The Blue Jays Closer is?
It is looking likely that Blue Jays closer Kirby Yates is going to get a second Tommy John surgery. This opens up a coveted closer job for a Blue Jays team that figures to be competitive. During the offseason, Jordan Romano was being drafted as the Blue Jays closer prior to Yates being signed as a free agent. Romano has the skills (37% K, 9% BB, and 19% SwStr) to be a lockdown closer. The issue is that the current game has shifted towards using your best reliever in the highest leverage situations instead of strictly the 9th inning. The Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said that they will be going with the dreaded closer-by-committee approach. This makes Rafael Dolis also rostereable given his skillset (31% K, 14% BB, and 13% SwStr) and potential to close games. At the end of the day, Romano is the most talented reliever in the Jays pen, so he should be priority #1 if attacking the Jays pen even though they may start the year with a committee.
George Springer's Oblique Injury
George Springer has a grade two oblique strain. There is no timetable for his recovery at this time. Oblique injuries are not uncommon early in the year but can be troublesome for hitters. He is likely going to miss the start of the year which has fantasy implications. The first being that he was slated to leadoff which means that 2B Marcus Semien could leadoff in his absence which could also boost 3B Cavan Biggio back up to the top of their order (2nd). This would obviously be temporary but would increase both Semien and Biggio's value in the short term. It would also open regular playing time for 1B Rowdy Tellez and OF Randal Grichuk. Tellez has stellar Statcast numbers (42% Hard, 117 max EV, 11% Barrels) but just needs regular playing time and this is a great opportunity to prove his value as the only other left-handed bat other than Biggio.
News and Notes
It looks as though C Alejandro Kirk is going to win the backup job. He is having a strong spring (.292/.333/.583) and has the potential to take over the starting job if C Danny Jansen doesn't improve offensively. SP Steven Matz is another Blue Jay enjoying a strong spring (1.76 ERA, 15:2 K/BB) over a team-leading 15.1 IP. Outside of a terrible 2017 season, Matz has been an average to above-average major league starter when healthy. He is someone to look at in deep mixed league drafts or to keep an eye on for waivers. SP Ross Stripling is likely to start the year in the rotation with SP Nate Pearson dealing with an injury. Stripling's spring stats aren't great (5.19 ERA and 1.38 WHIP) but does have a 9:1 K/BB which is the most useful stat from spring. The Blue Jays have stated that once Pearson is healthy he will slot back into the rotation with Stripling being the long-man in the pen. The hope for Stripling is that he regains his form from his time with the Dodgers and sticks in the rotation. Keep an eye on pitching prospect Alek Manoah who has 15 K over 7 IP. He isn't likely to get a shot until later in the summer but he is a high-upside arm that has real breakout potential.
The Reds closer battle has heated up just as Spring Training is starting to wind down. Both Amir Garrett and Lucas Sims have appeared in spring games after dealing with early injuries. Garrett has looked the better of the two. He has pitched 3 IP with 0 BB and 9 K. Garrett looked to be the closer entering the year and has the upside to be a top 10 closer if he holds the job all year. The skills are there in terms of missing bats (37% K, 18% SwStr) but it will come down to walks (10% BB) and keeping the ball in the park. Despite all of this, manager David Bell said on Saturday that he would not name a closer and that Lucas Sims would also see save chances. This is a less than ideal situation for fantasy managers. The other guy to keep an eye on is RHP Tejay Antone who has been ruled out of the rotation to start the year and is likely to pitch high leverage innings.
Nick Senzels Rising ADP
Nick Senzel has seen his ADP rise drastically as the season has gotten closer. There are multiple factors playing a role in his quick ascent. The first being that he has an everyday role with Shogo Akiyama (hamstring) injured and struggling against major league pitching. Senzel has also shown that he is healthy and has played well this spring (.324/.419/.541). He is a legitimate 20 HR/20 SB threat going after pick #100 which is hard to find.
Eugenio Suarez's Move to SS
Eugenio Suarez came up as a shortstop but has not played the position since 2015. The main takeaway here is that the Reds seem committed to this idea which means he should get SS eligibility giving him both SS/3B. From a fantasy perspective, if he can't hack it at short they will simply move him back to third without losing his spot in the order because his bat plays anywhere. Suarez has come into spring camp in better physical shape and has serious power potential (40%+FB, 50%+ Pull, 13%+ Barrels). We're talking 35+ HR potential with good counting stats as the Reds lineup should see improvement this year simply from positive regression. The other side of this move to consider is that 2B Mike Moustakas is going to move back to his more natural position of third base and it opens up a spot at 2B for prospect Jonathan India. India has not performed well in the minors but reportedly reworked his swing and benefited from his time at the alternate site in 2020. India has double-digit home run potential over the course of a full season with 5-10 SB potential. The batting average could be a major risk as there is swing and miss to his game and he has limited time above Single-A (34 GP). He is not a lock to make the roster because the Reds could manipulate his service time and/or give him more time in the minors but he is someone to keep an eye on as the season begins.
Jose Altuve has been batting leadoff recently in spring games which is a good indicator that he will start the season there for the Astros. Altuve has not had a strong spring (.217/.308/.435) but it is just Spring Training. He is coming off a poor 2020 regular season (.219/.286/.344) but had a really strong postseason (.375/.500/.729). The key factor for Altuve is health. If his knee is healthy, he is more of the hitter that we used to know minus the steals. If he can return to being a .290+ hitter with league average power and good counting stats he would be a nice bargain at pick #95 (NFBC). The move to leadoff would also mean more at-bats and runs scored, two often overlooked categories.
The Astros final rotation spot is going to come down to Brandon Bielak or Luis Garcia. Garcia is the more intriguing of the two for fantasy purposes. Garcia works with a three-pitch mix (FB, CH, SL) but has one of the better changeups which gives him a nice floor. In the minors, he showed the ability to miss bats and limit home runs which are two key skills. The issue though is that before his brief appearance in the majors last year he had not pitched above High-A. With the recent track record of success with the Astros and starting pitching it is worth taking a gamble on Garcia if he does win the fifth spot in the rotation.
Cleveland optioned Bradley Zimmer to the minors on Friday which leaves a brewing platoon in center field of LHB Ben Gamel and RHB Amed Rosario. Gamel has a career .261 AVG with just 23 HR and 13 SB over 442 GP. From a fantasy perspective, he is not interesting outside of AL-only leagues. Rosario is the more fantasy-relevant player but needs to show that he can handle CF defensively before seeing regular playing time. This makes him hard to own in mixed leagues but he is someone worth keeping an eye on because not too long ago (2019) Rosario hit .287 with 15 HR and 19 SB.
Wil Myers is slashing .415/.442/.805 this spring with 5 HR. Spring stats don't mean much but what this tells us is that Myers is healthy entering the year. He is being picked at the end of the 8th round (Pick #133) in 15-team leagues which leaves plenty of room for profit. Myers is coming off a very strong 2020 in which he hit .288 with 15 HR and 2 SB. The Statcast numbers (15% Barrels and 46% Hard) backed up his bounce-back season a year ago and gives plenty of optimism for 2021. He has also stolen double-digit bases in four of the past five seasons with last year's shortened season being the exception. The potential for 30+ HR and 10+ SB is hard to pass up at an ADP of #133.
Matt Barnes-Red Sox-RP
Matt Barnes tested positive for Covid-19 according to Red Sox manager Alex Cora. There was already a competition for saves in Boston with newly acquired Adam Ottavino. For now, it looks like Ottavino will open the season as the Red Sox closer until Barnes comes off the Covid list. He has pitched well in spring (0.00 ERA with 1 BB and 6 K). The other name to keep an eye on over the course of the season is Garrett Whitlock. He has not pitched above Double-A but has impressed this spring (9 IP, 0 BB, and 12 K) and has made the Opening Day roster.
Nico Hoerner was optioned to the minors after a really strong spring (.361/.400/.639 with 3 HR and 1 SB). This is an unfortunate part of the game because they are sending him down to get another year of control. He should be up shortly but the lack of live games is not going to benefit Hoerner while he waits for the call. The Cubs appear to be going with David Bote at second. Bote is also having a strong spring (.316/.381/.684). He hits the ball hard (8% Barrel and 45% Hard) but also strikes out too much (27% K). Bote is worth rostering in deeper mixed league formats because he will hit for some power and has the ability to get on base (11% BB) which should keep his playing time secure until Hoerner is called back up and there is a chance that Bote plays well enough to hold onto the job.
Luke Voit is going to have surgery on his left knee. The good news is that is just a meniscus tear which means a shorter recovery time. He will not be able to do any baseball activities for at least three weeks. This means that the Yankees are likely going to use Jay Bruce at first in the meantime. Bruce becomes fantasy relevant in AL-only leagues where playing time is key. Mixed leagues are a different story because while Yankee Stadium is a perfect park for left-handed power, Bruce has not been a good hitter (90wRC+) each of the past three seasons.
Eduardo Rodriguez-Red Sox-SP
The Red Sox are considering putting Eduardo Rodriguez on the injured list due to dead arm. This sounds very alarming but is something that pitchers deal with periodically. The concern with Rodriguez is that he has not pitched since 2019 because of Covid complications a year ago. The Red Sox are hopeful that if it does require an injured list stint that he misses just one start. When Rodriguez last pitched in 2019 he threw 203.1 IP with a 3.81 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. He also struck out 213 batters. He is going at pick #189 (NFBC) around pitchers Jameson Taillon, Jordan Montgomery, and Chris Bassitt. All three have just as much injury risk and Rodriguez has higher strikeout upside than all three.
Adbert Alzolay has made the Cubs rotation along with Trevor Williams pushing Alec Mills to the bullpen. Alzolay has the stuff to be a high upside starter but has struggled with control at the major league level after average walk rates in the minors. Alzolay has a four-pitch mix (FB, SL, CB, CH). At the major league level, Alzolay has primarily been a two-pitch pitcher (FB, CB). Reports from this spring have him rediscovering his slider which would help a lot in terms of keeping hitters off balance and give him some horizontal movement in contrast to his vertical approach. He is worth a late-round pick or should be considered for early season waivers given his strikeout upside. In 33.2 major league innings, he has 29% K and 11% SwStr but the warts are real (15% BB).
Robby Ray-Blue Jays-SP
Robby Ray is going to miss his first regular start due to an elbow bruise. He sustained the injury while falling on stairs. He is expected to miss just one start. Ray attempted to shorten his arm swing heading into 2020 and the result was disastrous. He had a 7.84 ERA with the Diamondbacks. The main problem was even worse control (20% BB) than before. The trade to Toronto brought better results (4.79 ERA, 26% K, and 14% BB) but still not great. Ray is a low, high upside starter that has the potential to be a huge bargain at pick #268 if the control comes back to his career 11% BB and the strikeouts hold (29% K). The good news is that this spring he had a 1.98 ERA and 0.80 WHIP with 18 K and 5 BB.