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10 crucial spring battles for fantasy owners

MLB.com @FredZinkieMLB

Major League teams take Spring Training position battles seriously, understanding that a correct call in March could lead to participation in October. Similarly, wise fantasy owners will keep tabs on battles across the Grapefruit League and the Cactus League, looking for an edge to fill their roto and head-to-head rosters. Let's take a look at 10 competitions to monitor over the next month-plus.

1. Astros first baseman
After non-tendering all-or-nothing slugger Chris Carter, Houston may be left with Carter clone Jon Singleton as its Opening Day first baseman. The native Californian can rip roundtrippers, but his strikeout-prone ways may not be the best fit in a lineup that already whiffs at a great rate. As a result, prospect A.J. Reed could push Singleton during Spring Training. After hitting .340 with 34 homers and 127 RBIs in the Minors last season, Reed will be an attractive mixed-league option as soon as he reaches the Majors.

Major League teams take Spring Training position battles seriously, understanding that a correct call in March could lead to participation in October. Similarly, wise fantasy owners will keep tabs on battles across the Grapefruit League and the Cactus League, looking for an edge to fill their roto and head-to-head rosters. Let's take a look at 10 competitions to monitor over the next month-plus.

1. Astros first baseman
After non-tendering all-or-nothing slugger Chris Carter, Houston may be left with Carter clone Jon Singleton as its Opening Day first baseman. The native Californian can rip roundtrippers, but his strikeout-prone ways may not be the best fit in a lineup that already whiffs at a great rate. As a result, prospect A.J. Reed could push Singleton during Spring Training. After hitting .340 with 34 homers and 127 RBIs in the Minors last season, Reed will be an attractive mixed-league option as soon as he reaches the Majors.

Projected outcome: Singleton gets the Opening Day nod, but Reed takes the job by June.

2. Brewers center fielder
Domingo Santana may be a key part of Milwaukee's rebuilding efforts, but he is blocked by Khris Davis and Ryan Braun at the corner-outfield spots. If the club can live with Santana's range in center field, it could start the process of getting the strikeout-prone slugger more exposure to Major League hurlers. Shane Peterson, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Eric Young Jr. provide fallback options, but fantasy owners are hoping the Brewers will give Santana the starting nod.

Projected outcome: Santana gets the chance to strut his stuff in April.

3. Rays right fielder
If Tampa Bay uses the newly acquired Corey Dickerson in left field, Steven Souza Jr. and Desmond Jennings will be left to compete for playing time in right. If one player emerges with the promise of a full-time workload, he will warrant a mixed-league roster spot. But a timeshare would relegate both players to deep-league usage.

Projected outcome: Jennings' longer resume gets him the larger workload.

4. Nationals shortstop
Veteran Danny Espinosa enters Spring Training as the favorite to serve as Washington's starting shortstop, but the lifetime .230 hitter has made just 51 appearances at the position in his six-year career. Trea Turner -- ranked by MLB Pipeline as the club's best position-player prospect (No. 11 overall in baseball) -- is waiting in the wings should Espinosa falter in Spring Training. After hitting .322 with 29 steals in the Minors last season, Turner could use a strong Spring Training performance to push Espinosa to his more familiar reserve role.

Projected outcome: Turner plays so well in March that he forces the Nats to keep Espinosa in a reserve role.

5. Astros fifth starter
Assuming that new addition Doug Fister shows some improvement from his 2015 form, Mike Fiers and Scott Feldman will be left to compete for the final rotation spot. Able to produce a solid ERA and a high strikeout rate, Fiers would have significant fantasy value if he were to secure a starting gig. But having been consistently effective across two seasons in Houston (3.80 ERA), Feldman could push Fiers to the bullpen.

Projected outcome: Fiers holds off Feldman and continues to be a mixed-league option.

6. Angels fifth starter
Nick Tropeano is on the verge of becoming a useful Major League starter, and Tyler Skaggs had been showing signs of improvement before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2014, but both youngsters are on the fringes of a deep group that is competing for the final rotation spot. Veterans Hector Santiago and Matt Shoemaker are the main options to fill the starting staff behind Garrett Richards, C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver and Andrew Heaney. Shoemaker was a major fantasy asset in '14 and Santiago was quite effective in the first half of last season, meaning the winner of this battle should warrant mixed-league attention.

Projected outcome: Shoemaker turns a strong spring into a rotation spot, pushing Santiago to the bullpen.

7. Blue Jays fifth starter
Aaron Sanchez was quite effective in a relief role during the second half of 2015, but he is adamant about returning to the rotation. To win the fifth-starter spot, he will have to surpass Drew Hutchison, who was a popular fantasy sleeper last March before struggling for most of the season. Veteran Jesse Chavez is the main fallback option should Sanchez and Hutchison let the opportunity slip away, with the recently signed Gavin Floyd another dark-horse candidate in this race.

Projected outcome: With the greatest upside of all the options, Sanchez wins a rotation spot.

8. Dodgers fifth starter
After adding two rotation locks in Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda during the offseason, the Dodgers will enter Spring Training with six starters for five spots. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball, and Hyun-Jin Ryu (career 3.17 ERA, 1.20 WHIP) should also make a solid fantasy contribution once he returns from last year's shoulder surgery. In addition, Los Angeles will likely hand starts to Brett Anderson and Alex Wood, with the latter -- and his career 3.30 ERA -- an appealing fantasy arm when healthy.

Projected outcome: Ryu opens the season on the disabled list but returns in April to push Wood -- who has bullpen experience -- to the relief corps. But for all its upside, this rotation has its share of injury question marks. As a result, it would not be surprising to see everyone on this list other than Kershaw throw fewer than 180 innings.

9. Indians fifth starter
With outstanding control, right-hander Josh Tomlin has the ability to help fantasy teams despite being prone to the long ball (lifetime 1.5 HR/9 rate). Tomlin's performance across 10 stretch-run starts last season (3.02 ERA, 0.84 WHIP) inspires hope that he can turn the corner on an otherwise inconsistent career. But to win a rotation spot, he will have to hold off Cody Anderson. The native Californian produced a 3.05 ERA across 15 rookie-season starts, but his fantasy value is muted by a low strikeout rate (4.3 K/9).

Projected outcome: Tomlin serves as the fifth starter while Anderson works on his game in Triple-A.

10. Mariners fifth starter
Seattle is flush with rotation depth after re-signing Hisashi Iwakuma this offseason, leaving either Nathan Karns or James Paxton without a starting role if all candidates emerge from Spring Training with clean bills of health. A noted prospect with a lifetime 3.16 ERA across 30 starts, Paxton belongs on mixed-league rosters if he is part of the starting quintet. The same can be said of Karns, who recorded a 3.67 ERA and an 8.9 K/9 rate across 147 innings with the Rays last season.

Projected outcome: Karns wins this battle, but Paxton has stretches of mixed-league relevance in 2016.

Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.