September 4, 2015
Five to Watch
If you haven’t already, I encourage you to go read Matthew Trueblood’s excellent piece from yesterday on “the various ways in which teams try to leverage September call-ups.”
With that as helpful context, here are five players who joined (or rejoined) their big league clubs after rosters expanded on September 1.
Almonte is unlikely to provide any fantasy value in 2015 because he’ll work out of the bullpen and likely in low-leverage situations but I’m interested to see what happens here from a dynasty context. Bret had Almonte ranked just inside the Top 101 Dynasty League Prospects entering the season, a placement that assumes he will stick as a starter. Admittedly, I have no information regarding the Royals’ plans but I believe they’re taking this opportunity to expose Almonte to the big leagues in a low-risk capacity and think he’ll be starting somewhere in 2016, be it in Omaha or Kansas City. Nevertheless, a future in the bullpen isn’t out of the question given that he now has consecutive underwhelming seasons relative to expectations and potential high-leverage stuff. Almonte’s fastball-changeup combination is lethal but his breaking pitch and mechanical consistency both need to improve if he’s going to succeed as an every-fifth-day guy.
Statistically speaking, Almonte’s 2015 has been another disappointment. He spent the majority of the year in Double-A, where his 18.8 percent strikeout was the lowest of his stateside professional career and his 9.2 walk rate was a career high. Despite the struggles, the Royals graduated Almonte to Triple-A, where his walk rate remained poor but he regained some swing-and-miss ability, albeit in only a 36.2 inning sample. Almonte gave up a long ball to Ian Kinsler in his first major league inning but assuming he shows well going forward and his stuff ticks up in short outings, his dynasty league value could fluctuate wildly depending on what role you believe he eventually lands in.
Very few teams have the luxury of demoting a starter with a 2.83 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and peripherals that largely support those numbers in the middle of a competitive season. Then again, very few teams are the Dodgers, who had a surplus after trading for Alex Wood and Mat Latos at the deadline and investing in a few more amulets to keep Brett Anderson healthy. Bolsinger was stellar in his dog days stint in Oklahoma City, posting a 2.93 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in six starts while striking out almost 11 batters per nine innings. DRA likes what he did in the majors prior to the demotion, placing him in the company of highly regarded pitchers like Michael Wacha and Matt Harvey. cFIP is a little less optimistic, though Bolsinger is still above-average by that metric. It’s unclear how often he’ll get to throw after Saturday’s start against the Padres, but the Dodgers are sitting in the catbird seat in the NL West after a three game sweep of the Giants and Clayton Kershaw just threw 132 pitches. Mattingly may look to sneak an extra day of rest for starters here and there while setting up the rotation for October, which should provide more opportunity for Bolsinger against a mostly-weak remaining schedule.
Drury spent the first half of the season in Double-A and his .278/.306/.370 triple-slash there left many wondering whether he was the latest in a long line of Cal League mirages. A deteriorating approach was partly to blame for his scuffles but Drury is back to career norms in Triple-A, where he’s hit .331/.384/.458. Reno is a fun place to hit, so Drury will still have to answer to skeptics who point out that the bulk of his production has come in extreme offensive environments. He’ll get a chance to do that in Arizona (not a bad place to wield a bat either) and should be serviceable even if he doesn’t access his raw power because of a compact stroke that’s geared for contact. Perhaps most importantly for deep leaguers looking for a warm body, Drury has multi-position eligibility and a reasonable path to regular playing time. Guessing how Arizona will manage its crowded infield might be a fool’s errand but Drury’s 2015 season has been split evenly between second and third base. Jake Lamb has had an impressive rookie season and figures to man the hot corner most days but there is little reason why Phil Gosselin or Chris Owings should be penciled in at the keystone at Drury’s expense.
Terrance Gore, OF, Kansas City Royals
If you can make up ground in steals and have room on your roster for a specialist, Gore is worth a pickup or a portion of your remaining FAAB regardless of league size. His numbers in 85 Double-A games this year are eye-popping, having been caught stealing only twice in 41 attempts. That’s a 95 percent success rate. Congrats to Zach Wright for throwing him out on May 12 and Tyler DeLoach for picking him off on May 20 and, now, for having an article reference on Baseball Prospectus. Maybe it goes without saying, then, that Gore’s speed pushes the top of the scale. He’ll be deployed primarily in a pinch running/defensive specialist role, just as he was last year when he swiped five bags in September and another three in October. The Royals have a 100 percent chance of making the playoffs and a commanding lead for home field advantage, so Gore might just pick up an occasional start when a regular gets a day off. Gore’s .284/.367/.311 this year is fine but you only care about his bat to the extent that it allows him to get on base and run. A 10.0 percent walk rate is a good sign that Gore recognizes what he’s there to do. Another five September steals seems likely, with potential for another five if he can find those additional at-bats.
It’s hard to understate how disappointing 2014 was for Johnson, a player who ranked 67th on our Top 101 Prospects entering that season. Johnson opened the season in the major league rotation, looking to fulfill the innings-eating, mid-rotation expectations many placed upon him but found himself back in Triple-A Charlotte before April was up. A 6.46 ERA and 18:15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in five starts didn’t leave Kenny Williams with much choice. Johnson was somehow worse down on the farm, pitching to a 6.73 ERA and 1.80 WHIP while striking out a paltry 5.37 journeymen, future role players, and occasional real prospects per nine innings. He was eventually shut down by some combination of shoulder fatigue, velocity fade, and basic humanity from Chicago’s front office. Quietly, Johnson has rehabilitated his value in 2015, the entirety of which he’s spent back in Triple-A. His 2.37 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 2.57 FIP, and 9.23 K/9 (25.4 percent strikeout rate) are all tops in the International League among qualifiers despite playing in an offense-friendly home park. He’s also regained some control. Johnson is slated for Saturday’s contest against Kansas City and probably isn’t an option in 12-teamers but should be watched in leagues of 15 or more teams and dynasties. The White Sox have nothing to play for and Johnson should be given a handful of starts down the stretch as an audition for a 2016 rotation spot.