Could Matt Kemp be the primary left fielder in Los Angeles?
It's looking more and more like it. Manager Dave Roberts this week stated that Kemp could see at-bats versus both LH and RH pitchers, rather than being on the short side of a platoon with the lefty-swinging Andrew Toles. Through 38 plate appearances this spring, Kemp was batting a strong .333/.368/.722 with four homers and a pair of doubles. He lost more than 40 pounds this winter while coming to camp in great shape and by all reports, with a much-improved and positive attitude. Kemp entered to a crowded outfield situation already and by all reports, he was acquired strictly to dump other bad contracts and get the team under the luxury tax. At worst case, he's made himself attractive to other teams, likely as an AL DH, but the Dodgers appear ready to give him plenty of at-bats to see what he has left. Kemp has seen his game deteriorate sharply the past few seasons but as recently as 2016, he did hit 35 home runs, so with being in better shape, the Dodgers appear at least ready to give him a chance at redemption. This likely means Joc Pederson opens in Triple-A with Toles as a 4th outfielder and Kike Hernandez as a super-sub.
How much playing time will LA's Austin Barnes receive?
With the way 2017 ended, many thought the Dodgers were prepared to give Barnes the everyday catcher role and either trade or demote Grandal to a #2 catcher role. Grandal though has come into camp in great shape, and after a slow start is hitting very well and will be the team's primary catcher. At this point figure Barnes gets 35% of the catcher at-bats, so that's 57 games. Add in some pinch-hitting appearances and the occasional start at second base or perhaps third and we're probably talking about 280-300 plate appearances. That's enough to give him NL-only or deeper mixed league #2 catcher value, and perhaps the Dodgers ultimately deal Grandal, but Barnes' value may be a bit suppressed initially. Barnes put up a strong 2.5 WAR in just 262 PA last year and the ratios were impressive - 14.9% BB%, 16.4% K%. He also increased his hard hit rate year-over-year from 21.7% to 30.9% in 2017, though at this point the organization doesn't appear to think he's ready for the rigors of catching 120+ games a year. Maybe that changes this year or next, but for now, temper your expectations.
What can the Giants expect from Brandon Belt?
A concussion limited Belt to just 104 games last year and likely impacted his .241/.355/.469 slash. His 18 homers tied a career high, leaving the Giants hopeful that he can take that next step and put it all together (finally) in 2018. A healthy Belt has a real shot at a .280/.370/.500 season with 25 home runs and 85-100 RBI. His walk rates the past two seasons (15.9% and 14.6%) are elite, and his 23.8% K% is acceptable these days, though with that sort of walk rate, perhaps he can get down more in the 20% range. Belt is never going to be a 40-homer slugger, but this should be the year that Belt starts justifying that $79 million contract, a number that looks very reasonable these days when one considers what the Padres just gave Eric Hosmer. The usual caveat around spring stats aside, Belt is hitting .382/.500/.765 in the Cactus League, so he'll look to carry that momentum to Opening Day, though he will be facing Clayton Kershaw out of the gate.
Does Steve Duggar really still top the Giants' CF depth chart?
Yes he really does. Through Saturday, Duggar was hitting .270/.372/.622 with four home runs in 44 spring plate appearances. At a minimum, he seems to headed to the strong side of a platoon with Austin Jackson, and given that last year Duggar had an .830 OPS versus southpaws in High-A followed by a brief 6-for-13 stint against them in Triple-A, it's possible he could even see regular duty against lefties as well if he gets off to a good start. Dugger, 24, is a bit young for a Giants team that hopes to compete this year, but they would certainly be wise to give him playing time given how well he's going. Injuries limited Duggar to 192 PA last year, bug in that time he posted a 14.1 BB% to go with an impressive 18 XBH. I'm targeting him in deeper league drafts all day.
Is the 2016 version of Trevor Story back?
If you judge by March stats, perhaps. Through 37 PA, Story was batting a robust .455/.514/.879 with 10 of his 15 hits going for extra bases. The 12 strikeouts reflect his 34.4% K% from last year, a number that's going to need to come down sharply if Story is going to ever hope to hold off top prospect Brendan Rogers. Story saw several key metrics drop last year in addition to the K%. His swinging strike rate rose from 12.5% to 14.1% and his hard hit rate dipped from 44.9% to 40.3%. Fewer of his flyballs went over the wall as well. For a guy who fanned 31.3% of the time in 2016, the drop-off shouldn't have been a huge shocker, but don't wrote Story off completely just yet. He's going to get a long leash and the results so far this spring have been solid save the strikeouts.
When will we see David Dahl in the COL outfield?
It likely won't be Opening Day. Through 57 plate appearances, Dahl does have five home runs, but
his .208/.263/.528 slash likely won't be enough to keep him from opening in Triple-A. The Rockies seem set to go with Ian Desmond at first base and Parra/Blackmon/Gonzalez as the primary outfielders. Perhaps if Dahl had been a RH hitter he'd have a shot at the 25-man roster, but alas, it was not meant to be, at least for now. Dahl has played in just 98 professional games since the 2015 season, so starting him in Triple-A makes sense. If one was to set the over/under on his 2018 big league plate appearances, I'd go something like 350 for right now at least. Dahl's only big league action came back in 2016, and it was a very successful .315/.359/.500 in 237 PA, so we know the upside is there. Now he just needs the opportunity.
Greg Bird (1B-NYY) - Bird finally homered for the first time this spring on Sunday, though it was his only hit in three at-bats and he's hitting just .171/.292/.368 this spring. Still, there's a lot to like about Bird as a bit of a sleeper (if the term still exists in fantasy) this year. Bird looks like he will open in the third slot in the lineup between a couple pretty good players, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. That shouldn't hurt his chances at seeing good pitches to hit. In addition, Bird, while he hit just .190/.288/.422 overall last year, still did post a .232 ISO, and in his final 98 2017 plate appearances, the lefty slugger batted a respectable .253/.316/.575 with eight home runs while dropping his K% to a much-improved 20.4% while getting unlucky a bit with a .230 BABIP. If Bird can actually stay healthy for 550 PA, 30 home runs in that ballpark seems easily doable. Bird may still strike out close to 25%, but he does have the ability to lay off bad pitches, so perhaps he can get that BA up more in the .270 range.
Jorge Soler (OF-KC) - Soler has been a massive disappointment since signing with the Cubs amidst much hype back in 2012. He has a .730 OPS in 875 career PA's, but the hope for the Royals is that he's finally coming into his own this season. Sunday Soler went 3-for-3 with a home run and three runs score to raise his slash to .271/.364/.708 this spring. He will probably hit sixth, which should provide a fair share of RBI opportunities. Soler's 28.2% career K% is the real elephant in the room, but perhaps the change of scenery and the real lack of competition for at-bats. For what it's worth, Soler also reportedly lost 20 pounds this winter while also retooling his swing. He's worth a flier in deeper leagues.
Ryan O'Hearn (1B-KC) - O'Hearn is likely competing for the starting first base job with Lucas Duda, and given Duda signed the $3.5 million contract this offseason, O'Hearn has to be considered the underdog. Duda is also carrying a 1.300 OPS this spring, but given the Royals are likely in a rebuild status, they appear to be giving O'Hearn a real chance. Sunday he hit a two-run double in his only at-bat to raise his slash to a solid .433/.485/1.133. The Royals could slot Jorge Soler in right field, and rotate Duda and O'Hearn between DH and first base, but this battle is far from over. O'Hearn hit a modest .252/.325/.450 in Triple-A last season, so it's wise to temper our expectations, but he's certainly impressed this spring. He's put up some lofty strikeout rates in the minors, but the power is real.
Stephen Piscotty (OF-OAK) - Piscotty probably is never going to be a .320-35-120 guy, but he's in a good situation in Oakland in terms of playing time and he's off to a nice start this spring. Piscotty went 2-for-3 with a walk on Sunday to raise his slash to .303/.361/.576. It appears he'll be hitting in the fifth slot for now, but if he keeps this up, he'll move up. Piscotty is a career .268/.346/.438 hitter in 1,305 career plate appearances. He did hit much better in his rookie season (.273/.343/.457), but that also came with a .372 BABIP. The 27-year-old has pretty solid career ratios at 9.4% BB% and 21.1% K%, so a step forward this year wouldn't be a huge surprise. Think perhaps .280/.370/.450 with 20 homers and 5-10 steals as the upside.
Hunter Renfroe (OF-SD) - Renfroe hit HR #5 of the spring Sunday against the Dodgers and is now batting .250/.291/.615 in 55 PA. His K:BB sits at an ugly 14:2 after posting a 29.2% K% and 5.0% BB% last season, so the plate discipline concerns remain real. Even in Renfroe's last full season in Triple-A, his BB% was just 3.9%, so the scenario that sees him hitting .180 with six homers at the end of April and being demoted to Triple-A seems all too real. Meanwhile, with the solid spring that Jose Pirela is having, Renfroe may be out of a starting job anyway unless the Padres slot Pirela at second base. There's also spring sensation and awesomely-named Franchy Cordero and his .343/.465/.714 slash, giving the Padres multiple options. To me, Renfoe just isn't that good. The 30-homer power is there, but does he even hit .220 at this point? I'm guessing a trade is the most likely scenario.
Yandy Diaz (3B-CLE) - Diaz had another strong game Sunday, going 3-for-3 (all singles) with an RBI to raise his slash to a strong .412/.474/.559 this spring. He's homered once in 38 PA to go with a 10:4 K:BB. That said, where will the playing time come from? Diaz isn't first on the depth chart at any position, but he does seem likely to win a job as a utility guy. Diaz failed to homer in 170 MLB PA's last year while posting a .679 OPS, so the fantasy appeal is probably limited to AL-only / deeper mixed leagues given the lack of speed and power, but he's at least making a case for 300 2018 PA this spring. You've hear of launch angle though right? The latest trend in statistical analysis found that Diaz had the LOWEST launch angle of any MLB player with 100+ at-bats last year. Maybe he pulls a Justin Turner / Yonder Alonso (teammate) and changes that this season. If so, the results could be interesting.
A.J. Cole (SP-WAS) - Cole got the loss Sunday, but he did allow just one run in four innings while allowing two hits, a walk, and six strikeouts. Cole now has a 4.00 ERA this spring to go with a 13:2 K:BB In nine innings. He's competing with the likes of Erick Fedde and Jeremy Hellickson for the #5 starter job, but Cole has a pretty good-sized lead on that battle right now. Cole was a 4th round pick with 1st round talent, and perhaps this is the year we start to see that talent. In 99.2 career big league innings, Cole's 4.52 ERA fails to impress, but he does miss bats (8.3 K/9) and if he can cut down on the walks as he's done so far this spring, there's certainly some NL-only and deeper mixed league value to be had.
Kyle Schwarber (OF-CHC) - I'm usually inherently skeptical at these "best shape of his life" stories, but I'm starting to buy into Schwarber's 20-pound weight loss. He looks better in the field even though he's never going to remind anyone of Kevin Kiermeier out there. Sunday, Schwarber went 1-for-1 with two runs scored, two walks, and somehow his FOURTH stolen base of the spring. Schwarber is hitting a strong .378/.477/.757 in 44 plate appearances. He's fanned 29.5% of the time, but the K's are always going to be there. We will see whether this carries over to the regular season, but the early returns are encouraging. Before you get too skeptical, remember that as a 22-year-old in Double-A, Schwarber did hit .320/.438/.579. The bat has a very high ceiling, and if the added weight helps him be at least passable defensively, Schwarber could see 500 PA and hit .250/.350/.500 as a ceiling. In OBP leagues, he has far more value than in traditional 5 x 5.
Travis d'Arnaud (C-NYM) - Few players have disappointed me as much as d'Arnaud the last three or so years. As the other guy in the R.A. Dickey deal, d'Arnaud was supposed to be an All-Star catcher by this point, but instead he's a .245/.306/.406 career hitter in 1,453 PA. d'Arnaud went 2-for-4 with a double and homer Sunday to raise his slash to a strong .323/.447/.613. Kevin Plawecki is probably going to get more playing time than the typical #2 catcher, so beware of playing time issues with d'Arnaud. His 6.3% BB% regressed again last year and he did show some improvement in getting the ball in the air, so though his days as a possible perennial All-Star are probably over, there's still some left in the tank.
Tyson Ross (SP-SD) - Two years ago this spring, Ross was coming off a three-year run in which he put up a 3.07 ERA and 9.2 K/9. Then in 2016-2017, injuries limited Ross to just 54.1 big league innings. Is he done? The Padres signed him to a minor league deal in December hoping not. Sunday, Ross limited the Dodgers to a run over four innings to lower his ERA this spring to 3.00 over 15 innings to go with a modest 11 K's. Ross has seen his velocity dip well over two mph since its peak, but perhaps if he's healthy, he can get a little of that back. Ross appears to be in line to win the No. 5 starter job coming out of camp, so consider him a pretty deep sleeper.