As I start to draft this, there about 90 minutes between the world and first pitch on the North American continent of the 2014 Baseball Season. So, I will get to see one of my favorites to break out this year, Andrew Cashner, who happens to grace my LABR team, take on the Dodgers. That means I get to watch Jedd Gyorko, Scott Van Slyke, Andre Ethier, Yonder Alonso, Will Venable and Cashner all play, and it matters.
So, as we make our last moves and positioning going into the first week--and sort of prompted by comments on "Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down", comments last Saturday, let's finish the pre-season by looking at my favorite source for scrounging fantasy points, utility players.
Generally, utility players are not everyday players, but that doesn't mean they don't log pretty close to full-time play over the course of the season. Bettter, they are simply invaluable in the event of an injury as multi-positional players, and that related flexibility can make managing a team so much more successful and efficient.
Let's start with Marcus Semien (2B/3B/SS, White Sox), of whom a number of comments on the heels of my Matt Davidson assessment, were lodged over the weekend. Now, I love Semien, if for no other reason than he is from the Bay Area and went to Berkeley, but I really think the infielder will become the man at second, allowing the White Sox to let go of Gordon Beckham. Semien, who hit .261-2-7 over limited Major League play last year, played three games each at second and short, but will start this year manning the keystone slot. I love a guy who walks more than he whiffs, and at Double-A last year, Semien grabbed 98 free passes to 90 whiffs. That tells me he is a smart ballplayer, and that tells me he could be pretty good.
Alberto Callaspo (2B/3B, Athletics): A number of years back, in 2005, Callaspo ranked way up there on myTop 250 Prospect List following a .304-11-80 season with 38 walks to 30 strikeouts split between Double-A and Triple-A. Callaspo, over his Major League career, has a 162-game mean of .273-9-59 with four swipes, and I will bet he is right there with similar numbers--and maybe a few extra swipes--in Oakland this year. I think Callaspo might get some time at first base as well, making his value increase a little.
Joaquin Arias (1B/2B/3B/SS, Giants): Arias played all four infield slots last year, and with Marco Scutaro down, figures to get the bulk of time manning second (though watch out for Brandon Hicks, who had a wicked spring at .384-3-11 over 24 games). Though not a high OBP guy at .302 over his career, Arias does boast a .273 average and should be good for 8-10 steals. He should also be cheap or in the reserve pool in most leagues, and in a deep league could be a big help. I have Arias in LABR, spelling Scutaro right now, in fact.
Steve Lombardozzi (2B/3B/OF, Orioles): It is kind of strange that the Tigers, who are trying to fill a gap at short, traded the 25-year-old, who has played a couple of games at shortstop, to the Orioles for a shortstop (Alex Gonzalez) without much to offer at this point (too bad Omar Vizquel isn't an option). Lombardozzi did have a drop off on his OPS from .671 to .619 last year, but his basic numbers were pretty much the same over the past couple of years despite 100 fewer at-bats in 2013. So, with Jonathan Schoop in waiting, and Jemile Weeks dispatched, the keystone slot at Camden falls to Lombardozzi. I have a good feeling about it.
Yan Gomes (C/1B, Indians): Just inked to a six-year contract extension, Gomes is hardly a secret. He has, however, played catcher, first base and left field, along with third base over his 131 game Major League career. The 26-year-old has a .271-15-51 line over that span. 'Nuff said.
Jordan Pacheco (C/1B, Rockies): Over the past two seasons, Pacheco has caught, played first, and third. As of now, he is the Rockies' backup catcher, but coming off a solid .346-2-5 spring, will probably get a chance to redeem himself from his down 2013 (.239-1-33) after his solid .309-5-54 first full season in 2012. I have Pacheco as a catching option in several leagues.
Emilio Bonifacio (2B/3B/OF, Cubs): The speedy Bonifacio should get plenty of chances both at second (Darwin Barney is hardly a threat), third (should Mike Olt struggle) and then in the Wrigley outfield. Emilio will collect his 400 at-bats, and though he is probably gone in deep leagues, he makes for a nice play in mixed and shallower formats as well.
Dustin Ackley (1B/2B/OF, Mariners): No longer a favorite prospect, Ackley kicked up his game at the end of last season with a .304-3-20 second half, so Seattle wants to give their former #1 selection in 2009 another chance. Certainly, second base is out with Robinson Cano in tow, so left field--or maybe some center--are probably where Ackley gets his playing time. Ackley has a sweet swing, and should perform better than his numbers indicate, but going into his third year, this should be step up time.