Tier 5: Rollercoaster rides (3) (AKA: The "Marlins and Astros" Tier.)
Joaquin Benoit (first chair), Phil Coke (second chair), Al Alburquerque (third chair), Detroit Tigers
Jose Veras (first chair), Rhiner Cruz (second chair), Hector Ambriz (third chair), Houston Astros
Carlos Marmol (first chair), Kyuji Fujikawa (second chair), Chicago Cubs
We'll just name this tier after the two teams that should challenge for the worst records in baseball. The Cubs are not here -- they have some nice pieces at first, short, and in the rotation. But their bullpen is here.
These bullpens are mostly in full-on crisis mode, and we're knee deep in the tea leaves here. The clearest winner of the tier might be the worst pitcher on the page -- Jose Veras might have to be a little bit lucky to keep his ERA under four and his WHIP under 1.4, but the rest of his pen is so terrible and/or unproven that he'll probably get some leash. He didn't look great in his first official outing as an Astro, but he did get three strikeouts in his inning, so at least the whiffs are still there. Rhiner Cruz is a former Rule 5 draft pick, but he has great velocity (95 mph) and had a good whiff rate in his first 55 major league innings. He also gave up a home run to Ian Kinsler yesterday. Most of the relievers that pitched yesterday gave up runs, so Wesley Wright has that going for him, as well as the fact that he's a LOOGY. Josh Fields is a dark horse, but Hector Ambriz didn't pitch. Maybe Ambriz was being saved for a close game!
Detroit already had a save situation, so we know they are doing the platoon thing. Phil Coke came on to get two outs -- a lefty (Justin Morneau) and as switch-hitter (Ryan Doumit). Odds are good that he'll get saves where the lefty is the final batter. But there are fewer lefties than righties, so who's the guy to get saves against righties? Coke's splits are not good. Al Alburquerque was a pre-season favorite, but he pitched in the seventh. So it looks like Joaquin Benoit -- even if he does have some problems with back-to-back days -- is the favorite for saves against right-handers in Detroit. Even against the "Who's closing now?" rule.
No idea who's closing in Chicago. But management there did tell Carlos Marmol to expect a trade, and then they removed him from his first save opportunity after he gave up a run on a walk and a hit in the ninth inning. The team was up 3-1 and they decided to go to the lefty (James Russell) for an out before going to their new closer, Kyuji Fujikawa, for the final out. We'll leave Marmol on top for now, but expect change here shortly. Fujikawa should be owned universally.
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Ryan Madson (elbow), Los Angeles Angels
Jason Motte (elbow), St. Louis Cardinals
Madson hopes to begin throwing in the next few days, but Motte won't even begin until mid-month perhaps. Maybe this is grimmer than the team let on at first.
Carlos Marmol?, Chicago Cubs
Any day now.
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The Steals Department
Look at the history of Andrelton Simmons with respect to speed, and you might not see it. He did steal 26 bags in 2011, but that was in High-A, and it was against 18 caught stealing. That 59% success rate wouldn't give you the green light in the big leagues, not on most teams. But things have changed a little since then. For one, Simmons is now on top of the Braves lineup. Despite not being the most patient hitter, he fits the high-contact, speedy profile the Braves were looking for in a leadoff guy, it seems. He'll get more chances to steal from the leadoff spot than the eighth, where National League teams are mostly content to move the runner over with a bunt. And if you watch Simmons, you know he is agile and fast. If he can turn that into the ability to steal bases, he could really add stolen bases in the future. For now, it's not outrageous to expect 20-25 steals along with barely-double-digit power, and plenty of runs. That's not worth a large investment, but it could turn a late pick into a very useful player. And if his team stays healthy all year and gets some good work from young pitchers, picking the Braves to win it all won't seem so crazy.
Jackie Bradley, Jr. is the helium sleeper, and he deserves to be. The Red Sox lefty outfielder made the team despite owning only 271 plate appearances above High-A, and then even got the start opening day despite a lefty being on the mound for the opposing team. That -- and the fact that he walked three times -- is great news for his owners, at least in on-base percentage leagues. He could hit anywhere from .260 to .300 depending on his batting average on balls in play. He does strike out a bit much, but the walks will give him a shot to steal more bases either way, and he's got some power. There aren't a lot of rookies that you could pencil in for .260/10/25 like this… other than maybe Simmons above. But if you missed out on the Bradley hype, you might be able to get 2/3 of his production from Leonys Martin. The Cuban is looking like he'll get the starts in center for the Rangers against righties. He also doesn't have a long track record in the minor leagues, and in the time he did have on the farm, his production oscillated greatly. He should actually strike out less than Bradley -- should -- and might have a better average. But he won't get on base as much and he won't steal as often.