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National League News and Position Battles Update

We are less than ten days away from games that count, and just two short weeks away from the official beginning to the baseball season! There is a lot to cover, so let’s go around the National League and check on some of the players making headlines this week. Here are some of the NL notes and position battles to keep an eye on.

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NL Notes and Position Battles Updates

Arizona Diamondbacks

Arizona signed free agent outfielder Adam Jones to a one-year contract over the weekend. I think the signing is a good one from a real-life perspective. The Diamondbacks have several players who will be playing new positions this year, and Jones could be a stabilizing force, particularly in the outfield, where Arizona is thin. However, at this stage of his career, he does not figure to have a ton of standalone value. Jones is basically a league-average hitter and his defense has been atrocious over the last two years. I’d guess Jones gets somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 plate appearances this year. It is unlikely Jones will be relevant in fantasy this season barring an injury to one of Arizona’s starting outfielders.

Archie Bradley continues to have the edge at closer over Greg Holland. But, as was the case last week, it’s not because Bradley has done anything special. Holland has really struggled to gain any traction this spring, entering Wednesday with a 21.60 ERA. However, there is still some belief that Arizona prefers Bradley in a setup/high leverage role. If that is the case, Holland could begin the year at closer. Even then, he would not be among my top-25 relievers.

Merrill Kelly finally had a solid outing as he tries to earn a role at the back end of Arizona’s rotation. Kelly did not allow a hit in four innings on Sunday against Cincinnati but does not figure to make much of an impact in fantasy leagues this season.

Atlanta Braves

Starter Mike Foltynewicz has officially been ruled out for Opening Day, though it is expected he will return to the rotation in early April. Folty had a breakout 2018, but questions linger as to how sustainable a repeat is.

Beginning the year behind the curve does not figure to alleviate those concerns. Atlanta is likely to open the year with a four-man rotation, so Julio Teheran and Sean Newcomb could see an extra start over the first couple of weeks. Touki Touissant has been inconsistent this spring but could begin the year in the rotation. Toussaint fired four scoreless innings on Monday.

Manager Brian Snitker has stated that Arodys Vizcaino and A.J. Minter are likely to share closer duties, with the chance in any given game dependent on matchup. The move will not endear Snitker to fantasy owners, who will now have to endure a dreaded timeshare. Minter is the better pitcher, but Vizcaino does have more ninth-inning experience. I would prefer Minter nearly 100 picks after Vizcaino if forced to choose, but both are likely to disappoint fantasy owners in 2019.

Chicago Cubs

Most of the Cubs’ roster spots are already spoken for and the team is relatively healthy save for relievers Brandon Morrow and Xavier Cedeno. Cedeno is no lock to make the roster, but Morrow is still penciled into the late-inning mix for Joe Maddon’s club. Pedro Strop will begin the season closing games for the Cubs. Strop is dealing with a hamstring strain, but it is being called minor following a Monday MRI. Strop is still being drafted after Morrow, which does not make sense to me. Even when Morrow returns, he will likely be eased into action. Unless Strop completely falls on his face, I would expect him to close for the first month of the season. If he is successful, he can easily keep the job full-time. I have little to no interest in Morrow as the 24th reliever off the board in drafts.

Cincinnati Reds

Sonny Gray made his Cactus League debut over the weekend, throwing two scoreless innings and striking out three. Gray hopes to spearhead what should be an improved rotation alongside Luis Castillo, Tanner Roark, and Alex Wood. Wood may have to wait to join the fight, however. The lefty suffered a setback on Friday as he deals with a back issue. Anthony Desclafani is likely to make the rotation in the fifth spot, and would certainly have a spot cemented if Wood’s issues linger into the regular season.

Top prospect Nick Senzel has done a nice job with the bat this spring, hitting .389 through 18 at-bats. However, he is probably ticketed for the minors once the season begins due to a combination of added reps in center field and the Reds wanting to keep him under team control for another season. Senzel is worthy of a stash for those with room on their benches.

Colorado Rockies

Ryan McMahon and Garrett Hampson continue to have one of the more interesting position battles in the Senior Circuit. McMahon is 13-for-32 with seven extra-base hits through Monday. Hampson has impressed in his own right, with three homers and five steals. Hampson has the type of speed that makes fantasy owners salivate but is no sure thing to earn everyday playing time. McMahon flopped in 200 plate appearances a season ago, but was highly touted before last season and is actually two months younger than his counterpart. This has all the makings of a platoon when camp breaks. If that is indeed the case, both players will be tough to trust in weekly formats but should be quite useful in daily leagues.

German Marquez struck out nine batters over three innings on Saturday against Cleveland. They tell me that’s pretty good. Marquez is earning more and more trust from the fantasy community despite calling Coors Field home. His current price (ADP of 84.54) is right at the threshold of where I’d be willing to take a Colorado pitcher. Marquez should be taken much higher in Best Score leagues or other formats where you can cherry-pick his appearances. His road numbers (22.2 K-BB%, .201 opponents batting average) put him among the truly elite starting pitchers in the game.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Clayton Kershaw threw a 20-pitch bullpen session on Monday. He still has some work to do in order to be ready for the season opener, but this was a good sign. Kershaw is still going as a top-10 starter in Fantrax drafts, which is a little too rich for my blood given the shoulder injury. Owners who draft Kershaw as their first starter would be wise to double tap and take another starter soon thereafter.
Shortstop Corey Seager is hoping to play the field in a minor league game by the end of this week. Seager is on track to be ready on Opening Day, but I think he may be given some additional rest early on in the year. Seager can be an elite player if things break right, but I would prefer to grab one of the elite options at short or drop down into the next tier of shortstops.

Austin Barnes has the early advantage for the starting catcher position over veteran Russell Martin. Barnes hit .289 in 218 at-bats in 2017 but followed that up by hitting .205 in 200 at-bats last season. Barnes has the ability to take a walk and has decent speed for a catcher. He could approach double-digits in home runs and steals with a full complement of plate appearances.

Miami Marlins

Break up the Marlins’ pitching staff! Sandy Alcantara and Pablo Lopez combined to throw 8.1 scoreless innings over the weekend, as they continue their pursuit for spots in Miami’s starting rotation. Alcantara has now allowed just two runs while striking out 14 in 12 innings this spring. However, he has also walked 10 batters. Walks have been Alcantara’s bugaboo throughout his career. Some more seasoning in the minors appears to be in the cards. Lopez, meanwhile, has been even more impressive. He hurled four perfect innings on Saturday, improving his Grapefruit League ERA to 1.00 and his WHIP to 0.44. Lopez doesn’t miss a ton of bats but exhibits excellent control. He is basically free in drafts and worth a flier in deep leagues. Trevor Richards has also impressed this spring and is currently being drafted outside the top-100 starting pitchers.

Catcher Jorge Alfaro is the only Marlins’ regular earning any semblance of respect in fantasy circles this draft season. But Alfaro has question marks surrounding him as the regular season approaches. The former Phillie is dealing with a knee issue which currently has him sitting out game action. He also has some glaring holes in his profile. Alfaro has struck out in over a third of his 500+ career plate appearances. He has walked just 22 times. Players with 8.1:1 K:BB ratios don’t usually scream fantasy success. I think Alfaro’s current ADP says more about the lack of quality options at the position than it does about his chances for sustained success in 2019.

Milwaukee Brewers

Craig Counsell announced that right-hander Jimmy Nelson would not make the Opening Day roster in Milwaukee. Nelson is a popular sleeper due to his solid 2017 season. This recent news could present a buying opportunity. People may shy away from Nelson, even at his modest 242.61 ADP. But he should be back in the fold in a few weeks and should only miss a handful of starts. However, there is another fly in the ointment that would make me a bit hesitant to jump on Nelson.

Counsell also announced that Mike Moustakas will be the team’s primary second basemen. It’s a change in course from last season when Travis Shaw manned the keystone following the Brew Crew’s acquisition of Moustakas last summer. This year, Moustakas will play second while Shaw slides back to third. It is a strange move considering Moustakas has never played second, and that he is even slower than Shaw. I can’t imagine Moustakas deftly turning two while avoiding a sliding runner coming in from the back side. Back to Nelson… he has a 1.67:1 GB:FB ratio for his career. I would be a bit nervous with questionable infield defense behind him. Brandon Woodruff and Zach Davies also induce a lot of ground balls. I would also knock them down a notch on my draft board.

New York Mets

Prospects Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith are locked in a battle for New York’s first base gig. Smith may have the upper hand due to – you guessed it – service time issues. The Mets would gain another year of control over Alonso by keeping him in the minors for the first three weeks of the season. Smith is free in drafts and could see a decent chunk of playing time to begin the year. I would not recommend Smith in anything but the deepest of leagues, but stranger things have happened.

Philadelphia Phillies

The recent signing of Bryce Harper leaves Philadelphia with several outfielders they don’t exactly need. Roman Quinn and Aaron Altherr are out of minor league options, so a roster move may be in order. Perhaps they can latch on to another club who can better utilize them. Nick Williams is still in the fold, but he can be sent to the minors if need be.

Vince Velazquez and Jerad Eickhoff combined to allow eight runs in just four innings on Monday. Neither has impressed this spring, but Velazquez should still have a rotation spot once the season begins. Eickhoff appears ticketed for AAA after missing nearly all of 2018 with an injury.

Seranthony Dominguez continues to impress this spring. The right-hander has a tidy 1.69 ERA and 1.13 WHIP heading into Wednesday’s action. He and David Robertson figure to share closing duties in Philadelphia. Dominguez is still going several rounds before Robertson, which just doesn’t add up to me. That is no knock on Dominguez – he has electric stuff and has been great in his brief career. But manager Gabe Kapler loves to tinker. And I can see him favoring the veteran Robertson more often than not.

Pittsburgh Pirates

General manager Neal Huntington indicated that Jordan Lyles is still in the lead for the team’s fifth spot once the season begins. Nick Kingham, a popular end-game flier, will probably begin the year in long relief. Lyles is essentially a replacement-level pitcher and does not warrant any real consideration in fantasy leagues.

Setup man Keone Kela had an outing to forget over the weekend. The right-hander gave up three long home runs in an inning against Minnesota on Saturday. Perhaps he was just getting some work in. He is still the favorite for eighth-inning work in Pittsburgh and proved last season that he can be a viable closer if given the opportunity.

San Diego Padres

A couple of pitchers are making some noise this spring in the Padres’ organization. Chris Paddack has struck out 14 in just 8.2 innings this spring, allowing two runs. Paddack missed all of 2017 following Tommy John surgery but did not skip a beat in 2018, striking out 120 and walking eight (8!) in 90 minor league innings. His draft stock is on the rise, but he can still be had at the end of many a draft. Matt Strahm is another pitcher who has acquitted himself quite nicely this spring. He has been even better than Paddack. Strahm has yet to allow a run in nine innings, striking out 12 and allowing just one walk and five hits. Strahm is being stretched out in the hopes of winning a starting job, and he could be on the verge of doing exactly that.

How bad is the catcher position this year? Francisco Mejia has 76 career Major League plate appearances and is projected for 250-300 trips to the plate this season. He is currently the ninth catcher off the board. Mejia has all the tools to be an excellent hitter, but I just do not think the volume will be enough to roll him out as a starter this season.

San Francisco Giants

Outfielder Gerardo Parra is on the fast track to the Giants’ starting right field job. San Francisco can use a veteran presence like Parra. The Giants will likely deploy Mac Williamson and Steven Duggar at the other two outfield spots. The duo has combined for less than 500 MLB plate appearances. Parra does not offer any upside at this stage of his career. But he is a career .278 hitter, so he won’t kill your batting average like so many options at the end of drafts are prone to do.

Madison Bumgarner has struggled on his way to an 8.25 ERA and 1.75 WHIP through 12 spring innings. Spring stats are usually a bit noisy, but there is plenty of concern surrounding Bumgarner, who has seen a substantial dip in his velocity. He has thrown a lot of innings considering his relatively young age, and it’s quite possible the workload has caught up with him. His draft stock continues to plummet as owners would rather get out a year too early than a year too late.

St. Louis Cardinals

Incumbent Dexter Fowler is likely to keep the right field job, but there are other options on the Cardinals’ roster. Jose Martinez is an excellent hitter, but a poor defensive player without a true position on the field. Tyler O’Neill is a slugger who has already hit four home runs in just 28 spring at-bats. Unlike Martinez, O’Neill is a solid defender. O’Neill is currently being drafted just outside the top-300, with his price continuing to rise throughout the spring. He is a sneaky late source of power.

With Carlos Martinez expected to miss the beginning of the season, John Gant and Dakota Hudson are the most likely candidates to slot into the rotation. Gant is out of minor league options, so odds are that he would get the nod over Hudson. Gant started 19 games last season and had a 3.47 ERA. But there is evidence that suggests that is not sustainable. Gant’s strikeout rate is under 20 percent and his HR/FB rate was a minuscule 8.1 percent. All in all, Gant’s 4.66 xFIP is more indicative of his true skill set than his 2018 ERA. He does not need to be rostered in fantasy leagues. Alex Reyes has remained healthy and effective this spring, but it is yet to be seen if he will break camp with the big club and what his role will be once the season begins.

Washington Nationals

Jeremy Hellickson threw four shutout innings on Sunday, lowering his spring ERA to 1.00 and seemingly strengthening his hold on Washington’s fifth and final starting spot. Hellickson had a 3.45 ERA in 19 starts last year. But his strikeout rate is abysmal (17.6 percent) and he averaged less than five innings per start. He is a twice-through-the-order pitcher, so wins will be difficult to come by. Starters who can’t get you wins and strikeouts should be left on the wire.

Shortstop Carter Kieboom hit two home runs off Justin Verlander on Tuesday. Kieboom does not figure into Washington’s 2019 plans, but anytime a player hits two home runs off a top-tier pitcher like Verlander, it’s worth noting. Plus, I mean, his name is Kieboom and he hit two home runs. Sometimes these things write themselves.

Mick will be updating all the Spring Training Position Battles every Wednesday. For more great rankings, strategy, and analysis check out the 2019 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. We’ll be adding more content from now right up until Opening Day!

Mick Ciallela has been writing for FantraxHQ since July 2017. He has also written for Bleacher Report. He is a lifelong sports fan and has been an avid fantasy sports player for many years. Mick was the Overall Champion of both the 2016 Football Challenge – Roto and 2017 Play 3 Football contests hosted by CDM Sports. Mick was born and raised in Mount Vernon, New York and currently resides in New London, Connecticut.

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