Shortstop Situation - With the news of Jorge Polanco's 80 game PED suspension, Eduardo Escobar figures to be next in line for the gig in Minnesota. Coming of 2017 numbers of .256/.301/.525, 21 homers and 73 RBI in 129 games, Escobar could provide some late round pop in deeper formats. Between filling in for Polanco, along with his normal utility role, Escobar will see enough AB's to be fantasy relevant. A dark horse candidate for the job could be top prospect Nick Gordon, who is posting a .409/.435/.636 line this spring, but has not posted much in the way of counting stats. While it appears unlikely Gordon will be considered for the gig coming out of camp, he will be hard to ignore if he continues to hit in the minors, and Escobar struggles. Draft Escobar late, but keep an eye on the Twins' farm.
Lance Lynn (SP-MIN) - The latest addition to the Minnesota rotation pitched three innings in an intrasquad scrimmage Sunday in Fort Myers. This was Lynn's first work as a Twin, and manager Paul Molitor was impressed, but stated Lynn's control was off a bit, which is understandable. The 30 year old has been able to throw at least 175 innings every season since 2012, so he remains a durable piece. It remains to be seen how he acclimates to Target Field, which was a top six park for homers allowed in 2017. Lynn sported a career high HR/FB% of 14.2%, while pitching in a home park that ranked near the bottom in HR's per game in Busch Stadium. His current ADP of 218 seems like a fair price for a durable starter with a talented offense behind him.
Sean Manaea (SP-OAK) - Ok, maybe I'm being a bit of a homer here since Manaea played his college ball at my alma mater, Indiana State University (Trees!), but he is one of my favorite late round starters. However, there are a few things that need to improve. First is health. I would love to get more than 158 innings from him this season, which is the number he posted last year. I would also love to see the strand rate climb back above 70% as it was in 2016. Lastly, I am hoping he can use his arsenal of pitches to his advantage and miss more bats. In his 10.2 innings this spring, he has fanned nine batters, a positive sign, but has also walked five. The former Sycamore is a candidate to take a big step in 2018 and become the clear ace of Oakland's staff.
Jharel Cotton (SP-OAK) - Speaking of whiffing batters, Cotton struck out 16 in his 12 innings of work so far this spring. The problem is Cotton will need Tommy John surgery and miss all of 2018. Coming off a 2017 where he was a potential breakout candidate in fantasy, his overall stats were disappointing. A 5.58 ERA, a 5.68 FIP, and a 9.4% BB% left fantasy owners out in the cold. He entered this year with some hype for a breakout, but it will have to be shelved for yet another year. If you can stash him in a deep dynasty, he is worth a minimal investment, but he becomes an afterthought in all yearly leagues.
Jose Altuve (OF-HOU) There's not much I can tell you about Altuve from a fantasy standpoint. The Astros see the value in him as well, locking up last year's AL MVP for five years, shelling out $151 million. With 24 homers, 112 runs, 81 RBI, 32 steals, and a 346/.410/547 slash, he is no question the next player off the board after that Trout fella. Oh yeah, and he is just now entering his age 27 "prime." It is scary what this guy could do in a lineup that will figure to put runs up in bunches.
Starting Rotation - In addition to locking up the AL MVP, Houston has put together a solid starting rotation in an attempt to go back-to-back in 2018. The Astros' rotation figures to shake out in the following order: Verlander, Keuchel, McCullers Jr., Cole, and Morton. With this collection, it is one of the few staffs in which all five starters are fantasy relevant. Depending upon where you stand on the value of spring stats, it is encouraging to see all five averaging a strikeout or more per inning, as well as Cole having the highest ERA at a whopping 2.04. Of the five McCullers is one of my overall favorite players heading into 2018, and at his ADP of 127, he makes for an exceptional value, as long as health stays on his side.
Around The League
Zack Greinke (SP-ARI) - Despite being ruled out for Opening Day with groin tightness, the 34 year old does not figure to miss much time. As the 12th starter off the board, it is never a good thing to see your SP1 suffer an injury in spring, especially at the age Greinke is. If he is able to put this behind him, there is no reason to not expect another solid season, especially with the humidor at Chase Field possibly working to his advantage.
Marcus Stroman (SP-TOR) - Saturday was a positive sign for Stroman, as he was able to put together two scoreless innings in an exhibition against the Canadian Junior National Team. Even with the strong outing, his first start of the season is now on track to come in game number four. This is positive news for fantasy owners, as well as the Jays as they will not need to find a fill in starter. From a fantasy perspective, it is never a good sign when a starter is having shoulder issues, but he appears to be headed in the right direction as the ace of Toronto's staff. In his second straight 201 inning season, Stroman cut his ERA by over a point, as well as increased his strand rate by nearly 10%. His lack of size will make him a potential injury candidate the more he pitches, but at age 26 he still has plenty of good baseball ahead of him. If the injury pushes him down the draft board a bit, hop on it.
Ian Happ (CF-CHC) - Usually it's not a good idea to get excited about a player who does not have a starting gig. Happ may not have a clear path as a starter, but in this case, that will work to your benefit in fantasy. The belief is he will become the new Ben Zobrist of the Cubs, and see time at second base, as well as in all three outfield spots. In addition to being eligible multiple places, Happ boasts 30 homer/15 steal potential, but continues to strike out at a high rate, so temper expectations in average and OBP.
A.J. Cole (SP-WAS) - With no options left, Cole will make the Nationals' Opening Day roster. What his role will be is still up in the air. The 26 year old is competing with veteran Jeremy Hellickson for the fifth and final spot in the Washington rotation. His 3.81 ERA is deceiving as it was bailed out by an 81% strand rate in his eight 2017 starts. Cole also walked nearly five batters per nine innings, but was able to get out of jams. That will figure to catch up with him, and makes him a shaky option in fantasy even if he does win the job. Cole could be much more valuable if he heads to the bullpen, and could potentially contribute in holds leagues. If he does start, save him for the deepest of formats.
Cardinals' Catchers - Batting .100 is not going to win a spot with the big club, as Cards prospect Carson Kelly found out as he was optioned in favor of Francisco Pena as the backup to the ageless wonder Yadier Molina. Coming off a solid season, Molina could get a bit more rest than he has in the past, which means more time for whomever is backing him up. Kelly will be back at some point, especially if he can get his offensive game to match his defense. There is no reason to not expect a similar year from Molina, though it is tough to believe he can match his 2017 home run or stolen base output. Kelly will be back at some point, and could be a nice addition in two catcher leagues if he carves out enough playing time.
Jacoby Ellsbury (OF-NYY)- Ellsbury will begin 2018 on the DL, and with four talented outfielders ahead of him, there isn't much playing time to be had. With 68 million left on one of the worst contracts in recent memory, the veteran does not seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. That is, unless the Yankees pay most of the money, which may not be a bad option at this point just to move on from a bad signing. If he can find a scenario with playing time he could be worth an add during the season, but with his best days behind him, paired with injuries, there is no need to look his way in drafts.
Michael Brantley (OF-CLE) - It seems Michael Brantley has been around for a long time, and should be much older than 30. Maybe it's the injuries that fool us, but he has been a hard man to count on because of it. Coming off ankle surgery, Brantley will make his 2018 Spring Training debut on Wednesday. If all continues to go well, he could be ready for Opening Day. Currently, he is the 56th outfielder off the board, and for a guy who could hit .300, steal 20 bases and hit 15 home runs, it could turn out to be a bargain.
Ryan McMahon (1B-COL) - The re-signing of Carlos Gonzalez has all but solidified McMahon's fate as it appears he will begin the year in Triple-A. The move puts 2017 free agent signing Ian Desmond as the first baseman in Colorado to begin the season. McMahon is still worth a stash in deep leagues, as he will get an opportunity at some point. CarGo and Desmond are not the definition of health, and if McMahon gets the call, he figures to cost a good amount of FAAB money. Stash him if you can.
Carlos Asuaje (2B-SD) - With a .378 average this spring, Asuaje is leading the way in the competition with Corey Spangenberg for the starting second base spot in San Diego. Displaying better defense can't hurt either. In 89 games in 2017, the 26 year old hit .270/.334/.362 with four home runs and 21 RBI. With an ADP in the 600s, he most likely isn't being drafted in most leagues. If he wins the job, he could be an under the radar contributor with regular AB's. The Padre offense figures to score some runs, despite playing in a pitcher friendly park, and Asuaje could have a hand in that. He is currently projected to hit at the bottom of the order, but considering the price, he could come in handy in deeper formats.