Preseason Position Battles:
Spring Training is almost upon us and as players report and the games begin, itâ€™s important to know which players to watch as they battle for playing time. Here are the battles to watch for in Spring Training and throughout the season:
Boston Red Sox: Jarrod Saltalamacchia vs. David Ross vs. Ryan Lavarnway
Relevancy: Minimum of 14-team mixed and AL-Only
The Scoop: This situation is mostly a projected platoon. Both Ross and Saltalamacchia have a nearly identical skill set that includes plus power, average plate patience and a poor contact rate. Also, both of them struggle to hit for average and both struggle against their respective pitching side (Ross hits righty, Salty hits lefty). Furthermore, they both tread water defensively, as both registered 0.5 Fielding Runs Above Average (according to Baseball prospectus). Ryan Lavarnway waits in the wings as a third twin, as he shares an identical skill set with Saltalamacchia and Ross, except he has slightly better contact rates and is slightly worse defensively. It will take an injury to either Salty or Ross for Lavarnway to earn a shot at some playing time, but should that happen he has the skills to steal the job outright.
Projected Playing Time Split/Winner: Saltalamacchia 65% Ross 35% – Lavarnway- late season sleeper
New York Yankees: Austin Romine vs. Chris Stewart vs. Francisco Cervelli
The Scoop: None of these options are special but Romine has the most upside. Romine struggled mightily in 2012, hitting only .213 in 71 PA for AAA- Scranton during an injury riddled season. He hit .286 and .268 in 2011 and 2010, respectively, for the Trenton Thunder. Romine doesnâ€™t possess any pop and needs to really impress in Spring Training in order to get a chance to start. The good news is that he shouldnâ€™t have much trouble, as both Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli are pretty lousy, with Cervelli being the better of the two offensively. Fantasy owners need to hope Stewartâ€™s defense (which is historically above average), doesnâ€™t keep the job away from either Cervelli or Romine, because Stewart has 4 total HRâ€™s the last two years in a total of 340 PA with an average of .222.
Projected Playing Time Split/Winner: Toss-Up
Tampa Bay Rays: Jose Molina vs. Jose Lobaton
Relevancy:Â Deep AL-Only and 2 catcher leagues
The Scoop: Avoid both like the plague. If one of these guys finds their way onto your roster, you better hope it’s Molina and his .240 batting average and not Lobaton who hits about .210 and only gets playing time because of his ability to take walks (12%) and decent defense.
Projected playing time split/winner: Jose Molina
Texas Rangers: A.J. Pierzynski vs. Geovany Soto
Relevancy: All leagues
The Scoop: Pierzynskiâ€™s career season last year earned him a spot in another great ballpark â€“ Texas. Pierzynski has never shown the kind of power before that he displayed last season, but in Texas itâ€™s repeatable to some degree. Heâ€™s the guy you want at catcher in Texas. However, despite Sotoâ€™s disappointing 2012 campaign, he has still historically mashed lefties – .366/.466/.606 in 2010, and .296/.410/.561 in 2011. Soto retains value as a #2 catcher in two catcher leagues because if he plays only against lefties, he should help you much more than hurt you. Pierzynskiâ€™s average will also remain high if Soto is used that way.
Projected playing time split/winner: Pierzynski 70% – Soto 30%
Washington Nationals: Kurt Suzuki vs. Wilson Ramos
Relevancy: All leagues
The Scoop: Suzuki has struggled each of the past three years after hitting around .275 in both 2008 and 2009. Examination of his peripherals shows a three-year declining contact rate as the culprit for his .238 average the past three seasons. Â Further examination reveals a +5% FB hike in 2010 (the year his batting average decline begin) as another reason. â€“ Translation, heâ€™s searching for his power. According to Baseball HQ, his xPX (expected power index), a metric the website has independently created to measure expected power totals based on hard hit ball data,Â was 118 (highest of career even in small sample) in the 2nd half of 2012 when he belted 6 HRâ€™s with a 10% HR/FB in 182 ABâ€™s. Suzuki has .260, 20 HR potential with 500 AB. Hereâ€™s the problem, he wonâ€™t get 500 AB due to Wilson Ramos lurking in the shadows. Ramos had an extremely rough 2012 being kidnapped in Venezuela, then tearing a knee ligament. Ramos sports a near-identical skill profile to Kurt Suzuki, and as a bonus, Ramos draws more walks (13%) to Suzukiâ€™s (6%). Ramos is younger at 25 years old (Suzuki is 29), and should really challenge Suzuki in spring training. This is one race that will go down to the wire and is going to be fun to watch.
Projected playing time split/winner: Toss-Up; Spring Training should be critical
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