By Eriq Gardner //
This is an exciting time for baseball nuts. In just a few days, players will be arriving at spring training to begin preparing for a new season.
The arrivals will be greeted by a lot of cliches. Beat writers for newspapers need something to write about from spring training camps, and so we’ll begin to see headlines touting a player is in the “best shape of his life” with weight loss or muscle gains or off-season laser-eye surgery or a new off-season conditioning routines like yoga, ballet, or swimming. The evidence is little that any of these things will make much of a difference.
Nor do the actual spring training games matter very much either. There’s been some studies to suggest there’s some carryover effect on players who increase their slugging percentage by a significant amount in the early going, but for the most part, don’t expect to see breakouts or busts in the making.
That’s not to say, however, that spring training can’t influence the valuation on players. We’d classify three major categories as having an effect on where players go in fantasy baseball drafts.
Obviously, any player who gets injured during spring training necessitates caution. Injuries also open up the door for other players to get playing time (see below).
Then, there are the players who are coming off of injury who we’re all eager to see return to action. They need to prove something to us.
For example, Justin Morneau suffered a serious concussion in July that knocked him out of the season. Reportedly, he’s only just started to swing a batter. Worrisome quote from Twins GM Bill Smith on Morneau’s return: “We have pledged patience, and we only want him to go when he’s ready…If that’s March 1, April 1 or July 1, that’s what it will be.”
Seeing Morneau in action will go a long way towards soothing owners and would-be owners in fantasy leagues. He’s was in the midst of his finest season when he got hurt, which would make him a steal in the fourth or fifth round, but also makes him a huge risk too, if he’s going to miss significant time.
(2) Trades, Cuts, Signings
For the most part, we won’t see many major roster shakeups over the next month. Most general managers had all off-season to contemplate their rosters. However, there’s always some situations to keep a watchful eye upon.
For example, will the Texas Rangers trade Michael Young? Reportedly, that’s what they were privately exploring, and when word leaked out, Young himself demanded a trade. Of course, that will only happen if the team finds a partner willing to pick up his big contract.
Where Young ends up will sharply influence his value. He’s coming off a nice season of 21 HRs, 99 Runs, and 91 RBIs, and still holds eligibility at 3B — which isn’t very deep this season. But Young’s ISO% at .160 is barely above Martin Prado‘s, meaning if Young leaves the cozy confines of the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, the 34-year-old could find his power totals dipping quickly. For now, Bloomberg Sports projects 17 HRs and will make an update if a trade happens.
(3) Playing Time
This may be the most important aspect of spring training. Which young players are going to show enough to push themselves into regular starting spots? Which older players will struggle and find themselves on the bench?
One situation that bears watching, for example, is in Boston at the shortstop position. Marco Scutaro had a decent first season for the team in 2010 with a .275 batting average and 92 runs, but he’s 35 years old and offers almost no power and speed.
Meanwhile, Jed Lowrie was phenomenal in the latter part of last season when he came back from a wrist injury and mononucleosis and had to fill in at 2B for Dustin Pedroia, who was lost for the year with his own injury. In just 171 ABs, Lowrie had 9 HRs and a .287 batting average. Among players eligible at SS with at least 150 at bats, only Troy Tulowitzki had a higher OPS. Yes, Lowrie bested Hanley Ramirez there.
Shortstop talent is thin, so any news that Lowrie had unseated Scutaro would make a big impact in fantasy baseball drafts.
For the most part, we won’t see many value shake-ups in the next month, but have an eye on the exceptions. Depending on the timing of a draft, there’s both profit and risk to being a bit ahead of the game.