With about a week left before the season starts (yes!) now is a good time to check in with a few of the spring leaders in some offensive fantasy categories. While it's foolish to put much stock in spring stats, they can help to sometimes identify players who have altered some part of their approach that can yield positive results. Last year’s look at the spring leaderboards noted Mike Aviles as a candidate for a rebound, but didn’t put much stock in Chase Headley’s March RBI binge. Hopefully, this trip around the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues will yield similar results as we continue to mine for fantasy options.
It's worth remembering that Fox lacks the plate discipline gene—he owns a career 4.9 percent walk rate, including a 3.8 percent rate last summer in limited duty split between Oakland and Baltimore. He’s exhibited some flashes of power, averaging one home run every 20 at-bats in 2009, but he’s just not patient enough to harness that power on a consistent basis. For his career, he has swung at 85 percent of all strikes, well above the major league averages of 72 percent. Plus, he averages just 3.5 pitches per plate appearance. He doesn’t make good enough contact on a consistent basis (just 12 percent of his batted balls were line drives last summer) and with a 0.8 GB/FB ratio in his career, he lofts plenty of fly balls. Certainly some of those will leave the yard, but the lack of patience and extreme fly ball tendencies will keep his peripherals depressed.
Basically, Fox is an all or nothing type of player—usually falling to the “nothing” side of the ledger.
Our depth charts project limited playing time for Fox at DH and at first base for the Orioles. However, Derrek Lee just made his first appearance of the spring on Saturday and promptly injured himself on his first swing when he fouled a Cole Hamels pitch off his foot. Lee had offseason surgery to repair a torn tendon in his left thumb, and tendinitis in his wrist had kept him from action. In other words, Lee’s inclusion on the opening day roster is far from a foregone conclusion. Fox’s hot (and powerful) spring means he is likely to get an opportunity in the early going. If you’re at the end of the line in a deep AL-only league, and your team is in need of power, he may be worth a flier. However, if you’re considering Fox, you’re probably already in deep trouble. It’s the desperate times that call for desperate measures.
Melky Cabrera – 15 Runs Scored
If you’ve been following the team totals in Arizona, you know that Royal hitters are taking full advantage of the desert air and are putting up some elevated run totals. And no one has scored more runs than the Melk-Man. In fact, Cabrera is having a fine all around spring, hitting .488/.511/.732 with five doubles, a home run and 12 RBI in 41 at-bats. If there was a Cactus League MVP, Cabrera would be getting some serious consideration.
While the Royals are pushing The Process and players within their own system, Cabrera signed a deal for 2011 and was promised playing time in the Royals outfield, so he’s a virtual lock to be in the lineup on Opening Day. He’s dropped some weight and is only 26 years old, so there are some who will target him as a bounce back candidate. Opportunity plus reform plus youth equals something of a fresh start.
I’m not sure what there is to bounce back from, though. He’s been fairly consistent in his struggles throughout his career. Last summer, Cabrera posted a .244 TAv—his career mark is .251 (hint: not good). In his five full seasons, he’s put up a TAv higher than .270 exactly once—and that was in his rookie year of 2006 when he hit .280/.360/.390 with a .274 TAv. Sometimes players who dash out of the gate get a longer look if they begin to struggle on a consistent basis. That early successful season somehow buys that player some goodwill. Cabrera is an above-average contact hitter (career contact rate of 86 percent) but he’s one of those players who has always struggled to translate that contact into base hits.
PECOTA isn’t sold on Cabrera, projecting a paltry .249 TAv with three home runs and a .268 batting average. The home runs are low, because while Cabrera has been promised playing time, the Royals outfield situation is in flux with Lorenzo Cain and David Lough each pushing for opportunities. The home run total can certainly be pushed upward if he plays every day as expected.
Will Cabrera ever fulfill the promise he flashed in his rookie campaign? No. But can he bring value as an everyday fantasy player? I think he can. Through all his struggles, the contact rate never went away. With some breaks, a .270 batting average with double digit home runs and steals looks to be the upside here. He could be a late round bargain.
Dave Sappelt – .543 BA
Reds' minor leaguer Sappelt has turned some heads by collecting 17 hits (28 total bases) in 32 spring at-bats through Monday’s games. Sappelt has progressed through the farm system at a decent clip. The ninth round draft choice from 2008 started his pro career in the Pioneer League, where he hit .299/.354/.496 for the Billings Mustangs. The next year, Sappelt progressed to A-ball, featuring for the Dayton Dragons in the Midwest League and the Sarasota Reds of the Florida State League. Between the two stops, he hit .281/.327/.399.
Last summer, he began in High-A Lynchburg and was promoted to Double-A Carolina within a month. He spent most of the year with the Mudcats, hitting a respectable .361/.416/.548 in 372 plate appearances. Sappelt earned a late season promotion to Triple-A, and appeared in 25 games for the Louisville Bats hitting (small sample size ahead) .324/.365/.481.
Sappelt stands only 5-foot-9 and has been redefining his swing almost continually since signing with the Reds. He has decent speed, and in a bit of an upset for someone his size, has a little bit of pop in his bat. Ultimately, he’s a contact hitter who jumps early in the count –in his minor league career he has a 6.8 percent walk rate. His future fantasy value will come from what should be a solid batting average, combined with a little bit of speed, situated ahead of the boppers in the Reds lineup.
Sappelt is a natural center fielder, but with Drew Stubbs entrenched, he’ll have to move to left. The issue here is the Reds appear committed to Jonny Gomes for now. Also working against Sappelt is the fact he’s currently not on the Reds 40-man roster. However, on Monday, the Reds made their largest cuts of the spring, reassigning eight players to the minor leagues. Sappelt survived.
Despite the scorching spring, Sappelt remains a long shot to break camp with the Reds. He’ll most likely start the season at Triple-A. It’s doubtful he’ll be a fantasy asset this season.
Well, we’ve seen this before haven’t we? Davis has been the Rangers Opening Day first baseman in each of the last two seasons. Last year, the Rangers made a big deal about how the left-handed hitter would play first base full time. (He’s a platoon candidate in that he owns a lifetime .217/.266/.400 vs. LHP and hits .261/.315/.483 against RHP.) It took Ron Washington about a week to scuttle those plans. Davis never got on track and was exiled to Triple-A before April was over, hitting just .188 with no home runs and just a solitary RBI. Overall, he finished 2010 hitting just .192 with one home run and four RBI in 136 plate appearances spread over three stints in Texas. That’s not bad…it's horrific. And it translated to a .203 TAv—yuck.
Fast forward to this spring, and Davis leads the major in RBI while hitting a robust .409/.428/.841 in 46 plate appearances along with seven doubles and four home runs.
Davis has decent power potential, but he’s foiled by his inability to make consistent contact. For his career, he owns a 65 percent contact rate and whiffs once every three at-bats. Just 57 percent of all plate appearances end with the ball in play for Davis.
The Rangers have another hot hitting first baseman in Mitch Moreland and, unlike Davis, Moreland actually passed his audition in Texas last summer, hitting .255/.364/.469 with a .303 TAv. The Rangers have been quick to cast aside Davis whenever he’s struggled and Davis has made it clear he feels like he deserves a starting role. He’s indicated he would like to be traded if the Rangers don’t have room for him on the Opening Day roster.
Unfortunately for Davis, the Rangers hold all the power—I mean options—in that Davis still has them and Texas can send him to Triple-A without having to expose him to waivers. His strong spring may have convinced the Ranger brass he’s turned things around, but they’ve never been sold on his skills before, so why start now? The Rangers appear committed to Moreland at first and while Davis can play third, that position belongs to Adrian Beltre. As for DH, Michael Young owns that spot—at least, for now he does.
Davis isn’t going to hit for average and his power isn’t anything special, even though he plays half his games in Arlington. I’m with the Rangers on this one: I’ve seen enough and am moving on.
Darren Ford – 9 steals
Ford has always been a burner. He has 288 career minor league steals against 74 caught stealing—roughly an 80 percent success rate.
He parlayed his speed into a brief cup of coffee last September, appearing in seven games as the Giants marched toward the postseason. In six of those contests, he entered the game as a pinch runner. In the other game he was a defensive replacement in center field. So, you have a player who spent a month in the majors and never held a bat in his hands and played in the field for a grand total of two innings.
Ford, who arrived in the Giants organization via the Ray Durham trade in 2008, is the longest shot of the players profiled here to make the Opening Day roster. Not only is he currently not on the Giants 40-man roster, he has yet to bat in a game higher than the Double-A level. Last season, he struggled in his first action above High-A, hitting just .251/.315/.365 for Richmond. It didn’t help his cause that he whiffed 106 times in 516 plate appearances and walked just 39 times. He wasn’t as prolific on the bases either, stealing just 37 bags in 52 attempts—a 71 percent success rate. Those are the kind of numbers that get you the privilege of repeating a level, not skipping one altogether.
The root of the problem for Ford is that he has never been a selective hitter. He posted an 11.1 percent walk rate in 2009 and followed that up with a 7.6 percent rate last year. For his minor league career, he’s walked in just 10.4 percent of all plate appearances—not enough free passes for someone who owns a .373 slugging percentage over that same career.
Ford could get an opportunity if the Giants fall to the post World Championship injury bug, but otherwise he won’t be seen in the majors until September. Either way, it’s difficult to see how he could be a fantasy asset for the upcoming season, despite his spring.