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If you were under the impression that spring training existed entirely as a showcase for Kris Bryant's ridiculous power and for no other reason ... well, we get it. Bryant's dominance has certainly been the top story from the exhibition season. When a prospect slugs eight homers over just 29 plate appearances, hype is gonna happen. It's unavoidable.
However, Bryant actually isn't the only player making noise this spring — he's been the noisiest, sure, but he's not alone.
Today, our purpose is to discuss other players who've surged in March, several of whom have earned opening day roster spots. We're diving relatively deep here, just for the record, well beyond the early rounds in standard fantasy drafts. You shouldn't need us to tell you about Mike Trout's 1.459 spring OPS, or Brandon Belt's .333/.467/.722 slash. Those guys are well established. The players mentioned below have much, much more to prove.
But before we hit you with a list March heroes, we need to issue the usual warning: Spring greatness doesn't guarantee a thing. This truth should be obvious, yet it's incredibly easy to be distracted and/or seduced by exhibition numbers. Plenty of this year's Cactus and Grapefruit standouts will soon be exposed as Terrmel Sledge all-stars. (Who is Terrmel Sledge? Spring legend back in '07, more recently a member of the Nippon Ham Fighters.)
You don't want to draft a fantasy roster loaded with sleepers and spring monsters. Instead, you should simply add these names to your pre-draft cheat sheet, or bump them up a tier or two...
Joc Pederson, OF, LAD
Well, OK, you'll probably want to draft this dude. The fantasy buzz surrounding Pederson hasn't quite reached Bryant levels, but it's significant. The 22-year-old center-fielder has been ridiculous during exhibition play, slashing .436/.476/.769 with three homers and two steals. He's pretty clearly earned a starting gig. Pederson's minor league stats were silly at every level, so he doesn't have much left to prove below the big leagues.
Taijuan Walker, SP, SEA
Walker is battling for a spot in Seattle's rotation, and he's had a nearly flawless spring to this point. The right-hander has delivered 12.0 scoreless frames, allowing only four hits and three walks while striking out 13. Like Pederson, Walker is a 22-year-old with an upper-tier prospect pedigree. He's been excellent at lower levels, and now he's mowing down all challengers in the Cactus League.
"He hasn't given up a run, so I guess that's pretty good," says manager Lloyd McClendon.
Yup, guess so. I've snagged Walker everywhere I can (including the Yahoo Friends & Family league), based on his obvious upside and friendly team/park context.
Micah Johnson, 2B, CWS
Johnson is a burner who appears to have run away with the second base job in Chicago. He's reached base at a .514 clip this spring. Johnson swiped 84 bags in the minors back in 2013, so we're not talking about a player with merely decent speed. Defensively, he might just be a butcher, so that's a small worry. Even in the best-case fantasy scenario, Johnson could be lifted late in games.
Dalton Pompey, OF, TOR
Pompey stole 43 bases in 50 attempts across three minor league levels last season, plus he posted a .392 on-base percentage. He also delivered nine triples and nine homers. Pompey has had a nice-enough spring, hitting .308/.325/.436 with three steals in as many attempts. As of this writing, he looks like the best bet to open the season in center for the Jays.
Wilmer Flores, SS, NYM
Flores hit 13 homers in 220 at-bats in the PCL last season, plus another six in 259 at-bats for the Mets. So he offers decent pop for his position, and he's had a quality spring, hitting .342/.350/.605 with two bombs and four doubles. He's currently dealing with a bruised left foot, but he expects to be ready for opening day.
Drew Pomeranz, SP, OAK
In 9.0 innings so far this spring, Pomeranz has whiffed 15 batters, issuing only three walks and allowing just two earned runs. If he can avoid disaster in the week ahead, he'll lock up a rotation spot for Oakland. (We can say the same for Kendall Graveman, another spring star for the A's.) The lefty should give us a decent K-rate, and he'll pitch in a not-so-scary home environment.
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Michael Taylor, OF, WAS
Denard Span is expected to miss the opening month following abdominal surgery, Taylor will get plenty of early-season at-bats. He's a power/speed combo player coming off a terrific season in the high minors (23 HR, 37 SB, .304/.390/.526), and he's posted a 1.088 OPS this spring. Taylor homered twice off Justin Verlander on Sunday, which tells you something about the directions those two players are trending.
Billy Burns, OF, OAK
Burns has stolen 128 bases in the minors over the past two seasons, and four bags for the A's this spring. He's fast, this guy. He's also gone 18-for-45 at the plate with three triples, and generally been a source of spring excitement. Whenever Burns gets his shot as an everyday player, fantasy owners will need to act. This is a fun player with legit wheels.
Michael Pineda, SP, NYY
Everyone should be familiar with the quality Pineda's work, as well as his significant injury history. He's been fantastic this spring, striking out a dozen batters over 8.2 innings, allowing just one walk, five hits and two runs. I will never not draft Pineda. Sigh.
Tommy Medica, 1B, SD
This guy is a multi-year spring terror, and he's presumably forced his way into San Diego's early-season plans. Medica has gone 15-for-27 this spring with four homers, 11 RBIs and nine runs-scored. So that's absurd. He's seen time in the outfield for the Pads (although that's a crowded place), and the not-so-intimidating Yonder Alonso stands in his way at first. In a deep league, if you have a need for pop, Medica could get interesting. He hit 18 homers in only 280 at-bats at Double-A back in 2013.
Anthony Gose, OF, DET
Here's yet another speedy outfielder, playing his way into a starting role. Gose has stolen four bags this spring, slashing .341/.400/.585 for Detroit. Gose has teased us before, of course, but he's apparently made a batch of adjustments this spring. We'll see if the tweaks ultimately translate into production in the majors, when the stats actually count. He put up huge stolen base numbers in the minors, twice reaching 70 steals, so he deserves our attention.
Ender Inciarte, OF, ARI
Inciarte was a huge help to many of us in deep-ish leagues last season, as he hit .278 and stole 19 bases in 22 attempts over 118 games with Arizona. He's now fighting for playing time in a crowded-if-not-stellar outfield, slashing .472/.512/.528 over 39 spring plate appearances. Inciarte has added four steals, he's doubled twice and scored six runs. The D-backs probably need to find a trade partner to take an outfielder off their hands.
Marcus Semien, 2B/SS/3B, OAK
Another spring, another sleeper mention for Semien. He arrived in Oakland via the Jeff Samardzija deal, and he's expected to serve as the everyday shortstop. (Currently, he carries 2B/3B-eligibility in Yahoo leagues; he'll add SS status after his fifth start at the position.) Semien has had an excellent spring, hitting .308/.372/.513 with two homers. He delivered a 19/24 power/speed season in the minors back in 2013, so he figures to be plenty useful for fantasy purposes.
Devon Travis, 2B, TOR
Travis appears to be the frontrunner for second base duties in Toronto, and he's definitely a player of interest, fantasy-wise. He's 14-for-38 so far this spring, plus he's a career .323/.388/.487 hitter in the minors. He's delivered back-to-back seasons with double-digit power/speed totals at lower levels, so it's tough not to like the profile. You'll like the home park, too. If you play in a mixed league with a MI spot to fill, Travis belongs on a roster.