Spring lineups offer up clues for regular season

With spring training games underway, one of the most interesting activities for fantasy owners is scouring box scores to see how managers are arranging their batting orders.

This year we have a bit of a twist with a number of starters leaving their major league teams for the World Baseball Classic, so fantasy owners might not see players in their opening-day lineup spots until late in the spring.

Let’s run down each American League team’s most likely lineup construction and touch on some of the finer points fantasy owners should know about them.

Next week: NL teams.

Baltimore Orioles

CF Adam Jones

RF Seth Smith

3B Manny Machado

1B Chris Davis

DH Mark Trumbo

2B Jonathan Schoop

C Welington Castillo

SS J.J. Hardy

LF Hyun Soo Kim

Machado is a slam-dunk first-rounder in fantasy drafts, especially after adding shortstop eligibility. Yes, his zero stolen bases hurt fantasy owners, but he was so good otherwise (.294, 37 homers, 96 RBI), it didn’t matter. Jones dealt with a nagging side injury early last season, and his numbers took a hit. Look for his .265 average to rebound, but he’ll have fewer RBI if he spends most of his time in the leadoff spot.

Boston Red Sox

2B Dustin Pedroia

LF Andrew Benintendi

SS Xander Bogaerts

RF Mookie Betts

DH Hanley Ramirez

CF Jackie Bradley Jr.

3B Pablo Sandoval

1B Mitch Moreland

C Sandy Leon

Betts will be one of the first players drafted after his huge breakout (.318, 31 HRs, 113 RBI, 26 steals). He does everything well and is 24. Benintendi hit .295 in 105 at-bats as a 21-year-old, so there’s plenty of potential.

Bogaerts (21 homers) might not be in the elite tier of shortstops, but he’s very close. Like Betts, he benefited from hitting in front of retired DH David Ortiz, so look for their sky-high run totals to decline at least somewhat. Ramirez had a huge bounce-back season in 2016, hitting .286 with 30 homers and 111 RBI. DH’ing should help reduce his injury risk.

Chicago White Sox

CF Charlie Tilson

SS Tim Anderson

1B Jose Abreu

LF Melky Cabrera

3B Todd Frazier

2B Brett Lawrie

RF Avisail Garcia

DH Rymer Liriano

C Geovany Soto

Anderson took over the starting job midway through last season and hit .283 with surprising pop. He was a speed-first guy in the minors but swiped only 10 bases in 99 games with the White Sox. Look for him to run more in his first full major league season.

Abreu is the team’s best overall hitter with three consecutive 100-RBI seasons. But his home run totals have gone from 36 to 30 to 25. Frazier had 40 homers and 98 RBI, but a .225 average limited his fantasy upside. Keep an eye on the strain to his side this spring.

Who is the DH is anybody’s guess, but top prospect Yoan Moncada, who was acquired from the Red Sox in the Chris Sale trade, will start the season in the minors.

Cleveland Indians

1B Carlos Santana

2B Jason Kipnis

SS Francisco Lindor

DH Edwin Encarnacion

LF Michael Brantley

3B Jose Ramirez

RF Lonnie Chisenhall

C Yan Gomes

CF Tyler Naquin

There were skeptics who thought Lindor, who turned 23 in the offseason, couldn’t duplicate the offensive numbers he put up in little over half a season as a rookie. But he was up to the challenge, hitting .301 with 99 runs, 15 homers and 19 steals.

Ramirez was a breakout multiposition star (.312 average, 84 runs and 22 steals). He’s an everyday starter at third — and an elite contact rate says he should be able to repeat.

Brantley, 29, missed nearly the entire 2016 season with shoulder problems, which aren’t completely resolved. With the addition of free agent slugger Encarnacion, a good offense could be great if Brantley is healthy.

Detroit Tigers

2B Ian Kinsler

3B Nick Castellanos

1B Miguel Cabrera

RF J.D. Martinez

DH Victor Martinez

LF Justin Upton

C James McCann

CF Mikie Mahtook

SS Jose Iglesias

An intriguing possibility in the No. 2 spot is Castellanos, who had a huge first half (.302, 17 HRs, 51 RBI) before missing most of August and September with a broken left hand. Injuries are always a possibility with a veteran lineup such as this one. Kinsler, Cabrera, Upton and J.D. Martinez are all between 29 and 34 — and Victor Martinez is 38.

Mahtook has an early lead in camp for the center-field job with Tyler Collins and JaCoby Jones also in the mix.

Houston Astros

CF George Springer

3B Alex Bregman

2B Jose Altuve

SS Carlos Correa

DH Carlos Beltran

C Brian McCann

1B Yulieski Gurriel

RF Josh Reddick

LF Norichika Aoki

Altuve added power to his repertoire last season and is one of the game’s few true five-category stars. A top-three overall pick.

Correa put up solid stats (.274, 20 homers, 96 RBI, 13 steals), but they somehow came as a disappointment after his incredible rookie season. Fantasy owners are banking on a rebound in home run/fly ball rate, which would get him back into elite territory.

Bregman shook off a 2-for-38 start to his MLB career and ended up hitting .264 with eight homers and 34 RBI in 201 at-bats. He’ll play every day at third while Gurriel moves to first.

Kansas City Royals

LF Alex Gordon

CF Lorenzo Cain

1B Eric Hosmer

C Salvador Perez

3B Mike Moustakas

RF Jorge Soler

DH Brandon Moss

SS Alcides Escobar

2B Whit Merrifield

Back-to-back seasons of .293 and .292 on-base percentages from Escobar might force manager Ned Yost to rethink putting him at the top of the order. Don’t read this as an opening-day lineup, but more of a strong suggestion.

Hosmer had career highs in home runs (25) and RBI (104), but his batting average, on-base percentage and slugging all declined from the season before.

Moss won’t hit for a very high average but had 25 home runs and slugged .525 against right-handed pitchers last season with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Los Angeles Angels

3B Yunel Escobar

RF Kole Calhoun

CF Mike Trout

DH Albert Pujols

1B C.J. Cron

LF Cameron Maybin

2B Danny Espinosa

SS Andrelton Simmons

C Martin Maldonado

Now a two-time AL MVP, Trout is back atop the fantasy rankings after hitting 29 homers, scoring 123 runs and driving in 100 runs at age 24. He’ll have a little more help around him as Maybin and Espinosa give the offense an upgrade at their positions.

Calhoun gets a boost from hitting in front of Trout and behind the excellent on-base skills of Escobar. Pujols, questionable for opening day after a foot injury, is no longer the most feared hitter in the game, but he makes pitchers pay for mistakes. Luis Valbuena could be important if Pujols misses time.

Minnesota Twins

CF Byron Buxton

1B Joe Mauer

2B Brian Dozier

3B Miguel Sano

RF Max Kepler

DH Kennys Vargas

LF Eddie Rosario

C Jason Castro

SS Jorge Polanco

Dozier set an American League record for home runs by a second baseman with 42, hitting 23 of those after Aug. 1. Fantasy owners have been waiting for Buxton to start showing some of his immense potential, almost to the point of writing him off as a bust … at age 23. Don’t fall into that trap. He retooled his swing after being sent to the minors and finished with a .287/.357/.653 line (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) with nine homers in 101 September at-bats. If he earns the leadoff role, watch out.

The outfield experiment for Sano has mercifully ended with Trevor Plouffe no longer around. Sano’s batting average dipped to .236, and he lost 135 points of OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) from the season before (.916 to .781). Still, he has a ton of raw power that will play in any ballpark. And he’s 23.

New York Yankees

LF Brett Gardner

CF Jacoby Ellsbury

C Gary Sanchez

DH Matt Holliday

SS Didi Gregorius

2B Starlin Castro

1B Greg Bird

3B Chase Headley

RF Aaron Judge

Sanchez hit 20 home runs after he was called up from the minors in early August. But fantasy owners should be wary of expecting that kind of power projected over a full season. Those home runs came with a 40% home run to fly ball rate, something that’s extremely unlikely to repeat.

Bird returns after missing last season with a shoulder injury. But he was the 2015 version of Sanchez, hitting 11 homers in 157 at-bats. He’ll likely share time with Chris Carter, who tied for the National League home run title last year with 41 but was released by the Milwaukee Brewers.

Holliday is coming off two injury-plagued seasons in St. Louis, but the power he lost in 2015 returned last year (20 homers). Playing DH should make him less susceptible to injuries.

Oakland Athletics

CF Rajai Davis

C Stephen Vogt

DH Ryon Healy

LF Khris Davis

RF Matt Joyce

SS Marcus Semien

3B Trevor Plouffe

1B Yonder Alonso

2B Jed Lowrie

Rajai Davis surprisingly got a full season’s worth of playing time in Cleveland and ended up leading the AL with 43 stolen bases. He inherits the center-field job and will likely lead off, despite a .306 on-base percentage.

Healy, 25, has hit wherever he’s been in the minors, and he continued to rake with a .305/.337/.524 line and 13 homers in the second half of the big-league season. Adding first-base eligibility only adds to value as a late-round sleeper.

Seattle Mariners

LF Jarrod Dyson

SS Jean Segura

2B Robinson Cano

DH Nelson Cruz

3B Kyle Seager

1B Dan Vogelbach

RF Mitch Haniger

C Mike Zunino

CF Leonys Martin

Segura (33 steals last season) and Dyson (30 steals) add elite speed to the top of the lineup, while Vogelbach and Haniger have shown intriguing power in the minors. Cano is a model of consistency with at least 156 games played in each of the last 10 seasons. Last season was his best in runs (107) and home runs (39). At 34, he’s at the top of his game.

Over the last three seasons, no one has hit more home runs than Cruz’s 127. Despite being 36, there are no hints of a decline in his skill set, so pencil in another 40 homers and 100 RBI. Cruz kept his outfield eligibility intact by playing 48 games in right field.

Tampa Bay Rays

CF Kevin Kiermaier

2B Brad Miller

3B Evan Longoria

DH Corey Dickerson

SS Matt Duffy

LF Colby Rasmus

RF Steven Souza

1B Logan Morrison

C Curt Casali

A Gold Glover in center, Kiermaier saw his offensive production curtailed by a wrist injury. He was an impressive 21-for-24 in stolen-base attempts. A full, healthy season could make him an interesting breakout candidate.

Miller was one of last season’s unlikely 30-homer hitters as he moved from shortstop to first base when Morrison was injured. With Morrison returning and Duffy now at short, Miller will add in-season fantasy eligibility at second base.

The Rays took a chance on All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos with a two-year deal. He’s a nice draft-day stash in leagues with an unlimited disabled list. He might not be ready to play until July as he recovers from a knee injury.

Texas Rangers

CF Carlos Gomez

DH Shin-Soo Choo

3B Adrian Beltre

1B Mike Napoli

2B Rougned Odor

C Jonathan Lucroy

RF Nomar Mazara

SS Elvis Andrus

LF Jurickson Profar

Gomez enjoyed a resurgence after the Rangers picked him up on waivers in August, hitting .284/.362/.543 in 130 plate appearances. Those numbers are comparable to when he was at his peak in 2013-14 with Milwaukee. Odor doubled his home run output (33) and posted a career-best .271 average, despite drawing just 19 walks.

Lucroy came over at the trade deadline to fill a gaping hole behind the plate and delivered a .539 slugging percentage (11 homers) in 152 at-bats. He is the AL’s top fantasy catcher and, at 30, is in the prime of his career. Profar will qualify only at third base on draft day. He’ll add outfield as he platoons with Ryan Rua in left. He could also see time in the infield if anyone gets hurt.

Toronto Blue Jays

2B Devon Travis

RF Jose Bautista

3B Josh Donaldson

DH Kendrys Morales

SS Troy Tulowitzki

C Russell Martin

1B Justin Smoak

CF Kevin Pillar

LF Melvin Upton Jr.

Travis has had issues with injuries, but in parts of two major league seasons, he sports a .301 career average and .342 OBP. If he plays a full season and hits leadoff, as expected, Travis would be a virtual lock for 90-100 runs.

Keep an eye on Donaldson’s calf strain. He’s the key to the offense having averaged 39 homers, 111 RBI, 122 runs and a .387 OBP in his two seasons with Toronto. Upton struggled after arriving in Toronto at last year’s trade deadline (.196 in 57 games), but he still hit 20 homers and stole 27 bases over the full season. He should beat out Ezequiel Carrera and youngster Dalton Pompey for the most playing time in left.

source:usatoday.com

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