Spring training is my favorite part of the baseball season. I don't know exactly the allure for me. I'm not sure if it is because spring time in Florida is the ideal baseball weather or it's the widespread optimism throughout every MLB camp.
Maybe it's the latter because I'm a Mets fan and optimism is all we have this time of year. The unofficial slogan for a Mets fan is "Wait til' next year." Honestly, I don't know much longer I can wait.
Regardless, my end point is that spring training has its impact on Fantasy Baseball -- whether positive or negative.
Players' Fantasy value definitely rise and fall based on spring performances. It's just sifting through what is real and what is an aberration is the tough part. Case in point, former major leaguer Gabe Gross was the king of spring, but he never seemed to carry that success into the regular season.
Therefore, this spring I want to take a look at how some players are performing this spring and give my two cents on the matter.
First up are hitters performing well early in the spring . . .
Alfonso Soriano, OF, Cubs: Soriano is absolutely crushing it this spring and I think that's a good sign. Soriano has had poor springs in 2010 and 2011 and didn't hit above .258 either season. Although, Soriano had a .325 average, six homers and 15 RBI in 26 spring games in 2009 and then hit a career-low .241, but I'm still buying Soriano. It might sound crazy, but I think he's a man on a mission. He heard all offseason about the Cubs wanting to unload him, but the team found no takers for his hefty contract. He's obviously an aging slugger, but the Cubs are talking about him being their cleanup hitter and Soriano is showing this spring he still can hit. Soriano is on my radar as a late-round sleeper.
Billy Butler, DH, Royals: Butler usually doesn't get his due credit and is an overlooked player on Draft Day. It's understandable in some regards because he is now strictly DH-eligible, but he is still a quality bat. He finished as a top 35 Fantasy bat in 2011, top 45 in 2010 and a top 50 bat in 2009. As you can see he progressively gets better and I think that trend will continue in 2012. The Royals now have more lineup protection for Butler, who has also been lauded for showing up to camp in peak physical condition. Feel fortunate if Butler slips to the middle rounds on Draft Day. By the way, he has a career .349 average, .561 slugging percentage and .980 OPS in the spring, so his hot start is no aberration.
Martin Prado, OF, Braves: Prado's fast spring start is also very encouraging to me since he seems like an ideal bounce-back candidate. He didn't handle his transition to the outfield well in 2011 and was also banged up. That led to his name being mentioned heavily in trade rumors, which appears to be working out well since Prado is using that as motivation. He is playing with a chip on his shoulder and is focused on getting back on track in 2012.
Jemile Weeks, 2B, A's: Obviously, we don't have a big sample size for Weeks, who is entering his first full season in the majors. But Weeks showed last season his ability to hit for average and steal bases, which is he doing again this spring. He is going to be a table setter for the A's and is one of my favorite second base sleepers if you miss out on the elite options Draft Day.
Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Cleveland: Choo had some personal distractions on top of his injury issues last season that affected his play. However, Choo returned to form late last season, batting .351 with a .448 OBP, .554 slugging percentage and 1.002 OPS in his final 21 games. Choo has said he is in a better place mentally heading into 2012 and his hot spring start seems to back that up. Choo might drop a few rounds on Draft Day coming off a down season, but he's still a legit top 20 Fantasy outfielder.
Ryan Raburn, 2B, Detroit: Raburn is killing the ball this spring, but that's nothing new. He was great last spring and the spring before that, and what happened -- he got off to a slow start in the regular season. Raburn is a notorious post-All-Star break player. The fact he heads into 2012 vying for at-bats again at second base and in the outfield for Detroit leaves me leery. I'm not buying Raburn until he gets off to a fast start in the regular season.
Mat Gamel, 1B, Milwaukee: Gamel is another player I'm hesitant about. All the reports have been he has come to camp in great shape and the fact he is hitting the ball shows he isn't distracted by the fact he is the guy replacing Prince Fielder. Although, I wonder how much the desert air is helping Gamel. Remember, this is a guy that has hit just .222 with a .374 slugging percentage in 85 MLB games over four seasons. He's also going to hit low in the Brewers lineup to begin the season, so his RBI chances might be more limited than you think. Gamel obviously has sleeper potential based off his performance in the minors, but not every prospect pans out. Keep that in mind on Draft Day.
Travis Snider, OF, Toronto: Snider is tearing the cover off the ball this spring as he competes with Eric Thames for the starting left field job. I'm encouraged by this progress, mostly because Snider is hitting left-handed pitching. That has been a struggle for him as he sports a career .212 average against left-handed hurlers. But Snider is batting .385 with two homers and six RBI in 13 at-bats against lefties this spring. That is a telling sign because he has struggled in past springs with left-handed pitchers. Snider might finally be putting it together and is now back on my radar as a late-round sleeper.