NL Central: Spring Training Battles

Nov 2, 2013; Surprise, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant against the West during the Fall Stars Game at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

For fantasy owners, there will be multiple position battles, players, and storylines to watch. With Spring Training already started up, hopefully this article guides fantasy owners to what to watch for.

NL Central

Chicago Cubs – Baez and Bryant

Easily the most entertaining and influential fantasy battle this spring will be if the Cubs finally free the looming monster Kris Bryant and if Javier Baez will stop swinging at everything including the rosin bag.  Fantasy owners and Cubs fan are salivating at the thought of both guys cracking the opening day roster and being integral parts of the 2015 lineup.

Baez and Bryant are basically competing against the likes of Arismendy Alcantara (awesome name) and Tommy La Stella. Alcantara is a nice utility, Swiss army knife type of guy, and La Stella is all glove.

Baez probably has the easiest path as he “just” as to improve on his batting eye and patience. If he can just cut down on the Ks during the spring, then he will cement himself as one of the better fantasy 2B and rise up draft boards.

For Bryant, it gets a little cloudy because the Cubs will do whatever they can in order to secure another year of team control. There really is not anything else for Bryant to prove in the minors; therefore, I fully envision him outplaying any competition in the spring even though he presumably will not crack the club.

Both guys are definitely draftable if they do or do not make the team out of the spring. I would even take a flier on Bryant late in the draft if he is sent to AAA because he should be up with the club in May no matter what.

Cincinnati Reds – Bailey, Bruce, and Votto’s Health

The 2014 Reds season could can be summarized in one word: disappointing. It all seemed as though the Reds were in store for a huge season and once again be in the mix for the Central.

For Reds fans, it is even worse to think that if Homer Bailey, Jay Bruce, and Joey Votto just produced at their career averages and combined with breakouts from Cueto, Frazier, and Mesoraco, then the team could have definitely made more noise last season.

For fantasy owners, this spring should be all about monitoring the recovery of Bailey, Bruce, and Votto to see if they show any flashes of their previous performances, especially in Votto’s case because he has the ability to get back to that 1st or 2nd round value. Buying low can be extremely valuable for fantasy owners, so keep an eye out on the Reds.

Milwaukee Brewers – Braun and Lucroy’s Health

With the recent news of Johnathan Lucroy’s hamstring ailment coming back into the fold, his status is important to monitor leading up to the start of the season. But for fantasy owners, their entire attention should solely center on Ryan Braun and his recovery.

Braun put up career lows last year largely due a thumb injury (or so we hope) that plagued him throughout the year. Braun is a polarizing fantasy player because his ceiling puts him into the top 10 status or better.  Watching him swing and seeing if he can regain his signature stroke will serve to be vital in determining whether or not to pull the trigger on him. If he looks good and his swing seems unhampered, then bump him up your draft boards.

Lucroy should be alright by the beginning of the season, and C or not, he is just a downright good hitter. Just make sure he does not suffer any setbacks in his recovery that would prevent him from producing among the top three catchers taken.

Pittsburgh Pirates – SS Position

Jordy Mercer has proven to be capable major league shortstop. Mercer actually put up a career high in HRs and RBIs last year.  However, that did not stop the Pirates from going out and signing the KBO sensation Jung-Ho Kang. Kang mashed 40 homers and knocked in 117 RBI’s last year in Korea.

Now, Korean pitching cannot be compared to major league pitching, but 40 bombs is nothing to scoff at. This spring fantasy owners should pay close attention to see if Kang handles major league pitching and to see if he could parlay that success in unseating Mercer. If Kang does, then he is a very interesting draft day flier for the power upside.

St. Louis Cardinals – Wainwright’s Health 

Adam Wainwright has been one of the most solid and consistent starters in both fantasy and real life baseball. Over the last 7 years, the guy has averaged 200 innings and about 180 Ks and has proven to be an elite SP1.

Last year however, Wainwright slowed down and pitched through the dreaded elbow tinge that decimated his strikeout numbers.

In the off-season, he had his elbow cleaned up a little and he seems ready to go for this season. I have seen many experts say that they are staying far away from Wainwright this year, but educated fantasy owners still should monitor his spring and see if this year proves to be a great time to get him for the cheap as some may be scared off.

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NL East, AL East