Spring Training is a great time of the year. Not only does it usually mean you're in the middle of March Madness, but it means opening day is not too far away. However, Spring Training can certainly feel a little long sometimes.
Journalists, experts, and especially beat writers are trying to find a new and exciting story every day when often one does not exist. They read into results and stats often, as if it’s the regular season. However, my advice would be: don’t look into spring training stats. Guys are testing out new things and getting back into the groove of playing baseball, which creates misleading statistics. This is true for most players except those in position battles.
Position battles are won and lost in spring training but after most fantasy leagues have drafted. In mixed leagues, you can take a risk on a guy in a battle with the ability to drop him if he doesn’t get the job. However, in AL or NL only leagues, the waiver wire is not as deep. Let’s look into five position battles to see if you can get an edge before the draft.
1) Cleveland Indians 3B Job
Candidates: Lonnie Chisenhall and Jack Hannahan
I’m trying to figure out why Cleveland Indians manager Manny Acta believes this battle will last the entire camp. It is extremely frustrating for fantasy owners when Hannahan, a career .233 hitter, could take away Chisenhall, an elite prospect's job. To be fair, Hannahan is a much better defender but fantasy owners don’t care about that. Smart money is still on Acta using this as motivation for Chisenhall to continue to improve.
If Hannahan gets the job, he would be a deep AL-Only corner infielder without much upside. He would probably approach 10 home runs with a sub-.250 batting average as he continues to strikeout over 21% of the time.
However, if Chisenhall gets the job, he should be an attractive top 10 3B option for AL-Only owners. Chisenhall has a swing that scouts drool over, but he's adjusted relatively slowly to big league pitching as he struck out in 20 of his first 60 at-bats. Despite the slow start, Chisenhall managed to hit .255 including a final month of .279 with 4 homers, more then doubling his output from his first three months. It is certainly a small sample size and not one to overreact to but Chisenhall could have figured it out late last season, which wouldn't be the least bit surprising. Based on the scouting reports of him as a prospect, I would not be surprised if he hit .300 with 20 homers.
While I expect Chisenhall to start the season with the job, if he doesn’t, there’s no way I see him finishing the season without it.
2) Chicago White Sox closer job
Candidates: Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain, and Addison Reed
The most talented of the bunch is undoubtedly Reed but he also seems like the least likely to start the year with the job, as manager Robin Ventura said that Thornton and Crain were the “best options” earlier this week. Crain lives and dies off his slider, throwing it a career high 48% last year, yet it had not been as ineffective as it was since 2007. Frankly, Crain walks way too many people (4.27/9 last year) to ever been an effective closer.
Thornton, on the other hand, has plenty of closer potential although he struggled with the job last year. The 6-6 left-hander throws a killer fastball that averages 96 MPH. The two things going for Thornton are that he has always been able to retire both righties and lefties as well as posting important K/BB numbers.
Reed will get his day to shine with his fastball-slider combination but it may very well not be this year. I think Thornton is easily a top 10 option in AL-Only leagues while Reed is still a top 20 option.
3) Yankees DH Job
Candidates: Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, and Russel Branyan
Jones resigned with the Yankees despite the Yankees signing Branyan and Ibanez to give Jones a competition for at bats. Both signings were made after the Yankees traded C/DH Jesus Montero, who was expected to take up most of the at-bats at DH. Although none of these candidates will get 400 at-bats if all goes as planned, I think they could all present some value in a time-share. Although Jones only hit .247 last year, he hit .286 against lefties. I think Jones could sustain a .280 average but you have to expect his home run totals to decrease because he cannot sustain a 25% HR/FB ratio.
The Yankees are hoping Ibanez gets most of the at bats against righties at the DH position. Ibanez played through an injury last year and struggled to maintain his bat speed. It showed at the plate as he hit .245, his lowest mark since 2000. Despite the lack of average, Ibanez still hit 20 homers and should thrive with Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right. Early reports say that Ibanez is healthy and looking good this offseason, which could make him a home run and RBI dual threat in this potent lineup.
Branyan hasn’t been the same power hitter since 2010 and I don’t expect him to get too many at bats until Jones or Ibanez fails. I expect Ibanez to lead these three in at-bats especially because if Swisher struggles like he did last year, Ibanez could play plenty of outfield.
4) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim DH job
Candidates: Mark Trumbo, Kendrys Morales, Bobby Abreu, and Vernon Wells
The biggest question mark of this group is easily Morales, but at the same time he also presents the most upside. I can still vividly remember his walk off homer that lead to his season ending injury while rounding the bases. He is easily the best hitter of the group when he’s healthy and ran the bases last week. Morales is scheduled to begin playing games next week and if he does so, he should be able to grab the DH job. Don’t forget how great Morales was in 2009 (.306 and 34 homers) and he was on the same pace in 2010. Whether or not he can pick up where he left off is the question, but he’s worth a gamble on draft day.
Trumbo and Wells may be able to find their way into the lineup elsewhere. Trumbo will be in an interesting battle for worst converted first baseman to third baseman with Miguel Cabrera. The move was a necessity after the Angels signed Pujols. Trumbo reminds me of Branyan in his prime as a big, strong power hitter whose not going to kill your average. Trumbo should approach 30 homers this year again if he can find his at-bats.
As long as Trout doesn’t begin the season in the majors, Wells will have a spot in the outfield. After Trout joins the club, Bourjos and Wells will battle for at-bats. Wells still has plenty of power in him but is clearly not the player he was in Toronto that allowed him to sign the worst contract in baseball history. Wells walked only 3.8% of the time, a career low, while striking out at a 16.3% rate, a career high despite his rookie season. The trends aren’t looking good for Wells but in a deep AL-Only league, he’s worth a buy.
5) Texas 5th starter
Candidates: Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando, and Scott Feldman
Ogando is technically a candidate in this race, but if Harrison and Feldman are around come opening day, I expect Ogando to be a damn good middle reliever who can pretty much go unowned in fantasy leagues.
Feldman shocked the world when he won 17 games in 2009 but frankly didn’t pitch that well while doing so. He posted an xFIP of 4.43 in the process and an xFIP of 4.69 the season after. He barely pitched last year but was clearly more affective out of the bullpen because he was able to strike out more hitters. Feldman is a pitcher who would be unowned in all leagues if he was on the Orioles, but since the Rangers will score runs, he is a deep end option in AL-Only leagues if he gets the spot with his upside in the wins department.
Harrison, on the other hand, is the man I expect to win the spot in the rotation. Having not allowed a run this preseason, Harrison posted a 3.52 FIP last year while winning 14 games. Harrison’s success was that he kept the ball on the ground for 50% of his opponents’ balls in play and thus not allowing them to take advantage of the spacious Ballpark in Arlington. Harrison has the ability to repeat if not outperform last season's stats and should be owned in all AL-Only leagues.
By Matthew Schwimmer, exclusively for TheFantasyFix.com. Read more of Matt's excellent fantasy insight over at RotoAnalysis.com.
You can follow Roto Analysis on Twitter @RotoAnalysis or Moe on twitter @Sportstar6ms.
(February 27, 2012 - Photo by Rich Pilling/Getty Images North America)
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