You’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: “Spring training statistics are meaningless.” While that’s largely true, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t useful bits of information to be gained by monitoring spring training position battles. Often, a prospect can make a good-enough impression in front of his club’s decision-makers and accelerate his timeline to the majors with a standout spring performance. This seemingly happens every year with both contenders and pretenders, and these are five National League prospects whose spring performance warrants monitoring, as each could make a fantasy impact in 2016:
Socrates Brito, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
To put it mildly, the Diamondbacks were less than thrilled with Yasmany Tomas’ conditioning last spring and he proceeded to return very little (.246 TAv, -0.2 WARP) in his rookie season for their $68.5 million investment. Tomas’ lack of production and Arizona’s inclusion of Ender Inciarte in the Shelby Miller/Dansby Swanson extravaganza has opened a starting job in the 2016 Diamondback outfield alongside A.J. Pollock and David Peralta. Many fantasy owners simply assumed that Tomas would be handed the job due to his monster contract, but with Arizona’s designs on contention in 2016, they have seemingly opened up the competition between Tomas and a September call-up, Socrates Brito. At the time, I speculated that a strong finish to the year in the majors could position Brito for a starting position (should one open up) as soon as spring 2016. After appearing in last summer’s Futures Game, Brito posted an impressive .349/.400/.534 line over his final 48 games of the season at Double-A Mobile, before hitting .303/.324/.455 in 34 plate appearances with the Diamondbacks. Brito’s opportunity may not come at the start of the year, but if Tomas falters or an injury strikes Pollock or Peralta, he should be next in line. Over a full-season’s worth of at-bats, Brito is capable of providing double-digit home run totals and 20 or more steals, making him worthy of a stash in deeper leagues regardless of whether or not he makes the Opening Day roster, and if you’re bargain shopping for an hitter that’s currently being drafted outside of the top 100 outfielders, Brito makes for a fine target. It probably doesn’t hurt his case that he’s started the spring strong with a .391 AVG along with one home run and one stolen base in his first 23 at-bats.
Keon Broxton, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
Broxton came from the Pirates to the Brewers in one of their roughly 74 offseason trades, and is reportedly “making a strong push” for the starting job in center field, as he competes with former Met Kirk Nieuwenhuis and prospect Michael Reed. Broxton quite obviously was going to have an awfully difficult time cracking the starting lineup in Pittsburgh on a regular basis anytime soon, and entering his age-26 season in 2016, he seemingly doesn’t have much left to prove in the minors, giving him a leg up on Reed, who only has 148 plate appearances above Double-A. In 133 games between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis in 2015, Broxton hit for a .273 AVG, adding 10 home runs and 39 stolen bases in 54 attempts. Broxton struck out in nearly 29 percent of his plate appearances in Triple-A in 2015 and if he can cut down on that number a bit, he should be in good position to secure at least a platoon portion of the center field job to start the year in Milwaukee, where he could run enough to matter in deeper leagues and has already positioned himself as worthy target in NL-only leagues.
Colin Rea, SP, San Diego Padres
Rea is a prospect whose 2016 value could take quite a dive if he is not a part of the San Diego rotation to start the year, as being sent to Triple-A El Paso of the Pacific Coast League would likely not be helpful to his confidence–or his statistical profile. He is battling lefty Robbie Erlin and the perpetual rumors of a Tim Lincecum signing for the fifth spot in the rotation—one that figured to have more than a single opening over the winter. I was comfortable in recommending Rea as a late-season addition for dynasty-league owners as I speculated he would have a place in the Padres rotation in 2016 after Ian Kennedy left via free agency and A.J. Preller decided to move one or two additional starters from the triumvirate of James Shields, Tyson Ross, or Andrew Cashner. Not only did Preller hang on to Shields, Ross, and Cashner, but he traded for Drew Pomeranz, who will also be given a chance at a spot in the rotation this spring. Petco’s new dimensions aren’t quite as beneficial as the old ones, but it’s still quite a nice place to make half of your starts—El Paso is not—for many reasons that we won’t get into here.
Tyler Goeddel, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
For the second year in a row, the Phillies have turned to a Rule 5 selection in their effort to find a starting outfielder. Goeddel was plucked from the Rays and the 23-year-old’s chances of securing regular playing time has already been helped significantly this spring with Aaron Altherr’s wrist injury that required surgery and will likely keep him out of action for 4-6 months. Goeddel is an interesting offensive prospect who walked in nine percent of his plate appearances in 2015 at Double-A Montgomery, adding 10 triples to go along with 12 home runs and 28 steals in 37 attempts. He posted a .279/.350/.433 line in 533 plate appearances and his .154 isolated power output was good for sixth among Southern League qualifiers. His main competition on the Phillies depth chart for a starting job includes the likes of Peter Bourjos and David Lough. If Goeddel is able to secure a spot on the Opening Day roster, he could put together a season like Philadelphia’s previous Rule 5 selection—Odubel Herrera—who finished last year as the 38th-best outfielder on ESPN Player Rater. It’s highly unlikely that Goeddel will hit anywhere close to .300 in his rookie campaign, as Herrera did, but he has the speed to steal more bases than the 16 Herrera swiped in 2015.
Mallex Smith, OF, Atlanta Braves
Smith, who was fittingly referred to as a “walking portmanteau” by Prospect Team editor Craig Goldstein last June, has impressed Braves officials this spring with more than just his wheels. Smith, who owns a .295/.380/.387 career minor league line, has done nothing but hit and steal bases as he’s risen through the minors, reaching Triple-A in 2015 after coming to Atlanta from San Diego in the Justin Upton trade. Smith’s potential fantasy value is still being underrated by many; after stealing 88 bases between the Midwest League and the California League in 2014, he went on to steal 57 bases in 70 attempts with Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett in 2015, and did so while hitting for a .306 AVG between the two stops. Smith is stuck behind Ender Inciarte, Hector Olivera, and Nick Markakis to start the year, but if the Braves choose to cut bait with Michael Bourn and install Smith as their fourth outfielder, he could still make enough of a fantasy impact in part-time duty to warrant rostering in deep mixed leagues. If an injury opens up regular playing time, pounce on picking up the “walking portmanteau.” He could turn into this year’s version of Billy Burns, who finished 2015 as a top-30 outfielder, as Scooter Hotz mentioned in his look at Smith last month.