PT TOMORROW: AL West—Deja Vu in SEA?

Seattle Mariners

Erasmo Ramirez's (RHP, SEA) delay until second week in March (strained lat) obviously isn't great news, regardless of his back-of-the-rotation skills. But his immediate absence seems discouraging for a team that lost Drew Smyly to a flexor strain (that turned into Tommy John surgery) this time last year—and whose still-limited rotation depth could be tested again early. We've already noted in our PTToday space that Ariel Miranda and Marco Gonzales are the likely replacements if Ramirez falls too far behind, neither of which is a good thing for the Mariners or fantasy owners. But the problems don't end there.

As far as inning pitched, Mike Leake (RHP, SEA) is clearly the staff ace, having averaged 192 IP over the past five seasons, and a total of 24 DL days to his credit. The problem is that Leake's stuff (career 3.98/4.10 ERA/xERA) is clearly #4 starter caliber at best. The anticipated frontliner skills-wise is James Paxton (LHP, SEA), as his 2.98/3.36 ERA/xERA and 10.3 Dom in 2017 suggest. But Paxton's performance came in a career-high 136 IP season that included forearm and left-pectoral issues—just the latest in an injury-and-DL-plagued career. It's difficult to see Paxton going more than 150 IP in 2018, his "F" Health grade indicates that it could be much worse—and we've projected him accordingly.

The best days of one-time ace Felix Hernandez (RHP, SEA) look well behind him. After averaging well over 200 IP for 10 consecutive seasons, Hernandez was available for just 200 IP combined in 2016-17, with less-than-stellar results. The 32-year-old Hernandez missed 98 days in 2017 alone with various arm injuries—and his output (4.36/4.02 ERA/xERA over 87 IP), plummeting velocity and discouraging skill trends suggest he can't be trusted. NRI Hisashi Iwakuma (RHP, SEA) will eventually get rotation time if he recovers from shoulder surgery and rehabs reasonably well. But Iwakuma was another health-and-effectiveness problem for SEA last year, his issues being touched on in this space last week

Though both are currently projected to begin 2018 at AAA-Tacoma, youngsters Andrew Moore RHP, SEA) and Max Povse (RHP, SEA) are also likely to get innings. But following a dismal 2018 debut—5.34/5.33 ERA/xERA, 4.7 Dom, 2.1 hr/9 over 59 IP that included 9 starts—Moore will have to adjust something to realize his back-of-the-rotation upside. And whether Povse remains an SP seems up-in-the-air. Fragile pitching staffs obviously provide in-season opportunities for pop-up performances, but nothing on the outskirts in SEA looks particularly attractive yet. Stay vigilant, and don't be surprised if the Mariners make a play for one of the remaining FA rotation names.


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Oakland Athletics

Blake Treinen's (RHP, OAK) 2H surge—2.01/3.03 ERA/xERA, 13/15 Sv/SvOpp over 40 IP—had legitimate peripheral support (15% SwK, 66% FpK) and puts him in place to handle OAK's 9th inning on Opening Day. But Treinen was in similar position last year at the time in WAS, when he promptly lost his role by allowing 10 runs in his first 10 IP, and ending the 1H with a 6.11 ERA. Historic bottom-line volatility and Dom/Cmd metrics that skate a fine line say that Treinen still has much to prove over a full season—and as with most closers, a change is never far away.

The most interesting arms behind Treinen don't include ex-closer Santiago Casilla (RHP, OAK), who picked up 14 1H saves (16 total) last year despite mediocre numbers—4.27/4.46 ERA/xERA, 2.6 Cmd—and 5 blown saves by early July, when he was removed from the closer role. Now in the final year of a two-year contract, Casilla could get some interim opportunities based on history and experience if Treinen falters. But his age (37) and declining skills over the past two seasons suggest these will be more fleeting than in 2018.

The additions of Yusmeiro Petit, Ryan Buchter and Neil Hatcher should give the bullpen more depth and options than at this time last year, but all of these have chinks in their armor and/or have been too inconsistent throughout their MLB careers to get long-term ninth inning consideration. Ditto long-time watchable Liam Hendriks (RHP, OAK), whose 2017 11.0 Dom (13% SwK) was a career best—but whose control, GB% and ERA/xERA (4.22/3.80) are all trending poorly.

OAK does have some younger arms that are watchable for keeper league owners, including off-season acquisition Emilio Pagan (RHP, OAK), who came over from SEA this offseason as part of the Ryon Healy trade. Pagan posted a 3.22 ERA along with a superb 7.0 Cmd in his 50 IP MLB debut, though he'll need to tame LHBs and a 57% FB% in his second go-around. Frankie Montas (RHP, OAK) has closer stuff but still-problematic command that still needs honing, likely at AAA-Nashville on Opening Day. Under development. 

 

Houston Astros

Ken Giles' (RHP, HOU) career numbers over four seasons—including a 2.43/2.98 ERA/xERA, 12.4 Dom, 17% SwK and 4.1 Cmd over 244 IP—suggest that his job is as secure as any closer not named Kimbrel or Jansen. It's been his too-frequent 1H/2H inconsistency (and let's not forget about his 10 runs in 8 IP this past post-season) that occasionally pushes Mgr A.J. Hinch past the breaking point, and keeps Giles from joining that top closer shelf. Fortunately for Hinch (and fantasy owners), the Astros have had plenty of arms capable of stepping up if/when Giles falters, most of whom are fantasy-rosterable before that happens.

And now entering 2018 they have even more options. Newly-acquired Hector Rondon (RHP, HOU) saved 77 games for the Cubs during 2014-16 before CHC traded for Wade Davis—and despite some correctable gopheritis, his skills suggest that he could do it again. Similarly, consistent setup option Joe Smith (RHP, HOU) excelled as LAA's closer (15 saves) for a couple of months in 2014 prior to the Angels' acquisition of Huston Street, and owns 27 saves over past four seasons. Smith only produced the best skills of his career with CLE in 2018.   

Chris Devenski (RHP, HOU) spelled Giles more than adequately—2.68 ERA, 11.2 Dom, 4 saves—when needed last year. Big-armed Brad Peacock (RHP, HOU) posted an 11.0 Dom and 3.00 ERA over 132 IP last year mostly as a starter—but he currently projects to get most of his 2018 work out of the pen, where his stuff could play up and that 12% SwK could rise. Will Harris (RHP, HOU) saved 12 games for HOU in 2016, and has a career 2.48/3.01 ERA/xERA, 4.3 Cmd over seven MLB seasons. After missing July and August with shoulder issues last year, his metrics again looked vintage in September, pointing to another ninth-inning option—and that any non-Giles saves could be widely distributed.

With still-developing, high-ceiling names like Frances Martes, David Paulino and Forrest Whitley all likely on the outside looking in from the high minors on Opening Day—and looking for ways to crack the MLB roster—it bears repeating that this is easily the division's deepest pitching contingent.

 

Texas Rangers

GM Jon Daniels announced last week that Jurickson Profar (SS, TEX) isn't being actively shopped and is expected to make the Opening Day roster. Obviously this would be a must, since Profar is out of minor league options—which alone keeps us believing in a non-zero chance of his departure. If Profar stays in Arlington, he's likely to do so as the primary infield utility and maybe some OF again, on team that looks likely to experiment with a six-man rotation and projects to carry at least 12 pitchers on the 25-man roster all season long. 

This in turn would mean that Profar gets plenty of early AB—perhaps even three starts a week while moving around the field and subbing for the regulars—and be primed for extended time in the event of early injuries. Still just 25 years old, one-time top prospect Profar has a ton to prove following two years of shoulder injuries that shelved him in 2013-14, and a couple of disappointing comeback attempts in 2015-16 afterward. Profar hasn't flashed any power or base-running ability to be excited about during his recent efforts, though his plate skills have looked near-vintage at both MLB and minor league levels.

2018 looks like a make-or-break season with respect to any future Profar might have as an MLB regular—and owners still willing to roster him should be aware of the risk. At the same time, Profar's previous pedigree will keep us monitoring his spring training performance. 

 

Los Angeles Angels

The only questions in camp right now are the pitching (per usual) and how Shohei Ohtani's AB will play out. Even the Opening Day bench spots look spoken for unless Kaleb Cowart is somehow unable to seal the deal on his infield utility spot. But for keeper league owners looking down the road, second base is interesting for several reasons. Incumbent Ian Kinsler becomes a 37-year-old free agent next year, at which point the Angels will need help—or return 3B Zack Cozart back to a middle-infield spot and look for hot corner free agents.

In this regard, one mildly interesting name to watch this year might be Jose Miguel Fernandez (2B, LAA), added this winter following his surprise release after just one year with the Dodgers. The 29-year-old Fernandez had signed with LA as a free agent out of Cuba, where he had been a star player with terrific plate skills, posting a .319/.402/.419 line over 2260 AB. Fernandez looked fine in 2017 at Double-A, where he posted a .306/.366/.498 with 16 HR and a 24/33 BB/K in 333 AB. His defense has been rated as merely average, and he's currently working as an infield utility in Tempe. But if he's at all passable with a glove and can continue to hit, the left-handed hitting Fernandez could make his MLB debut this season. 

Another surprise long-term 2B candidate may be Jahmai Jones (OF, LAA), who announced this spring that he had picked up an infielder's glove and would be taking some reps. Already one of LAA's top prospects, Jones posted a .282/.348/.446 line (14 HR, 27 SB) in 518 AB at A/A+ as a 19-year-old, has yet to taste the high minors, and is still learning how to tap into his power (among other things). But the Angels think a combination of explosive athleticism, baseball instincts and off-the-chart makeup stamps Jones as a fast-riser who may need several MLB paths. Keeper league owners should keep an eye on his effort to become more versatile, since it could help Jones become a factor at some point in 2019. 


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