One of the most fun parts about fantasy baseball drafting early in January and February is the mystery of playing time. There are many situations where you believe in Player X and project him to overtake a foe to achieve regular playing time. Making the right calls can win you a league or at least a position.
Last year, it was guys like Miguel Andujar, Gleyber Torres, Mallex Smith, and Aaron Hicks that had iffy playing time situations going into the year. (Side note - wow, lots of Yankees...) If you hit on one or more of those guys, you likely were extremely happy with the return on investment relative to draft price.
This year, there are the obvious position battles ongoing in the major league landscape. The Reds have some outfield appearances to sort out while the Red Sox are yet to settle on a closer. I've seen quite a few articles covering those battles already though. Instead, I wanted to point out four position battles that were going a bit under the radar. At least for me, these battles haven't really dominated fantasy circles and I figure we could bring them to light!
So, let's check out some of the less-frequently discussed position battles that could make notable waves in fantasy baseball leagues this season. I will give my initial predictions now, then provide a follow-up article toward the middle of March to see how they held up. Onward!
2019 Fantasy Baseball Spring Training Position Battles
Competitors - Jose Martinez, Dexter Fowler, Tyler O'Neill
After their big trade this offseason, the Cardinals now have a set infield rotation of Paul Goldschmidt, Matt Carpenter, and Paul DeJong plus a combination of Kolten Wong and Jedd Gyorko. With Harrison Bader's defense keeping him entrenched in centerfield and Marcell Ozuna's bat keeping him in one corner, we have ourselves a healthy battle for the last outfield spot.
Martinez deserves the spot out of camp based on his 2018 production, but his upside is limited and his defense is poorly graded in the outfield. On the other hand, Fowler deserves nothing after his abysmal 2018 but could work his way back with a strong spring. O'Neill is definitely the sexiest name of the group, possessing an all-around skill set that neither of the veterans comes close to having. However, just as he was in 2018, O'Neill seems to be blocked.
The most interesting bit of recent news comes from the Ozuna camp, which stems from his 2018 shoulder issues. It seems as though he will be eased into work this spring, which is good news for the O'Neill truthers. If there is any chance that Ozuna starts the year on the disabled list, this gives O'Neill the path to playing time that has escaped him in the past. From there, great players find their way into a lineup and he could prove his worth rather quickly.
As for now, I believe Ozuna will start on Opening Day, which leaves just the one spot. Martinez should win it barring an awful spring performance.
Safe prediction: Martinez blocks O'Neill, who only plays when eventual injuries arise
Bold prediction: O'Neill takes the job and eventually becomes the Cardinals' everyday cleanup hitter
Braves Starting Rotation
Frontrunners - Touki Toussaint, Mike Soroka
ICYMI, Snit said Mike Soroka is set to resume throwing Thursday
— David O'Brien (@DOBrienATL) February 27, 2019
The Braves have a plethora of arms that are fighting for the last starting spot in the big league rotation. We can safely assume that Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb, Kevin Gausman, and Julio Teheran will be in the rotation. Who will join them to start the season?
Right now, the frontrunners are Toussaint and Soroka. The two youngsters got a taste of the big leagues last year with varying amounts of success. It's a battle between two different philosophies as well. Toussaint's your high-K/high-BB guy with a wipeout curve while Soroka is in the mold of Kyle Hendricks with excellent command and no plus-plus offering.
Usually, I would take the floor of Soroka in a battle like this, but shoulder issues have plagued the Canadian. The Braves are easing him in and the reports have been mixed between good and bad. As I always say, if you are hearing anything other than the "best shape of their life" from camp, then it's a red flag. This makes me a buyer on Toussaint late in drafts in the hopes of finding the next Luis Castillo type of arm.
Dark Horses - Luiz Gohara, Max Fried, Bryse Wilson
There are other interesting names in the mix as well. Fried and Wilson have potential, but will likely be relegated to a bullpen role in what is a weakness for the Braves. A name to watch this spring is Luiz Gohara, who was in the same position last year before injuring his ankle. Many thought Gohara would be a high upside arm in the 2018 draft (similar to Josh James in 2019 drafts) based on his September performance in 2017. If he catches fire here in March, he could be a cheap add in your redraft leagues.
Safe prediction: Toussaint joins the rotation as the Braves ease Soroka back into the fold
Bold prediction: Gohara leapfrogs both starters and reminds fantasy owners why he was an interesting flier in 2018 drafts
Rays First Baseman
Frontrunners - Ji-Man Choi, Daniel Robertson
Tampa seemingly has a hundred infielders that could be above-average players if given regular playing time. Plus, they've got a ton of guys in the lower minors (Wander Franco, Vidal Brujan, Lucius Fox) that are going to be pushing for spots in 2020 and 2021. I don't want to tell them how to run their organization, but the Rays should make some trades!
Looking specifically at 2019 though, we have plenty of options to sift through for the corner infield. If we want to assume that Matt Duffy wins out the third base job on defense alone, we turn to first base for answers (or questions). I don't particularly enjoy the popular prediction, which involves platooning a couple of decent guys at the expense of some upside players. The popular prediction is that the Rays will platoon Choi and Robertson at first until something else happens. So, what is that something else and can fantasy players reap the benefits of it?
Dark Horses - Yandy Diaz, Brandon Lowe, Nathaniel Lowe
I'm still a believer in Diaz, although he could only be labeled as a 'slugger' if that meant he was killing slugs with all of those scorching hot grounders. The Rays seem like the perfect team to take on the Yandy project and perhaps we finally see that philosophy change. What that also means is that Diaz could be working on his launch angles down at Triple-A as to not mess up the Rays contention plans.
Nate Lowe is a very interesting player who is coming off a monster season between three levels. His Triple-A performance was not as fantastic as the rest of it was though and he's not on the 40-man roster anyway. I expect the Rays to delay his arrival until he is making them look absolutely stupid with his Triple-A work in 2019.
This leaves Brandon Lowe, who has nothing left to prove at the minor league level. The Rays are already giving him reps at first base in camp and are giving him a fair shot to win the job. B-Lowe would be the most interesting name of the group to win the job given his ability to provide a combination of power and on-base skills unmatched by his competitors. Steamer projects him to hit for a 0.253/0.328/0.436 triple slash with a 111 wRC+ in 2019. Not bad for someone with just 43 major league games under his belt. If we were to ambitiously give him a full season of work,
Safe prediction: Choi & Robertson platooned at 1B
Bold prediction: Lowe steals the 1B job and provides above-average fantasy stats as a corner infielder
Angels Starting Rotation
Competitors - Jaime Barria, Felix Pena, Nick Tropeano, Dillon Peters, Alex Meyer
#Angels pitching depth:
Starters: Skaggs, Heaney, Cahill, Harvey, Barria, Canning, Suarez
Swing: Pena, Peters, NiTro, JC Ramirez*
Pen: Allen, Buttrey, Anderson, Cam, Garcia, Robles, Cole, N Ramirez, Jerez, Curtiss, Key*, Jewell*
Excess: Mahle, Rhoades, L Pena, Meyer, Ramsey, Snow
— Taylor Blake Ward (@TaylorBlakeWard) January 22, 2019
This might come as a knock to my credibility, but I am actually excited to see this play out. Well, I will be excited if something out of the ordinary happens.
The safer names are probably going to prevail here with Jaime Barria leading the way. Barria had 26 starts last year and didn't totally botch it with a 3.41 ERA and 4.58 FIP. Pena is likely second in line and provides a more desirable 14.6% K-BB% relative to Barria's 9.5%. Tropeano, Meyer, and Peters will all have their spot starts but will find themselves injured for extended periods of time. The Angels have depth, but no firepower in the back end of their rotation.
Dark Horses - Jose Suarez, Griffin Canning
Enter Suarez and Canning, who each showed flashes of brilliance in the minors last year. Canning isn't on the 40-man, but his non-roster invite to camp tells me the Angels have some interest in getting looks at him versus major league hitting. A 2017 draft pick, he flew through the minors last year, ending with 13 starts for Triple-A Salt Lake. However, with his scattered success at Salt Lake, I would imagine the Angels would want to let him refine his craft just a bit more before getting a summer call-up.
This leaves Suarez as the best option to swoop in and steal a job. Suarez absolutely demolished Double-A before also having some trouble at Triple-A. If you look closer though, you see that he improved greatly as the Triple-A season wore on. His last six starts saw him produce a 2.70 ERA, 3.25 FIP, and a 17.6% K-BB%. He's a short, stocky bulldog with a deceptive delivery from the left side. We've seen this southpaw profile win random starting roles recently (Joey Lucchesi, Jordan Montgomery).
Safe prediction: Barria wins the job and is useful as a streaming option against weak teams
Bold prediction: Suarez earns a spot and becomes 2019's version of 2018 Joey Lucchesi
|2019 Fantasy Baseball Position Previews|
|Catcher||First Base||Second Base||Third Base||Shortstop||Outfield||Starting Pitcher||Relief Pitcher|
Check out the rest of our 2019 Fantasy Baseball content from our great team of writers.