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!
SP5: This was probably a much closer race before Josh James was diagnosed with a strained right quad. Josh is our #72 Ovr prospect, but he will likely now need to spend some time in the minors as he misses out of stretch out time in spring training. James K/9s last year were sexy: 15.8 in AA, 12.9 in AAA, and a measly 11.3 in the bigs. So keep an eye on him and his rehab process. The main problem with James is that he might not be ready before our #18 Ovr prospect, Forrest Whitley is ready. Whitley was drafted 17th overall and made it to AA for 26.1 IP last season and has never posted a K/9 below 10. He lost 50 games worth of development last year, but if he can get on track he could move up quickly. ‘Left’ standing is Framber Valdez. This little lefty posted decent K/9s in the minors (>9), but also highish (~3.5-4.0) BB/9s throughout the minors. I’m not that excited by him independently, but he should get innings and could help get you some dubya‘s early in the season. Prediction: Framber holds the job (2 months) until Josh James is ready who holds the job (2 months) until Whitley is ready.
Super Utility?: Yuli Gurriel is penciled in at 1B, but could bounce around the diamond. Yuli played over 100 innings at 1B, 2B, & 3B last season. He should get as many ABs as he got last year and produce similar stats to 2017 & 2018.
Prospects?: Kyle ‘muthatuckin’ Tucker seemed primed for a breakout season before the ‘stros signed Michael Brantley. Brantley made it 143 games last year after 2 injury prone years after 4 seasons of 137 games or more… so maybe he’s not as injury prone as we give him credit for? Maybe Brantley is over his rough two years? Tucker still has 2 options remaining and he threw up all over his shoes last year in a 72 PA cup of coffee. Tucker is GOING to be a 20 dinger/30 swipe stud for years. I’m just not sure how much he gets a chance to this year or not. Brantley, Josh Reddick, and Yuli Gurriel are all almost 32 or older (Brantley is 31.8) and they are all under contract this season and 2020 and all UFAs in 2021… so it could potentially be a while for the muthatucka, but I hope we don’t have to wait that long.
2B: With the Zack Cozart injury, there might be some early season playing time available at 3rd. However, there is a chance Cozart could be ready for opening day or won’t miss much time. So I think Cozart’s injury might, at best, just give the Angels a chance to let the top two choices duke it out between 2B/3B in games that count until Cozart is ready (if he’s ready – he didn’t look ready all of last year). Tommy La Stella has been consistent but unsexy throughout his 5 MLB seasons with a career .264/.345/.366 over 947 PAs. He’s always been a bench bat, but that’s who LAoA surrounds Mike Trout with anyways, so he’s perfect! David Fletcher batted .275 with almost no walks and no power last year in half a season’s worth of chances. That’s his minor league Modus Operandi as well. High BA, meh OBP, 10 dinger/15 swipe ceiling. If he gets a full season worth of ABs, Fletcher could be an intriguing source of BA inflation late in drafts but there’s not much else here. I’m pretty sure Luis Rengifo is the guy who played the Incredible Hulk in the 70s/80s, but the prospectonator thinks he could smack 8 dingers and nab 25 bases if given a full season chance. I can’t be the only one who thinks Rudy names his tools like Dr. Doofenshmirtz from the greatest show ever to have Bowling for Soup sing their theme song. Alright, back to Rengifo: he seemed to figure something out last year, batting .299/.399/.452 across 40-ish games each in A+/AA/AAA with more power as a LHH and more BA as a RHH and very good walk rates from either side. Rengifo also seems has the best speed of the three with 127 SBs in 1800 MiLB PAs (rough math: 40+ SBs per 600 PA). Prediction: Fletcher and Rengifo both have 3 options and La Stella still has 1. Fletcher and Rengifo have mostly played up the middle defensively (2/SS) and La Stella has played mostly 2/3B. I could see Rengifo getting the bulk of the PAs with Rengifo/La Stella playing against RHP and Rengifo/Fletcher playing against LHP. I’m betting on Rengifo’s upside over 600 PAs and maybe 350 each for Fletcher/La Stella (factoring in an early return from Cozart). Watch this job a little bit and try to snag Rengifo if it seems like he has the job or a big part of the job.
Super Utility?: Basically, the above guys in the 2/3B blahtoon.
Prospects?: Jo Adell (#17 Ovr prospect) and Kevin Maitan (#87 Ovr prospect) are the most interesting prospects in Anaheim, but they are both not expected to debut until 2021. Man, Jo Adell, I wish I could draft someone like you! Adell slowed down a bit in his taste of AA down in Mobile, AL, but it was a 17 game sample size for a 19 yr old in AA so I’ma let it slide just this once. Dude’s legit. Dude will be legit. Dude will stay legit. However, you’re gonna have to wait a bit. Maitan was a huge international signing and was compared to Miggy and Chipper. Maitan was made a free agent as part of the punishment of the permanent ban of former Braves GM John Coppolella. It’s been a long road already for a guy who’s only played two minor league seasons. So far the power hasn’t shown and the average has only been ok, but if this guy starts making noise: I think y’all should listen! I won’t jump the gun, he just turned 19 a month ago. I’m going to sit and wait for it to happen, then I shall pounce. Until then, I shall wait and watch Maitan’s progress thusly.
SP4 & SP5: You know your rotation is strong when Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada, and Brett Anderson are herein considered “locks”. The only this Brett Anderson should be a lock for is the IL, so I’m going to predict who is the #4, #5, & #6 ponies in this race. Daniel Mengden made 17 starts for the ‘letics last year (most among currently healthy/currently Athletics), and his 2.0 BB/9 was eye opening, but his 5.6 K/9 was gut opening. But hey, he threw a 10K no-no once, so you can hold out hope for that to happen again. Jesus Luzardo soared through the minors last year, reaching AAA for 4 starts. In 34 MiLB starts he’s posted a K/9 above 10 and a 2.1 BB/9, that’s why he’s our #31 Ovr prospect and is making noise in spring training. Service time be damned? Are the A’s expecting to compete this year? I dunno man. Paul Blackburn is a good control guy with a 6 K/9 in the minors (#barf). Parker Bridwell has shown 8ish K stuff in AA/AAA, but hasn’t translated above 6 per 9 #nice in the bigs yet. Aaron Brooks has impeccable control (>2BB/9) throughout his minor league career with, you guessed it, bleh K/9. If he could keep his control and induce grounders he could eat up some innings. Frankie Montas was used exclusively as a reliever in 2017, but in 2018 he started 11 games, finished 1 game in September, and pitched to one batter in the 8th inning of a 10-0 blowout (also in September). Montas had high K/9s as a reliever in 2015 and 2016 and low BB/9 last year mostly as a starter. So he could either activate the best of both worlds like Schwarzenegger in Twins. Or he could be the worst of both worlds like DeVito in Twins. Andrew Triggs made 9 starts for the ‘letics last year and 12 in 2017. If you combine those 21 starts, he threw 106.2 IP, 7.85 K/9, 3.12 BB/9, 4.64 ERA, 1.33 WHIP. Not bad. Not great. Not exciting. Oh, also Triggs is still recovering from thoracic outlet surgery on 9/26/2018. Brooks, Mengden, and Montas are all out of options. Prediction: I think Mengden gets the #4 job for as long as he can hold it. I think Montas gets the #5 job. Then I think Luzardo comes up for whoever is performing the worst once super two and a year of extra control deadline passes, giving Luzardo a hand-almost-full of starts in AAA Nashville.
Super Utility?: Chad Pinder could potentially fill this role and provide decent power with a moderate average. This is his age 27 season, so he could potentially/plausibly add more power. I’m not sure how excited I am about his career .247/.310/.441 line, but if there’s an injury that allows him to get everyday ABs, I will give this man a look.
Prospects?: Luzardo is already mentioned above, but the ‘letics also have another potential top lefty in A.J. Puk, our #55 prospect. Puk underwent successful TJ surgery last April, so he is just getting back up to speed. Therefore, he is likely to be out or in the minors until the All-Star break at least. He managed to pitch 64 innings in 2017 in AA. So he could spend a little time in AA this year to knock the rust off and then get bumped to AAA where he is only a step away from the show. Puk has 224 Ks in 157.2 MiLB IP. He pairs that 12.8 K/9 with an acceptable 3.4 BB/9. So while I think he’s a decent ways away, he could be real interesting when he does arrive (which could be late this year for a cup of coffee).
1B/DH playing time: Jay Bruce is who he is. He should hit 25 dingers and bat .250. Edwin Encarnacion is just a liiiiittle bit better. He should hit 30 dingers with a .250 average. Both should get big boosts in OBP leagues and both are valuable. Bruce has more downside in average, but I think these two will get the bulk of the playing time. I think Bruce will get to play some OF on days off for Mitch Haniger, Mallex Smith, and Domingo Santana, after the great Ichiro makes his curtain call in Japan after the opening series. On those days when Bruce is in the OF or Bruce or Edwin need a blow, Ryon Healy should be the next man up. Ryon hit 25 dingers in 2017 and 24 in 2018. I think he gets about half as many ABs as he got those years and half as many dingers. Dan Vogelbach has struggled in his very small sample size of MLB chances and I’m being told he’s actually not Dan Fogelberg. Prediction: Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnacion should get the ABs that their old bodies can handle, then Healy should get whatever is left.
Super Utility?: No one interesting fits the mold here.
Prospects?: Yusei Kikuchi, our #45 Ovr prospect, might even be the opening day starter. He looks like he belongs and we’ll see how his stuff translates from the Japan Pacific League. He had 8.0 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in 1010.2 JPPL IP. He should get as many innings as he can handle in SEA. Justus Sheffield, our #50 Ovr prospect, is also likely/probably to make his big show debut this year. Justus only has 88 AAA IP and made his MLB debut racking up 2.2 IP last season. The Mariners rotation isn’t a murderers row, but they also aren’t competing this year. So it would be wise to keep Justus down a little bit to gain another year of control. He’s got better K potential than Kikuchi and about the same control.
4th OF: The Rangers signed gangly manbird/humanoid: Hunter Pence to a minor league deal. And as strange as Pence’s form is on the field, he was once an incredibly solid performer. He had a rough few years in SF, but maybe he could rediscover some of his form at age 36 in the Ballpark at Arlington (apparently now Globe Life Park). His main competition will be Willie Calhoun, who has gotten cups of coffee in the bigs in 2017 and 2018 (145 career PAs). Willie’s minor league numbers and power are the real eye opener (especially for TX home games). Willie mashes a dinger every 24.2 ABs and only Ks about 11% of the time in his MiLB career. He has over 1000 PAs in AAA, so I think this is the year that he gets to the bigs early and sticks there. The only problem is that Shin-Soo Choo–Choo-Choose me?, Nomar Mazara, Joey Gallo, and Grey’s heartthrob: Delino DeShields Jr (delino = heartthrob because Giancarlo = #*censored*throb) are all ahead of these guys for the OF/DH roles. Willie isn’t great with the leather, and Shin-Soo Choo is/was solid enough to handle CF defensively, but Choo’s almost 37 so he might handle most of the DH opportunities. Prediction: Calhoun should get 350-400 ABs and smack 15 or so dongers. Pence might also make the roster and slowly/silently/uninterestingly rides off into the sunset. Opportunity for more if Calhoun wins this battle and becomes the next man up.
Super Utility?: No one interesting fits the mold here.
Prospects?: Leody Taveras, our #38 Ovr prospect, and Julio Pablo Martinez, our #77 Ovr prospect, are the Rangers highest ranking prospects, though neither are expected to debut until next year. And furthermore, both play OF, where there’s already a logjam. These two are still worth watching to see if they explode and start climbing prospect lists. Otherwise, leave them on the wire.