Is this the Last Chance for Byron Buxton?
It seems every year a major question mark around the Twins is will Buxton finally stay healthy with that answer being mostly a resounding "no" for the past 5 seasons. While Buxton has not played in any spring training games yet in 2020 as the Twins are progressing him slowly, he is coming off of a 2019 that saw him slash a career best .262/.314/.513 with 44 extra base hits, 48 runs scored and 14 steals in 17 tries over just 87 games. Those counting stats would have most likely shattered every career high has he played an entire season. It think at this point it is impossible to speculate on his health status in terms of playing an entire season, but last years half-season results give owners some of a double-digit home run and stolen base season, with a steady does of doubles. Buxton did have a career low 24% K rate last year, so that is one thing to keep an eye on in 2020 is if he regresses to a nearly 30% K rate that he had over his first 4 seasons.
Will LaMonte Wade Jr. make the Twins Roster?
The 26-year-old Made his MLB debut last year for the Twins and while he struggled to consistently get hits (.196 average) Wade Jr. contributed in other categories during his 26-game audition, picking up 5 extra base hits and sporting a nice 11:9 BB:K ratio. His career .275 minor league average is nothing to write home about the fact that he has more career minor League walks (303) than strikeouts (281) shows me that he can handle big league pitching; his .200 babip at the big-league level leaves much to be desired. He has had a nice spring so far hitting .333 with 2 doubles and a 4:2 BB:K ratio. He has spent parts of each of the past 2 seasons at AAA and with his plate discipline a bench spot is not out of the question, but he would need an injury to one of the Twins regular outfielders to be a true viable option.
Is a Repeat Career Season on the Horizon for Jake Odorizzi?
Odorizzi blew past expectations in his first season with the Twins in 2019 posting a career high 10.0 K/9 and a career low 3.36 fip. He increased his speed dramatically across the board, as every pitch he threw topped out at new average career highs, including a fastball that averaged nearly 93mph. He has traditionally been a flyball pitcher and one additional key to his success was being able to post a career low .91 HR/9, which is more impressive during a season when home runs were more prominent then ever. The one thing I would love to see him improve on is his ability to pitch deeper in games. He made 30 starts last season but only logged 159 innings, including pitching into the 7th inning just twice. If he can be a little more efficient with his pitches this should allow him to pitch deeper in games giving him another great shot at a 15-win season.
Can Seth Brown Play his way to a Starting Role?
The 26-year-old Brown played a key role late in the season for the Athletics, although his brief 26-game debut last year was far different then what some were expecting. Brown slugged .634 and mashed 37 home runs in 112 games at AAA and while he posted a .293 average and .815 OPS upon his promotion, he did not connect for a HR, instead settling for 8 doubles and 2 triples while also scoring 11 runs and driving in 13. Brown did most of his damage during the first week of his call up at the end of August going 11-26 with 7 RBIs. I think his power profile may still be a bit of an unknown as he hit 30 home runs in 2017, then dipped to 14 in 2018 before last seasons surge. His .423 babip also suggests that he may not even be a near .330 hitter in the big leagues. And a K rate of over 25% will not be acceptable unless he can find his power stroke in the big leagues. He is mostly likely competing with Mark Canha and Robbie Grossman for playing time. Grossman (.276) carries the best mark against lefties while Canha (.297) and Brown (.311) both hit well vs righties but struggled vs lefties suggesting a platoon option. Brown has been among the best hitters in the AL early on in the spring slashing .444/.474/.944 with 6 extra base hits (1 home run) and 8 RBIs, possibly giving him the edge after a week or so of games.
What Value does Tony Kemp Bring?
With the departure of Jurickson Profar, Kemp has the inside track to the starting 2B job for the Athletics and has hit well to open the spring (8-18, 5 runs, 3 walks) but will need to continue to produce in order to lock the spot down. Kemp split his time between the Cubs and Astros last season and delivered underwhelming results (.671 OPS, 4 triples, 8 home runs, 4-8 on stolen bases) while playing second base and all 3 outfield positions. Kemp's defensive play at the keystone could help him lock down the role as the only real threats to playing time there was the once Top-Prospect Franklin Barreto who has struggled over parts of 3 seasons with the Athletics (.598 OPS, 40.6% K rate) and potentially Jorge Mateo (see below) I think one potential differentiator for Kemp could be his speed on the base paths. While the Athletics traditionally are not a big base stealing team, Kemp has stolen 30+ bases several times in the minor leagues and at the very least he will need to use his speed ability to bunt for hits as well as hit the gaps for extra bases. I think Oakland will value his low career K rate (16%) and respectable walk rate (9%) to ultimately give him the starting nod over Barreto. Look for him to slot into the bottom third of the Oakland lineup playing the role of a second leadoff man out of the 8 or 9 hole.
Is Jorge Mateo ready for the Show?
Mateo, who was part of the deal that netted Sonny Gray in 2017 seems primed to make his long-awaited MLB debut this season. While his rough spring thus far (3-16, 5 Ks) doesn't help his chances to nab a starting role, he is out of minor leagues options and would need to pass through waivers in order to return to AAA - something that seems highly unlikely based on his former Top-25 prospect status - and that fact that he is still only 24. Mateo has played 2 full seasons at AAA and has progressed rather nicely from a subpar 2018 (.230/.280/.353, 3 home runs, 25 steals) to a very strong 2019 season (.289/.330/.503, 19 home runs, 24 steals. It is worth noting while the stolen base runners are strong and he is a burner is he can shoot balls into the gap (30 triples over the past 2 seasons at AAA) he needs to sure up his baserunning with regards to swiping bags as he has been caught stealing 21 times in 70 attempts the past 2 seasons. He still strikes out a lot for an on base / speed guy and its not out of the question that he could post a 5% BB and 30% K rate this year in the big leagues. There is a lot to like here - and it is a battle worth watching during the spring to see if someone can take hold of the 2B spot for Oakland.
Around the League
Corey Kluber (SP-TEX)
Kluber made his debut with the Texas Rangers, allowing 2 ER in 3 innings, while striking out 4. Despite walking 2 and hitting a batter it was an encouraging start for Kluber who has not pitched since suffering a broken arm way back in the beginning of May 2019. The injury non withstanding he was not particularly sharp in 2019, sporting a 5.80 ERA and 4.06 FIP, far worse than his career numbers. He experienced a small drop in average fastball velocity to 91.2 mph, while also seeing a 4% decrease in groundball rate. Kluber may have been a victim of a bit of bad luck during his injury-shortened 2019 season as he had a babip of .370 , 70+ pts higher then his career mark and a strand rate of 63.7% - about 10% lower than his career number. Bad luck aside hi wildness in the spring start aligns with a career high 3.79 BB/9 and he does move to the AL West, which features several very stacked offenses units. Even entering his Age-34 season, a fully healthy Kluber should be able to toss close to 200 innings as the workhorse eclipsed that mark each of the previous 5 seasons before last year.
Steven Brault (P-PIT)
The Pirates announced Monday that Brault will be shut down for the time being due to left shoulder injury. Brault didn't exactly put up dazzling numbers for the Pirates last year (5.16 ERA / 4.76 fip, 7.94 K/9, 4.21 BB/9). But if you take out a dreadful month of September where he got hammered for 25 earned runs in 24 IP, his ERA checks in at under 4 making him a somewhat serviceable option. Brault's dual starter/reliever capabilities make him a speculative fantasy add and with his ability to handle the bat (14-42, 1 HR, .777 OPS last year) there was talk of making him a two-way player. It appears this new injury will land him on the injured list to start the season, opening a spot in the Pirates rotation.
Hunter Harvey (RP-BAL)
Harvey tossed a scoreless inning of relief, striking out 1. Once a top prospect in the Orioles system, injuries have derailed him as the 25-year-old has logged just 258 innings across all levels since being drafted in 2013. Once thought of as a top-of-the-rotation arm, the Orioles have made it clear his future lies in the bullpen - but this may not be a bad thing. It so difficult to get a read on him considering all the injuries but he averaged a whopping 98 mph on his fastball coming out of the pen in 7 appearances for the Orioles allowing just 1 ER and putting up both massive K (15.63 K/9) and walk (5.68 BB/9) numbers in limited MLB action. His big fastball coupled with a curveball that averages 83mph could make him a big late-game weapon for the Orioles going forward.
Danny Jansen (C-TOR)
Jansen went 1-2 smashing his second home run of the spring. Jansen has been white-hot thus far during the spring slashing .556/.667/1.333 with 5 RBIs to go along with the 2 home runs. After a short stint in 2018 with the Blue Jays where he posted an encouraging .779 OPS with 3 home runs over 31 games he spent all of 2019 at the MLB level but took a step back in his hitting slashing just .207/.279/.360 over 384 plate appearances. The 13 home runs were solid were a catcher continuing he played in just over 100 games and his 8% BB and 20% K rate are not terrible for the position either; ranking in the top 10 in the AL. Jansen was undone by a very rough start last year registering just 21 hits in 129 at bats (.163) over the season's first 2 months, but similarly his 43 RBIs ranked in the top 10 among all AL catchers as well. His .230 babip didn't help either and I see Jansen as possibly having a breakout year behind the plate - 20 home runs and 75+ RBIs are not out of the question especially with some very talented young bats at the front of the Toronto lineup.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (3B-TOR)
Vlad Jr. went 0-3 with a pair of strikeouts Monday. He is off to a bit of a slow start this spring hitting just .235 but that should not be a worry to fantasy owners. He took his lumps as a Rookie last year slashing .272/.339/.433 - solid Rookie numbers, but below the massive expectations that were bestowed on him when he was called up. His lack of home runs (15) were a product of a nearly 50% groundball rate, something I expect him to improve upon as he gets more used to MLB pitching and drives the ball more. He has a very developed eye at the plate as his 8.9% walk rate and 17.7% K rate were better than what most were expecting. He enters his sophomore season with huge expectations as I would imagine if he doesn't hit at least .285 with 30 home runs it could be billed as a disappointing season.
Sam Hillard (OF-COL)
Hillard went 2 for 4 with a double and a home run in the Rockies spring training game Monday. Its been a bit of a slow spring for Hillard but there is quite a bit of buzz around his prospects for the 2020 season, especially after putting up big numbers (1.006 OPS, 13 extra base hits in 27 games) during a quick stint at the end of last season. It's hard to judge callups playing so little games but the fact that Hillard plays his home games at Coors Field and the fact that he also clubbed 35 home runs at AAA last season (for a total of 42 between AAA/MLB) leads me to believe that he could be a breakout player in 2020. Hillard still boosts a pretty big strikeout rate (26.4%) but he at least draws walks about 10% of the time as well. With someone with his power prospects I think he needs to shift a bit of his ground-ball tendencies (42%) to flyballs and line-drives, to take advantage of his home park. One final note - only attempted 2 steals and was successful on both last year, but he is was very active on the basepaths in the minors, swiping 20+ bags each of the past 4 minor league seasons.
Travis Demeritte (OF-DET)
Demeritte, who was once a former first round pick had a big spring game Monday hitting 2 home runs and driving in 5. Despite being the 30th overall pick in the 2013 draft he hasn't had a lot of fanfair around him and struggled during his first taste of the Show last year, slashing .225/.286/.343 with 12 extra base hits and 3 stolen bases over 48 games. The 2-home run game is most likely an outlier, but as he is still just 24 years old, I could see a scenario where he gets ample at bats in Detroit this season. He has over 100 minor league home runs since 2013, in addition to 2 seasons of double-digits steals. He has always struggled with strikeouts, and that was no different with the Tigers as he struck out in 33% of his plate appearances last year. He should only be on the fantasy radar in deep or AL only leagues but is worth highlighting due to the possibility of getting a good chunk of at bats.
Renato Nunez (1B/DH)
Nunez hit his first home run of the spring. Nunez burst onto the scene with a 31-home run season for the Orioles last year and appears primed to be a major source of power in 2020 for them. Nunez showed great power in the minors early on in his career hitting 20+ home runs 3 times in the minor leagues so the breakout may not be as unexpected as you think. That being said positioning is always a question with him as he picked up the majority of his starts at DH, but did pick up enough at 1B to qualify at the position in 2020. Nunez boosted his flyball rate slightly last year, while increasing his hard-hit % 9% over the previous season. Another 30-home run season is a possibility this year but with an average ceiling of around .250/.260 there are a lot more enticing options to plug into your corner IF or DH spots - I like him as a potential platoon piece considering his .279 average against lefties.
Evan White (1B-SEA)
White returned following being held out Sunday with a groin strain and continued his hot spring going 2-3 with a double and 2 RBIs. He how owns a 1.182 OPS over limited spring action, a nice start for the slugged who hit .293 with 18 home runs at AA yesterday. White had a brief stint at AAA in 2018 where he picked up 18 plate appearances and following him signing a 6-year 24-million-dollar contract in the offseason he appears primed to take over at the Mariners starting 1B this year. This would be quite a jump, having basically no AAA experience, but White is an advanced defender at first base and the rebuilding Mariners will let him try to hit through the inevitable slumps he will endure as he gets his first taste of big-league pitching. With just 3 seasons of minor leagues games under his belt it's a bit difficult to figure out what sort of offensive output he can deliver, but he does have 42 doubles and 32 home runs in the minors - so I would expect a 20+ home run season, even if his averages falls short in his Rookie season.
Kyle Seager (3B-SEA)
Seager continued his hit spring going 3-3 with a pair of doubles and 2 RBIs Monday. Despite playing a career low 106 games due to injuries last year, Seager hit 1 more home run (23) than he has the year before and had a SLG% of .468 - his highest mark in 4 seasons. That was about that only positive on another uninspiring season for Seager who has averaged a .256 clip with 25 home runs and 86 RBIs over his 9 year career with the Mariners. Fantasy owners who have had Seager are used to the slightly-above-league-average output he delivers year in and year out as an OPS in the high 700s is about his ceiling. Look for a healthy Seager to continue to display good plate discipline (8.8% walk rate, 17% K rate) and pop around home runs in 2020.