With another week of spring training in the books, it's time to go over everything we've learned. Here are the 15 things that stood out to me the most.
Jordan Walker forcing Cardinals' hand?
Walker's 4-for-4 performance Saturday was like a Fantasy Baseball earthquake, shaking up draft boards as we all came to grips with the possibility that the 20-year-old might actually claim a job. "Sometimes players force your hand, and that's a beautiful thing," manager Oliver Marmol said. "We went into this camp saying there is going to be real competition and that's what he is making this -- a real competition." Of the two home runs Walker hit that day, one traveled 470 feet and the other came off the bat at 115 mph, which tells you all you need to know about his upside. That one game moved Walker up 80 spots in NFBC ADP, into the top 140, and in our latest mock draft, he was selected 100th overall.
More loud contact for Jarred Kelenic
Walker may be the next big thing, but Kelenic was not too long ago. He's trying to remind us of his upside with home runs like this one:
.@jarredkelenic just cleared the batter's eye 😳 pic.twitter.com/TjhjcCa5dR— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) March 5, 2023
That was his fourth of the spring so far, and while they haven't all come off pitchers as talented as Devin Williams, they've all been absolutely monsters. Kelenic hasn't gone into great detail about the changes he made in the offseason, but he worked with several hitting coaches and is standing more relaxed at the plate. In fact, he seems less tense in general. "It doesn't look like he's getting ticked off every time he gets his pitch and fouls it back or maybe he gets a bad call against him or things like that," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "He just doesn't let it get in the way of finishing off the at-bat or turning the next step into a positive."
The ultimate test will be when Kelenic starts seeing more breaking balls, which have eaten him alive in previous big-league stints. But he's nonetheless gaining steam as a late-round target.
Anthony Volpe makes his case
The Yankees' top prospect is expected to wait his turn at Triple-A this year while fellow prospect Oswald Peraza gets first crack at the shortstop job. But Volpe is making it a competition with performances like Monday's, when he reached base three times (once on a single and twice on walks) and stole a bag. Overall, he's batting .353 (6 for 17) with a homer, two doubles and three steals. Meanwhile, Oswald Peraza is 2 for 9 and currently nursing a foot injury (albeit minor).
Manager Aaron Boone has acknowledged that Volpe could make the team even if Peraza and Isiah Kiner-Falefa are both healthy. "It's hard to answer what the criteria is," Boone said. "But we're paying attention." As of now, Peraza is still the one to target as a middle infield option in Rotisserie leagues, but Volpe has the potential to be a big base-stealer with some power to dream on.
Noah Syndergaard still lacks juice
The hope for Syndergaard, after he trained with Driveline Baseball this offseason and signed with a Dodgers club known breathing life back into pitchers, was that he'd recapture the velocity he lost in his return from Tommy John surgery last year. Well, through two spring starts, he's topping out at the 94 mph he averaged last year -- in other words, going the wrong direction.
He says the velocity will come once he gets his mechanics squared away. "If you're focusing on your delivery, you're not going to be able to throw it as hard," Syndergaard said. "That's what was going on today and the last start, just figuring out how my body was moving in the most efficient way and trusting that and then adding the gas when I feel comfortable in my delivery." Still, skepticism is warranted. Suffice it to say his draft stock has cooled until he brings back the heat.
Kodai Senga unveils ghost fork
Since the day Senga signed with the Mets last December, all we've heard about is his "ghost fork," a splitter that supposedly rates better than Shohei Ohtani's. Well, we finally caught a glimpse of it in his spring debut debut Sunday:
Kodai Senga, 83mph Ghost Fork. 👻🍴 pic.twitter.com/p62NS4J4hI— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 5, 2023
Hot dang. That is Mike Flanagan levels of spooky. And who's that falling victim to it? Why, none other than America's sweetheart, Jordan Walker.
Senga's debut wasn't all oohs and aahs. He walked the first two batters he faced and threw just 24 of his 42 for strikes. Control and durability are thought to be his biggest sore spots. Still, his fastball peaked at 99 mph, and manager Buck Showalter seemed pleased with the returns. "That was a good first outing for him," Showalter said. "I'm proud of him. I know this was a big moment for him. His off-speed pitch was good, breaking ball was good, fastball was firm, as advertised. I liked his outing, and I liked his pitch repertoire. Before today, I would have taken that outing for sure."
Nico Hoerner poised to lead off
After batting mostly fifth or lower in the Cubs lineup last year, Nico Hoerner is the early favorite to bat leadoff this year. "When I look at Nico, it's about setting a tone for our group to start a game," said manager David Ross. "He's as ready to go as anybody I've ever been around. Something about the way he plays sets a great tone for our team, so I like him starting things off." By batting average (.281 vs. .283), home runs (10 vs. 11) and stolen bases (20 vs. 18), Hoerner's numbers were almost identical to Amed Rosario's last year, but Rosario had a big advantage in runs and RBI as a No. 2 hitter. This move up the lineup for Hoerner could close the gap there and no longer justify the 45-pick ADP discrepancy between the two.
Alec Bohm flexes muscles
With another bomb Monday, Bohm is up to three in 17 at-bats this spring after hitting just 13 in 586 at-bats last season. He has also struck out just once, batting .412 (7 for 17). At 6-feet-5 and with exit velocities registering in the 70th percentile or better, Bohm has the look of a power hitter, but to this point in his career, he's put the ball on the ground too much and been too opposite-field minded to make good on that potential. This spring could be early evidence of that changing.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Bohm didn't tweak his swing this offseason and isn't making a conscious effort to lift the ball either, but he did add 10-15 pounds of muscle that could help him turn on the ball better, as manager Rob Thomson explains. "He's added strength, he's started to pull the ball on balls he should pull," Thompson said. "He's just starting to get a feel and see the ball a little bit earlier and get the head out. He's probably gained some bat speed because of the strength that he's added." One thing's for sure: third base is desperate for another high-end bat.
A healthy dose of Jack Flaherty
His spring debut delayed by calf soreness and flu-like symptoms, Flaherty finally took the hill Monday, and it was a performance worth waiting for. He struck out five over three innings, the only damage coming on a solo home run. Flaherty, who broke through with a 2.75 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 231 strikeouts in 2019, has seen his career sidetracked by injuries in the three years since, including shoulder issues last year. He's basically an afterthought in Fantasy Baseball drafts now, being taken outside the top 200, but the Cardinals still have faith. "At the end of the day, we are counting on [Flaherty] to be a dude, and he's prepared in a way to do exactly that," manager Oliver Marmol said. "So, sometimes you place a bet and that's what we've done. I'd keep [the bet]."
Hunter Brown can't find zone
Rookie Hunter Brown, who's expected to claim a rotation spot with Lance McCullers sidelined by a forearm injury, hasn't helped his cause through two spring starts, issuing five walks in just two innings of work. He's thrown exactly 50 percent of his pitches for strikes (28 of 56). His 62 percent strike rate in the minors last year raised concerns about his control, but then he threw 67 percent of his pitches for strikes in the majors. His rate right now is a far cry from either, and given his past control struggles, it's legitimate cause for concern.
Ozzie Albies plans to run wild
Some players have downplayed the rule changes designed to promote more base stealing, such as the bigger bases and a limited number of pickoff attempts, but not Ozzie Albies, who has his sights set on a 40/40 season, according to Jayson Stark of The Athletic. "I'll take 30-30," he said. Wouldn't we all? The 40/40 goal is so outside the realm of possibility that it's easy to laugh off the discussion entirely, but the point is that Albies intends to run more at a point in history when that's exactly what he should be doing. He's a former 30-homer guy and is fast enough to top his previous career high of 20 stolen bases, so perhaps a 30/30 season is possible. While other speedsters may not share his bombast, hopefully they do his enthusiasm for these new rules.
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Veen the fastest thing on two feet
During a spring training in which stolen bases are up, no one has delivered more than Zac Veen, a Rockies outfield prospect who has been turning heads so far in camp. His three steals Saturday brought his spring total to seven to go along with a .286/.348/.524 slash line in 23 plate appearances. The 21-year-old is apparently putting himself in consideration for a midseason call-up if he takes to Double-A better than he did last year. He certainly impressed in the Arizona Fall League, batting .333 (27 for 81) with 15 walks compared to just eight strikeouts while swiping 16 bags in only 21 games.
Braves rotation battle heats up
Bryce Elder and Ian Anderson both thudded in their first shot at securing the Braves' fifth rotation spot earlier this spring, but both bounced back nicely in their second chance (which is good news since they're the only real contenders with Mike Soroka still sidelined by a hamstring injury). Elder threw three scoreless innings against the Astros Friday, and while he struck out three, he's more of a ground-ball specialist. "If I keep it down, I've got a chance," he said. "Each week, just work on driving the ball down in the zone."
Anderson is no stranger to ground balls either but has shown more bat-missing ability in the past. He brought it back with five strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings against the Yankees Sunday. "Last spring, I don't think I even had a game close to [being] like today," he said. Anderson has worked to develop a slider to go with his already impressive fastball/changeup combo. Ultimately, he's the one to root for here.
Carlos Estevez blowing first chance?
Carlos Estevez, who GM Perry Minasian previously singled out as his preference to close, has struggled to throw strikes in the early going, issuing seven walks while recording just one strikeout in 1 2/3 innings. So far, the Angels aren't projecting much concern. "He just hasn't faced that many hitters and is working on some new stuff," manager Phil Nevin said. "I'm not worried about him at all." Still, Estevez already seems like a stretch for the role given his spotty history with the Rockies and would need a dominant spring to generate much enthusiasm in Fantasy. The Angels have several fine alternatives, including Jimmy Herget and Matt Moore.
Rockies have opening at third base
The Rockies may have lost second baseman Brendan Rodgers to a torn shoulder capsule, but their opening is actually at third base. That's because they're shifting Ryan McMahon into Rodgers' spot. And who takes McMahon's spot? Though they've signed veteran Mike Moustakas to a minor-league deal, the competition is more likely between Elehuris Montero and Nolan Jones, with Montero having the early advantage for defensive reasons (not that either excels in that regard). Jones has the more interesting batted-ball metrics, but Montero was productive in the minors as well, batting .310 with 15 homers and a .933 OPS in 65 games for Triple-A Albuquerque just last year. And of course, anyone in line for regular at-bats at Coors Field is of interest in Fantasy Baseball.
Hunter Dozier fixes swing?
Hunter Dozier's one year of Fantasy relevance came in 2019, when he batted .279 with 26 homers and an .870 OPS. That was the year when the juiced ball was at its juiciest, and he's turned back into a pumpkin since then, which would seem to offer a tidy enough explanation. According to MLB.com, though, he teamed up with hitting coaches Alec Zumwalt, Keoni DeRenne and Mike Tosar this offseason to fix something he thinks has been broken since that breakout year: his swing.
"My bat was in the zone for a small amount of time, so my timing had to be perfect, which isn't going to happen very often," he noted. "So we worked hard on trying to get in the zone deeper and have my bat stay through the zone. Trying to create more of an angle out front instead of coming down on the ball." Basically, Dozier has optimized his swing to keep the barrel on the same plane as the pitch longer, a tried-and-true method of success. His performance is something to monitor this spring, particularly given his full-time status and triple eligibility.