Fantasy Baseball 2023: Rash of injuries, prospects pushing for jobs among top spring training developments

Even the most excited Yahoo fantasy baseball managers can be forgiven for missing some of the top spring training storylines in recent weeks. After all, between keeping track of March Madness, NFL free agency and the stretch runs in the NBA and NHL, there is so much for an avid sports fan to follow this month.

We are here to bring everyone up to speed by detailing everything you need to know from spring training.

Injuries galore

Several key players suffer serious injuries in spring training each year, and 2023 has been no different. The headliner in this section is Mets closer Edwin Díaz, who suffered a torn patellar tendon when celebrating the win by Puerto Rico over the Dominican Republic. Díaz will miss the entire season, and David Robertson is now the betting favorite to lead the Mets in saves.

The other star to suffer a WBC injury is Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, who is slated to miss roughly two months of the regular season while recovering from a broken thumb. Altuve is such a terrific fantasy asset that he still warrants a midround pick on the expectation that he will contribute for four months.

A pair of potential aces will spend Opening Day on the injured list. Yankees lefty Carlos Rodón is just getting started on a throwing program and will likely miss all of April due to a forearm strain. And in Tampa, Tyler Glasnow is expected to miss roughly eight weeks from the beginning of March because of an oblique strain. Rodón has been more popular than Glasnow in recent drafts, but both players are massive injury risks and have lengthy histories of IL stints.

Although Tony Gonsolin cannot be grouped in with the aces, he is a solid fantasy starter who will open the season on the IL due to a high ankle sprain suffered in early March. The hope is that Gonsolin will miss only a couple of rotation turns.

On the hitting side, the Cubs will be without Seiya Suzuki for most or all of April due to a left oblique strain. A skilled leadoff man when healthy, Suzuki spent a little more than one month on the IL during his rookie year. Still, he is worth an IL stash in all leagues. In San Francisco, the Giants will open the season without slugger Mitch Haniger, who is also dealing with a left oblique strain. Haniger’s ailment is of the Grade 1 variety, which could enable him to return by mid-April. Yankees outfielder Harrison Bader is yet another player who will miss most or all of April due to a left oblique strain. Bader can be stashed in 12-team leagues that use five outfielders.

Editor's note: Rhys Hoskins became the latest key player to get hurt in spring training, suffering a torn ACL in his left knee on Thursday that will require surgery.

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Closer conundrums

Following battles for ninth-inning jobs has become a major duty for fantasy managers in March. Here are the latest developments from key bullpens.

The Marlins have announced that they will start the season without a full-time closer. Dylan Floro, Tanner Scott, A.J. Puk and Matt Barnes could all receive April save chances. I wouldn’t draft any Miami relievers in a 12-team league, but for those in deeper formats, my order of draft preference is Floro, Puk, Scott, Barnes. Puk’s former team, the A’s, are in a similar situation to the Marlins. Although I would draft their relievers only in 15-team leagues, my order of preference is Trevor May, Domingo Acevedo and Zach Jackson.

Reds manager David Bell did something out of character and opened spring training by announcing that Alexis Díaz would get most of Cincinnati’s save chances. Coming off a rookie season that included a 1.84 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP, Díaz is a top-15 reliever for fantasy drafters.

Reports out of spring training indicate that the Cubs are leaning toward having Michael Fulmer and Brad Boxberger share the initial ninth-inning opportunities. This news will frustrate those who drafted Brandon Hughes in early drafts, but Hughes is likely the only lefty in Chicago’s bullpen, which makes it sensible for the team to use him in earlier innings.

The presumed Angels closer, Carlos Estevez, has struggled this spring. Estevez is far from a lock for ninth-inning duties and could give way to Jimmy Herget or Ryan Tepera. At this point, I would draft Estevez in the final rounds of Yahoo drafts with the knowledge that he might be on my roster for only a matter of days.

On the other side of Los Angeles, Daniel Hudson entered spring training as the favorite for saves before being delayed by knee and ankle ailments. He will likely start the regular season on the IL, which opens the door for Evan Phillips to lead a closer committee that will also include Alex Vesia and Brusdar Graterol. Hudson should return in April, making him a good IL stash option in 12-team leagues. I would also be happy to grab Phillips (1.14 ERA, 0.76 WHIP) in the later rounds of my draft.

Hot-shot prospects

Some youngsters have grabbed the headlines in spring training by taking a serious run at Opening Day opportunities.

Jordan Walker has been one of the biggest draft risers this month. The 20-year-old hit .306 with 19 homers and 22 steals in 119 Double-A games last season and has played well enough this spring to spark rumors that he will be a starting outfielder in St. Louis. His Yahoo ADP the past seven days (pick 185.8) remains late enough for me to recommend drafting him.

The Yankees shortstop situation is an exciting mess, with two notable prospects, Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza, in contention for the starting gig. The loser of this battle will likely open the season in Triple-A, making both Volpe and Peraza boom-or-bust options in the second half of 2023 drafts. Despite Volpe’s impressive work this spring, the guess here is that Peraza wins the job and Volpe bides his time in the minors until an infield injury opens up a role for him.

Miguel Vargas suffered a fractured pinky finger early in spring training but has recovered to the point that he will be the Dodgers' Opening Day second baseman. Of course, the season-ending injury suffered by Gavin Lux on Feb. 27 opened the door for Vargas and other Los Angeles infielders to have larger roles. A potential 20-10 player this year, Vargas is a terrific option at his current Yahoo ADP (pick 242.8).

Following the rules

Fantasy managers have received a sneak peek at the new MLB rules in spring training, and in the eyes of this writer, they are a welcome improvement to the sport.

First, be prepared to see your fantasy stats accumulated in roughly 25 minutes less per game this year, thanks to the pitch clock. So far, pitchers seem to have handled the faster pace with ease. Of course, we won’t know the full impact of shorter rest until the starters are 80-plus pitches into a regular-season outing.

Predictably, stolen bases are way up during spring training compared to past years. This change will last throughout the regular season, thanks to the limitations on pickoffs and the increased size of the bases. We should see a 50-steal player for the first time since 2017 and might witness someone swipe 60 bags. Additionally, we should expect more players to reach the 20-steal plateau, which was accomplished by just 24 men in 2022. The impact of each steal will be devalued in fantasy circles, but managers will need more of them to compete in the category. This will be the biggest area in which we will all need to adjust on the fly in the coming months.

Finally, the limitations on defensive shifts have led to an increase in run-scoring and batting averages in spring training. While the exact impact on specific players will be followed closely in the opening months of the regular season, those who want to get ahead of the competition can target some of the left-handed hitters who stand to benefit.