10 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers to Watch in Spring Training Position Battles
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
If given a chance at everyday playing time, these MLB players could pay massive dividends for several fantasy baseball teams.
Before maneuvering these players up your cheat sheets, remember that they must first prove their merit in spring training before cracking the starting lineup.
Don't go crazy analyzing spring numbers, but stay attentive to any roster battles. For someone fighting for a spot on the squad, a productive or poor March could make all the difference.
Most of this list highlights younger talents hoping for a chance to make a dent in the majors. For some, it's just a matter of time until their name is called to the big show, while others are standing on their last leg.
While these 10 players would make risky selections in a draft today, they're worth targeting later (or early in a couple of cases) in the draft if all pans out properly.
Juan Rivera could capture a starting role in New York.
Denis Poroy/Getty Images
The hottest hitting prospect is baseball is certainly worth tabbing during spring training, but it's also highly unlikely that the Tampa Bay Rays award him the job before Opening Day.
The 22-year-old proved he is ready for the majors after hitting .314 with 37 home runs last year, but the Rays always treat their young talent with caution. They'd also like to delay his arbitration time as much as possible, perhaps even holding him in Triple-A until late June to shield him from becoming a Super Two player.
Several ninth-inning jobs hang in the balance before the closer carousel can even commence. After parting ways with Jose Valverde, the Detroit Tigers must insert a new closer to replace the veteran.
Early speculation slots rookie Bruce Rondon as the favorite. While the 23-year-old pitched just eight innings above Double-A ball and struggled with control woes in the minors, he hit 100 miles per hour on the radar gun in early spring training appearances.
Rondon is a risky proposition, but anybody with saves and high strikeout potential holds some value.
Juan Rivera/Matt Diaz
With Curtis Granderson now out until at least early May after breaking his arm, the Yankees have an opening to fill in the outfield.
The options are not pretty, and the now financially watchful club is not as likely to cash a lofty check for a pricey veteran like Alfonso Soriano. None of their choices are too appealing, but someone gets to play a bunch of games in Yankee Stadium in a batting order that, while one of the squad's worst since the early 1990s, is still decent by normal standards.
In an AL-only league or canyon-deep mixed league, Juan Rivera or Matt Diaz might be worth a late look.
Jedd Gyorko (SD: 2B)
Jedd Gyorko has made a splash early in spring training.
Rich Pilling/Getty Images
A power-starved team has a talented young bat waiting to be unleashed.
Jedd Gyorko placed himself on the fantasy radar last season by hitting .311/.375/.547 with 30 homers and 100 RBI in the minors. He certainly looks ready for a promotion, but that does not necessarily mean he’ll get it.
At this point, the San Diego Padres are likely trying to hold off the arbitration clock. A squad with Clayton Richard as its ace probably won’t push for playoff contention anyway.
An alluring spring could force San Diego’s hand and propel it to roll with Gyorko over Logan Forsythe. So far, so good. The prospect kicked off spring with a grand slam in his first at-bat and has since compiled two more homers.
There’s also another logical solution that clears a spot for Gyorko. Forsythe hit .384 against lefties and .222 against righties while Everth Cabrera went .195 against southpaws and .267 against right-handers.
Why not platoon those two at shortstop and give Gyorko the keys to second base?
Shelby Miller (Stl: SP)
Shelby Miller could land a rotation spot in Chris Carpenter's absence.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
With Chris Carpenter out for the season, the St. Louis Cardinals need someone to fill the void.
Two promising young arms head the list of viable candidates to serve as St. Louis’ No. 5 starter.
They can award the spot to Trevor Rosenthal, who excelled in bullpen work during the postseason, or hand the role to their top prospect, Shelby Miller.
While Miller—who enters the 2013 season as Baseball America’s No. 6 rated prospect—disappointed with a 4.76 ERA in Triple-A, he also amassed a 10.54 K/9 ratio and pitched well during a brief September call-up.
Rosenthal’s excellence as a reliever could disrupt his chances to enter the rotation. After striking out 15 batters and allowing four baserunners in 8.2 playoff innings, the Cardinals could bolster their bullpen by keeping him in that same middle-relief role.
The battle is one to closely monitor as either hurler would make for an intriguing late-round selection.
Emilio Bonifacio (Tor: 2B)
Bonifacio could steal 40 bases or more as Toronto's starting second baseman.
Joe Sargent/Getty Images
Maicer Izturis can help a big league club by playing commendable defense at second base with an average bat.
But he just doesn’t cut it in fantasy baseball.
He can swipe a few bags, but nowhere near enough to tolerate his other pedestrian numbers and frequency to land on the disabled list.
Emilio Bonifacio might not be a much better option for the Toronto Blue Jays, but he’s certainly a better play in fantasy circles.
A year after amassing 40 steals, he needed just 64 games last year to steal 30 bases. So maybe a player with a career .267/.329/.343 slash line won’t win many games for his real club, but all those stolen bases could reap major rewards for fantasy owners.
If Bonifacio wins the job, he could lead all second basemen in the category, which makes him an intriguing middle infielder option on draft day.
Trevor Bauer (Cle: SP)
Trevor Bauer should earn a spot in Cleveland's abysmal rotation.
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
The Cleveland Indians' starting rotation looks really, really bad.
Fresh off earning a 4.93 ERA and 1.45 WHIP, Justin Masterson leads this putrid group. They will then count on Brett Myers seamless transitioning from the bullpen to rotation (again) and Ubaldo Jimenez remembering how to throw a strike.
After that, Zach McAllister, Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber are among those competing for the two remaining seats in the rotation. You’re forgiven for wondering “Who?” while reading that last sentence.
Luckily for them, they took advantage of the Arizona Diamondbacks dumping all their prized talent for players who fill the “scrappy ballplayer” archetype. So the Indians swapped light-hitting shortstop Didi Gregorius for one of the most electric young arms in baseball.
Although Trevor Bauer faltered in a brief major league appearance, the 22-year-old posted a 2.42 ERA and 10.84 K/9 ratio in the minors last year,
He must solidify his control before flourishing as a top-level pitcher, but Bauer’s strikeout potential still makes him an interesting late-round target on draft day. All he has to do is beat out McAllister, Carrasco and Kluber. Seems reasonable.
Chris Carter (Hou: 1B)
Chris Carter could be a poor man's Ryan Howard with playing time.
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Tasking anyone to monitor the Houston Astros could arguably be classified as torture, but someone’s got to play.
The worst team in baseball should find room for Chris Carter, who crushed 16 homers in his first taste of MLB action last season.
Carter hit .239, striking out on a staggering 31.9 percent of his plate appearances. But he also registered a .350 on-base percentage and .514 slugging percentage, so his rookie campaign was not all bad news.
Houston also signed Carlos Pena, and Brett Wallace will likely fill their newly acquired designated slot. But even if he fails to beat out one of those two, he could oust Fernando Martinez from the outfield.
Although Carter is a one-dimensional player, such an abysmal team is likely to play a 26-year-old who could easily smash 30 homers with regular playing time.
Daniel Straily (Oak: SP)
Despite all the buzz around his debut, Daniel Straily struggled.
Jason O. Watson/Getty Images
As of now, Daniel Straily is the odd man out in the Oakland Athletics' starting rotation.
If using his seven major league starts last season as the barometer, that’s probably the right move for Oakland. He posted a decent 3.89 ERA and 7.32 K/9 ratio, but he also got by with the benefit of a .225 BABIP and 90.7 percent strand rate.
Then again, it’s hard to ignore Straily’s dominance in the minors before receiving his promotion. Through 152 innings between Double-A and Triple-A, he recorded a 2.78 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 11.25 K/9 ratio. He actually performed better in Triple-A, taming the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League with a 2.02 ERA.
Bartolo Colon and A.J. Griffin are the front-runners to seize the final spots in Oakland’s rotation, but Straily is a pitcher who’d find a place on most other big-league staffs. Raising some eyes in March could change that perception, especially with Colon’s reputation in a fog after failing a drug test last season.
Darin Ruf (Phi: 1B)
Darin Ruf got his first taste of big-league action last September.
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
Formerly loaded with quality outfielders (Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, Raul Ibanez, Hunter Pence), the Philadelphia Phillies have a gaping hole to fill in left field.
Once projected to transform into a fantasy superstar, Domonic Brown has colossally underperformed. The 25-year-old hit .235/.316/.396 last season with five homers and no steals.
John Mayberry could deliver 20 homers with a full season under his belt, but it will come with a shaky average due to a 23.2 percent strikeout rate.
Which brings us to the mystique of the unknown. Although he’s not exactly a young hot-shot at age 26, Darin Ruf could carve out playing time with a strong spring.
Ruff demolished Double-A pitching, posting a .317/.408/.620 slash line with 38 home runs and 104 RBI. Was he a man among boys, or is Ruf just a late bloomer?
The slugger’s defensive deficiencies could cost him a starting role, as Ruf is a first baseman trying his hand in the outfield with Ryan Howard blocking his path.
If he can still beat out Brown and Mayberry, that won’t matter for fantasy owners.
Kenley Jansen (LAD: RP)
Kenley Jansen would be a top-five fantasy closer if awarded the job.
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Kenley Jansen should be fighting for the top ranking among closers not named Craig Kimbrel.
Unfortunately for fantasy owners, he’s instead competing with Brandon League to assume the Los Angeles Dodgers’ ninth-inning duties.
Last season, the 25-year-old flamethrower posted a 2.35 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 13.71 K/9 ratio. Cutting his walk rate from 4.36 to 3.05 free passes per nine innings especially allowed Jansen to develop into an elite reliever.
His monster season was derailed by an irregular heartbeat, which sidelined him for three weeks. League excelled during his teammate’s absence and now has the support of manager Don Mattingly.
Since Jansen will pitch just as much, if not more, in earlier innings, this issue bears more significance to drafters than the Dodgers.
But if Jansen can remind the club of his dominance as it remembers that Brandon League is the epitome of average, Jansen would immediately catapult to top-five closer territory.
Nolan Reimold (Bal: LF)
Nolan Reimold looked primed for a breakout before getting hurt.
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
If Nolan Reimold could just stay healthy…
The outfielder has always shown promise as a capable power bat who can sprinkle in some ancillary speed as well. With a full season of play, he could probably net a 20/10 campaign.
Reimold started 2012 on fire, batting .313 with five homers and a .960 OPS before a neck injury abruptly ended his season.
During his sporadic time on the field, Reimold has registered a career .455 slugging percentage and 9.7 percent walk rate. When healthy, he offers serviceable offensive numbers.
The Baltimore Orioles, however, have another option at left field. They could employ Nate McLouth, who partied like it was 2009 last year. After years of stumbling to rediscover his breakout production from three seasons ago, McLouth hit .268 with seven homers and 12 steals in 55 games.
But the designated hitter slot is not necessarily accounted for either. Wilson Betemit figures to occupy the spot, but the 31-year-old is more suited for providing organizational depth rather than playing every day.
Bobby Parnell (NYM: RP)
Bobby Parnell could snatch closing duties away from Frank Francisco.
Did those who are still penciling in Frank Francisco as the New York Mets’ closer take a break from baseball last year?
The 33-year-old registered a 5.53 ERA and 1.61 WHIP before mercifully losing his grip on the team’s closing duties. While poor luck (.339 BABIP, 67.2 percent strand rate, 3.90 FIP) amplified his struggles, he also recorded a 4.46 BB/9 ratio.
If his poor performance was not enough to clear the way for a younger, more effective option, his elbow woes could eliminate him from the contest.
That gives Bobby Parnell, who saved some games to conclude the season, the inside track on winning the job. Stuck in the confines of an atrocious bullpen, Parnell offered a lone bright spot by registering a 2.49 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 3.05 K/BB ratio.
Brandon Lyon could appeal to Terry Collins’ old-school mindset, shifting the stacks in favor of the grizzly veteran with closer experience. None of these options are fantasy superstars, but Parnell at least offers some upside.