Here are some news, notes and glimpses of the future from spring training...
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Ian Kinsler- TEX- Injuries took a huge toll on Kinsler’s power last season, as he dropped from 31 homers in 2009 to only 9 in 2010. He hit his 5th homer of the spring yesterday, which is a very good sign that he can bounce back in 2011. Despite the injuries, Kinsler was able to post a .286 average last season, a large improvement on his .253 mark of the year before. This was due in large part to a rise in his BABIP from .241 in 2009 to a more normal .313 last year. He also still managed to swipe 15 bases which was a drop from his 31 of the previous season but not bad considering his health issues and reduced playing time. Given a usual amount of luck, it looks like Kinsler will be able to help across the board as the Rangers’ leadoff hitter.
Alexi Ogando- TEX- Most of the talk about converting a reliever to a starter for Texas has centered on Neftali Feliz. However, Ogando is also potentially in the position of moving from the bullpen to the rotation. His first 3 minor league appearances last year was as a starter for AA Frisco, where he allowed 1 run on 2 hits and 2 walks while striking out 14 in 9.2 IP. Ogando had built himself up to a 4 IP start before being put in the bullpen where he stayed for the rest of the year at AA, AAA and in the majors. His K/9 rate of 8.42 once he reached Texas shows solid potential. Ogando is likely to have value either as a starter, possible closer if Feliz moves to the rotation or a prime setup man in leagues where holds are counted.
Brian Roberts- BAL- Roberts is on the shelf until at least next week due to back spasms. Back problems limited Roberts to 59 games in 2010 and health issues remain a huge concern for the 33-year-old infielder. Those factors aside, Roberts had shown declines in stolen bases and Batting EYE over his last 3 healthy seasons (2007-2009). His steal numbers dropped 10 each year, from 50 to 40 to 30 while his Batting EYE declined from .90 to .79 to .66. Even if Roberts didn’t still have back problems, his production wouldn’t be counted on to bounce back to what he was in his prime.
Jeremy Guthrie- BAL- Not only did Guthrie enjoy decent luck last year (.254 BABIP) but his HR/FB ratio of 8.5% was 2% lower than his previous career best. Unless he manages to maintain the control he had in 2010 (2.15 BB/9- his previous best was 2.41 and his career average is 2.64) Guthrie could have some problems trying to repeat his production of last season.
Chris Coghlan- FLA- The sophomore jinx hit the 2009 NL Rookie of the Year hard. When his 2010 season ended due to injury in a freak pie incident, Coghlan was hitting only .268 with 5 homers. He didn’t have the same luck he enjoyed in 2009 (.365 BABIP) but Coghlan still had a .336 BABIP last year. Most of the benefit of that was wiped out by a jump in K% from 15.3% in 2009 to 23.5% last year. That was an abnormally high rate of whiffing for the Marlin and perhaps he was pressing, trying to live up to his hardware gained from his rookie campaign. Coghlan is back from injury now and if he can regain control of the strike zone can be productive, although a return to the .321 average he posted two years ago would likely depend on a high amount of luck.
Chris Volstad- FLA- Volstad burst on the scene in 2008 when he posted a 2.88 ERA in 84.1 IP. This was driven in large part by a .271 BABIP, 53.4% GB% and 3.9% HR/FB ratio. Volstad’s xFIP was 4.59 that season. 2009 saw Volstad’s performance go the other way. He had a 4.35 xFIP, but his ERA was 5.21, driven in large part by an inability to keep the ball in the park. Volstad had a whopping 17.5% HR/FB ratio in 2009. Last year he settled down into something more like what you’d expect. His xFIP was back to 4.59 again and his ERA was 4.58. His 8.8% HR/FB ratio was in between his former numbers. Volstad continued a drop in BB/9 ratio from 3.84 in 2008 to 3.34 in 2009 to 3.09 last season. His 2010 numbers look like about what you’d expect from his abilities. He is a decent but not outstanding pitcher. You can do better and you can do worse. Look at him as a dependable option late in the draft.
Chase Utley- PHI- Utley has patellar tendinitis, chondromalacia and bone inflammation in his right knee. That has kept him out of Grapefruit League games and will almost definitely start the regular season on the DL. Attempted treatments so far haven’t helped and surgery is a possibility.
Cliff Lee- PHI- Before blowing huge dollars for Lee, take into account that his workload the past two seasons is far above his prior career norms. After throwing 3289 pitches, what had been his second most ever, in 2008 that number ballooned to a whopping 4111 pitches in 2009 (including the postseason). The number of pitches dropped somewhat last season to 3525, but he also had 6 fewer starts than in 2009 and also struggled mightily in August, with a 6.35 ERA. Lee showed some signs of fatigue last season. There is a high risk that this level of use will impact him in 2011.
Justin Morneau- MIN- Morneau is playing again, getting in 4 innings of work and 2 ABs against the Red Sox yesterday. He struck out looking and reached on an error, but the main thing is that he is out there. If Morneau doesn’t light the world on fire in the Grapefruit League, don’t be too concerned. He batted .160 in 50 spring ABs last year and then proceeded to hit .345 before his season was cut short by a concussion. The most important thing will be if Morneau can stay in the lineup and be free of post-concussion effects.
Miguel Cabrera- DET- Cabrera faced the media for the first time since his drunk driving arrest- sort of. His legal problems were declared off limits for questions so what was left was a parade of clichés. "I don't think about what is going to happen tomorrow." "I'm focused about today's games.” “If we are going to play the Cardinals, I'm focused on what I have to do to be ready to play the game today. That's my goal -- taking it day by day." "I always enjoy playing baseball, always enjoy my game and try to do my best out on the field.” "I'm trying to get ready for the season.” I'm trying to be healthy -- that's the most important thing.” “We're going to try to win some games.” “Every Spring Training you work to get ready for the season.” “At this point I am working hard to get ready.” “Hopefully, I don't get any injuries.” “I'm trying to be healthy.” “I'm trying to play hard every day.” “I'm trying to do my best in the field." Cabrera evidently wasn’t fazed by the controversy surrounding him as he homered and doubled in yesterday’s game. The Tigers seem committed to making Cabrera a baseball-only focus and avoid the other issues. This could make the legal part of things less of a distraction as the season approaches.
Chris Carpenter- STL- Carpenter threw 61 pitches in 4 simulated innings yesterday and appears to have recovered from his mild hamstring strain. He will throw a bullpen session on Sunday and will see game action on Wednesday. This was not an arm injury so the cringing can stop.
Bryce Harper- WAS- Baseball America put Bryce Harper on the cover of it’s 2011 Prospect Handbook and refers to him as “the most hyped prospect in draft history” (I guess they don’t recall teammate Stephen Strasburg). But just because it’s hype doesn’t mean it’s not true. BA says his power ranks as an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale and he did things in junior college almost never seen before (.443 average, 31 homers, 20 steals). And this from a player who got his GED so that he could skip his past two years of high school. Harper is going to start the season in A ball and is unlikely to see the majors for a while but even if he shows up in 2013 he will only be 20 years old. There is going to be a lot of competition for Harper in just about every fantasy league out there when he does finally make it. You can’t have a prospect like him on your radar too early.
Aaron Cook- COL- Cook will start the season on the DL. He will be out at least a few weeks after slamming his hand in his house door and breaking the ring finger on his pitching hand. This isn’t the freakiest accident in preseason baseball history. I still think that has to go to Oddibe McDowell of the Rangers, who started one season on the DL after cutting his hand with a butter knife at the team’s welcome home dinner after spring training.
Matt Cain- SF- Cain’s elbow inflammation does, indeed, seem to have been a minor issue. He threw a simulated game on Thursday and is expected to make a Cactus League start on Monday.
Jonathan Papelbon- BOS- Papelbon was very wild in his outing yesterday, throwing 29 pitches but only retiring one batter. He gave up a hit and three walks in addition to hitting a batter. Is there any cause for concern? Not really, at least not based on one game. However, his walk numbers have climbed, going from 1.04 BB/9 in 2008 to 3.18 in 2009 to 3.76 last season. If Papelbon struggles with control over a long span of time the Red Sox have potential replacements at hand in the bullpen so his margin of error is slim.
Texas Rangers- The Rangers are Nolan Ryan’s team now. CEO Chuck Greenberg resigned yesterday, giving that title to Ryan, who was already head of baseball operations. It seems like Greenberg and Ryan, as well as Greenberg and the main owners of the team had “philosophical differences” that manifested themselves in things like the effort to re-sign Cliff Lee and possibly impacted the Michael Young situation. On the field there probably won’t be much effect. Maybe it will be beneficial. After all, last year the team was sold out of bankruptcy court after a nasty bidding war. And we know how that season turned out.