AL position battles update
It is the most important weekend of the fantasy baseball calendar. It is likely your draft weekend, and it will be less than a week before Opening Day. The final cuts will come in and the position battles will be decided.
Heck, Neftali Feliz just made a case to be the No. 1 closer to come off the board on draft day with the news Thursday that the Rangers are keeping him in the bullpen. The injury to Giants' Brian Wilson helps that cause, as well.
Rankings can sure change in a hurry with news like this. With that in mind, it is time to break down the status of the final decisions teams are facing. You could pick up some sleepers here for those deeper formats.
Let's first tackle the AL team-by-team in predicted order of finish. Spring Training stats are in parenthesis. (
Jarrod Saltalamacchia showed enough to remain ahead of Jason Varitek on the catcher depth chart. Also, Jacoby Ellsbury has earned the leadoff job, moving Carl Crawford down the third. Salty (.250) could prove to be a sleeper in deeper leagues in-season, while Ellsbury (.364) could be a star.
Ivan Nova (1.29 ERA) looks like the No. 4 starter, while the Yankees sound like they are leaning toward Freddy Garcia (5.93 ERA) over Bartolo Colon (2.40 ERA) for the No. 5 starter's spot. Quietly, Eric Chavez (.371 BA) has had a strong spring. He could be a part-time DH and a sleeper in deeper AL-only formats. And Brett Gardner has earned the leadoff job against right-handers. He could be a Rotisserie gem.
The Rays are reluctant to give rookie Tommy John survivor Jake McGee (1.00 ERA) the closer's role out of Spring Training, but it shouldn't take long for him to overtake Joel Peralta (0.00 ERA) and/or Kyle Farnsworth (4.05 ERA) as the co-closers to open the season. McGee is a big-time sleeper in the long run, along with Peralta in the short term. Dan Johnson (.217 BA) looks like is capable of being the every day first baseman, leaving Ben Zobrist in right and Matt Joyce (.256 ERA) coming off the bench.
With Brandon Morrow (shoulder) starting the season on the DL, the Blue Jays are going with Kyle Drabek (3.27 ERA), Jesse Litsch (3.12 ERA) and Jo-Jo Reyes (3.32 ERA) as the final three starters behind Ricky Romero and Brett Cecil. Drabek is a potential AL ROY and all-fantasy contributor. Also, Jon Rauch (0.00 ERA) has earned the closer's role to start the season with Octavio Dotel (hamstring) and Frank Francisco (shoulder) both banged up. Rauch is a sleeper for saves in deeper formats.
The O's still have decisions to make with their No. 5 starter and closer. Koji Uehara (9.00 ERA) is regaining ground on struggling Kevin Gregg (13.50 ERA). Jake Arrieta (5.40 ERA) and Brad Bergesen (5.94 ERA) look to be in the rotation behind Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Matsuz. The No. 5 starter will likely start the season in the minors (Chris Tillman or Zach Britton) or on the DL (Justin Duchscherer). These decisions will come early next week.
Kevin Slowey lost out to Scott Baker, Brian Duensing and Nick Blackburn for a rotation spot behind Francisco Lirano and Carl Pavano. Joe Nathan looks healthy enough to hold off Matt Capps as the closer. Slowey becomes undraftable in mixed formats, barring a trade. Jason Kubel and Jim Thome will share DH duties, although Kubel can spell Delmon Young, Denard Span and Michael Cuddyer in the outfield, too.
The White Sox look set with Matt Thornton as the closer and Chris Sale setting up, making Thornton an overly popular sleeper in drafts. Jake Peavy's shoulder setback leaves the door open to Phil Humber (2.45) or Jeff Marquez (2.70) to be the No. 5 starter in early April. They are merely deeper AL-only fliers. Marquez is currently working in long relief in spring outings right now and a decision will come by early next week.
Will Rhymes has been named the Opening Day second baseman with Carlos Guillen (knee) starting the year on the DL. Rhymes is an AL-only sleeper. Also, Phil Coke (2.49) has locked up a rotation spot behind Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and Brad Penny. Coke might struggle late in the year, but he could prove useful out of the gate.
With an injury to Jason Donald (broken hand), the Indians have a mess at third base. Jack Hannahan has outperformed Jayson Nix and Luis Valbuena, but these guys are merely AL-only reserves or late-round stopgaps. For the No. 5 starter's spot behind Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson, Carlos Carrasco and Mitch Talbot, Josh Tomlin seems to be a front-runner over David Huff and Jeanmar Gomez. Indians starters aren't overly enticing out of AL-only leagues.
Kila Ka'aihue has earned the first base job, but Billy Butler will still get time there when he is not DHing. Ka'aihue is a deep sleeper. Vin Mazzaro beat out Sean O'Sullivan for the No. 5 spot behind Jeff Francis, Luke Hochevar, Kyle Davies and Bruce Chen. Like the Indians, the Royals starters are merely risky AL-only options.
Feliz has been declared the team's closer again, and Alex Ogando will set him up. Matt Harrison (3.79 ERA), one of the key pieces in the Mark Teixeira deadline deal years ago, has won the fifth starter's job over Feliz, Ogando and Tommy Hunter (8.31 ERA). Derek Holland (3.21 ERA) pitched himself into the rotation as well. Holland and Harrison are late-round sleepers with all the run support they will be getting. Feliz probably should be the No. 1 closer off the board now, too, overtaking the banged-up Giants closer Brian Wilson. Offensively, Mitch Moreland is going to start at first with Michael Young serving as the DH, barring a trade.
There are a lot of battles, but Mark Trumbo is going to start the season as the first baseman with Kendrys Morales (ankle) out. Trumbo has pop for deeper leagues. The third base spot is going to be a rotation of Maicer Izturis and Alberto Callaspo, making them merely AL-only options. Peter Bourjos (.372 ERA) starts in center, while Jeff Mathis (.371 ERA) has held off Hank Conger (.226 ERA). Bourjos' strong spring and steals potential makes him interesting late for Rotisserie owners.
Brandon McCarthy looks like the No. 5 starter with Rich Harden (lat muscle) not being ready once again. The 27-year-old McCarthy is a nice late-round sleeper in AL-only leagues. Brian Fuentes will start the season as the closer with Andrew Bailey (elbow) not expected to be ready.
Dustin Ackley couldn't win the second base job, so the M's are going to go with Brendan Ryan at shortstop and Jack Wilson at second. They are merely deeper AL-only options. The interesting position battle winners are the likes of Erik Bedard (1.69 ERA) and rookie Michael Pineda (3.27 ERA), who could be the No. 4 and 5 starters, leaving Luke French on the outside looking in. Bedard and Pineda are fliers in mixed formats and could be this year's surprises that Jason Vargas and Doug Fister were a season ago. Since David Aardsma won't be ready until mid-April at the earliest, Brandon League, despite a 7.00 ERA this spring, will likely still serve as the closer out of the gate.