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SP Position Battles That Might Matter

In standard drafts, the late round flyers are some of my favorite picks because on the one hand they “cost” you extremely little and on the other, there’s always the chance that you’ve picked up a gem on the cheap. Position battles are perfect spots to look for hidden value because many managers aren’t willing to float a pick for someone without a regular gig. With that in mind, there are a few starting pitching battles which might actually feature arms worth rostering.

In Miami it was originally thought that there would only be a battle for the fifth spot between Wade LeBlanc, John Maine, and Kevin Slowey (among a few other also-rans). But the struggles of Jacob Turner might have opened up another space as it’s beginning to sound like the club is entertaining the idea of sending the 21 year old down to AAA for additional seasoning. For Turner owners, that’s obviously a hit, but it also creates opportunity.

LeBlanc has been pretty good with a 3.86 ERA and 11 strikeouts over 14 innings pitched. Slowey has a 2.63 ERA and has been awfully stingy, giving up 9 hits over 13.2 innings pitched, striking out 13. Maine sits at 3.60 over 10 innings, giving up just five hits. All of them have shown enough based on the ridiculously small sample size, and there’s unfortunately no data on their velocity as PitchF/X apparently doesn’t agree with the state of Florida.

It’s entirely possible they ship Ricky Nolasco off to another organization so that they can have a team payroll less than the annual salary of Alex Rodriguez, but for now, we have just the two openings. The interesting part about this battle is that the better pitcher might potentially “lose”. LeBlanc is probably the best choice by way of talent but he’s also a guy that could provide a lefty in the bullpen, and the club might choose to hang on to both Slowey and Maine assuming neither would accept a minor league assignment.

It wasn’t that long ago that Slowey was a decent option for fantasy squads, and if he’s pitching in spacious Miami and he can revive a 19% K rate and impeccable control, well, he could return to fantasy relevance pretty quickly. It’s not a situation to drool over, but it’s one to monitor if you have pitching needs.

In Seattle, there’s a fight over two rotation slots in Blake Beavan, Jon Garland, Brandon Maurer, and Erasmo Ramirez. Maurer is the largely unknown kid, overshadowed by the “big three” arms of James Paxton, Danny Hultzen, and Taijuan Walker — and the club would start his clock early if they handed him a major league gig. Erasmo Ramirez was torched last night by the Chicago Cubs but overall had a decent spring and is likely to possess the second or third best arm in the Mariner stable.

But manager Eric Wedge likes predictability, and that means throwing strikes, so there’s some sentiment that the early leaders for the fourth and fifth spot in the rotation go to the uninspiring Jon Garland and his mini-me, Blake Beavan.

Beavan and Garland you know well. Good control, no strikeouts, little fantasy value. But if Maurer and Ramirez manage to wriggle their way into starting slots, you should be interested. Ramirez came out of the bullpen to get some starts down the stretch and had great success in 2012. As a starter, Ramirez had a 3.64 ERA with a 0.98 WHIP striking out 22% of opposing batters, walking only 4%, and holding opponents to a .218/.247/.362 slash line. Most rational managers would want that on the hill every fifth day, but yeah, Eric Wedge.

Maurer is a big dude with four major league pitches — a fastball that can touch the mid-90’s and his best pitch probably being his slider, which can be great at times. He hasn’t had eye-popping strikeout stuff in the minors, but he dominated AA last season and he’s shown a good ability to miss bats so far this Spring. He’s the dark horse here, but if he makes the squad, he could certainly be interesting.

In Arizona, the Diamondbacks sent Tyler Skaggs packing a few days ago, which leaves the fifth starter role up to Patrick Corbin or Randall Delgado. Delgado and Corbin have both pitched well this Spring, both made 17 starts in 2012, and both had mixed results. But as far as upside is concerned, it’s probably Delgado that you would want on your fantasy team.

Delgado has a better track record of strikeouts across the minors with a K rate that sat in the 26% to 27% range at high levels where Corbin was around 23%-24%. Corbin is perhaps more refined as a pitcher, with far better control than Delgado, almost halving his walk rate at 5.5% to Delgado’s 10.5%. If I had to guess, I’d say Corbin wins the job and Delgado heads back to AAA to try and polish up his command and the remainder of his repertoire. But regardless of what happens, both guys would have some appeal in standard formats, and they’d be definitely arms to look at in league-specific formats.