Observations from the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues...
Nelson Cruz- TEX- OF- Cruz woke up with chest soreness yesterday and spent the day in the hospital undergoing tests. If the stress test he had went well then he will be released and back on track for joining the Dominican Republic team for the World Baseball Classic. It is believed that the soreness he experienced is all muscular and not involving the heart muscle. With 2012 being his first season ever of over 600 PAs, any health concern regarding Cruz has to be factored in. At age 33 and with PED questions outstanding, he can't really be counted on for high flying numbers from the corner outfield.
Jurickson Profar- TEX- SS- No other team could pry Profar from the Rangers over the course of the winter although apparently several tried. Profar is ranked as one of the top 10 prospects by most rookie watchers. He hasn't hit any higher than .286 at any level but just turned 20 a few days ago. Profar projects to be a consistent .300 hitter with 15-20 homers at the SS position. The big question is when he will get to play in the majors. He isn't pushing Elvis Andrus out of the way and the possibility of Ian Kinsler moving to first to make room on the other side of second base died a quick death in the offseason. Profar may start at AAA this year, where he has never played before, but he will be back with the Rangers before long if he does.
Nolan Reimold- BAL- OF- Reimold started off hot last year, slugging 5 homers in just 67 bats in April. Then he was done for the season with a neck injury. This was nothing new for Reimold, who is one of those guys who has gotten a new first name, as in the Fragile Nolan Reimold. Yesterday he hit his first homer of the spring in his third start, but had to come out with a sore shoulder. If Reimold can stay in the lineup he can be a plus in the homer department, either in the outfield or as DH if Nate McLouth gets significant playing time in the field. Reimold's health is a big "if," however. He will probably not throw for the next couple of days, which makes DH a more likely spot for him on a longer term basis.
Jason Hammel- BAL- P- Hammel had a strong Grapefruit League outing yesterday, throwing 27 strikes in his 39 pitches. He made some large strides last year in moving from Colorado to Baltimore, most notably a rise in K/9 from 4.97 to 8.62. He had knee injury issues but seems to be past them. Hammel will likely be the Opening Day starter for Baltimore and build on his success of last year.
Johnny Hellweg- MIL- P- Hellweg was part of the bounty Milwaukee received from parting with Zack Greinke. He is a hard thrower who has had control issues. Hellweg walked 75 in 139.2 IP at AA in 2012 but also struck out 105 batters. He has impressed early this spring, throwing 4 scoreless innings so far. The Brewers are seriously considering taking Hellweg north with them, probably in a relief role. That might be a little too much too soon unless he has harnessed his impressive stuff almost overnight. Hellweg could probably benefit from time as a regular starter at AAA.
Wily Peralta- MIL- P- Peralta didn't hurt his top prospect status with his brief time in the majors last season, posting an ERA of 2.48 in 6 games, 5 of them starts. He is almost certain to be part of the Milwaukee rotation this season and will contribute strikeouts. With a high ground ball ratio, Peralta is likely to keep his ERA a plus. Expect Peralta to be one the top rookie fantasy pitchers this year.
Mark Prior- CIN- P- Prior signed a minor league contract with Cincinnati, putting him and former manager Dusty Baker back in the same organization. Prior has been trying to come back for years, since undergoing reconstructive shoulder surgery in 2007. Last year he had a 3.96 ERA and 13.68 K/9 in 19 games of relief for AAA Pawtucket, covering 25 IP. Those positive numbers are countered by a BB/9 of 8.28, BABIP of .234 and FIP of 5.24. The odds are slim for Prior returning to the majors, much less to the heady production of his early career, even if Baker is cheering him on.
Danny Espinosa- WAS- 2B- Espinosa continues his recuperation from a torn rotator cuff. He opted to do rehab instead of surgery. The early results aren't great, as he is 2-for-12 in his first 5 Grapefruit League outings. But it is only the first 5 games. If Espinosa is healthy enough he can be in the 20/20 club from the middle infield. He might have made it last year if he didn't have the shoulder issue for the last month.
Josh Hamilton- LAA- OF- Hamilton slugged his first homer of the spring and in a game as an Angel. Looking at the "small sample size" department, Hamilton homered 4 times in 17 games against the Angels last year, all of them coming in Arlington. He hit 2 homers in Anaheim in 2011, giving him a total of 2 homers in 17 games in Anaheim the past two years. Hamilton has hit 5 homers in 13 games against the Angels in Arlington in that same span. He will be trading his home parks, which looks like a minus, and swapping the Angels for the Rangers as opposing pitchers. That's likely to be a wash. I may be looking at this through the bias of a Rangers' fan, but I think that Hamilton will have difficulty putting up the same numbers in his new surroundings.
Roy Halladay- PHI- P- Halladay had another encouraging outing, allowing 1 run on 3 hits and a walk with 3 strikeouts in 2.2 IP. It wasn't Cy Young material, but Halladay felt good after the game. He appears to be in better condition than last year when he battled a variety of nagging injuries. Halladay threw fewer than 220 IP for the first time since 2005 last year. If he continues to feel comfortable and show results this spring he could actually be considered almost a sleeper.
Carl Crawford- LAD- OF- Crawford has been shut down from throwing and hitting for about a week due to what is being called "minor elbow nerve irritation." It doesn't directly involve his surgically repaired ligament. It does, however, increase the chance that Crawford will begin the season on the DL.
Jose Valverde- P- Valverde will not pitch in the World Baseball Classic. He has opted out of the Dominican Republic team for an unspecified "personal issue." Valverde is still without a contract and won't be able to use the Classic as an audition.
Sean Burnett- LAA- P- Burnett should see his first Cactus League action next week. He has been slowed since experiencing lower back stiffness on February 18th. Burnett should be throwing a bullpen session this weekend and might have another before seeing game action. He is still expected to be ready by Opening Day.
Carlos Gonzalez- COL- OF- CarGo hit a long double down the left field line and then slugged a homer to right yesterday. Manager Walt Weiss feels good about Gonzalez using the whole field. What might be just as encouraging would be for him to increase his contact numbers. While CarGo has seen fewer pitches inside the strike zone during his years in Colorado his contact rates have also dipped each season. While his walk rate increased from 8.9%in 2011 to 9.7% last year he seemed to not make as good contact as he did the year before. While his GB% remained almost the same (48.4% to 48.9%) balls that he hit in the air in 2011 (33.6% FB rate down to 29.5%) stayed flatter (18.0% LD rate up to 21.7%.) With a little more loft CarGo could hit a lot of those fantasy projections that were made before last season.
Frank Herrman- CLE- P- Herrman has been shut down indefinitely. There is an issue with a sprained elbow ligament. It sounds as if Tommy John surgery may be in Herrmann's future. He had pitched well during some time with the Indians late last season and was hoping to nail down a bullpen spot.
Chris Perez- CLE- P- The Cleveland closer will be shut down for a week to ten days due to a shoulder strain. This definitely knocks him out of the World Baseball Classic. It also makes him a candidate to start the regular season on the DL. If so, Vinnie Pestano will likely get any early save opportunities for the Indians.