White Sox Notes
White Sox cut Lawrie, 2B job now open
2B Brett Lawrie was cut by the White Sox on Friday, but apparently it wasn't because of the leg soreness that's been bothering him recently. Rather, the White Sox wanted to give more opportunities to some of their younger players. Assuming he gets healthy, it is likely that Lawrie would sign with some team, although the fact that Chicago released him as opposed to working out a trade may be somewhat telling of the interest Lawrie is drawing around the league. After all, he has seen his K% increase each year since 2013 and not by an insignificant amount; his strikeout rates for the past four seasons have been 15.4%, 17.4%, 23.9%, and 28.4%. This has corresponded to a spike in his SwStr%, which has grown steadily from 8.3% in 2013 to 13.2% last season. Lawrie used to be a guy who could chip in modest counting stats across the board without a real risk of hurting your BA, but the latter part is no longer true. Even if he were to sign somewhere before the season starts, there is a very good chance that it would not be as a full-time player, but even if he were to play every day, he's not worth drafting in standard leagues.
Yoan Moncada, CWS
As David Regan pointed out a couple days ago, Moncada is still expected to start the season in AAA, despite the White Sox recent release of Brett Lawrie. Moncada is very likely to see big league action at some point during 2017, but in leagues that don't have a large bench, I'm usually hesitant about reserving a roster spot for a player in the minors (unless it's like a Kris Bryant situation from a couple years ago). That being said, his power-speed combo will give him a lot of appeal when he does near a promotion; he has amassed 95 steals over two minor league seasons, while slugging .508 across three levels in 2016 including 11 HR's in 45 games at the AA level. The downside is that his K% rose to over 30% in AA, and that trend has continued both in his brief stint with the Red Sox last season (12 K's in 20 PA's) and early this spring (7 K's in 17 PA's). That will certainly be a number to watch as Moncada's season progresses.
Tyler Saladino, CWS
Saladino was found all across the White Sox infield last season but is likely the favorite to start the 2017 campaign as the starting 2B following the release of Brett Lawrie. Saladino's numbers last year were decent with a .282 BA, 8 HR's, and 11 SB's through 93 games, but his .329 BABIP and 11.8% HR/FB% are likely due for some regression considering his 25.3% Hard%. There should be better MI options available.
Rodon may not be ready by start of season
White sox manager Rick Renteria has acknowledged that SP Carlos Rodon may not be fully ready to pitch at the beginning of the season, as the team is bringing him along slowly during Spring Training. If it only means missing a start or two, that shouldn't affect Rodon's fantasy value very much, but that's assuming there's no injury that we haven't heard about. As it stands, Rodon is a pitcher who struck out more than a batter per inning last season, and lowered his BB/9 from 4.59 in 2015 to a much more respectable 2.95 last year. He also got a bit unlucky with a .330 BABIP and 13.8% HR/FB%, making Rodon a good bet to improve upon his 4.04 ERA and 1.39 WHIP from 2016. He is someone worth considering in the late rounds of fantasy drafts.
Frazier hoping to return soon, Davidson likely to start season as DH
3B Todd Frazier is looking to return from his oblique injury and make his spring debut this Wednesday. When healthy, he is an excellent source of power and a good bet to improve upon last year's .225 BA. As of right now, there's no real reason to think Frazier won't be ready by Opening Day, but the injury is worth monitoring at least until we see him playing in games.
Matt Davidson, CWS
Davidson has been playing some 3B while Todd Frazier has been out with an injury, but he figures to serve as the White Sox' DH once the season begins. Davidson has shown power throughout his Minor League career with 20+ HR's (including his 3 MLB HR's) each season from 2011-2015. At the same time, his career MiLB batting average is .249, and that number has dipped to .216 in three season with the White Sox farm system. To be fair, Davidson supposedly worked on his swing before the 2016 season and he did lower his K% in the minors to 26.4%, but it's not like that's a good mark either. Further reducing his fantasy appeal is that he currently only qualifies as a DH in most leagues. All indications are that Frazier will be ready to go by the start of the season, but Davidson could still potentially gain 3B eligibility by filling in for Frazier on days when he is not in the lineup or if he gets traded. Of course, that won't matter unless Davidson can hit at the big-league level.
Jones returns from knee injury, expected to serve as setup man
RP Nate Jones made his spring debut on Saturday, and seems to have recovered from his recent knee injury. Jones had a sensational 2016 as the White Sox setup man posting a 2.29 ERA, 2.99 xFIP, 10.19 K/9, and 14.3% SwStr%. Despite all of this, Jones' fantasy value is limited as long as he remains the setup man to closer David Robertson. In the event that Robertson would get traded or injured, Jones would immediately go from being a waiver option to a top-notch fantasy closer.
Kipnis still sitting out with shoulder sprain
2B Jason Kipnis has been sitting out of spring games thus far due to a shoulder strain but hopes to make his debut as a DH within the next week, and to play the field soon after. As of now, it seems probable that Kipnis will be fine by Opening Day, as he looks to build off a season in which he posted a career high 23 HR's. It would be hard to project a repeat of his 2016 HR total, but the increase in power after two years of single-digit homeruns is not a fluke. Kipnis significantly upped his FB% to 37.4% (career 31.9%) and saw career highs in Hard% (35.7%) and Pull% (40.8%). It's very possible that he deliberately added power at the expense of contact, as his K% rose from 16.7% in 2015 to 21.2% last year, but it's worth pointing out that his K% in April of 2016 was a rocky 29.8% compared to 19.9% for the final 5 months of the season, so we should probably expect some positive regression in that area. Assuming he is healthy, Kipnis should contribute in all five fantasy categories without excelling in any, which should be enough to make him a top-10 2B once again in 2017.
Kluber expected to debut Monday
There has been talk about Tribe ace Corey Kluber not being ready to pitch on Opening Day as the Indians have been building up his arm slowly this spring due to Kluber's high volume of innings the past few seasons. However, the Klubot is expected to make his spring debut on Monday and he apparently feels that he'll be ready to go for the opener. Whether or not he pitches on April 3 won't affect his fantasy value, although skipping a few starts throughout the season could cost him a few strikeouts. More important is that he is healthy, and right now there has been no report of an injury. A few of Kluber's peripherals regressed slightly in 2016, but he should still be treated as a fantasy ace.
Fulmer sprains ankle, Sanchez struggling
SP Michael Fulmer suffered a sprained right ankle on Sunday and will miss his next scheduled spring start. Fulmer is coming off a season in which he was the AL Rookie of the Year and has risen to the point of being the Tiger's #2 SP. At this point, there is no indication that the injury will linger into the regular season, but if it does, it would mean increased opportunity for pitchers like Matt Boyd, Anibal Sanchez, or Mike Pelfrey to land a spot in Detroit's rotation. In some ways, the injury could be a blessing in disguise for the Tigers as it could keep Fulmer out of the World Baseball Classic.
Anibal Sanchez, DET
Things have not looked very good for Sanchez this spring as he has already allowed 7 ER's on 9 hits and 3 BB's, along with 2 HR's in 2.2 spring IP's. He's picking up right where he left off last season when he allowed a whopping 1.76 HR/9 through 153.1 IP. He's got a long way to go if he wants to secure a rotation spot with the Tigers, and at this point even a spot on the roster doesn't seem like a guarantee.
Collins limited to DH with strained lat
Tyler Collins is one of the candidates for the Tiger's starting CF job this season, but he is currently suffering from a strained lat muscle that has limited him to DH duties. The fact that he has still been able to bat indicates that the injury isn't too serious, but he likely anyways has an uphill battle to climb after hitting just .235 with a .687 OPS and 25.2% K% last season. He hasn't done anything to help his case this spring either going 2-11 with 4 K's through his first 5 spring games.
Around the League
Lance McCullers, HOU
McCullers is scheduled to make his spring debut on Thursday, as he continues to recover from an elbow injury that cost him final two months of 2016. In 81.0 IP last season, McCullers posted a phenomenal 11.78 K/9 and 13.0% SwStr%, along with an excellent 57.3% GB%. His 25.4% Hard% was also elite, making his .383 BABIP last season even more surprising. Yet despite the high BABIP, he managed an excellent 3.22 ERA which may actually have been unlucky. Other than his high BB%, McCullers' peripherals suggest he could be an ace, and that's a lot of upside for a player going outside the first 15 rounds.
Felix Hernandez, SEA
Hernandez struck out 5 in 3 IP against the A's on Sunday as he now heads off to Venezuela for the WBC. Hopes are not very high right now (at least from the perspective of fantasy owners) on King Felix, who posted career worsts in K/9, BB/9, and HR/9 last season, leading to a bloated 4.45 xFIP , by far the highest of his career. His velocity has steadily declined from around 95 MPH in his heyday to around 90 MPH last season, so it's not surprising to see his other numbers fall accordingly. While a comeback season doesn't seem imminent, it didn't seem that way for Justin Verlander either, but that's exactly what we saw in 2016. It's not something to bet on, but it will be interesting to see if Hernandez finds a way to regain at least some of the velocity, and strikeouts, from his past.
Matt Harvey, NYM
Harvey allowed 4 ER's in 1.1 IP in his spring debut, but did strike out 3 in the outing. He was still bothered by a stiff neck but apparently it wasn't enough to keep him out of the game. Harvey's awful 2016 was likely in large part due to injury, and if he's healthy, it wouldn't be ridiculous to think that he could once again be among the top pitchers in the NL, but that's far from certain. Seeing how his body responds throughout Spring Training could tell us and the Mets a lot about what to expect from Harvey this season.