Category Archives: Prospects

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.

It’s All About the Glove: Breaking Down the Adeiny Hechavarria Deal

Trade Background: It’s all about the glove, at least from the Rays’ point of view. The Rays dealt minor leaguers Braxton Lee and Ethan Clark for Adeiny Hechavarria. From the Marlins, it was about getting rid of the remainder of Hechavarria’s $4.4 M dollar salary. Long term that makes him a non-tender candidate as he’ll head to arbitration once again this Fall, but that’s getting a bit ahead of ourselves.

Roster Ramifications: Hechavarria was on the DL with the Marlins and will be activated later this week, so a corresponding move has yet to be made. He’ll take over as the primary shortstop with Tim Beckham and Daniel Robertson splitting time at second base. Taylor Featherston could end up the roster casualty though it could possibly be Robertson being sent down too since he has options remaining. The returns of Brad Miller and Matt Duffy, both not until the second half for Duffy for certain and possibly for Miller, will shuffle up this whole middle infield situation again in time.

For the Marlins, since Hechavarria was already on the DL, the deal does not result in any MLB-level roster changes. What it does is lock in J.T. Riddle as their primary shortstop. The Marlins do not have any other shortstop prospects close to MLB ready and so it is sink or swim time for Riddle. They do, however, have an array of journeyman/veterans with plenty of MLB experience in Triple-A to fill in should the need arise.

As for the minors, Braxton Lee will head to Double-A Jacksonville and Ethan Clark is moving to Low-A Greensboro.

Player Analysis: Without his plus glove Hechavarria would not have much of an MLB career. The 28-year old makes a reasonable amount of contact but lacks power, patience, and though he runs well, is not much of a stolen base threat. At best, the righty may provide a .270s to .280s batting average and single digit HR and SB totals.

Braxton Lee, 23, was a 2014 12th round draft pick by the Rays. A 5’10” centerfielder with well above average speed, Lee brings a decent approach to the plate, combining moderate selectivity and some contact making skills in an effort to put the ball on the ground and leg it out as much as possible. Not surprisingly the result is an almost complete lack of a power-hitting game. In fact, his first two professional home runs came this year in his fourth season of pro ball. He was having a nice season with a .318/.387/.391 slash along with 12 steals, but still barely surfaces on the prospect radar. Expect him to be on the journeyman/fifth outfielder career path.

Ethan Clark is not a high-pedigree prospect either. The 22-year old was a 2015 15th round draft pick and has worked in both starting and relief since signing with the Rays. Despite standing about 6’6”, Clark is not a power pitcher per se, but he has good command and his primary pitch is a heavy sinker that he mixes with a changeup and curve. In 55 innings Clark has posted an 8.2 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9. At best, he projects as a back-end of the rotation starter or middle reliever. The development of a secondary pitch as a true swing and miss offering is the key here.

Conclusions: The Rays were determined to upgrade their defense and they accomplished that goal though it is uncertain whether or not Hechevarria will eventually fade into a defensive replacement role once Duffy and Miller both return to the scene. The Marlins meanwhile managed to shed some salary and acquire two prospects, though neither has a high ceiling, both have their utility and could contribute at the MLB level in time.

Matt Chapman Takes Over at the Hot Corner

So, the A’s have decided to cut bait on off-season signee Trevor Plouffe as he struggled to produce and are ready to hand off the job to Matt Chapman. The move, from the beginning, was intended to serve as a stop-gap move, but the A’s perhaps didn’t expect it to the end this early and perhaps hoped Plouffe would at least play well enough to draw trade interest in mid-season. That didn’t happen so they jettisoned his remaining salary as a sunk cost.

So, Chapman will be a primary FAAB or waiver target in most league formats as soon as he becomes available depending on whether you play in weekly or daily play. The first thing you need to know is “yes, he is going to hurt your batting average” if you play in a standard 5×5 or other batting average related leagues. The righty has struggled to his keep his strikeout rate under 30% at the Double-A and Triple-A levels and is already an established .250s hitter in the minors. To expect improvement in that area, barring a change in approach is unlikely and it is entirely possible that he could struggle as much as his predecessor.

On the upside, Chapman at least has power upside, slugging over .500 with isolated power’s over .200 for much of his minor league career. His patience and all or nothing approach at least also serve to keep his OBP respectable and somewhat valuable even if he hits in the .210s to .220s in OBP based leagues. Owners of Oakland pitchers will be happy as well as he should represent an improvement in defense over Plouffe. Chapman has been long well regarded for his throwing arm, agility, and range. Like most all or nothing power hitters, however, Chapman is not a significant threat on the base paths.

If available in most AL-only leagues, starters do not come along every day so you will likely need to open your FAAB budget a bit to acquire him, despite the risk of potential failure he carries. He is unlikely to be available in AL-only keeper or dynasty leagues with minor league drafts, but mixed leaguers may be afforded the luxury of waiting and seeing depending upon the depth of the corner infield market and free agent pool of your league.

Prospect Profiles: A Selection of Opening Day Rookies

Opening day rosters are in the process of being finalized and with that, a crop of rookies are receiving some of those final slots. Let’s get to know some of these players a bit better.

Aaron Judge will be the Yankees opening day right fielder and there is a lot about him that screams “prototypical right fielder”.  Judge has the requisite range and arm to be an upgrade at the position over the aging Matt Holliday. He also has excellent raw power that may allow him to reach and exceed the 30 home run mark multiple times over his career. The question mark here is the approach and his handedness. He’s a right-handed, all or nothing hitter capable of drawing walks 10% or more of the time, but has also struck out around a quarter or more of the time in the minors and during his trials in the majors has struck out over 40%. Judge has worked to shorten his swing, moving away from a leg kick, but will always remain a right-handed hitter who strikes out at least semi-frequently. Expectations beyond much over a .240s batting average should be held in check until he shows improved contact-making skills. He’ll have greater utility in OBP leagues where he could hit .220 and still produce an OBP in excess of .300.

Staying in the outfield we move over to Detroit where JaCoby Jones has earned at least a platoon role (vs. lefties) in centerfield. Jones is a good tools player who has yet to really impress over an extended period at any one level of the minor leagues. The former third round pick, for example, struck out 30% of the time over 324 plate appearances while posting a .243/.309/.356 batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage slash line. Jones has plenty of raw power and speed and does have 20-20 potential has not shown the former talent in-game on a consistent basis since A-ball where hit 23 home runs and stole 17 bases. Jones earned the job through an excellent spring training performance, showing off his power and speed potential as well as his plus defense. In a full-time role, he looks like he would be overmatched and quickly dispatched back to the minors, but he might hang on for a while in a more specialized role. The opportunity and speed make him worthy of a pickup in most AL-only formats.

Adalberto Mejia defeated Jose Berrios and Nick Tepesch in the quest for the Twin’s fifth starter job. The 23-year old left-hander came over in a deal with the Giants for Eduardo Nunez. Mejia is not a high-profile arm but is a fairly finished project who throws four pitches for strikes and gets swings and misses with a plus changeup and a decent slider. His skills may actually profile better as a left-handed specialist in the long run, but he has a deep enough arsenal to be a competent back of the rotation starter and inning eater. I would put him on my AL-only watch list or reserve roster at most at the moment.

Koda Glover was a 2015 8th round pick by the Nationals. A reliever, he flew through the minors, pitching at three levels in 2015 and three more again, including the Majors, last year and ended up in this spring’s closer competition, ultimately having to settle for a middle relief role. At 6’5”, 225 pounds, Glover throws hard, regularly hitting the mid to upper nineties on his fastball and has a filthy slider to go along with it. Put him on your saves sleeper list though there are a few names ahead of him currently on the depth chart.

One of the more exciting rookies to earn an everyday job to begin 2017 is the Pirates’ Josh Bell. The 24-year old, former second-round pick had a dismal spring training which hopefully can be ignored. The switch-hitter with his plus bat-speed and tremendous approach, drawing walks at equal or in excess of his strikeouts should allow him to make an impact in the batting average and OBP department immediately. Bell’s also hit 17 home runs between two levels of play last year and that power is still emerging. A mid to high-teens home run out put showing with a .280s batting average and .350-plus OBP are well within his reach for the coming season.