No. 5 Starter
There aren’t a whole lot of starting jobs up for grabs in Baltimore, with the only one with any fantasy implications being at the back of the rotation. If Chris Tillman were healthy, their rotation would be set, but the righty has yet to make a spring start and figures to miss a good chunk of the start of the season. Thus, we have a battle between Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson and Logan Verrett. For fantasy purposes, this is not a very exciting battle and will only matter for those in AL-Only leagues. Wright is likely the favorite, but he doesn’t really bring anything to the table beyond major-league rotation experience. He has a low strikeout rate, high(ish) walk rate and is a fly ball pitcher in the AL East. Wilson has some experience from last season as well, but has the same problems as Wright with a slightly worse strikeout rate and a slightly better walk rate. Verrett is a former Mets swingman who likely has the most fantasy upside, but that says more about the group than it does about Verrett.
No. 4 and 5 Starters
If/When everyone is healthy for the Red Sox, they will have to make a decision as to who gets left out of the rotation. Chris Sale, Rick Porcello and David Price are all locks to start, of course, but one of Steven Wright, Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez is to be left out. To start the year, all will be in the rotation as Price is set to miss his first couple of starts. After that, however, this is back up for grabs. What’s interesting about this battle is that all three have mixed league value. Wright and Pomeranz were both All-Stars last season, and Rodriguez is a former top prospect who flashed his true potential towards the end of last season. Rodriguez is at a disadvantage here as the only one in this group with minor-league options available. However, if either Wright or Pomeranz struggle badly in their first couple starts, it wouldn’t be at all shocking to see one wind up in the bullpen. All three are worth targeting as high-risk players this year, but be sure to surround them with some safety as well.
The Red Sox have three catchers who have legitimate cases to be the starting catcher in Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart. The former lit the world on fire last season after being a mere afterthought for the entirety of his career. Regression is surely coming his way, but even with a significant amount he’d still be a solid second catcher for fantasy players given the dearth of production at the position. Vazquez is the defensive wizard, and would be the worst-case scenario winner for fantasy players. He’s a magician behind the plate and would improve every pitcher for whom he catches, but he’ll close next to nothing in terms of fantasy. Swihart is the best-case scenario, as the former top prospect has a big offensive ceiling (for the position, at least) and could be a top-ten fantasy catcher. Unfortunately, he has minor-league options and the others don’t. Leon is the most likely starter, but keep an eye on the situation as the year goes on as Swihart will get his moment in the sun at some point or another.
No. 4-5 Starter
Like the Red Sox above, the Yankees have three rotation spots set and need to figure out who will man the final two. Unlike the Red Sox above, they do not have the proven talent to fill those spots. The favorite to grab the no. 4 starter job is Luis Severino, the former top prospect who struggled last year in the rotation At least, he struggled by ERA. He was still an above-average arm by DRA for the entire season and has legitimate strike out stuff. He’s an interesting target for the ends of drafts, although he’s always going to be hurt by playing in Yankee Stadium. Still, he was good in his rookie year and only just turned 23. The last spot will be filled by someone much less interesting. Chad Green is likely the favorite at the moment. He’s the best option for fantasy purposes, as he racks up strikeouts. However, he’ll also battle with command. Luis Cessa and Adam Warren are the other options. Cessa is an unexciting arm for fantasy purposes and Warren is likely pegged for his typical multi-inning relief role.
This one isn’t as much of a battle as it was at the beginning of the season, particularly with Tyler Austin’s injury. However, there are still two players fighting for playing time at the position in Greg Bird and Chris Carter. The former was always going to play against righties, but with his performance this spring he may get some starts against southpaws as well. This has big fantasy implications on both ends. This makes Bird one of the more intriguing corner infield options on the market, and makes Carter much less exciting despite his monstrous power. Keep looking out for comments from Joe Girardi about this situation.
Tamps Bay Rays
No. 5 Starter
The Rays have one of the most interesting rotations in all of baseball for fantasy purposes. Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Alex Cobb and Blake Snell all have the ability to far outproduce their current ADPs. Then, there’s the final spot, which is much less exciting. Still, it’s important for AL-Only leagues, as whoever wins will have a good pitcher’s park and Kevin Kiermaier. Matt Andriese is the favorite at the moment, and he put together a solid season last year, albeit splitting time between the rotation and bullpen. He won’t help you a ton in strikeouts, but he’ll limit his walks and the good defense will help keep his WHIP down. Jose De Leon is the more exciting option, as the top prospect has a much higher ceiling than Andriese. Of course, he also has some downside as he can get flat with his fastball and give up plenty of homers. He’s worth targeting late in drafts, but be aware he may be a stash for the start of the year.
This doesn’t have fantasy implications at the moment, even in AL-Only leagues. That is, unless you’re in an AL-Only holds league, in which case let’s talk. However, if Alex Colomé gets hurt or traded, someone new will have to step into the role. Xavier Cedeno is my favorite for the role, as he’s been able to combine solid strikeout rates with ground ball rates around or above 50 percent. The only problem is that he’s a lefty, and you have to be particularly dominant to get the job as a southpaw. It’s not particularly fair, but it’s how it is. The real favorite is probably Danny Farquhar. He is coming off an outstanding season in 2016, but has command issues that are not exactly ideal for high-leverage situations. Also keep an eye on Brad Boxberger, who has experience as the Rays’ closer and has the most upside of the group. He’s hurt at the moment, but could still be ready for Opening Day.
The Blue Jays re-signed Jose Bautista, which all but locked up right field, but they’re still looking for someone to man left field. Ezequiel Carrera is the favorite at the moment, which is not good news for fantasy owners. He’ll help out a bit in steals, but is average-at-best in every other category. Melvin Upton can also expect to get some playing time, and might be worth a target in deeper AL-Only leagues or those with daily lineup changes. He’ll be the short end of a platoon, but could provide solid power numbers against southpaws. Dalton Pompey also deserves a look, and he has the most fantasy upside. He could be a big boon for steals, and has sneaky power that will certainly play in AL-Only leagues.
This one may not be much of a battle, but it’s something to watch for as the season goes on. Justin Smoak is expected to get the most playing time, because it’s MLB policy for Justin Smoak to have a starting job every year. Steve Pearce is a sneaky late-round target for fantasy owners, though. He’ll start the year with the short end of a platoon with Smoak, but I would fully expect him to gain more and more playing time as the year goes on.
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