Fantasy Baseball Roundtable: Spring training watch lists

by Todd Zola, MastersBall.com on March 5, 2012 @ 11:30:11 PDT

 


Finally! No more reports of players showing up overweight or in the best shape of their life. No more players changing their names and messing up my vlookups. Let the games begin!

This week's topic is a rather obvious one. Here is what I posed to my knights:

What are some of the things you guys will be following in spring training? Any particular position battles? Players returning from injury?

Nick Minnix, who was in a rush to get to Phoenix for LABR, leads us off:

First name that came to mind was Jake Peavy. If he gets through this spring without hiccups, he'll have to move up draft boards, because the talent is still in there. His indicators have been pretty good, for the most part, while he's been a member of the White Sox, but he hasn't gotten the results in part because he hasn't been 100 percent for that period.

Texas Rangers OF Julio Borbon
Passing on the Borbon?

I'm interested to see how Chone Figgins performs - not necessarily in his BA or anything like that, although I suppose that wouldn't hurt - because Eric Wedge clearly hasn't written him off, if he's willing to try Figgins at leadoff. Of course, Figgins has a long way to go to prove that we should be interested, but the super-utility role and the top of the order seemed to suit him when he was a member of the Angels. Incidentally, the Franklin Gutierrez injury is unfortunate, because he'd gained all the weight back he'd lost when he had that mysterious stomach illness. I was looking forward to seeing how he looked in exhibition play, too. Have to wait a couple of months, at least, to see if the potential 15-15 player is back in form.

Colorado has so many young pitchers, quite a few of them pretty talented, fighting to secure spots in their rotation. I'd like to see how Alex White comes out of it, since I think it's kind of assumed that Drew Pomeranz will win a spot. Have my eye on the Blue Jays' battle for the No. 5 rotation spot. I'd like to see Dustin McGowan get 100, 150 innings to see if he can still be the pitcher he was moving toward being when he was a promising up-and-comer four or five years ago. That No. 5 spot in the Tigers' rotation is interesting, too, naturally. Jacob Turner is the headliner, of course. There isn't much value in the other pitchers who are vying for the spot if he doesn't win it.

The Phillies want to give John Mayberry Jr. an opportunity to win the lion's share of PT in left field. I'm a fan, he's an athletic, bright ballplayer, but I have my doubts about whether he can hold his own as an everyday player. I'll be watching that one closely, because that's my team, but also something to keep in mind is that Philly has two base-stealers - Juan Pierre and a healthy Scott Podsednik - who'd love to take advantage of a Mayberry stumble. Texas' competition for the center-field job should be interesting, too. Leonys Martin might be a hot property. What happened to Julio Borbon? I assume it was just the ankle injury, so I wouldn't write him off. I don't think Craig Gentry is a legit candidate

Ryan Carey has a vested interest:

Like most fantasy players I will be focusing on some of the players I have drafted (or hyped) so far this year. I am very interested to see Juan Nicasio pitch coming off last year's neck fracture. I have taken a chance on him very late in a couple of leagues already and he could really be an asset if he comes back with the same stuff and confidence.

I was definitely one of the people driving the Mat Gamel bus early this year, drafting him twice in Perry Van Hook's leagues and writing an article about it, so I will be watching to see if he can take the opportunity and run with it. The CF job in Texas should be a great battle this spring with Craig Gentry, Leonys Martin and Julio Borbon battling it out. I cast my lot with Gentry in the CBS AL Auction, so he's my horse in this race. I am also very interested (and invested) in seeing Daniel Bard attempt to make the transition to starting.

There are interesting battles for 5th starters' jobs all over baseball. I will definitely be keeping track of all of these, because win or lose, the guys in these battles will be ones you want to track and form opinions on so you are ready to act when free agency opens in your leagues. Aside from tracking my own guys, I am always excited to get glimpses of the highly touted rookies. Nolan Arenado is someone I'll have my eye on in particular. I think everyone is ready to finally see Yoenis Cespedes play. After that, I will just be following my Indians, who have plenty of their own interesting story lines heading into camp this year.

Perry Van Hook, who didn't have to rush to get to LABR since he lives just outside of Phoenix, chimes in:

First and foremost for me is the 3B job for the Rockies as I am heavily invested in Nolan Arenado, who will be given a chance by Jim Tracy to win the job.

As far as comeback players the most important to watch is Kendrys Morales of the Angels. Unfortunately I will have had to make my LABR decision on him over the weekend without enough information so he was a nomination candidate for me to see if I could get someone else to use up dollars and a roster spot on him.

Lawr Michaels, who also had to get ready for LABR but is never in a rush but somehow never late either, offers:

This is really interesting (and fun). And, a good lesson in gamesmanship, and point of view.

For, to start, it is revealing to see how other players think about this. It tells us what they are looking at, and even how and why, and that can help us in a number of ways as players. It's that diversity thing: the more perspectives we have, ideally the greater the array of choices, and ideally the better the subsequent decisions.

Of course "ideally" is the key word, there.

As for me, there are a handful of youngin's I am eyeing.

Trayvon Robinson. Eric Surkamp. Jimmy Paredes. Taylor Green. Dustin Ackley. Tyler Flowers. Matt Moore. Mike Moustakas. Lorenzo Cain. Brandon Belt. Brandon Crawford. Allen Craig.

Some more established. Peter Bourjos. James McDonald. Asdrubal Cabrera. Matt Wieters. Kyle Blanks. Justin Masterson. Jeff Niemann.

These are guys I am watching to get a chance during the spring, and seeing if, and how they develop as major league professionals.

Rob Leibowitz, who is in no rush, opines:

Interesting that you bring up Peavy. I just got offered him in my AL only keeper league for my last minor league draft pick (25th pick overall of a four round draft - 4 picks in the first 25 including 1:1) and he's at $8. Sadly it's been awhile since he has earned even that, but I might take the flier. As you say, the skills are all there, and his ERA last year looks inconsistent when compared to those skills, so a rebound is possible given that he is still only 31.

As for what I look at in spring training. Generally I do not react too much to what pitchers do early on. They are not fully stretched out, are tinkering, and are not at full velocity. However, I do pay attention to pitchers coming back from injuries or injury histories (Peavy would be one of them) and monitor them closely. I also listen to news of new pitches. Sometimes this information gets you an Esteban Loaiza or Brandon McCarthy and his cutter. Other times you get Mike Pelfrey and his split fastball and makes no difference, but it still pays to listen and read.

Otherwise, I just key on the position battles. Right now I'm particularly interested to see how Josh Donaldson handles 3B in Oakland and will be keeping an eye on Stephen Parker. I also interested in how the whole OF will play out. The A's are suddenly deep in OF talent and may be in the trade market, too, so keeping an eye on Collin Cowgill, Michael Taylor, and Jermaine Mitchell (not to mention Grant Green) to see who gets sent down and who gets dealt.

Quite frankly 1B is interesting too given Daric Barton's sub-par 2011 and they have some interesting names in camp including Kila Ka'aihue. I will also be watching the Orioles' closer situation. I'll be surprised to see Jim Johnson hold onto the job. Also of interest to me in Baltimore is Rule 5 pick Ryan Flaherty and if he will make the club and what role he might play.

In Boston I'm curious to see if Daniel Bard has a deep enough repertoire to handle lefties. Tampa Bay has so many starters, someone could easily get traded before spring training, so that is a situation definitely worth following. In Minnesota I'll be curious to see if Chris Parmelee can make the opening day roster and lineup. I think he's MLB ready.

Lawr, who scores Athletics games for MLB.com, responds:

Boy Rob, if I did not know you better, I would swear you had become an Athleticsphile.

Do think first base is way more wide open than any of us can imagine. Don't think either Barton or Brandon Allen will own the spot. I am looking at an outfielder moving and being a placeholder (or at least trying that) until Miles Head is ready.

Rob, who is one of those guys that is "keeping score at home," reminisces:

Milwaukee Brewers 1B Mat Gamel
Gamel a gambit

Heh, I've always enjoyed following the A's. Pre-Moneyball, my first roto catcher was Terry Steinbach (and Lance Parrish actually too now that I think of it). And of course I had pre-roto Strat-o-Matic and Micro league baseball love for the A's too. But I digress!

Anyway - I was going to say 1B interested me too. Barton is no sure thing. Allen hasn't translated his strikeout rates to the Majors. They have Ka'iahue in camp, so he's worth watching. I don't think Chris Carter is anything more than a right-handed platoon player. So actually I am looking at Parker at 1B (his better defensive position), there too.

Brian Walton, always the voice of reason, reminds us:

I would just add a generic comment. My primary focus over the next four weeks (when not at games in person) will be to watch as many spring training telecasts as possible. Even if you don't subscribe to MLB.TV, MLB Network is going to show 150 games, many delayed until the evening or next morning. Thank goodness for DVRs!

While this is a time-consuming effort, I find great value in it. While many viewers turn off their attention or even their sets as soon as the regulars sit, that is the time to really understand what the local broadcasters are saying about pitchers learning new offerings, positional battles and hot rookies.

I know I am a broken record on this, but getting as close as possible to the source of the news is always my preference.

Nick is all settled:

Lawr brings up a great point. We can all learn a lot about what other people - that includes fans, fantasy players, reporters, team personnel, whoever has an opinion or makes a decision - are paying attention to in camps. That can be a lot of fun. And Brandon Belt's situation is possibly maddening, may make for great drama.

Right, Rob, Peavy is only 31. I say do it! Haha.

I'm looking for evidence of which of these guys has built up arm strength, which is kind of related to what Rob is saying about knowing that pitchers aren't yet at full velocity and things like that. I think that's a mistake that some teams make, their pitchers don't throw enough, just in general, playing long toss and whatnot, it seems, and it seems like too many pitchers don't hit full velocity until the middle of March or later. Just seems too dicey, to me, when it's a position with many players who lack endurance and have so many injury concerns. I say this a lot, but I love the way Texas brings along their pitchers. They throw early, they throw often, and they throw long, and it's about building arm strength. I don't think it's coincidence that nowadays they have fewer problems with injuries and more flexibility with their arms.

Regarding the Orioles, I'm kind of interested to see if Matt Antonelli can play enough shortstop to earn a utility gig. I think the second-base gig will be open, and Hardy has a nice-sized injury history. Antonelli has some pop and good on-base skills, and his set could play well in that ballpark.

I think we're all interested to see how the bigger names fare in ST, but many others are, so there may be less of an edge to gain by watching what many others are, too.

Tim Heaney adds some more names:

Plenty of worthy situations mentioned already. Everyone will be watching Bryce Harper. Brandon Belt was one of my key picks in the Fantasy Sports Trade Association draft in January, so the latest news on him might become my wakeup alarm. I particularly enjoy the possibility of Matt Antonelli rising out of his post-hype burial.

Some I'll be watching:

Lord Zola's Wrap-up

Tim touched on the scenario I am most interested in - Trumbo's conversion to the hot corner and how that impacts the rest of the movable parts in Anaheim. Part and parcel to this is Kendrys Morales. His recovery also influences the dominos. The guy to keep an eye on is Maicer Izturis as he is the forgotten man. Even if Trumbo wins the third base job, Izturis will likely pick up some defensive replacement at bats, and if Morales can't go, Trumbo could DH, leaving third for Izturis. If your AL-only draft is forgetting about Izturis, he could be a very cheap play that could yield a large return on your minimal investment.

I'm very curious to see how things shake out in Motown. The Tigers are another team with a bunch of movable parts, along with a couple of immovable ones, though that is not stopping them from trying to move one. The player I am most interested in is Andy Dirks. If Detroit sticks with Ryan Raburn at second, Dirks stands to benefit the most and could be a viable mixed league play, let alone a nice undervalued option in AL-only.

Perhaps the situation that piques my interest the most is Toronto and whether Travis Snider can finally earn regular playing time. Edwin Encarnacion and Eric Thames stand to lose the most if Snider can finally make sufficient contact to get the job done.

What Boston does with the fourth and fifth rotation spots is big for fantasy as well. Taking the Red Sox at their word, Daniel Bard will slot in as the fourth, though this is not yet a stole cold lock. New pitching coach Bob McClure has used spring training to stretch out relievers before returning them back to the bullpen. Perhaps the plan is to have Bard throw multiple relief innings, taking the 6th and 7th or 7th and 8th while Mark Melancon covers the other one before handing the ball to Andrew Bailey in the 9th? And what happens when Bailey gets hurt? Having Bard to work the 7th and 8th, setting up Melancon would be nice. Presently, the Red Sox have a bunch of flotsam and jetsam to throw at the fifth spot, including Andrew Miller, Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla, Carlos Silva, John Maine, Ross Ohlendorf, Brandon Duckworth, Clayton Mortensen and don't forget Dice-BB is coming back after the All-Star break.

The one major scenario the knights did not touch on is the closing situation in Dodger-land. Javy Guerra has a tenuous hold on the job, but Kenley Jansen is channeling Craig Kimbrel in an effort to usurp the position.

My final point is more general. Every spring, someone comes out of nowhere to supplant a veteran and grab the opening day start. In single leagues, I love grabbing that veteran on the cheap since they almost always reclaim the position.

That will do it for today. Enjoy the games and we will check back in next week with another fun and hopefully interesting topic. If there is something you would like the Round Table to discuss, drop us a request via KFFL Baseball Facebook page or via Twitter by at @KFFL_Baseball.

Todd is the Content Manager for the Mastersball Platinum Subscription product, featuring frequently updated player projections, values, rankings and profiles along with unique Excel tools, Minor League rankings and cutting edge strategy essays. Click HERE for details.

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About Todd Zola, MastersBall.com

Focusing primarily on the science of player valuation and game theory starting in 1997, Todd Zola and Mastersball carved out an important niche in the fantasy industry. In 2006, Todd became the Research Director for fantasybaseball.com, and in 2009, he relaunched Mastersball and is now a managing partner.

Todd competes in Tout Wars and the XFL, and has been a multiple-time league champion in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. He has been a contributor to the fantasy content at MLB.com and SI.com, is a frequent guest on Sirius/XM and Blog Talk Radio and is an annual speaker at the spring and fall First Pitch Forum symposiums.

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