It wasn't too long ago Jason Kipnis was regarded as one of the top second basemen in Fantasy Baseball, ranking up there with Anthony Rendon (back when he played second) and Robinson Cano (back when he was still studly).
And if this spring is any indication, he's angling to get back there.
Maybe it isn't. Spring training offers us only a brief glimpse between players of disparate readiness and skill level, and Kipnis' team happens to play its spring games in Arizona, where the desert air has inspired the one team that plays its regular-season games there to install a humidor.
But the same was all true in previous springs, and the most home runs Kipnis ever hit was three in 60 at-bats. With another long ball Sunday, he's up to five in 14 at-bats.
"When you are not healthy, you are spending time doing treatment and other things instead of working on your craft and hitting in the cages," Kipnis said. "It is nice to have that freedom and that luxury to be able to go out and train without having to worry about a specific injury."
It's true: Kipnis' production has suffered the most when injuries played a part. Last year, shoulder and hamstring issues limited him to 90 games. His most disappointing season otherwise, 2014, was defined by an oblique injury. He's only a year removed from a 23-homer, 41-double, 15-steal campaign, though, and is still in his prime at age 30, so maybe slotting him 25th among second basemen, as his FantasyPros ADP currently shows, is selling him a little short.
Watch your back, McMahon
What a difference a weekend makes.
Dahl exploded for two home runs -- one Friday and one Sunday -- going 4 for 9 in the three games he played. Of course, he's still batting just .167 compared to McMahon's .409, but he also has two steals.
The best case for Fantasy owners is both claiming jobs, relegating Parra to a reserve role, and maybe if they continue to perform this way, especially with Parra still recovering from hand surgery, it'll come to pass.
But since we're presently led to believe only one will be in the opening day lineup, both are sleepers better left for the late rounds. The race is too close to call.
Three home runs and counting
But 24-year-old Steven Duggar is having a say in the matter. His third home run Sunday gives him a .412 (7 for 17) batting average in Cactus League play. And we haven't even caught a glimpse of the batting eye he demonstrated in the minors, reaching base at a .384 clip over three seasons.
"[He's] making it tough on us," manager Bruce Bochy said.
The Giants traditionally favor veterans to up-and-comers, and it's not clear even if he wins the job that Duggar will have enough power or speed to stand out in mixed leagues. But even if he's just another Kevin Pillar type, his ascension is something we should all be aware of.
For most of his career, Kevin Gausman has been content to build up his splitter organically -- and by that, I mean methodically -- over the course of the season. It's a problem because it's his best pitch, and seeing as he has a 4.94 career ERA in the first half vs. 3.58 in the second half, it shows.
Which is why this announcement at the start of spring training was worthy of adulation:
"Normally my first couple of 'pens here I'm throwing only fastball-changeup and before I even got here I was already throwing my breaking ball and everything," Gausman told the Baltimore Sun, "so just in that sense, I felt like last year it just took me a little while to get going and I think my numbers spoke to that. So I just think I'm trying to get a little head start."
And if Saturday's start at the Phillies is a taste of what we're in for, oh boy oh boy.
He struck out five over three perfect innings, in case you lost count.
The fourth overall pick of the 2012 draft has long had elite upside but has fallen short of it for so long that he's a forgotten man on Draft Day. For what it's worth, from the point he increased his splitter usage to 25 percent last year, he had a 3.39 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings in 19 starts.
Not good, Steven Matz.
His second start Sunday against the Nationals was a disaster. He allowed five runs on five hits with two walks and no strikeouts in two-thirds of an inning. Thing is his first start wasn't much better. He allowed five runs in one inning.
Unlike last year, he's supposedly healthy, having undergone surgery to relocate a nerve in his pitching elbow, but while he may be healthy, he certainly doesn't appear all right.
"You don't let it linger," Matz said. "It's spring training, so you've got to work on stuff out there, not necessarily attack guys the way you would during the season. To not pay attention to results is hard, but tomorrow's a new day. I've just got to keep working."
The Mets have enough viable rotation options that there was some talk of Zack Wheeler moving to the bullpen to begin the year, but if Matz doesn't figure it out in the next four or however many starts he has left, it'll be no contest who gets the job.
Speed up the changeup
Marco Estrada, who you may remember had a 6.06 ERA over his final 22 starts last year, has been near flawless this spring. He allowed just one hit over three innings Sunday, striking out three, after pitching a perfect inning in his first start. And while those results may have nothing to do with anything, he did say something before the start of the exhibition season that has me encouraged.
Basically, he determined from watching some video that he was slowing down his arm on the changeup, telegraphic the pitch, according to Sportsnet.
"I could just see my arm wasn't really getting through the zone," he said. "I was trying to baby it."
And considering it's his best pitch and the reason he has found success in the majors despite throwing in the high 80s, that's a problem.
"I kind of need that pitch," he said.
In his first two years with the Blue Jays, Estrada was a must-start Fantasy option, and in his first 11 starts last year, he was a Cy Young contender, compiling a 3.15 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Considering he's one of the few pitchers still allowed to throw six or seven innings consistently when he's on, this adjustment could make him a gem of a late-round pick.