Welcome to the Spring Training Battles section of our monumental free Draft Guide. In this report, we'll be keeping you up-to-date on the events of spring training. Here we'll answer the following questions: Who suffered an injury that opened up a spot on the roster? Who is outperforming his combatant? Who has opened eyes in spring training? These numbers are going to be from a small sample size. These numbers are also skewed because pitchers often use spring training to work on new pitches and don't have great command or velocity. Take the numbers with a grain of salt, but don't discount them altogether, because whoever impresses coaches enough should win their job.
Job: Atlanta Braves starting second baseman
Prado seems to be continuing his hot spring, but look closer. At this stage last week he was 8-for-14, but since he has collected just one hit in 12 at-bats. He has added another stolen base, though. Regardless, Prado's cooling period probably makes the Braves a little more comfortable with their expected decision to start Johnson. The coaches have made his defense the top priority this spring in his conversion to second base, and so far that has reportedly gone very well. The only curiosity is why Prado is getting more time. Prado is a scrappy player, but he might be best-suited for a backup/pinch-running role. Johnson isn't a prototypical leadoff hitter, but that hasn't stopped the Braves in the past, and it appears that he'll man the spot for now. He has 15-homer potential, too, so he is a very late fantasy sleeper or waiver wire pickup.
Job: Boston Red Sox closer
Pineiro is still the frontrunner for this role, and he improved upon his numbers from a week ago. As you can see, they still aren't pretty, but no one stands out. Tavarez and Donnelly were touted as contenders for the job entering camp. With the dark horses weeded out, these three appear to have the best shot at leaving Florida with the job. Veteran reliever Mike Timlin (oblique) has yet to throw this spring, and now the Red Sox believe that it's unlikely that he'll be ready by Opening Day. Whoever wins this job should have a good chance at 30 saves. If each pitcher remains inconsistent, though, the dreaded committee situation is a possibility. Boston has also been rumored to be inquiring about possible trade options, but nothing concrete has come from them.
Job: Colorado Rockies starting catcher
Lopez had a hot start with the bat, but he hadn't displayed any power in his very limited time. It became moot when the club released him Monday, March 12. Colorado has obviously been pleased with Iannetta, who has collected six hits in limited time as well. Catcher Yorvit Torrealba also appears to be fully recovered from his shoulder injuries of last year. The Rockies said that they wouldn't keep Lopez on the roster if he didn't earn the starting job, and they wanted to give him ample time to find another team if they decided not to keep him. They've kept their promise. The latest report had the Atlanta Braves interested in Lopez's services as a backup. Regardless, the Rockies job is decided, with Torrealba the backup. Iannetta slides up draft boards as a second catcher option with upside.
Job: San Diego Padres starting third baseman
There appears to be little doubt at this point about who still start. Barring struggles during the season, Kouzmanoff should warrant the majority of the at-bats at third base. If he isn't performing at the plate, his suspect defense could hasten the insertion of Walker, though, putting the two in a platoon situation. So far manager Bruce Bochy is pleased with how hard the rookie works to improve in the field. Kouzmanoff has hit at every stop in the minors, including last year, when he batted .379 with 22 homers, 75 RBI to go along with 68 runs at the Double-A and Triple-A levels of the Cleveland Indians organization. Walker has been an underrated player in his career, but he is just a nice utility player at this stage. PETCO Park is pretty unforgiving, but more so for left-handed hitters. That aids Kouzmanoff's fantasy value a bit more. He is emerging as a legit final-round pick with huge upside.
Injury: Strained abdominal
Expected return: May
Analysis: Lee experienced discomfort last weekend, and his strained abdominal muscle means that he'll miss four to six weeks. Not a spectacular pitcher, he nevertheless won 46 games in the past three years. The opening gives pitcher Fausto Carmona a shot to open as the fifth man. The righty posted a 5.42 ERA and 1.59 WHIP with 58 strikeouts in 74 2/3 innings last year, but he showed a lot of promise at times. This spring he has allowed three runs, five hits and three walks in six innings. He has also fanned three. The name to watch here might be top prospect pitcher Adam Miller. It's highly unlikely that Miller will jump ahead of Carmona, but the club feels that at some point this year the 22-year-old will make an impact. Miller has pitched nine innings, giving up no runs, seven hits and zero walks while striking out six. Starter Jake Westbrook was the subject of trade rumors last year, and if the club deals him, they have two directions in which to go. Carmona deserves slight consideration in AL-Only leagues. Miller is a watch list candidate.
Injury: Strained oblique
Expected Return: May
Analysis: Hampton suffered a strained oblique muscle while taking batting practice Thursday, March 8. He is expected to be out until at least May. This injury is extremely volatile, and without proper rest, the injury can ruin an entire season. Hampton missed all of 2006 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and if he is antsy to return, it could cost him. The Braves responded to the news by signing former Kansas City Royals starter Mark Redman to a minor league deal. In three innings this spring, the lefty has allowed three hits, no walks and one run. He has also fanned two and hit two batters. The injury also opens the door for Lance Cormier to be the No. 5 starter. Cormer has made his case thus far, pitching 14 innings and only allowing 11 hits, one walk and two earned runs. Cormer has struck out 13 and three wins, too. The right-hander, 26, performed OK as a starter last year, going 2-4 with a 4.31 ERA. Don't be fooled by the high strikeout rate this spring. This is a wait-and-see situation, with the winner of the fifth spot only a factor in NL-Only drafts.
Injury: Irritated ulnar nerve
Expected Return: Early-to-mid-June
Analysis: Johnson has been hampered by an elbow injury for a while now, and the team determined he will miss two or three months with an irritated ulnar nerve. If healthy, pitcher Sergio Mitre would have the edge on the last rotation spot because of his experience. He has had shoulder troubles and is reportedly pain-free at this point. He has only pitched two innings, but hasn't allowed a hit or a run. Amongst others, pitcher Yusmeiro Petit has a shot at the job, too. He hasn't made much of a statement with his 7.04 ERA 7 2/3 innings. Petit, who has fanned eight, can be a good source of strikeouts. Neither has much value at this point. As for Johnson, let someone else draft him or keep your eyes on him on waivers. If you have multiple DL spots, he deserves very late consideration. However, last season's success may have been an aberration as he's not really a strikeout pitcher. Don't forget about him, but don't sell yourself on 2006.
Injury: Back surgery
Expected Return: June or July
Analysis: Kotsay has been bothered by back problems for a couple of years now. He has opted to have surgery to rectify the issue and will at least the first two months of the season. This will likely open things up for first baseman Dan Johnson, because Nick Swisher will move to right field. That's because the A's will shift outfielder Milton Bradley from right to center. Johnson had a good year in 2005 and an awful season last year. He is out of options, and this is likely his final chance with the team. He has raised his spring average, but he's still only hitting .207, with one homer, in 29 at-bats. Outfielder Travis Buck showed life early, but he has just two hits in his last 13 at-bats. He could still make the roster, though, especially with outfielder Bobby Kielty (knee) likely out to begin the year. Johnson was a sleeper on a lot of owners' lists last year. His value right now is only in AL-Only leagues, but keep an eye on him.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 draft has come to life this spring. He has been marred by off-the-field problems for four years, but he is still just 25. He has new life with the Reds after being selected in the Rule V Draft in the offseason. He has gone 17-for-31 (.548) with a homer, six RBI and five runs scored. The troubled outfielder has created such a buzz that he is almost certain to make the team as a backup. He's not worth drafting yet outside of NL-Only leagues, but keep your eyes on him.
Braun's sensational spring - 11-for-24 (.458), four home runs and 11 RBI - was interrupted when the youngster had to sit with a strained throwing elbow. He made a pinch-hit appearance early in the week and then returned full-time Thursday, March 15. It wasn't enough to douse his hot bat, though. Third baseman Corey Koskie is reportedly nowhere close to a return from post-concussion syndrome, so Braun could sneak into the starting lineup. He's a top prospect, but don't go crazy yet. Take him as a late-round flier, and you could have a steal.
Eldred opened eyes in 2005 with 12 homers in 190 at-bats with the Pirates. He missed most of last year with a fractured thumb, and a shoulder injury hampered his Arizona Fall League turn. He has returned this spring with a vengeance, though. Eldred has four homers, five RBI and is hitting .355, although he has cooled off a bit. The 26-year-old probably doesn't have a place to play now that the Pirates traded for budding star first baseman Adam LaRoche. He has, however, been getting some time in the outfield now, and team thinks that he shows promise there. He may force the team to make a touch decision. Right now he's, at best, a late-round pick in NL-Only leagues.
About Ryan Dodson
Dodson is a KFFL Contributor and has been with KFFL since 2002.
Don't miss these great reports....
Recent KFFL releases
Fantasy Football Rankings: Standard Scoring
Fantasy Football Rankings: PPR Scoring
Fantasy Baseball Closer Depth Charts: White Sox chaos coming?
Fantasy Football Rankings: Scoring only