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March 20, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Not Breathing a Sigh of Relief

by Daniel Rathman

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When Ryan Madson signed an incentivized, one-year, $3.5 million contract with the Angels in late November, the right-hander was “confident he [could] be ready by Opening Day.” That plan was derailed when Madson dealt with soreness in his surgically repaired elbow in early February, but manager Mike Scioscia still expected him to take over the ninth-inning job “at some point in April.”

Madson suffers setback in return from elbow surgery
Of course, Scioscia’s revised timetable rested on a detour-free spring for the 32-year-old Madson, who, prior to undergoing Tommy John surgery in April 2012, had not encountered an arm-related injury since 2009. Alas, it was not to be.

Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register was the first to report on Tuesday morning that Madson had been shut down again, because of discomfort that flared up after a bullpen session that he threw last Thursday. Fletcher noted in his tweet that the “team has modified” Madson’s recovery timeline again, but details on the new target for the northpaw’s return were unavailable at that point.

Mike DiGiovanna, who covers the Angels for the Los Angeles Times, added that Madson is already well enough to play long-toss—a positive step, but also a reminder that he still needs to get back on a mound and work through a full strength-rebuilding program before he will be ready to pitch in games. Madson has thrown only two bullpen sessions since he reported to the Angels’ facility in Tempe, Arizona, in early February, and he has yet to complete one without requiring a hiatus immediately afterward.

The Angels’ investment in Madson was a relatively low-risk move, with bonuses tied to games finished and days spent on the active roster, so from a financial standpoint, his early-season absence is only a minor concern. However, it means that Scioscia will travel back to Anaheim with a relief corps much like the one with which he ended the 2012 season, minus Jordan Walden—who was traded to the Braves for Tommy Hanson—and plus Sean Burnett, another free-agent pickup who is ticketed for lefty set-up work and made his spring training debut last week.

Fantasy players that have already drafted Madson or are considering a late-round flier on the rehabbing righty, meanwhile, should plan to also select Ernesto Frieri, who will handle the save opportunities in his stead. Mike Gianella ticked Frieri’s auction bid limit down in advance of the latest Madson news, but it will almost certainly bounce back in next week’s update. Frieri has struggled in Cactus League play so far, allowing five runs in 5 1/3 innings while logging only one strikeout, but the hiccups can be attributed at least partially to his attempt to develop a changeup.

Former fifth overall pick Matt Hobgood transitioning to relief work
From Matt Wieters to Manny Machado, the Orioles’ farm system has produced several impact talents in recent years, which helped to fuel the team’s Cinderella run last year. Hobgood, in whom the team invested $2.4 million four years ago, was projected at the time of his selection to become at least a mid-rotation starter ready to contribute at the major-league level around this time. But a rocky first few years in the minors and a torn rotator cuff in 2012 derailed the right-hander, who is now preparing for his second stint at Low-A Delmarva—where he pitched as a starter in 2010, and where he will move to the bullpen in 2013.

Steve Melewski, who covers the Orioles for MASN, learned of Hobgood’s transition in a conversation with Brian Graham, the team’s director of player development. Graham explained that the O’s hope pitching in shorter stints will help Hobgood to recover his fastball velocity, which diminished in part because of poor conditioning during his first full minor-league campaign and nearly pushed him off the prospect map entirely.

Hobgood has dealt with shoulder trouble dating back to 2010 (tendinitis), and he went under the knife only after spending 110 days on the shelf in 2011; thus, from a development perspective, he is largely starting from scratch. Now 22 years old and still in the low minors, Hobgood will need to take quickly to his new role and get moving in order to crawl back onto the radar. The pressure to accelerate his development may also have contributed to the team’s decision to put him in the bullpen. If Hobgood can rediscover the fastball-curveball tandem that enticed the Orioles in 2009, better health and conditioning could enable him to climb the ladder more quickly than he would as a starter.

As a side note, Graham also mentioned that the Orioles intend to use six-man rotations at some of their minor-league affiliates this year, including Delmarva, High-A Frederick, and potentially Double-A Bowie. 

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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