Though many fantasy baseball leagues have already completed their drafts, many leagues are still holding out to ensure injuries have time to occur and spring training battles have largely been sorted out. After all, it becomes tricky in late-round situations, if you’re trying to guess whether Pitcher X or Pitcher Y will secure the fifth-starter spot—as the other guy gets sent to Triple-A and is a fantasy non-factor.
Which spring training roster battles should you be tracking over the next couple weeks? Here are a trio of competitions that could affect late-round draft strategy:
In truth, this boils down to whether Tomas will begin the year as the Diamondbacks’ everyday third baseman, or whether he’ll be shuffled to a corner outfield spot. Lamb has garnered some positive attention this spring for his work at the dish. ESPN’s Keith Law recently campaigned to be the president of his fan club on Twitter, and the Diamondbacks have given Tomas some recent work in the outfield to make room for Lamb in Cactus League action.
Lamb only hit .230/.263/.373 with four homers in a brief late-season promotion to the Show, but the 24-year-old did light up Double-A with a .949 OPS and 14 home runs. Most hitters struggle when they’re asked to skip Triple-A and immediately find success in the majors. He already has a couple homers this spring and has the power to threaten the 20-homer mark with everyday at-bats.
The problem, though, is that Lamb’s hit tool has massive question marks. Despite having solid pitch-recognition skills, he still posted a 12.5 percent swinging-strike rate. He struggles to make consistent contact in the zone and can be exploited. However, a low-average option at third base with 20-plus homer potential in the late rounds? I mean, he’s currently going 433rd overall in fantasy drafts, so he’ll be there at the end—or even on the waiver wire, for those who have already drafted. That surplus value is good business.
While Jake Lamb isn’t about to climb up dynasty rankings or anything of the sort, fantasy owners in deep leagues would be wise to track the Yasmany Tomas position escapade. If he moves to the outfield, that’s bad news for David Peralta and wonderful news for Jake Lamb. With Paul Goldschmidt and Mark Trumbo returning to the everyday lineup, the Diamondbacks could score some runs. Lamb could be a sneaky fantasy play in the late rounds, if he gets the nod at third.
Since the Cardinals surprised the baseball world and shipped Shelby Miller to Atlanta for outfielder Jason Heyward, the presumed fifth starter for the Red Birds has been Carlos Martinez. That is no longer a given due to three factors: (1) Martinez hasn’t been stellar this spring; (2) Jaime Garcia has proven healthy and has a track record of success; and (3) Martinez currently profiles better in the bullpen than he does in the rotation.
Martinez surrendered five earned runs in his most recent outing, and while one may argue that spring training statistics don’t matter much, the results do matter in a close spring training competition. If the fireballing right-hander can’t consistently retire batters after his first time through the order and Jaime Garcia throws well, manager Mike Matheny won’t give the ball to Martinez every fifth day.
The issue for Martinez is that he currently don’t have a plan against left-handed hitters. He walked more lefties (22) than he struck out (19), and that neglects the six other intentional walks to lefties. They hit .289/.387/.462 against C-Mart last year. While the changeup shows promise and could eventually enable him to start, it’s not a consistent enough option at the moment—and the Cardinals are certainly not apt to struggle through growing pains in the rotation, when they have a capable veteran waiting in the wings.
As for Jaime Garcia, he’s doing his best to win the fifth spot. He struck out five and walked one over four innings in his last time out, and it’s tough to ignore the career 3.50 ERA and the career 3.42 FIP. Hell, even last year in his seven starts, he struck out 8.04 batters per nine and only walked 1.44 per nine. The peripherals were there, as his FIP was only 3.82. That’s league-average, and considering he’s currently the 150th-overall starter being picked in fantasy drafts, deep league owners should be watching this battle with interest. If Garcia gets the nod, he’s a legitimate fantasy option, while Martinez moves to the bullpen and is a wash, outside of dynasty leagues.
Marcus Stroman’s injury—sadface—has opened the door for another starting rotation spot to be claimed this spring. The Blue Jays have a three-way battle for the fourth and fifth starters. Aaron Sanchez isn’t affected by this battle too much, in terms of his fantasy value, because whether he’s a back-end starter or a closer, he’s still draftable. In fact, fantasy owners may hope Sanchez remains the closer, as it’s a role that will preclude the normal bumps and struggles that accompany a young pitcher’s development in the rotation.
Daniel Norris is the wild card. He’s the Blue Jays’ number-two prospect and the guy who struck out 44.7 percent of the batters he faced in his brief Triple-A stint. Norris began the year in High-A and rocketed through the system to finish the year in Toronto. He’s a potential mid-rotation fantasy option who could strikeout 180+ once he matures. And considering he’s not even located in the NFBC average-draft position rankings, I think it’s safe to say he could be a bargain on draft day—or easily claimable on the waiver wire.
The question, to me, is whether Marco Estrada has any fantasy value. He struggled for the Milwaukee Brewers a year ago; however, he still compiled a 10.2 percent swinging-strike rate and has a plus changeup that can miss bats. The problem, of course, is the home-run rate — which became unworkable, once he began walking guys as a starter. Estrada has to walk a razor-thin edge, as he’ll always give up homers. When he was successful in 2012 and 2013, he limited his walks and his homers were largely of the solo or two-run variety. Once his walk rate bumped up to 3.53 BB/9 and 3.72 BB/9 in May and June (when he was still a starter), the homers became multi-run homers on the regular. That Marco Estrada is not rosterable.
It’s not worth the risk, for me, to draft Estrada even if he does somehow secure the fifth-starter role. The margin for error is too small, especially in a hitter-friendly home stadium. He can make it work, but the upside isn’t stellar and the downside is catastrophic.
Watch to see if Daniel Norris wins a regular-season role. If he does, feel comfortable drafting him in your deeper leagues—and definitely draft him in your dynasty leagues—but I don’t think his upside is big enough to worry about stashing if he doesn’t make the rotation out of spring training. Estrada, on the other hand, isn’t worth drafting outside of the deepest AL-onlies if he makes the rotation.