Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Spring Training Position Battles - Winners, Losers, Fantasy Impact

The Red Sox exciting 6-5 win over the A's this morning in Japan officially kicked off the 2008 season. With Spring Training winding down and opening day for you favorite club less than a week off, teams are starting to set their final lineups, rotations and bullpens.


Over the past few days, several hotly contested position battles have been settled. In this piece, we will highlight the winners and losers and provide the fantasy impact.

Winners

Nick Johnson - Beat out Dmitri Young for the Nationals' starting first base job and appears as healthy as he has been over the last two years. Johnson is a solid, disciplined hitter with 20 homerun power and the ability to put up a high batting average and on base percentage. He will be hitting in a choice spot (probably in the 3 hole) in an improving Nationals' lineup and can be very productive if he can stay on the field.

Matt Diaz - Diaz is the Braves' answer to Ryan Church - a guy who has been productive in limited at bats but never gotten his chance as an everyday starter. Bobby Cox has named the Diaz the everyday starter in LF and he has great potential to be a consistent fantasy contributor. Diaz has shown he can hit for average (.338 in 358 ABs last season) and has the ability to hit 15-20 homeruns and drive in 80 in a strong Braves lineup.

Kerry Wood - We dedicated a post to analyzing the fantasy impact of Wood winning the Cubs closer role yesterday. Frankly we are still surprised sweet Lou, a huge proponent of veteran experience, chose him over Bob Howry. Regardless, if healthy Wood should put up big save totals and strike out a good amount of batters.

Jorge Cantu - Cantu has been killing the ball this spring and was named the Marlins' starting 3B. Cantu had a monster 2005 season hitting 28 homers and driving in 117 runs but has since been derailed by injury - butchering his fantasy value. He will get every chance to succeed on a young Florida team and could even hit in the middle of a Marlins lineup that is much better than people realize.

Losers

Dmitri Young - After putting together a strong comeback season in 2007 which saw Da Meat Hook hit .319 and drive in 74 runs, he now finds himself on the trading block. Young can be a decent fantasy contributor; however, he has no value until he finds a starting gig.

Erick Aybar & Maicer Izturis - These two youngsters have been battling for the starting SS role in Anaheim and it now appears they will most likely split time, hurting their value in the short-term. Both guys are stolen base threats and have shown some sneaky pop. They could see also see some time at second base but I wouldn't consider either guy until they are guaranteed playing time.

Francisco Liriano - Despite proving to be healthy in spring training and showing electric stuff in his last outing, it appears Liriano will be opening the season in AAA. Liriano has been inconsistent this spring posting a high 8.10 ERA and the Twins cannot be blamed for handling their young stud with kid gloves. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, they may be without Liriano for much of April.

Clay Buchholz - Buchholz has struggled this spring and it appears he will open the 2008 campaign in AAA. This will allow Buchholz to get some added seasoning and work on his control which has been erratic thus far. Bartolo Colon will assume 5th starter duties and most likely make his first start in mid April. Despite the demotion, don't forget about Buchholz. The kid pitched a no-hitter last season and is one of the best pitching prospects in the game. He could be backup as early as May or June and could be a strong fantasy option later in the season.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia - The centerpiece of last summer's blockbuster Mark Texiera trade, Salty lost out on the starting catching job in Texas to Gerald Laird and is now in danger of opening the season in AAA. He will split time between 1B and DH this season and shouldn't spend a lot of time in the minors if he is demoted. However, the lack of a true role out of spring training raises many doubts as Salty might be relegated to part-time duty in the majors limiting his fantasy value.

Other Winners

Jody Gerut - Will start in LF for the San Diego Padres

Manny Parra - Opening the season as the Brewers' #5 starter after a fine spring, beating out Carlos Villanueva who will open in AAA.

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