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 pay attention to where Bryce Harper and Manny Machado sign… Note that those two signings can instantly eliminate some of the position battles detailed herein.
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.
Check out our other team previews here!
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!
The chubbies are actually pretty set with very little to be determined in spring training outside of lineup construction. I guess it could jumble things a bit once Addison Russell fulfills his suspension, but I think that just steals ABs from Ben Zobrist. So who cares?
Super Utility?: I’m excited to see what Ian Happ does with 600+ PAs. I want him everywhere this year.
Prospects?: They have enough excitement at the major league level, so apparently there wasn’t any leftover for the minors.
OF: Is Scott Schebler really going to steal all of Jesse Winker‘s playing time?!? We all think of Schebler as the bigger power threat because he hits more HRs, but for real life Winker has a higher career SLG pct (albeit slightly .460 to .458). Pick a triple slash: .248/.323/.458 or .299/.397/.460. Did you pick the second one? Me too. Apparently you also, like me, don’t work for the Reds. Prediction: Schebler seems to have the 3rd OF spot with Winker relegated to bench duty until he gets surpassed by Nick Senzel and it makes me sad.
Super Utility?: This could be where ends Nick Senzel ends up due to being blocked by Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett. Studs like this don’t come around very often. He’s the #10 ranked prospect and the 2nd best 3B only to future HOFer Vladimir Guerrero Jr. If his health concerns are behind him, then I’m real excited about his 2019 (even if he’s down a bit for service time). The Reds seems to be trying to win now with all their free agent activity this offseason.
Prospects?: See Nick Senzel, above.
SPs: For some reason the Brewers seem to really love Jhoulys Chacin and Chase Anderson, but I think every other rotation spot is up for grabs. [Note that Jhoulys Chacin is the only player in this paragraph that is out of minor league options] I think Jimmy Nelson is the next most likely to have a job. If he can come anywhere near his breakout 2017 season, he will easily be their best starter. And I believe he will be given every opportunity to repeat that 10.2 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 season of magic. Grab him at a discount this year and root for the same. I like Freddy Peralta the next most of this group. Freddy has a 10.8 K/9 throughout his minor league career (with not-great but not-worrisome walk rates) and in his 78.1 MLB IP (14 GS) he maintained a 11.0 K/9 with a slightly elevated and worrisome BB/9. I would love to see Freddy get the chance because of his upside, but he needs to get his walks back in check. Zach Davies probably has a leg up because the Brew Crew has never used him out of the pen at the major league level. His 6.6 K/9 in 80 career MLB starts is unsexy, but his 2.6 BB/9 is solid and low walk rates lead to more IP per GS. Brandon Woodruff has been mostly a starter in the minors (89 GS out of 97 games) with around 8K/9 and 3BB/9. His season last year was stellar out of the pen at 10 K/9 so we will have to wait & see where he lands. Corbin Burnes, has decent minor league numbers of 9 K/9 and 3 BB/9, but used out of the pen last year his K rate fell to 8.3 K/9. So I’m unsure of how his skillset will translate to the bigs. I think he might end up in the pen again. Prediction: 1. Jhoulys, 2. Chase Anderson, 3. Jimmy Nelson, 4. Zach Davies. I’m hoping for Freddy Peralta to get a spot, but if I was placing a bet I think Brandon Woodruff gets the last spot and Freddy goes to AAA to be the first man up when there is a need.
Super Utility?: No one fits this mold here.
Prospects?: Keston Hiura (#7 Ovr and #1 2B) should supplant Cory Spangenburg sometime soon. Maybe even right off the bat. Watch how Keston performs and the level of competion it is against in spring training..
I think 3B is a platoon with Colin “Mean Muggin” Moran getting the heavy side initially until Jung Ho Kang proves he can stay off the sauce and convinces people it’s 2016 again. This battle gives the buccos more time to use kid gloves with Ke’Bryan Hayes who is the 3B of the future and our #37 prospect for 2019.
SS: The pirates have called Erik Gonzalez a “young Freddy Galvis“. Which, I guess, is exciting to some? (not to me) Kevin Newman should make the job in a timeshare with Gonzalez. Newman has shown the ability to hit for average in the minors (.288 in 1768 PAs), but not much power (.389 SLG), and about 20 steals per 600 PAs. So other than the average, there’s not much excitement. Prediction: I think Gonzalez and Newman share time pretty evenly throughout the year with Gonzo having the 2:1 edge early in the year and Newman having the 2:1 edge late.
5th SP: There’s a lot of names here, but not a lot of excitement. Jordan Lyles was said to have been signed for the 5th starter role, but man is that unexciting! Let’s bring back Frankie Liriano while JHK is convincing us that it’s 2019! Lyles has had much more success as a reliever than a starter in his pro career, but the dumb Pirates have said that he WILL compete as a starter. I expect Liriano to compete with Steven Brault for the role of who cares lefty in the pen. Also in the running is Nick Kingham who made some stellar starts last year and I would rather see young guns on a team that is perpetually rebuilding (retooling). Kingham has 7.7K/9 and 2.4BB/9 in the minors, so he’s shaping up to be a nice innings eater option. Clay Holmes is also young but his walk rate is concerning. 4.3BB/9 in 565 MiLB IP and ballooned to 7.9 in 26.1 MLB IP last year in his debut. These guys are all holding the spot for the piece de resistance, Mitch Keller who sports a sexy 9.2K/9 with 2.8BB/9. Mitch is a baller with elite control. See Jameson Taillon‘s minor league BB rates (2.4, slightly better than Keller so far). Chad Kuhl is out of 2019 for Tommy John recovery. Prediction: Nick Kingham is out of options. So, I think Kingham wins the #5 job and Lyles and Liriano make the bullpen. I think they’ll try to keep Lyles throwing 3 IP per relief appearance to keep him ‘stretched out’ as much as possible without demoting him. Lyles should be the 6th option if a starter is needed before Keller is ready. We project Keller as the #68 prospect, so maybe a late appearance is expected because he has only 52.1 AAA IP.
Super Utility?: No one interesting fits the mold here.
Prospects?: Mitch Keller and Ke’Bryan Hayes are already discussed above. Cole Tucker (#81 prospect for 2019) should make his AAA debut this year so he’ll only be a step away. He has solid tools that apparently haven’t shown in the boxscores yet, but just ask Keith Law (subscription required) about him and then put his real projections somewhere in between his real numbers and Keith Law’s crazy expectation and you’ll wait ‘n see on Tucker this year and make a more informed decision next year.
5th SP: Are they really going to start Adam Wainwright over Alex Reyes? Are they really going to use Carlos Martinez in the late innings?!? I don’t believe they will use C-Mart out of the pen again (unless its a 1 inning deal in an extra inning game or a spot out on a day when the pen is taxed). And I could see them putting Reyes in the pen to see if he can stay healthy for 6 months, but I can’t see Waino sticking in the rotation all year. Waino is a great, but he hasn’t been right in a while and this will be his age 37 season. Reyes has a 12.4K/9 in 73 MiLB GS and he’s ranked prospect #33, so his upside is off the charts! Prediction: Alex Reyes gets the #5 job and post stellar numbers until he gets hurt, then Austin Gomber gets spot starts.
Super Utility?: Too bad Jose Martinez can’t field a lick, or else he would fit here.