Josh Tomlin - SP, CLE
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The top three members of the Cleveland rotation garner a lot of attention, and with good reason. Each member of the Kluber/Carrasco/Salazar trio could be viewed as a preseason Cy Young contender, with substantial upside across the board.
But the Indians also have some nice depth at the back end of their starting corps, and Josh Tomlin is a part of that equation after winning the fifth rotation spot over Trevor Bauer. Tomlin earned the nod after posting a sterling 19-to-3 K/BB ratio over 17 1/3 spring innings.
He finished his exhibition schedule on a high note, hurling six scoreless frames with 10 strikeouts and no walks. Now, he'll try to build off of the momentum generated by that start, as well as his finish to the 2015 campaign.
Tomlin missed much of last year while recovering from shoulder surgery, but returned in mid-August and performed very well down the stretch with a 7-2 record and 3.02 ERA over 10 starts. That included a 2.97 ERA and 628 opponents' OPS in September.
His strong finish set the stage for him to push Bauer -- who clearly offers greater long-term upside -- to the bullpen. Now, the Indians are hoping that Tomlin, a 31-year-old with a strong minor-league track record (56-28 with a 3.14 ERA in eight seasons) and flashes of effectiveness in the majors can put it all together for a full year.
The right-hander has always possessed outstanding control and he has done a pretty good job of missing bats over the last couple seasons, averaging 8.0 K/9 despite a fastball that clocks in the high 80s. His biggest hurdle is preventing the long ball, which has bit him repeatedly throughout his MLB career.
Given his heavy fly ball tendencies, that might be tough to avoid, but fortunately he can limit the damage by keeping runners off the bases. This, conversely, has always been a strength. He has a 1.19 career WHIP (last year, only 26 qualified starters finished with a lower number), and after joining the Cleveland rotation last summer he allowed only 47 hits and eight walks in 65 2/3 innings (0.84 WHIP), minimizing the damage of the 13 long balls he coughed up.
There are a lot of things to like about Tomlin as an overlooked sleeper early in the season. But one thing to bear in mind is that, as fifth starter for an Indians team that has five off days over the first four weeks, he might have his starts skipped a couple times in April.
Colin Rea - SP, SD
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Even in years where they aren't a particularly good team (and this may be one of those years), the Padres pretty much always do a decent job of limiting runs. This owes largely to the pitcher-friendly conditions in their home stadium.
Obviously, Petco Park will provide a bump for some of the more known commodities in the San Diego rotation, such as Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner. It also makes a player like Colin Rea, who is far from a known commodity at this point, all the more intriguing.
Rea got his first taste of the major leagues last year as a 25-year-old, when he made six starts and went 2-2 with a 4.26 ERA. He missed some bats (7.4 K/9), kept the ball in the yard (two homers) and -- of course -- pitched well at home (3.71 ERA).
Now, the right-hander is lined up as San Diego's fourth starter, with a chance to show what he can do over a full season. Rea has never projected high upside while rising through the minors, but he has consistently done a good job of limiting hard contact with the help of a sharp cutter that he deploys frequently. His outstanding run at Double-A to open the 2015 campaign (1.80 ERA in 12 starts) put him on the map and his respectable finish in San Diego keeps him there.
His first start of the season is slated for Friday in Colorado, and that's obviously an instance where you might want to avoid him. But with half of his outings coming at Petco he'll generally be taking the hill under favorable circumstances. We'll see if he can continue to take advantage.