Spring is a time for fantasy owners to ignore individual player performance stats and focus on position battles and injury implications. The winner of most battles may only be relevant in monoleagues initially, but plenty of those winners could go on to have relevance in standard mixed leagues as well. Injuries always strike teams in March, and this time it’s allowed players to step into potentially useful fantasy roles, like Edward Mujica being set to close initially in Boston with the injury to Koji Uehara. Here are 15 other repercussions in the AL based upon spring situations.
As of April 1, the team had yet to settle on the winner of the fifth-starter battle between Kevin Gausman and Ubaldo Jimenez. Gausman has mixed-league relevance as a starter, but he could also pick up more value in some leagues by gaining RP eligibility before entering the rotation later in the season. Consider him worth owning either way.
Boston Red Sox
In addition to Mujica grabbing some early saves, the fantasy focus on the Red Sox comes downs to a pair of young outfielders in Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo, with the team apparently looking to give Shane Victorino regular time in right field. Both Betts and Castillo remain on the roster as of April 1, and look for Betts to start and lead off initially. Keep Castillo in mind as a bench option with high upside in case of injury to Victorino or Hanley Ramirez.
New York Yankees
Adam Warren has won the fifth starter spot with the Yankees after delivering a quality spring performance. He pitched exclusively out of the bullpen in 2014 while posting a 2.97 ERA and striking out 76 in 78 2/3 innings. Warren may have a soft innings cap but he offers upside as an RP-eligible starting pitcher in some formats.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays had plenty to settle this spring, with injuries to Jake McGee and a host of starting pitchers. The team appears set to roll with a committee in the bullpen, but it’s one Brad Boxberger should lead. In the rotation, Nate Karns and recent acquisition Erasmo Ramirez get the initial chance to impress while the team’s starters recover.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays had several relevant fantasy battles this spring: 2B Devon Travis and CF Dalton Pompey are speed options, likely at the bottom of the lineup, while top prospects Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez have earned spots in the rotation, and Sanchez’s starting spot leaves Brett Cecil to close – for now. The team also kept touted prospects Roberto Osuna and Miguel Castro in the bullpen.
Chicago White Sox
Micah Johnson has made the team’s Opening Day roster, and since it’s likely the team wouldn’t carry him unless it figured to give him regular playing time, he’s the favorite to start at second base most days. Johnson brings plenty of SB upside after racking up 84 stolen bases in 2013.
Danny Salazar was a well-regarded SP breakout candidate coming into 2015 due to his high strikeout rate and quality performance late last year. While that still applies, he’ll open the season in Triple-A, draining immediate value. That gives T.J. House the chance to build upon a fine 2014 debut.
Bruce Rondon is set to open the season on the disabled list due to discomfort in his biceps, and continued health issues have damaged his sleeper stock as the team’s potential long-term closer. If Joe Nathan pitches in 2015 like he did last year, the Tigers will need to make a change in the ninth, and Rondon’s health issues have Joakim Soria clearly in the lead to take over if needed.
Kansas City Royals
Notable prospect Brandon Finnegan didn’t perform well in his first spring with the major-league team, and the Royals opted to send him down to the minors to continue to work as a starter rather than pitch out of the bullpen. He could boost the rotation if injuries strike and he excels while in the minors.
The Twins optioned Aaron Hicks to Triple-A, leaving a hole in center field that speedster Jordan Schafer should get a chance to fill. He has four straight seasons with 20-plus steals despite never seeing more than 313 at-bats during that stretch. He’s a one-trick pony at the bottom of the Twins lineup, but his elite speed is worth fantasy consideration regardless.
Luke Gregerson has won the closer job as expected, while injuries will force the intriguing Asher Wojciechowski into the rotation at the beginning of the season. He could stick in the rotation over Roberto Hernandez if he performs well. Luis Valbuena is also a relevant power option with 2B/3B eligibility and a stranglehold on the starting 3B job.
Los Angeles Angels
Jonny Giavotella has won the starting role at second base, leaving potential fantasy sleeper Josh Rutledge to play off the bench for now. Giavotella played well in Triple-A last year (.308/.373/.440 with seven home runs and 20 SBs) but has struggled initially in the majors.
As of April 1 the A’s had yet to settle on a rotation, but Drew Pomeranz and Kendall Graveman each figure to land spots as starting pitchers. Pomeranz was excellent in 20 starts with Oakland last season, while Graveman doesn’t have great strikeout upside but racks up groundball outs and has RP eligibility in fantasy leagues.
Taijuan Walker, formerly one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball, looks ready to reclaim his massive upside after dominating this spring. If he can stay healthy this season, he could be the breakout player in the American League in 2015. Don’t forget about Brad Miller either, who won the shortstop battle by default when Chris Taylor succumbed to injury.
Ryan Rua has won the starting job in left field after hitting .300/.344/.550 with two home runs in 60 spring at-bats. He performed well in limited action with the Rangers last season. He also has a 32-homer season to his credit in the minors in 2013. I’d call .275 with 20 HRs reasonable with a regular role.