The Brewers have a new/old face returning to their lineup and also a dominating back end of the bullpen that may be somewhat flexible. They are hoping those parts will help them compete in a wide open NL Central.
Lorenzo Cain- OF- MIL-Cain only played 5 games in 2020 before opting out of the season. He has been slowed this spring by a minor quad injury. Cain is expected to be ready by Opening Day, although he has yet to start hitting. With the signing of Jackie Bradley, Jr. the Brewers could take a conservative approach to the return of the 35-year-old Cain. They are hoping he will be more like the player he was in 2018, when he slashed .308/.395/.417 and stole 30 bases than the one who slashed .260/.325/.372 with 18 steals in 2019. One major factor in his dip in 2019 was a BABIP of .301, well below his career mark of .339. His xBA was the same in 2019 as it was in 2018. Speed is a big part of Cain's game and it showed some decline in 2019. His sprint speed was 27.9 ft/s, down from 28.6 in 2018. That was still good enough to put him in the 71st percentile of major leaguers. Will two years of age have a major impact on that? Or will some extended time off have let him avoid some wear and tear? It's going to be hard to tell with his playing time limited this spring. Cain will be the starting CF in Milwaukee when he is ready to play. He currently would be considered a high-risk, high-reward player. There is definite potential for help in average and steals, but it is far from guaranteed. A late round pick on him could pay off at minimal cost.
Devin Williams- RP- MIL- Williams threw 25 pitches in live batting practice yesterday as he gets closer to his first Cactus League appearance of the Spring. The Brewers are easing him into play after he missed the postseason due to shoulder issues. Williams has said he feels no problems with the shoulder in his workouts, so it is expected that the 2020 Rookie of the Year will be ready for Opening Day. He will start as the primary setup man for closer Josh Hader but has the potential to records some saves either when Hader comes in early (which happens at times) or if Hader is traded or falters.
Josh Hader- RP- MIL- Hader has been the epitome of "3-True-Outcome" pitchers over the past two seasons. He has faced a total of 367 batters and struck out 169, walked 30, and allowed 18 homers. The homers have become an issue for Hader and the very early Spring results haven't been reassuring. In his first Cactus League outing Wednesday he gave up 2 homers in his 0.2 IP of work. Yesterday Hader was a little more settled, allowing a hit and walk while striking out 2 In an inning of work. Overall in the Cactus League he has faced 9 batters and struck out 4, walked 2 and allowed 2 homers. Last year Hader allowed all 3 of his homers at home, so if he is dealt to a team with a more pitcher-friendly ballpark it may help, but that is no sure thing. In 2019 his HR/9 was almost identical at home and on the road. If Hader continues to allow long balls this Spring that is an indicator that his numbers the past two seasons may not be an aberration. He will strike out a lot of batters and get a lot of IP but his ERA will depend on how well he keeps the ball in the park when hitters make contact.
The Rangers are in full rebuilding mode and are looking towards some pieces starting to fall into place. They also have some bullpen issues in the short term brought about by injury that they may address with a familiar arm
Josh Jung- 3B- TEX- The Rangers are planning to start Rougned Odor at 3B in 2021. That's the same Odor who has hit 30 homers twice in the last 4 years and 10 in the truncated 2020 season. However, it's the same Odor who has been around or under the Mendoza line in batting average and under .300 in OBP in 3 of the last 4 seasons. It's also the same Odor who has played exclusively at 2B for his entire major league career. Indications are that Odor is a placeholder at the position for Jung. The 23-year-old was impressive early in camp and is hitting .400 in the few Cactus League games he appeared in before being sent to the minor league camp. Jung's main hurdle is experience, or rather the lack thereof. He has never appeared in a pro game above the Low A level and has a total of 44 games of pro experience. Jung spent 2020 at the Texas alternate training site but was never brought up to the big club. He projects to a player with a solid average who will likely add at least 20 homers. The likely course for Jung will be for him to continue to train with AAA Round Rock and then go there or to AA Frisco when the minor leagues start to play games. Expectations are high that he will succeed quickly at whatever minor league level or levels he sees and then he will be called up to the majors, possibly before the All Star Break. Jung has good plate discipline, which should translate to less of a risk of a slow start in the majors.
Dane Dunning- P- TEX- Dunning was a key piece of the deal that sent Lance Lynn to the White Sox. Dunning made a successful major league debut in 2020, coming back from Tommy John surgery that cost him all of his 2019 season. He made 7 starts for Chicago, going 2-0 and posting a 3.97 ERA, 3.99 FIP, and 9.25 K/9 over 34 IP. Dunning will start the 2021 regular season with the Rangers, but they are going to be careful with his usage. The current plan is for him to start as a piggyback pitcher to get his innings stretched out before putting into the rotation regularly. Once he is there expect him to be a solid performer as Texas rebuilds. Dunning has exhibited good control and strikeout effectiveness over his career.
Jonathan Hernandez- RP- TEX- Hernandez entered Spring Training as a candidate to challenge for the closer role for the Rangers. Now he is in limbo for at least a month. He suffered a low-grade UCL strain earlier this week. The plan right now is to let Hernandez rest for at least four weeks. Even if he is ready to start working his way back at that point, it will be quite a while before he could potentially se game action. The possibility still exists that Hernandez may need surgery. Surgery or not, he cannot be counted on to make his way back in 2021. It is a big disappointment for a pitcher who made a big breakthrough in 2020, with a 5-1 record, 2.90 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 9.00 K/9, and 5 holds in 27 appearances. Hernandez was a sleeper candidate before getting bitten by the injury bug.
Matt Bush- RP- TEX- Bush is attempting another comeback with the Rangers. The former (2004) first draft pick overall of the Padres had conquered personal demons and ended up making a significant contribution to the 2017 Rangers when he recorded 10 saves and posted a 3.78 ERA and 9.97 K/9. Bush had injury issues in 2018 and underwent Tommy John surgery. He hasn't pitched since then. Bush had a successful first Cactus League appearance this week, allowing a hit and striking out a batter in an inning of work. With continued good work in Arizona, Bush will be in the mix for work at the back end of the Texas bullpen.
Did I say something about a full rebuild? The Orioles are another team looking towards the future. They have a combination of definitely futures pieces, some that have arrived, and some that had been hoped would arrive (and would still get there) but never have.
Adley Rutschman- C- BAL- A sportsbook tabbed Rutschman as the fourth most likely to win AL Rookie of the Year in 2021. There is no doubt that he is a highly regarded prospect, being the first player drafted in 2019 and all. Rutschman is also enjoying his time in the Grapefruit League, hitting .333 after collecting a double in his only at bat yesterday. His path to the majors was derailed a bit by the oddity that was 2020. Rutschman has only had 155 PAs as a professional, none above Class A. The Orioles have no pressing need to bring him up to the majors and so will delay the start of his service time clock until at least closer to mid-season. If Rutschman comes up to the Orioles sometime in June then he won't be in the Super Two class for arbitration eligibility. Once he comes up he will be an no-brainer pickup (unless you are in a keeper league that allows minor leaguers to be drafted in which case someone already has him.) Long term Rutschman projects to an elite catcher, but we will have to wait for that to start.
Ryan Mountcastle- OF- BAL- Mountcastle played in more than half of the Orioles' games in 2020 (35) but because of the brevity of the schedule still qualifies as a rookie in 2021. He slashed .333/.386/.492 with 5 homers in 140 PAs in his debut season. Some regression is expected in 2021. Mountcastle benefited from a .398 BABIP. With a LD% of 19.4% it appears he received a good helping of luck. Still, Mountcastle is projected to hit .271 with 26 homers and 81, not horrible numbers for a corner outfield. If he is overlooked because he's in Baltimore there could be value there.
Hunter Harvey- RP- BAL- Harvey has closer potential but injuries have prevented him from living up to his potential. The opportunity for him to grab that role was there again as the Orioles have no designated closer in their bullpen. However, Harvey has been bit by the injury bug again. He suffered an oblique injury Friday and is now expected to be out for several weeks. Harvey was a possible sleeper candidate since even the worst teams have to win some games and end up with saves, but this knocks him out of that.
More news around the leagues-
Ji-Man Choi- 1B- TB- Choi is being shut down for 7-10 days due to inflammation in his right knee. This is the second time this spring the knee has flared up on him. Choi saw his slash line go from .261/.363/.459 in 2019 to .230/.331/.410 last year. He has never shown an ability to hit southpaws (.174/.278/.278 slash line) so his playing time has already been limited in his career. If this is a recurring injury situation that makes his value even lower.
Jarred Kelenic- OF- SEA- One of the hottest prospects in baseball, Kelenic suffered a knee abductor strain in a Cactus League game a little over a week ago. His rehab is progressing well and looks to be closer to the minimum side of the 3-6 weeks projected. It will end up being an interesting situation if Kelenic is back to play in the Cactus League but not on the Opening Day roster. He was one of the players cited as being held back for service time reasons by former Seattle CEO Kevin Mather. Kelenic is considered ready for the majors with the likelihood of contributing across the board in real life and fantasy. Using this injury as a reason to break camp without Kelenic could ignite some bad blood that would impact his on-the-field play, whenever that starts.
Luis Robert- OF- CHW- Robert is projected to slug 36 homers and steal 24 bases. That puts him with a chance to join the 30-30 club, a fairly rare feat in this day and age. Last year, in his rookie season he slugged 11 homers and stole 9 bases in 56 games, so he was close on a pro-rated basis. Unfortunately he struck out at a 32.2% rate and also had a .300 BABIP. Those factors impacted his .233 average. With better luck and plate discipline closer to what he showed in the minors and that average should come up. The projection is .266. With his production in other categories that will increase his value.
Jordan Yamamoto- P- NYM- Yamamoto made his third appearance of the Grapefruit League and allowed 1 run over 3.1 IP, allowing 2 hits, walking no one, and striking out 2. He came over from the Marlins in a trade last month and is making a strong case for being on the Opening Day roster. With Carlos Carrasco's injury status uncertain Yamamoto has a chance to make the rotation. Currently he has a 1.08 ERA in 8.1 IP of spring work. Yamamoto had a horrible 2020, but it was brief. His 18.26 ERA was from 11.1 IP. In 2019 he posted a 4.46 ERA, 4.51 FIP, and 9.38 K/9 in 15 starts after jumping from AA to the majors. Yamamoto won't turn 25 until a couple of months from now so he is still young enough to play into his potential.
Brendan Rodgers- 2B- COL- Rodgers' transition from prospect to major league producer may have hit a road bump. He left yesterday's game with a hamstring strain. The severity wasn't known yet, and more may be known in the next couple of days. At least it wasn't a shoulder injury, which has hit Rodgers in each of the previous two seasons.
Shohei Ohtani- P- LAA- Ohtani seems to have one of the 6 spots in the Angels' rotation locked up, so watching him in the Cactus League is trying to get a handle on how he will perform once the games are for real. The results yesterday were mixed. Ohtani looked dominating at times, with his fastball getting up to 99 mph. At other times he was quite hittable, ending with a line of 5 runs (all earned) on 6 this and a walk while striking out 4 in 2.1 IP. Ohtani has two more Cactus League starts scheduled. Things still may be a little rough when the regular season starts.
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