Looking around the camps of the Orioles, Brewers, and Rangers
There were a couple breakout players for the Brewers, one from the bullpen and one at 1B.
Josh Hader had shown a flash of what was to come in 2017, when he posted a 12.84 K/9 in 47.2 IP. Then Hader went into another level last year. In 81.1 IP he struck out 143 batters. To put that in perspective, it was the 68th highest strikeout total in MLB last year. All of the pitchers above Hader were starters and the lowest IP total out of them was Kenta Maeda with 125.1. The next highest relief pitcher had 19 fewer Ks. Although not the Brewers' closer, Hader recorded 12 saves. He also picked up 6 wins. Hader's projected total of 115 Ks for 2019 may get exceeded. Even that number would have tied him for 3rd most Ks by a reliever in 2018. With the way manager Craig Counsell manages his bullpen, Hader can be expected to make multiple appearances each week, sometimes for multiple IP. His 0.81 WHIP will help more than the typical reliever, given the number of innings he will pitch. The strikeout totals will be like adding an extra starter for that category. Hader will pick up some wins again due to him coming in at times with the game on the line and he will also pick up some saves due to how some games develop. He is likely the most valuable middle reliever out of there due to his unique combination of skills and usage.
Jesus Aguilar pushed incumbent Eric Thames out of the lineup the year after Thames had a successful return to MLB with 31 homers. Aguilar bested that in 2018 by slugging 35 homers. His HARD% actually dropped slightly from 45.2% to 44.0% compared to 2017 but his FB% increased from 37.8% to 40.9%. Aguilar increased his Contact% from 68.8% to 72.6% and saw his BB% increase from 8.0% to 10.2% while his K% dropped from 30.2% to 25.3%. Aguilar's ISO jumped from .240 to .264. The gains he made are likely repeatable and Aguilar has become a solid option at 1B.
Baltimore is in a serious rebuild. They still have room for some veterans and some players are getting their positions more or less by default.
Alex Cobb was brought in before last season to give some stability to the Baltimore rotation. He will be in the same position this season but may do a better job of it. Cobb got off to a slow start in 2018, as his splitter was not effective at the start of the season. He hadn't signed until March 21 and didn't have much of a spring training before making his first start on April 14. Cobb's first half ERA was a bloated 6.41, but only 2.46 in the second half. That is somewhat deceiving as his FIP difference was only 5.13 to 4.28. Cobb did lower his HR/9 from 1.65 in the first half to 1.06 in the second half. Cobb has been named the Opening Day starter for Baltimore. If he can keep using his changeup effectively he can post solid peripherals. His win totals will be limited by the talent of the team he pitches for.
The 26-year-old Trey Mancini finds himself as the 2nd oldest outfielder on the Orioles' roster, 10 months younger than Joey Rickard. Mancini has slugged 24 homers in each of the past two seasons, making the most of his performance. His .293 average in 2017 was supported by a .352 BABIP. When that fell to .285 last year his average fell to .242. In order to get his homer totals Mancini had to get an inordinate number of fly balls over the wall. His HR/FB ratio of 20.9% was slightly above his 19.8% of 2017. Mancini's FB% dipped from 29.7% to 26.5% while his GB% rose from 51.0% to 54.6%. His Hard% went down slightly from 34.1% to 33.6%. Outside of the HR/FB ratio it's hard to see how Mancini achieves the homer totals he gets. There isn't anyone really challenging his position as starting LF, so he will get a chance to do the unlikely again. It seems a risk to count on him pulling one more rabbit out of his hat.
The Rangers are also in a rebuild and are mixing veterans in as pieces that they feel make sense.
Mike Minor began 2018 in the 4th spot in the Texas rotation. This year he has moved to the front and will start on Opening Day. Minor posted a 4.89 ERA and 7.16 K/9 in the first half of last season while having a 2.97 ERA and 8.27 K/9 in the second half. Minor's WHIP for the season was a solid 1.12. It looks like he has finally recovered from shoulder surgery that cost him the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Minor will get plenty of opportunity with the Rangers. He looks like a value pick in deep leagues.
Hunter Pence is looking more and more as if he will make the jump from minor league contract to the Opening Day MLB roster. He has gone 12*for*30 with 3 homers so far in the Cactus League. Pence has lost significant time to injuries in 3 of the last 4 years and spent time on the DL in the other of those years (2017.) His ISO has fallen each season and reached a woeful .106 in 248 PAs in 2018. Pence has reportedly reworked his swing, a process that began last year and resulted in him leading the Giants with 5 batted balls over 110 mph. Some factors not under his control work in his favor. Competitors for the 4th outfield spot Willie Calhoun and Carlos Tocci have minor league options remaining. Pence could also see some time at DH when Shin Soo Choo gets a day off. He will turn 36 next month but if his renaissance this spring carries through until the games count Pence could get some quality at bats and possibly set himself as a desirable trade ticket that would increase his value later in the season.
News from other clubs...
Eloy Jimenez- OF- CHW- Jimenez was optioned to AAA Charlotte yesterday. This was not a surprise as the highly rated prospect was expected to spend some time in the minors while the MLB service time clock ticks and passes Jimenez by until Chicago gets another year of control. He will likely be brought up as soon as that happens.
Pedro Strop- RP- CHC- The substitute closer for the Cubs suffered a mild hamstring strain. He will not take the mound for at least a week. Manager Joe Maddon hopes that Strop will be ready by Opening Day. With Brandon Morrow out for at least a month, Strop was expected to hold down the closer role in Morrow's absence.
Andrew Heaney- P- LAA- Heaney is still experiencing elbow discomfort and was shut down for the second time this season. This time the Angels will not have him throw again until the discomfort is completely gone. Manager Brad Ausmus said there is a real possibility that Heaney will not be ready by Opening Day. This kind of elbow issue is always worrying but Heaney experienced a similar period last spring and, while he was on the DL to start the season, ended up making 30 starts.
Aaron Hicks- OF- NYY- Hicks had a cortisone injection in his lower back. The discomfort has kept him out of games since March 1. Currently Hicks is expected to be ready by Opening Day. If he is not back in action by the end of the weekend that may be revised.
Frankie Montas- P- OAK- Montas is still in the mix for a rotation spot for the A's. He will be starting the season in the bullpen, though. With the A's and Mariners starting the season in Japan next week each team is allowed to have 28 players available for the two-game series and narrow it down to 25 of those for each game. Chris Bassitt is another rotation candidate in that same spot.
Dylan Moore- SS- SEA- Moore won the utility role in Seattle and will make his major league debut in his first game. He will probably get more than the usual playing time as 3B Kyle Seager will start the season on the DL due to a hand injury that required surgery. Moore slashed .280/.346/.492 in 363 PAs last year after being promoted to AAA Colorado Springs.
Jimmy Nelson- P- MIL- It's official that Nelson will not be on the Opening Day roster. The Brewers are being very conservative with his return and will have him begin the season on the DL. He does seem to be making steady progress and probably won't be out for too long into the season.
Walker Buehler- P- LAD- It was revealed yesterday that Buehler has been feeling discomfort from a nonspecific injury since he started his offseason throwing program. That, and not a purposeful limiting of work due to his innings pitched last year, is what has delayed Buehler's spring work. He is hoping to appear in a game in the next 4 or 5 days. It's likely, though, that he won't be able to go far into games at the beginning of the season if he doesn't start on the DL
Brad Keller- P- KC- A year ago, Keller was a Rule V pick that the Royals held on to. By the end of the season he was Kansas City's most consistent starter, with a 9-6 record and 3.08 ERA. Now Keller is at the front of the rotation as the Opening Day starter. He may regress some in his sophomore campaign but has exceeded expectations already in his young career.
Tony Sipp- RP- WAS- The Nationals signed Sipp to fill a role as lefty specialist out of their bullpen. Although LH hitters slashed only .188/.263/.294 against him he had respectable performance against RH hitters. They slashed .206/.280/.328. Sipp faced almost an equal number of righties (75) as lefties (76.) He only threw 38.2 IP in 54 appearances for Houston in 2018, but did appear in 11 games in each of August and September whereas he didn't get 10 appearances in any other month.
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