Fantasy Baseball 2021: Are the biggest Spring Training risers still reliable?

Fred Zinkie
·Yahoo Fantasy Contributor
·6-min read

Many of the best fantasy managers advise to mostly ignore Spring Training. Besides keeping track of injuries and playing time battles, they suggest that getting into daily March box scores is a recipe for overreacting to small samples and generally missing the forest for the trees.

But we continue to ignore that advice, and every year many players generate March buzz and shoot up draft boards.

Are the experts right? Should we ignore Spring Training hype? Or does our modern access to information make us likely to find great nuggets of information in the March news cycle? To find out, I created a list of players who had the largest uptick in NFBC (National Fantasy Baseball Championship) ADP from February to the second half of March. I omitted relievers, as their March jumps were related to earning closer roles. Let’s take a look:

HITS

Trevor Rogers, SP, Miami Marlins

In February (ADP 428): Rogers was an unproven starter who was vying for Miami’s final rotation spot.

In late March (ADP 282): Rogers was putting the final touches on an elite spring that included a 29:5 K:BB ratio across 19 innings.

Worth the hype? Rogers has thus far been even better than expected, producing a 1.29 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP. He was easily worth the risk for those who bought into his meteoric rise.

Mitch Haniger, OF, Seattle Mariners

In February (ADP 258): Recovering from core abdominal surgery and a ruptured testicle that cost him part of 2019 and all of 2020, Haniger was hoping to prove his health during Spring Training.

In late March (ADP 204): Everything seemed to be set for Haniger to handle a regular role and put past injuries behind him.

Worth the hype? Absolutely. The 30-year-old is playing regularly and hitting leadoff. He’s one of the best stories of 2021.

C.J. Cron, 1B, Colorado Rockies

In February (ADP 270): Cron was an injury-prone slugger who signed a Minor League deal with the Rockies in the middle of the month.

In late March (ADP 156): Cron didn’t turn heads during Spring Training, but the possibility of his power stroke and Coors Field was making fantasy managers giddy with excitement.

Worth the hype? So far, so good. Cron hasn’t been special, but he’s playing regularly and holding his own at the dish (.870 OPS). He could heat up with the weather.

Ty France, 3B, Seattle Mariners

In February (ADP 319): Despite having posted strong numbers in the Minors and Majors across 2019-20, France had an uncertain role and was an afterthought in most drafts.

In late March (ADP 224): A strong spring (1.135 OPS) reminded everyone that France could succeed in the Majors. The Mariners were among those who were impressed, putting him in a starting role.

Worth the hype? Most definitely. France (.894 OPS) is so far one of the best success stories in this article.

Freddy Peralta, SP/RP, Milwaukee Brewers

In February (ADP 330): Peralta showed breakout signs last season and seemed like he could help mixed-league teams in small ways as a long reliever.

In late March (ADP 242): Peralta pushed his way into the starting rotation, making fantasy managers excited about his potential to produce a massive strikeout total.

Worth the hype? Tentatively, yes. Peralta is delivering low ratios and plenty of whiffs, but persistent control issues could eventually push him back to the bullpen.

MISSES

James Paxton, SP, Seattle Mariners

In February (ADP 230): Paxton was a brittle pitcher on the wrong side of 30 who was coming off a dismal 2020 season.

In late March (ADP 196): Paxton looked like he had rediscovered his old form and was ready to match the low ratios and high strikeout rates from his prime.

Worth the hype? Definitely not. Those who overlooked Paxton’s injury history were burned, receiving just 1.1 innings before losing the southpaw to Tommy John surgery.

Myles Straw, SS/OF, Houston Astros

In February (ADP 341): Straw was a speedy but unproven slap hitter who had the inside track on Houston’s center field job.

In late March (ADP 273): Dusty Baker was talking about Straw batting leadoff, making fantasy managers drool over the runs scored and steals potential.

Worth the hype? Unfortunately, Straw can’t steal first base. The 26-year-old has struggled at the dish (.582 OPS) while spending most of his time near the bottom of the lineup.

Nick Senzel, OF, Cincinnati Reds

In February (ADP 265): Already known as an injury-prone player, Senzel was coming off a forgettable 2020 season that included an unconfirmed case of Covid-19 and was also part of a crowded Reds outfield.

In late March (ADP 185): Senzel appeared to have moved ahead of his playing time competition and was seen as a potential five-category asset.

Worth the hype? Senzel is off to a slow start (.635 OPS) and could soon lose playing time.

DETROIT, MI -  AUGUST 2: Nick Senzel #15 of the Cincinnati Reds
Nick Senzel has yet to live up to his vast potential. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Andrew Vaughn, 1B/OF, Chicago White Sox

In February (ADP 285): Vaughn was a premium prospect who seemed likely to get to the Majors at some point in 2021.

In late March (ADP 197): The White Sox were gushing about how Vaughn was ready to hit in the Majors and would be part of the Opening Day roster.

Worth the hype? Another reminder that it is hard to skip multiple Minor League levels, Vaughn is being dropped in most fantasy leagues and could soon be demoted by Chicago.

Yusei Kikuchi, SP, Seattle Mariners

In February (ADP 300): Kikuchi was a failed Major League starter who posted a 5.17 ERA last year.

In March (ADP 255): Kikuchi was a potential breakout pitcher who posted a 3.28 FIP last year.

Worth the hype? Kikuchi is a strange member of this article, as his stemmed solely from fantasy analysts talking him up. They should have kept quiet, as he owns an ERA over 5.00 for the third year in a row.

THE JURY IS STILL OUT

Robbie Ray, SP, Toronto Blue Jays

In February (ADP 307): We were all sick of Ray, who took his control woes to new heights when he posted a 7.8 BB/9 rate last season.

In late March (ADP 258): Ray was cruising through Spring Training and fantasy managers were buying into the theory that the Blue Jays knew how to improve his walk rate.

Worth the hype? It’s likely too early to say, as the southpaw opened the season with a brief IL stint. But nothing seems to have changed — Ray is posting a respectable ERA but a high WHIP and walk rate.

CONCLUSION

The success rate on the players listed here is roughly 50 percent, which is very good when we are talking about boom-or-bust picks in the middle or late rounds of drafts. My takeaway is that we should be ready to pounce on at least a couple of fast risers next spring.