Spring Training Stock Watch 3/8: Who’s Rising and Who’s Falling
We’re now about two weeks into spring training, and the start of the regular season is just a couple weeks away. Position battles are starting to be won and lost, relievers are making their case to work the ninth, and managers are figuring out where players will bat in the lineup once games start to matter.
As always, spring training numbers should be taken lightly, but that’s not to say that all performances should be ignored. Here are some players who have had a noteworthy first couple weeks of spring training, causing their stock to rise or fall accordingly.
Victor Robles (OF, Washington Nationals)
.333/.435/.556, 1 HR, 4 K, 4 BB (18 at-bats)
After a strong stint in the majors this past year that saw him hit three home runs, swipe three bags, and post a .288/.348/.525 batting line in just 59 at-bats, Victor Robles is looking at his first full season in the big leagues. So far this spring, he’s done exactly what people hoped he would. He’s hitting for average, getting on base, and showing off his speed, with three steals already. He’s all but locked up the starting gig in center field over Michael Taylor, and while he likely won’t begin the year atop the Nationals lineup with Adam Eaton and Trea Turner around, he could easily slot into the one or two spot with an injury to either of them. With speed being so hard to come by these days, Robles could be a valuable asset in fantasy leagues this season.
Tyler O’Neill (OF, St. Louis Cardinals)
.238/.385/.857, 4 HR, 7 K, 5 BB (21 at-bats)
Tyler O’Neill is a slugger. After hitting nine long balls in 130 at-bats this past year, he already has four homers through the first two weeks of the spring. The only thing stopping the 23-year-old from potentially having a breakout season is regular playing time. He is currently projected to come off the bench to start the season, with Dexter Fowler slated to begin the year as the Cards’ right fielder. However, it appears that O’Neill will continue to do everything in his power to force his way into the lineup. Fowler, on the other hand, is 2-16 with five strikeouts this spring, and he seems ready to give up the starting job at any moment. This is certainly a situation to monitor as we get closer to the season.
Domingo Santana (OF, Seattle Mariners)
.444/.500/1.167, 4 HR, 4 K, 2 BB (18 at-bats)
After being one of baseball’s most pleasant surprises two years ago, Domingo Santana fell completely out of relevancy this past year, hitting just five home runs in just 211 at-bats, thanks to a log jam in Milwaukee. Now, Santana has regular playing time with the Mariners, and this torrid start to his spring training makes for a friendly reminder that this is a guy who had 30 homers and 15 steals with a .278/.371/.505 batting line in 2017. Still just 26 years old, Santana is being grossly undervalued in fantasy drafts and could be in for a huge bounce-back season.
Jordan Hicks (RP, St. Louis Cardinals)
0.00 ERA, 0.50 WHIP, 7 K, 1 BB, 0 HR (2.0 innings pitched)
There are certainly worse ways to start spring training than by posting a 31.5 K/9. Yes, he’s only pitched two innings. No, he is not going to maintain this kind of strikeout pace or anywhere even remotely close to this. However, he can hit 103 mph with his fastball pretty easily, and he does have the stuff to be a dominant relief pitcher. He is currently in the mix for saves, but Andrew Miller is likely the favorite to get the majority of the ninth-inning work. Hicks can certainly get his fair share of saves this season though, especially if he can uphold this level of dominance throughout the year.
Jose Martinez (1B, OF, St. Louis Cardinals)
.176/.300/.235, 0 HR, 6 K, 3 BB (17 at-bats)
Jose Martinez entered spring training this year without a clear path to playing time. This was a problem this past year too, before the Cardinals added Paul Goldschmidt to take up all the at-bats at first base. Now, Martinez is forced to find all of his playing time in the outfield, which is already proving to be somewhat of a logjam. Known as a liability on the defensive end, Martinez needed come into spring training and earn his at-bats at the plate, where he has proven to be a very skilled hitter throughout his short career. Unfortunately, he has done quite the opposite thus far, striking out six times already while getting three hits, only one of which went for extra bases. If he doesn’t turn things around quickly, he may not get many plate appearances once the regular season hits.
Drew Steckenrider (RP, Miami Marlins)
18.90 ERA, 2.70 WHIP, 2 K, 4 BB, 1 HR (3.1 innings pitched)
Drew Steckenrider was believed by many to be the likely closer for the Marlins this season before they signed Sergio Romo. Even after the signing, it was still possible that he could win the ninth-inning job with a strong spring performance. However, it is now all but a lock that Romo will be closing games for Miami, while Steckenrider will pitch as a setup man. It is still possible he gains control of the closer role down the road if Romo is traded at some point, but for now, he seems to have lost any potential value he may have had entering the season.
Jon Lester (SP, Chicago Cubs)
5.19 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 10 K, 3 BB, 3 HR (8.2 innings pitched)
Jon Lester came out of the gate in 2018 pitching like he did back in his prime, posting a 2.58 ERA in the first half of the season. However, a major decline in his strikeout rate and other advanced metrics showed that he was due for some major regression at some point. This proved true after the All-Star break, when his ERA ballooned to 4.50 with a 1.50 WHIP. Now entering his age-35 season, there was growing concern that Lester’s decline would worsen even more. This seems to be the case so far, with opposing hitters teeing him up for three home runs already. It is becoming increasingly clear that Lester’s best days are well behind him.
Mark Melancon (RP, San Francisco Giants)
13.50 ERA, 3.00 WHIP, 2 K, 1 BB, 3 HR (2.2 innings pitched)
After battling injuries the past couple seasons, Mark Melancon entered spring training this year ready to roll. It looked like he was going to challenge Will Smith for the closer role, but after giving up slightly more than one home run per inning to start the spring, it appears that he probably won’t open the season as the Giants’ finisher. While it is entirely possible he takes over at some point if he proves he’s back to normal, for now, he will likely begin the season as a setup man, greatly diminishing his fantasy value.
(Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)