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Trending Up: Bauer, Plouffe, and Samardzija

Michael Barr put up a great piece earlier this week on the siren song of spring stats, and why fans and fantasy players should enjoy the ride this time of year rather than worrying about diminished velocity or a 1-for-9 start. That said, not everything that happens this time of year can be chalked up to irrelevance; especially where playing time is concerned, now is the time that teams are a little more open with their plans for how they would like the season to go.

Most of the high- or even middle-round draft picks for most leagues aren’t going to be subject to these shocks, but the difference between a good sleeper and a bad sleeper can often be whether they get enough playing time to show what they can do. To that end, here are three players who got good news for their potential playing time this week.

Trevor Plouffe

The expectation going into camp was that the Twins would opt for an outfield of Josh Willingham in right field, Denard Span in center, and Ben Revere in left. That leaves Plouffe as a fourth OF/utility option, which isn’t necessarily a bad role for him, but makes him harder to roster. While that may yet be the arrangement the Twins settle on, Revere’s job isn’t as set in stone as previously thought, leaving the door open for Plouffe to take the starting LF job. As much as I’m curious about what Plouffe can do with consistent playing time, the biggest thing Plouffe has going for him is that he’ll be shortstop eligible to start the season in almost all leagues.

That positional flexibility is a nice trait for him to have, but unless Plouffe gets some type of guaranteed playing time — either as the starter or in a stated platoon with Revere — I think he’ll be too risky to roster in all but deep AL-only leagues. That said, all AL-only players will find it worth their time to keep an eye on the Twins’ left field situation, as it is not so settled as once was believed.

Jeff Samardzija

Two things made 2011 by far Samardzija’s best season. First, he finally struck out major league hitters at something resembling the rate that he had been setting them down in the minors — 8.9 K/9 in the majors in 2011 versus a career minor league rate of 9.0 K/9. Second, he dropped his previously monstrous home run rate. xFIP suggests there’s some luck in that, but there’s reason to believe it’s the pendulum swinging back from previously bad luck. The truth, as it so often does, lies somewhere in the middle. If he can keep his groundball rate in the 40 percent range, I don’t see it being likely that he’ll go back to having a HR/9 around 1.80 again.

The interesting change in Samardzjia’s workload is that it appears that the Cubs are going to stretch him out into a starter, which would put him in competition with either Paul Maholm or Chris Volstad for the Cubs’ fifth starter spot. For most leagues, a move to the rotation would make him more valuable, but given his minor league numbers, I’m skeptical of the move working long term. The player who comes to mind as a comparable is Glen Perkins, who was a marginal starter and struggled to stick in the rotation, but thrived after a full time move to the bullpen. With the departure of Sean Marshall, it makes even more sense to me for Samardzija to take over a high-leverage, non-closer role in the bullpen, which makes me believe that if push comes to shove, he’ll be the odd man out of the Cubs’ rotation race. Those in leagues where holds are a category may be best able to stomach the risk with Samardzija, since that’s the role he’ll default to if he doesn’t make it into the rotation, but until he proves he can sustain success for more than an inning or two at a time, I’m staying away from the Shark.

Trevor Bauer

There is no question about Bauer’s talent. He’ll be a major part of the Diamondbacks’ rotation at some point, but with less than a full season in the minors under his belt, it seems unlikely that he’ll be in there this year. Unless. Arizona’s current fifth starter, Josh Collmenter, had forearm tightness after his first start and was scratched from his second start this spring. At the moment, Collmenter is still slated to get into games next week, but that’s contingent on his completing a bullpen session this weekend.

If Collmenter hits that mark and then gets into a game next week as planned, Bauer probably opens the season in Double- or Triple-A and waits for an injury to get his shot with the Snakes. If Collmenter can’t make the bullpen or if the injury flares up after his start next week, Bauer starts to look better and better to take over for Collmenter. For keeper or dynasty leagues, taking Bauer — assuming he isn’t already gone — is a safe play; he’ll be in Arizona’s rotation next year at the latest. While he gave up a lot of hits in the minors last year, he’s a high strikeout arm with the potential to dominate hitters.

For redraft players, Bauer’s status should be clear in the next two weeks or so. For those leagues drafting before Collmenter’s next scheduled start, the answer is going to be highly dependent on league depth. In mixed, there’s enough depth in the pitching that I’m willing to pass on Bauer, this year anyway. In NL-only, I like him as a late-round pick, but until Collmenter’s situation gets settled, he carries a reasonable amount of risk. Don’t get into a situation where Bauer is integral to the team’s success, but if he’s available and the bench space is there to fit him, I have no problem picking him up at this point. Worst-case scenario, he can be dropped for a waiver wire pick up if he doesn’t break camp with the Diamondbacks.