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.
Houston Astros – Closer Battle
While teams like the Padres, Red Sox, and White Sox have gotten the most media coverage for their offseason acquisitions, the Houston Astros and their solid additions have flown under the radar. The Astros have added Evan Gattis, Colby Rasmus, and Jed Lowrie to complement a sound young offensive nucleus and also solidified the back end of the bullpen with the signings of Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek and Joe Thatcher.
Chad Qualls wound up as the closer for the Astros in 2014 and did an admirable job notching 19 saves and posting a respectable 3.33 ERA. While this serves as a nice low end fantasy season, it certainly does not entice fantasy owners to target Qualls on draft day because he just does not strike enough people out (43 K’s in 51.1 IP). The upside just is not there, but Houston seems to have him in the cat bird seat for the closer position going into the spring.
But the Astros did not sign Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek without a competition coming as a result. The guy fantasy owners should be monitoring is Luke Gregerson. Gregerson has been one of the steadiest setup men in baseball over the last six years. He has shown that he can thrive in high pressure situations, and I think that he has a little higher upside than Qualls.
The battle should be intriguing as the Astros should be in more ballgames, which means there will be a few more save opportunities. Gregerson will have value no matter what especially in leagues that value holds, so I would just keep a keen eye on the battle to see if Gregerson wrestles the job away.
Los Angeles Angels – Can C.J. Cron Thrive?
One of the major obstacles fantasy owners will face drafting this year will be that power vanishes quickly. Therefore finding late round power options tend to serve as a beneficial strategy on draft day.
Last season, C.J. Cron slugged 11 HRs in 79 games, which gives him pace around 22 HR’s if he had played a full season.
Across every minor league level, Cron has shown the propensity to hit for power. With Josh Hamilton being on the shelf for an extended time, Cron seems to have an open lane towards AB’s.
The Angels did bring in Matt Joyce, but he serves as a platoon option because of his ability to crush righties. The beauty of Cron’s situation is that with Hamilton down, he will be entrenched in the DH spot, giving him a ton of playing time.
Another positive component is that Hamilton could come back and take over the LF job, leaving Joyce and Cron to form a platoon at the DH spot. That may cut into Cron’s counting stats, but keep in mind that Cron will spell Albert Pujols at 1B and with Hamilton’s spotty track record, it seems that he will eventually miss more time during the season thus clearing the logjam again.
What I am getting to, is that Cron has the power and will get plenty of playing time which should intrigue fantasy owners. He has 20 HR potential, and he can be had for practically peanuts late during drafts. Monitor him during spring to reassure yourself that he is worth a flier.
Oakland Athletics – Marcus Semien and the Rotation
The Oakland A’s have had an interesting offseason to say the least. Call it Billyball, Moneyball, or whatever the team has been turned into from a fantasy standpoint.
The centerpiece of the Jeff Samardzija trade was the lauded prospect Marcus Semien. Semien will probably be slotted as the Oakland SS, so fantasy owners should be watching him during the spring due to the fact that SS is an anemic position.
Semien has the potential to put up a 15 HR, 10 SB season. That seems like a decent gamble for owners searching for a MI or Util spot. Fantasy owners need to monitor his spring to see if he earns the starting SS gig and if he hits enough to possibly be a surprise find at the MI position late in drafts.
With Samardzija and Jason Hammel both departing for different sides of Chicago, the only two rotation stalwarts left are Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir. Gray, of course, has the highest upside and will most likely one of the top 20 SP taken. Kazmir could be a late round flier as he slowed down at the end of last season, but still put up a pretty strong year.
For me, the name to follow is Jesse Hahn. He proved last year in San Diego that he has the potential to put up some pretty decent fantasy stats. He will be moving from one pitcher heaven to another, and he has the stuff that plays well in big parks. Monitor him during the spring, and see if you can unearth a breakout pitcher for the price of a SP 5.
Seattle Mariners – The Taijuan Walker Enigma
I have been enamored for years with potential Taijuan Walker beholds. He has routinely ranked among Seattle’s top prospects and certainly appears to one day become a mainstay in their rotation. Whether it is injuries or inconsistency, it seems like he just has not made that next leap into stardom.
Fantasy owners should monitor him this spring to see if he can earn the job over Roenis Elias. Elias came out of nowhere and had a pretty solid season, so Walker cannot exactly take it easy in camp.
Walker clearly has the higher upside and fantasy owners should he hope that the Mariners finally let him loose. In his limited innings last year, Walker proved he can strike people out at an elite rate (8.1 S/9). Watch closely because Walker has the skills to have a breakout season, but you need to make sure he can avoid any nagging injuries and show that he belongs in the starting rotation.
Texas Rangers- Health
There was no team more devastated by injuries last year than the Rangers. It started with Derek Holland in the offseason and the epidemic slowly spread throughout the season. They lost Prince Fielder, Matt Harrison, Martin Perez, Yu Darvish, Mitch Moreland, and Shin-Soo Choo for extended periods of time last season.
That is a ton of star power and most of those players where drafted last season. Therefore, the fantasy owner’s sole viewing should be focused on the recovery of these high profile players, especially in the cases of Prince and Darvish.
Prince looked to be going to prime spot in Texas last season and many fantasy owners invested highly. Darvish arguably belongs in the top 5 of both fantasy and real life SP, so he was another high-priced investment that succumbed to injuries.
Fantasy owners should see if Fielder looks more comfortable and like the old Prince in the batter’s box after having neck surgery. When healthy, he is a premium power source, and if he does have a good spring, then expect him to slowly creep back into the high round consideration.
Darvish’s case is a little trickier as he was shut down with elbow inflammation last year. He will be someone to watch closely because one minor flare up could plummet his draft stock. Watch to reassure yourself that he can once again be worth a high draft pick because we all know how dominant of a fantasy ace he can be.
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