Detroit Tigers: Eyes on the Pen
With Bruce Rondon undergoing Tommy John surgery, Joba Chamberlain appears to be the primary setup man and next-in-line to closer Joe Nathan. But keep your eyes on Al Alburquerque. While his control issues were so bad last year the Tigers sent him to the minors, he looks rejuvenated this spring. Al Al has struck out 12 in 7 innings, allowing only 7 hits, 3 walks, and 1 earned run. With his 34.1% career K-rate, if AA can continue to cut down the free-passes, he has a shot to climb in the Detroit pen. For those speculating in pens for holds, saves, and K's, he and Chamberlain both are worth monitoring.
Detroit Tigers: The Mess at Short
The Jose Iglesias injury lead the Tigers to bring in Andrew Romine and Alex Gonzalez, who is expected to be the primary shortstop when healthy. Gonzalez, now 37, had an abysmal season in 2013 with the Brewers, where he posted a .177/.203/.230 line with 1 homer in 41 games. We saw a huge spike in his chase and swinging strike rates, and at age 37, it's difficult to envision much of a bounceback. He does have a pair of 20 homer seasons, and he insists health isn't currently an issue, so it's possible to envision 10-12 homers. But with the career contact rate under 80% to go along with a .26 EYE, I don't see much upside. Moral of the story: keep an eye on Romine, Eugenio Suarez, and Hernan Perez.
LAA Angels: Skaggs Will Get His Shot
With the team cutting Joe Blanton, it appears as though Tyler Skaggs will get his shot to break camp in the Angels rotation. While the Angels are happy with the progress he has made, this is more of a reflection on Joe Blanton than Tyler Skaggs. The lefty has allowed 11 earned runs on 26 hits and 10 walks with only 13 strikeouts in 20 innings this spring. As we discussed early in the spring, Skaggs is fighting his mechanics and his extension issues, and is likely to lack repeatability until muscle memory takes effect. Look for him to have an up-and-down season, and be extremely cautious when using him in AL-only leagues. He is slated to get the Astros in Houston later in the week, making him a decent play to open the season.
LAA Angels: Should We Remain Cool on David Freese?
Freese, who is currently the 293rd player off the board in NFBC drafts, isn't doing anything this spring to assuage prospective fantasy owners' fears. In fact, he had 0 extra base hits in the entire spring and is now nursing a minor quad injury that has him listed as day-to-day. Freese saw his numbers dip across the board last season, posting a .721 OPS, and a .119 ISO, while pounding the ball into the ground with a 2.30 GB/FB rate. His speed off of bat (SOB) fell from 104 MPH into the league average 102 range. While the myriad of injuries he has suffered no doubt played a role, questions about his ability to bounceback are tied to his ability to stay healthy. From what we are seeing this spring, I wouldn't rely on him in any type of mixed league unless taken in the reserve rounds.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Good Deals for Real and in Fantasy?
Starling Marte and the Pirates agreed to a contract extension for 6 years and $31 million, with 2 club options years. That seems like a fantastic deal in the real game. Is the 56th overall pick in NFBC drafts a fantastic fantasy value? We have him pegged for 19 homers, 37 steals and a .271 AVG, as his 406 ft. avg distance on homers and 104.8 avg. speed off bat suggest more homers are coming. He also shows an all-fields approach and an ability to adjust at the plate. The possibility is there for Marte to take a bigger step forward, but to do that, he's going to have to continue cutting improving his eye. The move from .16 to .18 was a start.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Rotation Shaping Up? Sort Of
Francisco Liriano (groin) threw 55 pitches in a simulated game. Afterwards, he and the team sounded optimistic about his prospects for making the Opening Day start on Monday at PNC Park against the Cubs, but will wait to see how he feels later today before making such a proclamation. Meanwhile, the Pirates seem committed to Edinson Volquez as the 5th starter despite a stellar spring from Brandon Cumpton, who turned in another solid outing yesterday by allowing only 2 hits and 1 walk in 5 scoreless innings. Volquez has allowed 26 base-runners in 14 innings! While Cumpton is likely headed to AAA, with the health concerns swirling around Wandy Rodriguez and Charlie Morton, and the control issues from Volquez, he should be a name to keep in mind in all NL-only leagues.
Arizona Diamondbacks: McCarthy Primed for a Bounceback?
Brandon McCarthy, who has been flying under the radar with solid spring, is getting the opening day nod at home against the Giants on Monday. McCarthy was a bit unfortunate last season, posting a 4.53 ERA/3.77 xFIP. With some health, and better luck with stranding runners and balls in play, we could see a bounceback season from McCarthy. However, he is an extreme pitch-to-contact pitcher, as his career 15% K-rate indicates, so you'll have to pick up K's elsewhere and spot-start him accordingly. While Randall Delgado seems to have the upper hand over Archie Bradley for the 5th starter gig, given McCarthy's and Arroyo's health issues, owners should keep eyes on both of them.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Trade Chatter?
After discussing some of the interest he has received about his shortstop surplus on Arizona Sports Radio, GM Kevin Towers followed that up with the following declaration: "But I don't anticipate moving any of my infielders. I think all remain with the Diamondbacks or Reno Aces." Many believe this indicates a trade is in the works, as the Pirates have been among the clubs rumored to be looking at Didi Gregorius. We don't see a lot of upside here with Gregorius at this point, as his 79% contact rate, .89 GB/FB, and 16% infield fly ball rate indicate a huge batting average risk. While he has shown flashes with the bat in the minors, the skills aren't quite there for owners other than those in only leagues. The Pirates or another team may trade for his "real" value tied to defense, but fantasy owners shouldn't let the name entice them.
Around the League:
Clayton Kershaw (SP-LAD): Kershaw has been scratched from his Sunday start against San Diego due to inflammation of a muscle in his upper back. Word out of Los Angeles is that this is a precautionary move and that Kershaw was actually pushing to make the start. Kershaw was solid in his first start, going 6 and 2/3 and allowing 1 earned run on 5 hits and 1 walk while striking out 7. It sounds as though he'll be on track to make a start against the Giants later in the week, so weekly leaguers should start him unless a setback occurs before lineups lock on Monday.
Justin Verlander (SP-DET): Verlander was dominant in final spring outing, tossing 6 and 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing only 1 hit and 1 run while punching out 7. After all of the uncertainty following a down 2013 and core muscle surgery in the offseason, Verlander is schedule to start on Monday against the Royals at home and looks primed to recapture his Cy Young form. JV has hinted that the core issue last season may have threw off his mechanics, causing him to lose velocity and plane on his pitches, and that an adjustment down the stretch helped him to compensate. This lead to a 30.6% K-rate in the season's final two months. Now with the issue fixed and no need to tinker, fantasy owners should feel confident. Buy.
Dillon Gee (SP-NYM): Dillon Gee tossed 6 no-hit innings in his final spring tune-up, walking 1 and striking out 7. He allowed only 2 earned runs across 20 and 2/3 innings this spring and will get the Nationals at home on Monday. While he makes for a decent spot-start in shallower leagues and solid back end option in deeper leagues, Gee's upside is limited. Across 199 innings last year, Gee carried a 3.62 ERA/4.07 xFIP with a below average 16.9% K-rate. And lefties continued to give him fits, as they posted a .359 wOBA with 14 homers in 89 innings. Keep an eye on his performance against lefties early in the season, and in the meantime, spot-start accordingly.
Nyjer Morgan (OF-CLE): With Michael Bourn (hamstring) beginning the season on the DL, the Indians announced that Nyjer Morgan will break camp with the big club. Morgan stole 76 bags from 2009-2010 before his breakthrough season in 2011 with the Brewers where he posted a .304/.357/.421 line in 119 games. After a rough 2012 and off-the-field issues, Morgan found himself playing in Japan in 2013. While Bourn is likely to rejoin the club early in April, Morgan is likely to hang around as a bench player/pinch-runner. And with Bourn's hamstring issues bordering on chronic, Morgan could find his way into a decent amount of steals and runs for AL-only and extremely deep leaguers to take note.
Jean Segura (SS-MIL): Jean Segura (shoulder) continued to sit out of spring games and is now likely to begin the year on the DL. While news of the MRI turning out negative is good, injuries are not something Segura owners want to hear. Looking back to his minor league career, Segura endured a plethora of injuries, mostly to his legs. Fantasy owners have been attempting to decipher the causes and meaning of his second half fall, as he posted a .241/.268/.315 line with 1 homer and 17 steals (8 caught). While the league undoubtedly adjusted, Segura also physically wore down in his first full season. With injuries popping up already, I'm concerned and will be lowering him on my draft boards.
Billy Burns (OF-OAK): Why does anyone ever trade with Billy Beane? Well, the Nationals did, and the result: Billy Burns is now an Athletic. A 32nd round pick in 2011, Burns has done nothing but get on base and run wild since. Widely considered an 80-runner that rivals (and perhaps matches) Billy Hamilton's speed, Burns stole 74 bases on 81 attempts across two MiLB levels last season while walking 72 times and striking out only 54. He also hit over .300 for the second consecutive season. Burns has continued his ways this spring, hitting .309 and stealing 10 bases in 24 games. While he isn't likely to break camp with the A's, keep an eye on him in all leagues as a potential stash/pick up later in the season. With a fragile outfield of Crisp, Reddick, and Cespedes, look for Burns to contribute this season and rack up steals and runs in short order.
Robby Erlin (SP-SD): The Padres named Robby Erlin as the 5th starter to begin the season, as the lefty had a strong spring while Matt Wisler stumbled in his tryout. Erlin posted a 4.12 ERA/3.98 xFIP across 54 and 2/3 innings with 17.6% K-rate. Control and flyballs are his calling cards, making him a perfect fit for Petco park. He has a deep-enough arsenal and pedigree to stick in the rotation and be a quality NL only, deep-league option and a solid mixed-league spot-starter. I wouldn't forget about Matt Wisler, who I see as one of the most underrated prospects in the game. The Padres have plenty of rotation issues that are likely to open up a chance for him as the season progresses.
Tyler Collins (OF-DET): Reports out of Detroit have Tyler Collins the favorite to claim the 4th OF spot for the Tigers. The lefty had a solid season in AA and in the AFL last season, hitting 30 homers in 149 games. While he has a lot of swing-and-miss in his game (140 K's) he also can take a walk (66). Scouts are divided on whether or not he can put it all together, but the Tigers seem to be high on him. If they do award him the spot, he could see some AB's against righties on days Rajai Davis sits. As of now, I wouldn't view him as any more than an AL-only option.
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