- Rockies - Sam Hilliard and the outfield
Charlie Blackmon is locked into RF and David Dahl CF, but the latter should be good for his usual 60-80 games on the IL, and in left you have Ian Desmond, who has managed to hit just .252/.313/.429 since 2017 despite playing half his games in Coors Field. Desmond is signed through 2021, but one has to wonder if the Rockies finally cut bait and play the kids if he's not hitting come June. This should give Sam Hilliard a decent shot at semi-regular playing time should his production warrant. Hilliard just turned 26, so he's a bit old for a prospect, but after swatting 35 homers in 126 games in the hitter-friendly PCL last year, Hilliard continued things with the Rockies, putting up a 1.005 OPS in 27 games beginning in late-August, ultimately finishing with a combined 42 home runs and 24 stolen bases. Pretty solid fantasy value. He's always had a lofty K%, limiting his BA upside to the .260-.270 range most likely, but he did walk at a 10.3% clip with the Rockies to help mitigate any serious plate discipline concerns. It's fairly easy to see him playing his way into 500+ PA.
Dodgers second base "battle"
In reality, this isn't really a "battle" for now, as the job is there for Gavin Lux's taking. The team has refused to include Lux in any potential offseason trade, as they envision him continuing the prospect flow that has propelled the Dodgers to seven consecutive NL West pennants. Lux tore through Double-A and Triple-A last year, hitting .347/.421/.607 with 26 homers and 10 steals in 113 games. He then hit a modest .240/.295/.400 in 82 big league PA with a 29.3% K%, but that's of little concern. Lux shouldn't be subject to any sort of platoon, as the lefty swinger put up a 1.054 OPS in 42 at-bats versus southpaws in Triple-A. He has the upside to be an All-Star in short order, but if growing pains commence, guys like Max Muncy (Edwin Rios to first?), Kike Hernandez, and/or Chris Taylor could begin to steal at-bats.
- Dodgers rotation after the obvious three
Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, and David Price are locks of course, and the Dodgers have stated early this spring that they expect Julio Urias to be the No. 4 starter. Urias however tossed just 81.2 innings last year, and while speculation is that he's in line for a much larger workload, that may still limit him to 130-140 innings. Pure speculation of course, but Urias looks like a guy who could put up a sub-3.00 ERA and a 9+ K/9 this year. The No. 5 slot? With Dustin May nursing a side injury that probably results in his opening in Triple-A, Jimmy Nelson dealing with lower-body discomfort, and Tony Gonsolin apparently headed there or the bullpen, it looks to be either Alex Wood or Ross Stripling initially. Early edge: Wood, who is reportedly already sitting at 92-93 mph with his fastball after averaging just 89.9 and 90.0 the past two seasons.
- Giants outfield
Well this is wide open. If I had to guess the three guys on the current roster who would lead the team in OF at-bats, I guess I'd go with Alex Dickerson, Steven Duggar, and Mike Yastrzemski. Hunter Pence will play against lefties and some righties, while guys like Jaylin Davis and Billy Hamilton will need big springs to break into the mix. The Giants will hope Dickerson hits enough to entice some team to deal a low-level prospect for him this summer. Duggar is a career .291/.381/.448 hitter in 273 games at A+ or above with 38 steals, so he's at least somewhat interesting, though there's no evidence he can hit MLB pitching. Yaz III was a great story, but he turns 30 in August and for a guy who languished in the minors for 6+ seasons before breaking through, we have to wonder if he's already peaked. Eventually the Giants should boast a young and talented outfield consisting of some combination of Hunter Bishop, Heliot Ramos, Alexander Canario, and Luis Matos, but that's years down the road. Ramos though could factor in late this year if he proves he can handle upper-level minor league pitching.
- Giants closer situation
Jose Mesa once recorded 45 saves for a team that won 80 games (2002 Phillies), so even if you peg the Giants to go 65-97, there's still saves to be had on bad teams. Tony Watson appears set to open as the team's closer, but does he last? Given he's in the last year of his contract, it seems likely he'll be traded this summer, meaning the Giants may look to showcase him as a closer early. Tyler Rogers impressed last year as a 28-year-old rookie despite his averaging 82.3 mph with his "fastball". The submariner isn't exactly a prototypical closer. Trevor Gott and Jandel Gustave have the stuff, but not the opportunity as of yet. This could be a situation where Watson nets 15 saves before being traded in July to a team with an already-established closer, leaving scraps for whomever is pitching the eighth at the time Watson is dealt.
- Rockies - Who's on second?
Ryan McMahon, Garrett Hampson, and perhaps Brendan Rodgers all could factor in here, making this one a case of "whomever hits best in March is the starter in April". Rodgers is still rehabbing a shoulder injury and won't be a factor in the Opening Day lineup, but he's still just 23 and a top-50 prospect in some rankings. Hampson posted just a .687 OPS last year in 327 PA but check out his numbers from August 31 on: .330/.371/.538 with five homers and nine steals in 25 games. Hampton has shown the ability to steal 40 bases annually, and his career minor league OBP is .384, so the Rockies would probably love to see him take the job and run with it. McMahon though won't go down without a fight after hitting 24 homers last year enroute to a modest .250/.329/.450 season that included an alarming 29.7% K%.
Sean Newcomb (P-ATL) - Newcomb is competing with the likes of Kyle Wright and yes, Felix Hernandez for the Braves' No. 5 starter job, but it's looking like his long-term home is the bullpen. Newcomb allowed a pair of runs in two innings in his first spring outing. After three awful starts in April last year, Newcomb worked primarily as a reliever upon returning to the Braves in May, ultimately tossing 56 innings of 2.89 ERA ball with a 60:21 K:BB. Command has long been an issue for Newcomb, so this move wouldn't be surprising at all for an organization bursting with young pitching talent at the upper levels. Right now, I'd be drafting Wright ahead of Newcomb.
Edwin Diaz (RP-NYM) - I just looked up "Boom or Bust" in the dictionary and saw Diaz's picture. Seriously though, Diaz could either be baseball's top closer as he was in 2018, or he could continue to pitch like he did last year (5.59 ERA despite a 15.4 K/9) and find himself as a mop-up reliever. Diaz got off to a 2019-like start in his first spring outing, topping out at 98 mph, but allowing two runs on three hits against the Astros. It will come down to locating his fastball that determines his ultimate 2020 fate, but while getting him at a discount isn't a horrible idea, I'd keep an eye (and even invest a roster spot) on Dellin Betances. Betances of course missed move of last year with shoulder and Achilles' injuries, but in the previous five seasons, he combined for a 2.22 ERA with 100+ K's each season. He could be an early threat to Diaz's job.
Ty Buttrey (RP-LAA) - Hansel Robles will open as the Angels' closer after posting a 2.48 ERA and 23 saves last year, but keep Buttrey in mind as a potential successor. Robles is 29 with just one proven season under his belt, and while Buttrey is coming off an uneven 2019 (3.98 ERA, 10.5 K/9), he throws just as hard (97.1 mph average fastball) and he appears to be ahead of Cam Bedrosian and Kenyan Middleton in the closer / setup pecking order. Buttrey has been slowed by a back injury this spring, but he should be about ready for game action after reportedly feeling "pretty awesome" in Thursday's bullpen session.
Austin Hays (OF-BAL) - After impressing late last year in 21 games with the Orioles (.309/.373/.574), Hays is the overwhelming favorite to open at the team's starting center fielder. A strong spring wouldn't hurt, and after starting off 0-for-7, Hays led off Thursday and went 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles. He'd probably have to hit under .200 the rest of the way to put his status into question, but that isn't likely. Hays' minor league career 4.8% BB% may not qualify him to lead off, but really, what other options do the Orioles have? His late-season 2019 success isn't likely close to sustainable, but in deeper mixed leagues (non-OBP ideally), he should help.
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (OF-TB) - Tsutsugo struck out at a 25.3% K% in his final year (2019) in the NPB, but also slugged 29 home runs and put up an elite 15.8% BB%. He'll probably spend most of his time in LF and at DH, though Tsutsugo has also shown an early ability to handle ground balls at third. How's he looked with the bat? Batting third on Thursday, Tsutsugo went 2-for-3 with a double and two RBI, leaving him 4-for-7 with a double, homer, and two walks in the very early going. Early drafts have Tsutsugo going in the 325-350 range, but I'd expect him to be inside the top-200 sooner rather than later.
Chris Davis (1B-BAL) - This is probably a 99% instance of small sample size, but could Davis actually revitalize his career and pass the torch of "worst contract in baseball" to someone like Miguel Cabrera? After reportedly adding 25 pounds of muscle over the winter, Davis is translating a typical "best shape of his life" story to actual results. Thursday, Davis went 2-for-3 with his second spring homer and is now 4-for-5 with a pair of walks. Sure, the home run wasn't exactly off Gerrit Cole, but it's better than 0-for-5 with five strikeouts, no? After peaking in 2015 with a .923 OPS, Davis has hit just .198/.294/.385 since with a 36.1% K% and a still-solid 11.1% BB%. This probably isn't real, but at least keep an eye on him as a possible $1 end-game pickup.
Felix Hernandez (SP-ATL) - With Cole Hamels likely opening the season on the IL with a sore shoulder and Sean Newcomb not pitching well, Hernandez appears likely to win a rotation spot out of camp. Thursday he pitched pretty well, allowing a run on three hits over 2.2 innings, but walking none and striking out four. That gives Felix a 1.93 ERA and 6:1 K:BB over 4.2 innings as the former ace attempts to start a new chapter embarking on his age-34 season. He's seen his average fastball velocity dip under 90 mph the past two seasons, resulting in mediocre results (6.40 ERA) as well as mediocre advanced metrics (8.6% SwStr% among others). I've yet to see reports on his velocity, so unless we get word that he's in the 92-93 range and/or has developed an effective new pitch, it's tough to get excited despite the past results.
Jake Fraley (OF-SEA) - Fraley, Mallex Smith, and Kyle Lewis appear locked in as Seattle's top three as fans await the eventually arrival of elite OF prospects Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez. Thursday, Fraley went 1-for-2 with his first spring HR, leaving him 3-for-8 with a double and the HR. Fraley was leading off, which was interesting, but he did steal 19 bases last year, so if he can get on at a decent clip (.362 minor league OBP), perhaps the lineup placement sticks. He also posted a decent 0.49 minor league BB/K, so with 20/20 potential, he's at least interesting.
A.J. Puk (SP-OAK) - Puk ran his scoreless streak to three Thursday with a pair of scoreless innings against a Rockies lineup containing multiple regulars, including Dahl, Story, Arenado, and Blackmon. Impressive. Puk looks to be a lock for the Opening Day rotation after flashing mid-90s stuff along with a plus slider and solid change. The 6'7" lefty has top-of-the-rotation upside, though the big question this year will be around his workload. After returning from April 2018 Tommy John surgery, the former first-round pick tossed just 36.2 innings in 2019. Conservatively, expecting more than 130 this year seems unlikely, even if his frame would seem to allow for it. Few have his dynasty league upside, though 2020 expectations should be tempered.
Roughned Odor (2B-TEX) - Odor will probably kill your BA, but he still hit 30 homers last year while swiping 11 bases. Of course his .205/.283/.439 line wasn't good, but are there some things to be optimistic about? Odor's 9% BB% was a career high, though his 30.6% K% was as well. Odor singled, doubled, and homered Thursday, driving in four and lifting his spring slash to a fun .556/.556/1.222. Not too shabby. If you believe in the ability to build off prior year September stats, that helps Odor as well, as in 24 games that month, he batted a solid .261/.337/.648 with nine homers and a slightly better 27.6% K%. If you want good power and double-digit steals with the hopes of a .250 BA, Odor may be your guy.
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