Fantasy Baseball Spring Training Takeaways: Mitch Haniger making a name for himself

Sometimes you can’t help it.

What’s that they call it in Bambi? Twitterpated? It’s spring, yo. The season of love.

And as much as you don’t want to buy into the small sample against a compromised talent pool in a less than fully competitive environment, you can’t stop love.

You shouldn’t even try.

1. We love you, Mitch Haniger

In the first week of spring training, manager Scott Servais said he had made the best early impression in camp. A day later, Haniger announced he could steal 20 bases this year, to which Servais responded he has the green light. Then, in just his third spring game, Haniger did this:

And I’m over the moon.

I’m not the first. Well, No. 25 from my 30 bold predictions piece last August might suggest I am, but I was merely infatuated then. Mariners GM Jerry DiPoto has loved him from Day 1 -- literally.

He acquired Jean Segura in the same trade, for goodness’ sake, but he hasn’t stopped talking about Haniger since, all but declaring the 26-year-old ex-prospect the Mariners’ starting right fielder before even seeing him in uniform and saying he was the best hitter in the minor leagues last year. He may have a point:

Mitch Haniger CF / Seattle (2016 minors)
BA: .321 HR: 25 OPS: .999 BB: 69 K: 99

I’m there. Head over heels, baby. I already declared him one of my sleepers for 2017, but that’s not enough. Time for us all to wake up.

2. Bird takes flight

One day after hitting two doubles, Greg Bird hit two home runs Tuesday, the second of which was particularly notable.

Why? It came off a left-hander, Edgar Olmos, and for all the things Bird showed us during his his rookie 2015, any success against left-handers was fleeting.

Greg Bird 1B / N.Y. Yankees (2015 season)
BA: .261 HR: 11 AB: 157 BB: 19 K: 53

Wait, 2015? Isn’t that ancient history? Well, he missed all of last year with a torn labrum in his shoulder, which is a big reason why the Yankees signed Chris Carter toward the end of the offseason. But now that he’s there, they kind of have to use Carter, and the most logical way would be as a platoon partner for Bird.

The 24-year-old could reinstate his sleeper appeal with more home runs like this one.

3. No more Hedging

In that same sleepers column where I touted Mitch Haniger, I also identified Tom Murphy as the one upside pick at catcher this year. I overlooked another.

Austin Hedges, who technically isn’t a rookie after being rushed to the majors in 2015, is set to become the Padres’ starting catcher after a breakout year at Triple-A El Paso in which he heeded the advice of hitting coach Alan Zinter and added a leg kick to his swing.

Austin Hedges C / San Diego (2016 minors)
BA: .326 HR: 21 AB: 313 BB: 13 K: 51

It all seemed too much too fast for an ex-prospect mostly regarded for his defense, so I wondered how much of it had to do with El Paso’s favorable environment. But with another 2-for-3 performance Tuesday, Hedges is now 6 for 8 with three doubles and zero strikeouts.

And by the sound of it, he’s not done taking advice.

“I feel like I can lay off on pitches. I think that was one of the biggest things for me last year. I chased a lot of pitches I shouldn’t be swinging at,” Hedges told MLB.com. “I know it’s only been two games, but I feel like I’ve been disciplined about getting my pitch and being on time, putting a good swing on it.”

A lack of selectivity was about the one knock on Hedges last year, and as coachable as he has already shown to be, I’m wondering if I overlooked the biggest catcher sleeper of all.

4. O’Brien does it again

When it comes to impressive home runs from Tuesday, Peter O’Brien’s probably takes the cake:

Of course, that’s kind of the norm for the player who set a Statcast record for exit velocity on a 462-foot home run last spring -- and followed it up with five homers over 64 regular-season at-bats with the Diamondbacks. And long home runs have become an everyday occurrence for him this spring. He’s already up to three.

“He has been fun to watch,” manager Ned Yost told MLB.com. “You see him in batting practice, in games. His power is incredible.”  

In a pure skills competition, O’Brien might give Giancarlo Stanton a run in the power hitting category, but there’s a reason he’s not with the Diamondbacks anymore. He hit .141 during that 64-at-bat stint, and his putrid plate discipline might render him just a Quadruple-A type.

But the Royals’ solution to DH right now is a bargain-bin Brandon Moss, who isn’t exactly a mainstay. More of this could give the Royals something to think about, making O’Brien a worthy AL-only sleeper.

5. A’s all around

The Athletics got no fewer than three noteworthy pitching performances Tuesday, including two from bona fide sleepers.

Jharel Cotton struck out four in two no-hit innings (though he did allow an earned run), breaking out the knee-buckling changeup that guided him to a 2.15 ERA in five major-league starts down the stretch last year.

“It was there,” catcher Josh Phegley told MLB.com. “I got to see it first-hand. His fastball was also harder than I guess I kind of expected. I was pretty impressed.”

Andrew Triggs, the side-armer who’s competing for the fifth starter job, allowed no earned runs in two innings, striking out three and walking none. He put together a 2.78 ERA in his final five starts last year, his first extended look as a starting pitcher.

“I still don’t know how people make contact with his pitches,” Phegley said.

And oh, prospect A.J. Puk, their first-round pick last year, struck out the side in his first look against major-league hitters.

“You take the mound for the first time in a spring training game,” manager Bob Melvin told MLB.com, “expect to have some nerves and so forth, and he didn’t. Nice little start for him.”  

Puk still has a lot of development ahead of him, but those other two are absolutely deserving of a look even in mixed leagues. Their big home park should conceal many of their shortcomings, which may be few and far between anyway.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Raised in Atlanta by a board game-loving family during the dawn of the '90s Braves dynasty, Scott White was easy prey for the Fantasy Sports, in particular Fantasy Baseball, and has devoted his adulthood... Full Bio

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