Detroit Tigers: Bruce Rondon Developing?
Bruce Rondon, who failed to seize the closing reigns this time last spring, continues to make strides with his control. He cut his BB-rate down to 9% by season's end in 2013, and through 5 spring innings, hasn't walked a single batter. Pair that with his lethal 98 MPH AVG fastball and developing slider, and Rondon may earn a significant role in the Tigers' pen in 2014 behind Joe Nathan. In fact, after showing up to spring in better shape and showing a renewed commitment to control the strike zone, the Tigers are considering Rondon (along with Joba Chamberlain) for the primary set up role. Add to this some concerns over Joe Nathan's velocity (down to 92 MPH AVG last season, stuck in upper 80s so far in spring), and it might be in the interest of Nathan owners to handcuff with Rondon (especially in keeper leagues).
Detroit Tigers: The (Internal) Replacements?
With Jose Iglesias (shins) rapidly running out of time to avoid starting the year on the DL or in extended spring training, the Tigers are considering roster moves to begin the regular season. While Steve Lombardozzi appears to be the likely beneficiary of playing time in the even of an extended Iglesias' absence, buzz has been growing around prospect Eugenio Suarez. While Suarez is off to a modest start at the plate (5 hits in 20 AB's) the Tigers are impressed with his approach. The infielder flew onto the radar in 2013, when after raking at A+, he held his own in AA with a .253/.332/.387 line and 9 homers in 111 games. Another prospect worth keeping an eye on is Hernan Perez. While Perez is off to slower start in spring (4 hits in 25 AB's), he offers similar upside to Suarez. Before making an appearance in the bigs last year, Perez hit .300 in the upper minors and stole 28 bases in 35 attempts. Perhaps somebody should give the Shane Falco speech to Iglesias: "Pain heals. Chicks dig scars. Glory lasts forever."
Pittsburgh Pirates: Brandon Cumpton in the Lead for the 5th Spot in the Rotation?
Brandon Cumpton tossed 4 quality innings on Friday as he makes a case for the 5th spot in the rotation. Often thought of as a middle reliever, Cumpton has shown a penchant for keeping the ball down in the zone, generating high GB/FB ratios. He isn't going to offer more than an average K-rate in the starting rotation, but given Edinson Volquez's spring struggles (shocking!), he appears to have the inside track. With all of that being said, Cumpton is best left for NL-only leagues, as Jameson Taillon will likely relegate Cumpton to a middle-relief role by mid-season.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Gregory Polanco sent to AAA Indianapolis, for Now.
The Pirates sent Gregory Polanco to AAA on Friday after the top-prospect logged 6 hits in 22 AB's, impressing the Pirates' brass with his approach. Meanwhile, the battle for RF is now between Jose Tabata and Travis Snider, with Snider putting up a much better spring so far. Many around the organization believe Snider was slowed last year by a foot injury and that offseason surgery has given him a new lease on life, making it appear as though a favorable platoon is his for the taking. Of course, this is likely to last until June, when Polanco is expected to take over for good. With his 1.00 EYE in AA last season and a 5-tool talent, he should be stashed in all leagues with the bench room.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: The Cron Watch Moves to AAA
C.J. Cron had a mighty impressive, albeit short, spring stint. The slugger, who appears to be over some of the injuries that nagged him during the past two minor league seasons, went 6 for 15, hitting a homer and drove in 6 against some quality spring competition. Cron made a concerted effort to work counts and improve his plate discipline in the Arizona Fall League, and the Angels' brass appears quite pleased with his continued work in the spring. Many around the Angels' organization are speculating that Cron could join the club after June and work himself into a DH platoon with Raul Ibanez and spell Albert Pujols when rest is needed. Ibanez, 41, had a horrible second half last season and posted the highest swinging strike rate and lowest contact rate of his career in 2013. If you have the room in AL-only and deeper mixed leagues and are light on power, stash Cron.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Pujols Moving From Undervalued to Overvalued with Healthy Spring?
Albert Pujols' NFBC ADP stands at 41, as he is going anywhere between middle 3rd and early 4th round in most 12-team mixed leagues. I thought Pujols could be a value play this season back in December, but the health rhetoric machine has worked wonders to his ADP. His 6 hits in 31 AB's out of the gates don't worry me so much as the alarming trends that began before the injuries to his feet and knees crept in. His ISO has decreased every year since 2009, as has his swinging strike percentage. And while his .258 BABIP and batted ball profile from 2013 suggest an AVG increase is in order, from all corners, he still isn't 100% when running the bases and will have to monitor the plantar fasciitis all season long. I like Pujols to have somewhat of a bounceback season and return top 50 value; but those returns can be had a round or two later than where he is currently going.
Arizona Diamondbacks: The Bradley Watch Continues
Even after dominating early in the spring, it was widely believed that Archie Bradley would start the year at AAA. A rough outing against Seattle on Thursday only reinforced that notion. But, with Bronson Arroyo's back improving slowly, Bradley still finds himself competing for a spot in the rotation, at least for a turn or two in April. And this could give him time to make an impression and make sending him down a tough decision. Control continues to be an issue for Bradley and it's perhaps his only real weakness (6 walks in 8+ innings after walking 69 in 152 innings in the minors last season). While the injuries and issues at the back end of the DBacks rotation are advantageous for Bradley and his owners, I'd still temper expectations. He's going to be a gem, but it is going to take time for him to develop control and command. The 1.97 ERA and 23.5% K-rate at AA look enticing and are evoking fantasy comparisons to Jose Fernandez, but when you add the 11.7% BB-rate and 3.33 FIP, you'll see that below the surface, Bradley isn't quite there yet.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Owings and Gregorius Going Down Under, But Who Will Emerge in the States?
Kevin Towers proclaimed on Arizona Sports Radio recently that both Owings and Gregorius are likely to travel with the team to Australia. This is interesting news, as the battle for the starting SS gig appears to be dead even heading into the final week of preparations for the team. Owings has 11 hits in 37 AB's to go with 3 BB's and 5 K's against solid competition this spring, but hasn't yet gone yard. Gregorius, after fading down the stretch offensively last season, is 7 for 30 this spring. Owings acquitted himself well in his call up last season, and looks quite comfortable in the spring. Owings is going to have time at the beginning of the year to make an offensive impression, making this great news for his owners. If he does, he could be here to stay and be a solid, high-upside MI option in the majority of leagues. Of course, a trade is also a possibility, which could only help his cause as well. Move him up your boards.
Around the League:
Matt Wieters (C-BAL): Reports out of Baltimore suggest Matt Wieters (ankle) won't play until Monday at the earliest. As noted in the Fantistics Software, Wieters hit fewer groundballs last year (.88 GB/FB rate), but his rather pedestrian AVG flyball distance and speed off bat (SOB) give us pause in raising homer expectations. He is also a potential AVG liability, as his peripherals, especially his contact, linedrive, and groundball rates suggest .240-.250 on the high end. While a NFBC ADP of 100 is fair value, I see Wilson Ramos, Jason Castro, and Yan Gomes as better values much later in drafts. A prospect to keep in mind, with Wieters in a contract year is Michael Ohlman, who is finally putting it all together. If he continues his growth, the O's may let Wieters walk in the offseason.
Brandon Beachy (SP-ATL): The line outside of Dr. Andrews' office continues to grow, as Brandon Beachy is heading there for an examination of his pitching elbow after MRI results confirmed damage to his UCL. The exam will be Monday, but signs point to the worse out of Atlanta, which would make this Beachy's 2nd TJ surgery and 3rd procedure on his pitching arm. Beachy has had a difficult time staying on the mound since his 2011 breakout. He has the makings to be a solid #2 starter--above average k-rate, elite control, low linedrive rates--but durability concerns have made him expendable in all seasonal and keeper/dynasty formats. To open the season, the Braves are looking to go with David Hale as part of a 4-man rotation. Hale had a solid debut in September last season, and with his heavy-groundball arsenal and above-average control, he could stick in the rotation. NL-only and deep mixed leaguers should take note.
Anthony Rendon (2B/3B-WAS): Rendon continued his hot spring, going 1 for 3 with an RBI and a run scored yesterday. The Nats have been experimenting with him in the 1 and 2 holes at the top of the lineup, moving him around the infield as well. He posted a .265/.329/.396 line in 98 games last year with 7 homers, 35 RBI, 40 runs, a .45 EYE and an 88% contact rate. I see significant upside and value here with Rendon. His .307 BABIP seems low considering his contact rate and his impressive 25.5% line drive rate. His EYE should continue to improve as well given his track record, and as he continues to put the shoulder and ankle injuries in the past, look for more power too. We have him pegged for 12 homers, 68 RBI, and 59 runs with a .284 AVG. If the Nats hit him either 1 or 2, look for those runs to increase.
Chris Archer (SP-TB): Archer looked sharp yesterday, allowing 1 run on 4 hits and 1 walk, striking out 6 across 4 and 2/3 innings. Archer's 3.22 ERA/3.91 xFIP suggest some regression could be in store as his BABIP and strand rates normalize. However, he is working on a changeup to ameliorate his struggles against lefties (.346 wOBA vs. 211 vs. righties last season), which should help offset the other trends. I love the work ethic, and see the 223 NFBC ADP as offering solid value.
Drew Hutchison (SP-TOR): Hutchison continued his impressive spring, tossing 4 and 2/3 quality innings where he allowed 1 run on 4 hits with 7 k's (0 bb's). After missing most of last season to TJ surgery, Hutchison regained his form in the hitter-friendly Arizona Fall league, hitting the mid-90's regularly and showing some bite on his secondary offerings. That trend has continued into spring and he appears to have locked up the 5th starter position, although the Jays haven't confirmed. He has significant upside and is worth a late-round pick in all formats.
Jesse Chavez (SP-OAK): Reports out of Oakland have Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin starting the season on the DL (at minimum) due to arm troubles, opening the door for Jesse Chavez to grab a rotation spot. Chavez, a journeyman for most of his career, found a home in the A's pen last season, striking out 55 and walking 20 in 57 and 1/3 innings to go with a 3.92 ERA/3.83 xFIP. Due to a heavy reliance on an improved cutter (PITCHf/x shows 36.4% of the time) hitters had a difficult time squaring up pitches in 2013, as he allowed a solid 17.4% line drive. He has carried this over into an impressive spring, tossing 12 and 2/3 scoreless innings. While I think he could be a serviceable back end starter in AL-only and 15-team or deeper mixed leagues, the 4.8% HR/FB rate should normalize, and his K-rate is likely to drop below the 22% mark as a starter. While Tommy Milone is expected to grab the 4th spot in the rotation to start the season, keep an eye on Drew Pomeranz as well.
Jose Abreu (1B-CHW): According to reports out of Chicago, Abreau is battling soreness in both ankles, having them wrapped after yesterday's 1 for 3 effort against Cleveland. Abreau is currently going 90th off the board in NFBC drafts on average, and while his numbers from Cuba are difficult to ignore (his last season there he posted a .382/.535/.735 line with 13 homers in 42 games), so too is his injury history and body type. Scouts are also mixed on his bat speed, and while he has looked quite solid this spring, the jury remains out on whether he will catch up to premium velocity inside and shorten his swing when needed. I'm impressed with his strike zone judgment and believe he has solid upside, but see too much risk to reach earlier than 90th in 2014.
Mat Latos (SP-CIN): The Reds seemed pleased with the improvement in Latos' knee, as they have penciled him in for a Wednesday start against the Royals. Of course, this still puts him jeopardy of missing a start or two to begin this season. On the surface, Latos has been consistent the past four seasons and looks to be a solid number 2/3 starter. However, there are some interesting red flags: his 6.9% HR/FB rate last season looks unsustainable, his 21.3% LD rate was the highest allowed in his career, and his FB velocity and K-rate decreased for a 4th consecutive season. He's currently going 105th overall in the NFBC. Given some of the red flags, I see this as a decent value but would prefer to wait for Cobb, Tanaka, Teheran, Miller, Salazar, and Gray--pitchers going after him in most drafts.
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