March. Ah, what a wonderful time of year.
The sun is slowly creeping out of its winter slumber. It’s no longer dark when your alarm goes off in the morning. The world is becoming green again. Most importantly, Spring Training signals that baseball is just around the corner!
While Spring Training always points to the start of the fantasy baseball season, it is rather useless from a fantasy perspective.
For the most part, what happens in Spring Training can be discarded from your fantasy memory. If Albert Pujols hits .204 in March, I’m still going to confidently take him with the first overall pick.
And, if Jack Wilson hits .419 with six homeruns, I’m still leaving him on the waiver wire. Or laughing at you when you take him in the 15th round.
The fact of the matter is that Spring Training numbers mean very little for most guys who are established big leaguers. Often times, hitters are fiddling with a new mechanic or pitchers are trying out a new pitch, both of which can explain away a poor preseason.
On the other hand, with so many young and inexperienced players in camp, it is easy to explain why a veteran may pitch or hit well above their head. In other words, even Jack Wilson can hit when half the pitchers he faces are of Double-A quality.
However, there are three categories of players worth keeping on eye on during Spring Training. I will outline each of the three types for you, and suggest some players who fit the bill in 2010.
Players Coming Off of Injuries
It’s a dreaded line in fantasy baseball, “Expected to be ready for Spring Training.” It’s funny, because when I read it, it says, “Don’t draft me unless I prove I’m healthy in March.”
Spring Training is the moment of truth for players recovering from major injuries, as well as players who struggled with nagging injuries the previous year. If they are in the line-up day in and day out during Spring Training, you should feel comfortable and confident drafting them. If they start missing days here and there, a red flag should immediately go up.
Also, keep an eye on teams’ injuries reports. If a guy starts missing time in March, he can quickly gain “Out until at least early/late April” status.
Players to Keep an Eye on in 2010: Hideki Matsui, Eric Chavez, Ben Sheets, Justin Duchsherer, Troy Glaus, Billy Wagner, Geovanny Soto (did he lose weight?), Conor Jackson, Brandon Webb, Jake Westbrook, Cameron Maybin, Johan Santana, Jose Reyes, Jesus Flores. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Alfonso Soriano, Huston Street, Brandon Inge, Jeremy Bonderman, Joe Nathan, Carlos Quentin
Players Fighting for a Starting Job
Spring Training is where jobs are won and lost, and platoons are born. If two players head into March vying for an every an everyday job, nine times out of 10 the player who has the better Spring Training will get the nod.
Furthermore, players can play themselves into platoons in Spring Training. Pay attention to a player’s righty and lefty splits to see if he is a candidate to lose at bats, and keep an eye on any opposite handed teammates who play the same position and have a great March.
For pitchers, look at the candidates for the fifth, and in some cases fourth, spot in the rotation, as these rotation spots are often won and lost in Spring Training. Knowing who is going to fill the spots at the bottom of a team’s rotation, especially in deeper leagues, is hugely advantageous on draft day and on the waiver wire early in the season.
Players to Keep an Eye on in 2010: Jake Fox, Ryan Sweeney, Randy Ruiz, Jason Frasor, Kevin Gregg, Felipe Lopez, Brandon Ryan, Brad Penny, Rich Hill, Ian Kennedy, Ryan Garko, Casey Kotchman, Mike Jacobs, Daniel Murphy, Scott Hairston, Mat Latos, Jeff Clement, Clay Buchholz, Melvin Mora, Alberto Callaspo, Chris Getz, Randy Winn, Brett Gardner, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes
Prospects Trying to Earn a Role
Prospects have a lot to gain or lose in Spring Training. Often teams make a decision about a young player’s immediate future based on how they handle themselves in March.
For example, do you think there is any chance Stephen Strasburg heads to the minors if he’s lights out in Spring Training? Of course not. On the other hand, if he gets lit up, don’t be surprised if he gets sent to the minors for seasoning.
While a poor performance from a top prospect in March may result in spending April on the farm, don’t write these players off completely. A hot start in the minors could result in an early recall to the big club with plenty of season left to impress.
Players to Keep an Eye on in 2010: Brandon Wood, Chris Carter, Brett Wallace, Jason Heyward, Mat Gamel, James McDonald, Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey, Lou Marson, Michael Brantley, Gaby Sanchez, Ian Desmond, Stephen Strasburg, Brian Matusz, Neftali Feliz, Justin Smoak, Desmond Jennings, Wade Davis, Aroldis Chapman, Austin Jackson, Scott Sizemore