Juan Carlos Blanco puts a bow on MLB preseason games with his 2021 Spring Training Stars. Sometimes, players who perform well in spring training games can win position battles or simply earn more playing time as the regular season moves along, which often makes them valuable fantasy baseball waiver wire pickups. Also, they may develop into names the more mainstream baseball fans should know.
While spring training stats obviously are not a direct predictor of success, any player who shows signs of life deserves a bit of attention. Get to know these potentially rising players.
Read our full 2021 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide, which includes sleepers, busts, and more draft tips.
2021 Spring Training Stars: 7 Players Who May Have Improved Fantasy Baseball Draft Value
Matt Olson, 1B, Oakland Athletics
There haven’t been any questions about Olson’s power, not with his average of one home run every 16.5 plate appearances over his first five big-league seasons. However, the slugger’s average bottomed out at an ugly .195 last season (245 plate appearances), partly the byproduct of a strikeout rate that rocketed to a career-high 31.4 percent. Olson still tallied extra bases on 19 (four doubles, one triple, 14 home runs) of his 41 hits, so the goal this offseason was making the necessary tweaks to at least get the average and on-base percentage back in the neighborhood of the solid .267 and .351 figures Olson had posted in those respective categories in 2019.
Olson threw himself into that task with Athletics hitting coach Darren Bush over the winter. Bush worked on Olson’s stance balance and swing path. Early returns are spectacular. The 26-year-old first baseman entered a March 22 exhibition against the Diamondbacks hitting .406 (13-for-32) with four doubles, five home runs and 14 RBI.
It’s also worth noting that prior to last season, Olson was far from a reckless, free-swinging masher, as he’d posted elevated-but-not-atrocious strikeout rates of 24.7 and 25.2 percent the prior two seasons. He also generated a career-high 13.9 percent walk rate last season despite his overall offensive downturn, making the body of work he’s put together thus far this spring all the more encouraging.
Chad Pinder, 2B, Oakland Athletics
Pinder’s primary contributions to the Athletics over the last three seasons have come in the form of elite defensive versatility and some nice pop, but his overall lack of patience at the plate has kept his walk rates/averages/on-base percentage down to middling levels overall.
However, perhaps Pinder has turned a corner this spring, as he’s exploded for a .367/.500/.733 slash (38 plate appearances) that’s included a bit of everything – two doubles, three home runs, and perhaps as encouraging as anything, seven walks.
Pinder also played 110 and 124 games in 2018 and 2019, respectively, so even though he doesn’t have a set position, the fact he can essentially fill in everywhere except catcher and pitcher all but guarantees him a robust amount of playing time. The signs of a maturing hitter appear to be there this spring, and if Pinder can become a more consistent on-base presence in 2021 while maintaining his impressive power profile (one extra-base hit every 11.2 career plate appearances), his production stands to reach a new level.
Ty France, 2B/3B, Seattle Mariners
Acquired from the Padres at the deadline last season, France hit the ground running in Seattle with a .309/.371/.469 line across 89 plate appearances during the final weeks of the 2020 campaign. It turns out those strong numbers were just a warm-up act for this year’s Cactus League slate, during which France has generated a 1.404 OPS – including a .417 average – through 41 plate appearances as of March 22. Those figures are partly comprised of three doubles, five home runs, and 10 RBI, with France hitting safely in all but two games.
Already slated for full-time DH duties in 2021 before potentially taking over for the venerable Kyle Seager at third base in 2022, France, who also authored a jaw-dropping .399/.477/.770 slash across 348 plate appearances at the Triple-A level in 2019, seems to be laying the foundation for what could be a spectacular breakout year.
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Josh Rojas, INF/OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
Rojas is one of this spring’s more interesting breakout players. He’s struggled considerably at the plate over his first two big-league stints yet boasts both an elite minor-league offensive resume and has swung a scalding hot bat during Cactus League play.
We’ll get the bad/ugly out of the way first – the 26-year-old owns a career .206/.295/.271 slash and a 25.1 percent strikeout rate across his first 227 major-league plate appearances over the last two seasons.
However, Rojas earned that initial promotion to the bigs after posting a .310/.402/.586 line that included 31 extra-base (16 doubles, three triples, 12 home runs) and 19 steals at Triple-A Round Rock while still with the Astros organization and following it up with a short but absolutely torrid stretch at Triple-A Reno that consisted of a .514/.575/.943 slash in 40 plate appearances after arriving in the Zack Greinke trade.
Slated for starting second-base duties to open the 2021 season, Rojas has proceeded to tighten his grip on the job by hitting .340 with two doubles, three home runs, and eight RBI across 58 plate appearances this spring.
It’s also worth noting Rojas boasts above-average speed, having swiped 71 bases across five minor-league stops. His ability to also fill in at third base, shortstop, and the corner outfield only enhances his job security.
Christian Arroyo, Michael Chavis & Bobby Dalbec, INF/OF, Boston Red Sox
This Red Sox triumvirate has stood out on an individual basis this spring, and making their respective Grapefruit League breakouts all the more intriguing is the fact Arroyo and Chavis may be competing for a final bench spot.
Arroyo showed plenty of promise as a doubles machine and above-average contact hitter at multiple minor-league stops in the Giants organization, but the results at the big-league level in stints with both San Francisco and Tampa Bay have been positively underwhelming to the tune of a .219/.283/.360 slash (305 plate appearances). The numbers have been much better in exhibition play, however, as Arroyo owns a .300 average with a double, three home runs, and eight RBI across 43 PAs through March 22.
Chavis is another hitter who hasn’t yet been able to fully translate his minor-league plate prowess to the bigs, although he certainly raised expectations with 18 home runs and 58 RBI across 382 plate appearances as a rookie in 2019. His .212/.259/.377 line in 158 PAs last season was therefore an undeniable step back, but Chavis has reignited hope with his 1.129 OPS, six home runs, and 10 RBI over 47 Grapefruit League plate appearances this spring.
Finally, Dalbec is laying a fine foundation for the everyday first base job that awaits him this season with a .333/.429/.889 line over 42 spring plate appearances through March 22. The 25-year-old actually performed better as a hitter in his first taste of the bigs in 2020 than any point in his minors career outside of his initial year of rookie ball in 2016, posting a .263/.359/.600 slash with eight homers and 16 RBI over 92 plate appearances; therefore, there’s evidence that supports the notion the spring surge could certainly endure to an extent once the games begin to count.