Let’s try and figure out what spots are up for grabs this spring. A lot of this will probably change quickly but consider this my attempt at a survey of how things look now. Also, with the WBC starting soon, we should see some new names getting more in-game opportunities.
If you’re interested in the positional battles from the American League, check out Ryan Amore’s piece from last week.
Fifth Starter: After putting up 101 wins in 2022, the #5 spot in the Atlanta rotation could be a haven for Ws. At the moment, the front-runner looks like Ian Anderson, who “was” supposed to debut his new slider. However, it didn’t go well as he struggled with command and served up a pair of HRs. Also in the mix are Mike Soroka, who hasn’t pitched in the big leagues in over two years, and Bryce Elder. Unfortunately, Elder’s arsenal is led by a sinker (42% usage) and slider (26% usage) combo with PLVs under five.
Closer: Currently, the Marlins have a quartet of arms that could be viable options in the ninth inning. While that’s not a terrible situation, it doesn’t bode well for fantasy managers. With the incumbent team saves leader (Tanner Scott) and Dylan Floro joined by newly acquired A.J. Puk and Matt Barnes, arms are in the air for who’ll get the first crack. Let’s take a look at how the four stack up:
Will one emerge as the closer? It’s possible, but likely not by Opening Day.
Fifth Starter: Much like Atlanta, the Mets tallied over 100 wins last year; making that final roster spot a target. It would have been José Quintana’s spot to lose until his untimely injury. Thus, the doors open back up for a debate between David Peterson and Tylor Megill. If we made our decision purely based on PLV, Megill sports three above-average offerings: four-seamer (5.08 PLV), slider (5.09 PLV), and changeup (5.10 PLV). Elieser Hernandez is also in the mix…Ok, I just said that to rile up the Mets faithful.
Third Base: We’ve got Eduardo Escobar and Brett Baty duking it out at third. While Baty might have the upper hand in power, he’s already booted a few ground balls in the field and likely starts the season in Triple-A. Surely, there’s a good chance Baty gets back to the MLB roster, but with a bit more development in the minors.
Closer: Uggghh! More closer watches! The Phillies took a page from the Marlins and acquired a pair of arms (Craig Kimbrel and Gregory Soto) to go with Seranthony Domínguez and José Alvarado. Although, this shouldn’t be all that new to Philly fans as 11 different arms notched saves for the squad. With no real solid reason to pick any certain player, we could see each of these relievers end with a handful of saves before the close of 2023.
Left Field: Lane Thomas and Victor Robles will claim CF and RF; leaving LF open (sort of). The team brought in a left-handed bat (Corey Dickerson) who’s capable of playing left field but only as a strong side platoon. Against southpaws, Dickerson’s career 83 wRC+ is going to make filling out the daily lineup card easy. Instead of Dickerson, the Nationals will play Alex Call and newly acquired Stone Garrett. Against LHP, Garrett should get the nod as he touted a .878 OPS, but the 16:1 K/BB ratio might hinder him too.
Third Base: There is an abundance of new faces donning the Cubbie blues, but the position that could make the most impact is at 3B. Additionally, there are a few intriguing names that are competing to lock down the role. Patrick Wisdom is fresh off back-to-back 25-plus HR seasons and Christopher Morel unleashed a 16-HR/10-SB season in only 379 AB. Not to mention, Nick Madrigal has been grabbing infield reps at 3B. With the offense lacking some thump, Wisdom probably gets the edge.
Unfortunately, the injury to Seiya Suzuki opens up a spot in the OF and Morel started 58 of his 113 games between CF and LF.
Outfield: Let’s face it, the Red’s offense isn’t a juggernaut…but they do play in one of the most favorable parks for power. On top of the park, they’ve got a plethora of unproven outfielders and slots to fill. With Nick Senzel (likely to start on IL) working his way back to healthy, let’s just focus on the rest:
Jake Fraley and TJ Friedl likely grab two OF positions, leaving one remaining. Will Benson was acquired in the offseason and already swiped his third stolen base of the spring, while Pinder and Fairchild have similar profiles (big swing-and-miss with some pop). So, between that trio, we could see an early season OF emerge until Senzel returns. Keep in mind, this is more of a play for NL-only and deeper league formats.
Second Base: We should see Brice Turang get the nod after putting up a 13-HR/34-SB season in Triple-A. Additionally, his sub-20% K-rate and keen batters eye will help keep his bat in the lineup. However, chomping from behind are Mike Brosseau and Keston Hiura, both with big-time power. A full-time split could be in the works with Turang getting the lion’s share of playing time.
Right Field: Tyrone Taylor is shelved for at least the first month of the season. Instead, the team will decide between Brian Anderson, Tyler Naquin (minor-league contact), or prospects Sal Frelick and Joey Wiemer. Previously, Anderson was slated to get more work at 3B, so we can assume the team likes his bat in the lineup.
Starting Pitchers: Nope!
Catcher: With not a ton of options, the Buccos catcher could pose as fantasy relevancy. Slated as the everyday backstop due to his real-life value, Austin Hedges agreed to a one-year, $5 million deal. That kind of change in Pittsburgh should get you playing time. Additionally, the team offered Kevin Plawecki a minor-league contract, but who is the most intriguing is Endy Rodriguez. In a little more than 450 ABs (throughout three levels in the Minors), Rodriguez swatted 25 pitches into the bleacher with K-rates under 20%. It shouldn’t take much to outperform Hedges (42 wRC+ in 2022) and Plawecki (61 wRC+ in 2022).
St Louis Cardinals
Outfield: By now, you’ve seen the Jordan Walker power on display as he’s mashed a few HRs. Unfortunately, his 3B position is obstructed by Nolan Arenado who forces him into the outfield; and that’s where it gets dicey too. In the mix with Walker is underwhelming top prospect Dylan Carlson, power and speed combo Tyler O’Neill, and everyone’s sleeper Lars Nootbaar. Oh, wait! Juan Yepez and Alec Burleson (Triple-A: 470 PA, 20 HR, 4 SB, and 137 wRC+) loom on the roster. Feeding all these mouths will be a challenge and someone will get sent back down. That’s going to be a very tough call.
Fifth Starter: Lighting up the chat boards is Brandon Pfaadt. The arsenal could blow MLB batters away and he pitched over 160 minor-league innings in 2022. In that time frame, Pfaadt struck out over 200 batters. Given the fact that Drey Jameson and Ryne Nelson haven’t looked sharp thus far in spring, the pathway opens up for Pfaadt, who is only a shade over 24 years old.
Closer: You’re guess is as good as mine.
Third Base: The hot corner appears to be wide open after an injury to Brendan Rodgers pushed Ryan McMahon to second base. That puts four names in the mix: Elehuris Montero, Nolan Jones, Alan Trejo, and Harold Castro. Furthermore, Trejo is more likely to wind up moving to 2B and McMahon slotting back over to 3B.
In this group, Montero and Jones offer the most upside. While both have a tad too much swing-and-miss in the profile (Jones: 33% K-rate, Montero: 32.4% K-rate), it’s backed up by plus power and a ballpark that’s very conducive to amplifying batting averages.
Closer: Boy, if we only knew the answer to this one ahead of time! In 2022, the team turned to Craig Kimbrel almost exclusively until the post-season. However, with Kimbrel gone, the field is wide open. While many view the front-runner as Evan Phillips, he only locked down two games during his impressive run (63 IP, 77:16 K/BB ratio, and 1.14 ERA).
Also in the fray is Alex Vesia, the highest-leverage southpaw in the bullpen, and Brusdar Graterol (my dark horse favorite). Right, I know what you’re thinking, why is Graterol your favorite? For starters, check out his arsenal with PLV. Elite!
Outfield/DH: Before Fernando Tatis Jr.’s return, playing time should be fairly evergreen. However, when Tatis returns he’ll make his way to the OF and that’s where it could get dicey. Not for Tatis, but for Matt Carpenter, Nelson Cruz, and Trent Grisham.
Not that any of those are strong plays for ten or 12-team leagues but this should get factored into your player evaluation. At some point, the playing time will drastically get altered for someone.
Saving the Giants for last was on purpose since they are the team of platoons. As many of the players play a multitude of positions, they become better targets in daily leagues as opposed to weekly. So, just keep in mind that many of them will get jettisoned between positions while getting random days off as well.
Third Base: The most intriguing position for San Fran is the third base because they have a few solid bats capable of sustaining everyday playing time.
David Villar and J.D. Davis tout the upside in terms of power since both finished with an ISO north of .224 with better than league-average walk rates. However, in terms of defensive prowess, they both lack the ability to separate from one another. Who gets the early nod? The best guess is Villar as he crushed 27 HRs in the minors.
Lastly, we may see Wilmer Flores pop into 3B as well, but he’ll grab a utility role all over the infield too.