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I don’t pay much attention to Spring Training Statistics.  You never know who the statistics are coming against.  Baseball-Reference did, however, have an amazing tool last year that attempted to quantify the quality of opposing pitchers or batters faced during spring training games on a scale from 1-10 with 10 being MLB talent and 1-3 being high A to low A level.  This tool is great, but it averages all the Plate Appearances or batters faced.  You would still need a deeper dive to see if your stud prospect smacked a donger off of Chris Sale or off of your kid’s future pony league baseball coach.  So what should we watch for in March when we’re starved for the crack of the bat?  Ignore “best shape of their life” stories and Spring Training statistical leaderboards.  Pay attention to injuries and lineup construction and position battles!  Also pay attention to where Bryce Harper signs… Note that signing can instantly eliminate a position battle detailed herein (although it sounds like only NL teams are involved right now).

Also note that most projected platoons are designated at www.rosterresource.com with a RED block for LHHs and a BLUE block for RHHs.  So I’ll assume those platoons are platoons and we can all adjust our plate appearance projections from there.

I was curious how many innings should be expected out of a guy that wins the #4 or #5 starting job.  So I made a chart of every teams top 5 SPs in IP in 2018 (obviously the TBdR messed this up).  The results were kind of interesting.  SP4 averaged ~129 IP in the NL and ~123 IP in the AL in 2018. SP5 averaged ~102 IP in the NL and ~101.5 IP in the AL.  I expected larger numbers, but the game is trending towards lowering pitch counts and avoiding the 3rd time through the order.  Maybe it’s time to avoid some of these SP5s and snag a long reliever with good ratios at a drastically reduced cost?  100 IP of mediocrity vs 80 IP of great ratios seems like a worthwhile reason to punt 1 IP a week?  See chart below.

So here is what I WILL be watching out for this spring.  Here. We. Begin!

AL East

Baltimore Orioles:

RF:  Joey Rickard is the only one on this list who is out of options.  So far through 789 MLB PAs, he has 17 dingers, 16 swipes, and a .252/.298/.376 triple slash.  If you scale those numbers back to 500 PAs, then that’s 11 dingers, 10 swipes and the same .674 OPS.  There’s some hope for optimism as his AAA OPS is over .800 (juuuuust over .801), albeit with less power and less steals.  So if Rickard wins the job he will be a quantity only player.  D.J. Stewart could be the LHH side of a platoon, but if he wins the job outright he could be exciting.  After an excellent year in AA in 2017, where he went 20/20 and OPS’d .857, his AVG regressed in 2018 to .235 in AAA and .250 in a very small MLB sample size.  He would be solid in pts leagues too (with a career OBP .100 pts higher than his career AVG).  Austin Hays is also on the 40-man roster, but after a monster 2017 in AA in which he OPS’d .960 with 16 dingers in half a year and made it to the big show, he really took a step back last year.  In 5 more PAs last year and in AA again, he dipped by 4 dingers and .257 OPS pts.  Maybe he could leapfrog the other two with an exceptional spring?  And then there’s Yusniel Diaz who was the key piece in the Manny Machado deal.  He really elevated his name by being associated with Manny, but his game came up too!  In 97 AA games last year he hit 11 dingers and stole 12 bases and then he made a bunch of noise in the AFL.  However, he has zero ABs in AAA, so he will likely start the season there.  If he gets off to a fast start, the going-nowhere Orioles might give him an early taste. He has also shown the ability to handle CF but makes sense in RF since he has one of the best arms in the minors.  His SB numbers are just ok, but be warned he’s been caught more than he’s been successful (35 CS, 28 SB).  So there’s a chance that if he can’t steal off of AA catchers, they might not give him much of a green light in the bigs.  Prediction:  I think DJ Stewart wins the job outright, with potential for Yusniel Diaz to show his stuff after the ASB.

Super Utility?:  No one interesting fits the mold here.

Prospects?:   Their exciting prospects, with any chance to play MLB ball in 2018, are mentioned in the RF blurb above.  Yusniel is ranked #67 Ovr with a 2019 ETA by us.

Boston Red Sox:

Closer:  I think catcher will be a mega-platoon between Christian Vazquez, Sandy Leon, and Blake Swihart with none of them getting enough ABs to be exciting.  The BoSox bullpen could be an interesting showdown between Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes.  This is a good battle of a low K/9 (7.8) and low BB/9 (1.9) vs a high K/9 (14.0) and high BB/9 (4.5).  Brasier’s low BB/9 makes him enticing as a safer option, but Barnes high K/9 makes him enticing as the sexy option.  And just like in life, choices between safe and sexy are always extremely difficult to make.  So watch how this one pans out and grab the guy who will help your SV/WHIP categories or the guy who will help your SV/K categories.  Prediction:  The BoSox are no different than you at the bar.  They’ll talk to the sexy option first and they might get a drink in their face, but I think Barnes gets the first opportunity.

Super Utility?:  No one interesting fits the mold here.

Prospects?:   Boston’s highest ranked prospect is #82 Ovr, 3B Michael ChavisRafael Devers is probably safe.  Chavis’ minor league numbers pale in comparison to Devers’.

New York Yankees:

MI:   The Yanks have said that they are committed to Troy Tulowitzki at SS.   Hey, I’m committed to the Taco Bell Dollar Cravings Menu, so who am I to judge people’s bad decisions?  According to this article, the Yankees pinkie swore to both Tulo and DJ LeMahieu that they would have starting roles if they signed with them.  I’m not sure why they would move Gleyber Torres to the bench, but it seems these promises take ABs away from Gleyber.  Gleyber will still be a great player and he’s already not worse than 2019 Tulowitzki, but I digress.  Didi Gregorius B.I.G. will regain the SS job once he’s healthy (June or later).  This could be an uber-3/4-way-platoon for 2019.  I’m not sure how many ABs there will be to go around if Tulo stays healthy and Didi returns when expected.  Prediction:  LeMahieu 2B 500 ABs, Tulo SS 250 ABs (mostly) in first half, Did SS 300 ABs in second half, Gleyber 350 ABs at 2/SS.  That’s 700 ABs each for 2B and SS.  So that might even be high.

Super Utility?:  I guess Gleyber could bounce around in order to get more than tree fiddy ABs like a gawd damn Loch Ness Monster.  Maybe Gleyber gets some 3B work this season?

Prospects?:  Estevan Florial is our #39 prospect but not expected to arrive until 2020.  Jonathan Loaisiga is the #76 prospect with a 2019 ETA, but I think he’s unsexy in fantasy unless you just need the innings.

Tampa Bay (devil)Rays:

1B:  Ji-Man Choi had a heck of a second half last year for the dRays!  (I know they dropped the ‘devil’ part, but I think it’s silly so I always say it just to spite them.)  If he can even come close to replicating his .269/.370/.506 triple slash from last year’s 189 PA tryout, then he will run away with the job and be a steal.   Yandy Diaz has 1 career dinger and a .366 SLG in 299 MLB PAs, so I would look elsewhere for 1B help.    Prediction:  I think Ji-Man wins the job and that’s what you should want anyways.

Super Utility?: Brandon Lowe has terrific minor league numbers.  He has experience at 2B and LF, and I’ve seen him mentioned as a part of the 1B battle before.  He could be exciting if he had access to playing time.  So stay tuned.

Prospects?:  Wander Franco is #5 Ovr, but not due to come up until 2022.  (Also be warned in mixed dynasty leagues, there’s another Wander Franco for SF.  Don’t bid on the wrong one.)  Brent Honeywell (#19 prospect) underwent Tommy John Surgery 2/27/2018.  He threw 123.2 IP in AAA back in 2017, so maybe he doesn’t need much more time there.  He’s a stud and he’s going to be a stud, but it takes 12-18 months to teach your new ligament how to aim a baseball.  The control might be there right off the bat or it might take until the ASB.  Watch his command and watch for when he’s getting MLB work.  Brandon McKay (#46 prospect) hasn’t played above A+, so he should spend this year tearing up AA/AAA with a chance to make noise in 2020.

Toronto Blue Jays:

LF:   Billy McKinney has a solid numbers in 530 AAA PAs.  If he were able to repeat those in the majors, a 69 R, 26 HR, 75 RBI, .258 AVG (with .823 OPS) isn’t bad.  So far he has managed a .780 OPS in a small sample size in the bigs.  So maybe if Billy wins this job, he could see something around 500 PAs and be a nice late source of 20 dingers.  Speaking of .780 (.782) OPS’s in the majors; his competition is Teoscar Hernandez who had a .908 OPS in 2017 (95 PAs) and followed that up with a disappointing .771 OPS last year led by a 31% K rate.  For comparison’s sake, I’ll scale Teoscar the grouch’s AAA numbers down to 530 AAA PAs.  You end up with 77 R, 20 HR, 77 RBI, .278 AVG (.851 OPS), 19 SB.  So I think McKinney has slightly more power upside, but Teoscar has the upside in AVG and SBs.  Prediction: I could definitely see this one becoming a platoon.  If you’re in a daily league, you can try to get both late and enjoy the 700 PAs collectively of good power, good average.  In Tecmo Super Bowl style, if you can get RF Blue Jays late in your daily lineup league draft, I think you’ll be happy with the value and the results.

Super Utility?: No one interesting fits the mold here.

Prospects?: Danny Jansen (our #85 Ovr prospect) is projected to win the starting catcher gig.  The FML projects 14 dingers and a .261 AVG over 427 ABs this season.  That’s pretty on par with his AAA numbers: (438 PAs, 15 dingers, .285 AVG, .884 OPS, and even chipped in 5 SBs).  If you wait on catcher, this should be one of your targets.  Craig Biggio‘s kid ranks #92 Ovr on our list. Cavan Biggio‘s hasn’t played above AA yet (563 PAs, .887 OPS, 26 dingers, 20 swipes), but he should start in AAA this year and as such is one step closer to the show.  Dante Bichette‘s kid is even more exciting. Bo Bichette knows baseball.  He’s our #9 Ovr prospect for a reason.  In a full season with AA New Hampshire at age 20, he hit 43 2Bs, 11 HR, 61 XBH, 32 SBs, with a .286 AVG.  He’ll likely start in AAA and continue his formidable double play duo with Cavan and he will also be one step away.  Once he’s up, he will be exciting.  Another kid of a stud, maybe you guys have heard of our #1 Ovr prospect: Vladimir Guerrero JrGrey’s fantasy schmohawk post only dampens your blanket due to draft cost (and he’s 100% correct, Vladito’s ADP is beyond bonkers).  However, dude will mash.  He should hit over .300 most (if not all) seasons and be in the 25 dinger range right off the bat (<- pun intended) with room to grow.  What can you say about Vladito that hasn’t already been said about a young Albert Pujols?