After sending spring training darling Matt Davidson—who was hitting a cool .413/.438/.783 in 46 at-bats—down to Triple-A on Tuesday, White Sox GM Rick Hahn dropped a nugget of wisdom that should apply to fantasy owners everywhere: “You try not to fall too much in love with young players or out of love with veteran players based on spring results.”
With those important words of advice in mind, let’s take a look at five players who have increased their fantasy value, both in redraft leagues and in dynasty leagues, with their solid performances this spring:
Joey Rickard, OF, Baltimore Orioles
Rickard has gone from the eighth-overall pick in last December’s Rule 5 draft to not only securing a roster spot on Opening Day, but also playing his way into a possible starting job with his new organization this spring after being plucked from the Rays. Wilson Karaman looked at Rickard a few weeks ago, stating that he could be a solid target for owners “looking for this year’s AL version of Odubel Herrera.” That caught my eye at the time because I certainly rode the Herrera train last season. Rickard doesn’t feature any type of over-the-fence pop, but he’s good at what he does: getting on base. He hit his way to a .325/.391/.443 mark facing quality Pac-12 competition over his three years at the University of Arizona, stealing 47 bases and posting a .119 isolated power mark. Rickard, who turns 25 next month, owns a career .390 OBP in the minors, and swiped 23 bases in 117 games across three levels of the minors in 2015. That’s the type of value he can bring in deeper and AL-only leagues: getting on base and using his wheels to swipe 20 or more bases while not hurting you in the batting-average category. Rickard was mentioned as a possible platoon partner with KBO import Hyun-soo Kim earlier in the month, but with Kim likely now out of the picture, there’s not an ideal in-house platoon partner currently on the depth chart, which gives Rickard the opportunity to seize the full-time job if he performs well in the early going. Hererra’s .297 AVG with eight home runs and 16 stolen bases was good for a top-50 finish among outfielders in 2015, and Rickard is capable of providing a similar result, trading some power for more speed.
Cody Anderson, RHP, Cleveland Indians
Adam Conley, LHP, Miami Marlins
I’ve grouped Anderson and Conley together here for a number of reasons, the first being that I believe I erred in not ranking both in my Three-Year Rankings of the Top 125 Starting Pitchers at the beginning of the month. What I didn’t know at the time is that both would show up in camp throwing harder than they did in 2015, on their way to securing a rotation spot to begin the 2016 season. Anderson, who appeared to be on the outside of the Cleveland rotation looking in to start camp, and whose fastball registered in 93-94 MPH range in 2015, has looked outstanding at times this spring, sitting in the 95-97 MPH range with his fastball and implementing a new “spike curveball.” His work this spring has bumped Trevor Bauer to the bullpen and has earned him as spot as the team’s no. 4 starter to start the year, a development that virtually nobody saw coming. Anderson's quality 3.05 ERA in 15 starts as a rookie last season wasn’t looked upon favorably by FIP (4.24) or cFIP (119), and after striking out just 12 percent of hitters at the major-league level in 2015, the results have been much better this spring. Anderson struck out 18 percent of Double-A hitters and 23 percent of Triple-A hitters (in three starts) in 2015, and I like him to raise his strikeout rate over the 20 percent mark in 2016 if he’s able to maintain his newfound velocity. On a loaded Indians staff, Anderson is being overlooked, but he could be the fourth member of the Indians rotation to finish inside the top-75 among starters in 2016, and I fearlessly forecasted that he would do just that earlier in the week.
Conley made 15 appearances (11 starts) at the major-league level in 2015, and although his ERA (3.76) was higher than Anderson’s, his FIP (3.83), cFIP (99), and strikeout rate (21 percent) were all better than the Cleveland right-hander. Conley, a former second-rounder in 2011 out of Washington State, has looked phenomenal in Grapefruit League action, earning the no. 3 slot in the Miami rotation after it looked as though he could start the year at Triple-A New Orleans. Conley’s fastball in his rookie season checked in at 91-92 MPH, and with a few mechanical adjustments this spring—presumably influenced by former Pirates pitching guru Jim Benedict—the 6-foot-3 lefty’s four seamer has reportedly been sitting in the 93-96 MPH range, occasionally touching 97 MPH. Conley is a dynamite trade target in NL-only and deeper leagues before the season, and while he should be owned at this point in most deeper leagues, he could force his way into standard mixed-league relevance over the first few months of the season and establish himself as a top 75-100 starter in dynasty leagues by season’s end. That’d be a nice jump up in value from the no. 162 ranking among starters that our fantasy overlord Bret Sayre gave him earlier in the month.
Matthew Duffy, 1B/3B, Houston Astros
Much has been made (and rightfully so) in Astros camp this spring about the emergence of Tyler White in his push for the starting first-base job, but the player who could make a bigger fantasy impact in 2016 might be another unheralded late-round pick who was also in the first-base competition, former 20th rounder Matthew Duffy. The 27-year-old Duffy took home Pacific Coast League MVP honors in 2015, hitting for a .294/.366/.484 line with 20 home runs in 557 plate appearances, playing primarily third base at Triple-A Round Rock. Duffy has shown pop in the minors, hitting 18 or more home runs in each of his three full-seasons and posting a strikeout rate above 20 percent at a level only once—a 23 percent mark in 95 Double-A plate appearances to close out the 2013 season.
Duffy’s path to a full slate of at-bats is in question to start the year, as the right-handed hitter has Luis Valbuena ahead of him on the depth chart at third base and White in front at first base, along with utility man Marwin Gonzalez around to steal plate appearances on the infield corners. Duffy smashed lefties to a .318/.413/.529 mark at Round Rock in 2015, making him a natural platoon partner to start the year with the left-handed-hitting Valbuena, but it only seems like a matter of time to me before the Astros pull the plug on Valbuena’s low-OBP/poor-fielding act, as 2016 marks his last year of team control. If the Astros choose to keep Gonzalez in a utility role, that could open the door for regular at-bats for Duffy, even when A.J. Reed is inevitably recalled. Even with Valbuena likely out the door in 2017, Duffy is likely not the long-term solution at third base with Colin Moran on the way, but he could play enough in 2016 to be a solid CI option on the cheap in deeper leagues, hitting for an average in the .260-.270 range and a better OBP than Valbuena, with 15 or more home runs if he receives in excess of 400 plate appearances. That certainly seems possible to me with his versatility to serve at either infield corner.
Other players who have significantly boosted their value this spring:
Juan Nicasio, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (for more on Nicasio’s spring, check out George Bissell’s excellent piece from Tuesday)
Travis Shaw, 1B/3B, Boston Red Sox
Keon Broxton, OF, Milwaukee Brewers, Tyler Goeddel, OF, Philadelphia Phillies, and Socrates Brito, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks (all three of whom I looked at earlier in the month)
John Gant, RHP, Atlanta Braves
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