Written by: John Piper
Spring games are a week in and it is time to look at position battles that will affect the fantasy baseball world. There are many that I could have wrote about two weeks ago. For example, the NYY 3B spot was up in the air since the Alex Rodriguez suspension announcement, but at this point it looks like it is a pseudo platoon with Kelly Johnson taking most of the AB against right-handers and Eduardo Nunez going against lefties. Johnson could be a sneaky pick at 2B where he is eligible if you don’t care about BA. He has decent pop and is surrounded by a good lineup so he could see a significant uptick in the counting stats.
First, let us look into the 3B position in Chicago. Last year the Cubbies had a platoon situation between Donnie Murphy and Luis Valbuena, and so far this spring the Cubs brass seems to want to take a long look at Mike Olt. Murphy has been a minor league journeyman hitting .278 in his minor league career, and at 31 years of age this could be his last chance to prove that he is more than just a platoon or bench option. In 149 AB’s last year he finished with a line of 23-11-23-2-.255. Give him 600 AB with those averages and you’ll have a 92-44-92-8-.255 which anyone would be happy to have on their fake teams. Valbuena was a .304 hitter for multiple years at AAA but hit .219 and .218 for two seasons in a part-time roles for the Cubs. He has shown some pop, but not enough to warrant an extended look; especially with such a low BA. Most likely, these two will share the same platoon role they shared at the end of last year where Valbuena will start against righties and Murphy against lefties. If you have a deep bench it may be worthwhile to stash Murphy and start him on days that the Cubs are going against a Southpaw.
As mentioned before, the Cubs want the power hitting Mike Olt to eventually man the hot corner every day. He is, however, experiencing shoulder soreness so that might put a kink in the Cubs plan for that to happen. He was already a long shot at the position due to his abysmal year last season split between two AAA squads. Olt finished with a 49-15-42-0-.201 in 373 ABs, 152 of those came in Iowa (Cubs affiliate) where he hit .168 with only 3 HRs. His fielding hasn’t been the worst ever but he won’t win any playing time without his bat coming to form. His 2012 AA minor league season went considerably better with a line of 65-28-82-4-.288 in 354 ABs showing that there is a good bit of potential that the Cubs would like on their major league roster.
The most likely scenario in Chicago this April is the Valbuena/Murphy platoon with Olt in AAA getting his confidence up. Olt could also make the big club as a suitable backup for 1B Anthony Rizzo since the Cubs lack one. One thing to take a long look at is two of Chicago’s best prospects. 3B Kris Bryant has already blasted his first career Cactus League home run and with an incredibly hot spring could force the Cubs to make a decision on his major league debut sooner rather than later. Also, Javier Baez could see time at the hot corner if his bat has anything to say about it. Between High A and AA he hit 37 HRs and stole 20 bases but is blocked at his current position by Starling Castro so he has been moved around the infield (2B/3B) looking for a chance to stay with the big club after spring ball has expired.
Our next position battle is the RF duties for the Pirates. As it stands right now via the depth chart on ESPN, the starter is Jose Tabata with Travis Snider as his backup. But we all know whom ever is the starter at the beginning of the season is really only keeping the position warm until Gregory Polanco, the Pirates top hitting prospect, takes over sometime in 2014.
Tabata is a light hitting outfielder with decent speed (he stole 19 bases in 2010 with only 405 ABs), but with a 63% SB success rate he gets tossed out too often to have a consistent green light. Since he is a .274 career hitter he doesn’t have enough to hold off the hot hitting prospect. Tabata’s fielding has been good. He has only committed three errors in right field in the three years he has been seeing time there.
Snider would be the left-handed bat to the Tabata/Snider platoon, is a career .241 hitter in 6 seasons with Toronto and Pittsburgh. He doesn’t have much speed or pop as he has 4 SBs and 9 HRs combined over the last two seasons in 470 ABs.
Polanco went from High A last year to AAA by seasons end showing good plate disciple (36 BB to 36 K at AA) speed (38 SBs last year) and some pop (12 HRs). He has a .350 OB% through 5 seasons in the minors which is why he will get some looks this spring to see if he can handle major league pitching. More than likely, he will start in AAA and if all goes as planned will take over RF duties in Pittsburgh by mid-summer.
The lone monkey wrench in this plan could be the dark horse, Chris Dickerson. The Pirates signed him to a minor league contract in January. In his 708 career plate appearances (a smidge above a full season for a full-time starter) he has 15 HRs and 32 SB with a good 10% BB rate. If he plays better than Snider this spring he could give the Pirates a better left-handed bat to go along with Tabata for that Platoon in RF giving Polanco a year to hone his skills at AAA.
I would recommend to pass on Tabata and Snider in your fantasy drafts, but if Dickerson becomes the left-handed bat in this platoon he could be a perfect late round pick that could pay big dividends to the savvy manager who likes to look at matchups and will play the splits wisely. Polanco has great talent and would be a wise pick for dynasty leagues, but in redraft or simple keepers you should probably pass on him this year with an eye for the coming season.