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Strike Zone

American League Notes

by Matthew Pouliot
Updated On: March 17, 2021, 2:33 am ET

Here’s the first of a couple of preseason notes columns, this one focusing on the American League teams. I’ll run through the National League clubs next week.


Baltimore: When the Orioles non-tendered Renato Nunez, they made it sound like there just wouldn’t be room for him with Ryan Mountcastle, Trey Mancini and Chris Davis in the first base/DH mix. However, Mountcastle thus far has exclusively played left field this spring. I find it rather baffling, given that Mountcastle is almost surely going to wind up at first base for the long haul and there wouldn’t seem to be any point to giving Chris Davis at-bats over DJ Stewart or Cedric Mullins. Stewart is limited defensively, too, so maybe this all winds up with him doing a lot of DHing and Mancini playing first base. Still, the Orioles best lineup might include Mullins in center and Austin Hays in left, if Mullins, who has given up switch-hitting, can build on his solid showing last year (.271/.315/.407 in 153 PA). With his stolen base ability, Mullins could offer value in deeper leagues if he can claim semi-regular playing time. ... Maikel Franco should be a solid enough mid-tier AL-only third baseman after being signed to a bargain deal to replace Rio Ruiz. ... The Orioles haven’t invested anything in the bullpen, so the closing gig was going to be Hunter Harvey’s to lose. Harvey, though, is already sidelined with a strained oblique. Tanner Scott is the best reliever left, but since he’s a lefty, he probably won’t be reserved for the Orioles’ scant save opportunities. Still, if one wants to roster an Orioles reliever initially, he’s the best option. Cesar Valdez will probably be the other option for saves.


Boston: I wasn’t at all impressed with GM Chaim Bloom’s offseason, but there’s still some obvious fantasy upside with some of his pickups, most notably outfielders Franchy Cordero and Hunter Renfroe. The Red Sox possess an excellent offensive foundation and have Fenway Park to help out with batting averages, which is an obvious problem area for Cordero and Renfroe. Both are going undrafted in shallow mixed leagues right now, but they make for fine reserve picks, especially Cordero (though he might spend the first week or so on the IL). ... Enrique Hernandez could also offer some early value if the Red Sox follow through with this idea of leading him off. I doubt it would last -- the guy is a career .222/.286/.386 hitter against righties -- but he could be a short-term fix in deeper leagues. ... I thought the Red Sox would choose Adam Ottavino as their closer after taking on his contract from the Yankees, but it seems like their leaning towards keeping Matt Barnes in the role. I’m not sure it matters a whole lot, though I do prefer Ottavino at this point. He is coming off a difficult year, but his stuff was intact throughout. Barnes, on the other hand, lost one mph off his fastball and posted far and away the worst peripherals of his career. A rebound is possible, but I’d still look at him as a bottom-tier closer even if he is given the job prior to Opening Day.


Chicago: There were plenty of cheap bats available for the White Sox to pursue as stopgap DHs, but they resisted that temptation all winter, suggesting that Andrew Vaughn really is going to be up in short order. I don’t think Vaughn is going to be a big-time fantasy asset right away, so I’m still not stashing him in 12-team leagues. He could still be worth trying when his time comes. ... Until the White Sox promote Vaughn, Zack Collins could be of use in two-catcher mixed leagues and AL-only leagues. He’s far from a great DH option, but he’ll probably get some time there. ... Tony La Russa doesn’t appear to be as married to the idea of Adam Eaton batting second as most expected him to be. Both Luis Robert and Yoan Moncada have spent time in that spot this spring. I don’t really think it makes sense to put Robert there right now -- he had a .302 OBP as a rookie -- but it’d be great for his fantasy value if he’s in the mix. Moncada is probably going to wind up more in the middle of the order. I’d feel a lot better about drafting Moncada if he’s hitting in one of the top four spots. I expect quite a rebound from the 25-year-old, but I thought he’d probably open up hitting sixth, which tempered my expectations some.


Cleveland: The Indians have first base open for Josh Naylor, but they’re committing to him in right field, which I find strange. It makes Jake Bauers and Bobby Bradley the candidates to play first base. I don’t have a lot of faith in either, but it’s probably worth giving Bauers one more try before writing him off for good. Also, he’s out of options, whereas Bradley still has one left. Bauers could offer some AL-only value, at least early on. ... Terry Francona also went the first two weeks without playing Amed Rosario or Andres Gimenez anywhere other than shortstop, though Rosario finally made his outfield debut Tuesday. Gimenez deserves the shortstop job after his fine showing for the Mets last year, but it looked like the Indians might be setting him up for a demotion in order to push back his free agency. That’s hopefully off the table now. I wanted Rosario to get a long look in center field, where he could be an upgrade over Oscar Mercado, but that it hasn’t been a priority doesn’t bode well for him being of much use in fantasy leagues early on. ... I’m not yet all-in on Aaron Civale’s new delivery and split-change, but he’s worth watching. We do need to keep in mind that the Indians will face a tougher schedule this year and their defense could be pretty rough.


Detroit: The Tigers will surely resume playing the kids eventually, but their Opening Day roster could be pretty short on youth. It’s possible both Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize will lose out on rotation spots to Julio Teheran and Jose Urena, and if that’s the case, then Willi Castro and possibly Rule 5 pick Akil Baddoo could be the only players on the team 25 or younger. Perhaps the Tigers will demote Michael Fulmer to make room for Skubal or Mize. ... The late addition of Nomar Mazara pushed Victor Reyes out of the projected starting lineup and could cost Reyes his roster spot entirely if Baddoo is on the club. That’s quite a steep fall for a guy who was arguably the lineup’s best bet for fantasy purposes. I’m not sold on Reyes as a long-term regular, but he has a nice .293/.327/.414 line with 17 steals in 505 plate appearances since the beginning of 2019. I can’t blame the Tigers for wanting to take a look at Mazara’s bat, particularly given the lack of left-handed power in the organization, but Mazara will have to hit better than he has in any of his five big-league seasons in order to be an upgrade in right field. ... The Tigers might not name a closer this spring. Bryan Garcia will probably be the favorite for saves initially, but Joe Jimenez should not be dismissed and Gregory Soto is the best bet of anyone in the pen from a performance standpoint.


Houston: The Astros should have been all over Jake Odorizzi (and Jackie Bradley Jr.) before losing Framber Valdez, but it took an injury to get ownership to open up the wallet beyond re-signing Michael Brantley. Odorizzi got a little bump in my rankings as a result of the move; he should make for a fine fifth or sixth starter in mixed leagues. Houston is pretty good situation for pitchers, and as one of the game’s biggest flyball guys, Odorizzi will definitely be helped by any sort of deadening of the ball. ... The Odorizzi addition would seem to significantly decrease the chances of the team bringing in any alternatives to Myles Straw in center field. In fact, the club is so close to the luxury tax line now that Steven Souza Jr. probably won’t get the bench spot he was penciled in for; Chas McCormick and his MLB-minimum salary better fits the roster. Straw figures to be a weak regular, and putting him in the leadoff spot so that he gets more at-bats than the Astros’ quality hitters is an awful idea. I imagine he’ll wind up hitting ninth, though perhaps not until Dusty Baker is finished experimenting. It’s possible he could still steal enough bases to be useful in mixed leagues from the bottom of the order, but he should be pretty much a zero in the other categories.


Kansas City: The Royals are set to drop Adalberto Mondesi from the two hole down to the sixth or seventh spot in the order, which is both obviously the right move and rather disappointing for us Mondesi fans. Still, it’s not a disaster for Mondesi’s fantasy value. He’ll lose an at-bat every other game, which hurts, but he should be even more aggressive running while on base for the likes of Michael A. Taylor and Nicky Lopez and it’s not like runs scored were a big part of his fantasy value anyway. I’m still drafting him. Andrew Benintendi is set to replace him as the No. 2 hitter, making him an even better option as a late-round pick in mixed leagues. He’s not going to need to bounce all of the way back offensively in order to be useful, particularly since he seems poised to do more running than he in 2019. ... Taylor isn’t quite a mixed-league guy at the moment, but I do like him in AL-only leagues. There’s a chance that he’ll reach 20 homers and 30 steals if he can keep the center field job all year, and that the Royals just signed Jarrod Dyson, bumping the more intriguing Edward Olivares from the roster, helps Taylor’s case some.

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Los Angeles: The Angels need to hope that Jo Adell is ready to help come May or June, since Dexter Fowler just isn’t the answer in right field at this point of his career. His strikeout rates have taken big jumps three straight seasons, and his exit velocity numbers have also gotten considerably worse. It’s not like he’s much help on defense, either. I’m pretty sure the Angels would have been better off just bringing back Brian Goodwin as a stopgap. ... Shohei Ohtani has been impressive both on the mound and at the plate thus far, and the reports on his velocity are most encouraging. Interesting is that the Angels no longer plan to have him work on a set day of the week as a pitcher. That’ll make things a little more difficult on him as a hitter, as he’ll still likely be out of the lineup on the days before and after he pitches. Most of his fantasy value should come on the pitching side for as long as he’s healthy. I would expect him to perform quite a bit better than last year if injuries again eventually limit him to hitting.


Minnesota: Luis Arraez is due to become a utilityman with Jorge Polanco sliding over to second, but he’s yet to see any time in the outfield this spring. Maybe the Twins just aren’t worried about him out there, since Arraez did start 18 games in left in 2019, but it’d be nice to have a better idea of what their plans are. Arraez and Polanco could be solid mixed-league middle infielders initially this year if Alex Kirilloff opens up in the minors. If Kirilloff gets the job in left field, then both Arraez and Polanco could end up on the bench too frequently to be of much use, at least while everyone else is healthy. ... The other big question with the Twins offense is how the catcher playing time will be split up. I would have been all over Mitch Garver this year if Nelson Cruz had left and the Twins had opted to mix and match in the DH spot, but with Cruz back, there will seldom be at-bats available for Garver when Ryan Jeffers is catching. Jeffers is definitely the future in Minnesota and quite possibly the present, too. Garver’s ceiling still makes him interesting with how weak the catcher spot is this year, but I’m rolling the dice with Francisco Mejia first.


New York: In large part because he’s the only non-righty in the starting lineup, switch-hitter Aaron Hicks is expected to open the season batting third for the Yankees, something that’s gotten him a lot of attention this last week. Personally, I still don’t view him as more than an end-game pick in mixed leagues. Health is always an issue for Hicks, and he struggles to hit for average. He’ll launch some homers and he’ll be strong in runs and RBI when he’s in the lineup, but the Yankees should get him a fair amount of rest in the hopes of keeping him off the IL. I’d happily roster him in April, but there’s little reason to make a significant investment. ... That Hicks is batting third likely put Gleyber Torres in the sixth spot behind Giancarlo Stanton and Luke Volt. It could be temporary, but it’s definitely not ideal for the short term. ... Zach Britton’s absence due to elbow surgery leaves the Yankees without a clear fallback in the closer’s role if Aroldis Chapman gets hurt. They’d probably mix and match Chad Green and Justin Wilson if the need arose.


Oakland: Jed Lowrie appears to be very much in the running to become Oakland’s second baseman ahead of the expected platoon of Tony Kemp and Chad Pinder. It’s hard to imagine Lowrie reemerging as a mixed-league option at age 37 after two lost seasons, but he’s an AL-only sleeper. ... Instead of stacking the top of the order with Ramon Laureano and Mark Canha, the A’s might drop Laureano down to fifth in the lineup and go with a middle infielder batting second behind Canha. That’d take a chunk out of Laureano’s fantasy value, though perhaps he’d be encouraged to do more basestealing while on base in front of lesser hitters. ... Mike Fiers’ hip problem could get A.J. Puk into the season-opening rotation, though Puk is just making his spring debut Wednesday and might not be ready to throw more than a few innings at the beginning of the year. Given that Puk has thrown a total of 33 innings in games over the last three years, it’s hard to project him for fantasy value this year; the A’s aren’t simply going to let him just go out and throw 100 pitches every five of six days.


Seattle: Taylor Trammell appears to have taken over the lead in the competition to start in left field for Seattle. I was hoping Jake Fraley would shake off his rough 2020 season, which started with a concussion, and win the job, but it doesn’t look like that will happen. If Trammell performs well, it’d create a good problem for the Mariners, given that the team’s Opening Day left fielder was just supposed to be keeping the seat warm for Jarred Kelenic. It would be for the best if Mitch Haniger gets off to a nice start and builds some trade value, allowing the Mariners to get something in return for him and go forward with their young outfielders. I don’t think Trammell will be a mixed-league guy right away, but he should haves some AL-only value. ... Yusei Kikuchi has thus far held on to his velocity gains from last year, and he just got a bump in our rankings. ... Rafael Montero and Keynan Middleton have both gotten lit up so far this spring, with Middleton giving up five homers in four innings. Montero remains the clear favorite for saves here. I like Middleton, but he has some work to do, obviously. Anthony Misiewicz has as good of a chance of anyone as finishing the season as Seattle’s closer.


Tampa Bay: There haven’t been any big surprises here this spring, which is probably for the best. One subject of interest to me is how much time Austin Meadows spends DHing. Manuel Margot and Yandy Diaz would be of interest in mixed leagues while playing regularly, but it seems likely that the Rays will mix and match with both, with Meadows alternating between DH and left field. Margot should start quite often, but probably not enough to be of use in shallow leagues, at least not until another outfielder gets hurt. ... Diaz, who can play first and third, figured to be the odd-man out frequently, but Ji-Man Choi’s knee injury could open the door for him some. Choi looks questionable for Opening Day at the moment. ... I wouldn’t expect much of anything to be settled in the closer race this spring. Nick Anderson remains the best bet in the pen, but he shouldn’t be valued as the top-10 reliever he’d be if he were named the closer. Pete Fairbanks makes for a great late-round option in mixed leagues.


Texas: Willie Calhoun’s groin injury could put him on the shelf at the beginning of the season, which would probably assure Ronald Guzman a place on the team. Guzman, who is out of options, initially seemed likely to be bumped from the roster after the Nate Lowe acquisition, but he’s had an impressive spring and he is quite a bit better defensively than Lowe at first base. I’d be really disappointed if Lowe didn’t end up playing regularly, but if Guzman keeps hitting, Lowe could be in danger of spending some time in the minors. ... Rougned Odor seems to be adjusting well to third base and could offer value in deeper mixed leagues early on. ... Mike Foltyniewicz’s velocity is back, and while I don’t think that will make him a mixed-league option on a weak Rangers team, he’s a nice AL-only sleeper. ... The unfortunate Jonathan Hernandez elbow injury gave Jose Leclerc a boost in my rankings. Hernandez, who figured to be the Rangers’ best reliever, still might be back in a couple of months, but that’s not to be counted on. Leclerc was going to open up as the closer regardless, but now he has a better chance of hanging on to the job.


Toronto: Rowdy Tellez and Randal Grichuk are both off to slow starts as they battle for time in the crowded Jays lineup. Tellez should offer enough production against right-handers to warrant a spot as the DH, but having Grichuk in right field and Teoscar Hernandez at DH would help the Jays’ defense. There is also the matter of Grichuk’s ample salary with him being in the third year of a five-year, $52 million contract. Neither figures to offer much mixed-league value initially, but both could suddenly become worth playing if another outfielder were to get hurt. ... The Jays don’t seem to have the at-bats available to justify carrying 22-year-old Alejandro Kirk as a backup catcher, but he’s making a strong push for a spot anyway. If he gets one, he’ll be worth using in two-catcher mixed leagues even if he doesn’t play much initially. If he proves decent enough defensively to cut into Danny Jansen’s playing time, he could quickly become an option in one-catcher leagues.