For the last Strike Zone prior to Opening Day, I'm going team-by-team, providing some quick notes on each. With so much to get to, let's not waste a bunch of time with an intro here.
First, though, if you haven't already heard, Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $100,000 Fantasy Baseball league for Opening Day's games (March 31). It's $25 to join and first prize is $15,000. Starts at 1:05pm ET on Opening Day.
American League Notes
Baltimore - The Orioles are set to carry Jonathan Schoop, Ryan Flaherty and Steve Lombardozzi to play second and third, at least until Manny Machado (knee) returns from the disabled list. I've never seen much to like about Lombardozzi, but since he's all shiny and new, he might get more playing time than Flaherty initially, giving him a little AL-only value. Schoop is the most interesting player in the group, but also the most likely to get sent down to Triple-A to make room for Machado. His chances of avoiding that fate will hinge on him running away with the second base job in the early going. He's talented enough to do so, and he's shown nice pop this spring (2 HR, 5 2B in 39 AB); he'd be my first choice in the group in an AL-only league. That said, I'm guessing he won't stick. He could be a bigger threat in the second half. ... With Nolan Reimold (neck) going on the DL, the Orioles found room on the roster for Delmon Young, a guy who seemed completely redundant following the Nelson Cruz signing. Young has kept at his usual ways this spring, declining to take a single walk in 47 at-bats. The Orioles figure to use him primarily against lefties in the early going, with David Lough starting versus right-handers. Lough will be the more useful of the two in AL-only leagues.
Boston - It will be Grady Sizemore in center field after all. What about fantasy value, though? Sizemore wasn't a great hitter for average even in his heyday (.290 career high), and he last hit .270 in 2007. Also, while he is running very well, I doubt the Red Sox will want him adding to the wear on his knees with frequent stolen base attempts. I expect that what we'll have here is a guy with a middling average and middling power, albeit one with the advantage of hitting in one of the game's most productive lineups. I'd take a chance on him in the late rounds of mixed leagues, but considering the injury likelihood and, in my opinion, the lack of top-30 outfielder upside, I wouldn't be too sad about missing out. He just barely cracked the draft guide top 300 in the latest update. ... It's just spring, but it's hard not to notice the fact that Will Middlebrooks has more homers (four) than strikeouts (three) after 47 at-bats. If he keeps making contact like this, he'll be an asset in shallow mixed leagues.
Chicago - Dayan Viciedo is without a homer in 50 at-bats this spring. He's driven in just one run. His .280/.345/.380 line isn't so terrible, but the White Sox are looking at him as a run producer. They're almost certainly better off playing Alejandro De Aza over him in left field; De Aza runs circles around him defensively, so Viciedo needs to be the clearly superior hitter to justify the playing time. Still, starting De Aza would mean essentially giving up on the 25-year-old Viciedo, who is out of options and can't be sent down. He's been mentioned as a trade possibility with Seattle (for Michael Saunders), but those talks appeared to gain little traction. For that reason, I think Viciedo gets the majority of the playing time in the early going. Still, De Aza might win out in the end, especially if the White Sox hang around in the AL Central race. I recently dropped Viciedo's ranking from No. 60 to No. 71 among outfielders. ... Marcus Semien may be in the same boat as Schoop; he'll be playing second base while Gordon Beckham sits out the first week or two with a strained oblique. The plan will be to demote him back to Triple-A afterwards, but if Semien hits, he'll have a case for sticking, perhaps as the starter at third over stopgap Conor Gillaspie. ... Jose Quintana got it together nicely in his last outing, lowering his spring ERA from 30.00 to 16.36 with five innings of one-hit ball, so I have few concerns about his recent performance. The White Sox seem to agree, having just agreed to a five-year deal with him.
Cleveland - Lonnie Chisenhall, a legitimate breakthrough candidate, is being supplanted at third base despite hitting .316/.391/.561 with three homers in 57 at-bats this spring. Where that leaves him is unclear. The Indians have the DH spot open with Carlos Santana playing third, but Ryan Raburn figures to get the majority of starts there in the early going. My guess is that Santana is eased into greater DH duties as the season goes along; the Indians wanted to reward him for all of the hard work he put in at third, but the chances of him being better defensively than Chisenhall there are pretty low. I expect Chisenhall to end up as a nice AL-only third baseman and maybe a legitimate mixed-league option come May or June. ... Michael Brantley is sitting at a ridiculous .522 with one strikeout in 46 at-bats. One of my favorite picks this season, he opened the spring as my No. 31 outfielder and he's up to No. 27 now. ... Despite giving up 24 hits in 15 2/3 innings, Carlos Carrasco showed enough to win a rotation spot and retain his status as an AL-only sleeper. That's because he struck out 16, walked three and allowed just one homer. I'm not sure this will be the year his results catch up to his stuff, but he's a fine $1-$2 flier.
Detroit - Barring a late pickup, it looks like the Tigers will carry Tyler Collins as a left-handed-hitting option in left field. Last year, the 23-year-old hit .240/.323/.438 with 21 homers and a 122/51 K/BB ratio in 466 at-bats in Double-A. I'm far from sold on Collins as a major leaguer now or in the future, and I'm keeping him as a $0 player in AL-only leagues for now. That's partly because manager Brad Ausmus seems increasingly sold on Rajai Davis as an everyday leadoff option (and, thus, left fielder). It's a bad thing for the Tigers --Davis has been a disaster against right-handed pitchers the last few seasons -- but a great thing for his fantasy value; he should be very useful in mixed leagues early on.
Houston - The Astros went 50-50 in rounding out their rotation, sticking with Dallas Keuchel but picking Lucas Harrell over Brad Peacock and Jerome Williams. Harrell "won" his spot with a 7.80 ERA and a 3/7 K/BB ratio in 15 innings this spring. I think Peacock will be back starting soon enough, but it's not completely out of the realm of possibility that he could also figure into the closer mix; he will have the best pure stuff in that pen. As for Keuchel, one of my AL-only sleeper picks, he experienced a scary velocity drop in getting shelled on March 18 and he still wasn't all of the way back to normal in his start earlier this week. Hopefully, it's just a spring training dead arm kind of thing, but if it continues into the regular season, he won't be worth holding on to. ... Manager Bo Porter has apparently decided against naming a closer, meaning Chad Qualls, Josh Fields, Matt Albers and Kevin Chapman could all be candidates for saves early on. As infrequently as the Astros tend to win, I don't think any are must-own players in mixed leagues right now. I still rate Qualls the highest, but Fields has better stuff and is the one with a chance of separating himself from the pack early. ... Essentially handed the right field job, L.J. Hoes has managed just a .518 OPS this spring. Now the Astros have some competition for him after claiming Alex Presley off waivers from the Twins. I'm not a fan of Presley, either, but he does offer more fantasy upside than Hoes. I'm hoping the Astros will pick up someone better prior to the opener -- the Athletics' Michael Taylor is one possibility -- but if not, then Presley will be worth a try in AL-only leagues.
Kansas City - It's safe to say I'm not winding up with Yordano Ventura in any leagues, not with him already being viewed as a $15 pitcher. The talent is there, for sure, but he walked 59 batters in 150 innings last season and I'm not certain he'll get as many strikeouts with his breaking ball as some think. It wouldn't stun me if he justified his current bids and ADP, but I think there are plenty of pitchers in his price range who are much surer things. ... I'm not overly excited about Mike Moustakas's big spring. For one thing, it's Arizona. For another, we just saw him do it last year, too; he hit .394 with five homers in 71 at-bats last spring, compared to .431 with four homers in 51 at-bats this spring. The main difference is that his K/BB ratio has gone from 16/5 to 8/11. That's encouraging, but I'm not convinced it's overly telling. I have Moustakas at .265-21-72 in 533 at-bats for the season.
Los Angeles - I say Howie Kendrick should bat fifth behind Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton in the Angels lineup after hitting .297/.335/.439 last season. Manager Mike Scioscia says he should bat seventh behind David Freese and Raul Ibanez. Since Scioscia does, in fact, make these decisions himself, I'm not as high on Kendrick as I might otherwise would be. ... Freese has followed up his disappointing 2013 by going without an extra-base hit in 47 at-bats this spring, which helps illustrate why he's my No. 23 third baseman right now. The good news for the Angels: Grant Green has really impressed and should be a viable fallback if Freese struggles in April and May. Green will play regularly in Triple-A until then.
Minnesota - After penciling in Presley initially, the Twins decided to go with Aaron Hicks in center, and they even chose to jettison Presley entirely rather than keep him around as a fourth outfielder. That bizarre decision left them with a bench of catcher Josmil Pinto, first baseman Chris Colabello and infielders Eduardo Escobar and Jason Bartlett. Bartlett is the nominal fourth outfielder in that group, but I have to think an addition is coming. As bad as Josh Willingham, Oswaldo Arcia and Jason Kubel are defensively, the Twins need a fourth outfielder with a plus glove. ... Hicks will hit at the bottom of the order initially, but the leadoff spot is there for the taking if he hits. He's a threat for 10-12 homers and 20 steals, making him a fringe outfielder in mixed leagues. ... Moving Samuel Deduno to the pen was a totally unfair call by the Twins, considering that he was their best starter last year and strong again this spring. Still, Kyle Gibson has more fantasy upside as a No. 5 than Deduno did, even if he isn't more than a $1 pick in AL-only leagues right now.
New York - Derek Jeter's .143/.208/.163 line and Mark Teixeira's .091/.286/.121 line certainly weren't what the Yankees were hoping for this spring. I'm not especially concerned about Jeter, considering that he's moving around well on his surgically repaired ankle. Teixeira's wrist could be a story all year long, though, and even with Yankee Stadium getting him some cheap homers, I'm not optimistic that he'll prove very useful in fantasy leagues. I have him 26th among first basemen right now. ... Michael Pineda has been the bright spot of the Yankees' exhibition season, with a 1.20 ERA and a 16/1 K/BB ratio in 15 innings. The 90-92 mph fastball isn't what it was, but he's commanding it well and his slider has been strong. That might be enough to give him a sub-4.00 ERA this season. However, with Yankee Stadium and the AL East working against him, I don't see him being a mixed-league starter. Plus, he's probably not going to be allowed to throw much more than 150 innings. ... CC Sabathia closed out the spring with 16 scoreless innings, but he was still struggling to hit 90 mph on the gun. The new cutter-heavy arsenal may stave off further decline, at least for the short term, but he's unlikely to be much of an asset in mixed leagues.
Oakland - The A's are looking at platoons at catcher (John Jaso vs. R, Derek Norris vs. L), first base (Daric Barton vs. R, Alberto Callaspo vs. L) and second base (Eric Sogard vs. R, Nick Punto vs. L). They'll also probably go with another semi-platoon once Craig Gentry (back) is healthy, using him in the outfield against lefties and Yoenis Cespedes as a DH. For now, though, Brandon Moss can DH against lefties and righties alike. All of the platoons are going to limit the fantasy value of those involved, at least in the short term. If Barton doesn't hit, then Moss will play more first, Jaso could begin to DH and Norris would get an expanded role behind the plate, perhaps with Stephen Vogt being recalled to share time back there. ... Cespedes, who has tried shortening up his swing to cut back on the strikeouts, hasn't impressed this spring with his .179 average and one homer in 56 at-bats. I still see him as a top-20 outfielder, but a slow start could be on the way. ... If Scott Kazmir is unowned in your mixed league, he'd make for a nice first-week pickup; he has home starts against the Indians and Mariners on the schedule.
Seattle - After much deliberation, the Mariners decided to go with Cuban lefty Roenis Elias and the newly signed Chris Young at the back of their rotation. Hopefully, though, they'll only be needed for a few weeks, as both Hisashi Iwakuma (finger) and Taijuan Walker (shoulder) should be back in late April. Elias is interesting -- he showed pretty good stuff this spring for someone who didn't even crack the Mariners' top 30 prospects, according to BaseballAmerica -- but I don't think he's quite draft-worthy in AL-only leagues. ... The news that Corey Hart wouldn't play much -- or maybe any -- outfield early on left Logan Morrison without a clear role on the offense. Hart, though, has hit a terrible .143 with no homers, one RBI and 18 strikeouts in 35 at-bats this spring after missing all of last season following knee surgery. He's also been troubled by back tightness and forearm soreness. The Mariners appear set to put him on the active roster anyway, even though sticking him on the DL and giving him some at-bats in the minors would make a lot of sense. I think Morrison will probably outhit Hart against right-handers anyway, but we'll see. I'm avoiding both right now.
Tampa Bay - Matt Moore went without a walk in his start Friday, but he did throw three wild pitches and give up seven hits in three innings. Overall, he allowed 20 hits, walked 15 and struck out 18 in 17 1/3 innings on the spring. His velocity has been a little better than it was at the end of last year, but not what it was two years ago. The wildness is the bigger problem, and it doesn't look like he'll be pitching very deep into games for the Rays. He's one of the pitchers I'm staying away from this year; since his velocity is down, his upside probably isn't what it once was anyway.
Texas - That stunning Texas rotation of Tanner Scheppers, Martin Perez, Robbie Ross, Joe Saunders and Nick Martinez is going to change in a hurry. Yu Darvish (neck) is due back in a week, Colby Lewis could be added as soon as April 11 and Matt Harrison (back) should return before the end of April. Saunders and Martinez will almost surely be the first two to depart, leaving the Rangers to decide whether to return Scheppers or Ross to the pen or drop Lewis once Harrison is back. I think both Scheppers and Ross stick. Scheppers, though, is a big injury risk as a starter, and even if he does stay healthy, eventually the Rangers will want to put him back in the pen in order to manage his innings (maybe once Derek Holland (knee) comes back in late June or July). Ross is the better mixed-league pickup. I'm not saying he's the new C.J. Wilson, but he might not be too far off. ... The Rangers' two pickups so far to cover the 10-12 week absences of second baseman Jurickson Profar (shoulder) and catcher Geovany Soto (knee) have been Donnie Murphy and Chris Gimenez. The Rangers will likely keep looking for potential upgrades, but Murphy isn't a bad stopgap at second and he should be a nice play in AL-only leagues early on. Gimenez's status is unclear; the Rangers could put him right back on waivers in an attempt to send him to Triple-A. My guess, though, is that he'll get the nod over Robinson Chirinos as the backup to J.P. Arencibia initially. I don't like that pairing one bit -- I'd almost rather release Arencibia and start Chirinos -- but Arencibia will probably have some AL-only value.
Toronto - After just seven spring innings, Dustin McGowan was named to Toronto's rotation in the place that was expected to go to J.A. Happ. Happ, who looked terrible all month, will open up on the DL with a back injury instead. I'll be rooting for McGowan, but after all of his shoulder surgeries, it's really hard to see him staying healthy for any length of time; he hasn't topped even 60 innings in a season since 2008. There are better fliers in AL-only leagues. ... I'm very much down on Brandon Morrow at this point; he's barely a $1 pitcher for me. I'm just not seeing the upside with his stuff having diminished. ... Drew Hutchison is more interesting, what with his 16/1 K/BB ratio in 9 2/3 innings this spring. That said, I'm not sold on him as a mixed-league guy. I don't think his low-90s fastball-slider-changeup combo will make him a particularly big strikeout pitcher during the regular season, and he will give up his share of homers pitching in the AL East. I'm expecting an ERA a bit north of 4.00.
National League Notes
Arizona - With Bronson Arroyo (back) nearly ready to go, the Diamondbacks did the prudent thing and sent down Archie Bradley, making Randall Delgado their fifth starter. Bradley could still be a Rookie of the Year threat if he's spends 4-6 weeks in the minors, but it's possible he's not ready quite yet anyway. While I do believe he's baseball's best pitching prospect, the truth is that he barely managed a 2:1 K:BB ratio in Double-A last year (119/59 in 123 1/3 IP). He has some room for improvement when it comes to fastball command. ... The Diamondbacks still haven't confirmed anything on the Chris Owings-Didi Gregorius front. Expectations are that Owings will start and Gregorius will head to Triple-A, if not immediately then when Cody Ross (hip) comes off the DL 7-10 days into the season. I have Owings 20th among shortstops, hitting .262 with 11 homers and 11 steals in 484 at-bats.
Atlanta - I preferred Fredi Gonzalez's original plan to bat the younger Upton second: he's since moved Justin down to fifth to make room for B.J. in the two hole. That's pretty bad news for Justin's value for however long it lasts. B.J. gets a value increase, but he doesn't seem likely to take full advantage of the lofty positioning. For one thing, he could be less likely to steal bases with the Braves' best hitters up than he would have been hitting sixth or seventh. I dropped Justin from eighth to 10th in the outfield because of the switch. ... Gonzalez also decided that Chris Johnson was a better option in the cleanup spot than Evan Gattis, who now stands to bat seventh. I can get behind that one. I wasn't particularly high on Gattis as a hitter, but I still had him ranked 10th among catchers because of all of the RBI chances he figured to get. His stock is down now. ... Alex Wood is looking like this year's Julio Teheran, with the big caveat that the Braves probably won't let him throw 180 innings. But I think he has a great chance of being a top-30 pitcher early on. ... I'm pretty high on David Hale, but with a rotation spot up for grabs, he hasn't looked very good of late. He'll still probably be the fourth starter initially, but he'll be bumped back to middle relief once Mike Minor (shoulder) and Gavin Floyd (elbow) come back. ... Keep an eye on Aaron Harang in NL-only leagues. Most likely, he'll also be dropped to make room for Minor or Floyd. However, his stuff has been better this spring than it was at any point of last year. He might prove to be an NL-only option.
Chicago - The Cubs jettisoned Donnie Murphy to open up a roster spot for third baseman Mike Olt, who has five homers this spring. Olt is still having some difficulties with his shoulder and won't be an everyday guy initially, but if he hits, the Cubs won't use him on a part-time basis for long. Luis Valbuena, who was even better than Olt with his six homers and 1.175 OPS this spring, is capable at second base and can start over Darwin Barney there when Olt plays. Barney is clearly being phased out by the Cubs. They also have Emilio Bonifacio to start at second on occasion, and Javier Baez looks like he might be up for good come July. As for Olt, I don't see him hitting for the kind of average that would be necessary for him to become an asset in shallow mixed leagues. He does have 20- or 25-homer power, though. ...Junior Lake, Justin Ruggiano and Nate Schierholtz appear set to be the Cubs' primary outfielders early on, with Ryan Sweeney, Emilio Bonifacio and Ryan Kalish also getting mixed in. Ruggiano might be the best bet of the group for fantasy value in April -- he can contribute in both homers and steals - but in the long run, his low OBP should result in a lesser role. ... Carlos Villanueva will fill Jake Arrieta's rotation spot the first 2-4 weeks while Arrieta recovers from shoulder tendinitis. He has a little value in NL-only leagues. ... The Cubs aren't yet wavering on Jose Veras, even though he's given up seven runs in eight innings. While I think Pedro Strop is the better reliever, I don't see the Cubs switching closers anytime soon.
Cincinnati - I'm pretty darn sure Chris Heisey is a better player than Ryan Ludwick right now. He's certainly better defensively in left field. He was the better hitter last season, though Ludwick was coming back from a major injury. He's been the much, much better hitter this spring (1.063 OPS to .615). Plus, he's the younger of the two by six years. Nevertheless, it looks like Ludwick will be the Opening Day starter, as the Reds want to give him a little longer to try to recapture the magic of 2012 (and justify that two-year, $15 million contract they gave him to keep him around afterwards). Ludwick isn't without some fantasy upside in homer-friendly Great American, but I imagine Heisey will win out in the end, and once it happens, Heisey could be an asset in shallow mixed leagues. ... The Reds haven't announced a closer with Aroldis Chapman (head), Jonathan Broxton (elbow), Sean Marshall (shoulder) all on the DL. J.J. Hoover would be the obvious choice based on how he pitched last season, but he struggled at the beginning of the spring and now again at the end, with four runs allowed in his last two appearances. I'm starting to think Sam LeCure will be the favorite for saves early on. ... Mat Latos (knee) should only miss two starts before coming off the DL. Alfredo Simon will fill in at the back of the rotation.
Colorado - Indications were that the Rockies were strongly considering sending Corey Dickerson down to Triple-A, even after he hit .379/.393/.552 this spring. Instead, they'll keep six outfielders for now, but that won't last. To their detriment, the Rockies didn't start thinking about defense until after they signed Justin Morneau, forcing them to keep Michael Cuddyer in right field. They probably do need someone fleeter of foot than Dickerson in center, especially in home games. That will be Drew Stubbs. They also think they need Brandon Barnes as a fifth outfielder, though I'm not sure about that. It leaves Dickerson or Charles Blackmon as the fourth outfielder, and while Dickerson has handily outplayed Blackmon this spring (Blackmon is hitting just .212/.250/.346), the Rockies were thinking it might make more sense to let Dickerson play every day in Triple-A than to keep him as a part-timer. It's a shame for Dickerson owners, because the guy could be a legitimate $15 fantasy outfielder this year (the team's best option in the leadoff spot, too) if the Rockies had room for him. ... Similar thinking resulted in the Rockies sending down Josh Rutledge, who was expected to be the primary reserve infielder. Charlie Culberson made the squad instead. That means D.J. LeMahieu will face very little competition for playing time at second base.
Los Angeles - While the Dodgers do have incentive to trivialize Clayton Kershaw's back/shoulder strain publically, it really does sound like it's a minor problem. Kershaw, for one, wanted to pitch through it. On Friday, he played catch without incident. There's a really good chance he'll be just fine, and he could rejoin the rotation during the first week of the season. ... Matt Kemp (ankle) is eligible to come off the DL on Friday and expects to be ready then, though his lack of at-bats to date could be an issue. I certainly wouldn't expect any sort of torrid start, and because he'll get frequent days off in the crowded outfield, it might be a little while before he's worth using in mixed leagues.
Miami - The Marlins ignored spring performance and went with Marcell Ozuna (.164/.284/.364) over Jake Marisnick (.432/.479/.591) in the outfield. It was the right call in my mind; Ozuna showed last year that he was the more major league-ready of the two, and he's also the better defensive center fielder. If Marisnick had won the job, it might have resulted in Christian Yelich playing center instead. Ozuna has the power and speed to become at least a fringe outfielder in mixed leagues, though the fact that he's playing half of his games in a cavern and hitting in the bottom half of a bad lineup will hold him back. ... With Rafael Furcal (hamstring) landing on the DL, Derek Dietrich should have a little value in NL-only leagues for the first week or two. The Marlins have also played Jeff Baker at second of late, though he offers little range there these days. ... Tom Koehler makes for a decent stopgap in NL-only leagues after holding off all challengers for the fifth spot in Miami's rotation. He gets a favorable matchup at home against the Padres in week one.
Milwaukee - Though I'm still not as high on him as most, I'm a lot more optimistic about Carlos Gomez leadoff hitter than Carlos Gomez No. 6 hitter in fantasy leagues -- he's jumped up from 19th to 11th in my outfield rankings. I'm not thrilled for what the setup means for Ryan Braun in the three hole. I have Gomez with a .310 OBP, about .040 of which comes from home runs. I don't see No. 2 hitter Jean Segura being on base a whole lot either. Still, it's not enough to drop Braun from his No. 2 perch in the outfield rankings. ... I'd rather see Rickie Weeks hitting leadoff after a spring in which he's amassed a .458 OBP. But he'll often sit in favor of Scooter Gennett against righties early on and hit at the bottom of the order when he does play. It's not a recipe for him proving useful in fantasy leagues. ... The problem with the Brewers keeping Lyle Overbay isn't so much Overbay himself -- used in a limited fashion, he probably won't hurt the team -- but that Ron Roenicke might be tempted to start him over Mark Reynolds against right-handers, in part because of his smoother defense (Overbay doesn't offer a whole lot of range around the bag any more, but when he ground he does cover, he does so smoothly.) Reynolds will probably be useless if he's used mostly against lefties. He might prove useless anyway, but the Brewers need to give him the starting job and let him either sink or swim.
New York - Even though Juan Lagares has held his own offensively this spring (.296/.356/.370) and played more of his typical spectacular defense, it looks like Terry Collins' desire for a true leadoff hitter will lead to Eric Young Jr. starting most of the time early on. The Mets will be worse because of it. Young, though, does have more to offer for fantasy purposes with his excellent speed. I'm not sure he'll play enough to be worth using in mixed leagues, but those with an outfield hole to fill and a need for steals should consider him. ... With Young likely playing most of the time, I wouldn't be too excited starting any Mets pitchers in a mixed league, at least in April. It's a solid enough group on the whole, I'm just not sure if there will be any standouts. Zack Wheeler is the highest of the bunch in my rankings, and he comes in at No. 65. ... Jenrry Mejia's last chance to beat out Daisuke Matsuzaka for a rotation spot came to an abrupt end Friday when he took a comebacker off his right forearm. Jon Niese says he'll be ready in week one, so they won't need both. Matsuzaka seems likely to get the nod. Mejia will have value later on if healthy.
Philadelphia - Ryan Howard leads all hitters with 25 strikeouts this spring. That's three more than anyone else. He has a couple of homers in the last week after hitting just one in the first three weeks, but overall, he's giving no one much reason to be optimistic. Chase Utley was hitting .175/.203/.193 in 57 at-bats for the spring before waking up with a 3-for-3 night Friday (they were the only three hits of the games for the Phillies). Domonic Brown is hitting .185 and has gone 54 at-bats without a homer. I've downgraded all three players a bit in my projections, less because of their personal spring performances and more because of the general malaise surrounding the team as a whole. Signs point to it being a long year in Philadelphia.
Pittsburgh - Travis Snider has hit .340 to Jose Tabata's .190 this spring, so it looks like right field will start off in a platoon, with Snider playing against the righties. Snider certainly hasn't lacked for opportunities, but he's currently sporting a .241/.303/.398 line in 1,224 major league at-bats. That's good for a 90 OPS+. He's essentially been a replacement player. Tabata has been inconsistent -- he's particularly prone to slow starts -- but he's younger than Snider and has a 102 OPS+ in 1,380 at-bats. If neither seizes the job, we'll probably see Gregory Polanco in June. Tabata is the better bet until then, but it's clear the Pirates don't trust him any longer. ... The Pirates have also failed to find a better solution at first base than their current Travis Ishikawa-Gaby Sanchez timeshare. I expect they'll eventually go get someone from outside of the organization. Until then, both guys should be fringe players in NL-only leagues.
St. Louis - Even though Joe Kelly was awarded the fifth spot in the rotation, I chose to continue ranking Carlos Martinez as a starter in the hopes that he's stretched out later this season. To be realistic, Martinez wasn't going to pitch anything close to 180 innings anyway. If he spends a couple of months in the pen now, then perhaps he'll help the Cards as a starter in September and October. That wasn't going to happen if he topped 100 innings in the first three months. ... The Cardinals have been juggling Jhonny Peralta and Kolten Wong in the two hole of late. Wong figured to bat eighth initially, but he's been so impressive in hitting liner after liner this spring that he looks like the best option to bat in between Matt Carpenter and Matt Holliday. Still, manager Mike Matheny hasn't made any proclamations yet and Peralta was back batting second in each of the team's last two games. Wong would be a really nice MI option in mixed leagues if he can secure the second spot, at least against right-handed pitching.
San Diego - The Padres' ideal roster apparently has two pure first basemen (Yonder Alonso and Tommy Medica), plus two range-challenged outfielders who would be more useful playing first base (Carlos Quentin and Seth Smith). I really don't get that, but it probably won't shape up that way anyway, since Quentin is likely DL bound once again due to a sore knee. Kyle Blanks, who is both more deserving of the roster spot and probably more useful than Medica, could take Quentin's place. I don't say that to slam Medica -- he could prove to be a perfectly legitimate major league first baseman -- but Alonso is worth playing regularly (he's hit .426 this spring) and the Padres shouldn't have the at-bats for both. At least Blanks, though best off at first base himself, can get around the outfield better than Quentin and Smith.
San Francisco - Although they're hoping he'll be back before long, the Giants don't have much idea what they're going to get out of Marco Scutaro this year. They're not even sure what's causing his back problems. Joaquin Arias will start at second for now, though he should have minimal fantasy value. The nice thing is that Bruce Bochy has no intention of shoehorning one of his two middle infielders into Scutaro's spot in the lineup. Instead, Brandon Crawford will hit seventh, with Arias eighth, and it looks like Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt will be the choices to bat second. ... I'm writing this just as Tim Lincecum went down, barely able to put weight on his leg after taking a liner to the knee. If he's out for a while, it likely puts the Giants in the market for a starter from the Joe Blanton-Randy Wolf-Tommy Hanson-Freddy Garcia group. Yusmeiro Petit can fill in for Lincecum capably enough, but with him in the rotation, there's no longer any depth behind Ryan Vogelsong, who has looked awful this spring. I know it's hard to imagine after the events of last season, but Blanton may well be an upgrade over Vogelsong for the Giants.
Washington - Manager Matt Williams is showing increasing faith in Wilson Ramos while writing out his lineups, batting him ahead of Adam LaRoche of late. Still uncertain is exactly what Williams intends with the second spot in the order. Jayson Werth apparently still isn't an option. Anthony Rendon seems like a better choice than Ian Desmond, but Rendon is also the obvious candidate to bat eighth; the alternative would be to bat LaRoche or Ramos eighth and that wouldn't go over well. I've been ranking Desmond as if he'll bat second. As is, I have him fifth at shortstop, but not far out of third. If he bats sixth -- which is hardly inappropriate, given his skill set -- he'd fall behind Segura and probably Brad Miller in my rankings. ... Doug Fister's lat strain will delay the Nationals' decision on a fifth starter for at least a week or two. I favor Taylor Jordan over Tanner Roark, but only slightly. Both should have NL-only value for however long they start.