We all know that you can’t take anything away from Spring Training stats, right?
If you haven’t already heard of the debacle also known as Mike Moustakas circa 2014, take a look at last year, when he was one of the hot hitters in Spring Training.
“Moose” hit .429 with a 1.290 OPS in Arizona, then laid an egg in the regular season, hitting .212 with a .632 OPS.
However, we shouldn’t assume Spring Training is unable to give us any glimpse of what is coming for a hitter.
Look at Michael Brantley’s spring last year. He batted .500 in the Cactus League before breaking out with a .327 BA and .890 OPS for the year.
The hard part seems to be differentiating a Moustakas from a Brantley.
Rather than focusing on batting average or home runs, we may be able to gain some prognostic ability from changes in approach, batting order, health, or playing time among other things.
Clues found during Spring Training may lead to that brilliant pick in Round 19 that eventually locks your league up for you down the road.
3 Hot Hitters in Spring Training to Track
Let’s look at three hitters as examples that are rising up draft boards due to the data coming in from Spring Training and what this means for the Fantasy Baseball owner shopping for potential value picks.
Prince Fielder, 1B, Texas
Fielder provides a good example of a player many are gaining confidence in as March progresses. Who cares what his batting average is? All I want to know is that his neck is healed and he is game ready.
With an ADP of No. 57 according to Fantasy Pros and a realistic shot at 20-plus HR, 80-plus RBI and a batting average north of .275.
I would expect him to continue to creep up draft lists as long as he continues to show that he’s back with no lingering issues.
Keep an eye on players returning from injury, including Fielder and Joey Votto. Other players dinged up during spring, like Anthony Rendon, may come at a discount. Positive signs will push their ADP up through March, but you could still get a break on Draft Day.
Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs
Fantasy Baseball does share some similarity with Fantasy Football. A glaring example of this is how enamored everyone gets over the shiny new rookies every year.
While talent may eventually get a hitter an everyday job in the bigs, it’s not going to win me a title this year. Having said all of this — Odell Beckham Jr. lovers — meet Kris Bryant.
The Cubs have been on the verge of having a good team since Andre Dawson was hitting fly balls onto Waveland Avenue, and once again, they are brimming with young talent.
Bryant has been ranked by some as the No. 1 prospect in baseball and he is poised to take the reins at third base for the Cubbies. He’s killing it in Spring Training to this point, with a .480 BA and 2.072 OPS, along with an MLB leading eight long balls so far.
I don’t care if he hits 25 homers during spring training. What I care about is whether he’s getting called up from Triple-A sooner or later, and how high his stock goes during my draft.
With an overpowering show through March, it almost guarantees that Bryant will join the Cubs soon after April 17th, which would allow the team to retain his rights through 2021.
The shiniest of the Cubs’ young players is shooting up draft boards now with a current ADP of No. 114 and he will probably be overpriced.
This may be a rookie I would pull the trigger on if he slides to No. 140 on Draft Day, which probably means he doesn’t end up on my team. Beware of big name rookies while drafting. As neat as they look, they likely aren’t worth the price you will need to pay.
Micah Johnson, 2B, Chicago White Sox
A third type of riser in ADP is the player winning a position battle during the spring. For example, a less heralded rookie named Micah Johnson is currently competing with Gordon Beckham and Emilio Bonifacio for playing time at second base with the White Sox.
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If Johnson is able to find some playing time once the season starts, he could be a steal on Draft Day even if he were to rise some from his current ADP of No. 373 on Fantasy Pros.
At 24 years old, with lots of speed and a .455 BA through 13 spring training games, he has the potential to add some depth at bargain basement prices.
Keep an eye on these position battles. Being aware of the situation at the keystone for the White Sox, or that Luis Valbuena has won the competition for third base in Houston, gives you a distinct advantage over others as you look for value during the draft.
By paying attention to information beyond batting average for hot hitters in Spring Training, you give yourself a better chance of winning. A change in batting order, a tweaked swing, or a healed broken finger might give you the clue you need to pick the next Brantley out of all the Moustakas out there.
Photo Credit: Keith Allison