Dodgers Outfield At-Bats
With Joc Pederson gone, AJ Pollock should see the majority of the LF at-bats, though his performance in recent years against RHP has been below average. Pollock should get early opportunities against RHP, but should he struggle, plan B could be more Chris Taylor out there or perhaps a guy like Matt Beaty will get a look. Obviously Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger aren't going to be sitting all that often. The big news last year with Pollock was that he played in 55 of 60 games, though if it were a full season, it's anyone's guess as to his games played total. Pollock had a good game recently, but is still hitting
just .176 through 14 games this spring.
To the consternation of Dodgers' fans everywhere, it looks readily apparent that Jansen will open the season as the team's closer. After putting up a regular-season 3.61 ERA and blowing 10 saves since 2018, Jansen ended up watching Julio Urias closer out the World Series, leaving Jansen's role headed into 2021 up in the air. Jansen has allowed just one run in six innings with a 10:1 K:BB this spring. His velocity has wavered at times, but it looks to be his job to lose. It's important to note that in his 87.1 innings cine 2018, Jansen's 113:25 K:BB was solid, so perhaps there's hope yet. Should Jansen struggle, Blake Treinen would appear to be next in line unless the Dodgers pivot to using Urias in the role and plugging Tony Gonsolin or Dustin May into the rotation.
Giants - Closer Competition Thinning?
Jake McGee is probably the guy to own in the Giants bullpen, as he's tossed five inning and allowed just one baserunner while walking none and striking out seven. Competitors Reyes Montoya (6.75 ERA), Tyler Rogers (4.76 ERA), and Matt Wisler (5.06 ERA) have not fared nearly as well. That said, as we've mentioned previously, manager Gabe Kapler isn't old school Tony La Russa where he will have a designated closer ready to pitch the ninth despite the matchups being more favorable earlier in the game. McGee may very well lead the league in saves, but he's also left-handed, so in a 3-2 lead over the Dodgers in the top of the eighth with Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger due up, don't look for Kapler to save McGee for the ninth.
Giants - More of the same from Yaz III?
It's amazing to think that while languishing in the Orioles' organization, Mike Yastrzemski hit .221/.312/.369 as a 25-year-old in Triple-A. He improved to an .800 OPS at that level two years later in 2018, but the Orioles had seen enough and traded him to the Giants for scraps. I've seen him struggle against RHP with good sliders, and the left-swinger has a .946 OPS vs. LHP and .865 vs. RHP. The latter isn't bad at all of course and just makes us wonder whether he can actually get even better by handling that pitch. In 161 career games, Yaz is hitting a solid .281/.357/.535. An elevated 25.5% K% probably limits his BA upside and last year's .370 BABIP likely isn't sustainable, but he did make improvements in both his BB% and K% in 2020 and could be just as good this year. He's also picked up where he left off this spring, batting .208/.357/.605.
Rockies - 2B Job
With Brendan Rodgers sidelined awhile with a hamstring injury, Garrett Hampson appears set to be the team's second baseman. He's picked things up at the plate in recent days as well to raise his slash to .297/.395/.351. Hampson won't offer a lot of power, but Coors Field alone could net him 15 homers given 500+ at-bats. He also has 23 career steals in 506 at-bats, so that should give him some fantasy relevance in a lot of leagues. Another scenario could be to get Hampson's RH bat in CF, as the Rockies' outfielders predominately hit from the left side. That would push Ryan McMahon to second and open up third for Josh Fuentes who likely lost out to CJ Cron at first base.
Rockies - Dare I roster Kyle Freeland?
There was nowhere to go for Freeman but up last year coming off a 6.73 ERA in 2019. Improvements in his GB % (46.6% to 52.6%), BB/9 (3.4 to 2.9), and a normalization of a 2.2 HR/9 to 1.2 in 2020 led to his ERA dropping to a reasonable 4.33. A 1.42 WHIP is still nothing to write home about, and a 5.9 K/9 limits his fantasy appeal, but this is still a 27-year-old who received Cy Young votes in 2018. He can have some success by limiting hard contact, but the lack of strikeouts is a real issue for fantasy owners. This seems like the kind of guy who could go to a team like the Braves or Cardinals and make a real leap, but unless the Rockies deal Trevor Story and embrace a full rebuild, you're stuck with him as a Rockie. Late edit: look into Tuesday's injury. Didn't look good.
James Paxton, SP, SEA
Paxton is 32 and has yet to reach 30 starts in a season, and this probably won't be the first time in 2021. After seeing his velocity drop to a career-low 92.2 mph last year, Paxton was hitting 97 mph against the Brewers on Sunday, and it helped, as he struck out eight in just 4.1 innings. Paxton got off to a late start due to a Visa issue, but he should be ready to go 5-6 innings by his first regular season start. He still managed an 11.5 K/9 last year despite the velocity drop, so if he can average 94-95 and stay healthy, look out. Also watch his reverse splits, as lefties have hit .292 against him since 2018.
Julio Rodriguez, OF, SEA
Rodriguez is still just 20 and has yet to play above High-A, but he most likely would have at least hit Double-A last year, putting him on track for a 2021 MLB debut. That seems likely at some point this year, and he's turning heads this spring with a 1.035 OPS in 26 at-bats. His two home runs have come in his last two starts, and he's swiped a pair of bases and it's looking more and more like the Kelenic/Lewis/Rodriguez outfield may become a reality as early as this summer. The Mariners may very well have two of the top three prospects in the game and certainly the top two outfield prospects.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B/3B, TOR
Perhaps there are "best shape of their life" stories that actually translate to on-field production. Vlad Jr. reportedly lost 42 pounds this winter, reporting that he feels quicker both offensively and defensively. A .778 OPS since 2019 for a 20/21 year-old certainly isn't awful, but with the lofty expectations he entered the league with, we expected more. 2021 may be the year he explodes however. Vlad crushed a double on Monday that clocked in with a 110 mph exit velocity, and he is now hitting a robust .520/.613/.820 with a very nice 2:6 K:BB.
Taylor Trammell, OF, SEA
In a battle that could come down to the wire, Trammell is pushing Jake Fraley for the starting LF job. With a .278/.366/.500 slash with two steals and a 60% XBH%, Trammell is probably in the lead. Fraley sits at .212/.381/.364 with a homer and nine walks. Fraley has pushed his line up in recent days, but he's probably still behind, and with a .152 BA in 70 MLB PA, he doesn't exactly have a stellar resume to fall back on. Both of these guys are likely trade bait once guys like Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez are ready, and that could come pretty early in the year, clouding the near-term future for both. Perhaps Trammell finds himself on the move again.
Luis Garcia, 2B, WAS
With Carter Kieboom struggling again and not a lock for the third base job, the Nationals could be looking to roll with Garcia at second and using Starlin Castro at third base. Garcia though is just 6-for-32 this spring, leaving him at .188/.316/.219. On the plus side is a 2:6 K:BB which is notable after last year's 3.6% BB%. Add the fact he's still just 20 years old with no Triple-A experience, and last year's struggles aren't surprising. He's essentially learning on the job at this point. What sort of player will Garcia be in his prime? It's tough to project someone so young, as his 6'2" frame can certainly use more muscle, and muscle often translates to power. Right now he looks like a guy who will top out at 10 HR / 10 SB, but can his power develop into 20+ with experience and transforming his body? Sure, but probably not in 2021.
Zach McKinstry, UT, LAD
The Dodgers' 2016 draft is already potentially historic, with names such as Gavin Lux, Will Smith, Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May, and now, McKinstry looking to break through. McKinstry was 2-for-3 Tuesday to lift his slash to .353/.371/.471. He's looking to fill the Kike Hernandez utility role, and if spring training ended now, it would be tough to keep him off the roster. The 26-year-old hit .300/.366/.516 in AA/AAA back in 2019. He doesn't strike out a lot and walks a fair amount, giving him a real shot at winning a job. Who knows, should Lux struggle at second, he could find semi-regular playing time. McKinstry relieved Mookie Betts in RF Tuesday, indicating the Dodgers are looking to see how he fares at multiple positions.
Taylor Ward, OF, LAA
Could Ward be a candidate for a starting outfield job? All Ward did Tuesday was go 2-for-3 with a triple, HR, and three RBI to raise his slash line to a cool .364/.464/.773. Mike Trout has a good shot at the starting CF job, the corners aren't exactly HOF worthy with Justin Upton and Dexter Fowler topping the depth chart for now. Upton (1.191 OPS) is having a nice spring, but Fowler (.515 OPS) is not. Ward has yet to make a significant impact in parts of three seasons, but his last AAA stint in 2019 yielded a 1.011 OPS and he fared decently with the Angels last year with a .277/.333/.383 line. He even saw time at catcher, his original position, this spring, and that flexibility could allow him to make the team. The Angels don't exactly have Mike Piazza and Johnny Bench at catcher, so if he can show at least subpar defense at that position, he could have real fantasy value at some point.
Gregory Polanco, OF, PIT
We haven't really seen a healthy Polanco since 2016 and most of 2018 in which he hit .254/.340/.499 with 23 homers and 12 stolen bases in 130 games. Maybe we can discount his COVID-19 impacted .153 BA last year, though he also wasn't very good the year prior. Polanco is having a nice spring however, batting .280/.357/.680 with five of his seven hits going for extra bases. Polanco is set to hit free agency this winter, so we know the motivation is there, but will the health be? He would be a tough guy to roster in 12-team mixed leagues, but the talent is there to outperform his ADP by a fair amount.
Francisco Mejia, C, TB
Mejia could very well be one of those guys you drafted with high expectations three years ago, cut loose last year, and a guy who will go on to do great things. He's still just 25 and starting over again with a new organization, but he interestingly led off Tuesday (to get more at-bats most likely), going 1-for-3 with a run to lift him to just .261/.308/.348. Mike Zunino probably tops the depth chart at catcher for the Rays, but he hit .147 last year and is at .176 this year, albeit with a .176/.333/.529 slash line. Mejia for what it's worth, has received kudos for "the little things" this spring, assumedly defense and working with pitchers. If you're in a 12-team mixed league that starts two catchers, he's not a bad end-game flier.
Kyle Crick, RP, PIT
Richard Rodriguez entered camp as the presumed closer, but Crick may be gaining on him. Crick has seen his velocity bump up from last year's 90.9 mph average to around 93 mph this spring, and after a scoreless inning Tuesday, the right-hander has now allowed one run in 6.2 innings this spring with a 10:3 K:BB. Rodriguez meanwhile has a 6.23 ERA, though his 8:1 K:BB in 4.2 innings keeps him in the running for the job. A shoulder issue limited Crick to 5.2 innings last year, and that's basically the story of his career, along with his 4.8 career BB/9 (6.4 since 2018). Crick has the stuff to do the job, but I'd probably lean Rodriguez right now as my top fantasy PIT reliever, though in deeper leagues, Crick is a nice end-game pickup.