Let's agree from the start ... there will not be an extensive Kris Bryant discussion in this particular piece! The Cub slugger has hijacked all of the Spring scuttlebutt with his power-laden showcase down in Arizona (up to 71 homers at last check, right?). Everyone has an opinion on what he will accomplish in Year #1 (even with the start of Year #1 up in the air) and a vast majority of those opinions expect a fantasy stud from the get-go. I think that more than 20 bombs will land over the wall, but I do worry about a middling-to-weak batting average. Fantasy stud in 2015? No. Top 12 third baseman in 2015? I'll join you there.
OK, OK, the quick and mandatory Bryant run-down is now out of the way. Where do we go from here? Seriously, is there anything else to talk about just one week from the start of the season?! Well, this may come as a shock, but some of the 750 players who will be on an Opening Day roster are providing surprising numbers this spring. They've earned jobs. They've earned a deeper look. Most importantly, they've earned increased draft day attention.
Overall, we'll power through 25 standouts on the eve of what will be another fascinating six-month marathon. For Part 1, we'll focus on infielders and a few outfielders who have turned heads. Tomorrow, in Part 2, we'll finish up with the rest of the spring standouts in the outfield, as well as those on the hump.
Wilin Rosario, Colorado
Just 12 months ago, Rosario was seen as an ascending star within the fantasy community. At least one prominent magazine went so far as to list him as their #1 overall catcher. But, the cart was before the horse as Rosario failed to get 450 at-bats, yet again (oh-for-3 in that category for his career). Things had devolved enough that even his fearsome bat wasn't enough to guarantee playing time upon arrival in Arizona. Now, the Rockies have an issue. Rosario's bat has done plenty of yapping at Talking Stick in Arizona, as he's fashioned an average well over .300 with an OPS just a shade below .800. Meanwhile, the superior defensive options behind the plate (Nick Hundley and Michael McKenry) have barely registered a heartbeat at the plate, hitting a combined .215 with a .580 OPS. Rosario (who can start at 1B and in the OF) will still struggle for 450 ABs, but now the Rockies can't afford to ignore his lumber. They've dealt with his defense for three years ... What's another year?
Efren Navarro, LA Angels
As Albert Pujols officially hits his mid-30s, it's worth noting who might get playing time in the event of a DL-stint for 'El Hombre.' Navarro is not a prospect. He's 28. We saw a bit of him last season (159 MLB at-bats) and there was nothing special to behold (.245/.302/.340), but his March has offered a chance to reassess. 'Cause, hey, the left-handed swinger has actually outperformed even Mike Trout! He's 17-for-39 and looks to be in the running for a possible bench spot to begin the season. If Pujols were to come up lame, Navarro might get the plus-side of a platoon split. The attraction would be his placement in a solid Angels' lineup, more so than any big time production he could give. His power is so-so, but he has a decent eye, a line drive bat, and wonderful defense to bring to any fill-in role.
Tyler Moore, Washington
Moore has been fighting to stay in the Nationals' plans throughout their stay in Florida this month. He's out of options, so if the Nats don't put him on the 25-man Opening Day roster, he would be exposed to free agency. As of now, you can expect him to be in their plans for 2015. Moore has crushed at the dish with nine extra-base hits, eight runs driven in, and a .333 average (over 42 at-bats). He's also been flipping between 1B and the OF, as the team deals with plenty of injury set-backs. Jayson Werth has been ailing for months and is doubtful for the beginning of the season. Ryan Zimmerman's health is a concern every year. Oh, and both Denard Span and Nate McLouth are set to start the year on the DL. There are April chances here and if Moore shows the best of his power bat, you could see some dirt cheap first-month homers. If that were to happen, the road could really open up to a surprising season.
Tommy Medica, San Diego
Medica is quite similar to the two previous names ... a player past the 'prospect' stage who is hoping to fall into some at-bats at first base or even in the outfield. The outfield chances won't come Medica's way in San Diego (Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, and Will Myers will see to that), but he could work alongside Yonder Alonso as a platoon option versus southpaws. He's certainly earned a chance with his work down in Arizona. In fact, he's had one of the most impressive showings of any hitter this month with four wall-climbers, 11 RBI, nine runs, and a .384 average ... in just 31 ABs. He doesn't truly become interesting unless Alonso hits the skids or struggles stay on the diamond again (less than 100 games played in each of the past two seasons). As of now, it's a 'wait until further notice' situation.
Micah Johnson, Chicago White Sox
Johnson has emerged from a glut of 2B options for the South Siders (fellow prospect, Carlos Sanchez, plus vets, Emilio Bonifacio and Gordan Beckham) and appears on track to win the starting spot. He's struggled a bit to make contact (whiffing in nearly 25% of his spring at-bats), but he's gotten on base with 15 hits and four walks, leading to a .413 OBP. Once you get him on-base, you can watch his speed takeover. He's had over 100 combined steals in the past two minor league seasons. He's a burner like Billy Hamilton, but just like Hamilton, his bat offers some pause. He's a definite target in AL-only leagues and can work as a 'what the heck' pick in deeper mixed leagues. More than anything, he can be a rather cheap source of 20+ thefts in 2015.
Luis Valbuena, Houston
There's plenty to like here. A starting third baseman, who also qualifies at 2B. A semi-slugger who has an outside shot at depositing 20 balls over the wall in Houston. A prime example of an overlooked asset in fantasy leagues. Valbuena has disposed of incumbent, Matt Dominguez, with a stellar spring that has seen him turn 35 at-bats into 15 hits, including seven of the extra-base variety. He's likely to top out at a .260 average with 15 homers, but with the ability to help at the corners and up-the-middle, fantasy players have a perfect bench pick, with power upside, in mixed leagues.
Andrelton Simmons, Atlanta
After a dreadful 2014, Simmons needed something - anything - to go his way in camp this year. He's getting it. After dealing with an early oblique issue, Simmons has given us some faith once again. As his 12 RBIs attest, the defensive maestro has come through with runner's on-base. Unlike many others found in this column, Simmons doesn't have to worry about playing time. His mitt keeps him in line for 150 starts. The key here will be a return to double-digit HRs and the bet is that he sees a move back to the mean after a 4.7% HR/FB ratio a season ago. The ceiling is limited (maybe a .255 average, 15 homers, and 75 runs, but few steals), yet if you can snag him as a middle infielder in the back half of your draft, it's worth taking a grip.
Anthony Gose, Detroit
Personally, I have very little faith in Gose. I think he's overmatched at the plate and will fail for Detroit as a lead-off hitter. But, believe it or not, my own personal beliefs are not infallible. My biggest hang-up is that he's had many chances to prove he can hit (552 at-bats over parts of three seasons) and in nearly all of them, he's proven that he can't hit (striking out in more than a quarter of those ABs!). It's embarrassing to have this little pop (a career SLG% of .332) alongside so many punch-outs. All that said, Gose is batting .370 this spring with seven extra-base hits (three triples) and 11 runs scored. As of now, the Tigers expect him to lead-off against righties (with Ian Kinsler likely to be there versus lefties) and if he could get on-base at .350 clip, he could be a fantasy monster. But, I gotta say, I don't think he can top .330 over the course of a year.
Billy Burns, Oakland
Perhaps the only difference between the aforementioned Gose and Burns is that we haven't seen Burns get any kind of extended shot in the bigs (just six at-bats). He actually tops Gose (and, most everybody else) when it comes to speed. In fact, he's crafted an 89% success rate over four minor league seasons (179 total SBs). Burns has aced his spring tryouts with 20 hits in 20 games, leading to an overall .375 batting mark. He will not make it on the Opening Day roster, but his manager, Bob Melvin, says there is no doubt that Burns has made strides in his overall game after a disappointing Triple-A showing in '14. With consistent injury problems in the A's outfield (Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, Craig Gentry, and Sam Fuld) expect to see Burns at some point in late-April.
J.D. Martinez, Detroit
Of everyone mentioned in this column, Martinez is the most coveted on draft day. He turned heads all over the place by resurrecting his career with Detroit last summer. Featuring an extraordinary (and, unrepeatable, given his contact issues) BABIP of .395, Martinez ended up with 23 shots and a .315 batting average. Coming into the spring, everyone had him pegged as a one-shot wonder. That's still likely to be the case, but let's give him some credit for what he's done down in Florida. Detroit has given him a load of playing time (49 at-bats) as they try and figure out what they have, as well. He's done nothing but excel with five homers among his 17 hits. He's also in double-figures for runs (12) and RBIs (11). He's dropping everywhere in drafts, but if you're looking at a 4th OF and he's around, you can do worse than to take a guy who will hit behind Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. I wouldn't call for a re-run of a season ago, but if you put your expectations at 20 HRs with a .275 average, you could wake up happy in October.
Tomorrow - Part 2 of our Spring Bumps with a look at NL outfielders and all pitchers.
You can hear Kyle each weeknight on 'The SiriusXM Fantasy Drive' from 7-10 ET, Sirius 210, XM 87.
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