Baseball officially made its return last week as the first games of spring training got underway on Friday. I myself tuned in to the Indians/Reds game, just in time to see my sleeper pick Lonnie Chisenhall smack a two-run home run to put my Tribe in the lead. It’s always nice to see young players you believe in get off to running starts in camp, and Chisenhall is just one of many American League players I will be keeping tabs on the next few weeks in preparation for my upcoming slew of drafts. In addition, there will be the inevitable hot starts from unlikely sources, as well as numerous veterans fighting for roster spots around the league. Today, we’ll check in on a few names that I found myself thinking about over the long weekend.
Justin Smoak, 1B, Seattle – In the two full seasons since Smoak arrived in Seattle, he has failed to live up to the lofty hopes the organization had for him when they acquired him in the Cliff Lee deal in 2010. He has shown flashes of power at times but continues to struggle to make contact consistently. Last year, he was absolutely brutal towards the middle of the season, when three consecutive awful months left him with a batting average below the Mendoza line by the end of August. Then, just when it looked like the team was ready to concede defeat, he flashed the talent that we’ve all been waiting for, hitting .341 with five home runs in the final month of the year. Manager Eric Wedge has already come out and said that the 26-year-old Smoak will be his first baseman to start the year. It’s the right call by the organization since he’s still young enough to finally tap into his immense talent. The difference this time is that the team may show much less patience than they have in the past. For now, Kendrys Morales will be the primary DH, but if Smoak falters again he could start losing playing time as the Mariners have more prospects in the pipeline in Mike Zunnio and Nick Franklin, which could start a domino effect that could send Smoak to the bench.
Mike Carp, 1B/OF, Boston – You may remember this time last year Carp was a nice late-round sleeper target. He was coming off a season where he hit 12 home runs in 79 games and looked like he would get a chance to be a fixture in the middle of the Mariners' lineup. I myself hyped him good and hard, and he ended up on more than a few of my teams as well. Other than Delmon Young and Brennan Boesch, I don’t think anyone disappointed me more than Carp did last year. So why am I writing about him again this year, you might be asking? Well, very quietly last week, Carp was traded to the Boston Red Sox, and he is suddenly back on my American League radar. The minute the M’s signed Kendrys Morales and Mike Morse, Carp became expendable. The fact that he was out of options also was a factor. Now in camp with the Red Sox, Carp looks like he has a good chance to break camp with the team since he can back up Mike Napoli at 1B and could even sub in for Jonny Gomes in LF against some right-handed pitching. His biggest competition for a roster spot is veteran Lyle Overbay. Carp is nine years younger than Overbay, and at 26, he still has a chance to deliver some nice power in a reserve role. It was a pretty sharp move by the Red Sox, who at least have some power in reserve if Napoli’s hip acts up or David Ortiz gets injured again.
Nolan Reimold, OF, Baltimore – Reimold heads into the season penciled in on the wrong side of a potential platoon with Nate McLouth in left field. He is supposedly fully recovered from the neck surgery that ended his season prematurely last year. While he only managed to play in 16 games, some may remember the five home runs in six games he smacked last April, which made him one of the hottest early season waiver wire grabs. Owners who had grabbed him in their drafts went from giddy to crest-fallen, as visions of a major breakout season vanished as quickly as they had arrived. With the departure of Mark Reynolds, the Orioles need someone to step up and provide some right-handed power. Reimold will be given every opportunity to try and get his career back on track. Between LF and DH, he should be able to get enough at-bats to try and force his way into an everyday role, especially since both McLouth and DH Wilson Betemit are far from sure things themselves. He’s definitely a name to remember when you are throwing darts at the end of your auctions or drafts this year.
Ryan Raburn, 2B/OF, Cleveland – Don’t look now, but Ryan Raburn is teasing us again. Raburn, in camp with the Indians as a non-roster invitee, has knocked out three home runs already this spring in his quest to lock down a spot on the bench. His ability to play both corner outfield spots as well as second base increases his chances of making the team, but this is still the same player that tempted us with visions of 20 homers at second base last year only to fail miserably. The good news, of course, is that the bar is set much, much lower this time around. Whatever happens, he won’t be a starter unless injuries occur. What he can be is a decent right-handed bat for manager Terry Francona to deploy late in games, or when he needs to give Jason Kipnis a day off against a tough southpaw. He even got the start at 3B yesterday, which would give him yet another avenue to playing time as a possible platoon partner for Lonnie Chisenhall. He is shaping up as a decent $1 play in AL-only leagues.
Chris Getz/Johnny Giavotella, 2B, Kansas City – Just like last year, the two second basemen will be battling it out this spring to see who will emerge as the starter on Opening Day. Neither one of these players offers very much to get excited about beyond some cheap speed from the MI position in AL-only leagues, but whoever emerges victorious will be worth drafting in those formats. Giavotella is generally regarded as having more of a future with the organization, but he flopped last year when he had a chance to beat out the resilient Getz. Both players still have options left, so the team will likely go with the player swinging the hotter stick this spring. If you are drafting early, you might want to steer clear of this situation altogether. There just isn’t very much upside to be found here.
Leslie Anderson, 1B/OF, Tampa Bay – The 30-year-old Cuban defector is making some early noise in Rays camp, driving in seven runs and showing good athleticism in the outfield and at first base. The Rays signed James Loney in the off-season to become their new first baseman but have no clear backup on the major league roster. They did go out and sign Shelly Duncan off the scrap heap, and he likely has the leg up based solely on his ability to hit from the right side. Anderson has been stuck at Triple-A for three years, but he did hit .309 with 14 home runs there last year. He has definitely gotten the attention of Joe Maddon early in camp, so it will be interesting if he can continue his hot start and force his manager’s hand this time.
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