Once Spring Training was shut down, MLB.com must have ordered their writer to publish articles on “Roster Battles” and “What We Learned” since each team got one. I ground through all 60 of them and here is what I learned.
As camp progressed, rookie Bryan Abreu emerged as a legitimate candidate for the fifth spot as well.
I’m intrigued by the news. Abreu has always been a high-strikeout pitcher (11.9 K/9 in AAA, 13.5 K/9 in majors in 2019). His fastball sat at 95 mph last year. His slider and curve graded above average. His problem was fastball control and has always posted high walk rates. He’s starting to show some control. In the majors, he had a 3.1 BB/9. In spring training, it was 3.0 BB/9. While most prospect reports place him in the bullpen, I can see why the Astros have fallen for him.
Then you have Nate Pearson, the club’s No. 1 prospect who dazzled in Spring Training with 100-mph heat and devastating secondary pitches. The plan was for Pearson to open the season in Triple-A, with a call to the big leagues reasonably believed to come in May or June. How this stoppage impacts Pearson’s timeline is the most interesting variable of all.
The rookie rules will be one factor to keep in mind once the season starts up. I believe the rookies on contenders will get an early call while those on rebuilders will wait a season.
• The Ranger’s first and third base situations are still a mess.
Ronald Guzmán and Greg Bird, a pair of left-handed hitters, were going head-to-head since the beginning of Spring Training and neither has forged ahead. Guzmán was 7-for-33 with a home run. Bird was 3-for-29. Sam Travis, a right-handed hitter, was 7-for-15 after overcoming early hamstring issues and has become a factor at the position.
Travis offers a possible platoon partner with Guzmán or Bird and can also play the outfield if needed. Todd Frazier can play first if needed if the Rangers want to use Isiah Kiner-Falefa and/or Matt Duffy at third base. Both are right-handed hitters and could platoon with Guzmán or Bird, with Frazier switching between positions.
The only player I’m interested in is Isiah Kiner-Falefa who could see his value jump since he’s catcher eligible.
When camp was suspended, it seemed right-hander Jorge López, ticketed for long relief in the bullpen, was the most likely candidate to be stretched out for that job. But interestingly enough, Kansas City also had kept right-hander Brady Singer, the team’s No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, in camp. And Singer was scheduled to make at least one more start in Spring Training, suggesting that the Royals were seriously considering him as the No. 5 guy. That plan likely would have included having Singer stay in extended spring training to be stretched out if the season had begun on schedule. Kansas City has not been enslaved to roster manipulation in the past, meaning that even though having Singer join the rotation that early in April would have chewed up a year of his service time, the Royals are more concerned about winning now.
While the Royals would like to be competitive, they’re not. Of the rookie starters to gamble on, it’s not Singer.
As camp progressed, it became apparent that right-hander Glenn Sparkman, converted to the bullpen, was safe as his velocity spiked to 96-97 mph in a short relief role, that’s what the Royals wanted to see from him.
But is the jump average or where he topped out at? If topped out, it’s no big deal since he threw that hard last season even while in the bullpen. Everyone will have to wait to find out for sure, but for reference, here are his fastball’s swinging-strike rates at different velocities.
If his velocity is averaging 96 mph, his strikeout rate could jump.
Jordan Montgomery had the inside track on the No. 4 rotation slot, with Boone raving about an uptick in velocity that the Yankees attributed to better offseason training and being further removed from his June 2018 Tommy John surgery.
I dug around on Twitter and found the following comments on the jump.
— Joseph “The Demon“ Albanese (@DemonEvilMuscle) February 26, 2020
Jordan Montgomery is sitting 93-95 MPH with sink along with a filthy changeup and curveball. If the velocity is legitimate you might be looking at something more than a back end starter. #Yankees
— Tom Smith (@tom_smith717) March 5, 2020
If his fastball velocity readings are even close to being correct, he strikeouts could be in uncharted territory. He’s never thrown that hard before but his fastball’s swinging strike rate has steadily climbed with his velocity.
Schmidt was arguably the most impressive, muscling into the fifth-starter conversation while showcasing a polished four-pitch mix that produced a 2.57 ERA over seven innings.
“This guy [Schmidt] is pretty much ready to go in the big leagues, from a stuff standpoint,” reliever Zack Britton said. “Everyone here throws hard, the young guys, but it’s more the execution of the offspeed pitches.
He has a 93-mph fastball with three average to above average non-fastballs and has breezed through the minors so far.
No longer armed with the plus fastball that helped him become recognized as King Félix, the 2010 American League Cy Young Award winner is now attempting to prove he can be crafty with a fastball that sat between 85-89 mph during his four spring starts.
His fastball averaged 89.6 mph last season so a 3 mph drop might put him on par with some NAIA pitchers.
Left-hander Robbie Ray reported to camp about 15 pounds lighter than at the end of last season, the result of a change in his diet. The lefty also tweaked his mechanics, hoping to make his delivery more fluid and improve his overall command. His results during the spring were impressive and he seemed a lot more like he was during his dominant 2017 season.
“I feel really good,” he said. “I feel strong, arm feels good, body feels good, mind is right so yeah all around I feel strong and ready to go.”
He could be an elite pitcher if he got his walk rate near 3.0 BB/9.
So, he’s pretty much the projected National League Rookie of the Year by acclimation of preseason prognosticators. The only problem is, he might not make the Opening Day roster. Yes, the Dodgers gave him the starting second-base job last September and he kept it in the ill-fated series against the Nationals. But the 22-year-old struggled down the stretch and started at second base in only four of 17 Cactus League games while he worked mostly on reworking his swing, hardly the typical spring of a can’t-miss starter preparing for Opening Day. Then there’s also the possibility that service-time considerations could factor into the decision-making process.
While Lux has the potential to become a great player, he might not be ready at this time. With a 162 ADP, his cost is a little too much for me considering he might not be starting.
Here’s a traditional position battle. When Spring Training began, Roberts said Smith would get the bulk of the catching duties. By the time Spring Training paused, it had turned into “a partnership.” Smith got the call-up last summer and put up Mike Piazza-like power numbers, with 10 homers in his first 25 games. He struggled badly down the stretch and it’s been more of the same this year, hitting .143 without a homer in the Cactus League. Meanwhile, 2019 was so rough for Barnes that he was demoted to Triple-A and didn’t make the postseason roster. But in nine spring games, he posted a 1.033 OPS and looked a lot more like the player that inherited the starting job from Yasmani Grandal in 2017. Unlike last year, there isn’t a Russell Martin-type veteran with a guaranteed salary as a fallback option.
…Kershaw’s fastball topped at 93 mph, offering hope that with a healthier body and a better understanding of its functioning, he can improve on a 2019 that was already pretty good.
While the 93 mph fastball seems like an improvement, he “topped” out at 93 mph last season while sitting at 90 mph.
Trevor Gott is out of options, so he’s a virtual lock for the bullpen and could be a candidate to replace Will Smith as closer.
Gott doesn’t have elite skills with a 9 K/9, 3 BB/9, and a 4.00 ERA projection.
The Giants’ depth at second base, where they have non-roster invitee Yolmer Sánchez, Solano, Flores and Dubón, freed up Dubón to play all over the diamond this spring and draw some reps in center field. After watching Dubón make a few appearances in the outfield, Kapler came away convinced that the 25-year-old prospect could form a key part of the Giants’ center field rotation this season.
“I can really, legitimately, see him playing center field quite a bit,” Kapler said earlier this month. “I think earlier in camp I was saying we’re going to take more of a wait-and-see approach. I think at this point he has demonstrated he can play center field. He can play shortstop for us.”
The remaining five spots are still to be determined. Ryne Stanek has dealt with lower back stiffness. Drew Steckenrider, recovering from a right elbow injury, had his velocity drop to 90-91 mph in his final Spring Training appearance. Jeff Brigham (right biceps strain) didn’t pitch this spring. The layoff, obviously, will help the recovery of any ailing reliever.
When Céspedes took swings at Mets camp, crowds gathered. He launched his share of homers in live BP, most recently taking Seth Lugo deep during a simulated game. Céspedes also drew rave reviews for his regular BP sessions, which frequently included screaming home runs to left and left-center. In the minds of most Mets coaches, there is little doubt Céspedes can be an offensive threat in the big leagues right now.
The question is his defense. While Céspedes also showcased a strong throwing arm during fielding drills, he never sprinted full-speed or ran regularly in zig-zag patterns. The next few weeks will give Céspedes extra time to work his legs into shape following multiple heel surgeries and a broken right ankle, meaning all eyes will be on him once again once camp reopens.
• Ranger Suárez was getting some rotation love.
Suárez had a 2.25 ERA in three Grapefruit League starts: eight innings, 10 hits, two earned runs (three runs total), one walk and eight strikeouts. But he also faced the least accomplished competition.
• Some starters are limiting their pitches to just throw the good ones. Science.
We heard from several pitchers who were paring down their arsenals, focused more on emphasizing their best pitches rather than adding below-average offerings just for the sake of having them. Top prospect Mitch Keller, for instance, spoke perceptively about the information he received from Marin and Meccage and how it might help him.
Here are the pitches that could be dropped by each potential starter.
Pitcher: Below-average pitch(es) (combined usage)
- Chris Archer: Sinker (10%)
- Joe Musgrove: none
- Mitch Keller: Change (4%)
- Trevor Williams: Change and Curve (13%)
- Steven Brault: Sinker and Change (30%)
- Chad Kuhl: Curve, Four-seam, Change (34%)
- Derek Holland: Sinker and Change (34%)
- Robbie Erlin: Sinker and Curve (43%)
Tapia arrived stronger and made adjustments that allowed him better pitch selection.
Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.