Maybe spring training stats don't matter, at least for players assured a spot on their club's 25-man roster. But as fantasy baseball owners, we love looking at those box scores, especially after a five-month withdrawal. Although overvaluing spring stats is a mistake, glancing at the various leaderboards is a useful exercise. First, it can reassure an owner that a certain player who they are planning to target is indeed worth targeting. But even more importantly, it's a way to think about several players who you might not have normally thought about.
So, which top performers from Spring Training 2017 have caught my attention?
Maikel Franco - To be honest, Franco caught my attention well before his red-hot spring that has included an MLB leading nine home runs and 23 RBI across 22 games. Ever since November, when I began perusing the 2017 positional rankings on various sites, I couldn't quite understand why a 24-year-old third baseman who clubbed 25 home runs while collecting 88 RBI was getting such little respect. For some reason, Franco is largely ranked outside the top-15 at his position. And that's fine, because I'll be drafting this 30-100 candidate every chance I get. Unfortunately, his stellar spring performance might raise his price to the point where he will be only a small bargain.
Brandon Belt - Six seasons into his big league career, Belt has yet to demonstrate the kind of power that was widely expected upon his debut. But his spacious home ballpark in San Francisco probably has a lot to do with the underwhelming home run numbers. Note that 24 of his 35 home runs over the past two seasons have come on the road. So perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that through 19 games this spring, away from AT&T Park, the Giants first baseman has tallied five home runs to go along with 19 RBI and a .469 OBP. Actually, the OBP isn't much of a surprise, as Belt is coming off a 2016 campaign in which he posted a .394 OBP. From a fantasy standpoint, the 28-year-old would be a lot more appealing if he played for a different team. Outside of OBP leagues, I'm not too excited about him.
Yan Gomes - Things can't get much worse for Gomes, right? To call last season a disaster would be an understatement, as the Indians backstop was limited to just 74 games due to a separated shoulder, in the process registering a .167/.201/.327 slash line. On the bright side, he did slug nine home runs in those 74 games, proving that a return to the 20-homer level is within reach with better luck in the health department. And he's off to a strong start this year with six home runs, 11 RBI and a 1.077 OPS through 19 spring training contests. Available at a steep discount, Gomes could reward his risk-taking owners with a significant return on investment.
Chris Owings - Expected to serve as the everyday shortstop for the Diamondbacks in 2017, Owings carries plenty of speed potential, though he will need to get on base at a higher rate than last season's .315 clip to fully utilize his wheels. Cheap speed is even more valuable these days, with stolen base totals down throughout baseball. With eight swipes through 22 games this spring, Owings trails only Danny Santana in thefts. The 25-year-old is well worth a late-round pick in mixed leagues. His eligibility at both shortstop and the outfield is an added bonus.
Brandon Drury - Staying in Arizona and sticking with the theme of multi-position eligibility, Drury quietly put together a solid rookie season in 2016, batting .282 with 16 homers and 31 doubles across 134 games. Especially encouraging is that he finished the year in grand fashion, hitting .357 with six homers, 19 RBI and 22 runs scored from the start of September through the end of the season. And he's carried over this hot streak into 2017, batting .389 with four home runs, 13 RBI, ten doubles and 18 runs scored through 27 spring games. If Drury doesn't already have second base eligibility in your league, he will by mid-April, and it is at the 2B position where he offers the most fantasy value. The 24-year-old is a fine choice to fill your starting MI slot in any format.
Zach Steinhorn is the 2016 Mixed Auction Tout Wars Champion. Follow him on Twitter @ZachMLB