Ronald Acuña, Atlanta Braves - Brian Snitker answered the biggest question about the Braves on Tuesday, where is Ronald Acuña going to hit in the Braves lineup? The answer: cleanup. This is not the answer I had been hoping for all spring, partially due to Acuña flourishing in the leadoff role in the second half of the season and partially due to the Braves not have a better option than him for the leadoff role. Ozzie Albies has been hitting leadoff for the Braves against lefties this spring, and reporters around the team say that they expect that to continue into the season. Albies crushed lefties all year (141 wRC+) last year, even in his slide after the first two months. It's unsure who will hit leadoff against righties though if the team does decide to play the matchups. Ender Inciarte seems like more of a prototypical leadoff man thanks to his speed, but he owns just a 100 wRC+ against righties and walks just 6% of the time for his entire career. Nick Markakis could be an interesting name to hit leadoff though, and while not typical leadoff hitter he owned a 120 wRC+ against righties and an 11% BB rate last season. Even in his bad second half, he still owned a 108 wRC+ against righties with a 12.4% walk rate.
Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves - Julio Teheran has been named the opening day starter for the Braves for the 6th straight season. Teheran backed his way into the spot with Mike Foltynewicz getting injured and he'll be out until what sounds like mid-April at least. Teheran has been on a slow and steady decline for the last few years, and it took ridiculous luck on batted balls (.217, 36% hard-hit rate) to even keep him in the rotation the entire season. It would take a massive change in his game to make me interested in him in 2019, and it sounds like Julio is trying to make one. He's pitched from the stretch exclusively and it's worked well for him this spring. In 12 innings he's struck out 16 batters against just one walk and just one homer. Walks were a huge issue for Teheran last year (11.6%) and cutting down on those could help limit him with the obvious BABIP regression that will occur. He's still only a late round/low dollar NL Only guy at this point, but a change in his mechanics could lead to him being slightly relevant again.
Kyle Wright, Atlanta Braves - All the news out of Braves camp is making it sound like Kyle Wright getting close to securing a spot with the team out of spring. Wright has pitched exceptionally well this spring allowing four runs over 12 innings and has 16 strikeouts against just two walks. Wright tossed six innings for the Braves last year after blazing through the minors in just a little over a year. He struggled with walks last year, averaging one an inning, but throughout the minors, he's shown solid command with sub-10% walk rates. The Braves rotation is in extreme flux right now due to injuries and ineffectiveness from other starters, so there's a chance he could catch a rotation spot and have it stick.
Max Fried, Atlanta Braves - Max Fried is another highly touted Braves arm that is having an incredible spring. He's thrown a team-high 15.1 innings and allowed four runs and he's struck out 16 batters against 5 walks. His WHIP is a tad high this spring at 1.24 due to allowing 14 hits in those 15.1 innings, but the strikeouts are definitely intriguing. He's throwing well enough right now to nail down one of the last starting spots for the team but with the news that AJ Minter and Darren O'Day are both slated to start the year on the IL (that will take time getting used to typing), there's an argument for using Fried in high leverage roles out of the bullpen since he'll be one of the few lefties on it team.
Willy Adames, Tampa Bay Rays - Willy Adames has had a slow spring training slashing just .200/.293/.400 in 35 at-bats for the Rays. He's hit a pair of homers this spring as well with also going 2-for-3 stealing bases this spring. Adames posted a 109 wRC+ last year over 85 games for the Rays last year, triple-slashing .278/.348/.406 with 10 homers. Adames struck out in nearly 30% of his plate appearance but did walk at nearly a 10% clip, something he routinely did in the minors. With a 30% strikeout rate and a .278 average, you'd likely believe that he had some significant help in the BABIP department and you would be right! He posted a .378 BABIP on a 52% ground ball rate which means that there's a good chance we'll see that average come down to earth a bit if he can't cut down on the strikeouts. He's struck out 13 times in his 35 plate appearances so we aren't seeing any evidence of that improving thus far. He's a solid AL-Only option right now SS because he'll post solid counting stats across the board, but we'll need some average help him become a SS option in the mixed league.
Ji-Man Choi, Tampa Bay Rays - Ji-Man Choi is having a huge spring for the Rays with a .963 OPS over 32 ABs. Choi was traded to the Rays last season and right now he's penciled in to be the DH and backup first baseman, likely getting the strong side of a potential DH platoon with Avisail Garcia. Choi has shown decent pop in the minors before finally swatting 10 homers in the 61 games last year with a .242 ISO. Choi, overall, posted a 135 wRC+ with a .263/.357/.505 triple slash and that's due to how good he was after coming to the Rays in the trade with a 141 wRC+ and a .269/.370/.506 slash line. His BABIP actually went down when he came to the Rays with a decrease in his hard-hit rate, so there could even potential for a little average boost if he's able to get a boost in his hard-hit rate and his line drive rate.
Trevor Cahill, Los Angeles Angels - Trevor Cahill was named the opening day starter for the Angels on Tuesday. Cahill rebounded nicely in 2018 to become a useful arm again, shaving almost 3% off his walk rate while maintaining the same strikeout rate that he had in 2017. He could even be in turn for a little ERA help as the strand just 67% of the baserunners that he allowed on last year, well down from the 76% he stranded the year prior. That could have also been to a higher volume of runners on base last year as he had a walk rate just shy of 12% and he allowed over a hit per innings as well. Still just an AL-Only option right now, but there's some potential here.
Yu Darvish, Chicago Cubs - Yu Darvish left Tuesday's start with a blister on his ring finger after striking out six batters in 4.2 innings. The early reports from the Cubs are that the injury doesn't sound very serious. Darvish has been one of the talks of the spring because the velocity has been touch the mid-to-upper 90's, but he's also struggled with his command this spring with nine walks in 12 innings. He still remains a solid upside pick in the middle of drafts, but definitely looks for more news on the blister issue because blisters are one of those injuries that can linger all year.
Dellin Betances, New York Yankees - Dellin Betances will start the year on the IL after being diagnosed with a shoulder impingement, that reportedly is the explanation for why his velocity has been down this spring. There's no timetable for him to begin throwing as of now and this obviously bumps the rest of the talented arms in that bullpen up a peg.
Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies - Bryce Harper picked up his first hit as a Phillie in a minor league game Tuesday. This is good news to hear that he's already getting back into game action after being hit by a 96 MPH fastball on the foot over the weekend. The team never suspected that Opening Day would be in jeopardy, and with him already being back playing games it seems as if there's nothing to worry about regarding Harper.
Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers - Michael Fulmer has been told that he's going to need Tommy John surgery and as of now it sounds like he's going to miss the 2019 season. He's still getting a third option, that will likely come over the next few days but if your second opinion says that you're going to need Tommy John surgery, it's pretty likely your third doctor is going to say something similar. The Tigers projected rotation looks extremely rough now with Matthew Boyd, Jordan Zimmerman, Tyson Ross, Matt Moore, and Daniel Norris being the five most likely candidates.
Brad Peacock, Houston Astros - AJ Hinch said Tuesday that Brad Peacock is the most likely candidate to get the 5th starter spot after the team breaks camp. Peacock has turned into an excellent pitcher for the Astros posting strikeout rates of 29.5% and 35.3% over the last two seasons, with last year seeing him make a just by 6% in strikeout rate while dropping his walk rate by 3%. He also does an outstanding job of limiting hard contract posting three straight years with his hard contact rate under 30%. We've also seen his swinging strike rate just from 7.9% to 11.8% to 13.5% over the last three years. He's worth fliers at the tail end of the drafts as anyone starting for the Astros is: A. A good pitcher and B. going to be in an excellent situation to pick up a lot of wins.
Gio Gonzalez, New York Yankees - Gio Gonzalez signed a minor league contract with the Yankees, and we'll find out very soon as to whether the team sees him as a fit. His contract includes an opt-out date of April 20th where if he isn't in the major by that deal he can ask for his release. Gonzalez's stats took a step back in 2018 as he recorded a K% of fewer than 20% while also seeing his BB% jump to over 10% for the first time since 2011. Heading to the AL East definitely doesn't help him either, but he's still worth keeping an eye on because we are going to find out really quickly as to whether he's going to be a part of the rotation or not.
Danny Duffy, Kansas City Royals - Danny Duffy won't throw his first live BP session of the spring until next Monday, but the team is still optimistic that he's going to be able to join the rotation around April 10th. Duffy isn't worth rostering right now, but he does always have the strikeout potential to him, even if we have seen it dip the last couple seasons. Last year we saw a stark drop in his swinging strike rate (11.4 to 9.6%), but also was dealing with a shoulder impingement that ultimately shut him down. It's worth keeping an eye on, mainly in AL leagues though.
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers - Clayton Kershaw will officially start the season on the IL if there was any doubt that he was going to. The Dodgers are going to be extremely cautious with their lefty and will slow roll him back into the rotation. Everything sounds like Ross Stripling is going to get Kershaw's spot in the rotation with Julio Urias being the odd man out (for now).
Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds - Luis Castillo was officially named the opening day starter for the Red on Tuesday. Castillo was a trendy breakout pick going into last season and he struggled mightily in the first half before figuring things out in the second half. He hasn't had the typical draft fall like you'd expect though coming off a down season, but he still remains a solid upside pick in drafts with his plus stuff.
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