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March 25, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Center of the Fold

by Daniel Rathman

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The last week of spring training offers a prime opportunity for near-ready prospects that are still in major-league camp to impress their teams’ coaching staffs and shed the “near-“ from their labels. Today’s Roundup features three young players who are on the verge of doing just that.

Red Sox willing to carry Jackie Bradley despite service-time concerns
In Fort Myers, Florida, the Red Sox temporarily have an extra roster spot to work with, because David Ortiz will begin the season on the disabled list with a sore Achilles. Manager John Farrell said over the weekend that he intends to mix and match in the designated-hitter slot during Ortiz’s absence, and general manager Ben Cherington brought in several options for that arrangement this offseason, including the lefty-swinging Mike Carp and Lyle Overbay and the right-handed-hitting Jonny Gomes.

Gomes was initially expected to see time in left field, but even when Ortiz returns, he might find himself displaced. Boston Globe beat writer Peter Abraham tweeted on Sunday that he believes the Red Sox will make their roster decisions purely on player value, leaving aside service time and other considerations. And if that is the case, then they may find it difficult to send Bradley back to the minors.

Bradley split the 2012 season between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland, amassing a .315/.430/.482 triple-slash line that earned him the number-two ranking in Jason ParksRed Sox prospects list. He has followed that up with a 22-for-52 (.423/.508/.615) showing in Grapefruit League play, with two home runs—including this opposite-field shot off Cliff Lee yesterday—and as many walks (eight) as strikeouts. Parks noted in the afore-linked list that Bradley is a “mature talent that should be ready for a major-league assignment at some point in 2013,” and if the 22-year-old stands any chance of making that point April 1, his performance in Fort Myers might do the trick.

The Red Sox likely view Bradley as the long-term successor to Jacoby Ellsbury—who is eligible for free agency after the 2013 season and could become a deadline trade candidate if he stays healthy and Boston falls out of contention—and a summertime promotion would eliminate any likelihood of the University of South Carolina product attaining Super Two status, keeping him cost-controlled for an extra year. However, if Abraham’s read on the team’s thinking is prescient, then the Red Sox appear bent on making a run at the postseason this year (PECOTA gives them roughly one-in-three odds) and are willing to start Bradley’s service-time clock if he improves their opportunity of contending.

Bradley’s value to the Red Sox will be greater when he is their center fielder, because he lacks the ideal power profile for a corner outfielder, and his greatest asset—a plus-plus defensive skillset—would be wasted in Fenway Park’s compact left field. On the other hand, he might offer more defensive upside than the internal alternatives, and Carp has hardly impressed the brain trust by going 7-for-36 with 13 strikeouts this spring.

Farrell told WEEI’s Alex Speier before Sunday’s game that Bradley’s best chance of making the Opening Day roster is in the scenario where the team emphasizes run prevention. (Another avenue briefly opened up during that contest, when Ellsbury left with a heel injury, but the incumbent center fielder was lifted as a precaution and seems to be fine.) We will find out more about the Red Sox’ short-term philosophy—in terms of run prevention and with regard to their evaluation of the potential to compete in 2013—based on the Bradley decision, which could come any day this week.

Signs point to Shelby Miller as Cardinals’ fifth starter
Across the state, in Jupiter, the Cardinals are almost ready to name the final member of their rotation. Miller and Joe Kelly, who have been competing for the job, are both expected to toe the rubber this afternoon, with the former starting the game and the latter following him in relief. Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote on Sunday that although manager Mike Matheny was unwilling to divulge his plans before the game, the winner is “getting a little more obvious.”

Unless Matheny was being ironically cryptic, or the Cardinals believe for some reason that pitching in long relief is the best way to prepare for a rotation assignment, it’s fair to assume that Miller has emerged as the clear favorite. The righty dealt with shoulder soreness early in camp, but he has bounced back to fan 11 batters in 11 2/3 Grapefruit League innings. Kelly, meanwhile, has managed only a 2-to-5 K:BB in his 11 frames.

Keep an eye on Zach Mortimer’s Minor League Update for the latest notes on prospects hoping to crack their teams’ rosters. Miller should be among those mentioned in Tuesday’s edition.

Orioles shopping Luis Ayala
Finally, as teams decide whether to carry their Rule Five selections, the Orioles are in the process of clearing a spot for theirs: left-hander T.J. McFarland, who spent the first five years of his professional career with the Indians. According to Baltimore Sun beat writer Dan Connolly, the likeliest scenario involves exporting right-hander Luis Ayala.

The 35-year-old Ayala is owed only $1 million this year, and he is coming off a strong year for Baltimore, in which he compiled a 2.64 ERA and 3.62 FIP over 75 innings. The righty has had his share of arm trouble—Tommy John surgery in 2007, a strained shoulder in 2011—but he is healthy now and could be a bargain-bin middle-inning option for teams in need of bullpen reinforcement.

Connolly believes that the Orioles are hoping to obtain a player they will not need to carry on their 40-man roster in exchange for Ayala, mainly so that they can carry McFarland, who is scheduled to start for Baltimore this afternoon. The 23-year-old McFarland is in the mix for both the rotation and the bullpen, per Connolly’s post, though he seems more likely to stick in the latter capacity, unless Chris Tillman needs to start the year on the disabled list. 

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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