2017 Free Agency: Optional Options

As a Cincinnati Reds homer, I’m looking ahead to next season…actually, I’m looking forward to 2020, when the team will have time to truly rebuild their roster. Unfortunately, for a non-contending, rebuilder within a “small-market”, Cincinnati will not be a big player in free agency. Like many other clubs that are looking to build from within or on-the-cheap, free agency isn’t very kind, leaving the remnants of the market to pick through like a racoon at a garbage can. Oh, those beady eyes in your headlights in January will just be Walt Jocketty or Billy Beane looking for a backup infielder.

This winter, as with any other, baseball fans will see plenty of players on the move, including Mark Trumbo, Edwin Encarnacion, Aroldis Chapman, and Ian Desmond, who appear to be the few “big names” on the market. In addition to those select few, there are plenty of players with options, but are they going to get picked up? Let’s take a look at those optional options for 2017, shall we…

Opting Out

Dexter Fowler, OF, Chicago Cubs: $9MM mutual option, $5MM buyout

Fowler is having a stellar season, even having spent some time on the DL. He is earning $13MM this season on a one-year deal and has responded after facing a weak market this past winter with a career-best .877 OPS. The 2016 All-Star isn’t really needed as a leadoff hitter in Chicago with Jason Heyward getting paid mega-millions to be that type of player, but Fowler should be able to cash in. The Cubs will likely accept their portion of the option very quickly.

Phillies' 1B Howard has been on a sad decline for half a decade
Phillies’ 1B Howard has been on a sad decline for half a decade

Ryan Howard, 1B, Philadelphia Phillies: $23MM club option, $10MM buyout

Howard has had one of the worst contracts in baseball since the start of the 2012 season. Coincidentally, that is when his five-year, $125MM extension kicked in. Finally, the Phillies will be able to walk away from him and his horrific deal, and they’ll be more than happy to drop $10MM in order to do that. We’ll see if they release him and roll with Tommy Joseph, which they basically have done since the beginning of June.

Matt Holliday, OF, St. Louis Cardinals: $17MM club/vesting option, $1MM buyout

Holliday has collapsed in his age-36 season. His .237/.310/.449 line is the worst of his career. His 18 home runs have saved his line a bit, but he is still well short of his career .303/.382/.515 line. He certainly won’t rank in the top 10 in the NL MVP voting, which is all that it would take for his option in 2017 to vest. The Cardinals aren’t churning out prospects like they were a few years ago, so it will be interesting to see which direction they go to stay within the Cardinal Way.

Yoenis Cespedes, OF, New York Mets: can opt-out of remaining two-years, $47.5MM

Cespedes could cash in significantly in a weak market this winter. With so few power bats available, the 30-year-old corner outfielder, if healthy, would likely increase his AAV to $25-$28MM per season. He will beat his career-high for OPS this year. He just needs to stay on the field to keep the Mets in contention.

The Yankees will get out from under the weight of Sabathia's deal
The Yankees will get out from under the weight of Sabathia’s deal

CC Sabathia, LHP New York Yankees: $25MM vesting option (if he doesn’t end the season on the DL with a shoulder injury, spend 45 days or more on the DL with a shoulder injury, or make six or more relief appearances because of a shoulder injury), $5MM buyout

If you asked in mid-June, Sabathia may have been worth a $20MM gamble for New York. On June 16th, he had a 2.20 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over his first 11 starts; however, he has a 6.85 ERA and 1.54 WHIP over his last eight starts. With Mark Teixeira retiring after the 2016 season, the Yankees will have quite a bit of money to spend – unless they are serious about their rebuild and continue to add young talent to the roster. The Yankees may need to check-in on Sabathia’s shoulder, given his recent woes, and make sure everything is clean; although, the MLBPA may find a way to keep his option guaranteed with such a move.

Also: Coco Crisp, OF, Oakland A’s; Clay Buchholz, RHP, Boston Red Sox; Jon Niese, LHP, New York Mets;

 

Opting In

Jay Bruce, OF, New York Mets: $13MM club option, $1MM buyout

Bruce, who was recently acquired by the Mets from Cincinnati for a pair of prospects, will provide a lot of value to New York, especially if Cespedes remains on the shelf with his quad injury, but even more so if Cespedes opts out and signs elsewhere this winter. Bruce is a fine outfielder who is capable of strong production, as evidenced by his rebound 2016 season, but his lengthy slumps and declining defense don’t make him worth a huge deal. The $13MM option is still a fine value for the Mets, who may end up in quite a limbo with their other outfielder about a week after the World Series.

Santana will be useful for Cleveland, even if they re-sign Napoli
Santana will be useful for Cleveland, even if they re-sign Napoli

Carlos Santana, 1B/DH, Cleveland Indians: $12MM club option, $1.2MM buyout

Santana is an interesting player due to his ugly batting averages, average power, and incredible on-base skills. Everyone is waiting for him to finally put it all together, which would lead to a very Adam Dunn-like 30 HR, 100 R, 100 BB season for Cleveland; however, he just can’t beat the shift and his deflated BABIP keep him from meeting some of those numbers. With Mike Napoli also reaching free agency, the Indians will likely opt-in on Santana, as they couldn’t afford to lose them both. They may not be able to re-sign Napoli after his huge season, but they could offer him a qualifying offer and keep him around for one more season. Since Napoli’s decision will come after the option decision on Santana, expect the former catcher to stick for one more year with the Tribe.

Jonathan Lucroy, C, Texas Rangers: $5.25MM, $25K buyout

Duh. The Rangers just gave up a nice prospect package for the best catcher this side of Buster Posey, so you can expect them to take on this very affordable option. Lucroy is public enemy No.1 in Cleveland right now, but he had the right in his contract and used it to his advantage. Playing in Arlington for half of his games, his numbers could inflate and help him inflate his earnings when he reaches free agency after the 2017 season.

Jason Hammel, RHP, Chicago Cubs: $10MM club option, $2MM buyout

Hammel has been excellent in 2016, posting a 3.07 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 21 starts. In his career, Hammel has a 3.33 ERA and 1.10 WHIP over 399.2 innings while wearing a Cubs’ uniform and a 4.77 ERA and 1.43 WHIP in any other uniform. He needs to be in Chicago and Chicago needs him in their rotation, as the incredible talent within their system that continues rising to the majors aren’t talented on the mound. Hammel is a bargain with his production in a Cubs’ uniform.

Also: Matt Moore, LHP, San Francisco Giants; Cameron Maybin, OF, Detroit Tigers; Alcides Escobar, SS, Kansas City Royals; Yunel Escobar, 3B, Los Angeles Angels;

There are several additional players with options that you can find at MLB Trade Rumors.  It looks like the 2016-2017 offseason will be very trade-heavy as teams try to structure their rosters with talent without unloading gobs of cash on talent that may not be quite as talented as your typical market. In addition to that, the 2017-2018 market could have an even slower market with Matt Harvey, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Jose Fernandez heading towards free agency after the 2018 season.

 

Reds Facing Reality

The Cincinnati Reds are not good. They are currently 36-59, 21.5 games back of the Chicago Cubs, proud (?) owners of the third-worst record in MLB, and the occupants of last place in the NL Central. Anyone with a functioning brain saw this coming, even after their 5-1 start to the season, as the club traded away several pending free agents last season for prospects. The biggest questions should have been who was next and when. There have been rumors all over the place for several months about OF Jay Bruce, ranging from Toronto to Cleveland, but many will be shocked about the latest rumor:

Could DeSclafani be on the move? Courtesy: baseballessential.com
Could DeSclafani be on the move?
Courtesy: baseballessential.com

Reds’ RHP Anthony DeSclafani is an unlikely candidate to be dealt in the opinions of many Reds fans. He is a part of the rebuild, right? He is the only legitimate arm in the rotation, right? He is under team-control through 2020, so why would the Reds deal him?

Well, based on the results to this point, the Reds aren’t going to be contending in 2020, either. Dealing a pitcher, and a somewhat successful one at that, right now, will allow the club to acquire additional pieces that could help the club’s stagnant offense. While you want young, affordable, controllable talent, teams can also use that talent to acquire additional talent, and DeSclafani’s success makes him quite useful for those acquisitions.

Cincinnati ranks 20th in MLB in runs scored and 28th in OPS. Their pitching is horrific. They rank last in MLB in team ERA (5.32), WHIP (1.52), walks (401, 50 more than the next closest team) and HR allowed (161, a whopping 33 more than the next club). What’s odd is that the problem is across the board for the bullpen and rotation. They both rank last in ERA and WHIP (tied with Oakland).

Stephenson has pitched well in two starts for Cincinnati Courtesy: cincinnati.com
Stephenson has pitched well in two starts for Cincinnati
Courtesy: cincinnati.com

With young starters like John Lamb, Brandon Finnegan, Cody Reed, and DeSclafani in the rotation, this type of catastrophic suck-capade is not unexpected. Luckily, the Reds have several other young starters who are nearing the majors to replace DeSclafani, or any other starter, including RHP Robert Stephenson, LHP Amir Garrett, RHP Tyler Mahle, RHP Nick Travieso, and RHP Rookie Davis all at or above Double-A.

However, Cincinnati is lacking tremendously in offensive talent. Their No.1 prospect, OF Jesse Winker, has battled injuries while struggling to a fairly empty .297/.387/.380 line as a 22-year-old in Triple-A. The major league club has watched Billy Hamilton fail to adjust and utilize his speed, as the speedster has lost playing time to Tyler Holt at times this season. OF Phillip Ervin and C Tyler Stephenson are far away, and the club hasn’t had C Devin Mesoraco for nearly two full seasons due to shoulder and hip injuries that have required surgeries.

As a homer for the Reds, it is easy to look at DeSclafani and want to build around him. He appears to be a solid, innings-eating workhorse. However, those aren’t No.1 starters. He is the equivalent of Mike Leake, a fine starter, but Cincinnati can’t count on him for anything more than middle-of-the-road numbers. If you can get legitimate prospects for that type of arm, you do it.

There is very little known about the type of return that could come from this type of deal, but the Cincinnati Reds would be foolish to not start with 3B prospect Joey Gallo, whose massive power and strikeout totals will bring immediate comparisons to Adam Dunn in the Queen City, but whose skill-set is something that the lineup is tremendously absent of after dealing Todd Frazier over the winter. Other names that must be mentioned are Jurickson Profar, OF Lewis Brinson, RHP Luis Ortiz, and LHP Yohander Mendez.

The Cincinnati Reds are not going to be competitive for several seasons. There is absolutely no one on the current roster who should be deemed untouchable – even OF Adam Duvall and 1B Joey Votto. If a team comes calling, management must listen. There are far too many years between where the Reds are right now and their “window” for a championship to have fallen in love with this club.

As much as fans hate to see talent leave, this is a business. Trade everyone!

 

 

Statistically Scouting the Lower Minors – 6/11

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!)

Midwest League

This monster is a few years from crushing the ball in Wrigley Courtesy: Baseball Prospectus
This monster is a few years from crushing the ball in Wrigley
Courtesy: Baseball Prospectus

Eloy Jimenez, OF, Chicago Cubs

Signed as the No. 1 international prospect in 2013 for $2.8 million, the Cubs look to have another dynamic bat coming up through their system. The 6’4″, 200-pound right fielder is second in the MWL with eight home runs, while his 18 doubles show that the power is coming and will translate to future longballs. The rich are getting richer, though it will be at least a couple of more years before Jimenez is making it rain for the Cubbies.

Matt Hall, RHP, Detroit Tigers

The numbers speak for themselves with Hall, whose microscopic ERA and 10.24 K:9 scream that a promotion is needed, but not as much as his age. Though he is 22 – a bit old for the MWL, Hall was a 6th round pick in last year’s draft, so he just needed to get some innings in the minors. Still, he is ready for the Florida State League after dominating to this extent.

South Atlantic League

Brian Mundell, 1B, Colorado Rockies

Like Hall, Mundell was a 2015 college draftee (7th round), and, like Hall, Mundell is dominating his league as a 22-year-old. His 32 doubles are 11 more than the next closest player, while his .351 average is pacing the league by a whopping 26 points. Add in his solid approach (30:22 K:BB), and you have yourself a potential star in Colorado at first base…if he continues hitting like this as he moves up, which should happen soon.

Could Keller become the next homegrown talent for the Pirates? Courtesy: piratesprospects.com
Could Keller become the next homegrown talent for the Pirates?
Courtesy: piratesprospects.com

Mitch Keller, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates

Keller could be creating his own version of “Mitchapalooza” by dominating and becoming the next big arm in the Pirates system. In his first taste of full-season ball, the 20-year-old, 6’4″ righty has a 69:6 K:BB and is holding opponents to a .195 BAA. When you strike out 10 per nine, don’t walk anyone, and don’t allow many hits, you can become a pretty valuable arm.

California League

Travis Demeritte, 2B, Texas Rangers

The Rangers don’t need much help up the middle, but Demeritte looks like a guy who can provide offensive production wherever he ends up playing. After ripping 25 homers in his age-19 season, Demeritte looks to be enjoying his time in the offensive heaven of the California league, having driven 15 bombs and 13 doubles in his first 58 games. There are some things he needs to work on, including his swing and miss, as his 80:31 K:BB in just 217 AB is grotesque. Plus, he was suspended for 80 games for PEDs last season. Still, power has value and Demeritte appears to have it.

Sam Howard, LHP, Colorado Rockies

Howard has received a promotion to Double-A after posting a 2.47 ERA and 1.02 WHIP over 65.2 innings, while holding opposing hitters to a .184 average. At 23, he is right where he needs to be now, and as a college arm, Howard could jump another level in 2016. He allowed a single run over 6.1 innings in his first Double-A start, so he doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Also, he’s left-handed and breathing, which is always useful.

Carolina League

Drew Ward, 3B, Washington Nationals

At 21, Ward is having his best season to date. He leads the Carolina League in OPS, matching his career-high with 10 homers this season. His 15 doubles show solid power, as well, but it is his 53:28 K:BB that shows the best improvement, as his 13% walk rate is, by far, his best in a full season league. At 6″3′, 215-pounds, Ward could continue to develop power and become a useful piece for the Nationals.

Matt Cooper, RHP, Chicago White Sox

At 24, you’re probably wondering why Cooper could be a prospect in Advance A-ball. Well, this is his first season as a starter and he has struck out 11.4 per nine. His 92 strikeouts, in 72.2 innings, top the league by 28 punchouts. The 2014 16th round pick out of Hawaii was dominant as a reliever prior to this season, and he looks like a solid late-round find by the White Sox.

Florida State League

Stewart could move quickly to Detroit Courtesy: MiLB.com
Stewart could move quickly to Detroit
Courtesy: MiLB.com

Christin Stewart, OF, Detroit Tigers

The Tigers’ 1st round pick last season, Stewart has shown impressive power (16 home runs and 12 doubles) and an advanced approach at the plate (60:43 K:BB) in his first taste of the FSL. As a college draftee out of Tennessee, he could move pretty quickly for the Tigers, who are in the middle of a “rebuild-while-winning” situation.

Chance Adams, RHP, New York Yankees

Adams was a 5th round pick last season by the Bronx Bombers. They eased him in as a reliever last season, but they have converted the 21-year-old to a starter this season. He has responded by striking out 11.4 per nine and holding opponents to a .196 BAA. At 6′, 215, he won’t intimidate, but you have to approve of the results.

 

 

Cole Hamels to Texas: Can the Rangers Contend in 2016…or NOW

Courtesy: sportsworldreport.com
Rangers new LHP Hamels could be the ace the club needed to contend this year…or is it for next year? Courtesy: sportsworldreport.com

A year after losing 95 games, the Rangers have been solid in 2015. At 48-52, they sit just four games out of the second Wild Card in the American League. Needless to say, if they weren’t 14-26 against the AL West, they’d probably be in a better spot, but, even after dealing with major injuries and several changes within the organization, Jeff Banister has led the club to respectability.

Rangers GM Jon Daniels has done a solid job of acquiring talent without crippling the franchise with a Joey Votto-like contract, landing Prince Fielder, Yovani Gallardo, and Josh Hamilton in deals; however, he saved his best work in the deal that he made yesterday for LHP Cole Hamels.

The Rangers were able to acquire Hamels without giving up their top two prospects, 3B Joey Gallo and OF Nomar Mazara, while dumping the $28 million that LHP Matt Harrison was owed over the next two seasons (including his option buyout for 2018). Hamels, who is guaranteed $76.5 million between 2016 and 2019, will anchor a staff that will include the returning from Tommy John surgery RHP Yu Darvish, another several months removed from the same surgery LHP Martin Perez, and a healthy LHP Derek Holland.

Clearly, the pitching staff is loaded, if healthy, but Hamels could be enough to get the Rangers into the playoffs this season. The Rangers are getting some solid pitching – you just have to dig deeper to see it:

  • Courtesy: nolanwritin.com
    Texas RHP Gallardo has had an excellent season – just don’t ask his FIP Courtesy: nolanwritin.com

    If you take away the two starts that RHP Colby Lewis was obliterated in (9 ER on 5/27 vs. CLE, 10 ER on 7/5 vs. LAA), he would have a 3.29 ERA and 1.04 WHIP over 125.2 IP – NOT the inflated 4.42 ERA and 1.19 WHIP that he has in 132.1 IP. After leading the AL in losses in 2014 (14), Lewis is 11-4 in his 21 starts – not bad for a $4 million investment.

  • Gallardo, who was acquired for INF Luis Sardinas, RHP Corey Knebel, and distant RHP prospect Marcos Diplan, has revived his career in the unlikeliest of places. His 3.19 ERA, the best of his MLB career, is surprising, especially since he has posted the lowest strikeout rate of his career (6.2) and is walking 3.4 batters per nine this season. His 24.8% hard hit ball rate ranks 14th in MLB, but the 6.8% HR/FB is much lower than his career rate (10.9%) and would seem unsustainable as he heads towards free agency after the season. While he is providing a lot of value for the time being, he, much like free-agent-to-be Lewis, may not be a factor next season.

Adding Hamels to those performances could be enough to get the Rangers over the hump; however, it isn’t certain that those performances will continue to be enough, as youngsters Perez and RHP Nick Martinez have struggled of late.

Courtesy: hardballtalk.com
Rangers 3B Beltre has fallen on hard times, but can he rebound to avoid the worst OPS of his career? Courtesy: hardballtalk.com

As always, the Rangers have strong offensive parts. 1B Mitch Moreland is having a career-best season, Fielder has regained his stroke after missing most of the 2014 season after having neck surgery, and OF Delino DeShields, Jr. has provided solid speed and on-base skills, but the decline of 3B Adrian Beltre (career-worst .677 OPS) and the unpredictable nature of what to expect from Hamilton (.719 OPS), along with the collapse of CF Leonys Martin, has left the Rangers offense limping.

While Hamels is a tremendous addition, the Rangers need to get production out of the aforementioned players, as well as overpaid, glove-only SS Elvis Andrus, in order to become real competitors. If there was a roster spot for Gallo to step into, without him having to learn a new position, it would be ideal for the offense, who, despite their struggles, rank 8th in MLB in runs scored and 11th in MLB in OPS.

Perhaps the move for Hamels will light a fire under the team, but, even with Hamels as their ace in 2016, the Rangers have several question marks, namely aging players and health, to address prior to being labeled as favorites. On paper, however, giving up some talented-yet-flawed prospects in Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams, was certainly worth the club’s major acquisition.

30 Shades of Hot: Take Notice of These Scorching Players

Over the last month, some players have inflated their production to incredible levels. With all of the excitement from the NBA and NHL Playoffs, the Supreme Court, and…the Women’s World Cup…perhaps you’ve missed it. Below are some players who are getting back on track or having career seasons.

Arizona 1B Paul Goldschmidt for MVP?  Courtesy: USA Today
Arizona 1B Paul Goldschmidt for MVP?
Courtesy: USA Today

Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks

Last 30 days: .394/.525/.713, 6 2B, 8 HR, 22 RBI, 15:27 K:BB, 5 SB

You could argue that Goldschmidt has been the best player in MLB this season, even though he ranks 3rd in WAR (4.3) behind the Nationals’ Bryce Harper (5.1) and the Indians’ Jason Kipnis (4.6). Goldy has compiled a .354/.473/.654 line to go along with 15 doubles, 20 home runs, 60 RBI, and a league-leading 59 walks (17 intentional). While the Diamondbacks sit at 35-37, they are just 4.5 games out of the Wild Card hunt. Goldschmidt will continue to be pitched around as the primary source of fear within the Arizona lineup.

Todd Frazier, 3B, Cincinnati Reds

Last 30 days: .354/.381/.770, 14 2B, 11 HR, 26 RBI, 2 SB

Frazier is the Reds’ Ambassador for the upcoming All-Star Game in Cincinnati, utilizing his friendly personality and love of Frank Sinatra to become a beloved figure in Reds Country. He is becoming a beloved figure around baseball, especially fantasy circles, due to his incredible power outburst over the last month. Frazier has been the 4th most valuable position player in baseball (based on WAR, 4.1), as he has become an asset not only for his bat, but his slick glove at the hot corner.

Albert Pujols, 1B, Los Angeles Angels

Last 30 days: .333/.416/.818, 3 2B, 15 HR, 30 RBI, 5:13 K:BB

“Prince Albert” has found the stroke that made him such a force in his Hall of Fame worthy time in St. Louis. After averaging “just” 25 home runs, 91 RBI, and an .810 OPS in his first three seasons for the Angels, many thought the days of 40 home runs, 121 RBI, and 1.037 OPS, his average year in 11 seasons with the Cardinals, were long gone. Pujols currently leads the AL in bombs (23), and will continue to be a part of the two-man wrecking crew that the Angels have with him and Mike Trout in the order.

Giants' 2B Joe Panik - career year or start of something special?  Courtesy: goldengatesports.com
Giants’ 2B Joe Panik – career year or start of something special?
Courtesy: goldengatesports.com

Joe Panik, 2B, San Francisco Giants

Last 30 days: .336/.405/.542, 10 2B, 4 HR, 14 RBI, 12:12 K:BB, 2 SB

Panik likely wasn’t on your list of players who could post a .300/.400/.500 season, but he has been that player over the last month, and very good over the entire season. Panik’s .310/.380/.463 line, 19 doubles, six home runs, and 141 wRC+ (2nd among second basemen in MLB) aren’t all that different from his .296/.365/.403 line over his minor league career, yet, he has nearly reached each of his season-long projections that were set forth by Steamer and ZiPS. His 2.8 WAR has allowed him to show more value than the likes of Dustin Pedroia, Kolten Wong, Brian Dozier, and Jose Altuve. Panik was a first round pick out of St. John’s University in 2011. At just 24, he has shown himself to be quite productive, and, if all else fails, he has a slick glove at second.

Justin Turner, INF, Los Angeles Dodgers

Last 30 days: .361/.418/.639, 6 2B, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 11:7 K:BB

Based on 190 plate appearances, Turner is the 15th most valuable position player in MLB (2.9 WAR). He is having an excellent month, while continuing to shine in the opportunities that he is provided, which are coming in bunches since the Dodgers traded Juan Uribe. While Corey Seager continues to mash in the minors, it is likely Jimmy Rollins at short who is more likely to be replaced than the do-it-all Turner. A career .260/.323/.361 hitter over his first five seasons (2009-2013, 926 plate appearances), the 30-year-old third baseman has hit .334/.400/.526 triple-slash over 512 plate appearances since the start of the 2014 season, with 33 doubles and 17 home runs.

Yovani Gallardo, RHP, Texas Rangers

Last 30 days: 2-0, five starts, 0.87 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 31 IP, 26:10 K:BB, .193 BAA

Gallardo looked like a lost cause early this season, posting a 4.05 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in his first five starts for the Rangers. With the way that the ball flies out of Arlington, it was only a matter of time before the Mexican hurler’s numbers would look even worse. However, that hasn’t been the case. Since May 1st, Gallardo has a 2.51 ERA and 1.11 WHIP over 61 innings, including his impressive run of starts over the last 30 days. While the velocity and strikeout totals continue to dip, Gallardo is finding more success by cutting back on his curve and increasing the use of his slider and change. We’ll see if he can continue to stay hot as Texas heats up.

Braves' RHP Williams Perez - will the league catch up to him?  Courtesy: foxsports.com
Braves’ RHP Williams Perez – will the league catch up to him?
Courtesy: foxsports.com

Williams Perez, RHP, Atlanta Braves

Last 30 days: 4-0, six games (five starts), 2.25 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 1 save, 32 IP, 20:15 K:BB, .219 BAA

Who? Unranked by Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com prior to the season, the 24-year-old has moved quickly through the Atlanta system since reaching full season ball in 2013. He jumped to Triple-A to start the season and made five starts before joining the Braves bullpen. He made all of two appearances before he joined the rotation – minus a random save opportunity on June 13th. In his seven starts, Perez has a 2.14 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. While the walks would need to come down for him to become a more valuable option, Perez has youth and results on his side to this point.

Nate Karns, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays

Last 30 days: 1-1, six games (six starts), 2.65 ERA 1.26 WHIP, 34 IP, 31:12 K:BB, .238 BAA

Karns has stepped up to take on a major role while the Rays battle health issues that have landed Alex Cobb, Jake Odorizzi, and Drew Smyly on the disabled list for extended time this season and Matt Moore continues to work his way back from Tommy John surgery. The 27-year-old late bloomer, drafted in the 12th round of the 2009 MLB Draft, had shown some impressive strikeout skills in the minors (10.3 K:9 over 449.1 minor league innings), but, though he hasn’t reached those numbers to this point, he has certainly shown that he can get major league hitters out. Over 15 starts, Karns has a 3.28 ERA and 1.22 WHIP to go along with his 8.2 K:9. The Rays continue to have a process to maintain success, even after losing Andrew Friedman to the Dodgers from their front office. Karns, acquired by Friedman and Company in February of 2014, looks like a solid, long-term option for the Rays.

 

 

 

 

2015 Season Previews: Texas Rangers

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! 

Texas Rangers

Courtesy: MLB.com
Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 82-80 (4th in AL West, 15th in MLB)

Manager: Jeff Banister (1st season with Texas, no prior experience)

Top Three Players: 3B Adrian Beltre (5.2), RHP Yu Darvish (4.5, out for season after Tommy John surgery), SS Elvis Andrus (2.9)

Bounce-back Player: 1B Prince Fielder

After having surgery to fuse his neck back together last May, Fielder returns to Texas in hopes of completing his first full season in the Arlington launchpad. After playing in 42 games in 2014 and posting a .247/.360/.360, Fielder is a huge bounce-back candidate, as he enters his age-31 season and looks to get back to the .300/.400/.500 lines that we are so used to seeing from him. Some may balk at his ability to make a full return, while questioning the drop in production in Detroit and continuing to label the bulky first baseman as a horrible-bodied decliner, but you shouldn’t be that guy. Fielder missed all of 13 team games from 2006 through 2013, and his ability to stay healthy and productive shouldn’t hinge on his surgery and recovery. He is hitting the ball well thus far in spring, albeit without much power, but, once the season starts, look for Fielder to be an offensive force again in 2015.

Odor is a potential star in the making Courtesy: minorleagueball.com
Odor is a potential star in the making
Courtesy: minorleagueball.com

Fantasy Player to Watch: 2B Rougned Odor

In the race to take second base in Texas, Odor has been significantly assisted by the shoulder woes of former can’t-miss middle infield prospect Jurickson Profar…so says people who don’t think that Odor is special, but that isn’t the case. Odor has been very productive throughout his career, posting a .280/.336/.425 minor league line over 1,436 plate appearances. He doesn’t walk a lot, but he isn’t a free-swinging hacker, striking out just 71 times in his 417 plate appearances in 2014. Oh, and did I mention that he was just 20 years old in 2014 during his debut? The injury to Profar forced the Rangers hands, but Odor responded with 30 extra-base hits in his rookie season. With a ceiling of 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases, Odor could be overlooked due to the gluttony of options at the keystone position, but he is certainly capable of filling that position over an entire season if you feel like you are getting “stuck” with the talented, young player.

Offseason Overview: The Rangers lost Alex Rios and Neal Cotts, but they added LHP Ross Detwiler to fill a possible swing-role in the rotation/bullpen, while gaining a full season of Prince Fielder. The addition of RHP Yovani Gallardo will help the suddenly crippled top of the rotation, as health will continue to be an issue in 2015 with the club already losing their ace, Darvish, for the entire season, while hoping for productive seasons out of Shin-Soo Choo and Adrian Beltre as they continue into their thirties. Beyond those moves and losses, the Rangers had a pretty uneventful offseason, as they lean on already present bodies and seem to be hoping that their once elite farm system can continue to replenish the system with affordable talent.

The Verdict: After losing Darvish, you could assume that the Rangers would drop to approximately 77 wins this season, so they are more likely to finish towards the bottom of the AL West than anywhere near the top. With Matt Harrison, Martin Perez, and Darvish on the shelf at the start of the season, the already tricky pitching situation (due to the offensive play of the home ballpark) will look more uninspiring with Nick Martinez, Colby Lewis, and Detwiler likely to be expected to fill major roles in the rotation. Choo will be moving back to right field with Ryan Rua expected to take over in left to provide some right-handed pop, while Leonys Martin will continue to improve and become a star-level producer in center. Mitch Moreland has gone from a potential outcast to the lead role at the DH spot, while Elvis Andrus continues to be a financial burden (but that has been the case since they signed him to the horrific deal). It isn’t all bad in Texas, but they’ll be looking to outscore their opponents on a nightly basis, which may not be possible with who is responsible for teeing up the ball when their pitchers are on the mound.

Minor League Report, 6/14

Cubs super-prospect 3B Kris Bryant
Cubs super-prospect 3B Kris Bryant

The 2014 season has been quite interesting to this point. With so many teams floating around contention due to unforeseen parity in a game that has had so little over the years, we haven’t seen many top talents reach the big leagues to assist their clubs compete. Gregory Polanco finally reached Pittsburgh, but the Cardinals just sent Oscar Taveras back to the minors following the activation of Matt Adams from the 15-day disabled list. With injuries to Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Archie Bradley, and Taijuan Walker, the elite level prospects haven’t provided a lot of positive material for minor league analysis. For that reason, you have to reach deeper. Here are some names that you may be familiar with, but, if you’re not, you should get to know a little better.

Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs

Year Age AgeDif Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 21 -0.8 A–A+-Rk 36 146 128 22 43 14 2 9 32 1 11 35 .336 .390 .688 1.078 88
2013 21 1.3 Rk 2 7 6 0 1 1 0 0 2 0 0 1 .167 .143 .333 .476 2
2013 21 -0.2 A- 18 77 65 13 23 8 1 4 16 0 8 17 .354 .416 .692 1.108 45
2013 21 -1.8 A+ 16 62 57 9 19 5 1 5 14 1 3 17 .333 .387 .719 1.106 41
2014 22 -2.6 AA 66 286 240 60 86 19 0 22 57 8 41 75 .358 .462 .713 1.174 171
2 Seasons 102 432 368 82 129 33 2 31 89 9 52 110 .351 .438 .704 1.141 259
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/14/2014.

Bryant is a one-man wrecking crew in the Double-A Southern League in 2014, and you should already be familiar with him, as Bryant was the No.2 overall pick out of San Diego in the 2013 MLB Draft. For all of the fears that went along with the holes in his swing, which is still present based on the 75 strikeouts, Bryant can still draw a walk while producing elite-level power from the right side. He may have to move to an outfield corner in the long run due to Starlin Castro being at short and Javier Baez likely moving to third, as the Cubs have Anthony Rizzo locked up through 2021 (including options) at first. Regardless of where he plays, he’ll be an All-Star talent. The Cubs don’t need to bring him up due to their 27-38 record and ongoing rebuild, but the scariest part of his numbers are the fact that they could only get larger with a move to Triple-A and the Pacific Coast League. He could break camp with the Cubs in 2015 and will likely get a nice audition this September.

Victor Sanchez, RHP, Seattle Mariners

Year Age AgeDif Lev W L ERA GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
2012 17 -4.3 A- 6 2 3.18 15 0 0 85.0 69 37 30 5 27 69 1.129 7.3 2.9 7.3 2.56
2013 18 -3.8 A 6 6 2.78 20 1 1 113.1 106 42 35 4 18 79 1.094 8.4 1.4 6.3 4.39
2014 19 -5.5 AA 3 2 4.06 9 1 1 44.1 45 26 20 10 12 39 1.286 9.1 2.4 7.9 3.25
3 Seasons 15 10 3.15 44 2 2 242.2 220 105 85 19 57 187 1.141 8.2 2.1 6.9 3.28
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/14/2014.

The Mariners have a lot of young pitchers who get a lot of attention with Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and Erasmo Ramirez each earning some starts at the major league level over the last couple of seasons; however, with those names receiving so much attention, there is a sneaky exciting talent coming up who isn’t getting nearly as much recognition as most players with his skills would, and that is Victor Sanchez. At 19, Sanchez is already in Double-A, having skipped the horrific pitching environment of the California League, and he is pitching very well. Over his last two starts, Sanchez has allowed just two earned runs over 13.2 innings (1.32 ERA), striking out 13 and allowing 11 base runners (0.80 WHIP). Sanchez isn’t a dynamic strikeout pitcher, but he has plus command and, at his age, he may further develop his stuff to take another step forward. He could certainly give up fewer home runs, but when you consider that he is 5 1/2 years younger than the average player in the Southern League, he deserves a break. He’s a very mature pitcher given his age and deserves more attention than he is getting.

Astros OF Preston Tucker
Astros OF Preston Tucker

 

Preston Tucker, OF, Houston Astros

Year Age AgeDif Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2012 21 -0.1 A- 42 187 165 32 53 7 0 8 38 1 18 16 .321 .390 .509 .899 84
2013 22 -1.4 A+-AA 135 601 535 97 159 32 2 25 103 3 56 91 .297 .368 .505 .872 270
2013 22 -0.9 A+ 75 333 298 61 97 18 1 15 74 3 29 45 .326 .384 .544 .928 162
2013 22 -2.0 AA 60 268 237 36 62 14 1 10 29 0 27 46 .262 .347 .456 .803 108
2014 23 -1.2 AA-AAA 66 294 265 42 73 17 0 17 43 3 26 48 .275 .347 .532 .879 141
2014 23 -1.2 AA 65 290 261 41 72 17 0 17 43 3 26 46 .276 .348 .536 .885 140
2014 23 -3.7 AAA 1 4 4 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 .250 .250 .250 .500 1
3 Seasons 243 1082 965 171 285 56 2 50 184 7 100 155 .295 .366 .513 .879 495
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/14/2014.

Another Houston Astros prospect who is near ready to make an impact at the major league level, Tucker was just promoted to Triple-A after being near the top of the Texas League in doubles, home runs, and total bases. After thriving in 2013 between High-A and Double-A, Tucker has made the adjustments necessary to continue his progression to Houston to join Jon Singleton and George Springer, while the club waits for Carlos Correa and others in the lower minors to help make Houston a World Series contender in the next three seasons. Even thriving against left-handers, Tucker is capable of being more than just an average outfielder in the majors.

Christian Walker, 1B, Baltimore Orioles

Year Age AgeDif Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2012 21 -0.1 A- 22 93 81 12 23 5 0 2 9 2 10 14 .284 .376 .420 .796 34
2013 22 -0.7 A+-A-AA 103 439 393 51 118 27 0 11 56 2 34 67 .300 .362 .453 .815 178
2013 22 0.4 A 31 131 116 19 41 5 0 3 20 0 11 16 .353 .420 .474 .894 55
2013 22 -0.8 A+ 55 239 215 25 62 17 0 8 35 2 17 41 .288 .343 .479 .822 103
2013 22 -2.4 AA 17 69 62 7 15 5 0 0 1 0 6 10 .242 .319 .323 .641 20
2014 23 -1.6 AA 65 284 258 43 79 10 1 17 58 1 22 58 .306 .363 .550 .913 142
3 Seasons 190 816 732 106 220 42 1 30 123 5 66 139 .301 .364 .484 .848 354
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/14/2014.

After being taken in the 4th round of the 2012 MLB Draft out of South Carolina, Christian Walker had a somewhat productive first full minor league season in 2013 (.815 OPS, just 67 strikeouts in 439 plate appearances), but it was also somewhat disappointing (11 home runs). Walker did play at three levels in 2013, so, perhaps, he wasn’t in one location long enough to make the adjustments necessary to showcase his power, but the 2014 season has been quite different. Walker already has 17 home runs and is sporting an OPS of .913 as of publishing. While his strikeout rate has increased, that is allowing him to produce at higher levels. With Chris Davis under team control through the 2015 season, could you be looking at the future first baseman in Baltimore? It could be the case, but Walker has to continue his offensive outburst if he is going to make it in the majors as a right-handed hitting first baseman.

Rymer Liriano, OF, San Diego Padres

Year Age AgeDif Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2008 17 -1.5 FRk 67 267 232 34 46 13 1 9 37 9 28 106 .198 .296 .379 .675 88
2009 18 -2.2 Rk 50 216 197 44 69 8 1 8 44 14 15 52 .350 .398 .523 .921 103
2010 19 -2.5 A–A-A+ 117 481 441 59 102 26 7 3 38 31 32 119 .231 .288 .342 .630 151
2010 19 -2.3 A- 53 225 203 35 55 13 6 0 12 17 17 53 .271 .335 .394 .729 80
2010 19 -2.4 A 50 201 188 21 36 11 1 2 20 11 10 54 .191 .234 .293 .526 55
2010 19 -3.8 A+ 14 55 50 3 11 2 0 1 6 3 5 12 .220 .291 .320 .611 16
2011 20 -1.7 A-A+ 131 580 510 89 152 31 9 12 68 66 53 108 .298 .365 .465 .830 237
2011 20 -1.6 A 116 519 455 81 145 30 8 12 62 65 47 95 .319 .383 .499 .882 227
2011 20 -2.7 A+ 15 61 55 8 7 1 1 0 6 1 6 13 .127 .213 .182 .395 10
2012 21 -2.2 A+-AA 127 520 465 65 130 32 4 8 61 32 41 119 .280 .350 .417 .767 194
2012 21 -1.6 A+ 74 314 282 41 84 22 2 5 41 22 21 69 .298 .360 .443 .803 125
2012 21 -3.1 AA 53 206 183 24 46 10 2 3 20 10 20 50 .251 .335 .377 .712 69
2014 23 -1.2 AA 66 282 252 38 69 14 2 11 40 10 25 73 .274 .344 .476 .820 120
6 Seasons 558 2346 2097 329 568 124 24 51 288 162 194 577 .271 .338 .426 .764 893
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/14/2014.

Even after missing all of the 2013 season due to Tommy John surgery, Rymer Liriano is young for his league. The 22-year-old outfielder is back on track, showcasing all of his tools, though the swing and miss looks to be a bit larger than anticipated after his long layoff. Regardless, in 2011, Liriano showed the speed (66 steals) and power (50 extra-base hits) that make fantasy baseball fans salivate. He could probably make the Padres offense a little better if he were called up today, but he still has some work to do to become an All-Star level talent in the future.

Luke Jackson, RHP, Texas Rangers

Year Age AgeDif Lev W L ERA GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
2011 19 -2.8 A 5 6 5.64 19 0 0 75.0 83 57 47 9 48 78 1.747 10.0 5.8 9.4 1.63
2012 20 -2.3 A+-A 10 7 4.65 26 1 0 129.2 130 72 67 6 65 146 1.504 9.0 4.5 10.1 2.25
2012 20 -1.6 A 5 5 4.92 13 1 0 64.0 63 37 35 4 33 72 1.500 8.9 4.6 10.1 2.18
2012 20 -2.9 A+ 5 2 4.39 13 0 0 65.2 67 35 32 2 32 74 1.508 9.2 4.4 10.1 2.31
2013 21 -2.2 A+-AA 11 4 2.04 23 0 0 128.0 92 32 29 6 59 134 1.180 6.5 4.1 9.4 2.27
2013 21 -1.8 A+ 9 4 2.41 19 0 0 101.0 79 30 27 6 47 104 1.248 7.0 4.2 9.3 2.21
2013 21 -3.5 AA 2 0 0.67 4 0 0 27.0 13 2 2 0 12 30 0.926 4.3 4.0 10.0 2.50
2014 22 -2.5 AA 7 2 2.86 12 0 0 72.1 50 23 23 5 19 74 0.954 6.2 2.4 9.2 3.89
4 Seasons 33 19 3.69 80 1 0 405.0 355 184 166 26 191 432 1.348 7.9 4.2 9.6 2.26
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/14/2014.

Prior to the 2013 season, Jackson was heading towards becoming an organizational arm, even though he was a first round draft pick in 2010. Then, it all seemed to click last year and over his last 200.1 innings he has a 2.34 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP, and 208 strikeouts. Now, with the Texas Rangers reeling and in need of pitching depth after injuries to Derek Holland, Martin Perez, and Matt Harrison, Luke Jackson has positioned himself for some time in Arlington at some point this summer.

Taylor
Nationals OF Michael Taylor

Michael Taylor, OF, Washington Nationals

Year Age AgeDif Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2010 19 -0.9 Rk-A 43 164 141 14 28 5 3 1 13 1 15 33 .199 .276 .298 .574 42
2010 19 -0.7 Rk 38 149 128 14 25 4 3 1 12 1 14 31 .195 .270 .297 .567 38
2010 19 -2.6 A 5 15 13 0 3 1 0 0 1 0 1 2 .231 .333 .308 .641 4
2011 20 -1.4 A 126 488 442 64 112 26 7 13 68 23 32 120 .253 .310 .432 .742 191
2012 21 -1.6 A+ 109 431 384 51 93 33 2 3 37 19 40 113 .242 .318 .362 .680 139
2013 22 -0.8 A+ 133 581 509 79 134 41 6 10 87 51 55 131 .263 .340 .426 .767 217
2014 23 -1.6 AA 62 271 233 50 77 11 2 16 49 17 32 83 .330 .416 .601 1.017 140
5 Seasons 473 1935 1709 258 444 116 20 43 254 111 174 480 .260 .333 .427 .759 729
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/14/2014.

Michael Taylor is breaking out. After an impressive repeat of High-A in 2013 (57 extra-base hits and 51 stolen bases), Taylor has reached a career-high in home runs in just 62 games, while still showing tremendous speed (17 steals) in his first go-round in Double-A. There is a lot of swing and miss in his bat, but the power and speed skills that he possesses make him an intriguing prospect, especially when you consider that he could be in a pretty electric lineup with Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, and company in the next couple of seasons. With Denard Span due a $9 million option or a $500,000 buyout in 2015, Taylor is likely leaving a lot of questions for Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo and Washington management about just what to do in center field in 2015. If nothing else, Taylor could spend some time in Triple-A next year, or even later this season, before earning a full-time role in 2016.

Jake Lamb, 3B, Arizona Diamondbacks

Year Age AgeDif Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2012 21 0.1 Rk 67 315 280 47 92 22 5 9 57 8 24 51 .329 .390 .539 .930 151
2013 22 -0.7 A+-Rk 69 304 248 48 75 22 0 13 52 0 50 75 .302 .421 .548 .969 136
2013 22 2.3 Rk 5 21 17 4 5 2 0 0 5 0 2 5 .294 .381 .412 .793 7
2013 22 -0.9 A+ 64 283 231 44 70 20 0 13 47 0 48 70 .303 .424 .558 .982 129
2014 23 -1.6 AA 65 273 239 42 78 25 4 11 55 0 25 58 .326 .399 .603 1.002 144
3 Seasons 201 892 767 137 245 69 9 33 164 8 99 184 .319 .404 .562 .966 431
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/14/2014.

Jake Lamb was a 6th round pick out of Washington in 2012, and all that he has done since getting drafted is hit. This season, his numbers in the Southern League are being mocked by Kris Bryant’s absurd outburst, but they are still very, very good. The doubles and home runs show the power potential in Lamb’s bat, and the .996 OPS in 59 at-bats against left-handed pitching shows that Lamb is quite capable of becoming a regular in Arizona. With Kevin Towers around, Lamb could be traded before ever reaching the desert, but he would be an extremely solid option to force Martin Prado off of the hot corner, and joining Paul Goldschmidt as a tremendous offensive threat in the Diamondbacks lineup in the near future.