The unforeseen, meteoric rise of Padres pitching prospect Chris Paddack continued as he allowed one run on five hits and struck out six batters over four innings in a Cactus League start against the Angels on Wednesday. From a fantasy perspective, the 23-year-old right-hander’s evolution from a savvy late-round speculative stash candidate in fantasy drafts -- with the potential for an early-season promotion -- to a virtual lock to make the Padres Opening Day rotation has been the most compelling storyline to emerge out of either the Cactus or Grapefruit league this year.
Historically speaking, putting significant stock in spring training performances is a huge mistake. It’s easy to get swept up in the compelling narratives and fall into the trap of confirmation bias. There are numerous examples of hot spring performers who have failed to live up to the hype and fizzled out once the calendar flipped to April. Encouraging spring statistics are rarely a harbinger of an impending breakout. Typically, they’re a rather a cruel mirage. However, it’s time to start considering that Paddack may be one of those rare outliers who can parlay his spring surge into a guaranteed rotation spot and sustain this level of performance long-term.
It’s not just that Paddack has merely held his own against legitimate major-league lineups, he’s completely dominated them right now. The native Texan has allowed just four runs -- three earned -- on 13 hits with a Cactus League-leading 20 strikeouts and only two walks over 12 2/3 innings this spring. In addition to checking off all of the boxes statistically, there are zero questions about his raw stuff and athleticism. The 6-foot-4 righty possesses an elite fastball/changeup combo and plus-plus control, which enables him to simultaneously miss plenty of bats and limit traffic on the basepaths. There are plenty of reasons to get excited about his immediate future. However, fantasy owners should also remain cognizant of the glaring risks in his profile, most notably his checkered injury history and accompanying durability and workload concerns. Can he hold up for a full-season? At what point does San Diego consider shutting him down? These are serious factors to consider before investing anything more than a late-round pick in re-draft formats.
After undergoing Tommy John surgery in August 2016, Paddack has thrown only 89 innings combined in the last two years. Therefore, it’s difficult to envision the Padres pushing the envelope with his workload right away. He won’t make 30 starts this season. Fantasy owners shouldn’t project anything more than 150-to-160 innings. Yet, on a per-start basis, he could be an extremely valuable fantasy starter in the mold of a James Paxton, Rich Hill or Hyun-Jin Ryu. Paying for anything more than 150 innings this year seems like a mistake.
According to NFBC average draft position data, Paddack is being selected on average just inside the top 300 picks since March 1st. However, if we limit our sample size merely to drafts which have occurred within the last week (since March 7th), he’s rises nearly fifty spots (257th overall). Here’s an oversimplification: Paddack is an extremely exciting pitching prospect with a bright future ahead -- if he can stay healthy -- but fantasy owners should remain realistic when projecting his workload and extremely careful about overpaying for him on draft day in the coming weeks. The hype surrounding Paddack appears to be justified, but let’s not get too carried away. Oddly enough, his unexpected rise has overshadowed and tamped down the volume on the breakout chatter surrounding his teammate Matt Strahm, who seems like the superior investment if you’re speculating on a Padres starter in the late rounds. Needless to say, this probably won’t be the last time we discuss either Paddack and Strahm in this space in 2019.
Halos Shelve Heaney
Speaking of injury-plagued potential fantasy aces, the Angels announced on Wednesday that Andrew Heaney has been shut down for an unspecified amount of time due to left elbow inflammation. The 27-year-old southpaw underwent an MRI, which did not reveal any structural damage. That’s an encouraging development, considering that he’s been dealing with elbow issues throughout camp, but it virtually guarantees that he will begin the season with an extended stint on the injured list. If there’s one positive takeaway from this latest development, it’s that Heaney missed the start of last season with a similar issue and went on to post a 4.15 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 180/45 K/BB ratio across a career-high 30 starts. It would be an overreaction for fantasy owners to substantially downgrade him in their pre-draft rankings, but it probably pushes him closer to the 180-to-200 pick range as opposed to the 150-to-170 range where his average draft position has hovered this spring.
No Jimenez, No Joy
The White Sox optioned outfielder Eloy Jimenez to Triple-A Charlotte on Wednesday. The 22-year-old slugger will likely make his major league debut in late-April or early-May. He batted .337/.384/.577 with 22 home runs and 75 RBI in 108 games across Double-A and Triple-A last year. Chicago will gain an extra year of team control simply by keeping him in the minors for at least three weeks. “Obviously we're still extremely bullish on his future,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn told reporters on Wednesday. “We think he's going to be an impactful White Sox for a long time, and sending him out really doesn't change our long-term view of him. He responded very well with some of the things we talked about to him last season.”
From a purely economic perspective, the White Sox -- in the midst of a transition from full-scale teardown and rebuild to the fledgling stages of a contention cycle -- are willing to swap two or three weeks of production in a potentially meaningless campaign for future control over their potential franchise cornerstone. However, let’s not overlook the fact that this is merely the latest troubling example in a growing list of franchises who have been willing to ignore the broader moral issues associated with the decision to blatantly manipulate the service time of their young, potential future superstars. This phenomenon becomes even more troubling when these same players are the ones hitting free agency later in their career and finding out that there isn’t a healthy market bidding for their services. The entire system is flawed, but that doesn’t mean that the White Sox had to make this decision. In terms of player development, Jimenez has nothing left to prove at the minor-league level and it’s in his long-term benefit to begin facing big-league pitching right now. From a pure fantasy perspective, Jimenez won’t steal more than a handful of bases, but he’s a potential four-category fantasy contributor stud, capable of hitting for power and average, once he arrives this season.
Cubs Closer Conundrum
Jordan Bastian of MLB.com reported on Wednesday that the Cubs are considering adding a reliever via free agency or trade and may even consider free agent closer Craig Kimbrel, who remains on the market. With top internal closing candidates Brandon Morrow (elbow) and Pedro Strop (hamstring) battling injuries, the Cubs find themselves short of relievers before the season even starts. Manager Joe Maddon said there have been meetings to discuss their options for bolstering the bullpen. Asked if the Cubs might go after Kimbrel, Maddon said "We really didn't discuss that. But, I can't tell you that it's out of the question." Kimbrel would go a long way toward solidifying the ninth inning for the Cubs (or any team) but he would be very expensive. Kimbrel is believed to still be holding out for a contract of five or more years in the neighborhood of $90 million. The Cubs have operated on a low budget recently and didn’t sign any significant free agents this offseason.
American League Quick Hits: Francisco Lindor (calf) played in a minor-league game on Wednesday. … Byron Buxton continued his torrid Grapefruit League campaign, going 2-for-3 with a solo homer -- his fourth round-tripper of the spring -- against the Red Sox on Wednesday. … Alex Cobb will start on Opening Day for the Orioles. … J.D. Martinez was scratched from the Red Sox lineup Wednesday due to back tightness. … Jose Abreu was scratched from Wednesday's Cactus League lineup after being struck in the eye by a ground ball during fielding practice. … Andrelton Simmons was scratched from Wednesday's Cactus League lineup due to elbow soreness and fatigue. … Ryan Brasier (toe) is expected to make his Grapefruit League debut by the end of this week. … Trevor Bauer notched 10 strikeouts over 4 2/3 innings in a Cactus League start against the Brewers on Wednesday. … Jake Bauers went 2-for-3 with a three-run homer and five RBI in a win over the Royals. … Jorge Soler launched his fourth homer of the spring against the Indians. … Nathan Eovaldi made his spring debut Wednesday and allowed one run in three innings against the Twins. … Marcus Stroman whiffed six batters and allowed one run over 4 1/3 innings against the Orioles … Giancarlo Stanton went 2-for-3 with a homer against the Phillies. … Ervin Santana will make his Cactus League debut next week. … Mark Trumbo (knee) made his Grapefruit League debut on Wednesday … Mariners optioned shortstop J.P. Crawford to the minors on Wednesday.
National League Quick Hits: Clayton Kershaw (shoulder) is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Thursday and pitch live batting practice next week. … Corey Seager is scheduled to play three innings in a minor-league game on Thursday. … Pedro Strop (hamstring) said that he will be ready for the Cubs’ season-opener. … Brewers manager Craig Counsell told reporters that Jeremy Jeffress (shoulder) is unlikely to be ready for Opening Day. … Cesar Hernandez (hip) is expected to return to Grapefruit League action on Thursday. … Odubel Herrera (hamstring) played in a minor league game on Wednesday. … Ronald Acuna went 3-for-3 with a stolen base in Grapefruit League action against the Nationals on Wednesday … Noah Syndergaard tossed 5 1/3 shutout frames against the Astros. He owns a sublime 1.88 ERA with 19 strikeouts over 14 1/3 scoreless innings this spring. … J.T. Realmuto went 2-for-2 and slugged a solo home run against the Yankees. … Jon Lester was torched for seven runs on seven hits over 2 2/3 innings against the Athletics on Wednesday. … David Dahl went 3-for-3 with two doubles and a pair of stolen bases in the Rockies' win over the Diamondbacks. … Trevor Story also went 2-for-3 with a solo homer in that one. … Caleb Smith fanned six batters over four scoreless, hitless innings in his Grapefruit League debut against the Cardinals … Jose Urena tossed four innings of one-run ball in that one. … Franmil Reyes went 2-for-4 with a two-run homer in the Padres’ win over the Angels. … Enrique Hernandez launched a three-run homer, his third of the spring, in the Dodgers’ loss to the White Sox. … Cody Bellinger also went deep in that contest. … Keston Hiura went 1-for-4 with a three-run homer against the Indians. … Jarrod Dyson (oblique) is aiming to return to Cactus League action later this week … Nationals signed left-handed reliever Tony Sipp to a one-year contract. … Carlos Gomez cannot participate in Grapefruit League action until his work visa is approved. … Daniel Descalso has reportedly been dealing with a sore left shoulder this spring. … Archie Bradley is working through a stiff neck.