We all know that Spring Training stats don't matter, and it's pretty much true. Springs stats have very little correlation with what happens during the upcoming season, whether it's because of small sample size, minor league competition, or players working on things (new pitches, mechanics, etc.) as oppose to focusing on winning. Last year, Justin Verlander, Justin Masterson, C.C. Sabathia, and C.J. Wilson all posted ERA's under 2.00 in the spring - and over 4.50 during the regular season. Meanwhile, Corey Kluber posted a 5.60 ERA last spring, then went on to win the AL Cy Young. As far as the other Cy winner - Kershaw's ERA last spring was 9.20. Mike Moustakas over the past two springs batted .409 with 9 HR's and 34 RBI in 127 AB's, then did nothing in either of the following regular seasons. (Maybe there's a correlation between preseason and postseason performance; Moustakas, Kershaw..)
Nevertheless, there are some players whose spring performance could affect how I would view them on draft day. Often these are players trying to recovery from injury or make certain adjustments to their game. Of course, for some players, how they fare in the preseason could affect what role (if any) they play on their team. Here's a look at few players that I'll be keeping tabs on this spring.
Carlos Carrasco, SP, CLE
At this point it is well known that Carrasco is a popular breakout pick for the 2015 season, and for good reason. Not only did he post a 2.55 ERA and 0.99 WHIP over 134 IP last season, but he had the peripherals to back it up; increased velocity, a 13.0 Swinging Strike%, 9.40 K/9, and 1.95 BB/9, all of which are easily career highs and well above league average. He may have gotten a bit lucky with a .274 BABIP and 7.1 HR/FB% but overall his 2.66 xFIP indicates that his numbers are well deserved. The one thing Carrasco doesn't have is a long track record. It's important to remember that he spent a majority of 2014 in the bullpen after a not so good starting stint in April, so the hype is for the most part coming from his dominant 10 start stretch to end the season. (And dominant he was, with a 1.30 ERA and 78:11 K:BB over 69 IP.) For what it's worth, Carrasco did once before put together a string of good outings; over a five start stretch in June 2011, he posted an 0.98 ERA with a 28:5 K:BB over 36.2 IP only to fall apart right afterwards, but that stretch was shorter and not quite as good as what he did last year. If Carrasco pitches well this spring, we would have to assume that he can maintain whatever adjustments he made last year, and he would be worthy of a middle round pick. In his first Cactus League appearance, he pitched 3 innings, allowed a run on 2 hits, struck out two and walked none, so he's off to a good start. If he were to struggle throughout the spring however, that would give me reason for caution.
Brett Cecil, RP, TOR
Over the last two years, Cecil has been one of the best relievers in baseball, as his ERA, FIP, and xFIP have all been under 3.00 both years. He even took it up a notch last season, finishing in the top ten in K/9 (12.83) and Swinging Strike% (16.5%). Still, most of Cecil's fantasy value would come from being the Blue Jays' closer, a position he has a chance to win this spring. Whether or not that happens will depend not only on his spring performance, but also on whether the Jays decide to use Aaron Sanchez in the rotation or in the bullpen. Now that Marcus Stroman is out for the season, the chances of Sanchez ending up in the rotation have increased, and so have the chances of Cecil becoming the closer. Cecil hasn't pitched yet in March due to shoulder soreness, but the Blue Jays seem hopeful that he will make his debut sometime within the week. If he does win the closer job, he will probably have a hard time reaching the top tier, as his already mediocre BB% ballooned to 11.5% in 2014, but being the closer would certainly warrant ownership in all leagues.
Adam Eaton, OF, CWS
Eaton can be counted on as a three category contributor. He hits for a high average, thanks to a career 15.5% K-rate and an elite 4.8% swinging strike rate. He can score a lot of runs at the top of the White Sox lineup and he certainly has the ability to steal bases. While his .359 BABIP last year may be due for some regression, he has always had very high BABIP's in the minors, so his BA should remain high. Apparently, many fantasy owners feel that his 15 SB's from last year are not enough to make up for his lack of power as he is currently not even owned in about a third of fantasy leagues. However, Eaton mentioned at some point last season that he would like to steal more bases, and so far he is 2/2 in the SB department this spring. Steals have a higher correlation between Spring Training and the regular season than any of the other standard offensive fantasy stats, so it will be interesting to see what he does over the next few weeks. Jarrod Dyson, Dee Gordon, Billy Hamilton, and Ben Revere stole 10, 9, 9, and 6 bases respectively last spring, although you probably could have predicted high SB totals for them even without that. (At the same time, Kole Calhoun had four steals in the spring, and then only stole five more the entire season, so who knows.) Either way, the potential is there, as he had two 40+ SB seasons in the minors. If he can make adjustments to improve his 62.5% success from 2014, he could easily approach 25 SB's this season, and very possibly be a top-30 outfielder.
Scooter Gennett, 2B, MIL
So far in his young career, Gennett has proven to be an excellent contact hitter, with a 15.5% career K-rate and 24.8% LD rate, leading to a .300 lifetime BA. He has also shown moderate power and speed with 15 HR's, 42 doubles, 5 triples, and 8 SB's over 653 lifetime at bats. The problem is that the Brewers have only been playing him against righties, and understandably so. In his MLB career, Gennett has slugged .141 against lefties (that's a SLG average, not BA), and while 78 AB against southpaws is a small sample size, that number is just downright embarrassing. The Brewers seem to be letting him get AB's against lefties in Spring Training to see if he can become an everyday player. So far he is 2 for 6, and the situation is worth monitoring. As long as he only faces righties, he'll have a tough time reaching double digit homers or steals in a season, and his other counting stats will obviously suffer as well. This would make him a very frustrating player to own, unless you can afford a bench spot for him for whenever Milwaukee faces a LHP. If, however, he does end up playing against lefties (and assuming he actually does something in those at bats), he can end up with solid contributions across the board, especially if he slots in as the Brewer's leadoff hitter. If that happens, it's very reasonable Gennett finishes as a top-10 second baseman - and there are still many leagues in which he is unowned.
Brandon Moss, 1B-OF, CLE
Moss has become a top power source with 76 homeruns over the past 2 and ½ seasons. However, the power vanished in the second half of 2014, when he only hit 4 HR's and slugged .274. The assumption seems to be that the decline was due to a hip injury, which he had surgery on in the offseason. The question now becomes how well he has recovered from the injury, and so far the reports have been positive. He homered in his first Spring Training game, and while one homerun doesn't make a season, a few more dingers this spring should make owners more confident that he has returned to form. Don't expect too much improvement on his .238 BA, as his 26.4% K-rate last season, while lower than his mark from the previous two years, is still well above league average. But if he can approach 30 homeruns again, he could easily out-earn his current ADP which hovers around 150.
Alex Rios, OF, KC
After only hitting 4 homeruns over the entire 2014 season, Rios has already hit three during the first week of Spring Training. While Rios' 2014 was looked at as a down year, that was really just due to his lowly power totals as he did still hit .280 with 17 SB's. His BA was fueled by a .335 BABIP, but that was backed up by a career high 23.5% LD rate, a 5.9% IFFB% (lowest since 2006) and a 1.27 GB/FB ratio (highest since 2005). His 17.9% K-rate was his highest since 2006, but his Swinging Strike% of 7.3% was right around his career average so it's reasonable to think his K% could regress closer to his lifetime 16.1% mark. Regardless, the question concerning Rios is if he can rebound in the power department. While it's certainly makes sense for a 34 year old to be in decline, it seems to have happened quite rapidly for Rios, as his 2.9 HR/FB% in 2014 follows nine straight years where that number was never below 7.0%. If Rios can continue his power surge throughout the spring, it would be hard not to project him for a HR total in the teens in 2015, and if he does that, he could once again be a very valuable fantasy player.
Time Frame: Preseason
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