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Springs of distinction: Nine players who gained fantasy value

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It's easy to dismiss spring stats as a meaningless distraction, having no relevance to MLB's regular season. More often than not, that's a sensible perspective. It generally pays to be skeptical about the heroes of Arizona and Florida, players who pile up numbers against inferior and/or indifferent competition.

If you're a fantasy baseball veteran, then you can no doubt recall a few players who straight up fooled you with huge spring performances. For me, it was Terrmel Sledge. For you, maybe it was Joey Gathright or Felix Pie or Tyler Colvin. But it was definitely someone, at some point. Spring is full of lies.

However, we also have situations in which teams themselves actively care about spring numbers, making roster decisions based on 25-game samples from February and March. In these cases, we do need to treat spring stats seriously, because ball-clubs are doing the same. Position battles have been fought and won.

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Our purpose today is to review a few players who surged this spring and increased their fantasy appeal. This is by no means intended as a comprehensive rundown of everyone who excelled during Cactus and Grapefruit League play, just for the record. No need for any “whataboutery” here. This is simply a group of nine players (unranked) who deserve the attention of fantasy managers in mixed leagues.

We won't discuss any of the upper-tier prospects who've landed opening day roles — Jimenez, Robles, Tatis, Alonso, et al. — because A) those dudes are relatively well known and B) we hyped 'em already. Instead, we're offering new leads, beginning in the Bronx ...

New York Yankees first baseman Luke Voit (45) celebrates in the dugout after hitting a two-run home run in the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles, Sunday, March 17, 2019, in Sarasota, Fla. (AP Photo/John Bazemore
Luke Voit has feasted this spring and he'll hit in the heart of a monstrous lineup. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Luke Voit, 1B/DH, New York Yankees

Voit enters the season as an obvious regression candidate following his absurd 39-game cameo for New York last year (14 HR, .333/.405/.689). But he's locked down an everyday role for the Yankees after posting a .943 spring OPS. He'll have a high-value spot in a stellar lineup, too:

Don't sleep on him. He can regress and still help us. Voit has been an on-base machine with pop throughout his minor league career, slashing .314/.398/.532 at Triple-A. He's available in 30 percent of Yahoo leagues, but probably needs to be universally owned. Voit and Greg Bird should both see consistent playing time in the early weeks.

Jung Ho Kang, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates

Kang is the spring home run leader (7), looking more or less just like the guy who hit 21 bombs over 318 at-bats in 2016. His power binge was enough to earn him the starting third base gig for the Bucs to begin the year. Off-the-field issues nearly derailed Kang's career, but, at 31, he's clearly not yet finished.

Trevor Richards, SP, Miami Marlins

If there was such a thing as a spring Cy Young award, Richards would be a leading candidate. All he's done during the Grapefruit season is strike out 20 batters over 19.1 innings, producing a 1.86 ERA and 0.62 WHIP. Have a look at the six no-hit innings he tossed against the Cards a couple weeks back, an outing in which he coaxed several ugly half-swings from competent hitters. Richards might be win-challenged in Miami, but his stuff definitely passes the eye test.

Matt Strahm, SP, San Diego Padres

Chris Paddack has become America's favorite fantasy sleeper (deservedly), but Strahm's spring numbers have been equally ridiculous: 20.0 IP, 25 Ks, 5 BB, 2.25 ERA, 1.00 WHIP. The left-hander has worked mostly in relief over three big league seasons, striking out 10.4 batters per nine innings while delivering a 1.15 WHIP. He could get fun as a full-time member of San Diego's rotation.

Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins

If you're taking a break from Buxton in 2019, we get it. His low points have been horrifically low. But he needs to be mentioned in a feature like this, because his spring has been outstanding: 16-for-39, 4 HR, 4 SB, .410/.455/.795. The most encouraging sign by far is that he's struck out only five times in his 39 at-bats. Buxton has reportedly added bulk while simplifying his swing, and the early results are awfully promising.

Los Angeles Dodgers' Julio Urias signs autographs for young fans before a spring training baseball game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, March 17, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Julio Urias has looked like a star in exhibition play. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Julio Urias, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers

His spring numbers are absolutely sick: 2-0, 15.2 IP, 15 Ks, 3 BB, 1.72 ERA, 0.51 WHIP. Urias just tossed 4.0 perfect innings in his final spring outing, so, yeah, it would appear he's ready. He'll open the season in the Dodgers' rotation, while Clayton Kershaw (shoulder) and Rich Hill (knee) continue to rehab. Urias probably won't go 160-plus frames this year, but his innings should be high quality. He's only 47 percent owned as of this writing, so most of you can go get him.

Albert Almora, OF, Chicago Cubs

Almora's playing time outlook improved in a significant way when Ian Happ was optioned to Triple-A. He's raked throughout the exhibition season (20-for-53, 6 XBH, 3 HR), another retooled-swing success story. Somehow Almora is still just 24 years old, so it's entirely possible there's growth left in his game. He's consistently hit for average in the majors (.289) and he's a fantastic defensive outfielder, which gives him a degree of lineup security. Deep leaguers should give him a look.

Max Fried, SP, Atlanta Braves

Command has certainly been a problem for Fried over his 23 major league appearances (4.83 BB/9), but velocity and strikeouts have not been lacking. Fried is still only 25, a former high-buzz prospect who's just delivered a huge spring (2.08 ERA, 17.1 IP, 18 Ks, 6 BB). Multiple Atlanta pitchers are in various states of disrepair — notably Gausman, Soroka and Foltynewicz — so Fried should see an early opportunity. He's a good name for the watch list.

Greg Allen, OF, Cleveland Indians

One important point we've repeatedly made over the past several weeks is that steals are increasingly hard to find in fantasy (and reality) baseball. Allen is among the spring leaders in stolen bases (6-for-6), plus he's hit .354/.404/.563 with seven extra-base hits. He's made a strong case for a substantial role on a team with an unimpressive collection of outfielders. Allen has a pair of 40-steal seasons in the minors and he's demonstrated on-base skills at every level. It sounds like he may open the year in a pinch-hit/pinch-run role, but he definitely has a shot at 20 or more steals if things break right.

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