I get a lot of questions about the importance of spring training and how the savvy fantasy owner can analyze the daily Grapefruit League box scores. When asked how I breakdown a player's spring stats, I typically have the same answer: it depends. Spring training means much more to players fighting for a roster spot, or a place in the starting lineup, than it does for veterans. People seem confused when I say that I could care less about the poor springs that Zach Greinke (SP, KAN) and Matt Cain (SP, SFO) are having. Pitchers assured of a rotation spot typically spend the spring working on their stamina and perfecting different pitches. Their resulting ERA and WHIP aren't nearly as important as the progress of their curve ball or the confidence they gain in their slider. Veteran hitters use the spring to get their timing down and get back in game shape.
So whose performance should you care about? It's the rookies trying to earn a roster spot or the player in the midst of a positional battle that you need to keep an eye on. These players need to produce in March if they want to make the team come April. Spring training is what it is: time for the players to refocus on baseball and a way for fans to get a closer look at their favorite teams. Let's take a look at some recent events that that demand our attention.
J.J. Hardy must have taken an offseason course in plate discipline
Hardy's (SS, MIL) ADP of 114.26 (10th amongst SS) suggests that owners are still on the fence about the 26-year-old's future. If you take out his injury-shortened 2006 season, Hardy has improved his BA, OBP, SLG and OPS for three straight years. His 24 HR in 2008 were second-best for a shortstop and his 74 RBI were fourth. One area of concern is that Hardy had 23 less at-bats in 2008 than in 2007, but managed to strike out 25 more times. In an attempt to reverse that trend and win back my admiration, Hardy has struck out only six times in 52 spring training at-bats while receiving six free passes. Tack on a .436 average, four homers and 15 RBIs, and you have a shortstop I will take over Derek Jeter (SS, NYY) and Jhonny Peralta (SS, CLE), both of whom are routinely being drafted above him.
Pablo Sandoval is the non-catcher with C-eligibility that you want
If I were to tell you that you could draft a player with three-position eligibility (including catcher) that Diamond Draft has predicted for 16 HR, 79 RBIs, .278 average, would you be interested? Now, what if I told you that his current ADP of 226.32 means you can find him available in the 18th round? You'd tell me to pass some of that good stuff over to you. Well, it's the truth, fellas. Sandoval (C, SFO) likely won't catch this year, but his 11 games calling pitches in 2008 makes him eligible in most leagues. He can also be played at 3B and 1B, but his real value lies in those leagues where he can be started as a C. He's tearing up spring ball (.467 BA, MLB-best 28 hits, three HR, 12 RBI, one steal), and I really can't argue with anybody who takes him as early as the 10th round. He won't be a sleeper for much longer.
Kendry Morales: Your table is ready
The prospect label can finally be removed from Morales' (OF, LAA) name, as the 25-year-old gets his first chance to make his mark on the MLB as a starter. His first three stints for the big league club resulted in 377 AB, 12 HR, and a .249 BA. With the starting 1B job his to lose, Morales is finally showing the confidence and skill-set that have had the Anaheim faithful anxiously awaiting his promotion. He's smacking the ball this spring with a .397 average, eight doubles, three homers and 12 RBIs. He's likely to be there at the end of your draft, and it wouldn't surprise me to see a 20 HR, 85 RBI, .280 stat-line come October.
Here's the Lowe-down
After an absolutely ridiculous second-half ERA of 2.38 (including a September/October ERA of 0.59), Derek Lowe (SP, ATL) signed a fat contract to travel cross-country to play for Bobby Cox. As stated, spring training stats for a veteran pitcher like Lowe aren't exactly indicative of what to expect during the season, but combining Lowe's end-of-year tear along with spring numbers of a 3.27 ERA and 24:2 K/BB ratio can't be ignored. He's by no means a fantasy ace, but I'm shocked that his ADP has him being the 38th SP selected. Absurd when you see that Aaron Harang (SP, CIN) is going above him. When the decision arrives, leave the Harangutan on your queue and pick up Lowe.
Justin Duchscherer likely headed back to a familiar place: the DL
Duchscherer (SP, OAK) enjoyed his breakout season in 2008, posting a 2.54 ERA with a 1.00 WHIP. Unfortunately, the Duke can't stay healthy and is expected to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his elbow and miss at least the first month of the season. Even when he returns, Duchscherer will likely pitch out of the bullpen to build up his arm strength. He's battled an injured hip for the past few years and this recent injury is enough to make me pass on draft day.
John Lackey + Dr. Lewis Yocum = Not Good
I'm a big believer in the "contract year" player, and I was high on Lackey (SP, LAA) prior to the season ... until I heard the miserable words that are "Dr. Lewis Yocum". If I've learned anything in my day, it's that nothing good ever comes to a visit with Doc Yocum. The initial diagnosis is an elbow strain, and Lackey will begin the season on the disabled list. He needs a strong season to get the multi-year contract he desires, so I still have faith his numbers will be there in the end. Take this initial DL stint as an opportunity to buy low.
Matt Lindstrom dominates bullpen session
The Marlins bullpen has more questions than the plot of LOST, but Lindstrom (RP, FLA) appears to be ready to go for opening day. He's been rehabbing a strained rotator cuff since Mar. 15, and finally returned to the mound to throw a bullpen session this past week. There's a chance he misses opening day, but Lindstrom should be at full strength by mid-April. Even when healthy, Lindstrom has a career WHIP of 1.37 and ERA of 3.11. Needless to say, Lindstrom isn't one of my top sleeper choices at closer.
Dan the man
The Mets are bulging with fantasy studs, but no one seems to be talking about 24-year-old Daniel Murphy (OF, NYM) who is expected to man left field and bat in the No. 2 spot. Murphy is a patient hitter who made his Mets' debut last season and hit .313 in 131 at-bats with nine doubles, three triples, two homers and 17 RBIs. With an OBP slightly below .400, Murphy proved he isn't scared of the major leagues. Hitting between Jose Reyes (SS, NYM) and David Wright (3B, NYM) should result in plenty of fastballs and close to 100 runs for the sweet-swinging lefty. He will receive most of the playing time in left and is an ideal No. 3 fantasy outfielder.
This Giant name Burriss stayed out of the clubs
Emmanuel Burriss (2B/SS, SFO) has won the Giants open second base job, as Kevin Frandsen (2B/SS, SFO) was sent down to Triple A. The decision couldn't have been an easy one for Bruce Bochy as both players impressed this Spring. In the fantasy circle, I'm glad that Burriss gets the gig. A burner on the base paths, Burriss had 13 steals in 240 at-bats last season. He's hitting .362 this spring with four stolen bases and more walks (five) than strikeouts (four). Burriss can give you a sneaky 30 steals at the tail-end of your drafts.
With his 50-game ban related to HGH behind him, it looks like Jordan Schafer (OF, ATL) will finally get his chance to star for the Braves. Schafer will be 22-years-old on Opening Day and is in position to be the Braves new centerfielder after the team traded away his main competition, Josh Anderson (OF, DET), to the Tigers. Schafer, a legit, five-tool talent, is batting .386 in 57 Spring at-bats, stealing five bases in as many attempts. While Anderson pushed Schafer for most of spring training, Schafer's combination of power and speed prevailed. Schafer is worth a late-round gamble, and if your league has already drafted, he's worth your waiver claim.
Wait for Jopez
He isn't quite the secret he was a few weeks ago, but Jose Lopez (2B, SEA) still demands your respect. If you can't get your hands on Chase Utley (2B, PHI), Ian Kinsler (2B, TEX) or Dustin Pedroia (2B, BOS) I urge you to hold off until rounds 10-12 when you can hopefully grab Lopez. The 25-year-old Venezuelan hit .417 during the World Baseball Classic and is coming off his best season as a pro (.297, 17 HR, 89 RBI, 80 R). He's incredibly consistent, hitting .298 against lefties and .296 against right-handers last season.
Solidify your pitching staff by drafting Adam Wainwright
Wainwright (SP, STL) missed a solid chunk of last season with a finger injury, but returned in late August to post a 5-0 record in seven starts with a 3.35 ERA. Currently, Wainwright is sitting right behind Brett Myers (SP, PHI) in ADP, and that just boggles the mind. Not that I mind Myers, but Wainwright is a far superior pitcher in my opinion. Grab him in the 12th round and enjoy close to 15 wins, 160 Ks and an ERA in the low-mid 3.00s.
Avoid the youth movement in one-year leagues
While your friends drool over the potential of Cameron Maybin (OF, FLA) or Travis Snider (OF, TOR), make sure your mid-round draft picks are veterans that you know will put up stats throughout the year. Sure, your buddies may point to Ryan Braun (OF, MIL) and Evan Longoria (3B, TAM) the last two years, but keep in mind that these two studs are the exception, not the rule. For every Braun or Longoria, there are 15 highly-talented rookies that go through prolonged slumps and end up hurting your fantasy team more than helping.
All Average Draft Positions provided by mockdraftcentral.com.
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