Giants CF Job Battle: Does Steven Duggar Have a Chance?
Will the Giants really give a job to a younger player for a change? The 24-year-old Duggar is competing with Austin Jackson for CF at-bats this spring and he's off to a nice start, batting .300/.400/.733 with four home runs in 36 plate appearances. Duggar compiled just 194 plate appearances due to injuries last year, but he's healthy and looking ready for the big leagues this spring. Duggar has a solid glove (no Austin Jackson there of course), and the minor league walk rates have always been in the double-digits. He's shown the ability to steal 20+ bases and he's hit lefties nearly as well as righties coming up through the minors, though a platoon situation may be the best-case scenario unless the Giants play Jackson over Hunter Pence. A strong final week should solidify Duggar's spot on the 25-man roster, but it's not yet a lock.
How's the Giants rotation shaping up?
Well we know this: Tyler Beede won't be in it. In his last outing, Beede was pounded for six runs on eight hits over just 2.1 innings by the Angels. Maybe Beede wouldn't have made it anyway, but this likely leaves Ty Blach and Chris Stratton as the teams #4 and #5 starters. I'm not a fan of either really. Blach is a soft-tossing lefty who posted a microscopic 4.0 K/9 and 4.78 ERA in 163.2 innings a year ago. Stratton has been much better with a 2.25 ERA and 14:4 K:BB in 12 innings. Stratton though averages just 91.2 mph himself with his fastball while sporting mediocre career ratios - 7.5 K/9 and 4.3 BB/9. He's an implosion waiting to happen. Looking internally, Andrew Suarez is probably their #2 pitching prospect, but he's been terrible this spring (9.00 ERA in 11 innings), so reinforcements, if necessary, will likely come externally.
Does Matt Kemp have a chance at being the Dodgers' Opening Day left-fielder?
Maybe. Sure, it's March, but Kemp is impressing at the plate to the tune of .379/.419/.862 (including four home runs) and the 40 pounds he dropped over the winter aren't hurting his defense in left field. Kemp is battling Andrew Toles for playing time, with Joc Pederson having a poor spring that has likely punched his ticket for Triple-A. With Kemp though, it's hard to overlook his recent decline. Kemp hasn't posted a BB% above 6% since 2014, his defense has been the worse in the game, and his GB% spiked to a career-worst 48.5% last year, resulting in a sub-.200 ISO. Yes he's opened some eyes this spring, but battering Triple-A pitching is a bit different than facing the team's Opening Day opposing starter, Madison Bumgarner. Should Kemp impress some team enough for the Dodgers to offload a decent chunk of the $42 million he's owed through 2019, a Toles/Kike Hernandez LF platoon seems likely.
What can we expect from LAD's Walker Buehler?
The Dodgers will continue to treat Buehler with kid gloves this year, with a 150-innings cap already having been announced. Buehler made just one spring appearance before heading to minor league camp, but it was an eye-opening one: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K. There is surely going to be starts available given the rotation's history of injury and phantom DL visits, so of those 150 innings, figure 130 come in the regular season, with perhaps 100 available to the Dodgers from May-September once he spends some time in Triple-A. Given his upper-90s fastball and elite curve, a 10.0 K/9 right away seems possible. Expect 18 starts in LA this year, making him more of a guy to watch in 12-team mixed leagues rather than someone worth drafting right away.
Could COL's Ryan McMahon open in Triple-A?
Well with the signing of Carlos Gonzalez, it seems very possible. Currently the outfield projects as Gonzalez, Gerardo Parra, and Charlie Blackmon, with Ian Desmond as another possibility for OF at-bats but more likely as a first baseman. That's not even including David Dahl and Raimel Tapia, so McMahon batting .354/.367/.542 may not matter. Another option could be using McMahon as a utility infielder given he does have experience at second base and third base, but it's not like DJ LeMahieu and Nolan Arenado need many days off. Ultimately I would expect McMahon to get 400+ big league PA's, but the depth the Rockies have on their 40-man roster will limit his fantasy ceiling barring McMahon having a huge final couple of weeks to force the Rockies' hand.
Is there a Rockies starting pitcher other than Jon Gray worth owning?
German Marquez maybe, though he's had some ups and downs certainly this spring. Kyle Freeland could be another. He appears to have secured a rotation spot, and I often come back to him given he is a former #8 overall draft pick. That's pretty nice pedigree, and though Freeland's ratios last year were mediocre (6.2 K/9, 3.6 BB/9), a 4.10 ERA in Coors Field is solid. On the flip side, the poor ratios resulted in a 4.61 FIP, so maybe that was some smoke and mirrors, but Freeland is at least somewhat intriguing. His home/road splits were a bit surprising given he put up a 4.57 ERA on the road versus 3.72 at home, so we can dream about some improvement on the road and a sub-3.80 ERA. Freeland posted a strong 53.9% GB%, so that certainly helps at home, but will he miss enough bats (poor 7.5% swinging strike rate in 2017) to have fantasy value outside of NL-only formats? We will see, but he has fanned 12 in 12.1 innings this spring, though his 5.68 ERA is rather inflated.
Zack Greinke (SP-ARI) - Greinke was in the news again Wednesday, leaving his start after just one inning due to a tight groin. It's probably minor and shouldn't affect his Opening Day availability, but the real concern is Greinke's diminished velocity. Greinke has seen his velocity dip gradually the last three years from 91.9 mph on average to 91.0 last year. This spring he's been more in the mid-80s this spring, and while he's seen similar issues in past springs, this is far more pronounced and concerning. Perhaps he'll get another PRP injection in his elbow as he's done in past years and all will be good, but I am a bit concerned and see him as a borderline top-20 starter at this point. Could the groin have been bothering him for a while and resulted in a dip in velocity? Perhaps, but we have no information that's the case. We know of course the 1.66 ERA he put up in 2015 isn't happening again, but is he the 4.37 guy from 2016 or the 3.20 pitcher we saw last year? I'm worried about the velocity either way and wouldn't go near him right now. Late edit: Greinke reportedly hit 92 mph in this outing, so that helps, but continue to keep an eye on the radar gun as we close out spring.
Ian Happ (2B/OF-CHC) - Happ is competing with the likes of Javy Baez, Albert Almora, and Kyle Schwarber for at-bats, but he's making a pretty good case for full-time duty, perhaps at multiple positions. Wednesday Happ led off and went 1-for-2 with a walk and run scored to leave him at .393/.485/1.071. Yes, he's slugging over 1.000. It's tough to imagine anyone leading off in front of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Willson Contreras NOT scoring 100 runs, so if Happ can see is way to 550+ PA, he could hit 25 home runs, steal 10-15 bases, and score 100+ runs. The knock on Happ is last year's 31.2% K%, but given his minor league rates were more in the 21%-23% range, he should be able to cut those down and post a .340+ OBP while hitting in the .270 range, perhaps even as early as this season. Happ accumulated just 390 PA above A-ball prior to last year, so he's essentially learning on the job, but he appears to be a quick learner.
Dominic Leone (RP-STL) - With Luke Gregerson (oblique) possibly questionable for Opening Day, that leaves multiple possibilities for a fill-in closer to come in and perhaps push Gregerson back to his familiar setup role. Leone appears to be Option A at this point. So far this spring, Leone has allowed one run in five innings with a 6:3 K:BB. He flew a bit under the radar last year in putting up a strong 2017 - 2.56 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 10.4 K/9, and 2.9 BB/9. Leone features a 94-96 mph fastball and an excellent cutter that he increased the usage of last year (seven full percentage points) while decreasing the reliance on his fastball. Leone has a real shot at leading the team in saves this year.
Zack Wheeler (SP-NYM) - It may be about time that the Mets move Wheeler to a relief role full-time. He's competing with Steven Matz for the No. 5 starter job, but after allowing five runs in his last start, the Mets could be ready to make the move according to a Mets beat writer. Matz himself has a 15.88 ERA in three appearances, so this is far from decided. Wheeler could be one of those Tommy John survivors that never fully recovers, but perhaps a move to the bullpen can resuscitate his career. Wheeler has a decent 8.5 K/9 for his career, though he's been erratic throughout his pro career as well given a 4.0 BB/9. His 94.6 mph average fastball could spike a couple mph as a reliever, so perhaps someday Wheeler becomes yet another failed starter / elite closer. In 2018? There's probably not a lot of upside to be had here unless Wheeler surprises these last couple weeks.
Greg Bird (1B-NYY) - It's been a tale of two springs for Bird, who posted a 1.654 OPS with eight home runs last spring only to hit .190 during the regular season and miss significant time with an ankle injury. This year Bird is batting just .161/.297/.161, so maybe he'll have a huge regular season. The upside is huge - .270-30-90 if things break right, but the floor is also low. Bird is a career .283/.397/.486 hitter in over 1,300 minor league at-bats, and it may be now or never for the 25-year-old's career as a Yankee regular. Plan B is probably Tyler Austin, or perhaps more likely, Neil Walker with Miguel Andujar or Gleybar Torres joining the lineup. Despite last year's struggles, Bird still has a career 10.9% BB% and .250 ISO.
Mike Kingery (2B-PHI) - We walked up Kingery 10 days ago, but I'm going to mention him again. Wednesday, Kingery went 2-for-2 with a double and run scored to life his impressive spring slash to .370/.414/.778 in 30 plate appearances. He's still not unseating starting 2B Cesar Hernandez, but note that presumed shortstop starter J.P. Crawford is hitting just .250/.276/.321. Kingery's best position is second base, but he's received reps at third, the outfield, and yes, shortstop this spring. I do think Crawford has locked down the Opening Day gig, but what if he's struggling after 2-3 weeks and Kingery is tearing the cover off the ball as Triple-A Lehigh Valley's starting shortstop? It could get interesting. Kingery has massive fantasy upside given last year's 26 homers and 29 steals at AA/AAA, so look for him to force his way to the big leagues sometime this summer, if not earlier.
Hector Santiago (SP-CHW) - Santiago hasn't really been fantasy-relevant since 2015, but it's probably safe to say he's locked up the No. 5 starter job. With one earned run and a 10:3 K:BB in 10 innings, Santiago has pitched just a bit better than his competitor Carson Fulmer. Wednesday Fulmer imploded, allowing seven runs in just 1.2 innings to give him a spring line of 6.2 innings, 18 hits, 14 runs, 10 walks, and 5 strikeouts. He's got pretty good stuff as a former first round pick, but he's probably going to be a reliever in the big leagues at this rate. Santiago meanwhile isn't a high-upside play, but he's made 65 starts over the past two years, so he's at least durable. In 2015, Santiago put up a 3.59 ERA with 162 strikeouts, but regressed the following season and ended up missing a good chunk of 2017 with a shoulder injury. Apparently he's healthy now, and he's still just 30, so as a deeper league play, you could do far worse. Unfortunately he's a fairly extreme fly ball pitcher with a miniscule 33.1% GB% and his career 8% swinging strike rate limits his upside, but he still could be a solid play in AL-only formats at least.
CJ Cron (1B-TB) - Well we will finally get to see what Cron can do given regular playing time, as the Rays really have no other viable first base options. Cron is off to a .250/.300/.500 start this spring, with five of his seven hits having gone for extra bases. It's tough to get excited about a guy with a .307 career OBP and 5% BB%, but Cron could easily hit 25 home runs, and if his pitch recognition improves even a little, maybe we're looking at a .270/.320/.490 type of hitter. Cron isn't likely to fulfill the potential that once made him the 17th pick in the draft, but the Rays will seemingly give him plenty of rope to see if he's even 70% of that guy.
Alex Claudio (RP-TEX) - The Rangers brought in a bunch of lottery tickets to compete for rotation spots, but it looks as if they completely ignored the bullpen. As of now, Claudio probably tops the depth chart, but a lefty who throws in the mid-80s as a closer? Yes he has a 2.66 career ERA and yes, he did do a good job in his time as closer in 2017, but is this really going to stick? So far this spring, Claudio is in mid-season form with four hitless innings and a 4:0 K:BB, but when drafting in AL-only leagues, it would be wise to speculate on Keone Kela and Jake Diekman. Perhaps even give Jose Leclerc a look if you're really speculating. Claudio gets away with the less than Billy Wagner-esque stuff because he's an extreme ground ball pitcher (63.3% career GB%), so unless the Rangers make a trade or put Mike Minor back in the bullpen, Claudio is it, at least for now.
Carlos Correa (SS-HOU) - Correa struck out in all three of his at-bats Wednesday and is now down to .242/.265/.242 this spring with a 12:1 K:BB In 34 plate appearances. It's likely nothing to worry about, as Correa should be a late-first / early-second round pick in most drafts. Last season saw Correa walk in 11% of his PA's while cutting his K% from 21.1% down to 19.1%. He also showed more power with a career-high .235 ISO. The 23-year-old won't be a free agent until after the 2021 season, but if he continues this sort of trajectory, a $300MM+ deal shouldn't be that tough to find. He's swung at fewer pitches out of the zone in each of the last two seasons, and that's exactly the type of progress we like to see from young hitters.