Austin Riley (3B/OF-ATL) - Locked in a battle with Johan Carmago for the third base job, Riley took a step forward Friday, homering and drawing a walk off Boston's Eduardo Rodriguez. The walk is certainly encouraging after he posted a poor 5.4 BB% and 36.4% K%. Riley is off to a .333/.364/.667 start to his spring with a pair of home runs while Camargo isn't doing too bad himself - .389/.421/.611. Unfortunately for the two, the top three spots in the Atlanta outfield are locked in, so left field might not be a thing for him in 2020 (Riley played some there in 2019). Riley is thought to have more long-term upside, so if the battle goes down to the wire and both are deserving, we'd have to think he's have the advantage, but right now, it's too early to tell. What we like includes his 43% Hard Hit Rate and 13.7% Barrels% What we are concerned about are his 36% K% 5% BB%, and heavy flyball rates, which are going to offer no floor for his BA. The 22% HR/FB rate is likely to stable somewhere around 18% and with a full season of stats, he could approach 30 HRs in 2020.
- Dodgers bullpen
The Dodgers went out and spent $10 million to try and get the 2018 version of Blake Treinen, but otherwise, it wasn't exactly a huge overhaul of what at times (hi playoffs) was the team's Achilles' heel. Kenley Jansen will return as the closer after putting up a subpar 4.44 ERA after the All-Star break. Jansen attended the now-famous Driveline academy in the offseason with the focus being on rediscovering bite on his cutter. So far so good, as Jansen has allowed just one baserunner in four innings this spring, striking out seven. He went for $30 in an 18-team mixed league I drafted a couple nights ago, so there's some optimism out there. Should Treinen look good, he's the eighth inning guy. If not, it's probably Pedro Baez as the eighth inning guy, at least until Brusdar Graterol ascends to that role.
- Dodgers Outfield
I'm pretty confident that Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts are locked into CF and RF, but left field for now at least looks like a Joc Pederson / A.J. Pollock platoon, with Pollock getting the short side. Pederson versus RHP last year: .252/.349/.571. Pollock versus LHP: .323/.370/.535. That's an All-Star player if you put the two together. Should Pederson ultimately get traded, Pollock would take more of an everyday role, supported by Chris Taylor and Kike Hernandez.
- Giants catcher
Well we know it's going to be Buster Posey to start the year, but Giants' top prospect Joey Bart may not be all that far away. Bart has just 22 games above High-A, but last year at Double-A, he hit .316/.368/.544 there and he's a former #2 overall pick who looks nearly big league ready. So far this spring, Bart is 6-for-11 with a double, HR, and three walks, and though he won't start the year with the big club, he may force his way up this summer. In that scenario, Posey probably splits time between catcher and first base, with Brandon Belt seeing some time in the outfield (unless he's traded).
- Giants rotation
You're going to hear all of these guys in trade rumors this summer, but so far, the top four spots appear set - Jeff Samardzija, Johnny Cueto, Kevin Gausman, and Drew Smyly. Smyly looks particularly good this spring, and though he's had more than his share of injuries, Smyly did pitch to a 2.98 ERA in 37 starts between 2013-2015. Obviously that was a long time ago, but he's still just 30 and could far well in his new ballpark. Vying for the No. 5 slot are familiar names such as Tyler Beede, Derek Rodriguez, and Tyson Ross as well as Shaun Anderson, who probably fits best in the bullpen.
- Rockies - Who's on second?
My favorite headed into the spring was Garrett Hampson, but he's just 4-for-22 this spring for competition in the forms of Ryan McMahon and Brendan Rogers. Rogers is still interesting, as he's a former top prospect who at 23, has seen his star dim somewhat. His 2019 was cut short by July shoulder surgery, but he hit .350 in 37 games at Triple-A last year, so the upside at the dish remains. Unfortunately for Rogers, he's a little behind after the surgery, but in his first game as a DH, Rogers went 2-for-3 and he's about ready to play the field. There's a real chance he's ready for Opening Day, and the door is wide open for him to seize the job. Edit: Hampson went 3-for-3 with a double and SB Friday, so bump up his chances a bit. Of course McMahon hit two homers in the same game, so...
- Rockies rotation
It's a chore really trying to analyze this rotation, particularly the back-end, but there are a lot of folks that play in very deep leagues, so here we go. Jon Gray and German Marquez are back to front the rotation, and they aren't an awful 1-2. Marquez struggled to a 4.76 ERA last year, but his 4.05 FIP and improved 1.8 BB/9 indicate that he should fare better this year, and he's still just 25. That said, Marquez did have some arm inflammation late last year, but assuming he's over that, a rebound year looks ver possible. With Gray, you get a former top draft pick who has some how been better at home (4.00 ERA) than on the road (4.39 ERA) the past three years. If he can improve on the road, an ERA in the 3.50 range looks possible, and he could net 200 K's for the first time if he can stay healthy. Kyle Freeland will get a shot to put his horrific 6.73 ERA from 2019 aside, but he's already dealing with back soreness. You have four competitors for spots 3-5, but please avoid these names - Chi Chi Gonzalez, Peter Lambert, Antonio Senzatela, and Jeff Hoffman. If you're looking for help from the farm, 2018 1st round pick Ryan Rolison is your best bet, but probably not until 2022.
Kwang-Hyun Kim (P-STL) - Kim is ostensibly competing for the No. 5 starter job, but after dealing with a groin injury, Kim came on in relief on Thursday to toss a pair of scoreless innings, allowing three hits with a 2:0 K:BB. With Milos Mikolas' season delayed with an arm injury, it seems likely Kim will break camp in the rotation, but I can see him changing roles on multiple occasions a la Kenta Maeda. Kim doesn't throw overly hard, but he has a solid slider and he's left-handed, which helps. Kim had a strong season last year in the KBO with a 2.51 ERA and 180:38 K:BB in 190.1 innings. I saw Kim with a 336 ADP in one location, making him an interesting late-game gamble.
Francisco Mejia (C-SD) - Mejia is reportedly adjusting his stance behind the plate to at least somewhat narrow the enormous gap between his defense and that of Austin Hedges. The Padres would surely love to give Mejia more playing time due to his upside at the plate, but only if he can show improvement defensively. Mejia hit .265/.315/.438 in 244 PA for the Padres last year, so while that is relatively modest, but bumped up against Hedges' .176/.252/.311, it looks Johnny Bench-like. Keep an eye on Mejia's defensive progress this spring, as his bat gives him top-10 catcher upside if he can get say 60-65% of the playing time.
Omar Narvaez (C-MIL) - Narvaez went 1-for-2 with a double and walk Thursday against the Reds. Most notable, is that he appears to be the team's primary catcher ahead of Manny Pina. The lefty swinger has a career .655 OPS versus LHP since 2017, so he'll probably yield to Pina in most cases against southpaws, but even with that, he should still see close to 400 PA, putting him as a potential top-15 catcher. Narvaez was a borderline top-10 catcher last year after hitting .278 with 22 home runs for the Mariners, making the 28-year-old an interesting option once the top catchers come off the board.
Trevor Larnach (OF-MIN) - Larnach entered Friday's game as a PH and proceeded to homer and walk in his only two PA's. He's opening some eyes this spring, going 6-for-18 with three homers and three walks. Larnach is 23, but he's only played in 43 games above High-A, making it unlikely he breaks camp with the club. That said, given he's already 23 and a consensus top-100 prospect, we could see him this summer. Larnach is a career .307/.385/.468 hitter in 169 minor league games, so the hit tool is clearly there, and considering he stands 6'4", it's easy to see him packing on some muscle and improving his power going forward. One to watch.
Joe Musgrove (SP-PIT) - It's pretty impressive that a team has a pitcher allow seven runs in less than an inning and they still win by six. The Pirates beat up the Blue Jays 19-13 on Friday with Musgrove putting up an ugly stat line - 0.2-6-7-7-0-1. At least he didn't walk anybody. Musgrove entered the game having allowed a reasonable two runs over five innings, so we won't beat him up too much over this one, but certainly monitor his next outing. Musgrove pitched to a 4.44 ERA in 31 starts last year, but his solid peripherals (8.3 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 1.42 GB/FB rate, 3.81 FIP) have him appearing on many a sleeper list this spring even if the Pirates' offensive offense isn't going to net him a bushel of wins.
Yoan Moncada (3B-CHW) - Moncada has come out and said that he prefers batting second, but maybe that changes as he gets more reps there. Friday, Moncada led off and went 3-for-4 after entering the game in a 2-for-16 funk. The White Sox are apparently looking to upgrade their leadoff OBP, as last year's leadoff man, Leury Garcia, had a .311 OBP in 570 leadoff at-bats. The White Sox probably envision Nick Madrigal is their long-term leadoff guy / second baseman, but to start 2020, it could be Moncada, which would obviously up his SB potential and negatively impact his RBI production.
Rusney Castillo (OF-BOS) - Castillo went 2-for-2 with a run, RBI, and stolen base Friday to lift his line to a pretty nice .611/.611/.722 slash in 18 at-bats this spring. Of course it doesn't matter what Castillo does this spring, as the Red Sox aren't adding him to their 40-man roster due to luxury tax concerns (his number for CBT purposes would exceed $14 million). Castillo, 32, is a free agent finally after the season, so perhaps some team will roll the dice this summer and give him a trial for 2021. Castillo has languished in Triple-A the last three seasons, hitting a solid .303/.343/.452. His 4.7% BB% drags the OBP down and a .149 ISO isn't all that impressive for a 32-year-old in Triple-A. It's tough to feel sorry for a guy who got a $72.5 million contract, but he deserves another look.
Jake Arrieta (SP-PHI) - Arrieta had an interesting day on Friday against the Tigers. He held them hitless over four innings, which is great, but he also didn't strike anybody out while walking four. I'm pretty sure a 0:4 K:BB ratio is going to lead to higher than a 0.00 ERA most of the time. One could be optimistic and chalk up Arrieta's poor 2019 (4.64 ERA, 1.47 WHIP) to pitching with a bone spur most of the year, and he had that surgery last August. So in theory, he should be healthier this year, but he also just turned 34, and as he's aged, the walks have gone up, and the strikeouts and velocity down. The Phillies and fantasy owners would probably be very happy with an ERA in the 4.10 range, and considering his supposed health and the fact that he put up 4.10 and 4.19 FIP's in 2017-2018, it's possible.
Nate Pearson (SP-TOR) - Pearson has already become the latest Blue Jays elite prospect to become likely to have their service time manipulated a la Vlad Jr. Pearson has faced just nine batters this spring, but he's retired all of them and six by strikeouts, hitting 100 mph in his second start. Meanwhile, offseason acquisition Chase Anderson allowed six more runs Friday and now has a 17.47 and 2:6 K:BB in 5.2 innings. Injuries limited Pearson in his first two pro seasons, but he topped 100 innings last year (101.2) and recorded a 2.30 ERA and 119:27 K:BB across three levels, finishing in Triple-A Buffalo. I still expect Pearson to open in Triple-A, and he may be limited to 130 or so innings in 2020, but if you want to stash a minor league pitcher, he's a viable option.