Fantasy Baseball Spring Training: What to Monitor and how to do it


Spring Training is almost here. Be excited, but be informed.

Photo by Flickr user Eric Mueller

Spring Training is almost here. I’ll repeat that again, baseball fans. Spring Training is almost here.

That means that your fantasy baseball drafts are almost here. Once those take place, opening day is right around the corner.

At this point, you should probably have your goals in place and start figuring out who you’re going to put on your team to help reach those goals.  In order to make the right moves, you need to keep an eye on different situations around the league. That’s why we’re here. Take a look at a few key situations to monitor, as well as some good ways to monitor them.

Seattle Mariners Situation

If you start everything equal, we’re going to have Mike Morse, Justin Smoak, Kendrys Morales, Michael SaundersMichael SaundersFranklin GutierrezCasper WellsEric ThamesCarlos PegueroRaul Ibanez and Jason Bay vying for playing time. Folks, that is 11 players battling for three outfield spots, first base, and the designated hitter position.

I said this in my Morse preview, but I would imagine that Morales and Morse will be the primary first baseman and designated hitter in Seattle, regardless of which one plays which position. Should that happen, both of those two will have decent fantasy value. Of all of the other players listed, none of them has any fantasy value, other than Saunders, who won’t give you much of an average but is an outside 20/20 threat.

While Morales and Morse should both be starters, they both raise some questions, notably injuries. Morales missed most of 2010, all of 2011, and played in 134 games in 2012. Morse has played more than 140 games once. His second highest total in games played? 102. So, there’s some reason to think that Seattle will look to at least give both of them some rest, even if they are the primary starters.

You have to keep an eye on how well those two hit and how healthy they stay. If one of those other guys play well in Spring Training, they could well take some playing time away from Morse and Morales. Now, again, with the exception of Saunders, I don’t see anyone there having fantasy value. But they could take enough playing time away from Morales and/or Morse to hurt their fantasy values.

On the other hand, if they both show the M’s that they can take the ball and run with it, then you have two very good first basemen who will likely be available in the mid-late rounds in your drafts. With that, you can pass on guys like Joey Votto, Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, and Albert Pujols to fill other needs, knowing that a good first baseman will come your way later on.

Defending Champ Concerns

The quest of Tim Lincecum breaks a normal trend for me, but this situation is that important. Normally, what veterans (especially pitchers) do in Spring Training is of very little concern to me, as long as they stay healthy. With Lincecum, I really need to see what happens before I figure out if he’s worth drafting in fantasy baseball.

There’s no other way to put it, Lincecum was abysmal in 2012. When looking at regular starters, fantasy or otherwise, you could make a case that he was the worst in the league from start to finish. The numbers would back that up, and for most of the season, it was apparent from watching him. Things got a little better in the second half, but not great. While his strikeout total was fine, he seemed to allow loud contact when he was way up in the counts all season long.

But then the playoffs happened, where he was brilliant. The catch though is that he was brilliant as a reliever. In his one start, Lincecum was shelled by the Cardinals. So, keep an eye out not so much for his numbers, but read reports on his velocity, breaking balls, and what he’s doing when up in counts. The Cactus League is generally hitter-friendly, so don’t concern yourself with his ERA, but look between the lines a little bit.

While you’re looking for reports on Timmy, keep an eye on what they’re saying about Pablo Sandoval, as well. The Panda had a fabulous postseason and was generally strong towards the end of the 2012 regular season, but plenty of struggles hit him last year, as well. This isn’t the first time you’ve heard this, but the main concern seems to be his weight.

In my humble opinion, the weight issue in baseball is a bit overdone sometimes. Prince Fielder isn’t exactly slim, nor is Miguel Cabrera. Babe Ruth seemed to have a decent career, and David Wells pitched a perfect game while hungover. But Sandoval has been inconsistent at times throughout his career and if he swells up, his defense suffers. For a team centered on pitching, that’s a problem. The Giants also have a capable backup in Joaquin Arias.

Now, I am not suggesting that the Panda’s fighting for his starting job in Spring Training. That isn’t the case, nor is it close to being the case. But Sandoval’s weight could well be an issue in determining days off, and how often they come. A few games of production being lost is a great way to hinder someone’s numbers and in turn, fantasy value. Again, Pablo will start the year at the hot corner (barring injury), but reports from Spring Training will be worth monitoring. You can do this by keeping an eye on the Giants (more on that below), and also watching the World Baseball Classic, as the Panda will be on Team Venezuela.

Outfield in the Desert

As of this moment, the Diamondbacks have four outfielders that can start in Jason Kubel, Cody Ross, Adam Eaton, and Gerardo Parra. Now, even with the trade of Justin Upton, another move could still happen though Ross is doubtful as he just signed there), but if that doesn’t happen, you’ll really want to see what kind of playing time these guys are likely to get.

According to the Diamondbacks website, the primary starters will be Parra, Ross, and Kubel, which makes some sense to me. However I could easily see those starters losing at bats to Eaton if they struggle. You’ll want to keep an eye out for what’s going on, and what manager Kirk Gibson is thinking.

Eaton is way too good to be fourth outfielder. So, keep an eye on the trade winds, and also how everyone is doing in camp. This situation is highly subject to change.

Health in Philadelphia

If we focused on real baseball here, I’d say something like, “A healthy Phillies team is still strong enough to compete for a title in what should be very competitive NL East, while a beaten up Phillies will be a distant third behind Atlanta and Washington.” But this is a fantasy site, so we’ll keep the focus there.

Let’s start with Chase Utley. Looking back at his numbers, the last time you could call Utley an elite fantasy player was 2009, even when you consider that he plays a thin position. A big reason that he hasn’t been elite since then is that he played 115 games in 2010, a total that has gone down ever since. Since he just turned 34, I could see that being a concern. That’s why we’re here.

For the first time in what seems like forever, Utley doesn’t appear to have any injury issues headed into Spring Training. He can still hit and is a crafty enough player to be a 20-20 threat, if he plays a full year. Now I am not talking about watching out for big injuries. If those happen, fantasy owners generally have a clear direction. But the nagging injuries are something to look out for. If those persist and don’t go away quickly, this is someone to stay away from. If he seems healthy, remember that Utley is what’s still a decent lineup, and plays in a hitter-friendly park, especially for lefties.

While they have been more reliably healthy over the years, Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard also dealt with injuries for much of 2012, and are both past the point of being young bucks. Utley is my main Philly focus, but he’s not the only one. Halladay, Utley, and Howard are all coming off of injuries, so they all carry sleeper potential. But they’re also all big names, which people do flock towards. That makes them bust potential. Obviously every pick is a gamble, but do everything you can to ensure that you come out on the right end of that.

Matt Kemp

These next two won’t be as lengthy, I promise. In January, we read the following from Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times, quoting Matt Kemp..

"I’m not trying to be 100% in spring training. I’m trying to be 100% for the first game of the season."

Especially early in the year, these injuries often hold players out for longer than anticipated. Opening day becomes a few weeks, which becomes April, which becomes mid-May, etc. This is especially a concern for Kemp, as the injury he’s nursing now is not related to the one that cost him so many games in 2012.

See what’s being said about Kemp. How locked in is he going to be to start opening day for the Dodgers? If he’s not, what kind of time are you looking at? Kemp is a potential Top-5 pick, so you need to know where he stands before investing that kind of pick on him. There are plenty of other great options this year so as great as Kemp is, you don’t need to gamble.

Older Yankees

Speaking mostly about Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter. I believe in the determination these guys have. Both of their 2012’s ended being taken off of the field, and I don’t think the competitive nature of these two will allow that to be anyone’s final enduring image.

Still, father time is undefeated and rapidly catching up to these guys. Keep a close eye on them to be sure that they’re healthy and still on track. Both possess some fantasy value at this point, but as was the case with the guys in Philly, don’t overreact to their big names. If you put them on your fantasy team, be sure that you’ve done everything you can to know where they are in the health department.

How do I stay posted?

The truth is that these are only a few situations. Every team in the league has something going on that could impact how you select your fantasy team, even the Astros.

One of the wonders of the internet is how readily information becomes available. I realize that Spring Training coverage isn’t always great. What you get is sometimes vague and softened.

I’d suggest following every one of these people on Twitter. There, you’ll find updates by them, or Retweets from fellow beat writers/insiders. It’s a great way to get specific reports on teams and players. To be a the best fantasy baseball player possible, you have to try to get the most information you can. These reporters are a big step towards doing that.

Arizona DiamondbacksJack Magruder, Fox Sports Arizona Milwaukee BrewersTom Haudricourt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Atlanta BravesDavid O’Brien, Atlanta Journal ConstitutionMinnesota TwinsLaVelle E. Neal III, Minnesota Star Tribune
Baltimore OriolesEduardo A. Encina, Baltimore SunNew York MetsMike Puma, New York Post
Boston Red SoxPete AbrahamBoston GlobeNew York YankeesSweeny Murti, Sportsradio 66 WFAN 
Chicago CubsPatrick Mooney, CSN Chicago Oakland AthleticsSusan Slusser, San Francisco Chronicle
Chicago White SoxMark Gonzales, Chicago Tribune Philadelphia PhilliesRyan Lawrence, Philadelphia Daily News
Cincinnati RedsJohn Fay, Cincinnati Enquirer Pittsburgh PiratesMichael SanserinoPittsburgh Post-Gazzette
Cleveland IndiansPaul Hoynes, Cleveland Plain DealerSan Diego PadresCorey Brock, 
Colorado RockiesTroy Renck, Denver Post San Francisco GiantsAndrew Baggarly, CSN Bay Area 
Detroit TigersTom GageDetroit NewsSeattle MarinersGeoff Baker, Seattle Times
Houston AstrosBrian T. Smith, Houston ChronicleSt. Louis CardinalsDerrick Goold, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Kansas City RoyalsBob Dutton, Kansas City StarTampa Bay RaysMarc Topkin, Tampa Bay Times 
Los Angeles AngelsMike DiGiovannaLos Angeles TimesTexas RangersJeff Wilson, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Los Angeles DodgersDylan Hernandez, Los Angeles Times Toronto Blue JaysBrendan Kennedy, The Star 
Miami MarlinsJuan C. Rodriguez, Sun Sentinel Washington NationalsAmanda Comak, Washington Times 

If you live in these markets and have other good follows, feel free to let me and your fellow readers know in the comment section.