Mike Soroka, Atlanta Braves - Mike Soroka tossed a pair of innings in a simulated game as he works his way back from his 2020 achillies tear. David O'Brien said that his fastball was sitting a few ticks below his normal velocity, but that overall he looked very good and is making excellent progress in his return to the mound. Soroka still isn't expected to be ready for the start of the season but could make his return to the Braves before the end of the first month. Now for his fantasy status, he's honestly the fourth pitcher I'm targeting on the Braves when it comes it value vs ADP. Factoring in their ADPs, I'm much more interested in rostering Ian Anderson, Charlie Morton, and Drew Smyly over Soroka due to their strikeout upside, even if Soroka likely is a steadier option than any of them them the three listed. In 2019, Soroka was outstanding for the Braves but had just a 26th percentile whiff rate and a hard-hit rate that was in the 41st percentile of baseball. This doesn't mean he's a bad pitcher, or even due for some regression! His pitching style is geared towards avoiding barrels and getting the ball on the ground, it just isn't a fantasy-friendly one.
Austin Riley, Atlanta Braves - Austin Riley is the front-runner for the Braves to be the everyday third baseman breaking camp. Riley saw a significant jump in his batted ball profile last season and the biggest stride he made at the plate was shaving his strikeout rate from 36% down to just 23.8% in his second full season in the majors. His average launch angle also leveled out a bit from 20 degrees to 13 degrees, helping lead to an increase across the board in all of his expected stats. While the profile still looks like a .250-ish hitter, there's a path here for him to easily hit 20+ homers with a full season at the plate and he could even chase 30.
Max Fried, Atlanta Braves - Max Fried's 2021 spring got off to a delayed start after potential covid-19 exposure, but he's cleared all the necessary protocols and is back with the team. Fried enjoyed a breakout in 2020 and became the top pitcher on the Braves with a 2.25 ERA over 56 innings. The next move here though is if Fried can make the jump to an upper-echelon fantasy starter or if he stays a solid SP 2 for teams. The only major improvement that Fried could make is generating more whiffs after recording a 42nd percentile whiff rate and a 44th percentile strikeout rate. He does a fantastic job already at limiting hard contact and avoiding barrels while also routinely posting groundball rates over 50%.
Michael Wacha, Tampa Bay Rays - Michael Wacha has allowed just two baserunners over his three spring training innings and seems to have the inside track to a spot in the backend of the Rays rotation. Wacha was awful with the Mets last season posting a 6.62 ERA over 34 innings, but there's always something with the Rays that makes your ears perk up when you hear about early success. Wacha posted career-high strikeout rates with the Mets last year to pair with a career-low walk rate. The probably is when he was hit, he was hit hard with a hard-hit rate that was almost 10% higher than any other season he's had. Heading to the AL-East doesn't do him any favors, but he's someone to at least keep an eye on in AL-only right now.
Kevin Kiermaier. Tampa Bay Rays - Kevin Kiermaier has been cleared from the hip tightness that bothered him at the beginning of camp. Kiermaier remains as one of the best centerfielders in baseball but the bat has lagged behind him and the breakout with the bat hasn't quite come as it's been thought over the last few years. His hard-hit rate actually took a small jump in 2020 and his batted ball stats across the board took a few steps forward. He's still not much more than a backend OF option or middle-of-the-pack AL-option.
Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays - Wander Franco has had an extremely good camp so far with a .400 average and homer. It doesn't really matter though what he does as he's a lock to start the season in the minors in some capacity. With the Rays having solid options up the middle, the path to playing time for Franco this season is a little blurry despite him likely being the best option at both shortstop and second base for the team. Once he gets the call he's a must add, and is still worth a late-round stash in redraft leagues.
Nick Madrigal, Chicago White Sox - Nick Madrigal made his spring debut on Monday with five innings in the field and two at-bats, grounding out twice. Madrigal underwent a cleanup operation on his shoulder in October but is expected to be ready for opening day. Madrigal hit .340 in his brief MLB stint in 2020 while swiping two bags, but posted just a .745 OPS with just a .314 xwOBA and a 20% hard-hit rate. Madrigal makes a ton of contact, but I just don't think this is a profile that I'm interested in at this point. There's zero power here, and while the average and stolen base potential is nice, I usually want to target some guys with at least some pop that isn't going to be so noisy when it comes to expected stats. He's a solid option to pair with players like Joey Gallo if you draft them early, but if you have a solid average floor I'm going to look elsewhere at the position.
David Price, Los Angeles Dodgers - David Price made his spring debut on Monday and said that he's willing to pitch in any role that the Dodgers want him to. Price opted out of 2020 due to COVID concerns, so working him back in as a reliever could be a solid option for getting his arm ready for the role and keeping him on the major league roster. His fantasy value certainly would take a hit if he's in the bullpen, but the Dodgers are always going to do what it takes to win regardless of what is the most fun for fantasy rosters.
Maikel Franco, Free Agent - The Mets have checked in on Maikel Franco, but it doesn't sound like it's something that will come together at the moment according to Tim Britton. Franco posted a 109 wRC+ with the Royals last season to go along with eight homers and 38 RBI. Franco would fill a backup role with the Mets if something were to come to fruition, but he could be a cheap power option if he were to find full-time at-bats somewhere.
Trevor Rosenthal, Oakland A's - Trevor Rosenthal has been shut down with a groin strain and it's uncertain as to when he'll return to throwing again. Bob Melvin says that the team believes that it's a minor issue, but "those type of things you want to be pretty careful with." Rosenthal is already slightly behind the eight balls when it comes to getting ready for the start of the season, so any sort of setback could put opening day in jeopardy for him. Jake Diekman likely would slot in as the closer for Oakland if Rosenthal was to miss any sort of time.
Jose Martinez, New York Mets - Jose Martinez is going to miss four months after tearing the meniscus in his knee and undergoing surgery. Martinez was slated to be a bench player for the Mets but still had the chance to be fantasy relevant with at-bats scattered around the field. He would have benefitted from the DH being back in the AL.
Jackie Bradley Jr, Milwaukee Brewers - Jackie Bradley Jr's contract with the Brewers was finalized and he's expected to occupy a corner outfield spot with the team. Bradley Jr has remained one of the elite centerfielders in baseball and he should be elite in a corner spot as well. He's getting a huge upgrade in terms of his home park and the lineup in Milwaukee has a chance to be stronger than the lineup he's leaving in Boston. Bradley posted a .283 average with seven homers and five stolen bases last season and could hit double digits in both categories in 2021 with ease.
Lorenzo Cain, Milwaukee Brewers - Lorenzo Cain is dealing with a quad issue and will be shut down for the next week. The Brewers haven't determined whether or not he's going to be ready for opening day, but Jackie Bradly could easily cover centerfield if Cain is held out of the lineup come opening day.
Michael Kopech, Chicago White Sox - Michael Kopech is going to make his 2020 spring debut on Tuesday. He's slated to be a multi-inning reliever for the White Sox in 2021 as he works his way back into game action following his Tommy John surgery. It's not the best news for his fantasy relevance, but he could have high strikeout totals coming from a guy that will eventually be both SP/RP eligible. It doesn't sound like he's going to be in the mix for saves though unless multiple arms go down ahead of him.
Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals - Stephen Strasburg will throw 30-35 pitches in his Grapefruit League debut Tuesday. Strasburg tossed just five innings before undergoing surgery for carpal tunnel, but he says he's feeling well going into 2021. If Strasburg is in fact fully healthy, he could be an outstanding value at his discount due to the injury scares.
Sixto Sanchez, Miami Marlins - Sixto Sanchez's start to 2021 got off to a slow start due to a false positive COVID test but after throwing a bullpen session on Sunday he's slated to throw a live batting practice session next. Sanchez had a great rookie season for the Marlins and there's some room for growth too if he can generate some more strikeouts. His 58% ground ball rate allows him to get away with the lower strikeout rate but if he does end up getting a boost in whiffs he could make the jump into a higher tier of starting arms.
Yusei Kikuchi, Seattle Mariners - Yusei Kikuchi had his second start of the spring on Monday and the biggest news for him is that he's holding the velocity gains that he showed last season. Kikuchi jumped from 92 MPH to 95 MPH in 2020 and he's been sitting around 96 MPH early on this spring. The extra velocity helped boost his strikeout rate to 24.2% and his ERA was nearly two full runs than his xERA. His expected stats across the board are better than his actual stats, and there's a chance for him to take another step in 2021.