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BLUE JAYS STARTING ROTATION

The Blue Jays have dreams of more controversial Jose Bautista bat flips and another postseason berth, but their rotation lacks impact arms and is unsettled at the back end. The battle for the fifth starter spot serves as a microcosm for one of baseball’s hottest debates. Should Toronto opt to stick Aaron Sanchez in the rotation, despite the probable speed bumps that should arise due to his lack of third pitch and questionable command, because he ostensibly offers the most potential value by throwing 150-plus innings? Or should the Blue Jays follow the lead of the Royals, Yankees, and Astros in building a super-bullpen, shifting Sanchez to the bullpen (where he has already proved successful) to make up for a mediocre rotation?

Fantasy owners may be tempted to root for Aaron Sanchez, starting pitcher, but he’s probably more valuable in the bullpen—even in fantasy leagues. As a starter, he couldn’t handle lefties. His 3.55 ERA masked the underlying issues. The right-hander walked lefties 14.4 percent of the time, while only striking them out in 10.9 percent of plate appearances. Sanchez had a 1.71 WHIP, which almost hurts the eyes more than Baylor’s technicolored basketball jerseys.

As a reliever, though, Sanchez owned a 2.39 ERA, had a 19.2 percent strikeout rate, and saw his walk rate drop to just 7.1 percent (rather than 13.2 percent, as it was when he started). When he solely pitched out of the bullpen in 2014, he twirled an impressive 1.09 ERA in 24 appearances. Fantasy owners may lament that he’s not in contention for the closer’s role; however, he remains a middle reliever who is good enough to have tangible value in deeper mixed leagues. I’m not sure that can be said for him as a starter, unless his development kicks into overdrive.

The other three candidates are Gavin Floyd—who’s the presumed favorite, for some—Drew Hutchison, and Jesse Chavez. All three pitchers will supposedly make the team, so it’s not a matter of getting waived or shipped to Triple-A. For fantasy, the hope is that Floyd can remain healthy. He’s actually posted a sub-3.00 in each of the past two seasons; unfortunately, that’s been over a combined 67.2 innings, only nine of which were starts. If he can take the ball every five days, the right-hander has a bit of a track record to offer league-average ERAs with an unimpressive WHIP and a pedestrian strikeout rate. Still, a career ERA- of 100 isn’t easy to find in deep leagues.

Many analysts put Hutchison on a mantle last spring. He was a bona fide fantasy darling, as people focused on his improved slider and gaudy strikeout rates. The 25-year-old took a nosedive off the mantle and shattered into tiny pieces. His swinging-strike rate dropped from 11.0 percent to 9.7 percent, so when his ERA ballooned to 5.57, he didn’t have the secondary skills to save him in fantasy leagues. Sure, his .343 BABIP is bound to fall. Hutchison still has a career 1.21 HR/9 and it doesn’t seem that we can explain that away by citing small sample sizes, as it’s now 393 2/3 innings. He’s probably the best fantasy option if everything clicks amongst these four, but the downside is significant and the omens for success are no longer very strong. Don’t invest in Hutchison unless he’s officially named the fifth starter and your squad is desperate for strikeouts.

Jesse Chavez is the final guy in this four-way battle. He’s 32 years old and is what he is at this point. He’s very effective against righties and has never been able to figure out left-handed hitters. They hit .289/.338/.487 last year, and even though he appeared to have a reverse platoon in 2014, his decreased strikeout rate and increased walk rate against lefties signaled problems in the future. Fantasy owners may get duped into grabbing him off waivers after a couple solid starts. It’s a fool’s errand, though, as he’s a reliever who has occasionally been forced into the rotation. The “reliever profile” is a reflection of his deficiencies and his specific repertoire. It’s not one that’s worthwhile in fantasy circles.

RED SOX OUTFIELD

This isn’t a traditional roster battle, as all four of these players will receive ample at-bats. Manager John Farrell announced that Chris Young will be in the roster against every left-handed pitcher, which nicely circumscribes his role with the Red Sox. Instead, the question is whether the at-bats will come at the expense of Jackie Bradley Jr. or Rusney Castillo.

On one hand, Bradley seems to be the natural platoon partner. He hits left-handed and is only a year removed from hitting .198/.265/.266 over 423 major-league plate appearances. However, Bradley had a .918 OPS versus southpaws a year ago and actually struck out less against lefties (25.3 percent) than he did against righties (27.9 percent). The 25-year-old also boasted a .267/.352/.539 slash line in the second half of the 2015 season, which means the Red Sox may want to give him ample run in center, especially given his plus defensive skills.

It seems more likely that Castillo rides the pine on days when Young is in the lineup against a lefty. Castillo limped to a .253/.288/.359 slash line with only five homers and four stolen bases in 289 plate appearances. His 63.5 ground-ball rate made it very difficult for him to tap into any power, while his 11.7 percent swinging-strike rate and 4.5 percent walk rate is a brutal combination for someone who can’t hit for much power.

If the battle comes down to spring training, Bradley has sprinted out of the blocks, as he’s hitting .391/.462/.565 with a home run. Castillo is merely hitting .267/.333/.300 with no homers. It’s certainly a small sample, but let’s not presume that spring training doesn’t influence early-season playing time.

Chris Young is a useful addition in daily leagues, where fantasy owners can plug-and-play the slugger when the Red Sox go up against a southpaw. He gets a downgrade in weekly leagues for me. I wasn’t high at all on Rusney Castillo coming into the spring, and he’s done little to convince me that he won’t be the one losing playing time to Young when a lefty takes the hill. There’s no way I’m going near Castillo in any fantasy league in 2016.

BLUE JAYS CLOSER

Welcome to the most frustrating spring training battle for fantasy baseball owners. Either of these hurlers would be top-10 fantasy closers, but the Toronto Blue Jays have indicated that they’re wait until opening day to make a decision as to whether Drew Storen or Roberto Osuna will get the ball in the ninth inning.

It’s long been presumed that Storen will be the closer. That makes a certain amount of sense, given the fact that the Blue Jays liked Storen enough to trade Ben Revere for him, but Osuna posted a better DRA (2.97 to 3.16) and their cFIPs were identical at 77. And Osuna did it in a more difficult league and in a more difficult ballpark. It seems reasonable to believe that Roberto Osuna, only 20 years old, is just dipping into his vast potential while Storen is just about at his peak.

Both relievers are wholly worth drafting in all mixed leagues, regardless of their eventual role. The only caveat is that it’s conceivable that Osuna could be sent to the minors in order to groom him as a starter—and would be even more possible if Sanchez transitions to the bullpen to partner with Storen and Brett Cecil. Whoever is the eventual True Closer for Toronto, though, will see his fantasy stock soar. We just don’t know who that is right now, though I personally think Storen is the best bet, and the Blue Jays are playing it frustratingly close to the chest.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES OUTFIELD

Ah, the battle that nobody wants to win. The Orioles inked Kim to a two-year deal over the winter, which left many assuming that he would be the club’s everyday starter in left field. Most people thought Nolan Reimold would be nothing more than a bench bat, with Dariel Alvarez as nothing more than an answer to an obscure trivia question. The problem, though, is that Kim has only hit .200/.250/.200 in 14 games this spring and has looked more overmatched than many people expected. This opened the door for Reimold or Alvarez to kick down the door and steal playing time.

Well, Reimold is hitting .176/.263/.235 this spring while experiencing some shoulder trouble. Alvarez is hitting .188/.235/.250 and remains allergic to drawing too many walks. Both have been agonizingly bad, which makes it difficult to make an argument for their everyday chances in left.

In the end, it seems that Hyun-soo Kim has this position battle in his back pocket, but the early returns on his big-league potential have been poor. It’s all we have to go on, too, aside from inflated numbers from the KBO. All three of these players have seen their fantasy stock fall, and their respective stocks didn’t have a great distance to fall in the first place. Kim is still the one to buy. It’s just important to recognize that it’s nothing but a shot in the dark.

OTHER POSITION BATTLE NOTES

Kevin Gausman recently received a cortisone shot to his pitching shoulder to relieve the shoulder tendinitis he’s battled all spring. Roch Kubatko of MASN suggests that he’ll only miss two or three days; however, this could open up an opportunity for Mike Wright to break camp with the big-league club. He was a pop-up guy in 2015 after posting a 2.22 ERA in 14 starts for Triple-A Norfolk. His underwhelming stuff failed to play in the majors, though, as he was blown up for a 6.04 ERA in 44 2/3 innings with the Orioles. Pass no matter what.

Curt Casali remains a deep sleeper for the Rays. He could wiggle his way into the primary catching role, as Rene Rivera is now 32 years old and barely posted an OBP over .200 in 300-plus plate appearances. Casali is hitting .333/.474/.400 in limited spring training time, which means he’s not hurting his case. Don’t get too excited over his 10 big-league homers in just 101 at-bats a year ago, though. Casali has never hit more than 10 long balls in a single season, despite regularly being old for his level. He’s a flier at the end of drafts in AL-onlies or deep two-catcher leagues. That’s about it, though.

Thank you for reading

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ErikBFlom
3/21
I wonder if Kim would adjust in a reasonable time in AAA if spring training is not long enough for him. I understand that won't cure bat speed issues if that is really the problem. If it is something else, an intermediate step from Korea to MLB might be good.
AlpineOwl
3/21
A little disappointing discussion of the Orioles OF playing time question. Anyone paying much attention at all has to include Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard. He has done everything well in spring training, building on a minor league break-out year in 2015 followed by a good winter ball stint. The Orioles have a history of keeping Rule 5 guys and Rickard's skill set is an excellent match for the Orioles needs. Similarly overlooked in this analysis is Kim starting Zero for 23 and then 8 for 17 since. While they are different guys, the Pirates Jung-Ho Kang started horribly last year but looks like a NL fit to me by later last season. While Reimold or Alverez might go north early for the Orioles, it is unlikely either spends much time on the roster over the long haul.
jimmyb1799
3/21
I haven't seen a single article or comment from anyone with the Orioles suggesting that Rickard has a chance to be anything more than a bench bat on opening day. I also recognize that Kim has improved the stat line a bit; however, those hits were nothing but eight singles, which still doesn't bode well for fantasy purposes.
AlpineOwl
3/21
I stand by my comment. Rickard had made 47 plate appearances this spring, the most on the team; Reimold 38 appearances, D Alverez 34. The topic is playing time, Rickard has made big strides and is likely to play quite a bit unless he fails. I would love to make a wager that says Rickard gets more Orioles at bats than Reimold and D Alverez combined in 2016. Yet he is not mentioned in the article. Check with any of the beat writers covering the Orioles this spring and see who they think will get the most playing time of the three not named Kim. And it is relevant that Rickard is a Rule 5 for a team that keeps one all year nearly every year. Kim was picked up for getting on base, certainly not power. Has struck out 6 times in 41 appearances and has a BABIP of .228 so far. He may or may not pan out, but Rickard is probably in line to face LH pitching frequently and probably more if Kim struggles or Jones/Trumbo get hurt.
jimmyb1799
3/21
Sounds good.
touchstoneQu
3/21
Wish this one had been as comprehensive as the AL Central piece. For the Red Sox alone, I can think of at least three other positional battles: Farrell using Travis Shaw to push Sandoval (and also possibly putting Shaw into the OF mix); the battle for the fifth rotation spot between Wright, Owens, and Elias; and which two catchers break with the team. Oh, and there's a back-of-the bullpen jam, too. Love to hear thoughts on these and other AL East positional battles.
michaeltorin
3/21
I agree - you've got to bring Rickard into the discussion. Not saying he is going to outright win the job, but he is having the best spring training out of the group. Showalter praises him, according to Baltimore Sun. He could very easily become a thing - I mean Kim ,Reimold and Alvarez does not sound very daunting from a depth chart perspective.
jfranco77
3/21
Agreed on the need for some Travis Shaw love. Between 3B/OF he has a chance for some good playing time. Nothing noteworthy on the Yankees' 5th starter spot - the scintillating face-off between CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova?
pobothecat
3/29
Maybe the most confusing positional stew in all of MLB is Tampa Bay's LF/RF/1B/DH mash-up. Is Jennings no longer a full-time player? Is Loney gone or is it Guyer? How does Logan Morrison get 300 AB's on this team? Is Souza in an impending platoon predicted by no one? Forget the AL East, this one needs an article all by itself.