Strike Zone

National League Notes

by Matthew Pouliot
Updated On: March 25, 2021, 2:19 am ET

Here’s another notes column, this one running through the National League teams. I’ll be updating my Undervalued Players piece prior to the weekend, so check back in on Friday if that interests you.


Arizona: With Kole Calhoun rehabbing after knee surgery, the Diamondbacks will have two lineup spots open for Josh Rojas, Daulton Varsho, Tim Locastro and Asdrubal Cabrera initially. I don’t want to get too excited about any of those guys, considering that Calhoun should return in mid-April, but the first three all have mixed-league upside, largely because of their speed. Locastro is perhaps the fastest player in the game, and he sports a career .365 OBP. Rojas swiped 38 and 33 bases in his last two minor league season, and he also hit .332/.418/.606 in 2019, though that was the year everyone crushed it in Triple-A and the rest of his track record isn’t nearly as impressive. Varsho, who appeared unlikely to make the team prior to Calhoun’s injury, has catcher eligibility and legitimate pop. It’s Rojas and Varsho getting much of the attention right now, but don’t be surprised if Locastro proves more valuable initially, if only until Calhoun returns. Varsho remains the best bet for the full season, even if he winds up spending a month or two in the minors. I’m still not all that optimistic about Rojas’s bat, though if he can claim second base for himself and keep Ketel Marte in the outfield, he should offer at least fringy mixed-league value. ... The Diamondbacks put J.B. Bukauskas in the pen this spring in order to speed up his ETA and then sent him down anyway after he struck out nine in four perfect innings of relief. He could be their best reliever in short order, and he’s a fine stash in NL-only leagues.


Atlanta: After returning from a wrist injury, Ozzie Albies finished out last year often hitting sixth and ninth, as the Braves were getting great production from Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna in the top third of the order. However, with the pitcher back in the lineup, manager Brian Snitker is going back to Albies in the two hole in order to create more RBI chances for his best hitters. That’s great news for Albies’ value, and he makes for a great third-round pick in mixed leagues. ... The Braves probably aren’t going to name a closer, but Will Smith has had a dominant spring and should go into the season as the clear favorite for saves. Chris Martin is the other reliever here worthy of a roster spot in shallow leagues. ... The Braves apparently will go with Bryse Wilson, rather than Kyle Wright, as their fifth starter with Mike Soroka out. I thought Wright was the better choice, but it shouldn’t make much of a difference. Wilson should be worth using in NL-only leagues early on.


Chicago: The Cubs’ second base situation is still up in the air. Nico Hoerner originally appeared to be the likely starter there over David Bote, but then there was talk of him going to Triple-A after Eric Sogard was signed to a minor league contract. Hoerner is hitting .321/.387/.536 this spring and has the most defensive ability in the group, so one would think he deserves to stick. I’d really like to see what Bote would do as a regular; he strikes out a lot and hits the ball on the ground too frequently, but he also makes very hard contact. As of right now, it seems like too much of a job share for either player to be recommended in mixed leagues. Bote, though, would be worth trying if he’s named the starter. He could also get the third base gig if Kris Bryant is traded. Hoerner has less fantasy upside. ... Craig Kimbrel said he was working on things and got lit up in his first three outings this spring before bouncing back in his last two appearances. He’s pretty well locked in as the Cubs’ closer, and he seems like a better gamble than most of the alternatives once the top 10 relievers are off the board.


Cincinnati: I could just write a whole column on the Reds. They’re probably now MLB’s worst defensive team after moving Eugenio Suarez to short, though I don’t imagine they were better off with Kyle Farmer there. The maneuver opened up second base for Jonathan India, a natural third baseman. The fifth overall pick in the 2018 draft has apparently taken a real step forward since a disappointing 2019 in the minors. It’s probably not going to result in mixed-league value, though. Nick Senzel is still the only player in this lineup I’m fond of at his current ADP. ... That the Reds will display so little range in the infield and the outfield corners would make me nervous about their pitchers, as well. Luis Castillo’s strikeouts will help him overcome it, but it still bothers me just how much of a mess he has surrounding him. ... The Reds appear to be leaning towards putting Tejay Antone in the pen, though I’m pretty sure he’s one of their five best starters. That would further complicate the saves picture, which hasn’t gained clarity with Amir Garrett and Lucas Sims absent for much of the spring. The one thing that does seem safe to rule out is Sean Doolittle running away with the job. Garrett will probably be the favorite for saves initially. Antone would probably be more of a multi-inning guy at the beginning. ... Still unclear is whether Aristides Aquino has an option year or not. It’s not as important now, as Shogo Akiyama’s hamstring injury means Aquino should make the team either way. I was hoping he’d be traded to a team that would try him as a starter, but that’s probably off the table for now.


Colorado: Brendan Rodgers never so much as attempted a steal in 56 career games in Triple-A or in 32 major league games the last two years. He did, however, try two this spring, and the hamstring strain he suffered on the second of those will apparently sideline him for most or all of April. Rodgers was one of my favorite players this year, and he’ll still be worth grabbing if he lands on the waiver wire in mixed leagues. In the meantime, the Rockies will have more at-bats available for Josh Fuentes and Garrett Hampson. For some reason, Fuentes is expected to get the majority of those. Fuentes showed a solid bat in his first few minor league seasons, but things went south for him in 2019, and though he did hit .306 in 98 major league at-bats last year, it came with just a .759 OPS and a 29/2 K/BB ratio. Hampson isn’t someone I’m optimistic about, either, but he is younger and there’s the chance he could turn into a nice utilityman for a few years. Plus, playing him at second would allow Ryan McMahon to settle in at third, which is where he belongs with Nolan Arenado gone. He has most of the fantasy upside, too, since he’s 23-for-27 stealing bases in 182 major league games. Still, unless the Rockies settle on one, neither is going to be of much use in fantasy leagues. ... Sam Hilliard got quite a bit more hype last spring than this one, even though he has a position all to himself this time around. I don’t imagine he’ll actually be a solid regular for the Rockies, but that hardly matters. He has power and he seems poised to do some running -- he’s 4-for-4 stealing bases this spring -- so he could work nicely as a fifth outfielder in mixed leagues.


Los Angeles: It’s not even the postseason yet, but the Dodgers have often hit Max Muncy fourth and Cody Bellinger as low as sixth in their spring lineups. Yes, Bellinger, the 2019 NL MVP, disappointed last year, but he had nearly 50 points of average on Muncy, who finished with a .192/.331/.389 line. It’s not really a clutch thing, either, as Bellinger, unlike Muncy, has better career stats while hitting with men on base and RISP than without. If Muncy can hold on to the cleanup spot, it’ll definitely give his value a boost. I might be worrying over nothing, though, since Bellinger has hit ahead of Muncy twice this week. ... Gavin Lux has hit .382/.417/.500 this spring, but that hasn’t helped him gain ground on Chris Taylor, who has come in at .419/.486/.968 to date. At least Lux has done enough to ensure that he’ll be on the roster. He’ll probably start against most right-handers, with Taylor often moving around the infield and outfield. Still, since he’ll sit against lefties and usually bat eighth when he does play, he’ll probably be a liability in shallow leagues initially. Maybe that will change as the season progresses.


Miami: Jazz Chisholm (.825 OPS) would seem to be far outpacing Isan Diaz (.436 OPS) in the second base competition. That’s not how the Marlins wanted this to play out; the idea was to give Diaz a chance to sink or swim prior to Chisholm’s eventual arrival, but it looks like Chisholm could get the job now instead. Jon Berti is still due to start against lefties, so Chisholm isn’t likely to be a mixed-league option early on. ... Having struck out 19 in 13 1/3 innings, Trevor Rogers looks to be on his way to securing the one opening in the Miami rotation. With his velocity up a tad this spring, he’s becoming an intriguing pick in NL-only leagues. He’s not going to work deep into games very frequently, so wins will be a problem for him. I don’t think it’s a recipe for value in shallow mixed leagues. He has ample long-term upside, though. ... Anthony Bass still appears set to close. Anthony Bender is definitely one to keep an eye on, though. The former Royals and Brewers minor leaguer has thrown only 5 2/3 career innings above A-ball, but he’s been sitting in the high-90s with his fastball this spring and he’s allowed just one hit, walked none and struck out 10 in six scoreless innings.


Milwaukee: The Brewers officially added Travis Shaw to the roster last week, and it looks like they’re leaning towards keeping Luis Urias in the majors and turning one side of the infield into a job share. Orlando Arcia will likely play third over Shaw against left-handers and share time with Urias at short against righties. That means none should have much fantasy value initially. It also leaves Daniel Robertson without a significant role. ... I’m also not very optimistic about Lorenzo Cain, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Avisail Garcia while they’re combining to occupy two lineup spots. Garcia will be the odd-man out most days, but in case of injury, he’s also the one of the trio with the most fantasy potential.

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New York: While I fully expect the Mets to have a terrific offense, I’m not as high as most on the lineup for fantasy purposes. For one thing, Citi Field, while not as pitcher friendly as usual last year, is one of the game’s toughest parks for hitters. On average, Mets hitters have an OPS about 50 points lower at home than on the road. The Mets also have an excellent bench and could choose to rest their regulars more than other teams. I particularly worry about Dominic Smith and JD Davis, two players I’d be quite high on in different situations (or even with the DH available). Factoring in defense, Davis might be a weaker option at third than Luis Guillorme against righties. Jonathan Villar is also a wild card there if he bounces back offensively. Smith’s bat is legit, but taking him out of the lineup and shifting Brandon Nimmo to left in favor of Kevin Pillar or Albert Almora Jr. would result in two significant defensive upgrades in the outfield. I just can’t see making all that much of an investment in Smith under the circumstances. I also suspect that Francisco Lindor and Michael Conforto will hit for lower averages than expected, and that all of these dominos falling will result in weaker run and RBI numbers than what some are predicting.


Philadelphia: From a fantasy perspective, nothing much good has happened here this spring. Zack Wheeler’s velocity has been down some. Scott Kingery has had an ugly March and is no longer the favorite to start in center. Jean Segura remains stuck at the bottom of the lineup, limiting his usefulness. Spencer Howard (back) won’t be a part of the initial rotation. Finally, the closer situation remains unsettled. I still prefer Hector Neris to Archie Bradley, but my assumption has been that the Phillies were leaning the other way. Jose Alvarado has looked like the Phillies’ best reliever and could also sneak in some save chances, though I doubt the team will ever want to make him the primary guy. ... Odubel Herrera appeared to be on track to start in center for much of the month, but he’s done little after a strong first week. Herrera didn’t have much to offer fantasy leaguers in the two years prior to his domestic violence arrest and doesn’t figure to be much better now. Adam Haseley, another low upside option, looks to be the current favorite to start. Roman Quinn will be on the team and offers potential with his steals, but he’s probably still the worst player of the bunch. ... I do like what Matt Moore is doing, though I don’t think it’ll lead to significant fantasy value. He seemed to be on to something before getting hurt with the Tigers two years ago, and after a year in Japan, he returned with better stuff than he’s displayed in five years or so. I expect that he’ll help the Phillies as their fourth starter.


Pittsburgh: In talking up my fondness for Ke’Bryan Hayes at his far too low ADP, I’ve stated how I don’t believe the top of the Pirates lineup will be nearly as bad as last year. Well, spring training numbers don’t mean much, but the Pirates are hitting: Kevin Newman has a 1.610 OPS, Adam Frazier is at 1.566, Gregory Polanco is at 1.037 and Bryan Reynolds is at .901. There’s no one in the group I’d be particularly excited about drafting in a shallow league, but Polanco is an end-game option and they all should be improved over 2020. In deeper leagues, Newman seems interesting again. I still suspect that his rookie campaign, when he hit .308/.353/.446, will go down as his career year, but if he starts running again (he was 16-for-24 stealing bases in 2019, but just 0-for-1 in 44 games last season), he’ll be of use in deeper leagues. He has tried two steals this spring, which seems like a good sign. ... JT Brubaker is the only Pirates starter of much interest to me in fantasy leagues, and I don’t know how long he will last, given that he’s thrown 28 and 47 innings the last two years. He should be a streaming option early, though.


St. Louis: Tyler O’Neill has earned the first shot in left field by hitting .400 with a couple of homers this spring. If his basestealing ability matched his speed, he’d be one of the year’s most intriguing picks, but he’ll probably be limited in how much running he does. With his power, he could still be a useful mixed-league outfielder anyway if he can hit .240 or better. ... The Cardinals probably wanted to make Jordan Hicks their closer anyway, and Giovanny Gallegos’s rough spring hasn’t given them much incentive to change their minds. I still believe Gallegos is worth rostering in mixed leagues; he’s been terrific the last two years and Hicks is far from a sure thing at this point. Alex Reyes still might have something to say about the closer’s role when all is said and done, but the plan should be to use him in longer stints earlier in games for now. ... Carlos Martinez hasn’t regained his best stuff and might be in line for a return to the pen if not for the Cardinals’ rotation injuries.


San Diego: That the Padres seem increasingly guarded when it comes to talking about injuries has led to increased worry about Dinelson Lamet, who, despite not having any reported setbacks with his elbow, has yet to appear in a game this spring and will open up on the IL. It’s the smart play for the Padres even if Lamet is entirely healthy; he wasn’t going to throw 170 innings this year anyway, and the team can afford to have him go slow in April and May if it improves his chances of helping in October. But whether Lamet is entirely healthy remains an unknown. I still like the idea of taking a chance on a guy who was arguably one of the game’s top five pitchers last year. ... I don’t know why the Padres signed Mark Melancon if it wasn’t to have him close, but they seem to be leaning towards Emilio Pagan in the ninth right now. ... I’d probably have shares of Jake Cronenworth and Ha-seong Kim this year if they weren’t currently teammates. However, with no DH spot and Jurickson Profar also lurking, I’ve avoided that situation altogether.


San Francisco: The Giants offense was one of 2020’s biggest success stories, but I’ve been shying away from the team’s hitters this spring. Mike Yastrzemski aside, pretty much everyone faces playing time issues. The injured Brandon Belt and Alex Dickerson should be quite productive against righties, but they’ll likely sit against lefties. Austin Slater and Wilmer Flores are two guys I’d love as late-round options as full-timers, but they’re on the short side of platoons. ... Tyler Rogers is the pitcher I’m drafting in the San Francisco bullpen. Ideally, Reyes Moronta will show he deserves the closer’s role at some point, but he’s not worth waiting for right now. I still wonder if Aaron Sanchez might eventually figure into the closer mix there, but he was signed as a starter and will get a lengthy look in the rotation.


Washington: It’s ironic, though ultimately pretty meaningless, that Dave Martinez’s attempts to get more RBI opportunities for Trea Turner and Juan Soto by moving Turner down in the order have resulted in the two stars knocking in a total of zero runs in 61 spring at-bats. I don’t think that Victor Robles will be a very good leadoff hitter for the Nationals, but if the switch results in him adopting more of a leadoff mentality, it still could pay off for the team. Robles’s fantasy value is up, too, though I think he’s a little overrated right now. ... Carter Kieboom losing his starting job prior to Opening Day for the second straight year would have to be some sort of record. It hasn’t happened yet, but it looks like the Nationals are leaning that way after playing Starlin Castro at third base on Tuesday. Josh Harrison, the current alternative to Kieboom, would be best left in a utility role, but there should be some veteran second basemen available prior to Opening Day. Jason Kipnis, who isn’t expected to make the Braves, could be one candidate to come in to play second base.