PT TOMORROW: AL East—No easy answers for BAL rotation

Baltimore Orioles

While another option or two may still arrive before the offseason ends, the Orioles would seem to have few easy answers in the starting rotation behind Dylan Bundy (RHP, BAL) and Kevin Gausman (RHP, BAL).

Gone are Wade Miley (LHP, FA) and Ubaldo Jimenez (RHP, FA), and Baltimore seems to be putting a fair amount of stock in Miguel Castro (RHP, BAL) claiming a rotation spot in spring training.

As detailed in the Baseball Forecaster, that may not be the safest bet. Pitching mostly in relief (one start), Castro posted some decent-looking surface stats in 66 IP with the help of a 23% hit rate. With a fastball that averages 96 mph, Castro would seem to have the raw material to succeed at the major league level. But a 1.4 Cmd and 58% FpK suggest the 23-year-old Castro has a ways to go in refining his command.

Castro also needs to find a way to get out left-handed hitters, who have posted a .898 OPS against him during his career.

That Castro at this point nonetheless seems to be the leading candidate to serve as the team’s No. 3 starter speaks to the state of the lack up depth beyond him.

As the Forecaster also notes, there is reason to doubt whether the stuff of Gabriel Ynoa (RHP, BAL) will hold up if he gets a regular turn. A 58% FpK says that the competent command he showed in a small sample last season may well not last.

Mike Wright (RHP, BAL) has been unable to do much with the opportunities he has been given. He did, however, post a 28/7 K/BB in 25 relief innings for the Orioles last season, the strikeout rate validated by an 11% SwK. So, perhaps all hope is not lost for the now-28-year-old Wright.

The state of the Orioles rotation suggests that an opportunity may arise, and perhaps sooner than later, for prospect Tanner Scott (LHP, BAL), a standout at the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Stars Game. In two innings of work in that contest, Scott struck out four, all on sliders, which complemented a fastball that averaged 97 mph and maxed out at 98.3 mph.

Scott is slated to open the year in AAA-Norfolk after posting a 2.22 ERA and 1.32 WHIP with an 87/46 K/BB in 69 IP at AA-Bowie in 2017. The high walk rate obviously needs to be addressed but is at least heading in the right direction after Scott walked 57 in 64.1 IP across two levels in 2016.

 

Boston Red Sox

Especially if the Red Sox do not emerge triumphant from their staredown with agent Scott Boras over engaging the services of J.D. Martinez (OF, BOS), Boston would seem to have some at-bats available for a right-handed hitter in 2018, a combination of allowing Chris Young (OF, FA) to leave in free agency and re-sign Mitch Moreland (1B, BOS), who is probably best left on the bench against left-handed pitchers (.675 career OPS).

Bryce Brentz (OF, BOS) will reportedly head to spring training with a leg up to inherit Young’s former fourth-outfielder role. Brentz hit 31 HR as a 28-year-old at AAA-Pawtucket in 2017, by far a new high-water mark for his power output. A career .262 hitter in the minors who posted a 76% contact rate in Triple-A last year, Brentz is unlikely to help much in batting average, even if he does launch the occasional home run.

The Red Sox also have a pair of right-handed hitting first base options who may come into the picture if the recovery from offseason shoulder surgery of Hanley Ramirez (DH, BOS) hits a snag.

Sam Travis (1B, BOS) endured a difficult 2017, his OPS dipping 40 points to .726 in his second extended stint at AAA-Pawtucket, while only a 38% hit rate saved his major league BA from looking more like his xBA (.216) in 76 AB.

For the long run, Travis’ star may have dimmed to where Michael Chavis (3B, BOS) is viewed as a bigger part of the team’s future. Chavis, who got some experience playing first base in the Fall League, hit a combined 31 HR splitting time between Single-A and Double-A. His contact rate at AA-Portland (77%) was not ideal but passable for someone with so much power potential.

Assuming Rafael Devers (3B, BOS) tightens his grip on Boston’s third base job in 2018, first base may be Chavis’ long-term home, though a full-time opportunity may not come until Moreland’s two-year deal expires.

 

New York Yankees

As each day passes without the Yankees adding a veteran—a move that would threaten its plan to stay under the luxury tax—the chances increase that their Opening Day infield could feature a pair of rookies—Gleyber Torres at second base and Miguel Andujar at third base.

Whether things will go swimmingly for both remains to be seen, particularly with respect to Torres. Despite his high ceiling, Torres only has only 235 plate appearances above Single-A and is coming off Tommy John surgery, though he did post an .869 OPS in those 235 PA.

Torres also struggled a bit to make contact at AAA-Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (68%), but his long-term potential, as one of the game’s best prospects, is beyond dispute.

By comparison, Andujar’s mid-80s contact rate was much more resilient as he climbed the organizational ladder. Whether his defense has improved to the point where the team feels comfortable handing him a full-time job remains to be seen.

The uncertainty means that there could perhaps be some playing-time opportunities for the players behind them. Whether they would anything of note with those opportunities is questionable, however.

Ronald Torreyes (2B, NYY) makes frequent but weak contact and has been given little opportunity to test his above-average speed on the basepaths.

Tyler Wade (2B, NYY) has a minor-league track record that is a bit more interesting, featuring four seasons of 20-plus SB with an improving success rate and an OPS of .842 in 386 PA at AAA-Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Wade struggled in his first taste of major league action last season, but he is at least a more interesting player on whom to speculate than Torreyes.

The Yankees have also brought Jace Peterson (OF, NYY) into the organization. But whatever allure Peterson once held as a potential speed source has waned along with his contact rate and SBO%.

 

Tampa Bay Rays

Change will come to the infield corners in Tampa in 2018, not just through the franchise-altering deal to send longtime team leader Evan Longoria (SF, 3B) to San Francisco but through the apparent free agent departures of Logan Morrison (1B, FA) and Lucas Duda (DH, FA).

At third base, Plan A would appear to be Matt Duffy (3B, TAM), though having him be a starter at shortstop was Plan A in 2017, only to see a lingering heel injury torpedo his season. As the Baseball Forecaster notes, even with health, there are few guarantees with Duffy. His power, already below average, slipped further in his last extended action in 2016, and the nature of his injury casts doubt on whether his running game will re-emerge.

Another option would be Christian Arroyo (3B, TAM), acquired in the Longoria deal, though coming off a wrist injury, Arroyo may well start the year in minors, especially in a cost-conscious organization like Tampa.

At first base, a player to watch is Jake Bauers (1B, TAM), who put on a power show last spring training. The buzz dissipated to some degree as he posted a .263/.368/.412 line at AAA-Durham; however, he also doubled his stolen base output to 20 while continuing to show good patience at the plate (14% walk rate).

Now that the Rays have abandoned the idea of making Bauers an outfielder, first base looks like his long-term home. The Rays may once again dip into the bargain bin in the late stages of free agency, but at least for now the runway for Bauers is clear, if he again impresses in the spring.

If the Rays are not ready to hand the job to Bauers, another alternative could be to shift Brad Miller (2B, TAM) back to the position, which in turn could open up at-bats at second base for Joey Wendle (2B, TAM) and Ryan Schimpf (3B, TAM), each acquired on the cheap this offseason, or holdover Daniel Robertson (2B, TAM).

None of these players holds any particular allure. Schimpf’s above-average power is perhaps the one plus skill in the bunch, but his ultra-low contact rate shows that any HR will come with a batting-average-ruining poison pill.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

The hot-stove rumor mill has the Blue Jays sniffing around any number of outfield free-agent or trade targets, from Christian Yelich (OF, MIA) to Lorenzo Cain (OF, FA) to Jarrod Dyson (OF, FA). But even if they can lure some help across the border, there should still be some at-bats to be had in 2018 flanking Kevin Pillar (OF, TOR).

A leading candidate to succeed Jose Bautista (OF, FA) is Teoscar Hernandez (OF, TOR), who closed 2017 with a flourish (7 HR in September). As noted in the Baseball Forecaster, Hernandez’s contact rate in that late-season audition makes him something less than a sure thing. But Hernandez may be able to complement that power with a bit of speed, given the two 30-plus SB seasons (2015 and 2016) that are part of his minor-league resume.

Left field is a bit more of a muddle, with oft-injured 35-year-old Steve Pearce (OF, TOR) offering perhaps the most offensive upside. But, given that Pearce ended the season with persistent back pain, it’s an open question whether the Blue Jays want to subject Pearce to the pounding of playing in the outfield to any great degree, particularly given the subpar defense he provides.

Uncertainty like that which Pearce brings to the table has propelled the plate appearances of Ezequiel Carrera (OF, TOR) up past 300 in each of the past two seasons. But, given his middling skills, the Blue Jays would no doubt prefer to explore a more exciting option before having to press Carrera into service.

In Anthony Alford (OF, TOR) and Dalton Pompey (OF, TOR), the Jays have two athletic prospects who have been derailed by injuries for much of their young careers. Alford broke his wrist in his fourth major league game May 19 but still managed to post a .310/.406/.429 line in 68 games at AA-New Hampshire last year.

BaseballHQ.com’s minor league team dubbed him the organization’s No. 4 prospect, and the younger Alford holds more allure at this point than the 25-year-old Pompey, who lost most of 2017 to a knee injury.

Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins even made a passing mention of offseason acquisition Yangervis Solarte (2B, TOR) having “been in the outfield before,” perhaps a hint that Solarte, too, could log some time in left field if no one else seizes the job.

 


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