Two weeks ago, we looked at National League position battles, so after a brief hiatus for LABR, let's pick it up and look at the American League position battles.
As noted, position battles scare fantasy owners because they threaten the most basic of roto tenants: that playing time is everything.
Which is true. However, in a deep league, where every team might have a few holes, mining the competition between teammates can be a real source of production for a couple of reasons.
One is that most of the time, the player who does not earn a starting job either winds up as the reserve fourth outfielder/utility infielder. Second, if younger, those same players go to the Minors to ensure playing time, and are usually among the first recalled from the Minors in the event of an injury or flameout.
But, there is a final caveat, and that is as often as not, the player in question actually grabs a starting job, and maybe 400 at-bats along with any of the above scenarios.
So, this time, let's turn our eyes to those players and struggles in the junior circuit, and do a little projecting.
In Seattle, with newbie Robinson Cano at second and Brad Miller at short, both Nick Franklin and Dustin Ackley are question marks. Franklin will probably get the utility infield gig, and for now, Ackley is penciled in as the left fielder with Michael Saunders holding center and Corey Hart in right. Hart is the surest thing, but he is injury prone, and Saunders and Ackley are offensive question marks. So, while either might make a nice pick, the guy I am looking to is Abraham Almonte. Now 24, Almonte was acquired from the Yankees for Shawn Kelley just prior to the 2013 season. Last year at Tacoma, Almonte hit .314-11-50 with 20 steals over 94 games, while walking 49 times to 66 whiffs (.404 OBP). Almonte did struggle (.136-1-1) but I like him as the fourth outfielder to start 2014, and the truth is, I like his future better than that of Ackley or Saunders.
The American League West has a few other considerations, so let's go to the Angels next, where speedy J.B. Shuck is listed as outfielder #4 behind Josh Hamilton, Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout. Further, the Angels are looking to aging Raul Ibanez to carry the bulk of DH time. Well, Hamilton has his injury struggles, and Ibanez had a slow second half. Somehow among all this, Shuck, who logged 129 games for the Angels last season, is the odd man out. The speedy outfielder did hit .293, stole eight bags and scored 60 runs over that brief span to go along with a decent enough 27 walks to 54 strikeouts (.331 OBP). I think J.B. will emerge as the third man in the outfield most of the time, with Hamilton getting DH time and Ibanez having likely outlived his fine career.
Moving to Oakland, it is no secret I am a big fan of both Derek Norris and Daric Barton. Oakland does have a nice thing going, and though I do think Norris will get the bulk of catching time, John Jaso will get both backstop time and DH time. That means Oakland will likely have to keep a third catcher for those instances when Jaso is the DH and Norris the backstop. So Stephen Vogt (.467-0-4 this spring over 17 at-bats) should make the squad to help out on the right side. It also probably means Alberto Callaspo could get some playing time at first as well as second. Sadly, it also means Barton will probably be on the short end of the roster stick to start the season.
Finishing yet another AL West position dogfight, it is true J.P. Arencibia couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat, as they say. The owner of a career .212 batting average and .258 OBP over 1299 Major League at-bats, Arencibia has just 74 walks to 400 strikeouts. But, Arencibia does have a pretty good 67 homers over that same span. Right now, J.P. is backing Geovany Soto, who has been living off the hope of his 2008 .285-23-85 and then 2010 .280-17-53 line. Aside from those flashes, Soto is not so different from Arencibia, who is three years younger, aside from those seasons. I think the younger guy in Texas, with some decent hitting around him, might just kick it up.
The Royals have a pair of spots I am looking at. The bottom of the Kansas City rotation features aging Bruce Chen, who has had an up-and-down 15-year career (80-76, 4.49, with a 1.368 WHIP) and Danny Duffy, full of talent to go with a 1.570 WHIP and 4.75 ERA, less than stellar. I have loved Yordano Ventura (455 minor league strikeouts to 415.3 minor league innings) for a little over a year, and I think he pushes past both Chen and Duffy.
The Royals have been giving Mike Moustakas every opportunity to show he is the guy who hit .322-36-122 in 2010 at three levels. Since then, Moose has a .297 OBP and .681 OPS in the Majors, looking much more like a Brandon Wood clone. So, I would keep an eye on Danny Valencia, who clubbed .304-8-23 over limited time for the Orioles last year. It is not like Valencia is such a stud, but in an AL-only format, I think he is a much better bet than Moustakas, whom I think is a lost cause.