15 years ago this week, I turned in my first column for Rotoworld, a Prospects Report with features on Rick Ankiel, Aramis Ramirez and Michael Coleman. It was followed four days later by the first Strike Zone. Those early columns were pretty rough -- I wasn’t no English major before I got booted out of school -- as was the website as a whole. We were still a ways off from hitting the big time, but through hard work and some lucky breaks, we got there.
40 percent of my life later, this is still the only real job I’ve ever had, and I’m hopeful I’ll be around for another 15 years at least. So, thank you to Rich Pike and Mike Oliveto, who started Rotoworld to supplement their AllStar Stats service; to Troy Beech, who was largely responsible for turning the site into a moneymaker initially; to Rick Cordella, who started off writing a few basketball blurbs and ended up running the entire show; to Gregg Rosenthal and Steve Alexander, who proved so capable at running football and basketball, respectively, that I could focus on my primary love; to Aaron Gleeman, Drew Silva, D.J. Short, Ryan Boyer and everyone else who has taken on baseball responsibilities through the years; and to all of the readers, from the handful that have been here 15 years and the many more than have joined along the way.
- I think Mike Scioscia blew it in a big way with his handling of Ernesto Frieri, and I’m not sure there’s any coming back from it at this point. Scioscia has never been all that fond of Frieri, who certainly does give up more homers than one would prefer to see from a closer. But having guys switch roles every other week obviously isn’t the answer, either, and if Scioscia had just left Frieri alone in the first place, he’d have been much better off. Instead, Frieri lost his closing gig because of one ugly outing in a four-run game that was among the biggest flukes of the season; Frieri had a lifetime .195 batting average against before giving up five straight hits (none of them homers) to the Braves on June 14. He had given up 24 hits in 28 innings this season.
So, after Cam Bedrosian’s ugly outing Thursday (capped by the grand slam against an initially-bypassed Frieri) and Kevin Jepsen’s blown save Saturday, it’s clear Joe Smith is the favorite for saves in Anaheim for now. That’s not ideal, and the Angels will probably try to trade for a new closer. One interesting possibility is sending Frieri back to San Diego, probably with a prospect, in return for Huston Street. The Phillies probably won’t resume shopping Jonathan Papelbon until they’re out of the race. Koji Uehara could come up for bids depending on what happens with the Red Sox in the coming weeks, but the Angels may not want to wait.
- The Angels did make one upgrade when they cut Raul Ibanez on Saturday, clearing the way for C.J. Cron to serve as the everyday DH. But they also recalled Grant Green and Efren Navarro when they still don’t seem to have the at-bats for them. Interesting is that Green strictly played the infield in his 11 days in the minors after spending his major league time in the outfield in May. Of his 11 starts in Triple-A, six came at third, four at first and one at second. I’m hoping he gets a chance to take David Freese’s job, and if it happens, he could have a little value in mixed leagues. Navarro is primarily a first baseman, but one with some outfield experience. Realistically, he’s not going to be much of a factor unless Cron struggles or Albert Pujols goes down. I’m not particularly high on Cron -- I don’t see him maintaining his current .284 average -- but the power should be there to make him useful in 14- and 16-team leagues, if not 12-team leagues.
- Grady Sizemore’s exit removes one roadblock from Mookie Betts’ path to the majors. The Red Sox definitely need a lift offensively, and while Jackie Bradley Jr. is playing center field as well as anyone in the league, Betts’ bat might be more valuable to the team right now. Since moving up to Triple-A, Betts has hit .319/.402/.472 with two homers and five steals in 72 at-bats. He’s at .346/.433/.537 with eight homers and 27 steals in 286 at-bats on the season. He seems ready offensively, and the reports on his defense since his move to center have been good. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him in the coming days, especially if Shane Victorino’s setback with his hamstring proves significant.
- As for Sizemore, I think he has more left in him that he showed with the Red Sox. Granted, it’s been six years since he’s been an impact hitter, but he never looked lost at the plate with Boston and he was surprisingly strong defensively in left or center. The Phillies should sign him and play him over Domonic Brown, who even in his best month of the season so far still hasn’t shown much of anything. He’d make sense for the Twins as a center field option, too.
- After 2 1/2 months, Brad Miller finally figured it out, homering twice during his current seven-game hitting streak. As a result, it’s time to stop the Chris Taylor watch. Miller is still perfectly capable of being a top-10 fantasy shortstop the rest of the way, and he should be picked up in any mixed leagues in which he’s available.
- With George Springer and Jon Singleton up, it’s time to start wondering if 21-year-old Domingo Santana might get a chance in Houston’s outfield. Robbie Grossman still isn’t doing anything except drawing walks and has an awful strikeout rate for such a punchless hitter. Alex Presley also hasn’t shown anything to justify the roster spot. Santana isn’t hitting quite as well as Springer or Singleton did in Triple-A, but his .298/.379/.488 line with 11 homers in 285 at-bats is still very good. Less encouraging is the fact that he’s struck out 86 times. I doubt he’s ready to succeed in the majors right now, and I suspect the Astros won’t promote him until September. Still, he’s well worth following. Like Singleton and Jarrod Cosart, he was part of the Hunter Pence trade with the Phillies, and he may prove to be the best player in the group two or three years down the line.
- Joel Peralta pitched a scoreless ninth in a three-run game against the Astros on Sunday for his first save of the year. That means the Rays’ five saves this month have been split among four relievers: Jake McGee (2), Grant Balfour, Juan Oviedo and now Peralta. All four pitched Sunday, combining for 3 2/3 hitless innings. I still don’t really understand why Joe Maddon pulled Balfour from the closer’s role only to keep using him in big situations, but since Balfour has done well, he could resume pitching the ninth within the next couple of weeks. Peralta has been the Rays’ best reliever of late, but I still don’t know that I’d bank on him getting more saves.
- While it took injuries to both Wil Myers and David DeJesus, it’s nice to see that Brandon Guyer is finally going to get a shot to earn regular playing time in Tampa Bay’s outfield. I don’t expect that he’ll be a mixed-league guy, but he could prove surprisingly solid. The 28-year-old has hit .307/.382/.492 in 232 games in Triple-A.
- It was just short-season A-ball, but Dylan Bundy struck out nine of the 17 hitters he faced in five scoreless innings Saturday in his second rehab start. I’ve been looking at him as more of a 2015 guy, but with Johan Santana out of the picture following his Achilles’ tendon injury, Bundy has a better chance of cracking the Orioles rotation in the second half of the season. Even if he’s just a five- or six-inning pitcher then, he could still be a factor at the bottom of mixed-league rotations. As a keeper, he’s one of the best prospects around.
- The Jays are going to miss Brett Lawrie for the next few weeks after he left Sunday’s game with a fractured finger. While his overall numbers were still rather disappointing, Lawrie had hit .289/.344/.481 with nine homers and 26 RBI over his last 50 games. Plus, it’s a big defensive downgrade going to Juan Francisco at third base. I imagine they’ll call up Jared Goedert to platoon with Francisco, starting against lefties. Lawrie was also starting at second when Francisco played third, but now the Jays are down to Steve Tolleson and Munenori Kawasaki there.
- Jose Bautista is also iffy for the week because of a leg problem. There’s no telling yet if he’ll join Lawrie on the DL, so he makes for a scary start in mixed leagues. Those with quality alternatives should use them.
- Torii Hunter’s hamstring injury has allowed the Tigers to play J.D. Martinez and Rajai Davis at the same time of late, but Davis is about to lose most of his value in mixed leagues, since he should be limited to playing against lefties once Hunter is healthy. It’s also worth wondering what kind of role there will be for Andy Dirks once he returns from back surgery after the All-Star break. He might be merely a bit player in the second half.
- The Cardinals announced after Sunday’s game that both Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia were DL bound with shoulder problems. That Garcia’s shoulder has sunk him again is no surprise, but the Wacha news was awfully discouraging. The only good to come of it is that Carlos Martinez is looking at a few weeks to establish himself as a starter. Once again, he’s worth the flier in mixed leagues. It also probably means that Joe Kelly will return as a starter, rather than as a reliever, but that’s still weeks away. Since Tyler Lyons just returned from injury and is still building up at Triple-A Memphis, Tim Cooney could join the rotation for now.
- The Padres will be sellers with a new GM after letting Josh Byrnes go on Sunday. Street and Seth Smith, both free agents-to-be, are the most likely players to go next month, but pretty much everyone should be available. The list could even include Andrew Cashner, who will be a free agent after the 2016 season and who might not be durable enough to be worthy of a long-term commitment. He’s more likely to be a part of an offseason deal, though. I expect that the Padres will look a lot different come August than they do now, with Chase Headley, Ian Kennedy, Joaquin Benoit and Chris Denorfia also among the candidates to be traded. However, the Triple-A cupboard is bare and the top position prospects in Double-A -- catcher Austin Hedges, just-promoted right fielder Hunter Renfroe and center fielder Reymond Fuentes -- aren’t ready to make an impact yet. Right-hander Matt Wisler is the best hope of the Padres minor leaguers for the second half of the year.
- One more Padres thought: if Street is traded, obviously Benoit would take over the closer’s role. However, if both go, the job will probably revert to Dale Thayer. It seems unlikely that both get moved, but Benoit, who is under control for 2015, could be more attractive than Street for a lot of teams.
- Andre Ethier is hitting just .208/.263/.226 with one RBI in 53 at-bats this month and manager Don Mattingly is still refusing to return Matt Kemp to center field, so Joc Pederson is looking more and more like a potential answer for the Dodgers. While Pederson’s OPS has been in a steady decline following his scorching start, he’s still hitting a nice .284/.424/.463 in June. He’s at .323/.438/.579 overall. Those numbers are Albuquerque-inflated, but his road line of .281/.373/.514 is pretty strong. If the Dodgers aren’t going to play Yasiel Puig in center and they’re not going to play Kemp there, then Pederson is probably the best option. I still think they’d be better off with Puig in center and Ethier in right, but they obviously disagree.
- It’s terribly unfortunate what happened to Gavin Floyd, who almost certainly is out for the season with his broken elbow. The Braves may target David Price or Jeff Samardzija to help their chances in September and October, but barring the acquisition of another starter, Alex Wood should be in the Braves rotation for good now. Really, he should be there regardless, since he’s a better bet than Aaron Harang the rest of the way. Expect Wood to return to being a significant asset in mixed leagues.
- Andrew Heaney was on the wrong side of a 1-0 game with the Mets in his major league debut last week, but he was still pretty impressive with good location of his low-90s fastball and getting swings and misses with his changeup. He’ll often come out an inning earlier than his fantasy owners would like, potentially costing him wins, and he’ll probably be shut down at least a couple of weeks early unless the Marlins can stay in the race, but for now, he’s a legit mixed-league starter.
- Saddled with a pretty dreadful second base situations with Marco Scutaro out, the Giants chose to promote 2011 first-round pick Joe Panik on Saturday. Panik was hitting .321/.382/.447 in Triple-A, but his prior track record isn’t quite so grand, and even with all of the improvement, he had just five homers and three steals in 293 at-bats. In other words, he isn’t all that much of a fantasy prospect, even if he proves to be an adequate regular. He’s strictly an NL-only option right now.
- With Neil Walker (appendectomy) set to come off the DL on Tuesday and Josh Harrison still yet to turn into a pumpkin, the Pirates will have some juggling to do. Unfortunately, Harrison doesn’t have the range for short. Starling Marte has been a whole lot better at the plate and offers excellent defense in left field, so he should stick as a regular. Walker is going to remain a starter. The Pirates might be best off working out Pedro Alvarez at first base and letting he and Ike Davis battle for time there, but they’re probably not going to shift Alvarez over during the season. Harrison, who stands 5-foot-8, isn’t really an option at first. Walker might be, if the Pirates want to go that route instead. They probably won’t right away, though. My guess is that Harrison starts at third base against lefties and gets a couple of outfield starts per weeks versus righties.
- While I fully support the Pirates’ decision to go to Mark Melancon in the closer’s role, I’m still surprised they made the switch from Jason Grilli so quickly. I think it’s probably Melancon’s gig for good now.
- It’s nearly a lock that Travis d’Arnaud will rejoin the Mets this week after hitting .453 with six homers in 13 games with Triple-A Las Vegas. Perhaps he’ll still prove to be a decent No. 2 catcher in mixed leagues during the final three months.
Cuban Defector Notes
- 23-year-old Yasmani Tomas defected last week and should be sought after by several teams once he becomes a free agent. He starred in the World Baseball Classic last year, hitting .375 with two homers in 16 at-bats. He wasn’t so impressive in his final season in Cuba, hitting .291/.348/.452 with six homers in 230 at-bats in the offense-heavy league. He was mostly an outfielder in Cuba, but given his stocky build, he might be better off at first base for the long haul. Offensively, he’s not in Jose Abreu’s league, but I think the talent is there to make him a useful regular. Depending on whether his free agency can be fast tracked, it’s possible he’ll play in the majors in the second half of the season. It’s more likely that he’ll have to wait until 2015, but those that can stash him should consider doing so now.
- Closer to signing is 24-year-old Raciel Iglesias, reportedly with the Reds. He also pitched in the World Baseball Classic last year, allowing two runs and striking out six in 4 2/3 innings out of the pen. The right-hander projects as a setup man in the majors with his low-90s fastball and slider, and he could contribute after the All-Star break. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he’ll close someday, but I’m rather skeptical based on my limited viewings.