The Braves were expected to have one of the best rotations in baseball this season, and they still may meet that lofty praise. But they will likely have to do it without the services of Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy, as both pitchers will likely undergo Tommy John surgery. The Braves plugged one hole with a one-year commitment to Ervin Santana. The move to Turner Field and the NL East is great news for Santana's fantasy value. The division is home to multiple pitcher-friendly parks and sub-par offenses. Because of his late start to Spring Training, Santana may not top 180 innings, but the innings he logs should be quality ones. Atlanta's injury woes should also elevate the status of Alex Wood, who now has a great chance to hold a rotation spot, which makes the young left-hander a terrific mixed-league sleeper. Wood posted a 3.13 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings in his Major League debut last season, and he has the talent to improve those numbers in his second year.
Baez to try keystone corner
The Cubs are loaded with prospects, and perhaps none of them have turned heads in Spring Training more than Javier Baez. The 21-year-old has bopped three homers in 29 at-bats, and the team is going to give him an initial look at second base in the coming week. Baez is expected to play shortstop when he heads to the Minors later this month, but fantasy owners should keep an eye on him during the season for a potential move to second. The shortstop position in Chicago is blocked by Starlin Castro, who is still an important part of the team's future, despite a down year in 2013. But second base is manned by slick-fielding Darwin Barney, who lacks the offensive skills to hold off Baez, if the youngster proves that his bat and glove are ready to take the next step.
Sizemore challenges Bradley
On Saturday, Red Sox manager John Farrell acknowledged that despite Grady Sizemore's healthy return this spring, Jackie Bradley Jr. remains the favorite to win the starting center field job. Bradley Jr. has not done much to help his cause, as he is batting .182 in Spring Training, while Sizemore has hit .294. Neither player has recorded a homer or stolen base, and Sizemore has yet to notch an extra-base hit, so the gap between them is strictly a few singles. It will be hard for the Red Sox to fit both players on the Opening Day, so the team will have a tough decision on its hands in a little less than two weeks. Because of the uncertainty of their roles, both Sizemore and Bradley Jr. should go undrafted in mixed leagues. Bradley Jr. has also yet to prove he can hit in the Majors (.189 batting average in 2013), and even though Sizemore has been a terrific spring story, his long-term ability to stay healthy is still a major question mark.
Ryno rattles Rollins
Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg and shortstop Jimmy Rollins seemed to butt heads last week about such topics as positive energy, Spring Training enthusiasm and manager-player communication. Fantasy owners should not allow last week's power struggle to influence the location of Rollins on 2014 draft boards, but the 35-year-old is no longer a productive fantasy option because of his recent inability to hit for average or power. His 65 runs scored in 160 games last season is also a major concern, as the Phillies lineup does not appear to be noticeably better than it was a year ago. Rollins can still offer 20 steals to NL-only owners, but mixed-league drafters should avoid him until the late rounds because of his lack of recent production, not because of a small March feud with his new manager.
A's access plan B
The A's will be without pitchers Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin for most or all of April, as they each deal with arm ailments. Tom Milone and Jesse Chavez are expected to take over the vacated rotation spots, but neither hurler is a viable option for mixed-league owners. AL-only owners can try Milone as a short-term option in favorable matchups. As for Parker and Griffin, unless they suffer setbacks or receive more negative assessments from doctors in the coming days, both should be stashed on fantasy benches or DL spots. The A's are typically a source of productive fantasy arms, and by May both Parker and Griffin could be in mixed-league rotations.
Box score bytes
In the battle for the Royals last rotation spot, hard-throwing prospect Yordano Ventura has outpitched competitor Danny Duffy by a wide margin this spring. Manager Ned Yost isn't tipping his hand about his rotation plans, but the immense upside of Ventura is enough for mixed-league owners to add the fireballer with a late-round pick and hope that the Royals give him a well-deserved nod.
Reds outfielder Chris Heisey is the current Spring Training home run leader, with five. While Heisey cannot be considered in mixed leagues, those in NL-only formats could use him as a cheap source of double-digit homers. The 29-year-old backs up oft-injured left fielder Ryan Ludwick, and unproven center fielder Billy Hamilton, and he has cranked 34 dingers as a part-time player over the past three seasons.
Nick Castellanos was handed the Tigers third base job, but he has not garnered much fantasy buzz after hitting .276 with 18 homers in Triple-A last season. During Spring Training, Castellanos is raking at a .415 clip, and his 16 RBIs leads all batters. While he does not offer speed, the 22-year-old could knock out 15-20 homers and drive in plenty of runs in his rookie campaign.
With a .290 batting average, one homer and a steal in Spring Training, Ryan Flaherty has done what he needed to do to win the Orioles second base job. But 22-year-old Jonathan Schoop is charging fast, and his .400 batting average and five extra-base hits in 30 spring at-bats have led forced manager Buck Showalter to keep the competition open. Schoop stands 6-foot-2, and possesses the large frame that should project to plenty of Major League power production. Because of Manny Machado's delayed rehab, it is possible that both Flaherty and Schoop will be in the O's Opening Day lineup, which would allow Showalter to delay a second-base decision until he sees some regular-season action. Schoop is worth a final-round pick in mixed leagues, as he can always be shipped back to the waiver wire in a few weeks if the Orioles send him to Triple-A down for more seasoning.
Second baseman Scooter Gennett posted an impressive .324 batting average with the Brewers last season, but he is hitting .229 in Spring Training, which has opened the door for Rickie Weeks to reclaim his old starting job at the keystone corner. Weeks is hitting .364 this spring with a homer and a steal, and his strong play has caught the eye of manager Ron Roenicke. The team owes Weeks $11 million this season, which may be the boost he needs to stay ahead of Gennett in this Spring Training battle. Weeks is worth a $1 bid in deep mixed-league auctions.