Notes from the Florida and Arizona camps...
Deep in the heart of Texas
Well, Surprise AZ at this time of year. If there was one word to describe the Rangers' 2014 season, it was, "Ouch!." They should have replaced the red and white in their red, white and blue official colors with black. The season became painful in more ways than one right from spring training. A lot of this spring will be spent watching to see how healthy a bunch of players are coming into this spring, including two players who were big free agent signings in the last offseason.
Prince Fielder- 1B- TEX- Fielder was arguably the biggest injury of the season for the Rangers, and that can be taken in multiple ways. He only played in 42 games due to a herniated disc in his neck. Fielder has been given full medical clearance so Texas is hoping to see the kind of performance they expected when they traded for him. One positive from his dismal 2014 is that his Batting EYE was back over 1.00 in his limited playing time. It had dropped to .64 in 2013, even as his homer total dropped below 30 for the first time in 7 seasons. Combine good health and a return of plate discipline and Fielder could be the meat of the Rangers' order.
Shin-Soo Choo- OF- TEX- Choo played in more games than Fielder, 123 to be exact, but his elbow and shoulder issues led to career lows in many offensive categories (such as average, steals and Batting EYE.) He appears to be healthy coming into camp. That makes Choo a prime candidate for a significant comeback. His Batting EYE was driven down mainly by an increase in strikeouts, something that could be attributed to his injuries. He also had a drop in BABIP to .308 (his career mark is .345) but his LD% only dropped from 21.1% in 2013 to 20.2%. Choo is likely to post solid numbers and will have extra value in leagues that count OBP.
Hand me another Brew
In Milwaukee they are still wondering how the team collapsed down the stretch last year. The offense was a major culprit and much of that could be laid at the feet of outfielders. Not all of it was their fault, as injuries played a role.
Ryan Braun- OF- MIL- Braun had nerve problems with his thumb that required surgery as the season ended. The effects of that thumb problem, which had bothered him for the past two seasons, were compounded by some bad luck as the season wound down. Braun's .338 BABIP in the first half sunk to .260 in the second half. His batting average suffered, with a .298 first half average and only .226 in the second half. With the thumb problem corrected, Braun is looking at a rebound in 2015.
Khris Davis- OF- MIL- Davis was another Brewer OF who had a combination of injury and bad luck dragging down his second half. Instead of something dramatic like Ryan Braun, Davis's problems were more nagging injuries to his elbow and forearm. This sapped him of his power as he hit only 7 homers in the second half after slugging 15 in the first. His rate wasn't down that much (with 326 Abs in the first half and 175 in the second) it was the playing time that he lost. His BABIP of .246 in the second half was a significant drop from his .293 mark in the first half and a major factor in his second half average of .229. Davis started his career by slugging 30 homers in his first 162 games (spread across 2 seasons) and having had some rest and recuperation could be a significant power source that could end up underpriced in many leagues.
Birds in the hand
As long as we are talking about injuries, Baltimore had a couple of significant ones in Matt Wieters and Manny Machado. Getting them back at full speed this year will help take up some of the offensive slack from the free agent departures of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis.
Matt Wieters- C- BAL- Wieters was looking like he was going to finally reach his potential when he ended up needing Tommy John surgery. This is not a common procedure for a catcher but the recovery time is less than for a pitcher. The current expectation is that Wieters will be able to throw without limits by the middle of next month and will be available to start the season. He will then be out to prove that the .308 average and 5 homers he posted in 112 PAs before getting shut down were no fluke. Given that he has a career .275 average through April 30 and an overall career average of .257 there may have been some "fast starter" effect there last year but if Wieters stays healthy and starts strong he could be in the top tier of catchers.
Manny Machado- 3B- BAL- Last spring, Machado was rehabbing his left knee and got a late start on the season. Once he did return to the Orioles he ended up injuring his right knee and had his season cut short after just 354 PAs. The first bit of good news is that he hit 12 homers in those PAs, nearly equaling the 14 long balls he hit in 710 PAs in 2013. The second bit of good news is that Machado is still only 22 years old so he has plenty of time to make up for the time he lost to injury. The third item of good news is that he doesn't have any more knees to injure (unless he has a third one hidden somewhere) and is cleared for full workouts this spring. He should be ready to go at the start of the season and continue his march into the ranks of elite 3B.
Allen Craig- 1B- BOS- At this early point Craig is being looked at as a utility player, putting in time at the corner outfield spots, 1B and DH for the Red Sox. That versatility would get him significant playing time, although not quite full time ABs. He'll also have to return to the .300+ hitter he was in 2-1/2 seasons with the Cardinals.
John Danks- P- CHW- Danks has continued with his altered delivery he started using last September. His ERA in his 5 starts that month was 3.94, close to the 3.99 he posted in the first half before having a very cold streak as the second half started. His FIP was even better, at 3.33 in September, so the small sample size results are good. Keep a watch on him this spring to see if the change in mechanics keeps yielding positive results.
Pete Kozma- SS- STL- Kozma and fellow utility candidate Greg Garcia are getting some work at catcher in Florida. If at least one of them make the big club for the regular season they will be the emergency catcher(s) in case both of the St. Louis catchers go down in a game. In single game eligibility leagues that could make them marginally useful.
Brad Peacock- P- HOU- Peacock threw 20 pitches yesterday, the first he has tossed since undergoing surgery on his labrum and his hip last October. He had no problems and reported that he felt great. His next scheduled session is Wednesday.
Freddy Galvis- SS- PHI- Galvis is first on the Philadelphia depth chart at SS with the offseason trade of Jimmy Rollins. On the fantasy front, his .250 average in Venezuelan winter ball didn't increase his value, as his major league average is just .218 in 550 career PAs and his career minor league average is .253.
Andrew Miller- RP- NYY- Initial thoughts when he signed with the Yankees were that Miller would serve as the setup man for Dellin Betances. However, manager Joe Girardi has opened the possibility that both Betances and Miller will close out games, depending on matchups.
Wilin Rosario- C- COL- Rosario's bat has been shown to be a plus before his injury-hampered 2014 season. However, his defensive work behind the plate has always left something to be desired. The Rockies are hoping to get him some playing time at first base to increase his offensive contribution without paying much of a defensive price.
Jandel Gustave- P- KC- Gustave's triple digit fastball is making Kansas City seriously consider keeping an 8-man bullpen to avoid having to offer him back to Houston as a Rule V draftee.
Sean Marshall- RP- CIN- Marshall has already had a setback in recovering from shoulder surgery. He is now doubtful for starting the season on Opening Day.
Josh Phegley- C- OAK- Phegley, who hit 3 homers in just 11 major league games with the White Sox last season, looks like he will take the backup catcher role for Oakland. He hit a total of 38 homers in 168 games at AAA over the past 2 seasons so there is some power potential there.
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