Baseball is back and the first full day of the post-lockout era has started off busily. Players under contract have already started reporting. Some free agents were signed. Trade talks are happening. Expect a lot of action very quickly as spring training will be compressed. It's also time to see what's happening in terms with potential rookies as well as injuries that will impact at least the early part of the season.
Carlos Rodon- P- SF- Rodon and the Giants didn't waste any time coming to terms on the first free agent signing after the lockout ended. Evidently San Francisco doesn't have many questions about Rodon's health, being willing to sign him for 2 years and $44 million. Oracle Park has more of a reputation as a pitchers' park then Guaranteed Rate Field, but Rodon may not see that much advantage. Last season his home ERA was 2.26 compared to 2.48 on the road. Rodon's HR/9 was more than twice as much away from Chicago (1.17) than at home (0.57.) Rodon's fastball velocity (95.4) was better than it was before having basically two seasons off. The Giants seem convinced that his bounce back season was for real and there is nothing sticking out from his performance in 2021 to indicate that he won't put up outstanding numbers again.
Clayton Kershaw- P- LAD- Future Hall of Famer Kershaw will be back with the Dodgers for at least one season. His 121.2 IP was his lowest total as a professional in a full season since his 2007 campaign split between A and AA. Kershaw will not be the workhorse he was in the early 2010s, but no one is any more (only 4 pitchers threw 200+ IPs in 2021.) He put up a 3.55 ERA with a 3.00 FIP. That's still solid in this day and age and he had his highest K/9 (10.65) since 2015. It's possible that 2022 may be Kershaw's last season and he should go out with a solid effort.
Martin Perez- P- TX- The Rangers are bringing Perez back to their staff. He originally signed with them in 2007 and reached the majors in 2012. Perez had success in his first season in Texas, posting a 3.62 in 2013. That is his only season with an ERA lower than 4.38. Perez put up a career high K/9 with the Red Sox in 2021, but it was only 7.66. Control is frequently an issue. Last season's 2.84 BB/9 was the only time he has been below 3.06 since 2015. For Boston Perez appeared in 36 games last season, with 22 starts. A similar swing role may be in the works with the Rangers this season, depending on who else they add to their staff. Reportedly they are looking for a veteran to be at the top of the rotation and Perez does not fill that place.
Adley Rutschman- C- BAL- Currently the Orioles do not have a catcher on their 40-man roster. If that doesn't change they would set a new record for passed balls very early in the season. However, there will be a backstop on the field when Baltimore plays games. It will be Rutschman either right away or before too long. He is arguably the best prospect in baseball. Rutschman combines solid defense and the ability to hit, hit for power, and has shown good play discipline. He crushed AA in2021, with a .271/.392/.508 slash line, 18 homers in 358 PAs, .237 ISO, and a Batting EYE of 0.96. Rutschman's power dipped some after a promotion to AAA (5 homers in 185 PAs and .178 ISO) but slashed .312/.405/.490. The switch hitter is projected to end up in the elite of catchers. There may be some growing pains in his first taste of the majors, but the potential is substantial.
Josh Jung- 3B- TEX- Jung wasn't on the 40-man roster for the Rangers so was able to keep in touch and would have been in minor league camp during the lockout. The "would have" is because he ended up tearing the labrum in his non-throwing shoulder while doing some weight work before camp started. Jung underwent surgery that will keep him out until at least August. When he does come back, he will probably be limited to DH because there would be risk of reinjury by playing the hot corner. This is the second straight season that injuries have derailed the Texas 3B-of-the-future. Last season he suffered a stress fracture in his foot and was limited to 78 games between AA Frisco and AAA Round Rock. Jung slugged a total of 19 homers in 342 PAs in the minors and slashed .308/.366/.544 at AA and .348/.436/.652 at AAA. He is expected to recover fully from his surgery, but that places his time as an effective player into 2023.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa- 3B- TEX- Kiner-Falefa is the kind of player that has more value in real life than he does in fantasy. He came up as a catcher in 2018 and saw time at 3B and also 2B before shifting to SS fulltime last season. Despite little previous experience there Kiner-Falefa earned the Gold Glove. His slash line of .271/.312/.357 wasn't horrible, but not really desirable. Kiner-Falefa had an Exit Velocity of 85.5, Launch Angle of 5.4, HardHit% of 28.6%, and GB% of 53.7%. With Josh Jung's injury plus the addition of Marcus Semien and Corey Seager it appears Kiner-Falefa will slide into the 3B slot and be removed from the status of trade bait, where he had reportedly been. A lot of fantasy leagues won't give him the same flexibility he has had in the past and his numbers don't really merit a lot of attention at 3B or SS.
Lance McCullers, Jr.- P- HOU- McCullers was a victim of the lengthy lockout. He had a severe flexor tendon strain suffered in the postseason last year. Once the lockout started McCullers and the Astros could stay in contact to set up a rehab program. He says that his work to try and return was "choppy" as a result. With a career high 162.1 IP in 2021 where hie posted a 3.16 ERA, 3.52 FIP, and 10.26 K/9 McCullers would have potential to be considered a top line starter this season with a monitored rehab program. The way things currently stand, he will need to show that he has recovered enough to warrant attention. Spring training will be very important to evaluate him.
Codi Heuer- RP- CHC- Heading north in a trade last year between the White Sox and Cubs, Heuer looked like he might be in position to challenge for a high leverage position in the Cubs' bullpen in what is expected to be a down season at Wrigley. Heuer picked up 2 saves in his 25 games for the Cubs while he was posting mediocre results, He had a 3.14 ERA with them, but 4.36 FIP. 5.34 K/9, and 4.08 BB/9. Chicago saw the mid-upper 90s fastball and thought they could help him improve. Then came the lockout. Working out independently, Heuer suffered an elbow injury and underwent Tommy John surgery this week. He's done for 2022.
Freddie Freeman- 1B- N/A- The Dodgers have reportedly offered Freeman a multiyear contract that could be finalized today. Wherever Freeman ends up, his home park could have little impact on his performance. His home/road splits are hardly splits at all. In 2021 Freeman slashed .304/.392/.491 at home and .296/.393/.515 on the road. For Freeman's career he is slashing .295/.386/.508 in one place and .296/.382/.509 at the other. They are so close it doesn't really matter which is which. The splits that matter for Freeman are his platoon splits. He slashed .317/.416/.534 against RH pitching in 2021 and .257/.333/.427 against southpaws. This was not an aberration. For his career he has a .266/.348/.436 slash line against LH pitching and .309/.400/.542 against righthanders. Depending on how you construct your team it may be worth sitting Freeman when his team faces a lefthanded starter.
Max Muncy- 1B- LAD- The universal DH gives Muncy a place to play, even if his torn UCL in his left elbow isn't healed enough for him to take the field. That could be part of the Dodgers' push to sign Freddie Freeman. Eventually, Muncy may also play some at 2B, which would increase his fantasy value. Most leagues will probably have hm eligible there, as he played 39 games at the keystone bag in 2021, but this would cement that versatility. Muncy has said he would be ready by Opening Day, and with it being pushed back that is more likely. His exact role is still up in the air. The average part of his .249/.368/.527 slash line was down last season but that could pick up some with an increase in his .257 BABIP.
Shane Baz- P- TB- Baz harnessed control issues, making his way from AA through AAA and into the majors and a postseason appearance. He struck out 131 batters of the 347 batters he faced in his three stops and only walked 16. With an upper 90s fastball and wicked slider, Baz will push hard to get a place in the Tampa Bay rotation and has good odds of success.
Akil Baddoo- OF- DET- Baddoo started his MLB career as hot as possible, homering on the first pitch he faced. He ended up with solid rookie numbers, slashing .259/.330/.436 with 13 homers and 18 steals in 461 PAs. Baddoo's 8.8% Barrel% is what jumps out in his Statcast numbers. Whether that is sustainable is a question, given his 86.0 EV and 32.3% HardHit%. Still, Baddoo is projected to slug 16 homers and, more importantly, swipe 23 bases. That number of steals would have tied for 11th in MLB in 2021.
Adolis Garcia- OF- TEX- Garcia spent his first full time season in the majors last season and made the most of the opportunity. He slashed .243/.286/.454 and slugged 31 homers in 622 PAs. He had showed that kind of power in pre-COVID days, getting 32 homers in 529 PAs with AAA Memphis in the St. Louis organization in 2019. Garcia has two of the three true outcomes down pretty well, with the homers and a 31.2% K%. His 5.1% BB% shows that he ignores that last true outcome. Garcia had a 91.0 EV, 45.3% HardHit%, and a Barrel% of 11.5%. The power is definitely there. With a few more homers and keeping his average up he could be a slightly more advanced version of the Joey Gallo of a few seasons ago (when he was slugging 40 homers and flirting with the Mendoza line.) That has value.
Alek Manoah- P- TOR- Manoah had all of 9 minor league appearances before debuting in the majors last season. He pitched like a veteran, posting a 3.22 ERA and 3.80 FIP along with a 10.24 K/9 in 111.2 IP. Manoah's record was 9-2 in 20 starts with a 1.04 WHIP. He allowed a FB% of 40.6%, but with a HardHit% of 31.2% they didn't go that far. With two solid fastballs and an excellent slider, if Manoah continues to improve his changeup he will put up even better numbers. He will have a prominent place in the Toronto rotation.
Luis Garcia- P- HOU- Garcia put up a very solid first full season in the majors. He went from a fill-in to significant part of the rotation as the season progressed. He posted a 3.48 ERA, 3.63 DIP, 9.68 K/9 and 2.90 BB/9 in 155.1 IP. In 30 appearances, 28 of them starts, Garcia had a record of 11-8. He allowed 19 homers, but his HR/9 of 1.10 is higher than he ever had in the minors and his EV of88.1, HardHit% of 38.7%, and Barrel % of 7.3% may indicate that some of the homers were of the lucky variety. Garcia is projected to increase his IPs to 178, given he is starting the season with a firm rotation spot, and his production should end up close to what he put up in 2021. His projected ERA of 3.79, WHIP of 1.23 and 184 Ks are all solid.
Elias Diaz- C- COL- Diaz experienced a power surge in 21 in his first full season with Colorado. He slugged 18 homers in 371 PAs while slashing .246/.310/.464. Diaz had almost the same amount of playing time at Coors Field and on the road. His homer totals were dead even at 9 at and away from home. His slash lines were not that even, though. In Denver Diaz slashed .289/.350/.524 while he was .203/.271/.407 on the road. So, it was the Coors effect, right? Not so fast. His BABIP at home was .295 but only .202 on the road. That made an overall BABIP of .249, well below his career mark of .275. Taking his extraordinary bad luck last year into account, his projected average for 2022 is .275. Diaz's homer total is projected to be 19 in about the same number of PAs (.377) as last season. Those numbers are good enough to put him on your radar, especially in deep leagues.
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