Pittsburgh Pirates: The Battle for Right Field
Whenever your rightfielders collectively produce an OBP less than .300 and OPS+ well below 100, most organizations might ponder a trade. But, that's just not the Pirates style. Normally, the fanbase might gripe about handing the reigns to some platoon of Jose Tabata, Travis Snyder, and Andrew Lambo. But, all indications from Bradenton suggest that Gregory Polanco, the 12th ranked prospect from our own David Regan and industry consensus blue chipper, isn't too far from taking those reigns himself. Polanco posted a .285/.356/.434/ line with 12 homers and 38 steals in 127 games across three MiLB levels last season before posting a .331/.428/.494 line in the DWL with 5 homers and 7 steals in 44 games. He is considered one of the few true 5-tool prospects around, and his understanding of the strike zone will help ease the transition to the majors. You also have to love the fact that the southpaw hasn't shown any noticeable platoon splits and appears to have a solid handle against lefties. While he is unlikely to see the majors until June, keep an eye on him in camp.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Back of the Rotation Concerns After Losing A.J. Burnett
Assuming Wandy Rodriguez continues to progress in the health department, the Pirates look fairly well set 1-4 in the rotation with Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Rodriguez, and Charlie Morton. It's that number 5 spot that's tricky. As of now, Edinson Volquez appears to be the frontrunner, although Jeff Locke has designs on asserting himself this spring. Locke completely fell apart in the second half, posting a 2.15 ERA pre ASG compared to a whopping 6.12 post ASG. His BB% moving from 10.8 to 13.5 was definitely a big culprit, and he definitely experienced regression to the mean in terms of his .228 pre ASG BABIP. However, that regression went to the tune of a .365 BABIP! Add in the fact that his 2nd half xFIP/FIP was 4.46/4.14, and we can imagine the truth laying somewhere in between. I'm not counting Locke out, and while the Pirates will likely send him to AAA to work on being more aggressive in the zone and on handling lefties, the concerns from Wandy's health and Edison Volquez's volatility are too great to ignore. Another name to keep in mind is Jameson Taillon, our #5 pitching prospect. Much like Cole, his MiLB numbers can be deceiving, as the organization emphasizes fastball command and sequencing more than results. He could easily be the team's #3 starter by mid-season.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Closer Situation in Flux?
"We're going to take our time and be patient with that." These were the words of manager Kirk Gibson to the media some two weeks ago when asked about naming a closer. Addison Reed seems like the obvious choice and we're projecting him for 38 saves this season. Although Reed blew 8 saves in 48 attempts last season, the former Sox closer actually made some quiet progress. He kept his BB-rate stable while increasing his K-rate by nearly 2%. He lowered his LD-rate nearly 3% to a respectable 21.6%, lending credence to a lower BABIP and hinting that a new baseline for him could be in order. The key was increasing his effectiveness with his 4-seamer, as according to Brooks Baseball, opponents hit 106 points less off of it when compared with 2012. Brad Ziegler and J.J. Putz remain in the discussion, and we all know Kirk Gibson is anything but conventional, so we'll be keeping an eye on things this spring. But, he should eventually see the light, especially given that management brought in Reed in exchange for prospect Matt Davidson.
Arizona Diamondbacks: The Bradley Watch
The fantasy owners of Fantistics' #1 pitching prospect and industry blue-chipper Archie Bradley may look to the Bronson Arroyo signing as a clear sign that their man will start the year in AAA to delay the dreaded arbitration clock. However, the Diamonbacks are in a very competitive division and know they must get out of the gates quickly, so GM Kevin Towers has been quoted multiple times suggesting the best five will break camp. So far that looks to be Patrick Corbin, Brandon McCarthy, Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill, and Bronson Arroyo, but Randall Delgado and Bradley have designs on a spot. Whenever a prospect K's 162 in 152 innings while pitching mostly at AA, people take notice, especially when he backs it up with a plus-plus fastball in the high 90's, a plus curveball, and a developing changeup. The only major flaw in his game in the control, as his 11.7% BB-rate at AA highlights (MLB avg. is 8.5%). Due to his athleticism (he turned down the chance to play QB for the Sooners), few doubt he'll figure it out and hone his control and command. The question is, can he get off to a fast start in spring and carry it over into the season? If we don't see him by the end of June, I'd be surprised.
Anaheim Angels: Hector Santiago, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Screwball
On the surface, Hector Santiago's 2013 line doesn't look so appealing: 3.56 ERA/4.65 xFIP with a 21% K-rate (comfortably above average) and an 11% BB-rate (well below average). However, two things lead me to believe he could be a draft day steal in 2014. Firstly, he made some subtle improvements to his approach, mixing in a changeup more frequently. Once his gets a handle on it, he should continue to improve his troublesome BB-rate even more than the 2% improvement he showed last season. And secondly, he's moving to a more pitcher-friendly environment, as the Park Factors of 104 for U.S. Cellular and 96 for Angels' Stadium demonstrate. With a .84 GB/FB ratio, this will definitely help Santiago. Currently going as the 101st pitcher off the board in NFBC drafts at #381 overall, keep Santiago on your radar in deeper leagues.
Anaheim Angels: Ernesto Frieri a Sleeper or a Bust?
While many in the industry are hesitant to select Frieri in drafts, suggesting the recently acquired Joe Smith could put pressure on him, we have Frieri pegged in the Fantistics Software for a solid 2014 campaign. And evidence suggests a buying opportunity exists for prospective Ernasty owners. He lowered his BB-rate for the third consecutive season while maintaining a staggering 33.6% K-rate. Despite lowering his LD-rate by 4%, his BABIP increased to .293, a mark slightly above where his K-rate and other factors would suggest is likely. And, I love what he did in the season's final three months, posting a 32:4 K:BB ratio in 23 and 2/3 innings. Add in the fact that Joe Smith really doesn't fit the closer profile--side-armer who doesn't miss many bats with an AVG fastball velocity under 90 MPH--and we can see that Frieri should have a long leash and room to continue to grow.
Detroit Tigers: Will Nick Castellanos Seize the 3B Job?
Something clicked for Nick Castellanos last season as he made the jump from AA to AAA. Not only did he improve his EYE from .18 to .54, but he was able to add in the power that many scouts thought would come with 18 homers and a .450 slugging percentage. The job is his at 3B and he just officially agreed on a new contract for the 2014 season. With his quick hands, plate coverage, and developing power, he makes a nice option in deeper leagues, with the potential to become relevant in shallower leagues down the road.
Detroit Tigers: What to Make of Drew Smyly?
The Tigers also agreed to a contract for 2014 with lefty Drew Smyly, who is expected to move into the rotation after the offseason trade of Doug Fister to the Nationals. Many are excited about Smyly's 2014 prospects, as he posted solid numbers across the board in 2013 as a middle reliever: 2.37 ERA/2.99 xFIP to go with a 26.7% K-rate and a 5.6% BB-rate. He features a deep arsenal of four pitches and even flashes a show-me change up not to mention nice velocity from the left side. As noted in our software notes, Smyly became much more efficient in middle relief, so he could definitely carry that back into the rotation and give owners some nice upside. There are concerns about his durability and many scouts are concerned about his mechanics holding up over the long haul. I wouldn't reach earlier than his current 215 NFBC ADP unless in a H2H league that allows you to insert as a RP.
Player Notes from Around the League:
Jeff Samardzija (SP-CHC): According to the Chicago Sun Times, the Cubs and Samardzija are far apart on a contract extension, making it a real possibility that he could be traded before the season starts. His xFIP/FIP of 3.45/3.77 combined with a 23.4% K-rate in 213 and 2/3 innings make him someone to watch, especially if he gets dealt; those 8 wins from last year are dragging his estimated value artificially down. As he continues to refine his secondary offerings, Samardzija offers great upside and makes a sneaky buy as the 41st pitcher off the board in NFBC drafts (176th overall).
Adrian Nieto (C-CHW): Adrian Nieto, the White Sox Rule 5 pick from the Nationals, is in competition with Josh Phegley and Tyler Flowers for a spot on the roster. After serving a suspension, Nieto turned things around in 2013 at A+, posting a .288/.373/.449 line with 11 homers in 110 games. With the two catchers in front of him carrying significant flaws in their games and with the incentives the White Sox have to keep him on the roster, Nieto is a name worth knowing in extremely deep 2-catcher leagues and AL-only leagues.
Matt Kemp (OF-LAD): According to reports out of Dodgers' camp, Kemp is likely to miss at least the opening series in Australia and possibly more as he slowly recovers from ankle and shoulder surgeries. Kemp has played in 179 games the past two seasons, and his power and speed have been sapped due to these injuries; his ISO was an abysmal .125 last season! Kemp has indicated his shoulder feels closer to 100%, but doctors have yet to clear him for running drills. As the #16 overall OF and 48th overall player, Kemp is a high-risk/high-reward pick, one I advise avoiding unless he falls into the 60's.
Yu Darvish (SP-TEX): Darvish, who said he felt some back pain develop as last season progressed, made it through a successful intrasquad inning on Monday. With a 2.83 ERA/2.84xFIP to go along with his elite 33% K-rate, it's no wonder he is the 2nd pitcher off the board in most drafts (17th overall). His .264 BABIP portends some regression in WHIP, but the K's are for real. Our VAM indicates he is part of the Tier below Kershaw, but well worth an early pick in drafts to set up your rotation.
Alex Avila (C-DET): Alex Avila (back spasms) resumed workouts on Monday but will sit out the team's spring opener. Brad Ausmus isn't too concerned that this will linger and is just being extra cautious with the injury-prone catcher who is known to take a beating behind the plate. It has been an offensive struggle for Avila since his breakout 2011 campaign, as his OPS has dropped 200 points. However, he showed some improvements last year in his peripherals, increasing his LD and HR/FB rates. With the news that Victor Martinez will likely catch a handful of games this season, the Tigers will look to manage Avila's health. If he can catch 120+ games in good health, he'll make a solid #2 catcher.
Nelson Cruz (OF/DH-BAL): The big news of the day is that Cruz passed the daunting Orioles' physical, making his 1-year, $8 million official. Big, dark clouds followed Cruz into the offseason, likely costing him a truckload of money: PED-questions, age and injury concerns (in addition to his defense, which isn't too relevant for our purposes). I actually see a buying opportunity here with the 39th OF currently being taken off the board in NFBC drafts (171st overall). Cruz will have plenty of chances to DH and stay fresh during the season, a solid lineup around him, and a new home with a Park Factor of 117 (124 for homers). Returning top-30 value isn't out of the question for Cruz.
Tommy Hanson (SP-TEX): Tommy Hanson tossed a clean inning against Rangers' hitters on Monday. Hanson has fallen quite a long way from his 2009-10 breakout campaigns with the Braves, mostly due to injuries that many expected with such a violent delivery. The greatest concern rests with his fastball velocity, as it has dropped below the 90 MPH mark the past two seasons. The opportunity should be there for him to seize a rotation spot, even if the Rangers make a play for Jeff Samardzija. Yet, I wouldn't view him as anything more than an AL-only option at this point.
Jhoulys Chacin (SP-COL): According to the Denver Post, the Rockies are optimistically projecting that Chacin will miss between 2-3 weeks due to shoulder inflammation. The results of Monday's MRI won't be available until later today, but the club doesn't believe it is serious. Chacin is much more valuable in real life than in fantasy, as he brings a below avg K-rate of 15.4% to the table. He is one of the few SP's to consistently survive Coors thanks to his extreme GB tendencies (well above average 1.60 GB/FB ratio for career). With Chacin's issues and Brett Anderson's fragility, uber-prospects Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler are lurking more than ever.