There are a lot of things that make prospects special – their incredibly smooth deliveries, their sweet swings, and their game-changing gloves; however, I don’t have time to travel around the country. Therefore, scouting becomes what baseball is all about – the numbers. Based on the numbers, here are some prospects to watch in the coming months:
(NOTE: CLICK ON THE BLUE HYPERLINK TO VIEW PLAYER STATS!)
The Midwest League is a difficult league for hitters, but you wouldn’t know that by taking a look at this 6′, 145 pound shortstop’s numbers. His .936 OPS ranks third in the league, enhanced by his recent surge at the beginning of June, as Palacios has hit .448/.467/.931 with three homers in six games. The Twins have a solid young core that has them leading the AL Central. He is a couple of years away, but could be another in a long line of successful Venezuelan shortstops, especially if he keeps up this pace.
Bichette, like Palacios, is tearing up the Midwest League. Although he was ranked as the Jays’ No.5 prospect by MLB.com, his production will lead to a lot of helium in his already solid stock. Having just turned 19 in March, Bichette has raked all season, posting a .381/.457/.614 line, pacing the league in OPS by 116 points. Playing alongside Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., the Lansing Lugnuts have the most productive left-side of the infield in the lower minors, with exquisite bloodlines to thank for a beautiful future in Toronto.
It is downright absurd that this 22-year-old is still in the Midwest League. His numbers are outrageous and warranted a promotion weeks ago. Overall, Duplantier has a 0.95 ERA and 0.78 WHIP over 66.2 innings with a 71:14 K:BB. He has some issues, mostly the abuse that goes along with all of the pitchers who once attended Rice University, which shelved him in his debut last season when he had elbow soreness. Still, taken in the 3rd round last season, Duplantier ranked No. 8 in the D-backs system prior to this onslaught and he’ll only continue to rise with dominance like this. k
Hey, look…another Mets’ pitching prospect. Maybe they won’t somehow ruin this arm. While he’s still 21 and successful in the minors, Humphreys is dominating the South Atlantic League to the tune of a 1.41 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, .164 BAA, and a 77:8 K:BB in 63.2 innings. An 18th round pick in 2015, Humphreys ranked 29th in the Mets’ system by MLB.com prior to the start of the season, and was said to be a “back of the rotation piece”; however, there could be more there.
At the age of 20, this former first round pick has managed to hit, probably more than expected. At 6’3″, he probably won’t be staying at shortstop, and with Manny Machado (pending free agency) around, Mountcastle will likely find himself in an outfield corner. Mountcastle’s 22 doubles and 12 home runs show a massive amount of potential for his bat to continue to mature as he continues to fill out his frame.
After a breakout campaign over two levels last season, Long returned to the Florida State League to dominate once again. He shouldn’t be there much longer. The 5’8″ left-handed hitting second baseman has 26 XBH to go along with a .911 OPS. With the Reds possessing many solid middle infield prospects, Long continues to show that he could be a huge part of the future by 2019.
I don’t know much about Reading. It is either a hitter’s paradise or a place where Phillies outfield prospects prosper – at least over the last couple of years. Last year it was Dylan Cozens and this year it is Pullin, who has seemed to find himself since arriving in Reading last season. This season, Pullin has been solid again (.307/.373/.564), but over 104 games in Double-A, Pullin is hitting .324/.382/.562 with 30 doubles and 22 home runs. The 23-year-old is a left-handed hitter and wasn’t ranked in the club’s top 30 prospects by MLB.com, but maybe he works himself into a very crowded outfield of respectable prospects…maybe even becoming trade bait.
Yes, that one. What a sad way to go. After signing a $10 million deal before seeing his first pitch as a top prospect, Singleton is now in Double-A, wasting away as the Astros invest their playing time in other players, like A.J. Reed and Yuli Gurriel. After being removed from the 40-man roster, he has received his guaranteed money and may get a buyout before he becomes a free agent after next season. His .233 average this season is hidden by his home runs and walks, which have inflated his OPS to .920, so he still has some value. Perhaps he’ll get a chance to produce for another organization after this season, but it would require a release. He will only be 26.
In fantasy baseball, it is impossible to have all of your teams loaded with the top-tier talent necessary to win every season. Even keeper leagues have players at the top every year who struggle with injuries. You need depth, you need to find a diamond in the rough, and you need to take gambles in order to win. For that reason, you need to know some players who may fly under the radar. This is a list of 12 players who may be available a little later than you think in your baseball drafts who could ruin the lives of your fiercest competitors.
Pollock had all of 46 plate appearances in 2016 due to injuries. It isn’t so much that he is a legitimate sleeper as much as how low he may rank on several draft boards due to his extended absence. Remember, this is a guy who hit .315/.367/.498 with 39 doubles, 20 home runs, and 39 steals in 2015. He was the Yang to Paul Goldschmidt‘s Ying, worthy of an early selection last season. Don’t let him fall too far and reap the benefits if he falls into your lap.
Gomez struggled so mightily last season that the Houston Astros released him on August 18th. Two days later, Gomez signed with the Texas Rangers and promptly put up the type of line that Houston was looking for during his time there, erupting to a .284/.362/.543 line with eight home runs and 24 RBI in just 33 games – he had five home runs and 29 RBI in 85 games for Houston. He signed for one-year and $11.5 million to prove himself capable of All-Star production in his age-31 season. He is playing in the right place for another offensive outburst.
Buxton has really disappointed a lot of fans and prospect fanatics with a pretty abysmal start to his career. He has struck out 162 times (with just 29 walks) in 469 plate appearances, which has led to a putrid .220/.274/.398 triple-slash in his brief career. While others will look at those numbers and run, you shouldn’t let the prospect fatigue and struggles lead you astray. Look at Buxton’s September from 2016:
While the strikeouts are still worrisome, this supposed clone of a young Eric Davis showed power and the abilities that made people drool. He was given the job for the month of September and ran with it, which is downright scary with his speed tool and the BABIP right where most speedsters have theirs. Look for a breakout in 2017.
Tomas was just a part of my story about overpaid Cuban free agents, so why would I have him on a sleeper list, you ask? Because Tomas has some tools that you can’t find everywhere, namely his power. He tore things up in the second half of 2016, posting a .913 OPS, which is impressive for a guy who walked in just 5.5% of his plate appearances. It meant that the 18 bombs in the second half – and 31 overall – could be overlooked due to how ridiculously horrific the Diamondbacks have handled him. With Jake Lamb locked in at third, it appears that Tomas is officially a slugging outfielder, and his numbers could continue to climb with the return of the previously mentioned Pollock to the Arizona lineup.
Over his first 351 career plate appearances (2012-2015), Perez was pretty useless, posting a .235/.251/.307 line with 15 doubles, three triples, one homer, and six stolen bases. Then, at age 25, Perez got an opportunity in Milwaukee, and, boy, did he make the most of it. In the second half of the 2016 season, this previously unknown, organizational depth player went on to post a .281/.313/.449 triple-slash with nine home runs, 14 doubles, two triples, and 24, count ’em…24, stolen bases. He’d total 13 bombs and 34 steals on the season, playing third, second, and outfield. While no one knows whether he will put up similar numbers, Perez has some value, even if it is only in deep mixed leagues. That position flexibility is Zobrist-like, while the production isn’t too far off, either. He would be a nice addition in late rounds for depth purposes, though the addition of Travis Shaw at third could lead to Perez being a one-year wonder.
Cotton was a 20th round pick by the Dodgers in 2012, acquired by the A’s in the Rich Hill and Josh Reddick deal last season. He had long had solid numbers in the minors, striking out 10 per 9 IP over the course of 490+ minor league innings. Upon reaching the majors for the first time in September, Cotton posted video game numbers over five starts with a 2.15 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 23:4 K:BB, and 6 H/9. It is anyone’s guess as to whether the 5’11” right-hander will continue to miss bats at that rate, but you don’t want to be the one who watches someone else benefit from the gamble. He’s penciled in as Oakland’s No. 4 starter, so continue to monitor him this spring.
If only this guy could stay healthy…which is exactly why he is a sleeper. After making only 20 starts in 2016, Paxton is the type of guy that Brett Anderson would like to be and every other pitcher avoids becoming; however, his final 11 starts were pretty impressive, injury-free, and worthy of fantasy acknowledgment. He posted a 71:9 K:BB over 67.2 innings, a 3.19 ERA and 1.05 WHIP, and a .235 BAA. Seattle made a lot of deals this winter to become contenders, and Paxton could be a “guy” who improves enough or continues to pitch like he did last season, to help make that happen.
Norris had an interesting year, spending a lot of time rebuilding stamina after beating cancer between the 2015 and 2016 season. Upon sticking in the Tigers rotation (from August 9th onward), the young left-hander posted a 3.04 ERA and 55 punchouts in 56.1 innings. While the 1.37 WHIP and 19 walks in the same 56.1 innings is worrisome, Norris has shown the ability to make it work. He will turn just 24 in April and he has to beat Matt Boyd and Mike Pelfrey to earn the No. 5 spot, but, if he wins it, he has the stuff and the teachers (Justin Verlander and Jordan Zimmermann) to learn on the job.
Run in terror if you’d like, but don’t forget to look at the 11.3 K:9 that Ray posted in 2016. That led to a whopping 218 strikeouts in 174.1 innings. Sure, the 4.90 ERA is gross. Sure, the 1.47 WHIP is disgusting. There is something here. You don’t miss that many bats without having great stuff. This will be Ray’s age-25 season and he will take another step forward because he won’t be posting a .355 BABIP in 2017 and he won’t be losing 15 games again if he throws it by so many opposing hitters in 2017. Keep in mind, Ray’s FIP was 3.76 in 2016. Jose Peraza, 2B/OF, Cincinnati Reds
Everyone is going to be on the Peraza bandwagon, with valid reasons. When the Reds traded Brandon Phillips (and millions of dollars that “small-market” teams don’t have) to the Atlanta Braves, it made fantasy baseball fans celebrate. Peraza posted a .324/.352/.411 triple-slash and 21 stolen bases in just 72 games and 256 plate appearances. With Peraza and Billy Hamilton around, the Reds could look a lot like the St. Louis Cardinals of the 1980’s, when Vince Coleman and Willie McGee ran wild on the league. They just have to get on base for that to happen, and Peraza has been more of a hit-tool and speed talent than an on-base machine.
After getting hit in the head on June 18, Panik battled some concussion symptoms, having played through them by passing concussion protocol through MLB. After the beaning, Panik hit just .215/.305/.346. Prior to that, he was hitting .263/.326/.411. Obviously, there could be something in the Justin Morneau area here that could scare you away from wanting Panik on your fantasy team, but he showed a couple of statistics that would warrant a rebound. Overall, including the times that he was apparently dazed, Panik walked more than he struck out in 2016, while posting career highs in homers (10) and RBI (67). In addition to that, Panik had a woeful .245 BABIP. While the league average is typically around .300, Panik’s was incredibly low. There are always outliers and it appears that Panik was one of them in 2016. Expect a rebound in 2017.
The Reds have a lot of interesting young pitchers. Finnegan was, prior to Anthony DeSclafani‘s return from injury, the only Reds’ pitcher worth owning in fantasy leagues. Like any young pitcher, there were growing pains…lots of them; however, it wasn’t all Finnegan’s fault. The Reds had Finnegan paired with Ramon Cabrera in 12 of his 31 starts and Cabrera was ranked 113th out of 114 catchers in pitch framing. Whether that is something you consider or not, you should know that he should have Devin Mesoraco back there again, barring another injury, in 2017. In addition to the potentially damning battery mate in 2016, Finnegan was able to change something in his approach down the stretch, throwing a changeup more often and posting some ridiculous numbers over his final seven starts: 1.93 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 47:16 K:BB, 37.1 IP, .199 BAA. Sure, the Reds will be one of the worst teams in MLB in 2017…unless they have players like Finnegan continue to grow while on the job. Consider adding him in late rounds and be willing to bail on him if he goes through battles of inconsistency in the middle of the year.
Nearly a month removed from the All-Star Game, there are several players who have seen drastic changes to their approaches and results over the last 30 days. While some players are in contention for a division title or wild card spot, others are helping their team to avoid the worst record in baseball. Take a look at these impressive results, as you get into the forgotten part of the baseball season – thanks in no small part to ESPN jamming NFL games that don’t even count down our throats.
Last 30 days: .442/.550/.663, 221 wRC+, 1.7 WAR, 20.7% walk rate
Votto limped through the first two months of the season, hitting an ugly .213/.330/.404 through the end of May; however, there were signs that this would turn around, including his 13.2% walk rate and incredibly low .252 BABIP (.357 career). He has certainly had better luck since the beginning of June, hitting .366/.500/.574 with a 21.4% walk rate and a .430 BABIP. As the Reds continue to sit at the bottom of the wins column in the NL Central, Votto is doing his part to keep them somewhat entertaining in the midst of their horrifically run rebuild.
Last 30 days: .313/.349/.696, .393 ISO, 1.5 WAR, 10 HR, 25 RBI, 20 R
Dozier has been a useful second baseman for a number of years, though, due to the Twins struggles, he may not be as well-known as he should be. After all, he has averaged 23 home runs, 35 doubles, 71 RBI, and 16 steals between 2013 and 2015. This season, however, Dozier seems certain to eclipse those averages and eclipse career-bests in several categories, including batting average, which currently sits at .264, which is probably why he isn’t as beloved by stat and fantasy nerds as he should be. Over the last month, Dozier has been on fire, and after another first half of solid production but a queasy .246/.335/.450 line, he has jumped all the way up to the total above (see last 30 days) and his robust 1.045 OPS. The Twins have a lot of talented middle infielders and Dozier is signed through 2018 for just $15MM, so it will be interesting to see what his potentially awesome second half – if he continues like this – could land them in an extremely weak free agent market this winter.
Ramirez has been a blessing to the Tribe, taking control of third base after watching veteran-signee Juan Uribe struggle, up to his release, at the hot corner, while he was taking the pain away from the seemingly year-long injury to Michael Brantley prior to taking on third base full-time. Ramirez, just 24 in September, has been an intriguing prospect for a number of years to anyone who closely follows the Indians, as his speed, versatility, and contact skills looked like a reason that he would end up playing elsewhere with Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor around up the middle. Ramirez, though, has proven that he can be productive and valuable anywhere on the diamond. While he may fill a super-utility role and be viewed as a Ben Zobrist-y kind of talent, he may create a future for others to be very Jose Ramirez-y, instead.
Last 30 days: 5-0, 6 games (6 starts), 42.2 IP, 44:8 K:BB, .195 BAA, 2.32 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 1.3 WAR
Duffy has been Cy Young-contender good since the start of the 2nd half. Since moving into a full-time starter role on May 27th, Duffy is 9-1 with a 3.00 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, and a 109:18 K:BB over 99 IP and 15 starts. The Royals have dealt with some regression, inconsistencies, and ineffectiveness from their rotation throughout the year, and the defending world champions will have a rough time earning a wild card spot (they’re 6.5 games out as I write this), but Duffy, who is under team-control through next season, could be earning a lucrative extension with his recent efforts.
Last 30 days: 4-0, 6 games (6 starts), 43 IP, 50:10 K:BB, .174 BAA, 1.67 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 1.5 WAR
When Justin Verlander led the league in earned runs allowed in 2014, many thought that he had lost it and wouldn’t ever be the same. It happens with pitchers, and we haven’t seen many power pitchers this side of Roger Clemens have long-term success. After battling through some injuries in 2015 and regaining some semblance of himself in the ERA column, the 2016-version of Verlander looks an awful lot like the annual Cy Young-contender that we were all used to seeing, as he is back to striking out more than a batter per inning this season. Maybe it is his engagement to Kate Upton, maybe it is an adaptation to pitching with what he has, but the Tigers, who are back in the hunt in the AL Central (they’re 1-11 against Cleveland but have 7 games remaining against them), are surely happy to have their ace back.
Last 30 days: 3-0, 5 games (5 starts), 32 IP, 27:6 K:BB, .231 BAA, 1.13 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 1.0 WAR
Odorizzi was one of the many Rays’ starters who were mentioned to be on the move at the trade deadline, however, only Matt Moore headed out of town and Tampa Bay has Odorizzi under control through 2019. If he continues his impressive run, Odorizzi could bring quite an impressive package of talent this winter, but the Rays could continue to build their offense around a rotation centered around Odorizzi, Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Blake Snell, and the soon-to-return Alex Cobb. Just 6-5 in 24 starts, the 26-year-old right-hander is frustrating to own in fantasy, but his nice run over the last month may have flown under the radar due to the Rays last place standing in the AL East.
We’ve seen the arrivals and contributions of the Cubs’ Kris Bryant and, most recently, the Rangers’ Joey Gallo, but they won’t be the last of influential rookies to make splashes in Major League Baseball this year. With Maikel Franco, Addison Russell, Steven Souza, Jr., and Joc Pederson, youngsters will continue to create value in fantasy leagues this season. So…who is next?
Schwarber would be best served as a DH or first baseman, but with Anthony Rizzo in town and the Cubs residing in the NL, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Schwarber has done nothing but rake since being taken 4th overall in the 2014 draft. He isn’t much of a catcher, however, allowing a whopping 45 stolen bases in 31 games behind the dish. He could certainly provide more punch in the order than Chris Coghlan in left, but he hasn’t played a game in the outfield yet this season. With Jorge Soler’s recent injury, maybe the time for a transition is coming sooner than expected.
Sano is back at the hot corner after missing all of 2014 due to Tommy John surgery and he’s back to being a powerful producer in Double-A. While Trevor Plouffe has been providing some production at the Major League level, the Twins are in need of some help at the designated hitter spot. Sano’s ability to stay at third has long been debated, so plugging him in at DH would likely provide an upgrade to the .238/.289/.308 line that the Twins’ have received out of that spot in 2015. Sano ripped 35 homers at the age of 20, so it’s easy to see why he is someone to get excited about.
After some shoulder troubles in 2014, Berrios has been lights out this season. He continues to increase his strikeout rate, and, at just 21, looks like someone who can help a staff that is already 13th in starting pitcher ERA. Where the Twins lack talent is starters who can miss bats. The team has just 193 strikeouts (28th in MLB) and a .276 batting average allowed (second worst in MLB). The club has had an impressive season, but by adding Berrios down the stretch, they’d likely be adding a pitcher who is more capable of dominance than anyone on the club’s current staff.
Troy Tulowitzki is still the shortstop, even with the rumors flying that he could be dealt, but Story is more likely to develop his own narrative as the Rockies’ second baseman. The Rockies may have more interest in dealing the large contract that Tulowitzki has in order to rebuild, but D.J. LeMahieu, the club’s reigning NL Gold Glove winner at second, may be a nice asset, as well. Since he is arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason, he’ll likely be due a substantial raise thanks to his glove. However, his bat is playing up this season, as the 26-year-old is hitting .339/.394/.495 after posting a .276/.314/.361 line over his first 1,281 career plate appearances. Story could handle the keystone position, allowing the Rockies to clear LeMahieu and his increasing salary and surprising bat. After looking at what Story has done, he’ll be another fine offensive force for the thin-air aided Rockies.
The Blue Jays continue to develop talented pitchers and Boyd could be the next to arrive. Since being drafted out of Oregon State, Boyd has dominated the minors. He is a crafty lefty who works 88-90 with a solid change and curve. He will look the part of Mark Buehrle and could replace the aging lefty in the Blue Jays rotation when Buerhle reaches free agency after the season. He may not be an ace, but Boyd certainly knows how to pitch, and with those bats behind him, he just needs to take the next step to Toronto to continue his mature pitching approach.
Of the many reasons that Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. has been mocked, one of the larger reasons was the fact that Nola wasn’t invited to spring training. It seems like a strange thing to be ridiculed over, but Nola was certainly deserving of a long look considering the club’s lack of MLB-ready talent. The right-hander hasn’t disappointed in 2015, showcasing his talent at the minor league level. While he won’t get much help from the so-called talent on the Philadelphia roster, he does have enough to be a serviceable option for the Phillies right now.
While the club is only 5.5 games out, the recent deal that sent Mark Trumbo to Seattle is a tell-tale sign of things to come in Arizona. The Diamondbacks don’t have the talent to compete with the Giants, Dodgers, and Padres in the NL West. While O’Brien wouldn’t make the team contenders, he certainly provides more offensively than the likes of David Peralta and Ender Inciarte in an outfield corner. He got a case of the yips this spring, unable to return the ball to the pitcher from the catcher spot, so he is likely in the outfield to stay. He has power that will only play up in the desert, so continue to expect impressive power, though the batting average totals are likely to slip as he adjusts to MLB pitching.
Matz somehow gets lost in the shuffle when the Mets’ young pitching is discussed. With Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, and Zack Wheeler already reaching the majors, it’s fair to wonder when Matz will get his shot. After dominating since he has returned from Tommy John surgery, Matz is likely the next arm to be called upon – should the Mets have a need. He is a hard-throwing lefty whose stuff seems to continue to gain traction. After missing all of 2010, 2011, and most of 2012, he has been creating a track that leads directly to the Mets rotation. It won’t be long before he gets that shot, which will make the Mets a viable threat in the playoffs with Harvey, Colon, deGrom, and Matz to deal with in a series.
Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks!
2015 Projected Record: 70-92 (5th in AL Central, 29th in MLB)
When the Twins signed Ricky Nolasco to a four-year, $49 million deal last winter, he was expected to anchor a staff that was downright awful in 2013 (5.26 team ERA and the 29th ranked rotation ERA of 4.81). Nolasco never met those expectations, going just 6-12 with a 5.38 ERA and 1.52 WHIP over 27 starts and 159 innings, complaining of an elbow injury three months into his horrible performance. Needless to say, with Nolasco’s contract and the Twins “small-market” financial situation, he isn’t going to be traded or forced into the bullpen; however, he won’t need to be, as the 2015 season will likely see a huge improvement. A .351 BABIP (.312 career) is an easy first qualifier to that statement. Additionally, his FIP was 4.30 in 2015, which shows that it wasn’t quite as horrific as the ERA showed. While he won’t ever be an ace, he could settle in nicely within the middle of the rotation as an innings-eating veteran as the Twins slowly add Alex Meyer and Jose Berrios to the mix in the coming season or seasons.
Though he has parts of two seasons and 788 plate appearances under his belt, Arcia will be just 24 in May. He already has 33 doubles, 34 home runs, and 100 RBI on his resume, but it’s the 244 strikeouts and 31 percent strikeout rate that some may focus on. Sure, he strikes out way too much, but there are positives in his game. He obviously has big power, which is huge for the Twins when you consider that the face of the franchise and payroll paper weight, Joe Mauer, offers so little power production. Arcia, obviously a free-swinger, saw slight improvements in his walk rate in 2014, as well, improving from 6.1 percent in 2013 to 7.6 percent last season. His ISO would have ranked in the top 15 in MLB in 2014, as well, so Arcia appears on his way to being an offensive asset for a team that will see quite a few positive changes in production in the coming seasons, as the arrival of Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton to the major league roster will help to make the Twins an offensive juggernaut, and Arcia will help in that charge.
Offseason Overview: The Twins added more veteran leadership to the team this winter, signing OF Torii Hunter to return in right field, while adding RHP Ervin Santana to shore up the top of the rotation, which was lacking in production outside of Phil Hughes’ breakout last season. While the club lost a couple of bullpen arms to free agency, they weren’t really getting much out of them (Anthony Swarzak and Matt Guerrier). While the Twins didn’t go crazy in spending this offseason, they added value without crippling their future, as they are paying Santana slightly more than what they are paying Nolasco per season, while only signing Hunter to a one-year deal.
#MNTwins Phil Hughes in 2014 2.65 FIP, 11.63 K/BB, & 1.130 WHIP Cliff Lee in 2008 (began dominating) 2.83 FIP, 5.00 K/BB, & 1.110 WHIP
The Verdict: The Twins only added two major pieces this winter to a team that finished last in the division. Hunter is a nice stopgap in right and will be gone soon to open up another spot for the Twins’ youngsters. The team has a tremendous farm and a very solid core of talent in Dozier, Hughes, Santana, Arcia, and Kennys Vargas to build around; however, it won’t be enough to get this team out of the cellar in 2015. They should be a little better than they were in 2014, even though their PECOTA record suggests an identical record, as they hope to get a better idea of what they have on their MLB roster, while getting looks at Sano, Buxton, Meyer, Berrios, and Trevor May over the course of the 2015 season. This will appear to be another lost season by the end of 162 games, but it will go a long way in the future of the franchise, and this will likely be a better team that what they’re projected to be.
It certainly hasn’t taken long for teams to begin dishing out large contracts that they’ll probably regret in a couple of years with free agency well under way. However, the last 24 to 48 hours have supplied the greatest number of gifts, with a lot of examples of “huh”, “why”, “seriously”, and “come again” worthy reactions.
It has to be called the Doug Fister trade because no one really cares about any of the players that the Tigers got back, right? If this wasn’t a total salary dump, I don’t know what it was, as the “prize” return for the Tigers is Ray, who was a 10th round pick in 2010 and had a 6.56 ERA in 2012 in his first attempt at High-A Potomac before bouncing back and having a solid season between High-A and Double-A in 2013, really doesn’t seem like a tremendous prospect; though, we have been proven wrong by Dave Dombrowski before. After the Tampa Bay Rays received one of the top young prospects in baseball, Wil Myers, in return for two controllable seasons of James Shields, you would think that the Tigers could have received more for Fister, who had managed to post an impressive 32-20 record to go along with a 3.29 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 440.2 innings with Detroit. Fister now joins Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, and Gio Gonzalez within the Washington rotation, making the Nationals strong contenders for first-year manager Matt Williams in 2014.
Fowler seemed to be on the trading block for some time, but he was finally dealt on Tuesday. The Astros get two affordable seasons (two-years, $11.6 million) of Fowler while they wait for George Springer to prove himself ready, or…they just acquired a nicer trade chip than what they gave up. Jordan Lyles may still be just 23 years old, but he hasn’t put it together in 377 major league innings, posting a 5.35 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and a 6.2 K/9, and it seems very unlikely that shifting to Coor’s Field is going to assist his progression to sudden success. Brandon Barnes has some ability, but it isn’t as an everyday player, as his atrocious 127:21 K:BB and .635 OPS over 445 plate appearances goes to show. Barnes could be a fourth outfielder for the Rockies, with Carlos Gonzalez sliding over to center and Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson battling it out for the left field job, or Colorado could look to free agency to upgrade in center. This deal didn’t make a whole lot of sense for the Rockies unless they saw something in Lyles and didn’t feel that Fowler would ever live up to his hot start from 2013, when he posted a 1.032 OPS and then fell off of the face of the earth. Even if Fowler doesn’t live up to those numbers, he is the most valuable piece in the deal.
The Rays are always viewed as a smart club and they were able to land another potential closer after losing Fernando Rodney to free agency, leaving the club with Heath Bell and Juan Carlos Oviedo to battle it out for the gig. On top of that, they received an excellent framing catcher in Hanigan, who has proved to be quite valuable to Cincinnati over the last several years in game-calling, while inking the backstop to a three-year extension upon the completion of the deal. The bad part, though, is that both Bell and Hanigan weren’t very good last season, with Hanigan, in particular, looking like a nightmare offensively, posting a .198/.306/.261 line over 260 plate appearances, leading to the Reds leaning on Brayan Pena, who was signed to a two-year deal earlier this winter, and Devin Mesoraco, the young, power-hitting catcher who will finally get a full-time look in Cincinnati. The Diamondbacks dumped some salary while dealing Bell for a young, breathing body. Choate pitched in the New York-Penn League in 2013 at the age of 22 and he isn’t much of a prospect. The Reds dumped Hanigan, who was arbitration-eligible, while getting a 22-year-old left-handed starter, who posted a 2.75 ERA in 26 Double-A starts in 2013 with a 116:50 K:BB in 157.1 innings. While Holmberg wasn’t as sexy as Tyler Skaggs or Archie Bradley within the Diamondbacks system, he could become a solid back of the rotation arm or a Sean Marshall-like relief pitcher for the Reds. The good news for Cincinnati is that Mesoraco gets his shot and Holmberg adds some near-ready pitching depth after the likely departure of Bronson Arroyo via free agency.
Winner: Everyone looks like a winner here, as the deal worked well for all three teams, but the Rays received the most help in assisting the team win in 2013.
This seemed like an odd deal for Oakland and GM Billy Beane, as Gentry is arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter and Lindblom has been pretty terrible since being traded from the Dodgers to the Phillies in the 2012 Shane Victorino deal, as he has posted a 5.10 ERA and 1.50 WHIP over 54.2 innings since leaving Los Angeles (2.91 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 77.1 innings prior to the trade). Maybe a return to the west coast is what Lindblom needs to be a useful reliever, but by getting the elite defensive skills and increasing salary of the light-hitting (.280/.355/.366 in 763 plate appearances), 29-year-old Gentry, and giving up the potential that still exists in the bat of Michael Choice, who is 24 and isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2017, Beane showed that he may be looking beyond three years from now and that he could be putting the A’s in win-now mode. Bostick is a nice second base prospect, having posted a .282/.354/.452 line over 555 plate appearances as a 20-year-old in Low-A in 2013, but the Rangers have quite a few young, up-the-middle prospects (Rougned Odor, Jurickson Profar, and Luis Sardinas) and they don’t seem to have a need there, while the A’s have run Jemile Weeks out of town in a trade with Baltimore and Eric Sogard was very…meh…in 2013 at the major league level. Winning now is important, but it doesn’t seem like the A’s really acquired anyone who can really help them in 2014 to get over the hump.
Why It Matters: Notice that the Yankees have committed nearly $240 million after having been rumored to be on a mission to avoid the $189 million threshold of the payroll luxury tax, while not having signed their All-Star second baseman, Robinson Cano, just yet. And, don’t forget, the team is rumored to be interested in signing Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who could be had at a lesser amount after the posting fee was limited to a maximum $20 million bid on Wednesday. McCann is a huge upgrade over the combined .213/.289/.298 triple slash that Yankees’ catchers posted in 2013, while Ellsbury provides great defense and speed as the Yankees try to move on from all of the injuries that suffocated their success this past season. Even if the Yankees are done with the big name signings, including Cano, they should be a better team in 2014.
Why It Matters: The Twins starting pitchers posted a 5.26 ERA and a 1.54 WHIP in 2013, worst in the majors, and the ERA was a whopping 0.45 points higher than the Toronto Blue Jays’ starters (4.81), who finished 29th. Hughes still has youth and potential, but he needs to start tapping into that potential after posting a horrific 5.19 ERA over 29 starts and 145.2 innings. Shockingly, Hughes’ numbers would have made him a solid number three starter for the Twins in 2013…they were that bad. Adding Nolasco was special, but he isn’t an ace. He will likely be the Twins’ Opening Day starter in 2014 by default and he should make the rotation slightly better; although, it couldn’t get much worse.
Kazmir Rejuvenates and Cashes In Athletically
Who Oakland Signed: LHP Scott Kazmir (two-year, $22 million)
Why It Matters: Signing Kazmir to a lucrative contract could lead to another movie about the Oakland A’s after the success of Moneyball. While Kazmir’s resurgence was quite surprising, an eight-figure deal, after making all of one total appearance in the majors in 2011 and 2012 due to severe shoulder woes, was even more surprising. Possessing a mid-90’s fastball and a left arm appears to be all that it took to find a big deal. Kazmir’s story is worthy of attention and praise, but it is a story that needs to be monitored to see if he can maintain the same success in Oakland over the next two seasons. His presence will allow the A’s and Beane to shop LHP Brett Anderson at the winter meetings next week, which could net the club some additional win-now resources.
The Tigers No Longer on the Prowl for a Closer
Who Detroit Signed: RHP Joe Nathan (two-year, $20 million)
Why It Matters: Detroit needed a lockdown closer after shuffling through Jose Valverde, Phil Coke, Jose Veras, and Bruce Rondon at closer before Joaquin Benoit took over and did a nice job over the rest of the season. They got their man after signing Joe Nathan away from the Texas Rangers. Nathan closed 80 games out the last two seasons, while posting a 2.09 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, and at 38 years of age, he doesn’t look to be slowing down after missing the 2010 season due to Tommy John surgery. After dealing Prince Fielder to improve at second base with Ian Kinsler, moving Miguel Cabrera back to first, and plugging Drew Smyly into the rotation (after dealing Fister), the Tigers will have a completely new look in 2014. With their strong rotation, Nathan’s shutdown ability makes them quite dangerous.
Fish Hook Their Catcher and the Red Sox Snag Another
Why It Matters: With a lot of focus heading towards catcher defense and framing, highlighted by the Rays commitments to Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan this winter, other clubs continue to look towards offensive-minded catchers, and the Miami Marlins and Boston Red Sox locked down their backstops this week. The Marlins seem to have very little hope for a quick turnaround and Saltalamacchia isn’t going to be the other piece to help Giancarlo Stanton and Miami to an NL East title, but it is a start…as long as they don’t trade him before the 2014 season starts. Pierzynski will be on his fifth organization and, despite being hated by some of his competition, he could be a tremendous asset to the character and chemistry that existed within the Boston World Series clubhouse. I guess he is better to have on your team than to play against him.
It’s late in the baseball season and there are a lot of things that could be distracting you, such as following up on Johnny Manziel’s battle with the NCAA, completing your 21 fantasy football drafts, and wondering who will be Ace or Gary when you attend a Halloween party as the Incredibly Gay Duo. While all of those things are important, I present to you the world of baseball that you may have missed due to your fascination of Miley twerking.
Yankees’ left fielder Alfonso Soriano leads MLB with 42 RBI and is tied with Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera for the lead in home runs (13) since the All-Star break. The Yankees are 21-16 since Soriano returned to New York and the Yanks are 2.5 games behind Tampa for the second Wild Card spot with 23 games remaining, including seven games against Boston (a four-game series begins today in New York) and three against the Rays.
New Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder Marlon Byrd is leading the majors in total bases since the All-Star break with 101 (he is tied with teammate Andrew McCutchen and San Diego outfielder Will Venable), and he is tied with Minnesota Twins shortstop Brian Dozier for extra-base hits since the break with 26. Byrd will look to continue his torrid pace in helping lead the Pirates to the NL Central title after the Buccos have already guaranteed their fans with the club’s first winning season since 1992.
Washington Nationals’ outfielder Jayson Werth looked like a total waste of a seven-year, $126 million deal after his horrendous first season, 2011, in the nation’s capital, but he has hit .311/.392/.487 over the last two seasons while battling various injuries. If Werth continues his production next season and the Nats get a full, healthy season out of Bryce Harper and their very good pitching staff, the letdown from 2013 will be all forgiven in 2014 with an improved season. Werth, by the way, is 8th in MLB in OPS (.920).
Toronto outfielder Rajai Davis doesn’t receive a lot of praise or playing time, but he has 40 stolen bases in just 93 games. With his .313 OBP, Davis has made an appearance on the bases just 93 times in 301 plate appearances. When you take away the two triples and four home runs (since he hasn’t stolen home and he can’t steal a base after a home run), it means that Davis has successfully stolen a base in 46 percent of his appearances on base. With his speed, who needed to wait for Billy Hamilton for an impact base runner?
There are only six players with 30 or more home runs (Chris Davis, Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion, Pedro Alvarez, Paul Goldschmidt, and Adam Dunn) after 22 players reached the tier in 2012 and 24 players reached in 2011. With 17 players within six homers or reaching 30, and several within that group unlikely to do so (I’m looking at you J.J. Hardy and the injured Domonic Brown), the top-tier of sluggers appears to be a very rare breed with pitching being so dominant.
Speaking of pitching…
Max Scherzer is sitting at 19-2, but the names of other starting pitchers ranked near the top in wins is quite surprising: Jorge De La Rosa (16), Francisco Liriano (15), Chris Tillman (15), and Bartolo Colon (14) rank in the top eight in the strange statistic. While some writers will look at the win as valuable in determining who should win the Cy Young, it clearly has little use in determining who has been the best pitcher.
It’s somewhat disappointing to see numbers fall with the drop in velocity, but that is exactly what has happened to former Cy Young favorites like Justin Verlander (12-10, 3.59 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) and C.C. Sabathia (13-11, 4.86 ERA, 1.35 WHIP). With the fall from grace, though, has come exciting young arms like Jose Fernandez, Shelby Miller, Julio Teheran, and Matt Harvey (R.I.P.). Unfortunately for the aging arms, it doesn’t appear to be getting better, as Sabathia has a 6.88 ERA in the second half, while Verlander has a more respectable 3.77 ERA since the break.
Speaking of those young arms and specifically Jose Fernandez, the young, Cuban-born right-hander has been filthy in the second half. His 0.83 WHIP is tops among all starting pitchers and the 70:13 K:BB in 54 innings is downright nasty. With the Marlins possibly looking to deal their only source of offense, Giancarlo Stanton, this winter, Fernandez will likely continue to post ridiculous numbers without wins going forward, although he has won five games since the break.
For all of those still sitting back and waiting for Chris Sale‘s arm to explode, it hasn’t happened. The White Sox ace has been even better in 2013 than he was last season, posting a 2.97 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP while improving his strikeout rate AND his walk rate on a per nine inning basis. After being locked up for five-years, $32.5 million (with team options totalling $26 million over 2018 and 2019), the Pale Hose look very wise in their string-bean investment.
R.A. Dickey‘s knuckleball didn’t carry over to the AL East. The veteran right-hander has a 4.30 ERA and 1.27 WHIP after posting a 2.95 ERA and 1.15 WHIP from 2010 through 2012 with the New York Mets. The small parks, the strong teams, and the patient hitters are all a factor in the decline, but when you don’t really know which way the ball is going when using a trick pitch, that kind of makes things difficult, too.
Yu Darvish is having an absolutely stupid season. He leads MLB with his 12.0 K/9 and he has struck out 240 of the 722 batters that he has faced (33.2 percent). While some Cy Young voters will look at Scherzer’s 19 wins and look stupid years from now, it is the unhittable Darvish, who has allowed 124 hits in 179.2 innings and a .192 BAA, who deserves the award.