MLB Players Whose Fantasy Stocks Are Soaring in Spring Training
The exhibition season might only be two weeks old, but on-field performance and injuries have already provided a shakeup among fantasy rankings at multiple positions heading into the regular season.
Whether it's someone looking to rebound from a dismal 2013 season, a youngster trying to make his mark or a veteran that is a consistently underrated contributor, there's no shortage of players that have opened eyes—and raised their fantasy stock—so far this spring.
Granted, a strong showing in the spring doesn't necessarily translate into guaranteed success during the regular season, but it certainly doesn't hurt a player's chances of being a legitimate fantasy option for owners looking for value.
How do we quantify value?
Aside from the numbers, we'll look at a player's average draft position in standard leagues on CBSSports.com and ESPN.com, their outlook for the regular season and, in some cases, what the decision-makers on their respective clubs have to say about their prospects for 2014.
Which players are quickly rising on draft boards around the world? Let's take a look.
LF Dustin Ackley, Seattle Mariners
Spring Training Stats: 5 G, .462/.500/.923, 4 XBH (1 HR), 6 RBI, 1 BB, 2 K
It was only two years ago that Dustin Ackley was viewed as a terrific second base option with significant upside, but now the 26-year-old finds himself an afterthought in the outfield, where fantasy owners have no shortage of established talent to choose from.
Ackley's fall from grace in fantasy circles is completely justified, given his .236 batting average and .637 OPS over the past two seasons, bouncing around the field—and lineup—on a frequent basis.
But he showed up to spring training with a new swing and approach at the plate—and a fresh start under new manager Lloyd McClendon, who plans on putting Ackley in left field and keeping him there, as he explained to MLB.com's Greg Johns: "This is a very talented young man. I think our challenge is to get him in one place and leave him there and let him flourish."
Ackley believes that being locked into a position will not only put him at ease in the field, but at the plate as well, where the work he put in this winter has resulted in an impressive start to the exhibition season:
Everybody wants to be in one spot and know where they're going to be every day. That's what I want. I want to play every day, I want to be in the same spot and not here and there and all over the place and not really know what I'm doing. So that's my goal this camp, to win a spot and stay there. I think that's probably everybody's goal here.
You can't argue with the results so far this spring, as he's making solid contact and spraying the ball to all fields. "I'm letting the ball get deep, I'm hitting the pitches where they need to be hit," Ackley told Johns.
"That's as good a sign as I need right now. I didn't expect to be this far along, but I'm excited about it and am just going to try to keep it going."
Given the plethora of outfield options that fantasy owners have, Ackley doesn't figure to be anything more than a late-round flier in most drafts. But his stock is quickly rising, and the days of him going undrafted are disappearing just as quickly.
*Ackley is listed as a second baseman in ESPN leagues, but he won't see any time at the position in 2014 with Robinson Cano now in Seattle.
3B Nick Castellanos, Detroit Tigers
Spring Training Stats: 5 G, .429/.400/.786, 3 XBH (1 HR), 7 RBI, 0 BB, 4 K, 1-for-1 SB
Anytime a player moves from the outfield to a corner infield spot, his fantasy stock increases in value. When that player happens to be a highly-touted prospect that moves to third base, his fantasy stock skyrockets.
While fantasy owners are finding an uncommonly deep crop of players to choose from at the hot corner this season, the 22-year-old Castellanos is quickly jumping up draft boards based on his play this spring and a track record of success over his short minor-league career.
Some may dismiss his production this spring as irrelevant, but many, including Lynn Henning of the Detroit News, believes that would be a mistake:
Nick Castellanos should hold up once the regular season begins. Good strike-zone judgment. Adjusts to slow stuff. Hits to all fields.— Lynn G. Henning (@Lynn_Henning) February 26, 2014
Expecting a .300 average, 25 home runs or 100 RBI is asking too much from a player destined to spend the season near the bottom of Detroit's powerful lineup, but a .275/15/75 season isn't out of the question.
Even with his fantasy stock rising, Castellanos is a terrific pick in the middle rounds of any draft.
*Castellanos is listed as an outfielder in both CBS and ESPN leagues, but he'll quickly gain 3B eligibility.
LF Rajai Davis, Detroit Tigers
Spring Training Stats: 5 G, .308/.400/.385, 1 XBH (0 HR), 0 RBI, 2 BB, 2 K, 2-for-2 SB
While you don't wish injury on anyone, the news that Andy Dirks needs back surgery and will be sidelined until at least June, per MLB.com's Adam Berry, is great news for Rajai Davis and fantasy owners who had him on their radars.
Unlike previous seasons, where Davis was a waiver-wire addition, owners are going to have to use a late-round pick on him if they want him on their squads this season.
Signed to be the right-handed part of a platoon with Dirks in left field, the full-time job sounds like it could be Davis' to lose, as manager Brad Ausmus intimated to Berry: "I'm focused on who's going to be playing left field for the Tigers. Obviously, we have Rajai. If Rajai plays well, he may be the only guy we need."
Detroit has a number of players they could look to platoon with Davis—Ezequiel Carrera, Trevor Crowe, Don Kelly and Steve Lombardozzi—but none of them are incredibly enticing options.
Regular playing time isn't going to hinder Davis' chances of swiping at least 40 bags for a third consecutive season, and his status as a strong source of stolen bases and a low-cost contributor for fantasy owners will continue.
2B Brian Dozier, Minnesota Twins
Spring Training Stats: 4 G, .600/.636/.900, 3 XBH (0 HR), 1 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
It's been awhile, but it's finally time for the immortal "Player X" to make his 2014 debut.
Take a look at how Brian Dozier's numbers in 2013 stack up against a fellow second baseman, one that's significantly more popular among baseball fans and fantasy owners alike:
|Player X||.261||.310||.706||44 (18)||103||80||5-for-8|
While Player X hits for a slightly higher average and provides more RBI, there's little difference between the two players. At least it is certainly not a big enough difference for fantasy owners to be selecting Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips—Player X—anywhere between 50 and 150 picks ahead of Dozier.
After a season that saw Dozier bounce around Minnesota's lineup, hitting in six different spots, the 26-year-old is set to hit second for the Twins in 2014, ahead of Joe Mauer, which should translate into Dozier seeing more pitches to hit.
He may never hit for average, but Dozier's ability to contribute to fantasy teams in other ways has seen him begin to rise up draft boards this spring, a trend that's likely to continue as we get deeper into the exhibition season.
As far as value goes, Dozier provides incredible value with where he's being drafted, even with his stock on the upswing.
3B Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals
Spring Training Stats: 7 G, .438/.550/1.125, 5 XBH (3 HR), 10 RBI, 3 BB, 4 K
Relegated to the role of a late-round flier in even the deepest of leagues, Mike Moustakas' fantasy stock was about as low as it could get heading into spring training, and rightly so.
With the exception of his strikeout rate, which improved in 2013, Moustakas saw a precipitous decline in nearly every offensive category last season, and his inability to hit left-handed pitching (.196/.256/.290 slash line against southpaws last season) made him a legitimate platoon candidate for Kansas City in 2014.
But the 25-year-old spent his offseason honing his craft, and the results have been impressive so far.
“The work that he’s done all winter long, it’s paying off, and it’s showing,” manager Ned Yost told the Kansas City Star's Andy McCullough after the Royals beat Arizona 6-5 on Wednesday. “He had four RBI today off left-handed pitchers. It’s just something we kind of expected from him, to come back and have a good year.”
Fantasy owners have been taking another inconsistent youngster, Boston's Will Middlebrooks, along with an oft-injured veteran, Los Angeles' David Freese, ahead of the 25-year-old Moustakas in most drafts.
While Moustakas brings considerable risk with him, the longer he continues to swing a hot stick, the higher he's going to be selected in fantasy drafts. If you've already drafted and landed Moustakas in the 19th or 20th round, pat yourself on the back—going forward, he'll be off the board far earlier than that.
2B Jurickson Profar, Texas Rangers
Spring Training Stats: 7 G, .364/.391/.591, 3 XBH (1 HR), 9 RBI, 1 BB, 4 K
Billed as the next big thing, Jurickson Profar was doomed to fail upon his promotion to Texas last May.
He simply wasn't ready for prime time, and without a regular spot in the lineup and getting irregular at-bats at four different positions, the 20-year-old infielder hit only .234 with a .644 OPS and often looked lost at the plate.
Some, like Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News, believe that former Ranger Ian Kinsler's refusal to take youngsters like Profar under his wing last year played a large role in stunting his development. Rangers GM Jon Daniels wasn't in full agreement, but he agreed with Fraley that the situation Profar found himself in was anything but ideal:
Ultimately, Jurickson is responsible for his performance. But a workplace environment and team leadership, that affects all of us whatever your walk of life is. I don’t know that it hindered him, but I’m sure it didn’t help.
With Kinsler now in Detroit and Profar entrenched as the team's everyday second baseman, Profar finds himself in a much better situation than he did a year ago.
While 2014 may not see him develop into the perennial All-Star that many believe he's destined to become, Profar could become a multi-category contributor, hitting for average, power and using his speed to cause problems on the basepaths.
Currently slated to hit eighth in a loaded Texas lineup, it would not be surprising to see Profar wind up hitting second, between Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder, which is as good a spot to hit as you'll find on any lineup in baseball.
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