Surprise! Starting with today’s abbreviated edition, the Strike Zone is now a Wednesday column. It’s a change I’ve wanted to try for a couple of years; as it was, I spent way too many Saturdays stressing about having to spend way too much of Sunday writing my column. So, I think this will be better for me. I hope it works for everyone else, too.
For the most part, the Strike Zone will carry on its notes format, excepting the updated rankings at the beginning of each month and probably a couple of oddball columns over the course of the season. I’m also mixing in a couple of lists this week. Let’s get started.
American League notes
- Roberto Osuna’s unexpected DL stint, the result of some cervical spasms, isn’t supposed to be a long one. So, it probably doesn’t matter much that his replacement, Jason Grilli, took a loss after giving up a homer in a tie game in Monday’s opener against the Orioles. Osuna can and likely will return in the middle of next week, and if he’s not immediately thrown back into the closer’s role then, it’ll probably happen after one or two appearances. In the meantime, there’s the chance that Joe Biagini could steal away a save or two from Grilli.
- I assumed Jonathan Schoop would open the season hitting sixth for the Orioles -- it’s where he hit at the end of the spring -- but on Opening Day, he was swapped with Welington Castillo and put into the eighth spot. It’s not necessarily something that will last, but as long as it continues, it’d seem to make him a weak play in mixed leagues. I’m not as high as some on him anyway, but I did have him 15th at second base ahead of Logan Forsythe, Cesar Hernandez and Ben Zobrist. As a No. 8 hitter, I’d put him below all of those guys.
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- Delino DeShields’s stock took a big jump in the final week with reports suggesting that he’d be the Rangers’ regular left fielder and leadoff hitter. However, he’s been on the bench both games so far, sitting in favor of Jurickson Profar in the opener and Ryan Rua on Tuesday. I’m not a big believer in DeShields’ bat, so I only pushed him up to 82nd in my outfield rankings last week. Still, I thought he might have some early season mixed-league value with his ability to steal bases. That could yet materialize, but he’ll be droppable in shallow leagues if he doesn’t get a few starts and take advantage of them before the end of the week.
- I’m not surprised Mike Scioscia declined to commit to Cam Bedrosian as his closer following Huston Street’s return from the disabled list. What I didn’t expect was that Scioscia wouldn’t even completely commit to Bedrosian in the ninth while Street was out. Bedrosian was great this spring, finishing with an 11/2 K/BB ratio in nine scoreless innings. He had a 1.12 ERA in his 40 1/3 innings last year. He projects to be far better than Street going forward. I still imagine he’ll get most or all of the saves until Street returns. He looked plenty sharp in protecting a one-run lead Tuesday against the A’s. Scioscia will probably give Street a chance to win back the job, but I’m not at all sure Street is capable of knocking Bedrosian off. His velocity keeps declining a tad each year, and his extreme flyball tendencies don’t play as well now as they did a few years ago.
- Bedrosian got to close Tuesday because Ryan Dull flopped for the A’s, giving up a go-ahead three-run homer in the ninth. Dull, though a fine reliever and as good of a bet from a performance standpoint as anyone in the Oakland pen, seemed to be just about the least likely candidate to get save chances in April, if for no other reason than because most of the alternatives are all locked into rather substantial contracts and Dull has all of his arbitration years coming up; he’s far and away the worst choice from a financial perspective.
Still, it seems like the main reason that Dull was called on Tuesday was because Santiago Casilla wasn’t available after closing Monday. In spite of his ugly finish with the Giants and poor spring, Casilla is Melvin’s favorite at the moment, and he was able to retire the bottom of the Angels order Monday for a save. Ryan Madson, who closed for most of last year and was seemingly handed the job a month ago before Melvin had second thoughts last week, worked in the eighth and faced Mike Trout both days. I’m neutral on Casilla vs. Madson; I gave them practically identical ERA projections (3.58 and 3.56, respectively). I don’t think Melvin wants to remain in a closer-by-committee situation for long, so my guess is that Casilla gets a chance to run with the job over the next couple of weeks. I wouldn’t go dropping Madson yet, though. Sean Doolittle is probably a distant third at this point.
List #1: Favorite players owned in less than 25% of Yahoo leagues
1. Chris Owings (SS-OF Diamondbacks) - 12%
2. Brandon McCarthy (SP Dodgers) - 2%
3. Kevin Pillar (OF Blue Jays) - 13%
4. Jorge Soler (OF Royals) - 20%
5. Shin-Soo Choo (OF Rangers) - 14%
6. Devin Mesoraco (C Reds) - 6%
7. Tom Murphy (C Rockies) - 9%
8. Howie Kendrick (2B-OF Phillies) - 14%
9. Mike Montgomery (SP-RP Cubs) - 19%
10. Daniel Hudson (RP Pirates) - 12%
Owings and McCarthy are my two must-own guys here; I had Owings 108th and McCarthy 171st in my top 300. Everyone else here was in the 200-270 range (Soler was in the 190s before suffering an oblique strain).
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Healthy again after shoulder problems in 2015, Owings hit .277 and swiped 21 bases in 23 tries in his 437 at-bats last year. He has the pop to hit 10-15 homers, and his declining strikeout rate gives him some added potential in the batting-average department. I can see him settling in as the Diamondbacks’ regular No. 2 hitter (he’s just there against lefties right now), stealing 25-30 bases and finishing as a top-10 shortstop for fantasy purposes.
McCarthy is anything but a sure thing, but he throws quite a bit harder than he used to and he’s in an excellent situation for pitchers with the Dodgers. In his last (ok… only) healthy season, he had a 175/33 K/BB ratio with a strong groundball rate in 200 innings for the Diamondbacks in 2000. He’s not going to be a fantasy asset for the full six months, but he offers plenty of upside while healthy.
National League notes
- In part due to the injury risk, I was rather wishy-washy on Gerrit Cole this spring, ranking him 20th among SPs. I wish I had been a little more aggressive than that now, even after he gave up five runs in five innings against the Red Sox on Opening Day. Cole was stellar the first four innings of the game and rather unlucky in the fifth before giving up an Andrew Benintendi homer that completely ruined his day. Cole was throwing his fastball a little harder yesterday, but the far bigger difference was in his slider; he averaged 91 mph with it, up about three mph from last year. The velocity spike didn’t carry over to his curveball, which I think is a good thing; his curveball has always played really well and might fare even better if there’s a 10-mph difference between that and his slider, rather than seven mph. He could be a top-10 SP if he keeps it up.
- The Pirates wanted to trade Josh Harrison over the winter, but there just wasn’t much of a market for second basemen (ask the Twins). Now they have to decide whether to keep playing him and hope someone eventually wants to take his contract off his hands (he’s owed $18.5 million for two years if his 2019 option is bought out) or put their best lineup on the field, which would certainly seem to include lefty swinging Adam Frazier against right-handers. Frazier, who can play second and all three outfield spots, hit .403/.471/.645 with more walks (seven) than strikeouts (five) in 62 at-bats this spring. He came in at .301/.356/.411 in 146 at-bats after his callup last year. He’s clearly the Pirates’ preferred option in the leadoff spot at the moment, so it’s just a matter of getting him his playing time. The Pirates can shift Harrison to third and David Freese at first if they want, but Josh Bell and John Jaso both figure to be quite a bit more productive against righties than Harrison. It should add up to Harrison spending considerable time on the bench against righties. Frazier, though, isn’t likely to be a mixed-league option. He won’t start against lefties, and he’s not a particularly good basestealer. He’s probably not going to offer much besides a solid average.
- A grand slam on Opening Day didn’t get Joc Pederson into the Dodgers’ lineup against lefty Clayton Richard on Tuesday. Supposedly, the plan is for Pederson to play against some southpaws. That’s what I was hoping for in ranking him as a top-30 outfielder this year. My idea is that Pederson goes from someone who sits against lefties and hits seventh and eighth against righties to someone who eventually starts against lefties and bats cleanup versus righties. It isn’t far-fetched; Pederson hit .269/.371/.547 against righties last year.
- The Phillies have to know that Jeanmar Gomez isn’t going to be their best reliever, but they’d certainly prefer to get through another year with him in the ninth before presumably going in a different direction in what they hope is a return to contention in 2018. I don’t think it’s going to happen, though, and that’s why I had Gomez lower than every other probable closer in my preseason rankings. Gomez didn’t blow a save in Monday’s opener, but he did give up a two-run homer to Scooter Gennett after entering with a three-run lead. My guess is that Hector Neris winds up with the job at some point, even though there is financial incentive for the Phillies to stay away from him.
- The Brewers went from having one too many starters to one too few in the span of a few days after losing both Matt Garza (groin) and Junior Guerra (calf) to the disabled list. Garza’s injury probably helped the team, but Guerra’s hurts it, as he’s going to be lost for 4-6 weeks after getting hurt on Opening Day. Tommy Milone will join the rotation until Garza returns in a couple of weeks. There’s no fantasy value to be had there.
- My thought is that Archie Bradley should have one more year to prove himself as a starter before being committed to the pen on a full-time basis. And, while he’s in the Diamondbacks pen right now, he will, most likely, get that one more chance to start at some point this year. The only way that doesn’t come about is if he proves indispensable in the pen, and he looked like he might be while striking out seven in 3 1/3 scoreless innings Tuesday. Bradley has mostly thrown in the 90-95 range with subpar command as a starter. If he can run that up to 93-98 mph regularly as a reliever, the subpar command won’t matter quite as much. With Fernando Rodney in the closer’s role and no one of particular note behind him, it’s worth watching Bradley in case he becomes more of a short reliever than a middle man.
List #2: The best bets for 2017 among players who opened in the minors
1. Julio Urias (SP Dodgers)
2. ByungHo Park (1B-DH Twins)
3. Yoan Moncada (2B White Sox)
4. Dilson Herrera (2B Reds)
5. Jesse Hahn (SP Athletics)
6. A.J. Reed (1B Astros)
7. Luke Weaver (SP Cardinals)
8. Jose De Leon (SP Rays)
9. Cory Spangenberg (2B-3B Padres)
10. Josh Hader (SP Brewers)
I’m not counting Joe Ross, who was sent down by the Nationals but is still the team’s fifth starter. I’m also excluding Nick Franklin, who I’m almost positive will wind up with another team once his stint in DFA limbo concludes.
This isn’t a prospect list, obviously. It’s just how I rank them based on likely 2017 fantasy value alone. As fond as I am of some of the Dodgers’ other rotation options, there’s going to be no stopping Urias once the Dodgers decide on his innings plan. He should be a top-30 and maybe top-20 SP over the course of his 20-25 starts. Park should have been the Twins’ DH and hopefully will be soon enough. He’ll probably be a fringe mixed-league guy once he’s brought up.
Honorable mentions go to Jose Berrios, Blake Swihart, Whit Merrifield, Roman Quinn and Jordan Patterson. This is as much a list of opportunity as talent, and some of these players are going to have to be a whole lot more convincing than others in order to earn an opportunity.