Category Archives: Prospects

Piscotty Gets A New Shot

2017 was a lost year for Stephen Piscotty who struggled with his health, his swing, and with family issues with respect to his mother’s health. The Cardinals were sensitive to the latter in targeting the A’s as his destination since he grew up in the Bay Area. The deal to Oakland gives Piscotty both a second chance to succeed as the penciled in opening day right fielder for the A’s and perhaps, most importantly, the opportunity to live close to home.

So what does the future hold as a hitter? When drafted, it was done with the expectation that his power would eventually emerge and it did in 2016 with his twenty-two homerun output. However, he faded power-wise as that season went on and 2017 saw a reversal of his ground-ball, fly-ball, and home run per fly-ball trends. In his favor, Piscotty did translate his minor league walk rates to the Majors but seems to have settled in around the 20% strikeout rates area. Heading into 2018 it is difficult and unwise to expect a full rebound to his 2016 levels of play, though a return to the .270-plus level batting average seems well within reach. Keep your expectations modest with a .260 to .270s batting average, mid-teens home run output. There is potentially nice room for profit in particular for OBP-leaguers this upcoming season, particularly if he is nominated late and the room is risk-adverse.

In exchange, the Cardinals received a duo of minor leaguers. Yairo Munoz is a middle infield/third base prospect who at the moment projects more as a utility player with a good glove and throwing arm. He makes contact regularly, but is overly aggressive and has low to mid-teens homerun out potential. He could see time in the majors this year in a backup role.

Max Schrock is not a tools guy but is intriguing second basemen. The former 13th round pick has excellent plate discipline, making contact more than 90% of the time on a regular basis while drawing walks over 7%, producing on-base-percentages in the .370 to .380 range. Other than that, Schrock has modest speed and power. The 23-year old lefty will move up to Triple-A in 2018 and could also see some time in a utility role for the Cardinals. He is exactly the type of player who if given a chance to start would at the very least not embarrass, but who could surprise and thrive with an opportunity, but it’s a big IF at the moment.

 

Playing Catch-Up

What better way to start playing catchup on some of the off-season moves with a duo of catchers.

Wellington Castillo signed a two-year deal with a team option for a third with the White Sox. Castillo will move into the top role in Chicago with either Kevan Smith or Omar Narvaez serving as his back-up. Castillo, 30, had a career year in 2017 with twenty home runs and a .282/.323/.490 slash line. A right-handed hitter with a fairly aggressive approach who strikes out more than a quarter of the time is quite likely to see his derived stats (batting average and on-base percentage) slip a bit as they regress more towards his career norms. The power, however, remains generally real and though a decline in HR/FB could occur, his total count could indeed climb if he manages to stay on the field with fewer injuries in 2018.

Meanwhile back in Baltimore, the move leaves a clear path for Chance Sisco to grab the starting job. A long-time top prospect of the O’s, the 22-year old was a former second-round draft pick 2013. His defense has garnered mixed reviews, though he has made improvements there. While we in the fantasy world are mostly concerned with his bat, it’s his defense that will keep him in the lineup, especially with a manager like Buck Showalter manning the helm. At the plate, Sisco has a patient approach and emerging upper single digit to mid-teens home run power. He was noted for his contact-making abilities earlier in his career, but his strikeout rates jumped significantly at Triple-A this past year (26%) and he produced a very pedestrian .267/.340/.395 line there. If Sisco is going to be the long-term future behind the plate for the Orioles, it may require some patience by both fantasy players and his organization to see him fulfill his high-draft pedigree potential. Right now, to expect better than mediocre output as he adjusts to the gruel of being behind the plate most days as well as having to face MLB-caliber pitching is unreasonable.

Love Me Not So Tender

Love is a fickle thing. Some received contracts; some were claimed off waivers, while others were giving their walking papers and joined the ranks of the unemployed. Let’s take a look at how this came down and what the futures of these players going forward is. Before I head into discussing moves from the Winter meetings, time to catch up with these players first

Arizona
J.J. Hoover has his good points and his not-so-good points. He regularly strikes out more than a batter per inning and kept his ERA under 4.00 in 52 games for the Diamondbacks last year and looked like potential closer material in his earlier days with the Reds. However, his command and control have never been the same since 2013, resulting in high walk rates. Last year he also had an acute case of gopheritis although that has not been a long-term problem and could regress towards career norms going forward. All that said he would’ve gotten over $1.5 M in arbitration, if not over $2M. He’ll sign on with some team in middle relief, possibly limited to a minor league deal again.

Left-handed reliever T.J. MacFarland received the same fate after failing to post a K/9 of 5.0 or K% of 12-percent.  The epitome of a loogy, MacFarland held lefties a .211/.256/.292 line while righties absolutely torched him .336/.398/.462. Even in his best season of 2014, similar splits were apparent. Lefties always get another chance, but the 28-year old will never be a viable fantasy baseball option. Sim and Strat players will find him useful in small doses.

Atlanta
Chase Whitley was in danger of not making the 40-man roster and thus the Rays waived him, with the Braves quickly snagging him and signing him to a one-year contract prior to the tender deadline. The former Yankee has average stuff, but controls it fairly well, armed with a career 2.3 BB/9 and 7.2 K/9. Whitley, is, however, fairly hittable and has struggled with runners on base at times. He’ll continue in the same role as 2017, middle relief.

Matt Adams, the highest profile hitter, of the players non-tendered is coming off a season that saw him play only on a part-time basis, but still, drive twenty home runs out of the ballpark, hit .274 and SLG .522.  He does not make contact or walk often, but when he does the contact is harder than average. The lefty will never be an on-base machine given his aggressive approach and is a candidate for wide fluctuations in batting average. Vs. righties over his career he has a .286/.333/.495 slash with a .209 ISO, but has an equally depressing .206/.236/.357 line against lefties making it clear his future is that of a platoon player. To get playing time, he’ll need to pick his organization carefully or he could easily end up as Triple-A roster filler.

Chicago AL
Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam were both mainstays of the White Sox’s bullpen heading into 2017, but both ended up injuring their elbows and requiring surgery. It would not be surprising to see both pitchers brought back on minor league contracts while they recover. Putnam underwent Tommy John Surgery and may not be back until the second half of 2018 while Petricka may be ready to start spring training.

Chicago NL
Hector Rondon was once one of the Indians’ top starting pitching prospects, battled injuries when he was on the cusp of making it and was subsequently shipped to the Cubs where he pushed himself into a relief role for the past four seasons including substantial time as the team’s closer.  The righty did not obtain a single save this season, but still managed a 10.8 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 along with solid groundball rates. However, he was also quite hittable, allowing home runs at high rates for the second straight year (closing in on 20% HR/FB) and saw his ERA soar as a result. Still works with a mid-to-upper nineties fastball and mid-eighties slider, but his arbitration price was going to see him earn in excess of $6M and as a reliever no longer utilized in high-leverage situations, was let go instead. Given recent trends, his role will more likely remain in middle relief or setup work rather than being given another chance to close, unless he signs with a team with a thin bullpen.

Cincinnati
Kyle Crockett has been twice the victim of roster limitations in the past two weeks due to first the Indians trying to protect prospects on their 40-man roster and then the Reds opted to non-tender him on Friday. Crockett had an interesting debut with the Indians in 2014, but has been p and down with the club since then, unable to cement a regular relief gig. He’ll now have to go the minor league contract route and will probably spend most of 2018 in Triple-A.
Detroit
Bruce Rondon was once tagged as the Tiger’s closer of the future, but has spent only parts of four seasons with the MLB club. The righty’s power stuff certainly shows up in his strikeout rates and it looked like he was turning a corner in 2016, but his command and control again fell apart in 2017 at both the Triple-A and MLB levels. He’ll be 27 on opening day and still averages around 97 on his fastball. Some team will want to take a shot and see if they resurrect his career.

Houston
If Mike Fiers could just keep the ball in the ballpark, that’d be just great. The righty keeps managing to log strikeouts at solid rates and throw strikes with a career 7.8 K/9 and 3.2 BB/8, yet his ERA is almost a 5.00. he can still be an adequate number, fifth-man, as is, but given a change of scenery to a pitcher-friendly park and perhaps a chance to his repertoire is needed to save his career. At 32 time is running out. He might have commanded in excess of $4 M, if not 5 given his three straight seasons of around 30 starts.

Kansas City
The Royals non-tended Terrance gore who had played sparingly in parts of four seasons in the majors, but never stuck. The 26-year old is a plus runner and defender, but is devoid of power and fails to make the necessary very-high contact-making skills to be an effective player with those types of tools.

Los Angeles AL
Blake Wood avoided arbitration and will return to the Angels in a middle relief role.  Another hard thrower with control and command issues and long-ball problems, but at a reasonably priced $1.45M. His skills are still similar to that of his 2016 performance.

San Francisco
Albert Suarez made 12 starts for the Giants in 2016 and pitched in just 18 games in relief this past year.  He showed more swing and miss skills in the latter role while maintaining good control. Given his level of experience and success, a minor league contract is the most probable outcome for him.

Seattle
Drew Smyly underwent Tommy John Surgery and subsequently was non-tendered without having thrown a single inning for the Mariners. He could return to a one-year contract with an option for a second while he recovers from injury. 2016 was his career high usage with 30 starts and 175.1 innings of work. He always tantalizes with potential, but cannot stay on the field. Moving back to a relief role is a possibility.

Reliever Shae Simmons is in a similar situation as he attempts to come back from TJS as well. A hard thrower with on again/off again control problems has yet to really establish what he is capable of any level of ball though he tantalized with potential during his 2014 stint as Double-A closer while with the Braves organization.

Texas
A.J. Griffin keeps flashing promise, but injuries slow him down and the end of season results have been quite ugly. The 29-year-old right-hander will move onto his third MLB team this off-season. The soft-tosser is now barely cracking 87 mph and combines that with his slow curve and low-eighties changeup. It doesn’t help that he has become an extreme fly-ball pitcher who has difficulty keeping the ball in the park to boot. He’ll probably have to sign a minor league contract but could find work as a fifth starter.

Toronto
Ryan Goins is a utility infielder whose service time was starting to make him expensive. Though versatile in the field, the lefty’s bat is easily replaceable. Goins has average power for a middle infielder but lacks on-base skills or any plus speed to keep him in the lineup. He’ll likely have to sign a minor league contract, but his versatility afield as well as his “veteran” status could allow him to claim the 25th spot on some roster.

Goins presence was also made rather expendable as a result of the acquisition of Aledmys Diaz from the Cardinals. Diaz is a Cuban defector who signed a four-year deal with the Cardinals in 2014, enjoyed a solid rookie 2016 season only to struggle in his sophomore season and ultimately have his starting job taken away. Diaz will not start with the Jays, but gives them an upgraded backup capable of starting should Devon Travis or Troy Tulowitzki spends time on the DL again.  Diaz has enough talent to potentially push Travis as well for the starting job in the spring. His skills remain rather unchanged from his 2016 breakout, displaying a contact-oriented approach with still-emerging power in a homerun friendly environment. Given the opportunity, he could still impress and is a nice bargain pick for AL-only leaguers.

In exchange, the Cardinals received J.B. Woodman, a 2016 second-round draft pick who made to full-season A-ball last year. Woodman is a good tools guy with 15/15 or 20/20 potential. A good defender who is willing to draw a walk (10 to 11% of the time), has also shown himself to be notoriously susceptible to the strikeout, doing so over a third of the time at the lower levels of professional baseball. The 23-year old is the definition of a project and a long shot to make it as an MLB regular barring a substantial improvement to his plate discipline.

Looking for Relief

Veteran or former closers were in the headlines as Brad Boxberger was dealt to Arizona and Jim Johnson moved to the Los Angeles Angels, both in exchange for minor league arms.

The Rays closer in 2015, Boxberger spent much of 2016 either ineffective or on the disabled list or both and then missed most of 2 017 due to a back injury. Though only a small 29.1 inning sample, once healthy, the righty re-established his dominance with a 12.3 K/9 and improved his control to a 3.4 BB/9 mark. Long-balls continue to be a problem for him, however, his career home runs on fly balls rate standing at 14%. As an arbitration candidate, a not insignificant pay raise is coming his way which may have been expedited the move. Archie Bradley has been penciled in to close for the Diamondbacks despite just a single career save and Boxberger will give them another option to consider this spring. Worst case he is poised to be the number one closer insurance policy.

He still works with a plus fastball, nasty slider, and changeup combination and his layoff have not resulted in any decline in velocity. However, he has shown to be somewhat injury prone and volatile in terms of control and as mentioned, home run allowance. Even if he wins the closer job outright, an aggressive investment is not recommended.

Jim Johnson, meanwhile returns to his AL roots after two years with the Braves and at this point in time may be utilized more in a setup or middle relief role with the emergence of Blake Parker and Cam Bedrosian, but as a pitcher with 176 career saves, he could easily end up back in the role if others falter. Earlier in his career, Johnson was known as a pitch to contact, extreme groundball pitcher type with above average command a mid-nineties fastball. In recent seasons, however, his curveball has become a more effective weapon and his strikeout rates have climbed to more than a batter per inning even though he does not throw quite as hard as he did at his peak. This season his command crumbled from a 2.8 to a 4.0 BB/9 awhile his groundball rates dropped to under 50% for the first time in his career. The result, despite a career-high 9.7 K/9, was terrible across the board. The 34-year old has been written off before, only to rise from the dead. It would be unwise to write him off a second time, but still should only be considered as an endgame option or not all on draft day if he doesn’t claim the closer’s role.

Moving on to the minor leagues, the Rays acquired Curtis Taylor from the Diamondbacks. Taylor is a projectable, 6’6” right-hander who pitched in A-ball last year, posting a 9.8 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9. He was being used as a starter, but his upper nineties fastball and slider may lend themselves better to a relief role in the long run. He’ll move up to A+ ball next year, but a change in roles could move him through the system at a much faster rate.

Justin Kelly was acquired along with pool money from the Angels for Johnson. The 24-year old started in rookie ball and proceeded to then pitch at 4 subsequent levels, ultimately ending up in AAA before the season ended. Just because he moved that many levels do not mean he is any good. A former 33rd round pick, drafted just four shy of being drafted 1000th overall, tops out in the eighties and works with average at best pitches. Expect him to spend almost the entirety of 2018, if not his career, in AAA.