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Tampa Bay Triage PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 12 May 2015 00:00

This week, the Tampa Bay Rays suffered serious harm to their rotation, losing two-thirds of its membership, and not the weak two-thirds of it. Instead, they lost the pitchers that would make them most able to compete in the form of Drew Smyly and Alex Cobb. That leaves them with Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi as the two remaining mainstays and three pitching slots that are quite likely to vary in whose name occupies them for the remainder of the season. Matt Moore is due back, tentatively, in June, and he could provide a major boost (or not), but keep in mind that it is still just May, so we could see quite a few different pitchers receiving starts regardless of whether Moore is healthy or not. Let us review!

In the Majors
Earlier this year, I investigated two of the Rays’ younger pitchers in Matt Andriese and Nate Karns. Both will get much longer leashes now, but to sum up my earlier analysis – Andriese – mediocre stuff/extremely hittable. Karns throws hard, has a curve that is sometimes a plus, mediocre at best command and lacks secondary stuff, which makes him best suited for a relief role.

Alex Colome currently commands a rotation spot as well. I like him best out of the bunch to hold down a rotation spot over the long haul provided he can keep his oft-injured body in one piece. So far, he has struck out 10 in 10 innings and walked zero (late note: Colome was hit hard by the Yankees last night). The righty has never been known for his ability to throw strikes, so expect that K/BB ratio to shrink quite a bit over time. Colome is armed with a quality 4-pitch arsenal, so it’s not a question of stuff here. If you are going to pick a target to try in Tampa, make it him for now even with the bad start. Everyone has their growing pains.

Erasmo Ramirez technically remains an option, but he cannot be trusted at the MLB level until he translates his control from the Minors to the Majors. He’s had multiple, rather unsuccessful, extended big league opportunities, so look elsewhere for pitching help.

Andrew Bellatti could also get a look. The 23-year-old was working in the Triple-A rotation until his call up to a middle relief role, the role he had been used almost exclusively in since 2011. He is a fastball/slider/changeup guy who has posted some solid K/9 numbers and BB/9 numbers in the Minors.

Meanwhile, Back in the Minors
Continuing on the unexciting front, the Rays do have former Twin and Binghamton University graduate Scott Diamond in Durham. The righty throws strikes and keeps the ball on the ground, but he fools no one. It is possible he makes 10+ starts for the Rays this year and perhaps with some short-term success, but it must be noted he’s even more hittable than Andriese. Matt Buschmann and Everett Teaford are two 31-year-olds serving as Triple-A roster filler.

Former 13th round draft pick Dylan Floro has been moving through the Rays system one level at a time and has made six starts at Triple-A. Floro does not lack for control. In fact, he hasn’t posted a BB/9 higher than 1.6 in his entire professional career. That said, his K/9 dropped to 4.6. The righty simply does not have a wipeout pitch and despite the fact that he does a good job of keeping the ball in park, he is in the strike zone far too often to consider for fantasy play.

Moving on to pitchers with an inkling of potential, we come to Grayson Garvin. A 2011 supplemental first round pick, Garvin has struggled to come back from Tommy John surgery and managed to pitch 74 innings in Double-A last year. He’s currently on the DL once again in Double-A, so it’s a longshot to expect him to help this year, but he is at least on the Rays' 40-man roster. When healthy, he has at minimum three MLB quality pitches, and he commands those pitches well. He also throws hard for a lefty. The question is health. Since 2012, he’s made just 41 minor league starts plus six in the Arizona Fall League. Almost half of them came last year.

The Rays had hoped Enny Romero might help the team last year, but he did not make an appearance and is instead in his second season in Triple-A. He’s been out with a back injury and made just one start this season.  The 6’3” lefty can reach the upper nineties on his fastball and possesses a plus-fastball/changeup combination that gives him middle of the rotation potential. That said, his command of those pitches has been up and down throughout his career. His 3.71 BB/9 last year was by far the best he’s done since rookie ball in 2010. He might have a career as a late-inning reliever too.

Jaime Schultz is a 23-year-old righty who has been fairly dominant in Double-A this year. Though on the short side for a starter at 5’10”, Schultz has a plus fastball and a solid curveball/changeup combo, but like many Rays hurlers, command has been a major issue. Over six Double-A starts, Schultz has an 11.4 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9. Still, a promotion to Triple-A with all the attrition going on would be far from shocking.

Blake Snell, like Grayson Garvin, was a 2011 supplemental first round pick, but unlike Garvin, he was drafted out of high school and has been working his way up the system all that time. A 6’4” left-hander, he can reach the lower to mid-nineties with a good slider and a workable changeup. The recurring theme of control issues, however, rears its ugly head once again as Snell has yet to post a sub-4.0 BB/9 at any level since 2012. On the good side, Snell has already been promoted once this year, starting the season in A+ and now in Double-A, where he has posted a 12.0 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 over a tiny sample size of two starts.

So to sum things up, there is not much immediate help on the horizon. The club's 2015 chances largely depend upon a healthy Moore and Colome. They could then shuffle between fifth starters throughout the rest of the season while regrouping for 2016, when Cobb and Smyly come back from their respective injuries by mid-season. However, keep an eye on the likes of Colome, Romero and Garvin as pitchers with some legitimate potential as big leaguers.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 May 2015 08:39
 
Journeyman Jubilee PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 05 May 2015 00:00

I spend most of my time in this column focusing on players who still have that prospect shine on them. However, every season we see minor league veterans ascend to the Majors and a lucky few finally break through to become viable major leaguers or at the very least get an opportunity to do so. With that in mind, let's take a look at some post-hype (and never-hyped) players, some being recent MLB call-ups, who should be on your radar in deeper AL-only and NL-only leagues.

The injury to Mitch Moreland opened up a temporary gateway for Kyle Blanks. The 28-year-old former 42nd round pick worked his way to being one of the Padres’ top prospects only to suffer injury and was subsequently ineffective once given other opportunities with the club. Now with his third organization, Blanks still has plenty of raw power (30+ HR talent). Over his career, the righty has shown a patient approach and has not necessarily been a high strikeout rate hitter at any one level, usually striking out a quarter of the time. The main issue comes from his handedness and his struggles against righties (.227/.306/.400 with a 33% strikeout rate). If used in a strict platoon, Blanks could bring his more solid skills to bear as a career .254/.349/.442 hitter who strikes out only 23% of the time. He’ll see fairly regular action until Moreland returns in a few weeks after having bone chips cleaned out, but it will be interesting to see if the Rangers try to keep him with the club to be utilized in the aforementioned fashion where he could be an asset.

Johnny Giavotella has had an excellent minor league career. The former second-round pick of the Royals had been given multiple extended opportunities to lock down their second base job. Once in 2011, again in 2012 and briefer chances in 2013 and 2014, all resulting in failure and an uninspiring career .245/.288/.339 slash. That said, throughout his minor league career, Giavotella has displayed extremely advanced plate discipline skills, walking and making contact at frequent rates while showing gap power and good instincts on the base paths. He went into 2015 probably on course to open the year in Triple-A only to win the starting 2B job out of spring training, and so far he has shown much of that minor league skill. Before you get too excited about his change in fortune, Giavotella’s power numbers have been trending downward for three straight seasons and while he is hitting for average thus far, his .288/.346/.370 line may not be enough to hold down the job for the entire season.

Joey Butler is yet another journeyman taking advantage of an injury situation. While Desmond Jennings is only expected to miss a few weeks due to bursitis in his left knee, the 29-year-old Butler is expected to play at least semi-regularly during his absence and received the opportunity to start Monday night, responding with his first MLB home run. Butler has spent most of the past four seasons at Triple-A, where he's done nothing but hit. He’s batted no lower than .290 while walking at high rates, (13%+), minimizing his strikeouts and showing mid-teens if not high-teens power potential. Butler is not a high-end starter, but he has enough game to be a solid fill-in and part-time starter at the very least.

Continuing on a theme, Ezequiel Carrera recently was recalled and has been playing regularly in a new outfield alignment along with Kevin Pillar and Michael Saunders (who recently returned from the DL) while Jose Bautista handles DH duties. Formerly of the Mets, Mariners and Indians, the 27-year-old has long been noted for his plus speed, and he is coming off two 40+ SB minor league seasons. At the minor league level, Carrera has been a fairly effective contact hitter with an average to slightly aggressive plate approach, though he has been more selective in recent seasons, including a 1:1 BB/K ratio so far this year. When given opportunities in the Majors, he has not been able to translate those skills. Right now, however, may be Carrera’s single greatest opportunity to prove otherwise. At the very least, his speed alone makes him worthy of a FAAB bid, if for no other reason than to obtain a few steals in AL-only formats, even if he does not break through and become an everyday player long-term.

In non-Journeyman news, the Padres recalled their former first-round pick and top catching prospect, Austin Hedges to the Majors. An elite defender, Hedges has yet to show very much with the bat, struggling to hit even Double-A pitching and far from dominating the lower levels of minor league play. However, to begin 2015, Hedges appears much improved, albeit over a tiny 79 plate appearance sample, making contact 90% of the time and walking the same while showing slightly more power and batting about 100 points higher than last season. The righty has a lot to prove before I can recommend getting on his bandwagon, especially considering he’ll still play in a back-up role. His glove, however, should get him to stick in the Majors eventually, even if his bat does not ever come around.

Also in the NL, the Reds called up their 2013 supplemental first-round pick, Michael Lorenzen, to fill a rotation spot as a result of Homer Bailey’s season-ending injury. This is a true opportunity for Lorenzen to claim a long-term rotation spot, so in NL-only leagues, he is someone to pursue with some vigor on that basis alone. The righty was a closer when drafted out of college and remained in that role until the beginning of last year. He has a plus fastball that can reach the upper nineties, controls it fairly well, and does a solid job of keeping the ball on the ground. That said, while he technically has a fastball, change-up and slider, the pitches beyond his 4-seam and 2-seam fastballs are all adequate at best and are works in progress. Over his first three minor league starts this season, he was able to muster just a 5.7 K/9 after a Double-A season in which he managed a 6.3 K/9 in 24 starts. These are far from the strikeout rates one wants from a top end starting pitching prospect. Barring significant improvement of his secondary pitches, expect Lorenzen to shift back to a relief role before the year is out.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 05 May 2015 08:17
 
International League Round-Up PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 28 April 2015 00:00

Now that we are almost a month into the baseball season, it’s time to start taking a peek at the progress of some of the prospects still in the Minors. This week, we scan some of the teams of the International League.

Triple-A Gwinnett (Braves)

The Braves acquired Michael Foltynewicz from Houston this off-season as one of the key parts of the Evan Gattis deal and the righty has not disappointed over his first four starts. The 23-year-old thus far has a 12.5 K/9, but he still struggles to throw strikes, owning a 4+ BB/9. The Astros had moved the former first round pick to relief last year before the Braves decided to give him another try in the rotation despite his lack of a decent off speed pitch. So far, it is looking like he’ll get a chance to start in the Majors in the near future given his success and some struggles in the Braves MLB rotation, but his upper nineties fastball and plus curveball do make him more enticing as a reliever long term. He’s one to watch.

The Braves were busy this off-season, stockpiling their Triple-A rotation not only with Foltynewicz but with Matt Wisler too. The former Padre has shown excellent command (1.7 BB/9) and also struck out more than a batter per inning over three starts. Despite this, he's still 0-2 thanks to a .354 OBP and continued gopheritis with a 1.7 HR/9 after a 1.5 last season. Wisler is a more complete starter than Foltynewicz as a four-pitch pitcher with a solid fastball and slider, but as noted tends to keep the ball in the air and has paid accordingly. Despite his early struggles, there is more than enough talent and skill here for Wisler to make the necessary adjustments and still make it as a middle of the rotation starter. Stick with him if you own him in NL-only formats.

Jose Peraza is biding his time in Triple-A as Jace Peterson hits under the Mendoza line in the Majors. However, the 20-year-old, while holding his own for Gwinnett, isn’t exactly dominating, batting .271/.311/.314. That said, Peraza has translated his approach successfully to Triple-A as well as his speed. His aggressiveness at the plate makes him a poor upper end of the lineup option, but there remains plenty of ability here to make contact, steal bases, and hit for average. Right now, it is looking like a mid-season call-up unless the Braves tire of Peterson, et al, more quickly than expected.

Triple-A Columbus (Indians)

If Jesus Aguilar wants the Indians’ first base job, he needs to hit, and so far the 24-year-old is mostly failing, batting just .219. On the other hand, he does have four home runs and is not striking out at a significantly higher rate than he has previously, so a turnaround should be forthcoming. Aguilar’s best path to playing time will come at DH given Nick Swisher’s tendency to be injured in the late stages of his career. Aguilar is on the verge of making it or becoming an organizational player, depending upon the club’s view of him.

Francisco Lindor is another shortstop waiting for his chance to claim a starting job. Jose Ramirez has not played as well as hoped with a .196 batting average and strikeout rates well above his normally contact-oriented game, suggesting he may be pressing at the plate. Lindor, meanwhile, is commanding Triple-A with a .303/.380/.429 slash while showing the very advanced plate discipline he displayed at lower levels of the Minors. Combine that with his slick glove and speed (six steals) and it is only a matter of weeks before a switch occurs.

For those waiting for Giovanny Urshela to unseat the struggling Lonnie Chisenhall at third base, you’ll have to wait a bit longer. The 23-year-old has spent much of the young season on the disabled list with a back injury and only got his season underway last week, but at least he's hit .500 with a home run in his first two games played, suggesting the back is certainly no longer an issue. Urshela does not have a high degree of upside, but he is a solid defender and a better contact hitter than Chisenhall with comparable power. The month of May for both players could be telling.

Triple-A Syracuse (Nationals)

Former A’s farmhand A.J. Cole is in his second season in Triple-A (his first full year), and over three starts, he owns a 2.40 ERA along with a 6.0 K/9 and 0.6 BB/9. He no longer looks like a top of the rotation type, but more of a #3 or perhaps #4 armed with a solid fastball/changeup combo. However, he really lacks a wipeout slider or curveball that would elevate his game as a strikeout pitcher. Nevertheless, as a result of Max Scherzer’s injury, Cole will be making his MLB debut today. This is not a long-term job obviously, but it is notable that he is the team's preferred option beyond their opening day rotation when it comes to opportunities that may arise later this season.

Michael Taylor began the season in the Nationals outfield while their veterans mended from injuries. Taylor has truly tremendous tools and 30-30 or better potential, but it is really starting to look like it will only be potential. The former sixth round pick is now 24 years old and continues to strike out over 30% of the time. It is getting difficult to see him as anything beyond a Quad-A player or bench player at the MLB level despite his gifts.

Last Updated on Monday, 27 April 2015 22:54
 
Call-Up Rundown PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 21 April 2015 00:00

This week, we answer important questions like “Who is Asher Wojciechowski?” and consider other recent minor league call-ups.

For those interested, Wojciechowski (pronounced wo-juh-HOW-ski) was a supplemental first round pick in 2010 of the Blue Jays (41st overall) and was acquired by the Astros in a 2012 near-deadline deal. Now 26, the righty has had a solid, though unspectacular minor league career and has spent the past two seasons toiling in Triple-A before getting the call and a Monday night start. He has three average pitches and can throw them all for strikes but does tend to get into trouble with his command in the zone and has been noted for giving up the long ball. View him as a short-term solution and occasional spot starter in Houston who may have a better career if moved to full-time relief.

Speaking of starters as relievers, the White Sox called up their top pitching prospect and 2014 first round pick Carlos Rodon today. The only leagues he is likely available in at this point are perhaps some smaller scale AL-only redraft leagues and mixed leagues. Those leagues are now on notice and should consider stashing him. While he may be pitching in long relief for now, he is a hair's breadth away from claiming a starting job. The lefty has upper end of the rotation stuff, including a mid-nineties fastball, a solid cutter, average change and an absolutely filthy slider. So far, Rodon has lived up to the billing as a strikeout machine, but by the same token, he has had issues throwing strikes and as such, moving to a MLB rotation spot just now might be too soon. An audition as a reliever, a la Chris Sale, may be an excellent way for him to get his feet wet and to refine his game.

The Mets received bad news when they lost Travis d'Arnaud to a broken hand that will sideline him for at least three weeks. The good news for the Mets is that not only do they have one of the better young catchers around in d’Arnaud, but they have also hung onto Kevin Plawecki, who is playing at Triple-A and is one of the better catching prospects in the game. The 2012 supplemental first round pick is not necessarily a high ceiling player, but he does have a fairly high floor. The righty is a more than competent receiver and handler of pitchers but also has a solid bat, combining low to mid-teens home run power and an advanced, contact-oriented approach that has let him hit for average and produce high OBPs in the Minors. His second go-around in Triple-A is off to a slow start, batting just .229, but he is also making contact 92% of the time. The Mets intend to insert him immediately as their everyday catcher, making him worthy of note in all formats as a catcher with some offensive upside.

Rangers reliever Keone Kela made the jump from Double-A to the Majors this season and is pitching in a middle relief role for the Rangers, but now may be the time to buy in. The 22-year-old has a closer’s power stuff with a plus fastball that reaches the upper nineties and a power curveball combination that allows him to generate strikeouts aplenty. Throwing strikes was an issue upon his promotion to Double-A last year where he posted a 6.3 BB/9, so he is certainly no finished product. Kela is also noted for his ability to generate groundballs at a high rate which will serve him well in Arlington. Keep an eye on his progress.

The Rays have brought up Ryan Brett and installed him temporarily on their bench while Nick Franklin is still on the mend. In the pre-season, I recommended that all Franklin owners should keep an eye on or draft Brett if possible as insurance in the event that Franklin falters. Brett is not the most disciplined of hitters, but he makes good contact, has high single digits HR power and above average speed that could make him a 20+ stolen base threat at the MLB level. He was off to a slow start over 33 plate appearances at Triple-A and will play sporadically for the Rays right now, but he is a good grab and stash play in AL-only formats should the opportunity of regular playing time arise.

Chris Martin was acquired from the Rockies this past off-season and subsequently claimed a spot in the Yankees’ bullpen. A nearly 29-year-old journeyman, Martin has excellent control and is coming off a 12.2 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 season for the Rockies in Triple-A. He is a sinker/slider baller who can reach the mid to upper nineties on his fastball. Although he is a longshot to close, his stuff makes him worthy of watching and note in AL-only leagues.

The Giants’ Chris Heston currently leads all rookies in innings pitched with 20.2 this young season. An unheralded former 12th round pick in 2009, the 27-year-old is known for his control and his two-seamer/sinker ball. Overall, his stuff is nothing exceptional, but he mixes his mediocre offerings well and keeps the ball on the ground. For now, he has a 7.0 K/9, but his M.O. is more that of a pitch to contact/innings eater type who will likely see that tail off as the season progresses. There is enough here though for him to continue to be of value in NL-only leagues, but you may want to move on once he has gone around the league and hitters adjust to him. Long term, he could settle in as a solid though unspectacular fourth or fifth starter.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 April 2015 08:48
 
P.S.A.: Young Pitchers Can Lead to Scarring and Emotional Trauma PDF Print E-mail
The Prospector
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Tuesday, 14 April 2015 00:00

Hopefully, some of you had a chance to cash in on Miguel Castro after I discussed him as a potential closer last week. I didn’t realize that that opportunity would come quite so soon though! Keep in mind that he is just 20 years of age and has had some control issues, so that situation remains volatile. As mentioned also last week, Roberto Osuna, also 20, is next in line for saves beyond him and also worth a a shot in deep AL-only leagues.

Getting to this week’s crop of young talent, we continue our relief theme with Seattle’s Carson Smith. A 6’6” right-hander, Smith does not actually throw quite as hard as one would think, averaging in the lower to mid-nineties on his fastball. Smith is a sinker/slider pitcher who mixes his two pitches fairly evenly, focusing on keeping the ball down and generating swings and misses as well as plenty of ground balls. In a brief cup of coffee last year, he posted a 10.8 K/9 and has followed up strongly thus far in the early goings too. He probably profiles as a setup man at best, but the Mariners do not exactly have a deep pen and are relying on 38-year- old Fernando Rodney to close.

Sticking with relievers, we come to Logan Verrett. Verrett was originally a Mets farmhand selected by Baltimore in the Rule-5 draft only to be put on waivers and claimed by the Texas Rangers. A former third-round pick, Verrett has worked exclusively as a starter throughout his minor league career and is now only in 2015 being used in the pen. The 24-year-old has precision control, four solid pitches and four average, but not standout pitches. He’ll work as a loogy or long reliever for now, but could work his way into a few spot starts if the odds are in his favor and find his way into a back end of the rotation spot, though he is probably a bit too hittable to be a viable option in fantasy play anytime soon.

Matt Andriese will be making his first career MLB start today for the Tampa Bay Rays. The 25-year-old came over from the Padres in 2013 and spent all of 2014 in Triple-A as a starter, posting a 7.2 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9. Right now, he is simply filling in for Drew Smyly, but he is of course also auditioning for future opportunities. Like Verrett, Andriese is more of a back-end of the rotation/innings eater type who has good control of multiple pitches, but again none of them are true wipeout pitches. Andriese typically keeps the ball on the ground, but when his command is off, the ball tends to travel far. Both he and Verrett are worth monitoring if they can figure things out at the MLB level given decent skills, but given their underwhelming stuff, avoiding them is probably the safer option.

Andriese is not the only rookie currently in the Rays’ rotation. Nate Karns won a spot outright this spring. The former top Nationals prospect has managed to remain a starter and ended up posting a 9.5 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 over 27 Triple-A starts last year. Last year, I thought he was on the verge of finally making the leap to a relief role given an excellent fastball/curveball combination, mediocre command, and a lack of a changeup. Well, the latter pitch has come a long way to being an average MLB offering. The inconsistency in his command still remains, so AL-only leaguers taking a chance on the 27-year-old will need to have a steady supply of antacids as Karns is the type of pitcher who can dominate on one night and potentially implode on another, as has already been the case in this young season. Stick with him for the upside though in deeper leagues.

Andrew Heaney was selected in most AL-only and some mixed league auctions and drafts this spring. The lefty was acquired from the Dodgers this off season and had an up and down spring. It looked like he had won the 5th starter's job, but the Angels are now giving him more time in AAA before a call-up which could happen soon. His start in Triple-A made him look quite ready as he allowed just two baserunners in seven innings while striking out eight. The 22-year-old lefty was a 2012 first-round pick and has three plus pitches as well as plus command of said pitches to boot. Heaney is MLB ready and profiles long-term as a middle of the rotation pitcher.

Fellow 22-year-old and former first-round pick Archie Bradley won a spot with the Diamondbacks this spring and was dominant in his first MLB start, allowing one hit over six innings while striking out six. Bradley, however, did also walk four batters and though this is a small sample, it gives you a pretty clear picture of his issues. No one questions Bradley’s pure stuff, which is upper end of the rotation material. The question is his ability to command it. Bradley has yet to produce a sub-4.0 BB/9 at any level in which he has made at least 12 starts. In fact, in two of those stops, his BB/9 was closer to 6.0, including his 12 starts in Double-A last year in which he produced a 5.9 BB/9, though to be fair he was dealing with some elbow issues which likely exacerbated his typical control problems. See Nate Karns as a guideline for your level of frustrations and for the fact that you have to stick with him for now in NL-only formats given the potential upside.

And finally, in what seems to be a recurring theme of public service announcements, we bring you to the Twins’ Trevor May. May was called up to fill in for the injured Ricky Nolasco for the next few weeks. A 25-year-old former fourth-round pick of the Phillies, May came to the Twins in 2013 and has done a credible job of generating swings and misses at high rates in the Minors with K/9’s in the 9’s and 8’s in the upper Minors. His upside is better than that of a Verrett or Andriese, given two plus pitches, but he struggles to consistently command his slider and other secondary pitches and has been noted for his bouts of gopheritis. He is a better pitcher than he showed late last season with the Twins (.377 BABIP and 57% left on base rate) and does have fourth or maybe even third starter potential, but he also has a lot to prove in the consistency department. Pass for now.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 April 2015 09:05
 
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