Notes from the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues...
Down the homestretch
With less than two weeks to go until Opening Day, some positional battles are becoming clearer. For the Rangers the main unsettled spots are left field, left handed reliever, and fifth starter.
Alex Gonzalez- P- TEX- "Chi Chi" Gonzalez was sent to the minor league camp yesterday. This was a day after he allowed 2 runs on 4 hits and 2 walks with 6 Ks in 5 IP of work against the Reds. Gonzalez came into camp as a long shot contender for the fifth starter slot but impressed with his work in the Cactus League. He struck out 16 in 13 IP. Gonzalez may start the season at AAA but he will be on the short list for a call up if even more injuries strike Texas. Gonzalez struck out 113 batters in 138.2 IP in 2014 between High-A and AA. His K/9 increased once he went to AA and may continue on an upward trend.
Alex Claudio- RP- TEX- After Joe Beimel was released Monday, Alex Claudio is now the only southpaw reliever left in the Rangers' camp. According to manager Jeff Banister this doesn't mean that Claudio is a lock for the roster. Based on his 1.23 Cactus League ERA and 2.92 ERA in 15 appearances last year, though, it seems like it would take a major move to unseat him. He did get charged with a blown save yesterday but that was due to an error behind him. Claudio tops out in the upper 80s with his fastball but as a sidearmer with a very strong changeup he still manages to record a good amount of strikeouts. He has 9 in 7.1 IP this spring after striking out 14 in 12.1 IP during his major league stint last year. If he ends up as the sole lefty out of the Texas pen he could offer some value, especially in leagues that count holds.
Ryan Rua- OF- TEX- Rua was listed at the top of the depth chart for left field coming into spring training, although his hold was precarious. He has gotten a more solid grip on the position after going 7-for-17 in his last 5 Cactus League games and has a .300 average this spring. In 109 PAs last season for the rangers Rua batted .295. He was assisted by a .341 BABIP, but had similar numbers at both AA and AAA before his major league call up. Rua has shown some power in the minors, with 36 homers in 2013 and another 18 between AA and AAA last season. As a late round selection in deep leagues you could do worse.
Delino DeShields- CF- TEX- He isn't competing for a starting spot, but as a Rule V pick from the Astros, DeShields is trying to show that he would be worth keeping on the major league roster all year. He has had some physical issues this spring that has made it difficult to prove his worth. In his last game on Monday, DeShields looked healthy. He showed why he is an intriguing prospect and also why there are doubts. DeShields went 2-for-6, with a single and a double that would have been a single for anyone else not named Billy Hamilton. He managed to get to second despite his hit going right at RF Brennan Boesch. DeShields also swiped a base, despite an excellent throw. In addition he reached first after striking out on a pitch that the catcher dropped right in front of him. DeShields raced to first while a flustered Kyle Shipworth took just long enough to find the ball to enable DeShields to beat the throw. DeShields' presence on the base paths seemed to distract the Cincinnati pitchers. That's the positive. The negative is that he got caught stealing twice, including in the 10th inning of a tie game. If DeShields makes the Rangers he will probably be worth owning, simply for the steals he will add to your total. Don't expect a whole lot else from him at this point.
The Brewers don't have much in the way of open roles any more. There is still some tinkering around the edges that could have fantasy impact, however.
Gerardo Parra- OF- MIL- Besides getting playing time as a fourth outfielder. Parra is getting work at first base in the Cactus League. This should increase his Abs over the course of the season. Parra has shown the ability to get to double digits in both homers and steals if he gets enough playing time so his value in deep mixed leagues has increased with his versatility.
Tyler Thornburg- P- MIL- Thornburg has been stretched out in his last couple of Cactus League starts but there really isn't room for him in the Milwaukee rotation. Injuries prevented Thornburg from getting much action last season. He pitched 29.2 IP, all of them in relief. It looks like he is fully healthy and going to assume a swing man role that he filled for parts of 2012 and 2013. Thornburg has shown some strikeout ability. For the short term he will probably fill a middle inning bullpen role but is likely to be one of the first options should a need arise in the rotation.
In Baltimore the major question recently was who would be the starting catcher until Matt Wieters comes back. Manager Buck Showalter went with a defense first option. The Birds also have a Rule V decision to make.
Caleb Joseph- C- BAL- Joseph will have the starting catching duties to start the season as Matt Wieters will start 2015 on the DL. Joseph's primary skills are defensive as he threw out 40% of baserunners as he subbed for Wieters last year. His .207 average isn't anything to recommend him as a sleeper, although he was negatively impacted by a .246 BABIP. Joseph was streaky last year, with 5 of his 9 homers coming in a 30-AB stretch. He also went 0-for-30 in another stretch. Joseph did hit 22 homers in 570 PAs at AA in 2013 but counting on that kind of power or his streakiness to show itself at the start of the season is a reach.
Jason Garcia- P- BAL- Garcia was taken from the Red Sox in the Rule V draft and Baltimore will have to decide whether to offer him back or keep him on the major league roster all year. Traditionally the Orioles tend to hold on to their Rule V draftees and they are tantalized by Garcia's ability to hit triple digits with his fastball. That points to good odds that he will stick with Baltimore. However, they probably won't use him much if they do and he will likely head back to the minors next season. Garcia hasn't pitched above Low-A ball and expecting significant success is a bit much. Check back for him in 2017, regardless of where he pitches this year.
Hector Olivera- 2B- LAN- The Dodgers signed Cuban star Olivera to a 6-year deal. Given that he will turn 30 on Easter Sunday, the likelihood is that LA is not looking at putting him in a lengthy minor league stint. Olivera could hit 20 homers and contribute a significant number of RBI. His natural position is 2B, but with Howie Kendrick hitting .412 in the Cactus League Juan Uribe should be feeling more threatened by this acquisition. Uribe is only hitting .226. Uribe's .311 average last season was assisted by a .368 BABIP so regression would be expected. As Olivera becomes a viable option look for Uribe's stock to decline.
Jose Abreu- 1B- CHA- As evidence that spring training numbers aren't necessarily relevant, look at Abreu. He hit his first Cactus League homer yesterday. The exhibition power outage isn't that disconcerting. There is little reason to doubt that Abreu will end up hitting the 30+ homers he is projected to slug when the games count.
Hyun-Jin Ryu- P- LAN- Ryu is going to be shut down for two weeks to give his shoulder a chance to heal from rest and rehab. This means that he will be out for a minimum of the first 3 weeks of the season. The Dodgers only need a fifth starter twice in that span. If Ryu is healthy at the end of that time there won't be a major impact. If, however, the best case scenario doesn't evolve then they will have to fill their rotation with another arm.
Heath Bell- RP- WAS- When I went to the Astros-Nationals game last Friday, Bell was one of the pitchers who made an appearance. He looked like a shadow of his former self, giving up 2 runs on 2 hits and a walk without retiring a batter. Only 3 of his 7 pitches were strikes. That was a far cry from the closer who posted 40+ saves for 3 consecutive seasons. After making one more Grapefruit League appearance Monday, Bell was released by Washington and opted to retire.
Samuel Deduno- P- HOU- Deduno appears to have the edge in the race for the fifth starter spot in the Houston rotation. He is out of options and also has some experience pitching in relief. If his results in the small sample size of last Friday's game that I saw is any indication, however, this doesn't make Deduno a desirable fantasy pick. He allowed 4 runs in 2 IP on 4 hits and 4 walks. Only 13 of his 32 pitches were strikes. In the three seasons he has pitched a significant number of innings in the majors, Deduno hasn't had a FIP lower than 4.04. Even with a spectacular spring performance he wouldn't be on the fantasy radar.
Max Scherzer- P- WAS- In Friday's start, Scherzer seemed pretty ready for the regular season. He allowed a run on 3 hits, walked none and struck out 6 in 5 IP against the Astros. From an up close and personal vantage point under the Florida sun, Scherzer looked on top of his game to me. Moving from Detroit to Washington in the NL will likely help his stats, putting his projected 2.92 ERA and 255 Ks well within reach.
Kris Bryant- 3B- CHN- Bryant hit another homer yesterday, his 9th of the Cactus League. His 1-for-3 game dropped his average to .464. Still, Mike Olt and his .267 average with 2 homers is still officially listed as on top of the Cubs' depth chart at 3B. Part of that could be Bryant's 8 Ks in 28 ABs. The Cubs are going to give him some time in the outfield as well, so they may keep him when they break camp. There are plenty of voices calling for that. His stock is rising in fantasy drafts also, and not without reason. Bryant has the makings of a star so he should pay off, especially in keeper leagues.
Zach McAllister- P- CLE- McAllister did his part to keep in the hunt for the fifth rotation spot in Cleveland. He allowed one unearned run on 2 hits and 2 walks while striking out 4 in 4 IP on Monday. McAllister has a 3.21 ERA in the Cactus League. Last year he had some bad luck as a starter in Cleveland, with a 5.67 ERA in 15 starts but only a 3.80 FIP. Coming back in the bullpen at the end of the season he posted a 2.77 ERA and 1.44 FIP in 13 IP. If McAllister makes the Opening Day roster he has sleeper potential in deep leagues.
TJ House- P- CLE- House didn't advance his cause in attempting to nail down the fifth starter spot for the Indians. He struggled for the second straight outing, giving up 4 runs on 6 hits and 2 walks while striking out 3 in 5 IP. House is going to need to step it up in his next outing if he is to get a starting spot.
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