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March 19, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Diamondbacks in the Rough

by Daniel Rathman

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Of the three pitchers who entered the spring in a competition for the final spot in the Diamondbacks rotation, Tyler Skaggs has the highest upside and likely the brightest future. Jason Parks ranked the lefty as the team’s number-one prospect and, since Justin Upton was shipped to the Braves after the list was published, Mark Anderson would have considered Skaggs its best under-25 talent. The 21-year-old shouldn’t need to wait long for his next major-league look, but after being optioned to Triple-A on Monday, he will need to pitch well in Reno to earn a trip back to Phoenix.

Diamondbacks’ rotation battle down to two
Skaggs’ demotion came on the heels of a disastrous start to the Cactus League season, which saw him surrender 16 runs (11 earned) on 14 hits and eight walks over just nine innings. Manager Kirk Gibson attributed the lefty’s struggles in a weekend outing versus the Padres to “thinking too much,” and the ticket to minor-league camp may simply be the organization’s attempt to help Skaggs clear his mind. Regardless of the motive behind the decision, the result is a two-horse race for the opportunity to round out the starting five, pitting Patrick Corbin against Randall Delgado.

Corbin, who made 22 major-league appearances (17 starts) last year, is the presumptive favorite for the job, according to Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic. A command-oriented southpaw, Corbin lacks Skaggs’ upside and proved vulnerable to the home-run ball in 2012, serving up 14 of them in 107 innings. He has largely kept the ball in the yard this spring, allowing only one big fly in 14 2/3 frames, while maintaining his strong control to post a 15-to-4 K:BB. If Corbin can hold serve the rest of the way, he seems likely to open the year in the job that was once expected to go to either Skaggs or Trevor Bauer, who now finds himself in a similar battle for the fifth spot in the Indians rotation.

Delgado, though, is determined to not go down quietly. A higher-ceiling pitcher that ranked as the Braves’ second-best prospect entering the 2012 season, the 23-year-old right-hander was knocked around earlier this spring, but he has since settled in and delivered his best effort in yesterday’s win over the Dodgers. Delgado held Los Angeles (with most of its starters in the lineup) to two runs over five innings of work, and a scout that attended his previous outing told Nick Piecoro of AZ Central that his stuff had finally come around.

If that is the case, then Delgado—who came over from the Braves in the Upton deal—could give Corbin a run for his money over the next two weeks. The winner will join Ian Kennedy, Brandon McCarthy, Trevor Cahill, and Wade Miley in a rotation that could welcome back Daniel Hudson from Tommy John surgery around the All-Star break, if his recovery proceeds without a detour. Miley, who dealt with a “dead arm” earlier this month, appears to be on track for the start of the regular season.

Indians discussing extensions with Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis
Speaking of the Indians, general manager Chris Antonetti would like to cap off a busy offseason by negotiating long-term pacts with two of his position players. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal indicated on Monday that talks between Antonetti and the agents for Brantley (who will be arbitration-eligible for the first time next year, after missing the Super Two cutoff by eight days) and Kipnis (who is two years away from arbitration) began earlier this winter, with the Tribe seeking at least a five-year agreement with its left fielder and a six-year hitch with its second baseman.

The challenge in Brantley’s case, as Rosenthal explained, is the 25-year-old’s shift from center field to left, which became possible when the Indians acquired Drew Stubbs from the Reds and was assured when Antonetti inked Michael Bourn to a four-year deal later in the offseason. All of the advanced metrics rated Brantley as a below-average center fielder, with FRAA (-11.4) providing the most pessimistic depiction, but while his glove should be an asset to the Indians in an outfield corner, his mediocre power raises tweener concerns. Thus, the move could widen the gap between Antonetti’s offers and agent Joseph Kusnick’s price tag, potentially setting the stage for an intriguing arbitration battle next February.

Meanwhile, although the Indians would do well to lock Kipnis up now, he is coming off of a relatively disappointing season and might be wary of signing a below-market deal. Kipnis, who turns 26 on April 3, was worth just 0.9 WARP in his first full season in the majors, with a poor defensive rating (-8.6 FRAA) and struggles against left-handed pitching (.223 TAv) sagging his value. But if he can overcome the latter weakness, Kipnis has a “star-level” ceiling, and PECOTA is optimistic, pegging him for a spike to 3.7 WARP in 2013. The temptation to secure an eight-figure payday is undoubtedly large, but Kipnis must weigh it against an investment in his own ability to improve, which could yield a much-greater reward in 10-12 months.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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