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I don’t pay much attention to Spring Training Statistics.  You never know who the statistics are coming against.  Baseball-Reference did, however, have an amazing tool last year that attempted to quantify the quality of opposing pitchers or batters faced during spring training games on a scale from 1-10 with 10 being MLB talent and 1-3 being high A to low A level.  This tool is great, but it averages all the Plate Appearances or batters faced.  You would still need a deeper dive to see if your stud prospect smacked a donger off of Chris Sale or off of your kid’s future pony league baseball coach.  So what should we watch for in March when we’re starved for the crack of the bat?  Ignore “best shape of their life” stories and Spring Training statistical leaderboards.  Pay attention to injuries and lineup construction and position battles!

Also note that most projected platoons are designated at www.rosterresource.com with a RED block for LHHs and a BLUE block for RHHs.  So I’ll assume those platoons are platoons and we can all adjust our plate appearance projections from there.

I was curious how many innings should be expected out of a guy that wins the #4 or #5 starting job.  So I made a chart of every teams top 5 SPs in IP in 2018 (obviously the TBdR messed this up).  The results were kind of interesting.  SP4 averaged ~129 IP in the NL and ~123 IP in the AL in 2018. SP5 averaged ~102 IP in the NL and ~101.5 IP in the AL.  I expected larger numbers, but the game is trending towards lowering pitch counts and avoiding the 3rd time through the order.  Maybe it’s time to avoid some of these SP5s and snag a long reliever with good ratios at a drastically reduced cost?  100 IP of mediocrity vs 80 IP of great ratios seems like a worthwhile reason to punt 1 IP a week?  See chart below.

So here is what I WILL be watching out for this spring.  Here. We. Begin!

AL Central

Chicago White Sox:

SP5: Ervin Santana is the newest comer, signed on a minor league deal with a chance to grab this spot.  Is who he is.  If he wins this spot, he’ll eat innings and K about 7 per 9 with an ERA around 4.  Dylan Covey was probably the favorite before the Ervin Santana signing, so he’s next in line.  With a career 6.2 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9 in 191.2 career IP, Covey isn’t any more exciting than Ervin Santana or Ivan Nova.  Manny Bañuelos has a 8.4 K/9 in 392 AAA IP… THREE HUNDRED AND NINETY TWO!  That many innings in AAA with only 26.1 MLB IP (in 2015) tells you all you need to know about Bañuelos.  Carson Fulmer is also in the mix, but his 5.9 BB/9 over 13 GS and 11 games out of the bullpen scares me.  Prediction:  Ervin Santana seems to be the favorite, but a lot like when Jimmy cracked corn: I don’t give a shyt.

Super Utility?:  No one interesting fits the mold here.

Prospects?:   George Jetson’s kid Eloy Jimenez is out. Standing.  He is #3 Ovr on our prospect list and should be up after the extra year of control deadline passes.  And he could/should challenge future HOFer Vladimir Guerrero Jr for the AL Rookie of the Year.  Based on ADPs, Eloy is the better draft choice than Vlad the masher.  Dylan Cease is our #20 Ovr prospect and he advanced to AA for 52.1 IP last season.  He’s a much more exciting option than ANY of the White Sox SP.  We gave him an ETA of 2019 but that might be just for a cup of coffee.  I think he’s likely to be a super 2 deadline hold down in 2020, then up for good.  Next up on our list isLuis Robert, our #25 Ovr prospect with a 2020 ETA.  Luis Robert only has 140 PAs in High A, and his ‘look’ still exceeds his stats.  He is still highly rated by those that have seen him in person, so he could start to fill the boxscore soon and make his way up the ladder.  Michael Kopech, our #53 Ovr prospect, had Tommy John surgery on 9/18/2018, so he is not expected to pitch in 2019.  Kopech and Cease will easily be the White Sox two best and most exciting pitchers for 2020 and beyond.

Cleveland Indians:

Corner OF:  Switch hitter Greg Allen swiped 21 bags in 291 PAs last year.  So far in the majors, he doesn’t have platoon splits.  Maybe he can hold down one corner job to himself?  His MLB triple slash leaves a lot to be desired, but his AA and AAA numbers give some hope that he could reach an OPS around .800 in the bigs.  Tyler Naquin had an outstanding rookie year in 2016, but has struggled with injuries since then.  If he can stay healthy, I believe he can outplay Gray’s AVG projection for him by .020 or so, but I think his other numbers are spot on.  Jordan Luplow has struggled in the majors with the Pirates, but his minor league numbers aren’t bad (AAA: .300/.378/.479).  If he can translate those AAA numbers to the majors, he will be valuable.  Matt Joyce is a platooner.  Lucky for him, he bats on the heavy side of platoons.  Bradley Zimmer is questionable for opening day following 7/21/2018 shoulder surgery.  He only had 136 PAs all of last year, so he might need some time to get his batting eye back even after he gets healthy.  Prediction:  I think Greg Allen and Tyler Naquin get the bulk of the opportunities with Luplow stealing a few starts against RHP and Joyce stealing fewer than that against LHP.  No one to get to excited about here.  Watch how spring training plays out if you need quantity late in your drafts.

Super Utility?:  No one interesting fits the mold here.

Prospects?:   Triston McKenzie is our #56 Ovr prospect.  He has had good control (BB/9 under 3) so far in the minors and a K/9 of 10.8 in 329 IP (decreasing below 10 K/9 for the first time in his career when he reached AA).  He could be up sometime mid-season 2020 if there’s room for him.  He could be interesting if he maintains his control and brings his K/9 back up in the higher minors.

Detroit Tigers:

The Josh Harrison signing eliminates a position battle for the keystone and reforms the deadly double play combo of Jordy/JayHay.  Niko Goodrum will hopefully get to play to mega-utility role that made Josh Harrison famous all those years ago (2013 & 2014).  I think Niko can sneak his way to about the same season he had last year (in volume and counting stats), and that will be worth something.  Niko has played everywhere but C and CF in the majors.  He could get some time at DH even.  I think he will manage at least 400 ABs this year and be a good late round grab with a decent floor and room for upside.

Super Utility?:  See Goodrum, Niko above.

Prospects?:  Casey Mize is our #43 Ovr prospect and he could continue to make a quick ascent through the minors.  The only thing holding him back is the Tigers uncompetitiveness that will lead them to make decisions based on service time.  He only has 13.2 MiLB IP, but his control and his stuff look electric.  The exciting thing will be to see how he progresses over an entire year.  Grab and stash for the second half of 2020.

Kansas City Royals:

RF:  Brian Goodwin is a lefty, but he actually bats considerably better in his career against same handed pitchers.  So I don’t think he’s a platoon candidate.  Goodwin has never had more than 278 PAs in a season, so maybe this year is the year that he gets his chance?  Jorge Soler is the offensive solution and I think he’ll take the bulk of the DH starts (eventhough he hasn’t yet lived up to his minor league numbers).  Brett Phillips is a former top prospect for Milwaukee.  He hasn’t hit well in the bigs yet (#smallsample), but his AAA numbers are stellar (.279/.358/.504 – #PCLbias).  His outstanding arm and ability to cover ground in the OF make him a glorious pairing for a team that’s planning to put Billy Hamilton in CF.  Unfortunately (for Brett), he has an option remaining, so I think the Royals use that option to see what Goodwin can do with a season full of ABs.  Lastly, there is Terrance Gore.  He’s a speed demon in the Billy Hamilton mold (i.e. he can’t get on base).  His MiLB OBPs are too reminiscent of Bee Ham, as is Gore’s early MLB usage.  So far he has 27 SBs (4 CS) and 19 PAs.  Gore is also out of options.  I see him making the squad as the last bench guy and serving as a late inning PR and/or defensive replacement.  Dude is an electric athlete, just not that good at baseball.  He won’t get enough volume to matter, but if you need to catch up in the SB category on the last day or two of your weekly H2H matchup, then look at this guy.  Prediction:  I think Brian Goodwin will get the bulk of the RF ABs, Soler the bulk of the DH ABs, and Gore the bulk of the PR opportunities.  Brett Phillips will be the first man up, in case of injury.

Super Utility?: No one interesting fits the mold here.

Prospects?:  Brady Singer is the only KCR prospect on our top 100 list (& he’s #99).  He’s a 1st round college arm drafted in last year’s draft, but he hasn’t debuted yet.  As a college arm, he could move quickly and there’s really no one blocking him, but I’m not excited yet.  He’s a good wait ‘n see prospect as he was once considered the #2 college pitcher available (behind Casey Mize).  His control in college entices me (2.28 BB/9), but he’s still free and he’ll remain free… If you start hearing buzz about his debut season in the minors though, I would listen.

Minnesota Twins:

25th man:   I mean, I know y’all wanna talk about Willians Astudillo, but he’s Wilin Rosario v2.0.  A catcher that can’t catch is like a pitcher that can’t pitch or a second baseman that can’t even get to second base (under the shirt, over the bra).  The MiLB numbers, the 97 PA cup of coffee, and the dinger showmanship (clicking on a hyperlink with that kind of title at work means you’re a person who takes risk… I like that) … what’s not to like?  What’s not to like? Well I’ll tell you: He can’t field a lick, 57 yr old Nelson Cruz is blocking him at DH, and he still has all 3 minor league options remaining.  Astudillo is on the 40-man roster though, unlike the camptown ladies’ favorite player: Lucas Duda… Duda.  Duda is an out of options 33 yr old who smacked his fair share of dingers in his day.  #lordknowsihave  Speaking of low BA, big dinger dudes; Tyler Austin is also in the twin cities and also out of options.  However, Tyler is 6 years younger and still controllable through the arbitration process through the 2023 contract year.  I think this roster spot goes to the winner of your typical Friday night bro fight: Tyler vs. Lucas.  In this corner, weighing in at 255 lbs, with a career triple slash of .242/.337/.452, mashing a dinger every 22.78 PAs, and popping all three collars he’s currently wearing; the walker who needs a walker, Lucas “camptown ladies” Duda (#echo-duda).  And in this corner, weighing in a 220 lbs, with a career triple slash of .232/.290/.469, mashing a dinger every 16.83 PAs, and introducing an incredibly strong cloud of Axe body spray into the room; the hotty with the body, Tyler “90210” Austin.  Prediction: After a splattering of Natty Lights and a slap fight with headlocks (messing up their hair gel), I think the Twins keep the controller masher in town and Tyler Austin makes the opening day roster. (UPDATE: Miguel Sano is expected to miss opening day and maybe up to a month.  This opens the door for Marwin Gonzalez to get meaningful ABs and Astudillo is listed as a 3B for some reason.  You can connect those dots.) 

Super Utility?: No one interesting fits the mold here.

Prospects?: Royce Lewis is our #6 Ovr prospect and Alex Kirilloff is our #14 Ovr prospect.  Both are and will be studs, but neither is expected to debut until next year.  Royce split last season between A/A+ and looked like he belonged with .292/.352/.451 and 28 steals over 121 games.  Alex Kirilloff also split 2018 between A/A+, if Royce belonged, then Alex owned the league.  Kirilloff hit 44 2Bs, 20 dingers (71XBH), and .348/.392/.578 in 130 games.  If either of these guys are available in your keeper/dynasty leagues, grab them immediately and watch their stock soar in the upper minors in 2019. 

  1. Matt says:
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    “So I made a chart of every teams top 5 SPs in IP in 2018 (obviously the TBdR messed this up).”

    Is the average based on the guy who had the 5th-most IP at the end of the season, or the guy who won the #5 job in spring training? I assume the former, which might be why the IP is lower than expected. If a guy wins the #5 job to open the season and performs competently/stays healthy, then I’d expect more than 102 IP.
    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/e/2PACX-1vTRDEgPICNdnGEzUQGPPaYvWm2Zse3UYTYEh7BO_SS7UpIWUIUCpAOsc6sE2YxQ7x48UG3xOmDy0bVa/pubhtml#
    Found a source of depth charts from the start of last year, and a quick look says Zack Godley (178.33), Sean Newcomb (164), Kyle Freeland (202.33), Jake Junis (177) are some of the guys who won spring training battles for #4/#5 rotation spots and then went on with it. On your table they’re 3rd, 3rd, 1st & 1st for their respective teams.

    I think the SP5s have more profit potential than the 80IP middle relievers, because some of those opening day SP5s are end of season SP1-3 for their teams. Of course, some of them are Taijuan Walker & Cody Reed, too. Be interesting to go through the depth charts and see the IP differences for opening day SP1-SP5.

    • Whack Daniels

      Whack Daniels says:
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      @Matt: Yes, you are correct. I took the easy way out and charted the 5th most IP at the end of the season. There is definitely potential for these 4th/5th guys now to pitch more innings, but those 4 names you listed might also be the outliers.

      I was going after more of a “What is being a ‘top5 starting pitcher’ on a team really worth?”. It just turns out it was worth less than I thought.

      • Matt says:
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        @Whack Daniels: “but those 4 names you listed might also be the outliers.” – Now I have to check…

        • Whack Daniels

          Whack Daniels says:
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          @Matt: Hahaha, sorry to pass the buck and the homework, but it is quite interesting indeed!

          • Matt says:
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            @Whack Daniels:
            Only done the NL so far, will do the AL later. Used the resource I posted above, on the few occasions they didn’t list 5 I added the next guy who started in April in the #5 slot. Only change I made was they had Seth Lugo as the Mets’ #5, and I put in Zack Wheeler.
            The results:
            #1: 164.9 IP avg
            #2: 142.4
            #3: 124.7
            #4: 122.8
            #5: 122.3

            Some observations:
            Only 3 #1s (T. Blach, C. Martinez, H. Bailey) failed to reach 150IP. But only 3 topped 185 IP

            Number who threw 130+, out of 15 eligible:
            12 #1s
            10 #2s
            8 #3s
            9 #4s
            8 #5s

            Number who threw 175+, out of 15 eligible:
            5 #1s
            5 #2s
            2 #3s
            3 #4s
            3 #5s

            4th & 5th spot on each list:
            #1s: Lester (181.7) & Teheran (175.7)
            #2s: Folty (183) & Chase Anderson (176)
            #3s: Gio Gonzalez (171) & Matz (154)
            #4s: Quintana (174.3) & Newcomb (164)
            #5s: Arrieta (172.7) & Andrew Suarez (160.3) (and then Flaherty if you think Arrieta shouldn’t be there)

            Other notable 4s & 5s who threw 130+ include Matt Harvey, Taillon, Stratton, Roark, Mikolas, Lucchesi, Godley, Freeland, Tyson Ross, Flaherty, Zack Wheeler. Jake Arrieta was a #5 on a technicality, but would have pushed Vince Velasquez into the #4 spot if he signed earlier. Plus guys like Ryu, Rich Hill, Joe Musgrove, Anibal Sanchez, who all put up good numbers when not on the DL. And guys who didn’t quite crack the April rotation like Zach Eflin. Easily 20 guys there who were back end of an NL rotation or battling for a spot in spring training.

            Rockies opening day rotation threw the most IP, with 867 between the 5. And the injury-prone Mets were 2nd with 862.7. They were both over 100 IP clear of Washington in 3rd place with 750.3. Reds, Brewers, Padres all had 550-600 IP, and Miami were last with just 384.

            Overall, I think #4 & #5 have more outright duds than #2 & #3, but just as much opportunity to land a quality starter. Certainly wouldn’t be avoiding them for middle relief with good ratios.

            • Whack Daniels

              Whack Daniels says:
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              @Matt: Very very interesting! Excellent number crunching and digging, Matt!

              • Matt says:
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                @Whack Daniels:
                And the AL:
                The results:
                #1: 159.2 IP avg
                #2: 153.4
                #3: 135.0
                #4: 119.2
                #5: 90.6

                Number who threw 130+, out of 15 eligible:
                13 #1s
                11 #2s
                9 #3s
                8 #4s
                5 #5s

                Number who threw 175+, out of 15 eligible:
                6 #1s
                5 #2s
                6 #3s
                3 #4s
                0 #5s

                4th & 5th spot on each list:
                #1s: Severino (191.3) & Hamels (190.7)
                #2s: Snell (180.7) & Price (176)
                #3s: Leake (185.7) & Gausman (183.7)
                #4s: M Gonzales (166.7) & Minor (157)
                #5s: Cobb (152.3) & Colon (146.3)

                HOU (914.3), CLE (852.7), SEA (830.3) were the top 3, MIN were 4th, getting 710IP from their top 4 and basically never had a 5th starter. Everyone else was between 610-710, except for the bottom 2. OAK only had 376.3 from their opening day rotation, and LAA got just 291 from Richards/Skaggs/Shoemaker/Ohtani/JC Ramirez

                Overall, AL’s top end looks slightly better (12 190+ vs 11 for NL, 149.2/pitcher for #1-#3 vs 144 for NL) but had more injuries/demotions, especially at the back end (131.5 IP per pitcher vs 135.4 for NL, 104.9 IP for #4-5 vs 122.6 for NL).

                4th & 5th starters in the AL weren’t as good as the NL, but still had a decent amount of useful pitchers, despite all the duds. Clevinger, G Cole, Junis, Lynn, M Gonzales, Minor, Yarbrough were all #4s. Cobb, Boyd, Morton were #5s, and Heaney was an early callup after just missing out on the #5 spot.

                • Matt says:
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                  @Matt: and Wade LeBlanc was a #5 too, left his name off last post. 162 IP of 3.72/1.18 with 130K is plenty useful for a final round pick.

                  • Whack Daniels

                    Whack Daniels says:
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                    @Matt: awesome! Thanks Matt!!!

  2. Matt says:
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    Also, you left off Christin Stewart (#63 razzball prospect) from the Detroit preview. I think he’s definitely one to own, fulltime OF/DH ABs with minimal competition.

  3. Whack Daniels

    Whack Daniels says:
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    You’re right! And the FML ranked him as the #77 OFer in his writeups. He’s listed as the starter on rosterresource.com. I didn’t include him because I assumed he was either starting or the heavy side of the platoon. So I agree with you that it’s not much of a position battle. Grab Stewart late in drafts for some cheap power. And if he bats at the top of the order (as roster resource speculates) then you’ve got a gem!!!

  4. Bitter Beerface says:
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    What are your thoughts on the hot start of Royals former top prospect Bubba Starling? Top 10 name, never panned out, having a little redemption story this spring…

    • Whack Daniels

      Whack Daniels says:
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      @Bitter Beerface: This tool from baseball reference (https://www.baseball-reference.com/leagues/MLB/2019-spring-training-batting.shtml) shows that his Opponent Quality this spring training is a 7.1 (or AA) and he’s 8 for 19 with 2 dingers, 3 K’s, and 5 BB. I don’t put too much stock in spring training typically, but you’re right that he could be quite intriguing since he is out of options. But he’s also not currently on the 40-man roster.

      • Bitter Beerface says:
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        @Whack Daniels: Great research, thanks! I’m rooting for him even though I’m a Tigers fan.

      • Whack Daniels

        Whack Daniels says:
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        @Whack Daniels: Upon further investigation, it looks like bubba got off to quite a hot start against some lesser pitchers maybe.

        In his first 12 spring PAs he went 6/9 with a 2B, 2 HR, 3 BB, & 1 K. However, the pitchers he faced were Brain Schlitter, Kyle Crockett, Joel Seddon (K), Sam Howard (HR), Harrison Musgrave (HR), Josh Sborz (2B), Ben Holmes (BB), Shea Spitzbarth, Steven Okert, Enderson Franco, and Bryan Mitchell twice (BB, BB). I have only ever heard of Bryan Mitchell on that list. Both dingers were on the same day against relievers with some MLB experience. So that’s encouraging.

        In his most recent 12 spring PAs, he has gone 2/10 with a 2B, 2 BB & 2 Ks. Those pitchers faced were Jesus Castillo (BB), Jeremy Rhoades (K), Brooks Pounders (2B), Cody Anderson, Asher Wojciechowski (BB), Matt Koch, Jose Quintana (K), Pedro Strop, Tyler Chatwood (2X), Jaime Barria, and Williams Jerez. So still quite a few unknowns but maybe half of those ABs against dudes I had heard of.

        But so maybe his hot week has since died down? But he is definitely interesting

        • Karl Christopherson says:
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          @Whack Daniels: Eye-opening numbers for sure! That’s too bad. Bubba took the Royals big signing bonus over a QB scholarship to Nebraska, so he’s not hurting for money but lost an athletic career.

          • Whack Daniels

            Whack Daniels says:
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            @Karl Christopherson: yeah. Definitely but this story could maybe still turn around? Even if it looks unlikely

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