Notes and News from around Spring Training camps
Rotate Out the Barrel
Milwaukee has a fairly long list of pitchers to fill out their 2019 rotation, but there are still question marks out there. The Brewers didn't sign and free agent starters, although there was speculation that they would to address potential needs.
The Brewers ended up in 2018 with the best record in the NL. This was after going the entire year without the services of arguably their best starter from 2017, Jimmy Nelson. Nelson spent the entire season recovering from shoulder surgery. Milwaukee is not rushing him this spring, either. Nelson has yet to take the mound in a Cactus League game and got a few more days off over the weekend due to tweaking his forearm in a bullpen session. This is unrelated to his shoulder woes. Nelson posted solid numbers in the 2nd half of 2017 before his injury, with a K/9 of 10.99, WHIP of 1.25, and FIP of 2.83. His fastball was consistently in the 94.0-94.6 range in his major league seasons. One key to look at when Nelson does pitch is whether the injury has cost him some of that. If it hasn't, then he would be a solid pickup at least in mixed leagues. It is possible that Milwaukee may move slowly with Nelson, and he has an option left which would enable him to start the season at AAA San Antonio. That would impact his early value.
Chase Anderson is currently listed as second on the Milwaukee rotation depth chart, but he will not keep that lofty spot if he performs as he did in his first Cactus League outing Saturday. His 3 homers allowed in 3 IP was a performance like those that kept him off the playoff roster last year. Anderson fared particularly poorly in Miller Park in 2018, allowing 22 of his 30 long balls and posting a 5.03 ERA as opposed to the 2.74 he had away from home. Anderson's 2016 and 2018 production was similar, with a K/9 less than 8, a BB/9 above 3, HR/9 at least 1.66 and FIP over 5.00. Those seasons bookended a 2017 campaign where he had a K/9 of 8.47, BB/9 of 2.61, HR/9 of 0.89, and FIP of 3.58. A look at Anderson's xFIP shows how much importance there is to him keeping the ball in the park. His numbers for 2016, 2017, and 2018 are not that far from each other at 4.76, 4.33, and 4.79 respectively. If Anderson continues to allow homers at a prodigious rate this spring, don't count on him to bounce back to his level of two years ago.
You Ain't From Around These Parts
The Rangers have looked to bolster the bottom end of their rotation with reclamation projects. Expectations are low in Arlington, so bringing in some low risk long shot arms will allow some home grown pitchers more time to develop.
Drew Smyly made about as efficient a Cactus League debut as you can get. He faced three batters in his start yesterday and retired each one on the first pitch. That doesn't give much to analyze, but the fact that it equals his total of professional IP since the end of 2016 is something. Smyly underwent Tommy John surgery in June of 2017 and only managed to toss 1 IP at Class A Bowling Green last year as he tried to come back. During his last two seasons with the Rays Smyly posted HR/9 numbers of 1.49 and 1.64 and GB/FB ratios of .83 and .63. Even if Smyly is healthy, that tendency doesn't mesh well with having the Rangers as a home park. Texas will give him every opportunity to eat innings, but the odds are they won't be that productive.
The Rangers are hoping Shelby Miller will be able to return from Tommy John surgery and pitch effectively. He went under the knife in April of 2017 and pitched 16 innings for the Diamondbacks last year, striking out 19 batters but also yielding that many earned runs. Miller gave up 5 homers in that span. Although GM Jon Daniels referred to him as a power pitcher and he did have a 95.1 mph fastball in his best year of 2015, his K/9 that year was only 7.50. The following season in Arizona, Miller's K/9 was down to 6.24 and his ERA ballooned to 6.15 from 3.02 after his HR/9 rose from 0.57 to 1.25. This looks like another case of Texas looking to recapture lightning in a bottle, but not having a good fit.
The Kids Are Alright
There is not going to be a lot of star power in Baltimore this season. The record is probably also going to be ugly. However, there are some youngsters who will be worth taking a look at.
Cedric Mullins shot from AA, through AAA, and ended the season in CF in Baltimore. In his combined levels he swatted 15 homers and stole 23 bases. With the Orioles he slashed .235/.312/.359 in 45 games. Mullins had a .279 BABIP, which was likely a matter of bad luck for someone with his speed. His BB% of 8.9% showed some decent patience at the plate. Mullins hit 50.8% of his balls on the ground, far higher than what he posted in the minors. That number should go down, which should also result in a higher OBP. That, in turn, will give him more chances to steal. Mullins may end up leading off which will also give him more opportunities to get on base. Put him down as a sleeper, particularly in the stolen base column.
Ryan Mountcastle has long odds to break onto the major league roster, but when he does it will be because of his bat. In his first full season at AA Bowie, he slashed .297/.341/.464 with 13 homers in 428 PAs and a respectable K% of 18.5%. Mountcastle was only 21 years old. Maturity will only increase that production. The main determinant of when he will get to the majors won't be service time. It will be where he can be the least harmful with his glove. The Orioles tried him at SS and that wasn't a success. He may fit at 3B. This spring they are also giving him time at 1B. Another possibility is OF, but there are several players in the way of him there. The Orioles want to make Mountcastle a key factor in their rebuild so he is likely to come up this season and play...somewhere. Once he does he will provide some power and average.
Bryce Harper- OF- PHI- The day we've all been waiting for finally arrived. Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies. There is no opt out and there is a no-trade clause. In the homer department the move benefits Harper and gives him a better shot of getting back to his MVP-level production. Philadelphia's 112 park factor for homers by LH hitters is a significant increase on the 99 in Washington.
Mike Foltynewicz- P- ATL- Foltynewicz was scratched from his scheduled start. He will be examined tomorrow after experiencing elbow discomfort. It is thought that the problem is coming from bone spurs that flared up at times last year. The outcome of the exam will determine a course of action for Foltynewicz. It's not expected to cause him to miss Opening Day, but more will be known after team doctor Gary Lourie has looked at him.
Josh James- P- HOU- James is probably out of the mix for the fifth starter slot with the Astros. He strained a quad lifting weights. This is going to keep him off the mound long enough to likely have him start the season in the bullpen for Houston.
Nate Karns- P- BAL- Karns will not start today due to arm soreness. He will throw a side session on Sunday. He was signed by the Orioles to take a rotation spot, but could end up in the bullpen. Karns missed all of last season after having thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in 2017.
Francisco Lindor- SS- CLE- Lindor is progressing in his rehab from a strained calf. Right now, it looks like his return will come closer to the front part of the 7-9 weeks he was projected to miss.
Brad Miller- 2B- LAN- The Dodgers signed Miller to a minor league contract. However, they may be seriously considering the former 30-homer hitter as the LH hitting part of a 2B platoon.
Nick Martini- OF- OAK- Martini sprained his knee when he collided with a wall Tuesday. The injury will keep him sidelined for two weeks, which will definitely keep him out of the A's season-opening trip to Tokyo.
Cesar Hernandez- 2B- PHI- In Phillies news that doesn't involve Bryce Harper, Hernandez was diagnosed with a strained hip flexor suffered Monday. There is no date set for his return.
Elias Diaz- C- PIT- Diaz is suffering from a virus that is likely to see him start the season on the DL. Details of the virus have not been disclosed.
Clay Buchholz- P- TOR- The Blue Jays signed Buchholz to a minor league deal. He is likely to compete for a rotation spot, but is able to pitch out of the bullpen.
Bud Norris- RP- TOR- Norris signed with the Blue Jays yesterday. He won't be in the mix for closer, but could end up as a primary setup man.
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