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April 2, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Spring Flings

by Craig Brown

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We all know to take spring numbers with a grain of salt.  Still, as you prepare to set your roster ahead of the regular season, it can be fertile ground to find a useful fantasy player or two.  Just ahead of Opening Day, it's a good time to peruse the stats in search of some hidden gems. 

What follows are the hitters who sit atop the leaderboards in the traditional 5x5 statistics.

Mike Aviles, SS - .469 AVG this spring

Aviles followed a strong rookie campaign with a dismal sophomore showing before his year was cut short as he had Tommy John surgery.  The Royals infield situation is a mess, with 3B Alex Gordon on the DL, 2B/3B Alberto Callaspo nursing a sore side, and SS Yuniesky Betancourt… Well, he’s part of the mess just because.  Aviles entered camp a long shot to make the team and now he’s practically assured a starting role.

Early in camp, the Royals were being cautious with Aviles’ surgically repaired elbow by having him DH.  Then, he played a few games at second.  Then, a few at short.  Lately, he’s moved all the way around the diamond to third.  He seems to have recovered, although the team is still acting like he may stay behind to continue to rehab his elbow.

If he makes the team, we have a guy who can play three infield positions, put up strong numbers two years ago (.325 BA, 10 HR, 51 RBI, 8 SB in 419 ABs), is returning from an injury that limited him to 120 miserable at bats in ’09 and is now healthy and tearing it up in exhibition games.  I’d like him even more if he had a defined role on his team - although speculation is he could open the year at third with Gordon out and Callaspo hurting.  For now, if he makes the team, he’ll play which makes him worth a bench spot.  If you don’t have room on your roster, at least keep an eye on him.  He could be a pleasant waiver pick-up.

Sean Rodriguez, 2B - 19 Runs this spring

If I was allowed to vote for the Grapefruit League MVP, Rodriguez would get mine.  A .459 AVG, 6 HR and 17 RBI is a strong showing, no matter that it comes in exhibition games.  Entering camp, he was in a competition with Reid Brignac and Matt Joyce (now on the DL) for the final two roster spots.  Nothing has been officially announced, but Rodriguez’s performance means he’s a lock to make the Opening Day roster.  And we can safely expect him to play a key role for the Rays out of the gate.

Rodriguez is like Aviles in that his versatility adds to any fantasy value he may accumulate.  He can play second when Ben Zobrist is in right field or he can spell Jason Bartlett at short.  And the Rays really like him in the outfield, which means he and Zobrist can alternate between second and right.  The Rays prefer Gabe Kapler in the outfield against LHP, so Rodriguez could lose a little time in some sort of massive platoon shuffle.  Hitting-wise, Rodriguez moved between leadoff and the bottom third order for Joe Maddon this spring, but when the season opens next week, he’ll probably hit eighth or ninth. 

A few years ago, Kevin Goldstein said in a perfect world, Rodriguez would be a valuable offensive player who can play multiple positions.  Now, Goldstein reports the scouts are raving about his swing and PECOTA likes his power.  His weighted mean has him at 23 HR with a .248 BA in 480 plate appearances.  The average feels low to me, but the power makes sense, considering he bashed 150 home runs in 750 plate appearances in his Triple-A career.  

It certainly feels like we’re close to that perfect world.  Grab him.

Chris Johnson, 3B - 7 HR this spring

Johnson had an outstanding spring, hitting .309 and collecting 19 RBI to go along with his HR total, yet he still needed a little help making the Astros Opening Day roster.  Aid arrived when Houston announced Lance Berkman would start the year on the DL with lingering issues with his surgically repaired knee.  

Now that he’s on the roster, the right-handed hitting Johnson will get his opportunity in a platoon where he’ll play against southpaws and man either first or third base.  Otherwise, he’ll serve as a backup to Pedro Feliz and Geoff Blum as they crisscross the diamond.

The Astros have one of the worst systems in the game, so all kind of red flags should be going off that Kevin Goldstein doesn’t rate Johnson as a prospect.  A career slash line of .268/.308/.425 with 14 HR in 519 plate appearances in Triple-A sheds some light on why.

Yes, he’s had a spring to remember, but with his limited skill set and plans for limited playing time, don’t even bother thinking of adding him to your fantasy team.

Chase Headley, 3B - 23 RBI this spring

Headley qualifies as an outfielder, but this year, his role will be that of the Padres regular third baseman. Marc Normandin bestowed three stars on him in his pre-season rankings, placing him in a group with the man Headley is replacing - Kevin Kouzmanoff.

What works for Headley is his command of the strike zone - he saw 3.98 pitches per plate appearance.  He also made great strides in the second half last year.  And at 26 years old, he’s a candidate to continue to move forward.

However, since he hasn’t developed power, his low contact rate (76% last year) leaves much to be desired.  And Headley is going to need to produce at PETCO before I’m a believer.  Last year he hit .208/.300/.366 in 280 PAs at home and .305/.377/.426 in 332 PAs on the road.  The differences in his splits were similar in 2008 when he joined the team midway through the season.  A switch-hitter, he’s better from the left side, owning a slash line of .268/.354/.407 in his career as a LHB vs. .255/.310/.387 from the right.  We can get all kinds of split crazy on a switch-hitting Padre.

Despite toping the spring in RBI, he’s never been much of an RBI guy in the past.  Last year, he cashed in 13% of all runners on base, a few clicks below the 15% league average and hit .265 with runners in scoring position.

Despite the less than encouraging splits, Headley’s role on the Padres still makes him a fantasy option with still a little upside.  Especially if you can juggle your lineup to take advantage of potential favorable match-ups.

Carlos Gomez, OF - 11 SB this spring

Mix speed with a low walk rate, below average contact and a GB/FB ratio that skews to the fly ball side and you have the Brewers centerfielder.  Guys who don’t play to their primary skill are fantasy kryptonite to me… I tend to avoid at all costs.

Craig Brown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

Related Content:  Kevin Goldstein

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