You surely don’t need another warning to view spring training stats with suspicion. You may have already learned your lesson last season with Juan Nicasio, or with Taijuan Walker the year before. Maybe you’re still stinging over that tease of a spring performance from Abraham Nunez over a decade ago. If you don’t remember who Nunez was, that’s kind of the point.
Yet occasionally, great spring performances are a precursor to heightened major league success. A year ago, Jean Segura came to camp with a revamped swing and produced a 1.196 OPS, which was followed by a career year. Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not.
The year before, Devon Travis entered spring training as a fantasy afterthought and exited as the Blue Jays’ starting second baseman and a mixed-league staple after batting .359. And one year before that, Drew Pomeranz had a sensational spring that presaged a breakout season (though one that was interrupted when he lost a fight with a chair that led to a disabled list stint).
From Joey Rickard to Jose Osuna to Jaime Schultz, there have been a number of players who have put on surprisingly good performances this spring, but their chances for making a fantasy impact, whether in 2017 or beyond, are probably not substantial. These following four players, however, just might be this season’s Segura, Travis or Pomeranz.
Matt Boyd, SP, Tigers
Boyd is no stranger to fantasy owners, as he has pitched 154.2 innings over the last two seasons with the Tigers and Blue Jays. Because the lefty has emerged from those innings with a 5.64 ERA, he is still not getting much attention in mixed leagues. Boyd is also not assured of a spot in the Tigers’ rotation, as he is battling Anibal Sanchez for the final spot.
He is making about as strong a case as can be made to get the job. After 16.2 innings, Boyd has a 3.24 ERA with 16 strikeouts, no walks and 16 strikeouts. Good control is nothing new for Boyd, and he showed signs of being a strikeout pitcher in the Blue Jays’ system, but the lack of home runs is an eye-opener. His ground out-to-air out ratio (GO/AO) so far this spring is an even 1.00, which is a nice upgrade over his career mark of 0.67. A handful of spring innings don’t prove anything, but if Boyd continues to keep the ball on the ground more often once the real games start (assuming he wins a starting role), it’s time to add him to your staff.
Adalberto Mejia, SP, Twins
Mejia is another flyball-prone lefty, and unlike Boyd, he has been quite amenable to allowing hitters to loft the ball this spring (0.56 GO/AO). He has allowed 2 home runs over 14.1 innings, but he has yielded just 3 earned runs overall. Mejia is a strike-thrower who made strides in his whiff rate in the minors last season, and just maybe, his 14 strikeouts in Grapefruit League play could be a sign that he could whiff major league batters as well.
Even if Mejia doesn’t win the Twins’ fifth starter job over Jose Berrios and Tyler Duffey, he could find a home in the rotation later this season. I’ll be looking to draft — and potentially stash — him in AL-only leagues.
Derek Fisher, OF, Astros
This Fisher doesn’t own any NBA championship rings, but he has a chance to win the stolen base crown of spring training. Along with Delino DeShields, Fisher is a perfect 7-for-7 in stolen base attempts, and he also boasts a .276/.389/.483 slash line. He almost certainly won’t lay claim to a spot on the Astros roster coming out of spring training, but if Nori Aoki slumps or George Springer, Josh Reddick or Carlos Beltran gets hurt, Fisher will be just a phone call away.
The 23-year-old may strike out too much to hit for average, but if he gets a chance to play regularly early enough in the season, he could be a 20-20 player. That potential makes Fisher worth drafting-and-stashing in deeper mixed- and AL-only leagues.
Sal Romano, SP, Reds
Though Romano is a hard-throwing righty, he hadn’t put up big strikeout numbers in the minors. You wouldn’t know it from his spring numbers, as he has struck out 19 batters in 15.1 innings on his way to a 1.17 ERA and 0.91 WHIP. Perhaps there was something to Romano posting a 13 percent whiff rate over his final 8 starts with Double-A Pensacola last season.
Though he entered camp with little chance of being on the opening day roster, Romano now has a real shot of cracking the Reds’ rotation. If the final weeks of 2016 and his spring training numbers are any indication of what he could do against major league hitting, Romano could be a legitimate mixed-league option. I will be looking to target him in any format deeper than a 12-team mixed league.
Statistical credits: FanGraphs, MLB.com, Baseball-Reference, StatCorner.