Jung Ho Kang (3B-PIT) - Kang got a boost in value Monday, as he was named the team's starting third baseman. This spring, Kang is hitting just .179, but all five of his hits have left the yard, and for a team lacking in power upside, he'll be a welcome sight in the middle of the Pirates' order. Kang held off Colin Moran (.214/.303/.357) for the job, but he'll have to at least get off to a decent start to avoid losing playing time. Kang offers 20-25 homer upside, but a 0.36 career BB/K limits his BA upside to somewhere in the .260-.270 range. Unfortunately he'll likely qualify as a 3B-only guy unless perhaps newly-minted starting SS Erik Gonzalez struggles and the Pirates elect to move Kang to short and install Moran at 3B.
- LA Dodgers:
What's the rotation looking like?
At the outset, it was set in stone that the Dodgers would open with a rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Kenta Maeda. I'd still expect those five to accumulate more starts than the rest of the candidates, but with Kershaw and Buehler delayed a bit by injuries, the door is open for alternate candidates, at least for the first week or so. Ross Stripling (2.08 ERA this spring) is expected to get the first chance, but Julio Urias is coming on strong. Urias though is expected to be under an innings limit (100?) this year, and he's yet to top three innings in an outings this spring, so he's probably more of a second-half guy right now. Alternatively, the Dodgers could carry 13 pitchers and use Stripling and Urias for 3-4 innings in the same game. Nothing is off the table at this point. Maeda is the one that's looking really good this spring, and he tends to get lost as a fantasy option, as he's bumped back and forth from the rotation and bullpen recently.
Who's in the outfield?
The Dodgers announced this week that OF Alex Verdugo is expected to make the roster. With Cody Bellinger and A.J. Pollock as everyday outfielders, Verdugo looks to be competing for at-bats with Joc Pederson. Max Muncy though is hitting just .172 this spring, so another scenario has Bellinger moving back at first base with Pederson and Verdugo starting at the OF corners. Pederson is hitting a modest .189/.279/.541 with all seven of his hits going for XB's, and he's been much better in recent games. Verdugo sits at .294/.306/.412 with just one walk and no home runs. I do think a Pederson trade still remains very possible, as the Dodgers have shown a willingness to make deals late in spring. For now, Pederson looks to be the odd man out, though this situation is still very fluid.
- SF Giants:
Checking in on the outfield situation
All we really know is speculation from the Giants' beat writers. For now, it appears the Opening Day OF will be Mac Wiliamson, Steven Duggar, and Gerardo Parra. Just a bit short of the Red Sox in terms of overall talent. Duggar is sort of interesting, as he swiped 16 bases a year ago and he should lead off initially. Duggar though saw his .255/.303/.390 slash elevated by an unsustainable .356 BABIP, so all these guys are best saved for very deep leagues. Williamson is sort of interesting after posting a .905 AAA OPS in 2018, but he's also just .222/.295/.681 in parts of four big league stints. Parra is what he is at this point. The opportunity is there for a sleeper to jump up and grab a job, but guys like Chris Shaw, Cameron Maybin, and Austin Slater aren't exactly tantalizing options either.
Can Joe Panik get back to 2015 form?
After a strong sophomore season saw him bat .312/.378/.455, Panik hasn't come close to that since, batting a combined
.262/.325/.383 from 2016-2018 while averaging 8 HR and 4 SB. We could deal with the lack of counting stats in deeper leagues if he could hit .300, but that's obviously not happening. This spring though, Panik has hit everything thrown at him, batting .469/.500/.563. Of his 14 hits though, 13 have been singles and the other, a home run. Panik did hit .316 (all singles) in his final 16 games last year, so maybe the groin and finger injuries he suffered through impacted his final slash line. Now healthy, Panik could be a nice late-round MI grab as a BA booster.
- COL Rockies:
Breakout time for Jon Gray?
With a 2.25 ERA and impressive 22:1 K:BB in 17.2 innings, are we about to be sucked back in as believers in Gray's upside? The 6'4" Gray added significant muscle to his frame in the offseason, bulking up from a reported 209 lbs. to 235. Big increase for sure, but he has the frame to handle it. Gray posted excellent ratios last year (9.6 K/9, 2.7 BB/9), but allowing HR's at a 1.4/9 clip boosted his ERA to 5.12 versus a 4.12 FIP. Gray has a 4.30 ERA at home over the past three years, so if he can continue to make improvements and improve on the road, he could approach top-40 SP status.
Caleb Smith (SP-MIA) - Smith came up big Monday, allowing just one run on two hits over five strong innings against the Nationals. Smith didn't walk a hitter while fanning seven and taking his ERA to 1.00 in nine innings. He got off to a late start due to an injury, but in those nine innings now, Smith has allowed just two hits while posting a 13:0 K:BB. A lat injury ended his 2018 early, but Smith flashed some upside with a 10.2 K/9 in 77.1 innings. If he can continue to limit the walks (3.8 BB/9 in 2018). One thing to watch early is his ground ball rate. In 96 big league innings, that mark sits at a very low 28.2%, leaving the lefty prone to the home run ball. Still, the overall tool set is interesting.
Carter Kieboom (2NB/SS-WAS) - Kieboom has just 62 games above High Class A to his credit, but as we've seen with guys like Juan Soto, the Nationals won't hesitate to aggressively promote their top prospects. Kieboom was 2-for-4 on Monday and is now hitting a robust .314/.381/.657 this spring with three home runs. He'll begin the year in the upper minors, but perhaps the Nationals won't be super-patient with Brian Dozier, who finished poorly last year and is off to a .182/.289/.394 start this spring. Kieboom struggled a bit in his Double-A stint last year, batting a modest .262/.326/.395, though he did hit .367/.466/.429 in his last 13 games.
Rio Ruiz (3B-BAL) - Renato Nunez currently tops the depth chart at third, but Nunez is nursing a sore arm while hitting just .226/.265/.452 this spring. Ruiz meanwhile is making his case by batting .297/.400/.541 with a solid 8:6 K:BB and a pair of home runs. Once a well-regarded prospect, Ruiz has certainly done well to land in the right organization, as in most other systems, he'd likely be in minor league camp by now. He had just a .712 OPS in the minors last year, but if given regular playing time, Ruiz is certainly worth a spot in AL-only and deep mixed league formats. Ruiz is unlikely to be more than a spot starter long term unless by some sort of miracle, he overhauls his swing and adds some loft a la Justin Turner.
Carson Kelly (C-ARI) - With the signing of Adam Jones, it appears the Diamondbacks will go into the year with Kelly and Alex Avila as their two catchers. Kelly is hitting .276/.344/.448 this spring, and though he's yet to break through at the big league level in three stints since 2016, this time his playing time should be less erratic. Kelly doesn't project as a big power guy, but with a 1.0 BB/K in AAA, he controls the zone well and could be good for a .270-10-50 type of line with enough playing time. That's more than sufficient for deeper two catcher leagues. After dealing franchise icon Paul Goldschmidt this winter, the Diamondbacks appear poised for a soft rebuild, making it likely that Kelly sees at least 50% of the playing time, if not more as the season progresses and the losses pile up.
Dakota Hudson (SP-STL) - Hudson may have locked up a rotation spot Monday, tossing five shutout innings and striking out eight.
That take Hudson's ERA to 1.72 in 15.2 innings with a 17:4 K:BB. Battling John Gant (3.46 ERA with just six K's in 13 innings), Hudson should now be the heavy favorite to break camp in the rotation. Hudson managed a 2.63 ERA as a reliever with the Cardinals last year, but in those 27.1 innings, he struggled to a 19:18 K:BB. That same year in AAA, Hudson's 2.50 ERA was excellent, but the 7.0 K/9 gives us pause. He's more of a ground ball (3.6 G/F with the Cardinals) guy than a strikeout guy, limiting his overall fantasy appeal. Still, Hudson has a big arm (mid-90s fastball), and he was the #34 overall pick in 2016, so there is some breakout potential.
Byron Buxton (OF-MIN) - Could this (finally) be the year that Buxton breaks out? He's still just 25, but it's hard to not get excited about what a guy with his pedigree is doing this spring. Monday, Buxton went 2-for-3 with two stolen bases to bump his impressive slash line to .448/.500/.966. He's tallied four homers with three steals, and could finally be set for a breakout season. Buxton was theoretically competing with the likes of Jake Cave for time in the Minnesota outfield, but he now looks to be locked in as a starting option. With Max Kepler set to lead off initially, Buxton's fantasy value could be somewhat suppressed by his hitting in the bottom part of the order, but if he keeps this up, he should move up in short order.
Max Kepler (OF-MIN) - Manager Rocco Baldelli all but endorsed Kepler as his leadoff hitter on Monday. With red-hot Byron Buxton also making his case, this is somewhat of a surprise, but Kepler is hitting a solid .310/.412/.586 in 29 at-bats, so he's certainly made his case. Kepler of course was signed to a five-year $35 million extension this winter, so the Twins are obviously committed. Kepler is a career .233/.313/.417 hitter, so the Twins are obviously banking more on his upside than his past performance, but Kepler has posted some lofty minor league OBPs in the past, including .416 in Double-A in 2015 and .367 the following season in AAA. The best may very well be to come, but there is still some risk here.
Gio Gonzalez (SP-NYY) - Gonzalez left the ranks of the unemployed Monday, signing a minor league deal with the Yankees. Gonzalez timed his free agency poorly, putting up a 4.21 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 171 innings last year, but he also made 31+ starts for the third straight year and in eight of the past nine seasons, so the durability remains. With Luis Severino (shoulder) set to miss at least a month and CC Sabathia dealing with his chronically-sore knee, Gonzalez should get at least five starts to cement himself as the team's #5 starter. He's probably nothing more than a $1-$2 buy in deeper leagues, but Gio could net owners a few early wins if the Yankees' offense produces when he's on the bump.
Brandon Nimmo (OF-NYM) - He'll have to hit to keep his slot, but as of now, Nimmo looks locked in as the team's starting CF and leadoff hitter. Nimmo went 2-for-5 with two runs scored on Monday and is now hitting a modest .268/.295/.341. He's yet to homer or steal a base, and just two of his 11 hits have gone for extra bases. Nimmo had a great first full season in 2018, batting .263/.404/.483 with 17 homers, nine steals, and a 15% BB%. That's the stuff of great leadoff hitters, but Nimmo will still need to prove he was no fluke. Nimmo is no danger of losing at-bats at this point.
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