PT TOMORROW: AL East — As one ship 'Sales,' others head into uncharted waters

Boston Red Sox

Just as this column was about to go to press, we got clarity on the status of Chris Sale (LHP, BOS), though it was not the resolution Red Sox fans or his fantasy owners were hoping for.

Sale will undergo Tommy John surgery, with his recovery likely to extend well into the 2021 season.

Aside from that severe blow there were some positive developments with the Red Sox rotation this spring, however. 

For one thing, Eduardo Rodriguez (LHP, BOS) had actually looked like the No. 1 starter he became by default due to Sale's injury and the trade of David Price (LHP, LA). Through 11 spring innings, Rodriguez had struck out an eye-popping 20 batters while allowing only 2 ER on 11 hits and two walks.

While a shortened season would likely put last year's win total out of reach, the 27-year-old Rodriguez could very well improve his ratios, if he can carry some semblance of that new level of Dom into the regular season.

Not to be outdone, presumptive No. 2 starter Nathan Eovaldi (RHP, BOS) had pitched eight scoreless innings, yielding only four hits with a 12/1 K/BB. Eovaldi's fastball velocity routinely approached, if not hit, triple digits. If the season turns into more of a sprint than a marathon, that may help Eovaldi, who has had two Tommy John surgeries, among other durability issues.

The Red Sox also may have discovered a surprise rotation candidate in Ryan Weber (RHP, BOS), who one-upped Eovaldi with nine scoreless innings (6 H, 0 BB, 11 K). That does not mean Weber's history of being a fringe major leaguer at best over his career, especially when his pitch-to-contact style reduces his value in strikeout leagues, even if his groundball tilt proves effective in keeping the Red Sox in games.

Even Martin Perez (LHP, BOS) finished the abbreviated spring training on a high note with four scoreless innings March 8 (4 H, 1 BB, 7 K), though there is no reason to think Perez is suddenly going to be anything other than a mediocre innings eater, given his fairly extensive MLB history.

Meanwhile, the delayed start of the season could allow Collin McHugh (RHP, BOS) to round into form sufficiently to make himself a rotation option for Boston as well. Signed late in spring training, McHugh had been projected to be game ready by mid-May, which now would seem to be the earliest, in a best-case scenario, Opening Day could happen.

Had Sale been spared surgery, the Red Sox may have had the luxury of using McHugh in relief, as Houston often had. But now, that may not be possible.

If McHugh is not ready when the season starts, the Red Sox will have to muddle through with someone like Brian Johnson (LHP, BOS), though the team has not ruled out using an opener and/or having occasional "bullpen games." 

At the back end of the bullpen, interim manager Ron Roenicke has said that he plans to stand by Brandon Workman (RHP, BOS) in the ninth inning to start the season. But Workman is just one member of a late-inning stable replete with relievers who can generate plenty of strikeouts but also be their own worst enemy by putting runners on base with walks.

If either Matt Barnes (RHP, BOS) or even Darwinzon Hernandez (LHP, BOS) could do a better job throwing strikes, they could factor into the Red Sox saves mix, while if none of the above can find the plate, Josh Taylor (LHP, BOS), with his strong ground ball rate and effectiveness against RHB, could be a deep darkhorse to close games... if the control gains he showed in his first MLB season hold.

 

Baltimore Orioles

The front end of the Orioles rotation is locked in with John Means (LHP, BAL), Alex Cobb (RHP, BAL) and Asher Wojciechowski (RHP, BAL). While it was said of Wojciechowski in the Baseball Forecaster, "there isn't much worth chasing here," he did have a nice abbreviated spring, for what it's worth: 5 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 1 BB, 4 K. 

Means, too, overachieved in the first half of 2019 on his way to a surprise All-Star nod, and even when his expected second-half regression came, it did not drag his overall numbers so much that he did not still finish runner-up in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, albeit a distant runner-up. Means' spring was solid, too: 4 IP, 2 ER, 3 H, 0 BB, 5 K. Where your competitors see a "breakout" young starter on the rise, you should heed Means' 5.23 xERA and drop out long before the bidding will likely end.

Cobb, meanwhile, had been limited to four pitches this spring — he did get three outs with them — due to a blister. By March 14, Cobb had already thrown a simulated game, so the blister issue should be well behind him by the time the season starts.

Then again, with Cobb, it is generally a matter not of "if" but "when" the next injury will hit (see "F" health grade), and the five-year stretch since his last season of a SwK better than 8% SwK suggests that there is not much upside to be mined here. 

While the back end of the Baltimore rotation is a bit of a mess, non-roster invitee Wade LeBlanc (LHP, BAL) seemed to be well on his way to securing the No. 4 spot in the rotation wth his spring work: 5 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 1 BB, 6 K. The 35-year-old LeBlanc is yet another pitcher who would not seem to offer much upside at this stage in his career, especially after being unable to hold down a spot in the less-than-stellar Seattle rotation last year.

Had the season started on time, Kohl Stewart (RHP, BAL) might have backed into the fifth slot in the rotation, despite giving up 3 ER in his three spring innings. The delayed start to the season may bring Tommy Milone (LHP, BAL) back into the equation, not that that should excite fantasy owners. 

As mentioned in this space last week, a slightly better long-term bet may be Dean Kremer (RHP, BAL), who yielded only one unearned run this spring in 5.1 IP (6 H, 2 BB, 5 K). But the Orioles would probably first like to see the 24-year-old have some success at Triple-A, where he gave up 19 ER in 19.1 IP last season, before throwing him to the wolves in the majors.

At the back end of the bullpen, the smart money seems to be on an eventual changing of the guard in the ninth inning, from Mychal Givens (RHP, BAL) to Hunter Harvey (RHP, BAL) at some point. While speaking glowingly of Harvey's talent in general, manager Brandon Hyde has hinted that he would perhaps prefer to ease him into the role, rather than burden the 25-year-old with that responsibility right out of the gate.

Hyde may not have much choice, though, if Givens' spring struggles (5 ER in 4.1 IP, 5 H, 2 BB, 2 K) carry over into the season. Harvey had given up 2 ER in 3.2 IP, but five of those eight outs had come by strikeout. 

No one else in the bullpen looks like anything other than a longshot at the ninth inning, though southpaw Richard Bleier (LHP, BAL) could get a handful of situational opportunities.

 

New York Yankees

The delayed start of the season will reduce — perhaps to zero — the number of starts missed by James Paxton (LHP, NYY), who resumed playing catch earlier this month as he recovers from back surgery.

When spring action was suspended, Jonathan Loaisiga (RHP, NYY) (3 ER in 10 IP, 14/2 K/BB) appeared to have taken the lead in New York’s fifth-starter derby, as Michael King (RHP, NYY) and Deivi Garcia (RHP, NYY) had faltered. Now, the only question may be whether Loaisiga will still have a short run in the rotation before Paxton returns, or whether he will begin the season in the multi-inning-relief role he seemed destined for, before Luis Severino (RHP, NYY) and Paxton were felled by injury.

Beyond that, one of the bigger storylines from Yankees camp was the encouraging results for those hoping that the 2019 struggles of Masahiro Tanaka (RHP, NYY) might be related to the construction of the baseball.

Tanaka has said that he has felt much more comfortable gripping the baseball being used in the preseason, and it has shown in his results: 8.2 IP, 2 ER, 3 H, 0 BB, 11 K. So long as MLB does not pull a "switcheroo" and bring last year's ball back, Tanaka may well be able to get back to being the mid-3 xERA pitcher he had been the previous four seasons, at a minimum.

Another spring story has been J.A. Happ (LHP, NYY) turning back the clock and suggesting there just may be another productive season left in his arm after all: 13 IP, 2 ER, 7 H, 1 BB, 16 K. While 2019 certainly looked like the beginning of the end, there was enough skills support for Happ's 2018 season to perhaps placing a small bet on a Happ rebound.

Tanaka and Happ will be joined in the starting rotation by Gerrit Cole (RHP, NYY), of course, and Jordan Montgomery (LHP, NYY), who, aside from some gopheritis (4 HR), had a strong spring (16/1 K/BB in 11 IP). 

The back end of the bullpen in New York looked to be in midseason form this spring, with none of Aroldis Chapman (LHP, NYY), Zack Britton (LHP, NYY), Adam Ottavino (RHP, NYY) or Tommy Kahnle (RHP, NYY) yielding a run. 

Britton, who did not allow a baserunner in his four innings (5 K), survived a bit of a scare when he was struck by a line drive during live batting practice March 11, but he suffered only a bruise ahd should be ready to go when play resumes.

While it is too soon to conclude he has his career control struggles completely licked, it may turn out that the one walk Ottavino yieled in his four spring innings was a harbinger of good things to come.

 

Tampa Bay Rays

Somewhere between Chris Sale, over whom the specter of Tommy John surgery looms, and James Paxton, whose recovery from a specific injury is, if anything, ahead of schedule lies Blake Snell (LHP, TAM). While, like Sale, Snell has been dealing with an elbow issue, he at least has not been poked and prodded by the same conga line of famed elbow surgeons as Sale, and indeed, he had been scheduled to throw a simulated game March 14 before Spring Training action wound down.

Snell did miss about two months after surgery to remove loose bodies from his elbow last season, so alarm bells understandably went off when he began experiencing soreness in the same elbow this spring. Nonetheless, Snell had not been ruled out for Opening Day had it occurred on schedule, so it stands to reason that the extra time he will now be given to get ready for the season will be a boon, unless of course he suffers a setback of some sort.

Thoughts on the rest of the Rays rotation were shared in this space last week, with the short summary being that Ryan Yarbrough (LHP, TAM) looked on track to be a pleasant surprise in 2020, much as anything can be read into six scoreless spring innings.

One of the other mysteries fantasy owners are hoping to have resolved is how manager Kevin Cash plans to handle the ninth inning in 2020. Most early drafters have been gravitating to Nick Anderson (RHP, TAM), and for good reason. Anderson certainly has the skills to close games and had only reinforced that perception this spring (5 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 3 BB, 6 K).

But where Cash has shown a penchant for mixing and matching in the late innings, Anderson will almost certainly have to share some of those save opportunities once the season is underway.

One of the biggest X-factors in that mix will be Jose Alvarado (LHP, TAM), who battled injuries and a personal matter in his native Venezuela during a forgettable 2019 season. Alvarado is reportedly in a much better place both physically and mentally to start 2020, but his results this spring have been a bit spotty (4.1 IP, 4 ER, 6 H, 4 BB, 7 K).

In better form has been Diego Castillo (RHP, TAM): 5 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, 1 BB, 9 K, and he perhaps best fits the mold cast in 2019 by Emilio Pagan (RHP, SD), if Anderson instead is used against the meat of an opponent's lineup in the seventh or eighth innings.

Colin Poche (LHP, TAM) flashed some good skills last year, but his spring had been more than a little shaky: 5.2 IP, 5 ER, 6 H, 5 BB, 6 K.

If you were looking for a deep saves sleeper, the Rays did get a couple of eyebrow-raising performances from right-handed relievers this spring.

Oliver Drake (RHP, TAM) came into spring training brandishing a new breaking ball to mix in with his fastball and splitter, and the early returns had been positive: 4 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 1 BB, 7 K.

And Peter Fairbanks (RHP, TAM), Tampa's return in the Nick Solak (OF, TEX) trade, struck out 10 in his five scoreless innings (4 H, 3 BB).

 

Toronto Blue Jays

The early returns on the Blue Jays' revamped rotation have generally been positive this spring, with one exception.

Hyun-Jin Ryu (LHP, TOR) gave up one earned run on six hits across 6.1 IP in his two spring outings. He struck out six and walked none, setting the stage for Ryu to be every bit the staff anchor the Jays thought they were getting when they invested $80 million in Ryu over the next four years, provided he can stay healthy.

Also holding his own in two spring appearances around a bout with the flu was Tanner Roark (RHP, TOR): 6 IP, 2 ER, 3 H, 2 BB, 5 K. While the Baseball Forecaster rightfully highlighted a seemingly ugly trend in Roark's xERA, his BPV has been steady, if uninspiring. Don't expect miracles from Roark, but he could be a competent innings eater.

Matthew Shoemaker (RHP, TOR) isn't a new acquisition; it just feels that way given how little he pitched in his first season in Toronto, which followed two injury-shortened seasons with the Angels as well. Shoemaker allowed but one hit in 6.2 scoreless innings this spring (1 BB, 9 K). If he can stay on the mound, which has been a big "if" in recent years, Shoemaker could return a surprising amount of value.

The turd in the punchbowl this spring has been Chase Anderson (RHP, TOR), who allowed a whopping 22 baserunners (15 H, 7 BB), 12 ER and 4 HR in 9.1 IP, and that is even including a solid final outing of the spring March 11 (3.2 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 1 BB, 4 K). If you are a glass-half-full person, maybe you think Anderson was just rounding into form as play ground to a halt, but Anderson's xERA has been above 4 for most of his career — way above it the past two seasons — so it would be best to keep expectations in check.

Trent Thornton (RHP, TOR) probably did well enough to retain the No. 5 job heading into the season (10.2 IP, 5 ER, 12 H, 5 BB, 6 K), but he has yet to demonstrate the kind of skill to lock down such a role long term.

Of course, the pitcher many Jays fans and fantasy owners would like to see supplant Thornton is top prospect Nate Pearson (RHP, TOR), who finished the spring having given up 1 ER in 7 IP on 2 H with an 11/3 K/BB.

With just 18 IP in Triple-A and 80.2 IP in the upper minors, Pearson had been ticketed for a bit more Triple-A time to start the season, but it will be interesting to see how that plan might change if the schedule is abbreviated. Jays president Mark Shapiro is on record that Pearson would not have been constrained by an innings cap had the season started on time, and if Pearson continues to dominate in his initial minor league outings, a call to the big leagues could come fairly quickly.

At the other end of games, Ken Giles (RHP, TOR) is the more secure closers in the game. Part of the reason is his own skill level, coupled with his ability to stay healthy: His nine days on the IL last season with some elbow soreness were the first of his career. Giles gave up a solo home run but was otherwise unblemished in his four spring innings (4 K).

But part of the reason, too, is his lack of competition. For the moment, Anthony Bass (RHP, TOR) looks like Giles' top setup man, and he did record a smattering of saves for the Mariners last season. But he is nowhere near Giles' level skills wise, and Bass had a nondescript spring (4.2 IP, 2 ER, 2 K). 

Newcomer Shun Yamaguchi (RHP, TOR) does have some closing experience from the early part of his career in Japan, but he had been struggling a bit in his early work in the United States (9 IP, 9 ER, 12 H, 5 BB, 6 K).

The Jays still have high long-term hopes for Jordan Romano (RHP, TOR), who did have a strong spring: 5 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 0 BB, 6 K. But given the degree to which Romano struggled both in Triple-A and the majors last year, he may need to have a sustained run of success in Toronto this season before he gets close to the ninth inning.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.