Aroldis Chapman is involved in one of the more fantasy-relevant battles this spring.
Head-to-head is more than just a style of play in fantasy baseball. It also describes position battles in real baseball.
Whereas the fantasy format pits one owner's roster against another's in a week-long contest, head-to-head competition is also a major part of spring training, where two or more players battle over a particular position. In most cases, a winner is determined, and as usual, real life results impact the fantasy game.
Keeping tabs on key spring position battles throughout baseball is a good way to gain an advantage when it comes time to pick players in your fantasy draft.
Here is a breakdown of some of the more fantasy-relevant competitions, including which player should win for fantasy purposes and which player is most likely to earn the job.
After all, everybody, as they say, wants a winner.
If the Reds wind up giving Mike Leake a rotation spot, there are major fantasy ramifications—but not for him.
This battle has emerged as one of the biggest controversies of the spring.
Certainly, baseball fans everywhere—not just fantasy owners—are intrigued to see what left-handed flamethrower Aroldis Chapman can do as a starter after serving as a reliever to this point in his major league career.
And yet, Chapman is a known fantasy commodity as a closer, one who was at the very top of the heap in 2012 when he posted a 1.51 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 15.3 K/9 and 38 saves, despite not taking over the ninth inning until May.
Is moving him into the rotation, a transition the club had been planning over the winter, really the best approach?
It's a tricky topic, but Reds manager Dusty Baker has all but made it known publicly that he would prefer Chapman to remain his closer, and Chapman himself said he would like to pitch the ninth if given the choice. The other complicating factor here is the club gave Jonathan Broxton to a three-year, $21 million deal in the offseason, with the intention of making him the closer.
Leake, meanwhile, hasn't had a particularly good spring, allowing 16 hits in 8.1 innings, but the righty continues to throw strikes (no walks) and has proven he can give Cincy 150-175 quality innings at the back of the five-man. That's something Chapman, who's career-high in innings is 109 split between the minors and majors in 2010, hasn't done—and might not be able to.
Who Fantasy Owners Want to Win: Leake, simply because that would push Chapman back into the closer role, where his value would skyrocket. Plus, Leake would serve as a sometimes-useful streaming starter in deeper leagues.
Who Will Win: The hunch here is that Baker and Chapman will ultimately get their way, so Leake wins the fifth starter's job by default.
Fantasy owners would like to see Emilio Bonifacio beat out Maicer Izturis so he can do this more often.
Second base was expected to be the only real battle on the re-made Blue Jays roster during camp, and it's been a tight one.
While spring stats shouldn't be used to decide who starts, Emilio Bonifacio has outperformed Maicer Izturis across the board, including batting average (.286 to .211), runs (10 to five), extra-base hits (five to two) and steals (seven to zero) in a similar number of at-bats (42 to 38).
So we've found our winner, right? Maybe not. As Tom Maloney of The Globe and Mail writes, there might not be an official victor. Instead, since Bonifacio and Izturis are so versatile—both are switch-hitters who can play multiple positions—the Jays might deploy the duo more strategically.
The biggest differences between the two are that Bonifacio is speedier and capable of stealing bases in bunches, whereas Izturis makes more contact at the plate and is regarded as a better defender.
Who Fantasy Owners Want to Win: Bonifacio, because he could easily steal 40 or 50 bases while being eligible at both second base and outfield if he gets regular playing time.
Who Will Win: This looks like a matchup platoon all the way, where both Bonifacio and Izturis will split duty and cut into each other's fantasy value.
Who to Draft: Bonifacio is still worth a late-round pick in mixed leagues for his stolen base potential. Remember, he missed almost 100 games last year with injury and still swiped 30. Izturis is strictly an AL-only play, mainly for a decent batting average, a dozen steals and his eligibility at three positions in third base, second and shortstop, the latter two of which are shallow.
Leonys Martin has much more fantasy upside than his competitor.
Ah, the battle to replace Josh Hamilton.
While neither Leonys Martin or Craig Gentry will be able to match Hamilton's production, the Rangers need to know the position will be taken care of after the former MVP bolted for the division-rival Angels.
But who will earn the responsibility of helping fill Hamilton's cleats?
As MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan notes, the Rangers believe Martin, a 25-year-old Cuban defector who hits from the left side and possesses an assortment of offensive skills and potential, can be a full-time player.
The 29-year-old Gentry, though, is one of the best defensive center fielders in the game, per FanGraphs' defensive metric UZR, and has shown he can be at least a steady hitter from the right side.
Both players have performed well this spring, so the Rangers don't have an easy call on their hands. In fact, the club may delay the decision into the season by using the two in a platoon, as suggested by the Star-Telegram's Jeff Wilson, considering they hit from opposite sides of the plate. In that scenario, the lefty-hitting Martin would likely see more action because the majority of pitchers are right-handed.
Who Fantasy Owners Want to Win: Martin, who would bring the potential to hit for a solid average, score runs, steal around 20 bases and even reach double digits in home runs.
Who Will Win: Expect a split to start the year, where Martin gets the lion's share of starts, and if he performs well, the job could be his by May.
Who to Draft: Martin is draft-worthy in leagues of all size, given his potential and all-around contributions. Gentry is an AL-only consideration.
Jedd Gyorko's strong spring has put him in position to be a sneaky fantasy play.
Call this one a technical knockout.
In hitting .280 with five doubles, three homers and 10 RBI this spring, rookie Jedd Gyorko had all but wrested the second base job from Logan Forsythe, who was unfortunately unable to compete much while dealing with a case of plantar fasciitis that's kept him out for almost two weeks.
An official announcement was expected any day—and then third baseman Chase Headley suffered a broken thumb that will cost him four to six weeks.
Given that bad break (pun intended), Forsythe is the most likely candidate to fill in at the hot corner until Headley is ready to return, as Bill Center of the San Diego Union-Tribune writes.
In a way, that makes everybody happy (well, except for Headley), as both Gyorko and Forsythe should get the chance to play on a regular basis for the first few weeks of the season.
Who Fantasy Owners Want to Win: Gyorko, who has displayed a very strong bat in the minors, where he hit a career-high 30 homers across Double- and Triple-A in 2012 to improve his career triple-slash (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) to .319/.385/.529.
Who Will Win: Gyorko. Period.
Who to Draft: Gyorko is a potential pickup in mixed leagues, especially if he's eligible at both second base and third base (his natural position), because he should contribute in batting average and help some in runs, home runs and RBI.
Darin Mastroianni could be an under-the-radar source of steals.
This wasn't supposed to happen.
Despite being one of the Twins top prospects, 23-year-old Aaron Hicks has yet to play above Double-A, so he wasn't expected to come into camp and win the centerfield job. But that could be exactly what's happened.
The switch-hitting Hicks has had a monster spring, hitting .306 with four doubles, four homers, 13 RBI and three steals. He also had a three-homer game. All of which has put him on the verge of winning the starting role, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.
And yet his main competition, Darin Mastroianni, has been just as good, posting a .400 average with six stolen bases. Alas, he missed more than a week of action in early March, as MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger points out, and that put him behind the eight-ball.
Who Fantasy Owners Want to Win: Hicks, but it's closer than you might think, considering Mastroianni actually could prove more valuable for his stolen base potential in a starting role. Still, Hicks has much more upside, making him a candidate to break out. But beware: The fact that he's never played at Triple-A could make him just as likely to flame out.
Who Will Win: Hicks, who simply has been too good to ignore. With the Twins in a rebuilding phase, it can't hurt to see what one of their top young players can do.
Who to Draft: Hicks is a viable end-game option in mixed leagues, since he should provide some stolen bases and runs, especially if he hits near the top of the order. Mastroianni's speed makes him a factor in AL-only formats, particularly for owners struggling to address the steals category.
What other spring battles are you keeping your fantasy eye on this month?
Hit me up on Twitter to discuss: @JayCat11