Fantasy Baseball 2017: Spring Training Takeaways

Mar 5, 2017; West Palm Beach, FL, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34) bats against the Minnesota Twins at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 5, 2017; West Palm Beach, FL, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34) bats against the Minnesota Twins at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

Spring Training performances can easily be overrated. Here we look at a few performances that you should take advantage of when drafting, and others that you should ignore.

Spring Training numbers are a complex array of stats to try to interpret. Some starters are working on certain pitches. One day they might throw only fastballs and the next outing, solely breaking balls. Other pitchers are fighting desperately for their spot in the rotation. The results for both groups of pitchers need to be evaluated separately.

In this article we look at the stats you should pay attention to and others you should ignore. For instance, the Cardinals’ Matt Adams has hit five home runs in 15 games. As he has a career-high of 17 home runs in the majors, it is safe to assume he will not hit 54 home runs over the course of a 162-game season.

Most at-bats
53: Chris Johnson (1B-BAL), Dan Vogelbach (1B-SEA)
It is difficult to see Johnson impacting the fantasy baseball landscape this season. The Orioles already have Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo installed at first base and designated hitter, and have Pedro Alvarez and Trey Mancini both likely to start in the minors. Despite this, Johnson is getting plenty of opportunities to impress.

The Mariners are getting a good look at their number five prospect Vogelbach. He has a clear path to playing time as the Mariners’ primary first baseman against right-handed pitchers. Vogelbach slashed .307/.430/.516 vs. right-handers in the minors last season.

Most runs
12: Richie Shaffer (1B/3B-CLE)
Indians’ manager Terry Francona kept Shaffer’s name in the mix as Cleveland looks for replacements for Jason Kipnis. Although Francona’s preference is for Jose Ramirez to stick at second base, one option that is being explored is to shift Ramirez to second base and insert Shaffer or Yandy Diaz at third base. Kipnis is expected to miss the first four or five weeks of the season. Shaffer had a down year in 2016 but destroyed Triple-A pitching in 2015 with 26 home runs, 27 doubles and .897 OPS in 393 at-bats.

Most hits
19: Mitch Haniger (OF-SEA)
With an ADP of 352, Haniger will help win many fantasy leagues this season. He broke out last season, hitting 20 home runs in Triple-A with 1.098 OPS, before launching five home runs in 34 games in the majors. The 26-year-old will start the season as the Mariners’ right fielder, hitting behind the powerful trio of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager.

Most home runs
6: Bryce Harper (OF-WAS), Peter O’Brien (1B/OF-KC)
Two contrasting talents lead Spring Training with six home runs. Last season only nine players achieved the prestigious 20/20 (20 home runs and 20 stolen bases), and Harper was the youngest. His reputation sometimes masks how good the 24-year-old is.

Harper was hindered by injury last season, which affected both his power and loft, but in 2015 he was a power-hitting stud. The memory of the typical fantasy baseball player is short, so it bears repeating Harper’s numbers from 2015, 42 HR/.330/.460/.649

He could be the number one player this season, yet in some leagues, he is being drafted outside of the top-10.

Former catcher O’Brien hit six home runs in 36 games in the majors for the Diamondbacks but was traded for a .222 AVG minor leaguer in the offseason. The 26-year-old leads Spring Training with an astronomic .854 SLG. The Royals do not have an Opening Day position for O’Brien, but his powerful approach is likely to force him on the Major League roster sometime in 2017.

Most stolen bases
7: Delino DeShields (OF-TEX)
The former rule-5 pick offers little in the way of power for the Rangers but will help fantasy baseball teams this season in their search for speed. Deshields won’t make the Opening Day starting lineup, but he is expected to be a valuable pinch-runner/pinch-hitter in the first few months. The 24-year-old speedster stole 33 bases between Triple-A and the majors last season and even has a 101 stolen base season to his name back in 2012.

DeShields has the best Spring Training on-base stats of the five outfielders vying for the Rangers’ left field, right field and DH spots. There is the opportunity for increased playing time at the top of the order if he continues to get on-base at a good clip.

Most strikeouts
23: Danny Salazar (SP-CLE)
Regardless of the level of competition, 23 strikeouts in 15.1 innings is a great start for a player that missed his the final four starts of the season with elbow inflammation. Salazar was poised to make the jump into the top-20 starters until forearm and elbow issues impacted his performances. Despite this, over the last two seasons, Salazar is one of the top-8 strikeout artists with 9.94 SO/9 but can be drafted later than all of the others.

Keon Broxton has been caught stealing more than anyone else in Spring Training but don’t let that stop you from drafting the Brewers’ outfielder as a good source of speed. He has been successful twice in six attempts. Rather than focus on the negative of the four failed attempts, it should be noted that the Brewers look keen to continue last season’s base stealing exploits.

Similarly, the Mets’ Corey Taylor has been reassigned to the minors but leads Spring Training in saves. With closer Jeurys Familia expected to receive a suspension from MLB, Taylor could be a name to remember if Addison Reed fails as a replacement.

Next: Impact Prospects for Deep Leagues

Not all Spring Training stats are worthwhile, but you need to be aware of everything that is happening and its context.