Spring Risers: Hitters

Despite the fact that people say spring training stats mean nothing, Major League organizations often use these stats to make important roster decisions.  Some players perform so well during the spring that they force themselves onto Major League rosters and perhaps even regular playing time. 
What players made big moves this spring and what can we expect from them heading into the regular season?

Sean Rodriguez, 2B/OF, TB

This spring has been incredible for Sean Rodriguez who is now hitting .439/.484/.860 with six home runs.  That production may have won him the everyday second base job in Tampa Bay since Ben Zobrist can move to right field.  However, keep in mind that Rodriguez has yet to have any success at the big league level and his .299 AVG at triple-A last season came way of a .364 BABIP.  He also has a track record indicating issues with strikeouts.  Last season he struck out over 30 percent of the time at triple-A and even with his incredibly hot spring he has struck out in 25 percent of his at bats. 
While it won’t hurt fantasy owners to take a flier on Rodriguez early, as his 20 home run power is legit, don’t be surprised if he’s hitting below .250 by mid-May.
Reid Brignac, SS, TB
Also in the Rays mix with his hot spring is Ried Brignac, who is hitting .365/.375/.462.  Defensively Brignac has the upper hand on both Sean Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist, but he lacks the power to make as big of an impact offensively.  The odds of him landing a starting job are slim, but he could emerge as an interesting AL-only option should a Jason Bartlett injury lead to some playing time at shortstop.
John Bowker, OF, SF
The one thing that Bowker does well is hit the long ball.  He hit 21 home runs in 366 at-bats at triple-A last season, but struggled to do much in 67 big league at-bats.  The power is present once again this spring as Bowker has delivered five home runs, tying him with seven others for the second most in both leagues.
His main competition for the right field job in San Francisco is Nate Shierholtz, who has had a very slow spring hitting .236/.288/.491. 
If Bowker does win the job he would be an instant NL-only add, but he’ll need to prove he can stay consistent at the Major League level before mixed leagues give him a serious look.
Jonny Gomes, OF, CIN
Jonny Gomes has about as much power as anyone.  Last season Gomes hit 20 home runs in only 281 at bats (14 AB/HR) with the Reds on top of his nine homers in 131 triple-A at-bats. 
The only issue with Gomes’ offensive game is that he has had issues against right-handed pitching over his career.  Gomes is a career .244 hitter against right-handers with a strikeout rate of 33.4 percent.  He is a career .274 hitter against left handed pitching with a strikeout rate of just under 30 percent. 
Clearly Gomes is not going to hit for a high average and he may end up with a platoon partner, but his AB/HR rate would translate to about 36 home runs over 500 at bats, which would give him value in any fantasy format.
Gaby Sanchez, 1B, FLA
Sanchez has won the first base job for the Marlins to start the 2010 season and is hitting a robust .380/.429/.620 this spring.  Sanchez is not your prototypical first base prospect.  His plate approach is much more contact oriented than power oriented, though he could hit around 15-20 home runs given 550-plus at-bats.  Last season at triple-A Sanchez had a 41:43 BB:K rate, but he only had 27 extra base hits making for a low .188 ISO. 
Given the depth at first base, Sanchez isn’t going to turn into a top ten first baseman even if everything goes right for him.  However, he could certainly make an impact in NL-only leagues and be a nice piece to have in deep mixed leagues. 
Sanchez will have to produce all season long to keep top first base prospect Logan Morrison in the minors.
Mike Aviles, SS, KC
In 2008, Mike Aviles hit the fantasy scene in a big way hitting .325 with ten home runs in 419 at-bats.  Last season Aviles got off to a slow start and then missed the rest of the season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery.  This spring Aviles is scolding the ball once again hitting .465/.520/.651 in 43 at-bats.  Keep in mind, however, that his 2008 AVG was aided by a very high .357 BABIP.  It is going to take a lot to make Aviles mixed league material once again, especially with the young crop of speedy shortstops set to rise in 2010 (Elvis Andrus, Alcides Escobar and Everth Cabrera).
Randy Ruiz, 1B, TOR
This may finally be the season that Ruiz breaks camp with the big club.  At the age of 32 and with only 55 Major League games on his resume, Ruiz seems like the classic AAAA player.  At triple-A last year Ruiz hit .320/.392/.584 with 25 home runs in 462 at-bats.  He then added ten more home runs in 115 at-bats with the Blue Jays giving him 35 home runs in 577 combined at-bats. 
Given his track record we can certainly expect some power numbers from Ruiz.  The problem will be playing time.  For now the Blue Jays have Lyle Overbay slotted to start at first base and Adam Lind to start as the designated hitter.  Ruiz might only see time filling in at either position only against tough left-handed pitching. 
His power potential is reason enough to keep him on your fantasy radar, but he’ll need the at-bats to make a mixed league impact.
Blake DeWitt, 2B, LAD
A .358/.452/.566 line this spring has given Blake DeWitt the upper hand on the Dodgers second base job.  Still, DeWitt’s skills aren’t anything special and he is more likely to be a replacement level player than anyone that will make an impact on fantasy teams.
Will Venable, OF, SD
Despite his hot spring, Will Venable is probably not going to make a big impact on mixed league fantasy teams in 2010.  He did hit 24 home runs in 493 combined at-bats between triple-A and the Padres last season, but he struggled to hit for AVG even with a .328 BABIP.  Venable hasn’t hit over .300 at any level since 2006 at single-A.  He’ll need to continue to hit for power and get enough at-bats to make a mixed league impact at a deep fantasy position.
Matt Diaz, OF, ATL
With Jayson Heyward winning the right field job in Atlanta, Matt Diaz is now in a battle with Melky Cabrera for playing time in left field.  Diaz hit .313 with 13 home runs last season and is a career .310 hitter, but most of his damage comes against left-handed pitching.  Last season Diaz received about 100 more at-bats against left-handed pitching and hit .412 against them.  He hit only .255 against right-handed pitching.  Diaz is a career .346 hitter against left-handed pitching and a career .276 hitter against right-handed pitching.  Those splits should limit his fantasy impact in 2010 even if he is named the opening day starting left fielder.