Austin Meadows, Tampa Bay Rays - Meadows got his 2021 campaign underway with a homer in the Rays' first spring training game. Meadows is looking to bounce back from an awful 2020 as he battled COVID-19 early in the season restart and, like most players, his on-field play suffered due to it. Meadows' slash line dropped to .205/.296/.371 with four homers and two stolen bases. His hard-hit data remained solid with a 69th percentile hard-hit rate but his strikeout numbers took a huge spike with a 32.9% K% and a 31% whiff rate. More encouraging news for Meadows though is that his walk rate jumped for the second straight season and eclipsed 10% in 2021. I like Meadows a lot for a bounce-back year atop the Rays lineup and will happily buy the discount in all formats.
Brent Honeywell, Tampa Bay Rays - Honeywell hasn't thrown a pitch in a competitive game since 2017 due to a multitude of elbow injuries but he's reportedly healthy heading into camp and said he feels the best he's felt since the injuries started. We haven't seen Honeywell in action yet this spring, but there's a chance he could carve out a role with the Rays this season though it's almost a certainty that he starts the season in AAA to help build his arm back up. When healthy, Honeywell routinely ranks among the top handful of pitching prospects in the minor leagues and he still has the pure stuff that got him that ranking. I'm not worried about him in redraft leagues for now, but in AL-only it may be worth a dart throw at the end of drafts, and in dynasty, it may be a time to look to buy low.
Joey Wendle, Tampa Bay Rays - Wendle was hit in the helmet with a pitch on Monday but after the game said that he was fine and there shouldn't be any lasting effects from it. He said that it was scarier than anything else, but that he won't require any further testing. Wendle turned in another solid season for the Rays with a .286/.342/.435 with four homers and eight stolen bases. His hard-hit data isn't anything special, but he's hit over .286 in three of the last four seasons. The four homers were easily the highest pace for his career compared to the seven he hit over 139 games in 2018. He's not a league winner but that level of batting average this late in a draft can definitely hold down the value on the back end of the draft.
Kyle Wright, Atlanta Braves - Wright's return to the mound after the disaster of a start in the 2020 NLCS didn't exactly show that he should be the favorite for the #5 spot in the Atlanta rotation. Wright had a solid first inning but threw three wild pitches in the second that lead to four credited earned runs, though a pair came after he was relieved and Meadows hit a homerun. Wright had a strong finish to the 2020 season, including six shutout innings against the Marlins in the NLDS, but he's yet to find the consistency needed to stick in the rotation consistently. I'm still a believer in the talent, but right now he's not mixed league viable and is reserved for being rostered in NL-only and Dynasty formats.
Braves Centerfield - Brian Snitker has gone on record saying that the team will take the best 26 players North with them, so what does that mean for the Braves in centerfield. Ender Inciarte has been the Braves' primary CF for the last few years, but prospect Christian Pache made his major league debut last season and even homered in the NLCS where he received starts over Inciarte. Inciarte's offense has taken a severe step back in the last few seasons and he was dreadful last year with a .230 wOBA and his xWOBA dropped for the third consecutive season. Defense has always been his strongest suit but even that is falling off with his sprint speed declining year over year, and his OAA has also dropped to below league average. The job should be Pache's to lose. I still have some questions about how much Pache hits but he is a world-class defender in CF and can do Inciarte things better than Inciarte at this point. Pache should hit around .260 and could pop 15 homers in a given season, but despite his above-average speed, he has not run the bases well to this point in his career.
Braves Closer - Brian Snitker also said that he doesn't want to commit to a closer at this point, and didn't rule out a closer by committee for 2021. The Braves back end of the pen features two arms that I could see getting saves this year in Will Smith and Chris Martin. Smith had an underwhelming first year in Atlanta but did test positive for COVID-19 before the restart and he finished well down the stretch run of the season. Martin has sneakily been one of the better relievers in baseball since being traded to the braves and he posted a 1.00 ERA last season with over a strikeout per inning. Since coming back to Major League Baseball after a stint overseas, Martin's season-high for BB% is 4.5% last year after two seasons of sub-3% walk rates. I would still prioritize Smith slightly over Martin in pure saves leagues, but both are worthy of being rostered in SV/HLD leagues at this point.
Chris Paddack, San Diego Padres - Paddack's first start of the spring in 2021 was great with three strikeouts over two shutout innings. Paddack struggled mightily last year and has said early this spring that he dug into the metrics on his fastball and it had taken some steps back compared to when he was dominant in 2019. Paddack still needs a third pitch to really leap into the top tier of pitchers but we've seen him be great with just two pitches before. Almost all of the damage against Paddack came off the fastball last season so if he can get his batted ball data closer to 2019 on the pitch he's an outstanding value in the middle rounds.
Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers - Burnes struck out two batters over a scoreless frame to open his 2021 spring. Burnes is coming off an absolutely dominant 2020 season if he can follow it up with a strong 2021 that he can firmly place himself among the elite starting pitchers in baseball. His strikeout rate sat in the 96th percentile last year along with an 89th percentile whiff rate and his xwOBA was in the 82nd percentile. He was able to combine outstanding swing and miss stuff with limiting hard contact and it resulted in a 2.11 ERA over 59.2 innings.
Jameson Taillon made his return to game action on Monday and tossed a scoreless inning for the Yankees. Tallion is coming off Tommy John surgery and is far enough removed from the injury that he should have a spot locked down in the Yanks' rotation. His velocity was slightly down compared to the last time we saw him in-game action, but that's to be expected at this point. His health is the most important thing at this point and getting his innings workload ready to go for the start of the season is the goal. He's worth a roster spot if he's healthy.
Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox - Bogaerts underwent an MRI on his right shoulder but Chaim Bloom says that there's nothing concerning after he was dealing with some soreness. The team still believes that he'll be ready for opening day. It's clearly something we need to watch as we get closer to the season starts as Bogaerts is one of the top SS options year in and year out.
Brandon Nimmo is slated to be the primary leadoff hitter for the Mets for 2021, but could still be spelled from the spot against lefties. Nimmo's 14.7% walk rate last year was the latest that he's had over the past four years and his K% last season was the lowest of his career at 19.1%. His batted ball data isn't anything great with a 21st percentile hard-hit rate but the walk rate is so good that it makes him extremely valuable in OBP formats ahead of a very improved lineup.
Hunter Dozier, Kansas City Royals - Dozier signed a four-year $25 million contract extension on Monday. The deal covers his last two years of arbitration and also buys out his first two free agency seasons. Dozier's batted ball stats took a significant step back in 2020 compared to 2019, but he still hit six homers and stole four bags. The Royals lineup could be improved last year and that would give him a nice boost to his counting stats.
Matt Chapman, Oakland A's - Chapman went 1-for-3 with a double in his first action since undergoing labrum surgery on his hip. Chapman is going to work as the DH for the A's for the first handful of spring games before getting back into action at third base. He has no restrictions heading into 2021 but the team is just wanting to ease him back into his everyday role.
Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels - Ohtani is expected to pitch for the Angels on either Thursday or Friday and has reportedly been touching 100 in bullpen sessions. Ohtani singled twice at the plate in Monday's game and scored a pair of runs. Ohtani's 2020 across the board was a disaster and he'll look to rebound in a big way on both sides of the ball. The Angels seem committed to keeping Ohtani as a two-way player, though my hope in him becoming a top-flight pitcher is lower than him becoming a success at the plate.
Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants - Belt has reportedly been dealing with a non-COVID 19 illness that has him "wiped out." Belt is beginning to feel better but there still isn't a timetable yet for him to return to workouts. Belt may not be ready for opening day after he had surgery in October on his heel. With Buster Posey back in the mix after opting out of 2020, Wilmer Flores might get the first crack at first base if Belt is held out.
Brandon Woodruff, Milwaukee Brewers - Woodruff will be held out of his start on Tuesday due to some back stiffness. Craig Counsell has said that he doesn't believe that the issue is serious and that the team is just being cautious with their ace. Woodruff is coming off a second straight strong season with a 3.05 ERA and 91 strikeouts over 73.2 innings and forms an outstanding 1-2 punch with Burnes atop the Brewers rotation.
Emmanuel Clase, Cleveland Indians - Clase allowed one run on three hits in his first action in a game since his PED suspension. Clase is going to be in the mix for closer with the team along with James Karinchak and Terry Francona hasn't committed to anyone at the spot quite yet. Both pitchers are options for the 9th inning role but and the other could be used as more of a high-leverage spot instead. They are more valuable in S/HLD leagues at this point but I like Karinchak more overall due to the strikeout potential.