Spring Training position battles are a longstanding part of the preseason. And for astute fantasy owners, they are also a way to gain an edge on the competition.Though many clubs have most of their key components set long before pitchers and catchers report, at least one or two prominent spots
Spring Training position battles are a longstanding part of the preseason. And for astute fantasy owners, they are also a way to gain an edge on the competition.
Though many clubs have most of their key components set long before pitchers and catchers report, at least one or two prominent spots are still up for grabs on some teams. Owners should keep tabs on the 10 battles below, as they could yield valuable fantasy options for 2018.
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Yankees' center fielder
Competitors:Aaron Hicks, Jacoby Ellsbury
Although he still has three years remaining on his contract, Ellsbury will have to battle for a starting spot after posting a .716 OPS during his initial four seasons in the Bronx. Meanwhile, Hicks made a great case for a larger role when he produced 15 homers, 10 steals and an .847 OPS across 361 plate appearances last year.
Zinkie's prediction: Hicks will hold off Ellsbury and become a roster fixture in shallow leagues.
Dodgers' left fielder
Competitors:Joc Pederson, Alvin Toles, Enrique Hernandez, Matt Kemp
While the Dodgers have multiple options for configuring their outfield, Chris Taylor and Yasiel Puig will likely be in the lineup nearly every day, leaving one spot open for competition. Hernandez is more of a specialist vs. southpaws, making lefty swingers Toles and Pederson the top candidates. Kemp is also ostensibly in the mix, but he may be moved before Opening Day.
Zinkie's prediction: Toles will start vs. righties in a platoon with Hernandez, while Pederson will work in a reserve role and Kemp will find his way to a different organization. Toles, Pederson and Hernandez are no more than deep-league options.
Phillies' right fielder
Competitors:Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr
Williams (.811 OPS) and Altherr (.856 OPS) each showed exciting potential last season. But with Rhys Hoskins moving to left field to accommodate free-agent signing Carlos Santana and Odubel Herrera set in center, the Phillies have only one lineup spot open. Altherr may prove to be the better option, as Williams will likely see his BABIP (.375 in '17) and HR/FB rate (20 percent in '17) regress this season.
Zinkie's prediction: Altherr and Williams will split time and also share occasional work in left and center field. Unless an injury clears the logjam, both players will stay on waivers in standard formats.
Rays' left fielder
Competitors:Denard Span, Mallex Smith
Acquired in the offseason, Span is an experienced tablesetter who hit .272 and tallied a career-best 12 homers last year. But at 33 years old, the veteran does not represent a long-term solution. The Rays may choose to kick-start the development of the 24-year-old Smith, who has the speed (32 steals in 153 career games) to be a valuable mixed-league option if he receives regular playing time.
Zinkie's prediction: Span will get the job, but Smith will draw four starts per week in the outfield and become a steals source in 15-team formats.
Reds' corner outfielders
Competitors:Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler, Jesse Winker
With Billy Hamilton patrolling center field, Duvall, Schebler and Winker are competing for two spots. All three players will warrant mixed-league attention if they're receiving regular playing time, with Duvall and Schebler both coming off 30-homer campaigns and Winker having posted a .904 OPS over 137 plate appearances in his debut season.
Zinkie's prediction: Duvall and Winker will start most days, with Schebler drawing roughly three starts per week. Duvall will help those in shallow formats, while Winker becomes relevant in 12-team leagues and Schebler aids NL-only squads.
Pirates' fifth starter
Competitors:Joe Musgrove, Tyler Glasnow, Steven Brault
After trading Gerrit Cole in January, the Bucs have the opportunity to give an Opening Day rotation spot to one of a few intriguing youngsters. The winner of the competition between Musgrove (career 3.5 K/BB ratio), Glasnow (lifetime 11.9 K/9 rate in the Minors) and Brault (1.94 ERA in Triple-A last year) will have appeal as a late-round sleeper.
Zinkie's prediction: Musgrove will win a rotation spot and make an impact in 12-team leagues.
Indians' fourth and fifth starters
Competitors:Josh Tomlin, Danny Salazar, Mike Clevinger
Tomlin, Salazar and Clevinger will enter Spring Training looking to claim one of the two available spots behind Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer. Clevinger was the best of the three hurlers in 2017 (3.11 ERA), but he has a Minor League option remaining. The Indians may choose to have him open the season in Triple-A, with Salazar and Tomlin in the rotation. Salazar has struggled with injuries and is coming off a down year, but he might have the highest ceiling of the three based on his career 10.5 K/9 rate and 3.56 FIP. Both he and Clevinger will warrant attention in the shallowest of leagues if they claim rotation spots. Tomlin will be more of a deep-league option, as he owns a career 4.65 ERA with a 6.1 K/9 rate.
Zinkie's prediction: Tomlin and Salazar will open the campaign in the rotation, but Clevinger will still make 20 starts this year.
Rays' fifth starter
Competitors:Matt Andriese, Austin Pruitt, Brent Honeywell
Andriese made 17 of his 18 appearances as part of Tampa Bay's rotation last year, but he has enjoyed greater success as a reliever (3.54 ERA) than as a starter (4.55 ERA) in his career. The Rays could enhance their shallow relief corps by moving Andriese to the bullpen and having Pruitt (lifetime 3.29 ERA in the Minors) or Honeywell (lifetime 2.88 ERA, 9.9 K/9 rate in the Minors) assume the fifth-starter job.
Zinkie's prediction: Pruitt will open the season as the fifth starter, but Honeywell will take over by May and make a significant mixed-league impact for nearly five months.
Competitors:Archie Bradley, Brad Boxberger, Yoshihisa Hirano
D-backs manager Torey Lovullo is faced with the tough decision of how to utilize Bradley, who posted a 1.73 ERA in 2017. If Lovullo opts to use the dominant right-hander similarly to how the Indians deploy Andrew Miller, he could assign closer duties to one of two offseason acquisitions: Boxberger (41 saves in '15) or Hirano (career 3.10 ERA in Japan).
Zinkie's prediction: Bradley will win the job and rank among the top 10 fantasy closers this year.
White Sox's closer
Competitors: Although Juan Minaya finished 2017 as the White Sox's closer, he has little ninth inning experience (nine career saves) and may cede the role to either Nate Jones (career 3.12 ERA) or offseason acquisition Joakim Soria (204 career saves).
Zinkie's prediction: Soria will be the closer on Opening Day, and he will help mixed-league squads during the first half. But Jones will take over the role and becomes a mixed-league asset after Soria is traded in July.
Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB.