Matthew Pouliot

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Opportunity Knocks For Axford

Monday, April 29, 2013


Despite being off to a 15-9 start, the Rockies weren't interested in waiting any longer to give Nolan Arenado a look a third base. The time is probably right, what with the 22-year-old off to a .364/.392/.667 start in Triple-A. Of course, those numbers are inflated by the PCL and Colorado Springs. Not only was he hitting .433 at home, but he was also getting to play in other cozy offensive environments like Las Vegas, Reno and Tucson of late.

 

I'm rather skeptical about Arenado as a long-term prospect. In his four previous minor league seasons, his best OBP was a .351 mark from 54 games in Rookie ball in 2009. Scouts like his line-drive swing, which has produced plenty doubles. That should work out well for him at Coors Field, just as it has in the hitter friendly parks Rockies prospects play at throughout the minors. On the other hand, it hasn't produced as many singles as one might expect. Despite a very modest strikeout rate -- his high K total is 58 -- Arenado hasn't contended for minor league batting titles. He hit .298/.349/.487 in the high-A California League in 2011 and .285/.337/.428 in the Double-A Texas League last year.

 

The real problem with Arenado is that he just hasn't hit righties very well. In 2011, he had an .805 OPS against righties, compared to a .951 OPS against lefties. Last year, he had a .687 OPS versus righties and a 1.052 OPS versus lefties. This year, he's at .989 against righties, which might be a good sign, except it's still just 55 at-bats. He's at 1.409 in 11 at-bats against lefties.

 

If Arenado were going to play anywhere besides Coors Field, I'd recommend passing on him in mixed leagues. As is, he's worth a flier, but don't go dropping a quality regular for him. The Rockies are going to play him regularly, and ideally, he'll hit about .280-.290 with 15 homers in 450 at-bats the rest of the way. My guess is that he comes in a bit closer to .270 and 12 HR. He'll also be a zero in steals.

 

AL Notes

 

- It's not like the Tigers were going to call up Jose Valverde to serve as a middle reliever. Thrust right into the closer's role, he's 2-for-2 saving games so far. He's throwing just as hard as he did last year, averaging a bit more than 93 mph with his fastball. Much of his downfall was related to him losing his splitter. He didn't throw any in his first save chance. Against the Braves on Saturday, he threw two, both to Evan Gattis. On the first, he seemed to slip on the mound and it went well wide of the plate. The second was a decent pitch off the corner and got fouled off.

 

My early impression is that Valverde figures to be pretty poor as far as closers go. He had all winter to work on the splitter, but the fact that he's thrown it just twice in two outings suggests he doesn't have much confidence in it. That doesn't mean he won't rack up 30+ saves, though. I think we'll have a better idea what's going to happen in two weeks. Bruce Rondon might yet prove to be the better bet.

 

- With the Rays scoring 18 runs the last two days, the calls for Wil Myers aren't quite so urgent. I'm still not convinced Myers is ready anyway. He's hitting .222/.343/.296 with no homers and 21 strikeouts in 54 at-bats against righties for Triple-A Durham. He's torching lefties to the tune of a .478/.520/.826 line, so his overall numbers are pretty good. However, he's not going to succeed in the majors while striking out that often against righties.

 

- One encouraging development for the Rays has been the recent play of Sean Rodriguez, who has ridden a seven-game hitting streak to a .294 average. I'm not buying Rodriguez as a high-average kind of guy, but he has more home run power than he's shown the last couple of years. While he's just a bad series away from returning to the bench, he's worth playing in AL-only leagues at the moment.

 

- CC Sabathia threw just a bit harder on Saturday, averaging 91 mph with his fastball and topping out at 93 mph. While this is the weakest his velocity has ever been, he's traditionally thrown harder in June and July than he has in April. One imagines we'll see the same thing happen this year. As such, I'm still not especially worried about his current predicament. I had him ranked 17th among SPs going into the year, and that's about where I'll have him when the May rankings come out next week.

 

- Andrew Bailey may well be a better option in the ninth than Joel Hanrahan (hamstring) for Boston, but he's also a better option in the eighth than Hanrahan would be. I imagine the Red Sox will follow that reasoning in giving Hanrahan another chance in the closer's role once he comes off the disabled list on Tuesday. After allowing a two-run homer to Eugenio Velez in his first rehab appearance for Pawtucket, Hanrahan pitched a hitless inning Sunday, though he walked one and threw nine balls among his 17 pitches. Fantasy leaguers will likely want to go ahead and activate him now, even though he'll probably remain shaky for at least a little while longer.

 

- With Gavin Floyd (elbow) on the disabled list for the White Sox, Hector Santiago makes for a nice play in AL-only leagues, at least until John Danks returns. Danks (shoulder) is slated to make his first of at least two or three rehab starts on Thursday.

 

- The Angels will get shortstop Erick Aybar (heel) back early in the week, and infielder Alberto Callaspo (calf) could follow as soon as Friday. It will be interesting to see when manager Mike Scioscia does with Aybar, given Peter Bourjos' nice .314/.379/.431 line in 13 games in the leadoff spot. My guess is that he'll leave that situation alone and hit Aybar towards the bottom of the order, cutting into his fantasy value. The Angels opened the season with Aybar hitting second in between Mike Trout and Albert Pujols.

 

Luis Jimenez, who has quickly cooled off after a hot start, should be sent down when Callaspo is activated.

 

- Who knew the day would come that Francisco Cervelli (hand) would be a big loss for the Yankees? If I had to choose one of the two, I'd go with Chris Stewart over Austin Romine in AL-only leagues while Cervelli is out. Neither figures to be very useful, though.

 

- Josh Johnson... well, I'm not really sure what to think about Josh Johnson right now. He's here mostly because I know I'd get a bunch of questions if I didn't write something. It was good to see his velocity back up in his last two starts, but then he came down with biceps tendinitis and missed his turn on Friday. Was it a result of him overthrowing in order to get his fastball back up in the 91-95 mph range? And why aren't the Blue Jays being cautious and putting him on the disabled list? Given his history, a 15-day break would seem to be for the best. I liked the way Johnson was throwing this spring, and I was impressed with his start against the White Sox on April 16 (I didn't see the followup outing against the Yankees). I certainly wouldn't go dropping him in mixed leagues now, but I do have concerns. Since he's a free agent at season's end and the Jays are pretty desperate to win this year, I'm not sure the team has his best interests at heart.

 

- And then there's Melky Cabrera. Playing in an outstanding pitcher's park in San Francisco, Cabrera collected 46 extra-base hits in 459 at-bats last season. Why that's like one every 10 at-bats. For Toronto this year, he has three extra-base hits in 104 at-bats. None of them have been homers. From what I can see, his bat speed isn't so poor that he's done as a useful major leaguer. I will be dropping him in the rankings, however.

 

- Seattle's Michael Saunders (shoulder) is returning Monday. That will mean less playing time for Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay.

 

- I thought Robbie Grossman was the wrong choice for the Astros when Justin Maxwell (hand) went down, and the team can't like what it's seeing from him so far. Through five games, he's 2-for-21 with a 6/1 K/BB ratio. Grossman's value in the minors was largely tied up in his ability to draw walks, but since he doesn't have any power at all, the walks aren't going to come as frequently at the major league level. He's a future reserve at best.

 

- It looks to me that Kansas City's Mike Moustakas is headed in the right direction. He could well be an asset in mixed leagues in the near future. As for Salvador Perez, that seems likely to take longer. He's still swinging at everything, and he's striking out far more than usual. Consider that going into Sunday's games, he had seen 299 pitches in 83 plate appearances, while Jeff Francoeur had seen 318 pitches in 81 plate appearance. Perez is still going to have a nice batting average when all is said and done, but he's probably not going to live up to his preseason billing.

 

- The Rangers aren't getting much of anything from first baseman Mitch Moreland, left fielder David Murphy or center fielder Leonys Martin. Still, it's unlikely that any changes are coming soon to the offense. Mike Olt (.139/.235/.236) and Jurickson Profar (.214/.337/.386) are both off to rough starts at Triple-A Round Rock. Their only Triple-A outfielder who is hitting is 27-year-old Joey Butler, and he's just putting up the same numbers he did while never getting an opportunity in 2011 or 2012.

 

- The Twins' Aaron Hicks is still batting just .118, but that's up from .059 a week ago. He also has a 4/8 K/BB ratio in his last 10 games, compared to a 20/3 K/BB ratio in his first 10. If he can just keep building on what he's done the last week, he'll survive as the Twins' starting center fielder.

 

- We've gone through this before in April: no way am I buying what Kevin Correia is selling. He should still be avoided in mixed leagues, and I doubt he'll have any lasting value in AL-only leagues.

 

NL Notes

 

- The reports last year indicated that Reds prospects Tony Cingrani was mostly working at 87-91 mph as a minor league starter. Called up to pitch out of the pen last September, he averaged 92 mph with his fastball, which he threw more than 90 percent of the time. So, it's been quite a surprise to see him up at 91-95 mph consistently as a starter this year. On Sunday, he fanned Bryce Harper on the following sequence: 91 mph fastball, 85 mph changeup, 93 mph fastball, 86 mph changeup, 77 mph slider and 95 mph fastball.

 

Cingrani's secondary pitches are unexceptional, but combine that deceptive delivery with an arm capable of firing 95 mph fastballs and it's quite a package. I still doubt his second time around the league will prove as good as his first, but his stock is way up. Mike Leake is probably going to find himself in the pen once Johnny Cueto (oblique) returns.

 

- The Reds declined to make the move prior to Sunday's game, but Chris Heisey (hamstring) is expected to join Ryan Ludwick (shoulder) on the disabled list, making Xavier Paul the team's primary left fielder for now. Donald Lutz, who is hitting .211/.294/.513 with five homers for Double-A Pensacola, is expected to get the open roster spot, since pretty much everyone in Triple-A is struggling. Were Billy Hamilton playing better, he'd probably have been in line for an opportunity now. However, he's hitting just .215/.295/.316 in 79 at-bats. Of course, he is 14-for-15 stealing bases. Cincinnati would make a lot of sense as Casper Wells' fourth team of the year. He was just DFA'd by the A's after previously being cut by the Mariners and Blue Jays. If the Reds pick him up, he'd probably have a little value in NL-only leagues.

 

- Now that Giancarlo Stanton has suddenly found his power stroke, he can probably look forward to being pitched quite a bit more. Despite the late start, he's still a good bet to get to 35 homers this year. I'm skeptical that he'll be enough of an asset anywhere else to finish as a top-10 fantasy outfielder.

 

- Bumped from Colorado's roster to make room for Arenado was previous starting third baseman Chris Nelson. While the 27-year-old Nelson was miscast in that role, I like him as a utilityman, even if his numbers are Coors Field slanted (.824 OPS at home, .640 OPS on the road). There's a good chance that he'll be traded before he's exposed to waivers next week. Still, since he'll probably be a backup wherever he ends up, he doesn't have to be held on to in NL-only leagues.

 

- Tough break for Diamondbacks shortstop Didi Gregorius, who was defying my expectations on offense before going down with a concussion. Ideally, he'll be able to return Saturday. I still don't have very high hopes for him offensively, but he doesn't need to be very good with the bat to keep the job in Arizona.

 

- Both Brian McCann (shoulder) and Jason Heyward (appendix) will remain on the disabled list this week, but both should be good to go next week. Unless Evan Gattis goes into quite a funk, he and McCann might share time pretty evenly early on.

 

- Just when it was looking like Carlos Marmol would get another shot in the ninth, proven closer Kevin Gregg picked up three saves in five days for the Cubs. That's the same Kevin Gregg who posted a 4.95 ERA for the Orioles last year, who went unsigned into February and who got released by the Dodgers at the end of the spring. It's unlikely that Gregg will run away with the job, but even the most mediocre of relievers are capable of stringing a couple of good months together, especially when they pretty much never have to pitch more than one inning at a time or come in with men on base. So, we'll see what happens. My suspicion is that the Cubs will give Marmol another chance in the hopes that he'll build some trade value.

 

- Even if Edward Mujica has put an end to the turmoil in the ninth inning for the Cardinals for now, the team still has big bullpen problems with Trevor Rosenthal off to a disappointing start and Mitchell Boggs imploding. I would have bet large sums of money on Rosenthal being untouchable in the eighth, yet the league is hitting .296 off him. Worse, he's now having problems finding the strike zone after a HBP, a bases-loaded walk and a couple of throws to the backstop on Saturday. Mujica still scares me with his long history of giving up homers, even if it hasn't been a problem in St. Louis so far (just two in 35 1/3 innings since arriving from Miami). Whether Jason Motte (elbow) comes back next month or not, I think the Cardinals will eventually seek a way to push Mujica back into a setup role. Maybe it will be an acquisition, or maybe Rosenthal will get it together and start dominating.

 

- John Axford was on the verge of taking back the closer's role in Milwaukee before giving up a solo homer to Andre Ethier on Saturday. Fortunately, it didn't cost the Brewers the lead or the game. Jim Henderson hasn't given manager Ron Roenicke any reason to make switch while going 6-for-6 in save chances, but Roenicke has some loyalty to Axford and it seems the whole organization is in favor of restoring Axford to the role. It could happen this week.

 

- Despite the three early blown saves, Arizona's J.J. Putz is one closer I'm not particularly concerned about. He'll probably spend some time on the disabled list later this year, giving David Hernandez a handful of saves, but I don't think he'll lose his job due to ineffectiveness.

 

- The good news for the depleted Dodgers rotation is that Ted Lilly looked strong in his season debut, striking out seven Mets over five innings. His velocity is fine, and he's already got his curve working. With Chris Capuano due back next week, they're still looking at a pretty good five-man rotation that also includes Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Josh Beckett. That should be plenty to hold down the fort until Zack Greinke (collarbone) comes back. Mixed leaguers could do worse than to take a chance on Lilly. His ERA won't be all that, but he'll probably be an asset in WHIP and strikeouts.

 

- The Dodgers are also getting Hanley Ramirez (thumb) back this week. Justin Sellers figures to be sent down to make room. I'd still rather see them kick Luis Cruz to the curb and go with Ramirez at third base and Dee Gordon at shortstop. That's not going to happen in the near future, though.

 

- Aramis Ramirez (knee) is aiming to return to Milwaukee's lineup Thursday for the start of a four-game series against the Cardinals. NL-only leaguers will likely want to activate him now. Mixed leaguers can hold off until next week.

 

- The Nationals will activate Wilson Ramos (hamstring) early in the week. They also hope to have Ryan Zimmerman (hamstring) back on Friday. Anthony Rendon hasn't made much of an impact in six games to date, so the club probably won't hesitate to send him back down when Zimmerman is activated.

 

- Despite giving up a run for the sixth time in 11 appearances, Miami's Steve Cishek picked up his third save on Sunday. He's blown just one save chance, but that's partly because he's had only four in total. He has taken two losses after entering tie games. My guess is that Cishek bounces back and holds on to the job, but another bad week could get A.J. Ramos a look as part of a closer-by-committee. I think Ramos is worth owning in NL-only leagues anyway, since Cishek could be traded this summer.

 

- The Mets were extremely patient with Ike Davis last year, even as his OPS hovered around .500 in early June. As bad as he's been this year, he's still well ahead of that pace. Since there's no Valley Fever playing a role this time, I'm still assuming he'll turn it around over these next few weeks. The Mets seem to think so, too, as they're not giving much thought to sending him to Triple-A.

 

- Davis also has about 100 points of OPS on fellow NL East first baseman Adam LaRoche. I do have a few more concerns here, partly because LaRoche is 33 years old. I doubt he's done, but as a two-category player, he's not a big asset even as a 25-homer guy. He needs to hit 30+, like he did last year, to be of a lot of value, and I don't see that happening. Since he doesn't have the same kind of upside as Davis, he is droppable in mixed leagues if there are some nice alternatives out there (for the record, that doesn't mean it's a good idea to release him in favor of Garrett Jones, Brandon Moss, James Loney, etc.).

 

- May rankings next week. Expect a new top 300 list to go along with rankings for every position.



Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of RotoWorld.com and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter at matthewpouliot.
Email :Matthew Pouliot



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