It Feels So Good to be Back!
Ladies and Gentlemen.. It feels so good to be back! Sunday officially marked the beginning of actual games in both the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues and with it the first real box scores of the spring season. We’re now just one month away from Opening Day and everyone’s preparation for upcoming fantasy drafts should be in high gear at this point.
While there isn’t always actionable information coming out of every spring game, there are things to be on the lookout for that can give the savvy fantasy manager an edge on draft day. Pay close attention to lineup spots -- especially when a team is rolling out most of its regulars -- as it’s likely to closely resemble what we’ll see on Opening Day and beyond.
For pitchers, velocity readings and pitch-mix changes are two things that I am always on the lookout for at this time of the year. There’s a pretty decent correlation between increased velocity readings during the spring and improved performance during the regular season. Conversely, major drops in velocity during the spring compared to a pitcher’s previous career norms can be a bit of a red flag.
While there wasn’t a whole lot of major news coming out on Sunday, here are a couple of things that I took away from lineup watching during the first day of Cactus and Grapefruit League action:
Dylan Carlson bats seventh - Maybe it wasn’t an Opening Day lineup for the Cardinals (since it had a DH in it), but all of the projected starters were on hand for Sunday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Nationals. Maybe with Matt Carpenter out of the lineup, Carlson slides up into that second slot. Or maybe DeJong fills that role and Carlson winds up fifth. After hitting cleanup during the postseason though, it was a bit of a downer to see him pushed down for Sunday’s opener.
Miles Straw bats leadoff - It wasn’t a full lineup for the Astros in their Cactus League debut, but it was encouraging to see Miles Straw getting the first crack at hitting atop the lineup with George Springer out of the picture. He also collected a couple of singles which won't hurt his cause. The 26-year-old has major wheels -- and no discernible power to speak of -- but if he winds up hitting at the top of the Astros lineup for the duration of the season there’s a chance that he could compete for the American League lead in stolen bases while scoring 100 runs. At a draft spot currently outside the top 300 players overall, that’s certainly a worthwhile gamble if missing on speed early on.
Marcus Semien bats second -- The Blue Jays didn’t have George Springer or Teoscar Hernandez in the lineup on Sunday, so it wasn’t a full look at how things will shake out once the regular season begins, but Semien in the two hole was a pleasant sight. Provided he stays there, it would be a nice boost to his counting stats, as opposed to winding up hitting sixth or lower in the lineup.
Andrew Benintendi bats second -- Here’s why this one is fascinating. There are only so many spots available at the top of the Royals lineup. Whit Merrifield is going to hit leadoff. Carlos Santana, Salvador Perez, Jorge Soler are likely to occupy spots 3-5. That means if Benintendi is locked into the second spot, then Adalberto Mondesi is likely to find himself in the bottom third of the lineup -- or at best in the sixth spot ahead of Hunter Dozier. That’s not a promising development for an already polarizing player whose average draft position sits inside the top 20 players overall.
Royals Extend Dozier
Robert Murray of FanSided reported on Sunday that the Royals are finalizing a four-year contract extension with Hunter Dozier. The deal is reportedly for $25 million and it also includes a $10 million option for a fifth season.
While things weren’t officially finalized on Sunday, they’re expected to push it across the finish line early in the week. The 29-year-old former first-round pick was still under team control for the next three seasons, so the extension buys out three years of arbitration as well as his first (and potentially second) year of free agency.
Dozier had a breakthrough season offensively in 2019, slashing a robust .279/.348/.522 with 26 homers, 10 triples, 84 RBI and a pair of stolen bases in 139 games. He had a miserable 2020 season though -- first contracting COVID-19, and then hitting a putrid .228/.344/.392 with just six homers and 12 RBI in 186 plate appearances over 44 contests.
Dozier split his time during the 2020 campaign between first base and the outfield, and while he’ll retain fantasy eligibility at both spots, he’ll be returning to third base for the 2021 season -- a spot where he’s most comfortable and where he excelled in 2019. If you’re thinking that a bounce-back season could be in the cards, then there’s plenty of profit potential available at his current draft cost, which sits just inside the top 250 players overall in fantasy drafts this month.
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American League Quick Hits: Yasmani Grandal has “ramped up” his work and is expected to return soon after twisting his knee during team drills early in camp. … The Blue Jays acquired left-hander Travis Bergen from the Diamondbacks for cash considerations. … Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said Sunday that there’s still no word on when Andrelton Simmons will arrive to spring training. … Frankie Montas stated on Sunday that he is feeling a lot better in his recovery from COVID-19 and does not expect to take long getting back to full strength. … Orioles outfielder Cedric Mullins has ditched switch-hitting and will bat exclusively from the left side moving forward. … The Mariners top prospects were out in full force as Julio Rodriguez drove home Jarred Kelenic to deliver a walk-off victory against the Padres. … Joey Gallo blasted a two-run homer in a losing effort against the Royals… Austin Meadows belted a two-run homer as the Rays topped the Braves. … Yusniel Diaz launched a two-run bomb off of Carson Fulmer as the Orioles fell to the Pirates. … Trey Mancini went 1-for-2 with a single and a strikeout in his long-awaited return to the field. … Jeimer Candelario singled, doubled and walked as the Tigers crushed the Phillies in their Grapefruit League opener. … Willi Castro tagged Ivan Nova for a leadoff home run in that one. … Bobby Dalbec clobbered a first-inning homer off of Devin Smeltzer as the Red Sox fell to the Twins. … Rowdy Tellez went 2-for-2 with an RBI double in a victory over the Yankees. … Anthony Kay fired two perfect innings while striking out two against the Yankees. … Nathan Eovaldi gave up two runs (one earned) on two hits and a walk over 1 ⅓ innings against the Twins. … The Red Sox are hopeful that Hirokazu Sawamura can complete intake testing and join the team by Wednesday. … Franchy Cordero (COVID-19) will have his arrival to Red Sox camp delayed until Wednesday.
National League Quick Hits: Austin Slater was pulled from Sunday’s Cactus League affair due to a tight hamstring. … Cardinals manager Mike Schildt told reporters that Miles Mikolas won't pitch in a simulated game on Monday out of “caution”. ... Noah Syndergaard (elbow) threw sliders Saturday for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery. … The Cubs designated right-hander Robert Stock for assignment. … Brewers right-hander Dylan File Dylan is expected to be sidelined 3 1/2-4 months after having surgery to repair a stress fracture in his pitching elbow...Nolan Arenado went 0-for-2 with a strikeout in his Cardinals spring debut. … Zac Gallen worked around two walks and two hits to pitch a pair of shutout innings against the Rockies in his Cactus League debut. … Austin Gomber fired two shutout frames in his first game with the Rockies. … Buster Posey reached base in both of his plate appearances -- a walk and a single -- in a loss to the Angels. … Keston Hiura clobbered a three-run homer as the Brewers crushed the White Sox. … Gregory Polanco homered and drove in three to lead the Pirates past the O’s. … Adam Haseley crushed a leadoff home run as the Phillies fell to the Tigers. … Jazz Chisholm made a strong first impression in his bid for the starting job at second base, smacking an opposite-field leadoff home run off of Brandon Bielak as the Marlins downed the Astros. … Lewis Brinson also homered in that one for the Fish. … Chad Kuhl punched out three in a scoreless inning against the Orioles. … Jack Flaherty surrendered three runs on four hits against the Nationals -- and the damage should’ve been worse but the first inning was called with the bases loaded because Flaherty had reached 23 pitches in the frame. … Joe Kelly resumed his throwing program at Dodgers camp on Sunday. … The Padres signed Patrick Kivlehan to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. … Tommy Pham (back) estimated that he feels "80 percent physically" during his recovery from an October stabbing incident. … Nick Ahmed told Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic that he was affected last season by a shoulder injury he suffered during summer camp. … The Nationals inked right-hander Justin Miller to a minor league deal.