Spring training is underway, and many players will be battling for a spot in a lineup or rotation. Which situations are you watching most closely as practice reports start rolling in and games begin?
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Several positional battles have my attention this spring -- including the Arizona Diamondbacks' and St. Louis Cardinals' closer roles, and the Colorado Rockies' first base, Houston Astros' left field and Milwaukee Brewers' outfield competitions -- because of the potential fantasy relevance of the eventual victors. That said, it's the battles including players for whom I have legitimate questions about their health and/or skills that stand out most. The New York Yankees' Gleyber Torres and Chicago Cubs' Kyle Schwarber will be two I closely track as they battle for full-time jobs.
Torres is the presumed favorite for New York's starting second-base duties, but he's fresh off Tommy John surgery and is no lock to emerge ahead of the more-experienced Ronald Torreyes and Tyler Wade (with Miguel Andujar as part of the third-base competition battling those same two candidates for that job). I'd most like to see how healthy Torres is, as well as whether he can show more power and/or speed than he did in Triple-A ball, perhaps raising his stock to a 20/20 impact rookie.
Schwarber, meanwhile, concluded 2017 with .255/.338/.565 rates in 65 games following a brief stint in the minors, and he reported to camp in much better shape, having lost a considerable amount of weight. Might his greater fitness help him more easily handle the defensive chores in left field, fueling his playing time (and with it, his counting numbers)? Was his season-ending swing a truer representation of his skill -- or perhaps might he have even more to offer? I'm excited to find out.
Eric Karabell: The Rockies are not the lone MLB franchise employing more big league-caliber outfielders than they can possibly reward with regular at-bats, but they are the lone team that calls the thin air of Denver home, so it behooves us to pay a bit more attention.
There is at least some level of uncertainty about who plays first base and an outfield spot or two and again, this is not quite like Philadelphia where the playing time for Aaron Altherr and Nick Williams is problematic. With 600 at-bats, Ian Desmond could be a major fantasy asset. Rookie Ryan McMahon could statistically look like Cody Bellinger with the same opportunity. And there is more, including fragile David Dahl, who was not able to play any games for the Rockies in 2017 due to injury, but was an exciting source of five-category goodness in 2016.
Dahl's ADP is vastly different than it was a year ago but if he hits in early March -- and stays healthy -- you know it will send fantasy managers everywhere into that special place we call Sleeper-land, where we all suddenly forget about the downside and focus only on monster numbers. Desmond and Gerardo Parra are proven veterans probably being underrated a bit in drafts despite the lure of Coors Field and potential opportunity, but McMahon and Dahl deserve attention as well, in case they emerge as starters, too.
AJ Mass: After getting rid of Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich, Dee Gordon, the guy who brought Billy the Marlin to life for a decade and all four participants of the sixth-inning Sea Race, Miami is going to have a completely different look this season. And yes, if you had to wager on whether or not the Marlins will finish 2018 with more losses or home runs, I'm not sure which side you'd feel more confident in taking.
All that said, when Houston similarly went "into the tank" in 2012, then-22-year-old Jose Altuve got an opportunity to start every day and look where he is now. While I don't really expect that the future 2023 MVP will be starting for the Marlins this April, I'm certainly paying very close attention to see if one or more of Lewis Brinson, Brian Anderson, JT Riddle, Garrett Cooper, Magneuris Sierra or Braxton Lee might not at least be worthy of taking a late-round flier on, just in case.
Kyle Soppe: There is one situation that I am watching more closely than any other this spring and that's the ninth-inning role in Arizona. I don't think there is any debate that Archie Bradley is the most talented of the contenders, but I'll be tracking all reports and usage clues in an effort to get a feel if he will indeed be finishing off games for the Diamondbacks this season.
If he is labeled as the closer, I want him in every league and I don't care what it costs. I love his ability to finish off hitters -- opponents hit just .146 in two-strike counts against him last season. Since he'd be closing for a team that is expected to win 85-90 games, I see no reason why the artist known as "Hollywood" can't give you similar numbers to what Ken Giles provided last season.