Wither Chris Coghlan, Sweet Athletic?
Coghlan had himself quite the little year in 2015, changing his approach and driving the ball with more authority than he’d shown, really, ever before in his career. He was a 60th percentile hitter in terms of raw exit velocity, and his batted-ball distance cracked the top 80 hitters. His HR:FB rate in turn leapt to a career-high mark, and he managed to put together a $10 mixed-league season while adding extremely helpful positional versatility to boot. The move to Oakland, while not a good one from a sheer ballpark jump, is a sigh of relief for Coghlan’s owners in deeper dynasty formats. The Cubs’ offseason acquisitions of Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward had all but guaranteed that Coghlan wouldn’t sniff anywhere close to the 503 plate appearances he logged last year, and he looked more like a DFS and very deep mixed-league, daily-lineup play.
He’ll still enter the season theoretically without a path to everyday at-bats, as Jed Lowrie is penciled in as the starting second baseman and the outfield appears set with Khris Davis and Josh Reddick flanking Billy Burns and The Ghost of Coco Crisp ready to fill the fourth outfielder role. Mark Canha’s floating around in that corner outfield mix somewhere, too. You may notice a theme among some of those players, however: They haven’t exactly been the most durable group of guys around. Lowrie and Crisp barely cracked 400 plate appearances combined last year, and both are on the wrong side of 30. It stands to reason that even relative health for both players likely demands ample, consistent rest, opening the door for Coghlan to see fairly close to everyday at-bats in a super-utility role.
Cuttin’ Corners in Houston
I covered the battle for first base in Houston recently, noting that despite his lack of a place on the 40-man roster at present there is an open door for Tyler White to break camp not only with the Astros, but possibly a starting job as well. In the week since I covered it, White has continued to mash, bringing his aggregate line for the spring up to .367/.412/.533. His primary competition for the slot, Jon Singleton? After an atrocious start he’s shown signs of life in the last few days, but he still sits at just a .158/.220/.368 line with 15 strikeouts and three walks in just 41 plate appearances. As the old adage goes, spring training stats never mean anything unless they do, and Jeff Lunhow hinted recently that White had played himself squarely into the mix to break camp with a gig in hand. Uber-prospect A.J. Reed has shown himself well in big-league camp this spring, but while Evan Gattis’ health may give management pause, it remains highly unlikely that a ticket to the high minors isn’t in his immediate future.
Not to be ignored entirely, “veteran prospect” Matt Duffy is also in the mix for a platoon gig after a strong start to his spring (.240/.367/.680). If you’re scoring at home, pretty much everyone on the corner infield depth chart except Singleton—again—is forcing the issue. Incumbent third baseman Luis Valbuena has posted increasingly miserable splits against same-handed pitching, bottoming out at .158/.265/.316 against southpaws last year. Duffy, conveniently, just so happened to put up a .942 OPS at Triple-A against lefties. He holds some intrigue as a DFS option if he makes the squad, while Valbuena’s already tenuous standard league value would take a hit if the Astros do end up carrying Duffy into April.
Short an Angel or Two in the Orange Country Outfield (and Rotation)
So as of this writing it looks like somehow, some way, Daniel Nava’s magic carpet ride is going to continue. After crushing a long home run to dead center on Sunday, the 33-year-old now sits at 15-for-28 with eight walks and a lone strikeout on the spring and has emerged as the favorite for a strong-side platoon job at a minimum. He’s taken up switch-hitting again after abandoning it last year, and some early success in the right-handed batter’s box suggests potential for a legitimate everyday option out of the gate. That should be enough to get him on AL-only radars, if only because he’ll be a warm body with a starting gig.
Working in Nava’s favor, there is essentially zero legitimate organizational depth to challenge him. Craig Gentry boasts a decent-enough .720 career OPS against lefties, but he hit a buck-twenty last year and at best just serves to eat into Nava’s playing time and make for an occasional DFS play for speed. Non-roster invitee Todd Cunnningham has battled a sore wrist all spring, which yesterday turned into a CT scan, and appears unlikely to make the club. Minor-league veteran Rafael Ortega has stolen almost 200 bases along with a .288 career average across an eight-year career, but his success rate has been poor and he’s the only one in the ostensible mix with remaining minor-league options. “Top” prospect Jahmai Jones was gearing up for his senior prom this time last year and isn’t remotely a factor.
The Angels’ rotation, meanwhile, has quickly become engulfed in a massive dumpster fire. With fringe option C.J. Wilson going down for the foreseeable future with a gnarly-sounding shoulder issue and Tyler Skaggs likely to miss at least the first month while he finishes up his Tommy John rehab, the Halos appeared to be staring at the possibility of actually running Jered Weaver and his 80 mile-and-hour fastball onto a big -eague mound before revealing that the hurler is dealing with a degenerative neck issue that may sideline him as well.
In addition to cementing the status of otherwise-on-the-bubble question mark Matt Shoemaker, the injury attrition this spring opens up a lane for Nick Tropeano to break camp with the fifth slot in hand. That wouldn’t be the worst thing from a fantasy perspective: it was a brief sample to be sure, but both Tropeano’s slider and change registered well above-average whiff rates to drive a strong tally of 38 strikeouts in his 37 2/3 innings last year. The slider in particular showed as an interesting pitch, as it generated significantly more vertical drop than an average slider, while registering very little horizontal movement. In AL-only formats he should be on the watch list at least, and he may even be worth an early speculative claim in deeper formats.
Starting Pitchers in Seattle: Who’s the Fifth One of Those?
The only true competition of fantasy relevance in Seattle is the one between Nate Karns and James Paxton for the fifth slot in the rotation. Karns overcame some lingering control issues to post solid numbers in Tampa last year, whiffing almost a batter an inning and returning ten bucks of AL-only value in 145 frames. He struggled to work deep into games, allowing and .809 OPS in his third trip through an order and throwing to just 23 hitters combined beyond the sixth inning in his 26 starts. He significantly improved his changeup last year, working it into a legitimately competent third pitch with an average whiff rate (his whiffs-per-swing increased by about six-and-a-half percentage points year to year), and he managed to get much more consistent in securing strike one to begin at-bats. He’s older than you might think at first blush—28 last November—but he’d offer some rare strikeout upside and deeper mixed league relevance from the fifth slot of a rotation.
Paxton’s a fascinating if incredibly frustrating story, a 27-year-old former top prospect who has battled injury issues for approximately 14 straight seasons. Gone are the halcyon days of a mid-90s fastball; he’s barely scraped 90 on his average fastball this spring according to PITCHf/x, and his once-biting curveball is similarly down more than five miles an hour of sitting velocity from its heyday. He rolled out a cutter in the Arizona Fall League and has continued to deploy it in limited use this spring, and it’s likely going to take some further tinkering with arsenal depth if he’s going to reinvent himself as a useful big league pitcher.
In addition to the missing stuff, the results haven’t really been there for Paxton this spring either: through four starts he’s allowed as many earned runs as he’s pitched innings (11) while walking five and allowing some uncomfortably hard contact. Karns has shown well in the meantime, and would logically seem to have the inside track at this stage of the game.
The Position Battle is Actually Smaller in Texas
The Rangers face a very similar situation to the Mariners, though the options at hand are not nearly as interesting for fantasy players. The battle to keep the fifth starter’s slot warm for Yu Darvish is more or less a heads-up competition between Nick Martinez and Chi Chi Gonzalez, even though it probably shouldn’t be. Martinez essentially turned every hitter he faced in the second half last summer into David Peralta and got himself demoted in August, and his 127 DRA- in 2015 checked in 107th out of the 114 pitchers to hurl at least 125 innings. He’s certainly not forcing the issue this spring either, thus far ceding nine runs on 11 hits in his three appearances. His mediocre stuff and poor control—he led the majors in hit-by-pitches last year despite throwing just the 114th-most innings—make him a bottom-of-the-barrel streaming option in AL-only leagues in a best-case scenario.
Gonzalez has significantly higher fantasy upside—how could he not?—though the 24-year-old has battled his own inconsistency thus far in his brief big league career. His heinous ratio of 30 strikeouts to 32 walks drove a cFIP in his rookie season that ranked 201st out of 216 pitchers to log his 67 innings. And he’s done little to assuage concerns about his fantasy utility early on in camp, failing to strike out any hitters while already issuing four free passes (and allowing 12 hits) in his first eight-plus innings. Gonzalez remains a worthwhile hold in most long-term dynasty formats, but for re-draft purposes it increasingly appears that whoever wins this rotation slot, we all lose anyway.
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