With Spring Training games officially underway, fantasy owners will finally be provided with concrete 2015 box score data. But how seriously should we value these stats when preparing for our drafts? The majority opinion has always been to not take a player's spring performance too seriously due to both the small sample size and the lower quality of opponent, as a significant percentage of Spring Training players are bound for the Minors. But according to Dan Rosenheck, a sports editor at The Economist, it's a mistake to simply dismiss this data. You can learn more about his findings here, but all this got me thinking that it would be sort of fun to look back at Spring Training 2014. Who were the leaders in the traditional 5x5 rotisserie categories and how did their regular season pan out? This week, we will focus on the hitting categories before shifting over to the pitching side next week.
Michael Brantley (.500) - Brantley's breakout 2014 campaign was one of the biggest surprises of last season, despite the red-hot spring in which he went 25-for-50. He was a popular sleeper pick (I remember Lawr was touting him), but anyone who tells you that they foresaw a top-25 season is lying. Personally, I'm a bit wary of spending what it will take to draft him this season, especially considering that he hit only five home runs in the second half after slugging 15 longballs prior to the All-Star break. Can we truly count on another 20 homers? However, the batting average should be strong once again.
Jose Bautista/Mike Trout/Chris Heisey (6) - Let's play a game called "Which of these players does not belong?" OK, that was too easy. Heisey has teased us with his power potential so many times that it's tough to take him seriously. And as it turned out, those who didn't take him seriously were correct, as he recorded a .222 average with only eight home runs in 275 regular season at-bats. Now with the Dodgers, Heisey's at-bats will be minimal playing in a crowded Los Angeles outfield. His fantasy relevance is limited to deep NL-only leagues. As for Bautista and Trout, they're both pretty good.
Mike Moustakas (18) - Looking only at Moustakas' Spring Training and Postseason stats from 2014, you would think that he's a fantasy star. The problem was the regular season. Through his first 514 big league games, the former top prospect sports a .236 batting average, and after belting 20 home runs in 2012, he's left the yard a combined 27 times over the past two seasons. The good news is that Moose is still just 26 years of age, so don't give up on him just yet. As a cheap CI in deeper mixed leagues, you could do worse.
Austin Jackson/Brad Miller/Logan Schafer (17) - Even though he failed to follow up his promising spring with a highly productive regular season, Jackson is a guy who I think is a bit underrated heading into 2015. Sure, he strikes out too much and is unlikely to be an asset in the batting average department (though as a .274 career hitter, he won't be a liability either). But hitting atop an improved Mariners lineup, Austin could very well rank among the league leaders in runs and chip in 20 steals along the way. The massive power outage (four home runs) was unexpected, but Jackson was coming off three consecutive double-digit home run campaigns. Draft him at the price of a fourth or fifth outfielder in a mixed league and don't be surprised if you are rewarded with OF3 production. Miller, like Mike Moustakas, has yet to live up to expectations but could make for a decent low-cost MI pick in deeper leagues, assuming of course that he wins Seattle's starting shortstop job. Schafer is a fantasy non-factor.
Jarrod Dyson/Billy Burns (10) - Despite not receiving everyday playing time, Dyson remains on the fantasy radar thanks to his elite speed. We're talking three straight seasons of at least 30 swipes in fewer than 300 at-bats. Unfortunately, he's not a useful contributor in any other category, and as long as he remains a part-timer, that's not going to change. Barring an injury to one of the Royals outfielders, for mixed league purposes, Dyson is strictly a waiver wire fill-in option.
Remember Burns and his .306 average with 12 runs scored along with the ten swipes in only 26 Spring Training contests? So, what happened to this guy? Well, he didn't even open the season with the big club and went on to appear in a grand total of 13 games for the A's, collecting one hit in six at-bats.
Now listen, I'm a lot more optimistic about Marcus Semien than I ever was about Billy Burns, but let's wait awhile before we hand over any hardware.