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Pre-Opening Day Notes

by Matthew Pouliot
Updated On: April 1, 2021, 2:27 am ET

One day to go. Here are some last-minute thoughts while counting down the hours until the opener.

 

American League Notes

 

- The Rangers can’t be excited about playing Brock Holt and Charlie Culberson, so there’s likely more than meets the eye to their decision to release Rougned Odor now. Still, this is a divorce that really should have happened a year ago. At his best and worst, Odor has always been a fascinating player, and he was an excellent fantasy second baseman at times. I hope the Orioles sign him, and if that happens, he could hit 35 homers and prove somewhat useful in mixed leagues once again.

 

- Texas will probably have top prospect Josh Jung at third base by the end of the year, but he wasn’t going to be an option now even if not for the stress fracture in his foot that will cost him at least the month of April. The Rangers figure to give Eli White a look at third, and since he has some basestealing ability, he probably rates as a better AL-only pickup than Holt, the presumed starter for now. Putting Anderson Tejada at short and sliding Isiah Kiner-Falefa back to third would seem to give them their best lineup, but they’re committed to Kiner-Falefa at short.

 

- The other big Rangers news is that Jose Leclerc will require Tommy John surgery. It leaves the door wide open for Jonathan Hernandez to return as the Rangers’ closer in a couple of months, but he might wind up needing elbow surgery, too. Joely Rodriguez, the Rangers’ next most talented reliever, is also on the IL, courtesy of an ankle injury. He should be back in mid-April, and he’ll probably wind up in the mix for saves, but since he’s a lefty, it’d be for the best if the team didn’t have to reserve him for the ninth. Ian Kennedy is probably the favorite for saves in the short term, though Matt Bush is also in the mix. Josh Sborz is the sleeper here.

 

- Any debate about whether to keep Andrew Vaughn in the majors concluded with the crushing pectoral injury to Eloy Jimenez. The White Sox think Vaughn can handle left field, but he’ll be in the lineup either way. I’m still skeptical about him being a quality mixed-league option initially; he’ll probably post a fine OPS, but I don’t think he’s going to hit for a particularly strong average or reach 30 homers as a rookie.

With Vaughn playing some left field, Zack Collins becomes quite interesting in leagues in which he qualifies as a catcher (he’s currently limited to DH only in traditional leagues). Collins is awfully strikeout prone, but he has excellent power, and if he gets to DH a fair amount of the time, he could be of use in two-catcher mixed leagues and AL-only leagues, at least early on. Once Adam Engel returns from a strained hamstring, he’ll get significant outfield time and Vaughn will DH more frequently.

The other fantasy beneficiary of Jimenez’s injury, in my mind, is Yoan Moncada. He could open up batting cleanup and certainly won’t hit lower than fifth, which was one of my big concerns for his value going into the year.

 

- Tampa Bay’s Pete Fairbanks and Diego Castillo are both top-20 relievers as a result of Nick Anderson’s unfortunate elbow injury. Fairbanks was already ranked in the mid-20s anyway; I fully expect him to one of the league’s most dominant relievers this season. Castillo is probably the better bet for saves for the short term and maybe even for the long term, too, but I’d draft Fairbanks first anyway.

 

- Ji-Man Choi’s knee will keep him sidelined into May, making Yoshi Tsutsugo the Rays’ new first baseman against right-handed pitching. All of the team’s options there are interchangeable anyway. Yandy Diaz has hit .278/.365/.451 while healthy the last two years, and I’d really like to see what Mike Brosseau could do as a regular. However, playing time against righties will remain difficult to come by initially.

 

- In spite of the (possibly false) positive COVID-19 test, Matt Barnes is set to be available on Opening Day. The Red Sox haven’t announced a closer, but Barnes had a good spring and looks like the clear favorite for saves for now. I project Adam Ottavino to be the better reliever this year, and I assume he’ll get a shot if Barnes proves shaky early.

 

- Since I assumed going in that Michael Brantley would occupy his usual No. 3 spot in the Astros lineup, I figured Kyle Tucker would open the season batting seventh. After all, the lefties weren’t going to bat back-to-back, and Yordan Alvarez appeared more likely than Tucker to get the fifth spot. However, Dusty Baker seems to have settled on Brantley batting second, allowing the other lefties to bat fourth and sixth, and it currently looks like Baker is leaning towards Tucker in the cleanup spot, which is great news for his value.

 

- Kyle Isbel’s ascension in Kansas City really highlighted Edward Oliveras’s quick fall. The Royals had several suitors for Trevor Rosenthal last summer, but they opted to send him to San Diego for Oliveras and an A-ball reliever. Olivares went on to play in 18 games for the club, hitting .274/.292/.419. However, when spring opened, he wasn’t even given a chance to compete with Nationals castaway Michael A. Taylor for the starting job in center and he was completely eliminated from roster consideration after Jarrod Dyson was signed. He was sent down on March 12 after just 12 at-bats this spring, even though those at-bats included a homer and two doubles. It’s really quite stunning.

 

- As for Isbel, he wasn’t supposed to be on the radar for the start of the year, given that he was last seen hitting .216/.282/.361 in 52 games in high-A ball in 2019. He’s been held back by injuries since being drafted in the third round in 2018, but in theory, he does offer a solid package of on-base ability, power and speed. If the minor league season were starting next week, I’d suggest that the Royals send him down to Triple-A and call him up if he’s still hitting in a month. Since it’s not, they might as well keep him and see what happens. That said, they’ve made their infield defense considerably worse by shifting Whit Merrifield back to second (on top of already stationing Hunter Dozier at third base). That’ll hurt Brad Keller and Brady Singer. Isbel’s value will likely be limited to AL-only leagues.

 

- The Tigers decided against carrying Renato Nunez, but rather than going back to Jeimer Candelario at first base and installing Niko Goodrum at third, it looks like they’ll give Miguel Cabrera as much time in the field as he can handle, allowing them to use Nomar Mazara as a DH and give Victor Reyes and Rule 5 pick Akil Baddoo ample playing time in the outfield in the early going. I think that’s the right call. Nunez deserves to be in the majors, but it doesn’t make much sense to have both him and Cabrera on the same roster and the Tigers won’t be moving on from Cabrera anytime soon. Cabrera is happier at first base anyway, and if he gets hurt, it doesn’t really seem like a loss at this point. I’m skeptical that Baddoo’s terrific spring will carry over to the regular season, but even if he struggles, the Tigers can’t let him wither away on the bench.

 

- Both Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize getting rotation spots in Detroit was a nice surprise, even if Mize is possibly only holding Spencer Turnbull’s seat warm for a couple of weeks. Mize showed better velocity this spring than in his seven-start audition last year, but he did issue 11 walks (while also striking out 27) in 18 2/3 innings. My guess is that he falls short of mixed-league value this year, though the upside is obviously there. Skubal is a better bet.

 

- It’s safe to say I’m now pretty nervous about ranking James Karinchak as my No. 1 closer all winter and spring. I don’t think his performance outlook has changed after a disappointing spring, but it’s unlikely that he’ll be the Indians’ sole closer initially. Nick Wittgren might be the best bet for early saves. Emmanuel Clase is supposed to be in the mix, too, though it’d be an odd choice to reward the steroid user with the glamour role when there’s not really anything to be gained by it; he should be very good, but he can be just as valuable in the seventh and eighth as in the ninth.

 

- Because of the Indians’ stellar pitching track record of late, Cal Quantrill seemed like one to watch this spring. He just didn’t impress, though, and Logan Allen was able to overtake him for a rotation spot. I’ve long been fond of Allen, and while he’ll probably be a little too generous with the walks and homers to be a quality mixed-league option, he’s one to keep an eye on. He is worthy of some FAAB money in AL-only leagues in which he’s available.

 

- I don’t know that it’ll turn him into a mixed-league guy right away, but Justin Dunn’s big velocity gain this spring makes him one to watch in Seattle. That he’s on a bad team and in a six-man rotation will make things a bit more difficult as far as amassing fantasy value.

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National League Notes

 

- If the Dodgers were going to send David Price to the pen for the start of the year, I’d rather have seen Tony Gonsolin get the nod over Dustin May for the fifth spot in the rotation. That’s not how it worked out, though. May should be useful in mixed leagues for however long the current arrangement lasts. Price wasn’t going to pitch 180 innings this year anyway, so don’t go dropping him in mixed leagues over the news. While he’ll still likely make a bunch of starts this year, there’s also the chance that he winds up as the Dodgers’ closer if Kenley Jansen falters.

 

- Jazz Chisholm wound up beating out Isan Diaz for the second base gig in Miami, putting Diaz’s future with the team in serious jeopardy. Chisholm was already shaping up as the long-term answer, but the team’s hope was that Diaz would hold him off initially and show enough to become an option at another position or a trade chip. As is, Diaz still might be a buy-low possibility for a team like the Orioles or Rockies, but his future just isn’t looking very bright. Chisholm has star potential, though I’m skeptical he’s ready to shine just yet. He’ll sit in favor of Jon Berti against some lefties and hit low in the order, so he’s probably not a mixed-league option right now.

 

- That the Nationals demoted Carter Kieboom was no surprise, but I am surprised that they haven’t secured any outside help. Todd Frazier and Jason Kipnis were both up for grabs after failing to make the Pirates and Braves respectively, but rather than bring in either, they settled for adding spring training invitees Jordy Mercer and Hernan Perez to their roster. The plan for now is to go with Starlin Castro at third and Josh Harrison at second. Perhaps they’ll be interested in taking a flier on Odor, but they seem to be betting that either Kieboom or Luis Garcia will step up.

 

- The Nationals did rule out Ryan Zimmerman as a third base option. The oft-injured 36-year-old hasn’t played the position since 2014, and it’s just not realistic to expect him to contribute there now. That Zimmerman had such an awesome spring (13-for-27, 6 HR) has created a bit of a problem for the Nationals, since there’s no DH and neither he nor Josh Bell can play anywhere besides first base. Bell did used to be an outfielder, but he was bad out there even when he was younger and faster than he is now. Bell’s status as the Nationals’ primary first baseman isn’t in doubt, but Zimmerman could well prove to be the better option against lefties, particularly once defense is taken into account. Even though I’m really quite optimistic about Bell this season, I’ve been shying away from him in drafts because of the Zimmerman factor.

 

- The Phillies made the right call in center field, picking an Adam Haseley-Roman Quinn platoon over going with Odubel Herrera as a regular. Haseley probably won’t ever meet the expectations that come with being the eighth overall pick in the draft, but he can post decent numbers against right-handers. Ideally, Scott Kingery will get it together and make a run at the job in a couple of months.

 

- While a bunch of managers appear content to leave us guessing, Joe Girardi announced Wednesday that Hector Neris would be his closer. I think that’s the right call; Neris should outperform Archie Bradley, and though lefty Jose Alvarado will probably be better than both if he can stay healthy, it’ll be best to have him available for matchup purposes.

 

- The Phillies also indicated that Spencer Howard would likely spend much of the season in a relief role, a consequence of him having thrown just 95 innings the last two years. That’s rather disappointing, but it might the best thing for Howard’s future. It does make Howard a far less interesting stash in deeper leagues.

 

- I’m not all that confident it’ll be his long-term home, but it was a nice surprise to see Freddy Peralta get another crack at the rotation to begin the year. He showed the potential to become an elite reliever last year, but the Brewers already have a couple of those and they can afford to give him one more try as a starter. He should post one of the league’s best strikeout rates, and while that still might not be enough to overcome the walks and homers, he’d be nice to have rostered in mixed leagues anyway.

 

- I found it disgusting that the Cubs sent down Nico Hoerner for service time purposes, but I’m also excited to see what David Bote can do as a regular. Bote was one of my favorite sleepers back when I assumed there’d be a universal DH this year, but after that didn’t materialize, I figured he’d take a backseat initially. Bote has a history of striking out and grounding out too much, but he hits the ball awfully hard and more consistent playing time could help him a bunch. He’s worth grabbing in mixed leagues in which he’s available.

 

- I also feel bad for Alec Mills, who lost his rotation spot to a pitcher in Adbert Alzolay who gave up 10 runs in 7 2/3 innings this spring. Still, it’s definitely time for the Cubs to give Alzolay an extended opportunity, and I expect that Alzolay will wind up offering some NL-only value. If I were the Cubs, I’d have kept Mills in the rotation over Trevor Williams, but they think they’ve figured out a way to fix Williams.

 

- The Reds are following through on the plan to use Eugenio Suarez at shortstop and carry Jonathan India as their second baseman. I haven’t been excited about India’s fantasy potential, but I’m warming up to him somewhat now, in part because he tried three steals (converting two) during spring training. That India was last seen hitting .259/.365/.402 with just 11 homers in 428 at-bats between high-A and Double-A in 2019 doesn’t inspire much confidence, but much seems to have changed in a year and a half. The increased power appears legit, and playing in Great American Ballpark will further aid him there. If he keeps doing some basestealing, too, he could help in mixed leagues, even if he is stuck at the bottom of the order initially.

 

- Joakim Soria seemed like one of the safest third-tier closer options because of the lack of competition in the Arizona bullpen, but manager Torey Lovullo is already opening the door for other relievers to earn saves early on. That might have made Stefan Crichton worthy of a pickup, but Crichton (9 R, 7 ER in 4 IP) was even worse than Soria (5 ER in 4 2/3 IP) this spring. It’s Kevin Ginkel who is probably the bigger threat here. Remember than Lovullo picked Ginkel over Crichton in the ninth after Archie Bradley was traded last summer, even though Crichton had much better numbers, and only went to Crichton later after the front office pulled rank by sending Ginkel to the alternate site. Ginkel isn’t worth grabbing in mixed leagues right now, but it’s a situation worth watching closely.

 

- Logan Webb was supposed to be the odd-man out in the San Francisco rotation after Aaron Sanchez was signed, but Alex Wood’s back injury gave him a reprieve that he probably would have earned anyway after a dominant spring in which he allowed just one run and struck out 22 in 17 innings. I overrated Webb last year, but it looks like he’s ready to contribute in mixed leagues now.

Matthew Pouliot

Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of NBC Sports Edge and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.