Notes from the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues...
Noah Syndergaard P- NYN- Syndergaard threw 22 pitches in his Grapefruit League debut. A full half of them (that's 11 if it's too early to do math) were 100 mph or faster. Not surprisingly, his two innings were perfect, and Syndergaard recorded 2 strikeouts against the defending World Champion Astros. Wow, what a way to start the Spring. A right lat injury sidelined Noah for most of his 2017 season, the good news is that this injury tends not to be repeatable. His 98.3 MPH fastball is tops among starters. Thor does of course have blow you away stuff as evidenced by his elite 14.0 SwStr rate. Then consider the heavy Groundball rate of 58%. Additionally he has had an elevated BABIP over his last 200 IP of .333, which could make his overall numbers even more appealing if he stays healthy. Currently a late 3rd round ADP selection, Fantistics is advocating snagging Syndergaard in the early 3rd.
Just like last season, closer Zack Britton will be starting the season on the DL. He is not expected to be back from a ruptured Achilles tendon until at least May. Also as a bit of déjà vu, Brad Brach is expected to fill in at the back end of the Baltimore bullpen until Britton returns. Brach did a serviceable job in 2017, saving 15 games in the first half with a 2.58 ERA. He struck out more than a batter an inning, with a 9.63 K/9. Brach has been here before and should handle his assignment adequately, at least.
Behind the plate, rookie Chance Sisco may have an opportunity to put in some significant playing time for the Orioles. The lefthanded hitting Sisco is only 23 but has put up decent numbers with the bat at AAA, hitting .267 with 7 homers in 388 PAs for Norfolk last year. He hit 2 homers in his 22 PAs in a major league callup. Baltimore traded for Andrew Susac to provide some competition in spring training but he came down with a staph infection that has set him back. Caleb Joseph hit .256 last year, but enjoyed a .328 BABIP. If Joseph regresses Sisco will get a chance to prove his bat is major league ready.
Milwaukee may not be done adding to their rotation but there are at least a couple of spots that are pretty firm, even in the early days of Spring games.
Jhoulys Chacin was signed by the Brewers after posting a 3.89 ERA with San Diego last year. His K/9 of 7.64 was his best since his rookie season of 2010, when he posted a 9.04. His outlook in Milwaukee has to be tempered by a move in parks from Petco to Miller. Chacin's home ERA was 1.79, while on the road it was a whopping 6.53. A big part was the difference in HR/9 of .72 to 1.24. In 2016, pitching for the Angels most of the season he posted a.42 HR/9 at home and 1.24 on the road. Miller Park was more neutral for homers last year, but that seems to be an aberration. Chacin is working on adding a changeup to his repertoire. The success of that attempt will have a bearing on whether he is able to retain decent fantasy value.
Chase Anderson broke through last season, posting career bests in wins, ERA, FIP, K/9, HR/9, and posting his second best BB/9. As might be expected from his higher K rate Anderson missed more bats, with a 10.2% swinging strike %. A combination of increase in fastball velocity as well as greater use of a curve ball helped him hold righties to a .220/.290/.389 slash line after allowing .310/.369/.566 and .272/.315/.446 in 2016 and 2015 respectively. Anderson has placed himself at the top of the Milwaukee rotation and his peripherals justify it.
The Rangers aren't very deep at the top of their minor league teams and their best prospect is about to graduate to the majors.
Willie Calhoun came over in the Yu Darvish deal last year and has been all but handed the starting left field job this spring. At AAA last season, Calhoun hit an even .300 and slugged 31 homers while knocking in 93 runs. That was his age 22 season so he was competing against a lot of older players. Calhoun's 0.69 Batting EYE is very solid for a young slugger. Expectations are for Calhoun to challenge for AL Rookie of the Year.
The Rangers' bullpen will be in flux for most of the Spring. There is a competition for the closer spot that will be influenced not only by performance but things like whether Matt Bush is able to convert to starting.
Alex Claudio is the incumbent closer, having taken over the role late last year. He is an example of many players in a year where only 11 pitchers notched 30 or more saves. Claudio recorded 11 saves to lead Texas, all but one coming after the All Star Break. His ERA was a solid 2.50 but he didn't show strikeout power, with a K/9 of only 6.10. That isn't the kind of ratio one thinks of when envisioning a top flight closer. The closer role was very fluid all over baseball in 2017 with some pitchers being put there that didn't fit the traditional closer profile. Claudio could stay there to open the season but it is by no means a sure bet. We will be following the situation to see who comes out on top, whether it's Claudio, Bush, Keone Kela, Jake Diekman, or some other candidate the emerges in the next few weeks.
Kevin Gausman- P- BAL- Gausman had to leave the game after a second inning collision and suffered some bruises to his face. He passed the concussion protocol and is unlikely to miss any time.
Jeimer Candelario- 3B- DET- Candelario's helmet caught Kevin Gausman in the face when Gausman ran into him backing up a throw to the plate. Candelario was on deck and telling the runner to slide and he and Gausman didn't see each other. Candelario ended up with the worst of it, as he bruised his knee and is day-to-day.
J.D. Martinez- OF- BOS- Martinez was officially introduced by the Red Sox yesterday. He will be splitting time between outfield and DH and will slot into the 3 or 4 spot in the Boston batting order. The deal took a week to finalize as the Red Sox had Martinez run through a battery of tests. They are saying that he passed everything with flying colors. There were some clauses in the contract to reduce Martinez's pay if he spends 60 days on the DL in one season due to problems with his right foot. That clause, though, only applies to the last 2 years of the contract, so appears to be nothing about a current issue.
Jose Urena- P- MIA- Urena threw 2 scoreless innings in his first Spring start. He is a candidate to be the Marlins' Opening Day starter and this outing didn't hurt, giving up a hit and a walk while striking out 2.
Robert Stephenson- P- CIN- Stephenson got pounded for 3 runs on 3 hits in 1.1 IP in his Cactus League debut. That sounds bad, and certainly wasn't good. However, it was the first time Stephenson had faced live batters this Spring after a neck injury kept him from intrasquad scrimmages.
Franchy Cordero- OF- SD- Cordero is an early attention getter in the Cactus League. After collecting an inside-the-park homer yesterday, the prospect is 3-for-8 with 2 homers in the early going. He is likely headed back to AAA unless he keeps producing like this.
Jake Burger- 3B- CHA- Burger had an Achilles injury yesterday running to first on a grounder and was carted off the field. There will be an update today but it certainly didn't look good when he dropped to the ground clutching his ankle.
Yuli Gurriel- 1B- HOU- Gurriel was scratched from Grapefruit League play yesterday after reporting that his wrist was sore. He consulted a trainer and his rest was described as precautionary, with no further details mentioned.
Felix Hernandez- P- SEA- Hernandez will probably have a reduced workload for a while. He took a liner off his forearm in his first Cactus League start yesterday. X-rays showed there was no break, just a bruise. However, it's enough that he probably won't be taking his regular turn when it next comes up.