Spring Training Risers and Fallers (Fantasy Baseball)
Fantasy baseball draft season is in full swing, which means it’s time to check in with our weekly look at some risers and fallers during Spring Training. Here are a few guys who have raised or lowered their draft stock with their performances this spring.
We’ve been waiting for the Taijuan Walker breakout for a few years now, and if his performance this spring is any indication, it’s coming in 2017. His numbers have been fantastic so far – 13 IP, 2.08 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 21 Ks.
But of course, you could fill Yankee Stadium with pitchers with great Spring Training performances who did little in the regular season. That’s why we’re trained to largely ignore spring performances. That is, except when there’s an explanation for the uptick in performance. And that’s what we’ve got here.
Walker’s problem in his career is that he basically has had one dominant pitch, his fastball, and he relied on it early and often. His secondary stuff just wasn’t cutting it in the majors consistently, and so his flashes of brilliance, when both his fastball and splitter were on, were often followed with complete duds. And, to put a cherry on top of his 2016, he also battled a foot injury, and had 10 bone spurs removed at season’s end.
But Walker made two changes this offseason. The first is that he’s altered his pitching motion. Now, truth be told, I’ve watched his delivery this spring and his delivery last year, and I can’t really tell the difference, other than it looks a little “cleaner” this spring. But, significant tweaks in a pitcher’s motion can often go undetected, and this isn’t a post-hoc explanation from Walker or the Diamondbacks. They’ve been talking about the change since the trade from the Mariners.
The second change is the introduction of a hard slider. If you’ve followed Walker’s career, you know that he’s messed around with his arsenal a ton, starting with a curveball, then going to a slider, adding in a change, and then going back to the curveball. But this new slider looks different than anything I’ve seen him throw before. Not only does it have more velocity, but the break is much sharper than his old slider.
So, add it all up. You’ve got a post-hype sleeper who was injured last season, makes significant offseason changes, adds a new pitch, and is lights out in the spring. That’s enough to get fantasy owners’ attention, for sure.
I live in New England, so I’m honestly not sure how much buzz Rodriguez’s spring is getting outside of this area. But it doesn’t seem to be a huge topic in the fantasy community just yet, and that should create a buying opportunity for fantasy owners.
Rodriguez has been excellent this spring – 13 IP, 2.08 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 13 Ks. If you’ve watched him pitch, you get the feeling that those numbers are well-earned. His slider, often a pitch that seemed to flatten out last year, has a sharp bite to it this spring, and Rodriguez is commanding it well to both sides of the plate.
Rodriguez’s improved slider is likely due to the simple fact that, unlike last year, he is healthy. Last year, he dealt with a knee injury in spring training that made him alter his mechanics and, frankly, ruined him for the season. Now injury-free and with the Red Sox desperate for a healthy and effective starter, Rodriguez is making the most of his opportunity.
Rodriguez has an ADP of 348, so he’s likely being undrafted outside of AL-only leagues. But his spring performance moves him into consideration for a late-round flier, one with a pretty good chance to earn a profit.
I’m still gong to be shocked if the Nationals don’t trade for David Robertson before the season starts, but for now, they’re going in-house for their closer. And while everyone expected Shawn Kelley to take the role, it’s looking more and more likely that Koda Glover could be the guy.
Glover is the closer of the future, for sure, and he’s having an excellent spring, with 11 strikeouts in just seven innings, with just one run and four baserunners allowed. And the Nationals have made it pretty clear that they don’t believe that Kelley can handle the rigors of being a closer (because of workload concerns).
Dusty Baker is notorious for favoring and overworking veteran pitchers, but when you hear him talk, he sounds like he’s become enamored of Glover. And don’t be fooled by Glover’s 5.03 ERA last season. He was pretty dominant before trying to pitch through a hip injury.
Absent a deal, it looks like Glover has a real shot to start the season as the Nationals closer. And given his pedigree, it wouldn’t be surprise if he held onto the job all year once he got the opportunity.
It’s one thing when you go 0-for-17 to start your spring. It’s another thing when you go 0-for-17 and then strain your oblique.
The Diamondbacks appear to be trying to downplay Tomas’s strain, but of all the injuries for hitters, obliques are the scariest. The average missed time for an oblique strain is about 30 days, which means we’ve got a good shot that Tomas won’t be getting back to action until mid-April. And even when he does, I don’t think the Diamondbacks are going to say, “Yeah, you started 0-for-17 and then sat for a month, so you’re probably ready to join the big league club.” He’s going to need some time in the minors to get his timing back.
There’s always a chance Tomas’s strain is minor, but his ADP of 162 isn’t justified at this point. There are plenty of comparable bats around that spot without the injury risk.
Carrasco has inflammation, but no structural damage, in his elbow. The Indians are downplaying it and Carrasco is expected to make a minor league start on Monday and rejoin the Major League squad for a start on Friday.
So, it appears that Carrasco has dodged a bullet, at least for now. But he has pitched just 134, 183 2/3, and 146 1/3 innings the past three seasons. And he pitched eight disastrous innings this spring before dealing with the elbow injury.
Taking all those things into account, this just doesn’t feel like the guy you can rely on to be one of the rocks of your rotation. He’s the 14th starting pitcher being drafted in ADP, meaning he’s a high-end No. 2 starter in most leagues. But with the elbow injury, he certainly doesn’t feel that way anymore.
Bell was a trendy offseason sleeper after his solid debut in 2016. His numbers weren’t overwhelming – just a .775 OPS and three home runs in 152 plate appearances – but his 21/19 BB/K ratio suggested that better days were ahead in 2017.
Unfortunately, Bell missed about a month this spring recovering from left knee surgery. He returned on Monday and he’s gone just 1-for-17 since.
Bell’s slow start isn’t anything to be concerned about in terms of his performance. After all, these are basically the first swings he’s taken against live pitching in about six months, and it’s natural for him to start out a little slow after just coming back from injury.
The problem, however, is that the Pirates have a decent replacement first baseman in John Jaso, who is having an excellent spring (.320 batting average, 1.078 OPS). Unless Bell can quickly get his timing back and show that he’s completely healthy, there’s a better than decent chance that the Pirates will start him in the minors, and allow Jaso to man first base to start the season.
Bell should still keep his sleeper status regardless, but the bloom is off the rose just a bit here.