PT TOMORROW: NL West — Closer options aplenty in Arizona

Arizona Diamondbacks

There will be no imaginary-arrow slinging in the desert this year, at least not from last year’s closer Fernando Rodney (RHP, MIN). But with pitchers and catchers just a week away, the odds-on favorite for saves in the Arizona pen is still very much an open question.

It was long-speculated that Rodney’s departure would open the door for Archie Bradley (RHP, ARI), a fan favorite who showcased closer-like stuff while in a set-up role last year. Transitioning from the rotation to the pen, Bradley upped his velocity from 92 to 96 mph, posting a 1.73 ERA (3.32 xERA), 9.7 Dom and 131 BPV in the process. Setting aside the real-world financial ramifications of Bradley accumulating saves, the biggest concern from a fantasy standpoint is the club’s potential desire to keep him in a multi-inning role. Case in point: Bradley worked 4 outs or more in 20 of his 63 appearances last year (10 of 34 in the 2H), so the Diamondbacks could choose to take a similar approach this season.

Also in the mix is 33-year-old Yoshihisa Hirano (RHP, ARI), who signed to a 2-year, $6M deal in coming over from the NPB. Hirano has been successfully closing (143 saves) in Japan for the past five years, and features an above-average splitter with a low-90s fastball and good deception. Though he could see a bump in strikeouts as he comes to the majors, it’s worth noting that his previously stellar 10.5 Dom from 2013-2015 has fallen to 7.9 over the past two seasons.

Perhaps the most intriguing option is Brad Boxberger (RHP, ARI), who was acquired via trade early in December. Boxberger, now 30, has had an injury-plagued couple of years. He spent the first half of 2016 on the DL with oblique issues, then struggled to regain his form (4.18 ERA, 7.0 Ctl) in the second half of that year. 2017 was more of the same, with flexor tendon and oblique injuries postponing his debut until late June—but upon return he posted an impressive 3.38 ERA (3.34 xERA), 12.3 Dom (13% SwK) and 3.4 Ctl (59% FpK), ending the year with velocity levels similar to his peak in 2014-2015. Far from a paragon of health and with an admittedly small 2017 sample, Boxberger is not too far removed from a 100-strikeout season (2014) and another (2015) in which he led the AL in saves, so it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see him seize the role with a strong spring.


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San Diego Padres

With last month’s trade of Yangervis Solarte (SS/3B/2B, TOR), the Padres middle-infield situation became a little less muddied. Recently signed Freddy Galvis (SS, SD), after amassing over 550 at-bats in each of the last three seasons, will take over as the everyday shortstop and serve as a placeholder until eventually handing over the keys to the highly-touted Fernando Tatis Jr. (SD, SS).

At the keystone, Carlos Asuaje (2B, SD) and Corey Spangenberg (3B/OF, SD) figure to benefit the most from Solarte’s departure. Asuaje, known for his glove work and elite batting eye in the minors, hit .270 (.231 xBA) with 4 HR and 0 SB in 307 ABs with the Padres. Asuaje hit over .300 in both June and July, but his +40% h% at the time portended regression, and sure enough he hit .250 from August 1 onward, with an xBA of .223 (August) and .228 (September).

Playing mostly 3B (96 games) last year, Spangenberg set a career high in at-bats (444) after missing the first part of April with a quad injury, hitting .264 (.245 xBA) with 13 HR and 11 SB en route to a $12 (5x5) season. Now 27 years old, Spangenberg did most of his damage (.289 BA, 11 HR) against RHP—but (like Asuaje) has struggled against LHP, with a 64% ct% and 605 OPS over the course of his career.

Though there are still a number of moving parts, including a potential shift of Wil Myers (1B, SD) to the outfield, Spangenberg could nonetheless find some at-bats in the OF, where played 32 games last year. And the logjam could also be eased if the Padres end up dealing the switch-hitting Chase Headley (3B, SD), either prior to or at some point during the season—a move many speculated on when Headley was initially acquired from NYY, but one that has lost steam in recent weeks.

 

Colorado Rockies

The Rockies ended last season with Jonathan Lucroy (C, FA) as their primary catcher, and although there is still an outside chance he could resign with the club, the prevailing thought is that the Rockies are content to enter the season with free-agent acquisition Chris Iannetta (C, COL) as their starter behind the plate.

Last year for the Diamondbacks, Iannetta hit 17 HR while maintaining his stable plate skills (12% bb%, 68% ct%, .43 Eye) across 272 at-bats. Iannetta should feel right at home in Coors, where he spent the first six years of his career, but it’ll be worth monitoring to see if he can sustain the success against RHP—.823 OPS after .557 (2016) and .575 (2015) the previous two seasons.

The current competition for his backup will be a familiar one, consisting of the two players vying for the starting role on last year’s squad: Tony Wolters (C, COL) and Tom Murphy (C, COL).

The left-handed Wolters has the edge defensively, and has displayed a hint of offensive competence during his time in the majors. During the 1H of 2017, he carried a 12% bb% and 78% ct% with a .280 BA and .369 OBP. Those skills took a nosedive in the 2H, however, as the bb% dropped to 9% and ct% fell to 71%. Those deteriorating plate skills, when coupled with his anemic power (yearlong HctX of 64, xPX of 42), led to a .179 BA (.213 xBA) in the 2H.

Murphy, a 27-year-old righty who entered last year as the team’s #6 prospect, suffered a fractured forearm during spring training and never really got going, neither in the minors (.255/.312/.426, 60% ct%) nor in the majors (1-for-24, with 9 Ks). Of the two, Murphy clearly offers the most intrigue—as evidenced by the .327 BA, 19 HR and 59 RBI he flashed in 80 Triple-A games in 2016—and with a strong spring could position himself to deliver on the “UP: 20 HR” noted in the 2018 Baseball Forecaster.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

Seeking their sixth straight NL West title, the Dodgers still have a few options in how they want to address their outfield situation, but Chris Taylor (2B/OF, LA) currently stands as the most likely candidate to be patrolling center field on Opening Day.

A former prospect of some regard, Taylor enjoyed a breakout season with 21 HR and 17 SB (in 21 chances) thanks to a well-documented reworking of his swing and change in approach. Whether he can sustain that success remains to be seen, but from a playing-time standpoint, it’s worth noting that Taylor only had 27 at-bats in April and was not fully entrenched as the lead-off hitter until late July. If that move sticks, and with full-time ABs, Taylor has the potential to add an extra 75-100 AB to the 514 he amassed at the MLB level last season.

As for CF, Joc Pederson’s (OF, LA) performance will be one to watch this spring. Pederson entered 2017 as the starter in center and drew 72 starts at the position, but he had an up-and-down year and ultimately found himself manning LF by the time the playoffs rolled around.

The team’s #2 prospect, Alex Verdugo (OF, LA), got his first taste of the majors last year, going 4-for-23 with 1 HR in limited playing time. As noted in the 2018 Minor League Baseball Analyst, Verdugo has some of the best strike zone judgment in the minors and possesses great bat-to-ball skills. He covers ground well in the outfield and has a good arm, but some feel he profiles best at one of the corner OF spots. Either way, despite his exciting upside, Verdugo may have to wait a while longer for his full-time opportunity to come.

One option not to be forgotten about is Andrew Toles (OF, LA), who got off to a good start (.271 BA, .277 xBA, 5 HR, 17 Runs) in 96 at-bats before tearing his ACL in May. A popular sleeper of sorts heading into drafts last season, Toles got 6 (of his 19) starts in CF last year, and will be one to keep an eye on this spring.

 

San Francisco Giants

While the offseason acquisitions of Evan Longoria (3B, SF) and Andrew McCutchen (OF, SF) have gotten most of the ink this offseason, the Giants’ hope of a rebound and potential playoff berth will hinge in large part on returning players finding their groove.

One such case is Brandon Belt (1B, SF), whose season was cut short after an August concussion, his fourth in four years. Prior to hitting the DL, Belt’s season (382 AB) was something of a mixed bag—18 HR (154 xPX), 63 Runs, 51 RBI while even chipping in 3 SB, but also with a troubling .241 BA (.258 xBA) and career-high 12% infield-fly ball rate. He’s been training at full speed this offseason and appears ready to reclaim his role as the everyday first baseman, but will need to stay healthy if he’s to delivery on the “UP: 30 HR, finally” as offered up in the 2018 Baseball Forecaster.

If Belt requires more time off than usual, look for the Giants to mix in 31-year-old Buster Posey (C/1B, SF) like they did last year (30 starts), avoiding the wear and tear on Posey’s body as much as possible.

Beyond that, the corner-infield options currently include Pablo Sandoval (3B, SF) and Ryder Jones (1B, SF). Sandoval started 6 games at 1B last year and has 61 starts there over the course of his career. Clearly there are some concerns with Sandoval—most notably, the steady erosion of his once-top-shelf contact ability, which fell to a career-low 79% in 2017.

Meanwhile, the 24-year-old Jones struggled in his first big-league exposure, hitting an uninspiring .173/.244/.273 with 2 HR and 1 SB across 150 AB, drawing 41 starts (27 at 1B) at the MLB level. His pitch recognition had been improving in the minors, but that seemed to abandon him against big-league pitching, as his .36 Eye in the minors dropped to .19 with the Giants. That said, the former second-round pick should receive another look at some point this year, and will hope to build on the .278 BA, 15 HR, 56 RBI he posted in 92 Triple-A games last season.


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