility of catching as well, Swihart would be more like a super duper utility player. And since few catchers get everyday at-bats anyway, the chances of him playing enough to factor at that position are high. He wouldn't need some kind of huge breakout either, though one remains possible given his pedigree.
Joey Gallo is making more contact
Joey Gallo's biggest issue is strikeouts, of course. It's not a secret to anyone. He was second among all qualifiers with a 36.8 percent rate last year. But you know his rate this spring? A mere 18.6 percent.
Granted, the level of competition in the Cactus League isn't the same as during the regular season, but massive strikeout totals defined his minor-league career. It makes you wonder what kind of asset he could be if he wasn't condemned to hit .220 or less.
Just by upping his line-drive rate from 14.0 to 22.6 percent in the second half last year, he was able to hit .229 -- and that was with him still striking out 34.9 percent of the time. If he could just get to where he's hitting .250 or better, it'd be a game-changer.
Jake Junis is missing more bats
After putting together a 2.92 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings across 12 starts at hitter-friendly Triple-A Omaha last year, Jake Junis had a successful first visit to the majors, most notably ranking among the top pitchers in called strike rate. His K/9 rate, though, left a bit to be desired.
This spring, it's 12.6.
Again, spring training. Inferior competition, players not at peak performance, etc. But after leaning on his slider 30 percent of the time last year, Junis has worked this spring to refine his curveball and changeup.
Not every breakout pitchers comes with the pedigree of a Blake Snell, you know.
Nate Jones may finally get his chance
Don't look now, but Nate Jones may finally be the closer for the White Sox -- for real this time. On a couple of past occasions -- in 2014 and again last year -- they had every intention of elevating him to the role, but injuries intervened. Now, after a year lost elbow neuritis, his only competition is Joakim Soria, who hasn't looked nearly this good:
Right now the White Sox are planning to split closing duties between the two, but how long do those arrangements last? Eventually, manager Rick Renteria will develop a higher comfort level with one of them, and the smart money's on Jones.
Yasmani Grandal has joined the fly ball revolution
Changing one's launch angle to hit more fly balls en vogue last year, and several players have made it a priority this spring, most notably Yasmani Grandal, who has already homered five times.
Austin Barnes, meanwhile, has struggled to get going after an early bout with elbow soreness, and manager Dave Roberts indicated at the start of spring training than Grandal would be getting more playing time anyway. If he's homering more often than ever, it'll be even easier to justify.
Yonder Alonso may have another breakout in store
One of last year's big fly ball revolution guys is taking it to a new level this spring, leading everybody with seven home runs.
Where Alonso's breakout 2017 really lost steam was when he was traded to the Mariners and forced to sit against left-handed pitchers. But the Indians have no such plans for him, and fittingly, he has gone 10 for 20 with two home runs.
The guy has always had a good batting eye but was unable to tap into his power before last year. This latest development could be what makes him a fixture in Fantasy lineups.
Mac Williamson is looking to up his game
Mac Williamson spent the offseason working with private hitting coach Doug Latta, the same guy who helped Justin Turner become everything he is, and then hit the snot out of the ball this spring, getting sent down only because the Giants weren't prepared to create a roster spot for him.
Crazy thing is Williamson seemingly has more to work with than Turner did, having once hit .292 with 25 homers in a minor-league season, and his 6-foot-4 frame always had scouts hoping for more power. Yeah, he doesn't have a job, but with the Giants resigned to using the remains of Hunter Pence in left, the 27-year-old Williamson could alter the plan with a strong Triple-A showing.
Frank Schwindel is a name to file away
The spring standout you've never heard of is Frank Schwindel, whose overall stat line is impressive enough.
But the fact he got off to a 1-for-20 start means he's 14 for 21 over his last 11 games, which really raises an eyebrow. He's also doing it for a stripped-down Royals team with little to play for, which means an opportunity should be right around the corner.
"You look at him now and you say, 'It's just spring training,'" manager Ned Yost said. "But this looks legit. It really does."
Yeah, he's 25 with no prospect pedigree to speak of, but he also hit .329 with 23 home runs and only 85 strikeouts in 529 minor-league at-bats last year. Definitely something to monitor.
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