Notes from around the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues...
Mike Fiers- P- MIL- Fiers lack of stuff has caused him to be underestimated by many scouts. However, he has consistently struck out more than a batter per inning in his pro career despite the lack of a dominant fastball. Fiers continued this trend last season with his first extended stretch of big league ball even during a late season swoon (7.09 ERA in the last month of the season with an 11.14 K/9 over the same stretch.) That poor finish was due In large part to bad luck (.403 BABIP) and an inordinate number of balls leaving the yard (2.03 HR/9.) Fiers can provide some value above what you'd expect froma back of the rotation starter.
Marco Estrada- P- MIL- With the Brewers' rotation all but set, Estrada was trotted out for 2 IP on short rest yesterday. This sets him up to take the second spot in the rotation. Estrada posted a K/9 of 9.30 in 2012, his first season of extended starting in the big leagues. Fantistics' projects Estrada for 180 Ks, a 3.79 ERA and 1.18 WHIP, a solid follow up to his 2012 campaign.
Wei-Yin Chen- P- BAL- Chen worked on building strength during the offseason in an attempt to pitch 200 innings in 2013 and avoid the fade that happened towards the end of 2012. Even with a declining K/9 rate of 6.06 in the final month of the season, Chen posted a stronger K/9 in the second half of the year than the first half. His FB% of 42.1% hurt him, particularly at home where he had a 12.6% HR/FB ratio. Still, as a source of a decent amount of strikeouts and a durable pitcher, Chen projects as a good pick, for likely little cost.
Chris Davis- 1B- BAL- Despite Conor Jackson posting a .378 Grapefruit League average it looks like Davis will be the starting first baseman for the Orioles. Davis played more games at DH and OF than at 1B last year. Expect some regression from his .270 average and 33 homers in 139 games last year, given his .335 BABIP and 25.2% HR/FB ratio. Still , with a projected 28 homers, Davis offers some value from a power position.
Derek Lowe- P- TEX- Non-roster invitee Lowe is getting closer to winning a job with the Rangers. Even though manager Ron Washington denies it, Lowe's performance could warrant consideration for him in the Texas rotation in the unfilled fifth spot. He is unscored upon in 5 IP this spring, including 3 IP last night. The Rangers don't need a fifth starter until April 9th, so if they decide to go Lowe's way he could get an extra start in extended spring training to get him stretched out. Lowe experienced bad luck the past two years, with BABIP marks of .327 and .326. His FIPs of 3.70 and 4.37 are better than his ERAs of 5.05 and 5.11. Given a less extreme amount of luck and his usual GB% of around 60%, Lowe could be a sleeper with the Rangers if he sticks in the rotation.
Ian Kinsler- 2B- TEX- Kinsler went 3-for-3 with a homer, his first of the season, last night. It boosted his Cactus League average above the Mendoza line, to .214. Kinsler has had subpar seasons the past two, as far as average goes and in homers last year. Fantistics projects him to bounce back to a .274 average and a return to the 20/20 club. Since he is staying at 2B those numbers will be more valuable than if he had made a shift to 1B to accommodate Jurickson Profar.
Chase Headley- 3B- SD- Headley broke the tip of his left thumb in a slide into second base on Sunday. He will miss the first two weeks of the regular season. Headley finishes spring training with a .448 average, a good sign for when he returns. The likely replacement at third base for the Padres will be either Logan Forsythe or Jedd Gyorko.
Jonny Gomes- OF- BOS- With David Ortiz almost certainly starting the season on the DL, someone will have to DH for the Red Sox. Experience in that slot is important to manager John Farrell. Gomes leads the cast of possible replacements with 322 career games as a DH. Last season he hit southpaws at a .299 clip, thanks to a .400 BABIP against them. Gomes' homer rate didn't show as heavy a platoon split, with 11 homers in 196 PAs versus lefthanders and 7 long balls in 137 PAs against righthanders.
Ted Lilly- P- LAN- Lilly is officially out of the running for a rotation spot to start the season. A return from shoulder surgery was slowed by illness this spring. Lilly will continue to get some innings with the minor leaguers as he continues to rebuild his strength but his chances to come out of the logjam of starters and get a spot with the Dodgers to begin the season are gone.
Daisuke Matsuzaka- P- CLE- Dice-K wasn't able to successfully battle his way into the Cleveland rotation, but he will stay with the organization at AAA. The Indians are hoping he provides depth in the event of injury to one of their other starters, but given the track record of his career, you shouldn't hope for anything similar. Even his sophomore season of 2008, when he won 18 games and posted a 2.90 ERA had a boost from a .258 BABIP and showed a FIP of 4.03, more in line with the rest of his performances.
Matt Garza- P -CHN- The projections for Garza's return keep getting worse. Manager Dale Sveum says that the target date for Garza's return is May7th but he could be pushed back to the middle of May. He hasn't thrown from a mound since straining his lat last month and hasn't tossed more than 75 feet since then. Garza won't throw from a mound until he gets to the point where he can play catch from 120-150 feet.
Ervin Santana- P- KC- Yesterday Santana looked like the Mr. Hyde part of his 2012 Jekyll and Hyde season. In 4 IP he gave up 6 runs on 10 hits and a walk. Last season Santana looked like he might have turned around a hideous start, posting monthly ERAs of 3.58 and 3.68 in the final two months of the year. However, his FIPs in those months were 5.54 and 5.31 respectively, as he enjoyed BABIPs below .200 in each. Don't expect consistency from him in Kansas City.
Joey Votto- 1B- CIN- Votto has spent this spring clearing away doubts as to whether his power will return after his injury-effected 2012. After 28 Cactus League ABs Votto has two homers and is hitting .393. He will be an offensive powerhouse this season.
Tyler Skaggs- P- ARI- Skaggs won't be bringing his top prospect status to Arizona in the short term. He was sent to the minor league camp yesterday, ending his bid to nail down the fifth spot in the rotation. Skaggs walked 8 in 9 Cactus League IP and will work on getting command of his pitches in the minors before his inevitable return to the big club.
Grant Balfour- RP- OAK- Balfour threw 17 pitches in a minor league game yesterday, recording a strikeout. It was his first game action since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery a month ago. Balfour is expected to pitch in a Cactus League game tomorrow and get a total of 5 appearances in before the regular season starts. That should keep him on track to have his closer role when the games start to count.
Jason Grilli- RP- PIT- Grilli pitched a perfect inning in his first game action since the World Baseball Classic. He seems set to perform in the closer role. Fantistics' projections have him picking up 34 saves this season which will give him decent value.