Athletics Angels Spring Baseball
Oakland Athletics' Kevin Smith forces out Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout as he turns a double play on Justin Upton during the first inning of a spring training baseball game, Monday, March 28, 2022, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

FANTASY BASEBALL 2022 – FIVE NOTABLE SPRING PERFORMANCES (HITTERS)

Mike Shara

We all know that spring statistics mean nothing a lot of the time. It seems like often the players who lead the Grapefruit League in home runs end up playing the rest of the season (and often their career) in places like Toledo, Buffalo and Memphis. Hitting bombs off of AA pitchers late in games where all of the star players have already left the park is hardly the measure of a player destined for MLB greatness. Keeping that in mind, there have still been a few hitters who’ve caught my eye this spring, not just because of results but also because of opportunity. The last week or so we’ve started to see teams trotting out lineups that likely resemble what they’ll be starting the season with on Thursday or Friday and that’s informing this article as much as anything else. With health, performance and opportunity in mind, here are a few players worth considering as waiver wire pickups or late picks in your draft.

KEVIN SMITH, 3B, Oakland 
No, mercifully it’s not that annoying dude in the hockey jersey who directed Mallrats. Rather he is a key piece that came back to the A’s in Matt Chapman’s recent trade to Toronto. He struggled in a brief callup to the majors last season, batting just .094 in 36 plate appearances and the Jays couldn’t wait for him to sort himself out as they chased a playoff spot. Oakland is not worried about winning this year (not with a $30 million payroll), so he’s going to be given a lot of chances to play and prove himself. He was a Baseball America Top 100 prospect just three years ago and last year in AAA he hit .285/.370/.561 and stole 18 bases in just over 400 at-bats. Third base isn’t very deep this year – if your league requires two of them or even a corner infield spot, he may help you more than you’d think and in several categories. Stats count even when your team sucks.

JO ADELL, OF, LA Angels
We’ve been hearing his name for a while and Angels fans have been salivating for a few years about pairing Adell with Mike Trout in their outfield. It’s taken a bit longer than the fans might have liked, but it looks like his time has arrived. L.A. recently released veteran outfielder Justin Upton – who was hitting well in Spring (told ya- means nothing) and was owed $28 million(!) – which left a lot of room in the outfield mix. He has cut his strikeout rate down significantly over the past few years and he doesn’t have much left to prove in AAA, having batted .289/.332/.592 in Salt Lake City last year. He’s only just turned 23 and won’t have a lot of pressure on him with Ohtani, Trout and Rendon in the lineup and he looks poised to be a productive MLB player. He’s a nice power/speed combo possibility if your league needs a fifth outfielder.

KYLE HIGASHIOKA, C, NYYankees
If your league needs a second catcher, this is my top recommendation. He’s been very outspoken about not wanting to be labeled a ‘defense-first’ catcher who is an automatic out at the bottom of New York’s lineup. With that in mind he’s tweaked his approach and swing, modeling it after his new teammate Josh Donaldson and the results have been encouraging thus far. He’s already hit 7 home runs this spring and done some damage against pretty good MLB pitchers. With Gary Sanchez traded to Minnesota and “Higgy” clearly being the preferred receiver for a lot of Yankees starting pitchers, he’s likely to play over 100 games this season. If his adjustments stick, he could be a good source of power (he’s already hit 20 home runs in 387 career MLB at-bats). He might be a batting average drain, but if you need two catchers that’s going to happen no matter what anyway. I like his chances of being a plus contributor in deeper leagues.

JEREMY PENA, SS, Houston
There was an understandably high level of consternation from Astros fans about the departure of All-Star and postseason hero Carlos Correa in free agency. I think there is a decent chance that by June no one in Houston is worrying about that anymore because Pena will have become their favorite player. A third round pick in 2018 who was Baseball Prospectus’ #16 overall prospect last year, Pena looks like a lock to start the season as Houston’s starting shortstop. He is an excellent defensive player (that’s the key at this point) who batted .287/.346/.598 with 5 steals in 30 games last year at AAA. He has an above-average lineup surrounding him, keeping the pressure on him relatively low, and manager Dusty Baker has had him leading off games frequently this Spring. If that continues he could end up scoring a ton of runs, steal a few bags and even hit 15-18 home runs. You could certainly use a player like that on your bench. I know you could.

RILEY GREENE, OF, Detroit 
Mariners outfielder Julio Rodriguez (Baseball America’s #3 overall prospect) is getting a lot of runs in the Cactus League right now, forcing Seattle to make some tough decisions about where he’ll start this season. The same dilemma is also happening in Detroit, where the Tigers have announced that top prospect Spencer Torkelson will be their starting first baseman this year and are debating about another one. Greene’s 2022 roster status hasn’t been announced yet, but he’s done everything he can to force his way into the big leagues this April. He’s batting .429/.500/1.048 this spring (I know, I know…doesn’t matter), but what makes his case different is his elite level glove, which has set him apart this March. The Tigers have a young pitching staff and play in a huge ballpark. They need a guy who can run down balls in center field. Greene has that skill in spades with more offensive upside than incumbent Derek Hill. He’s only 21 so the Tigers’ brass may be cautious with him, but whenever he arrives his upper echelon speed and strong on-base skills will help your fantasy team in several ways.

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