Notes from the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues...
A month ago the Rangers' first base slot had a number of potential candidates. Then they signed 1B Mike Napoli for his 3rd tour of duty with them and that issue was resolved. He slugged a career high of 34 homers in 150 games with the Indians last season. Napoli's previous high? 30 homers in 113 games with the 2011 Rangers. In his first stint with Texas (2011-12,) he hit more homers on the road than in hitter-friendly Globe Life Park (or whatever it was at the time.) However, when he returned for 35 games in 2015, 4 of his 5 homers came at home. Last season, Napoli slugged 12 of his homers by Lake Erie. So at this point in his career, having his home park be aiding his power is a plus. Napoli has become a defensive asset at 1B so barring injury he will see as many ABs as he did last season. His average will be influenced greatly by how much luck he can get, but the power should be a big plus again this year.
One of the former first base candidates for Texas was another familiar name, OF Josh Hamilton. He didn't appear in any major league games last year as he recovered from knee surgery. The Rangers released him and then signed him to a minor league deal in the offseason. Hamilton at this point is a low risk possibility for the Rangers as the Angels will still be paying him for the last year of the free agent contract he signed with them before 2013. That also happens to be the last year Hamilton played a full season. He will be given every chance to win the primary DH position, since first base is out now. In 2015, Hamilton hit 8 homers in 50 games with the Rangers (182 PAs) so there is power potential there. He hit 7 of them in Arlington. Hamilton is one to watch through spring training to see if he seizes the opportunity and becomes at least worth taking in a later round and spot starting when the Rangers are at home.
The Orioles' catching corps is pretty much waiting for Chance Sisco to get enough playing time at AAA to prove himself and get promoted. That will make him the catcher of the present instead of the future. In the meantime the Birds signed C Welington Castillo as a placeholder. They signed him to a 1-year contract with an option after Arizona did not tender him a contract. Castillo slugged 14 homers in 113 games with the Diamondbacks last season after hitting 17 in his 80 games with them in 2015. He will likely get a fairly heavy workload behind the plate with Baltimore so will have more of a chance to show his power. Sisco will probably be brought up at some point but Baltimore doesn't look like they are going to rush him too much.
In the backup catcher position for the Orioles, C Caleb Joseph lost almost all of the value he had entering 2016. It ended up being his first season since rookie ball that he failed to reach double digits in homers. In fact, Joseph failed to reach single digits in homers, unless you count "0" as a digit. A year ago he had some sleeper potential having hit 11 homers in 355 PAs in 2015 and with Matt Wieters coming off injuries. Those factors don't apply this year so Joseph is just filling a roster spot until Sisco is ready.
The Brewers are going to have new faces in several places around the diamond. One will be in the closer role, as RP Neftali Feliz comes in with a free agent contract for just this year. Feliz certainly has closer experience, saving a total of 72 games in the Rangers' World Series years of 2010 and 2011. His fastball touched 100 mph on many occasions. Texas tried to convert him to a starter in 2012 and that decision imploded when Feliz ended up undergoing Tommy John surgery. He made his way back to the majors but it wasn't until last season with the Pirates that his fastball was hitting then upper 90s again on a regular basis. Feliz had a K/9 of 10.23, which was his highest since his rookie season of 2009. Unfortunately his HR/9 was a whopping 1.68 and that is a worry with him going to Miller Park as his home stadium. Feliz will put up some saves, at least early in the year. The long term question is whether he will go the way of much of last year's Milwaukee bullpen and find himself pitching for an other team in a setup role by the time the trading deadline rolls around.
Milwaukee boasted the NL home run leader in Chris Carter last year. His 41 dingers weren't enough to earn him a return to the Brewers, though, as they non-tendered him in the offseason. They opted to bring in another league leader in homers, 1B Eric Thames. He led the Korean Baseball Organization last year with 40 dingers after slugging 47 in 2015. Thames has shown power in his major league career, which consisted of 21 homers in 684 PAs in 2011-2012 between the Blue Jays and Mariners. During his 3 years in Korea, Thames struck out 293 times in 1347 ABs, which is still well below the rate of Carter. Thames will be one to watch closely in spring training to see how he adjusts to major league pitching after being away so long. Some are projecting 30 homer power and a .350 OBP for him with the Brewers, which would have value.
The news the Cardinals were dreading came down yesterday. P Alex Reyes will have season-ending Tommy John surgery. The procedure will likely be done today. This obviously torpedoes the value of the formerly prime prospect for this season and casts doubts on his future value.
On the Tommy John front, P Zack Wheeler had his throwing program paused after he felt tenderness in his elbow. He underwent the procedure before the 2015 season and has yet to pitch in the majors since. Wheeler's only professional appearance in the last two seasons was an inning of work at High-A ball last August. The Mets are not concerned at this point, but even in a best case scenario this year they plan to limit him to slightly more than 100 IP.
SS Sean Rodriguez, who had been penciled in as the Braves' 2B when he signed a contract in November, joins those whose seasons have ended before they began. A rotator cuff tear was discovered in his shoulder. This was the result of an auto accident last month. Rodriguez was driving with his wife and two children when their car was struck by a stolen police cruiser. The driver of that car was killed, while Rodriguez, his wife, and children suffered non-life threatening injuries. While Rodriguez's injuries weren't life threatening, they did end up taking out his 2017 season.
C Evan Gattis had his scheduled bullpen catching session cancelled yesterday. He was suffering from a sore shoulder and received an anti-inflammatory injection. He expects to be able to do defensive work within a couple of days.
RP Sergio Romo moves down the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles as the Dodgers signed him to a one-year contract. He is expected to occupy a setup role as he did the past two seasons with the Giants. Romo suffered a flexor strain last season that caused him to miss significant time, limiting him to 40 appearances and 14 holds. If he has put that injury behind him he could reasonably bounce back to his performance of 2015, where he logged 70 games and earned 34 holds, not a shabby total if your league counts that stat.
RP Brian Flynn will not be repeating his breakthrough performance of 2016, at least not any time soon. He had a different kind of break through last week when he fell through a barn roof he was repairing on some property he owns. Flynn suffered a broken rib and 3 non-displaced fractures in vertebrae after the 12-foot fall. The Royals have placed him on the 60-day disabled list and plan on bringing him back slowly. Flynn posted a 2.60 ERA and 7.16 K/9 in 55.1 IP with KC last season.
P Tyler Skaggs is preparing to start his first full season since coming back from Tommy John surgery. He has never thrown more than 113 IP in a major league season. Skaggs has a good possibility of exceeding that this season, if he has recovered enough. However, he will probably not get too many more IP than that as the Angels will still be careful with him, at least according to manager Mike Scioscia.
P Aaron Nola threw a bullpen session and reported no discomfort in his elbow. He had strained the ulnar collateral ligament late last year. That caused Nola to finish the season on the DL. He has no medical limitations placed on him at this point.
RP Victor Arano has felt soreness in his right elbow since last fall. The Phillies' prospect will have the elbow examined to determine if he can continue to try and work his way into the Philadelphia bullpen as a non-roster invitee.
P Zack Greinke is starting his spring slowly. He suffered from multiple injuries in a disappointing 2016 so the Diamondbacks are not rushing him into shape. Greinke started his spring workouts by going through his delivery motion but not actually releasing the ball. At this point it is expected that he still will be fully ready by the time the regular season starts.
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