Fantasy Baseball Spring Training Takeaways: Koda Glover closes in on the closer role while Hyun-Jin Ryu re-enters the rotation conversation
A rookie may be on the verge of claiming the Nationals closer role. Meanwhile, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Byung Ho Park are verging on Fantasy relevance again. Scott White looks at the latest spring happenings.
It was never the Washington Nationals ’ first choice to make Shawn Kelley their closer.
They made a run at Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen this offseason, tried to bring back Mark Melancon , reportedly even pursued the White Sox’s David Robertson , but to no avail.
So perhaps it’s no surprise they’re hedging on that decision now.
Koda Glover isn’t Kelley, which may make him exactly what the Nationals are looking for. Manager Dusty Baker didn’t keep his intentions for the 23-year-old a secret Tuesday.
“He has the stuff to eventually [close],” Baker told MLB.com. “We just have to decide: Is he ready or not now?”
The rookie doesn’t have Kelley’s track record in the majors, of course, but he did put together a 2.63 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings in his first 12 appearances last year before attempting to pitch through a torn labrum in his hip, skewing his numbers. He did have a 2.09 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings over two minor-league seasons. He throws 98 mph and has allowed just four hits in eight innings this spring, striking out 11. And most of all, he doesn’t have two Tommy John surgeries in his past, equipping him to pitch more than just two days in a row.
“We like some Koda,” Baker said. “Big time.”
Baker says the decision isn’t his alone, and financial considerations could come into play (Glover would make more in arbitration a few years from now with a bunch of saves to his name). But if it was up to Baker, it’s becoming clearer and clearer what choice he would make. He has consistently used Glover in the ninth inning this spring, much as he did projected closer Jonathan Papelbon last spring.
At this point, I think Kelley and Glover need to be drafted on more or less equal terms, preferably by the same owner.
Better than advertised
Hyun-Jin Ryu’s third spring start Tuesday against the
Brewers was just like his first two, only longer. He shut down the Brewers over four innings, allowing just one hit and recording two strikeouts. His return from shoulder surgery has gone so smoothly, in fact, that the Los Angeles Dodgers are right back where they started with their rotation conversation: too many arms for too few slots.
“I’m definitely ready to pitch now,” Ryu told MLB.com.
Ryu is probably still on the outside looking in just because there’s no need to rush his rehabilitation with Brandon McCarthy and Alex Wood around -- and he is still rehabilitating. His fastball is sitting in the high 80s now compared to the low 90s before the injury. But he’s a pitcher who relies more on movement and deception than velocity anyway.
“I was never a guy who got batters out with velocity,” Ryu said. “If I get back to my 2013 velocity, I’ll be effective. I feel like I’m actually very close to 2013 form.”
Even if he doesn’t begin in the Dodgers starting rotation, it sounds like he’ll ultimately end up there.
“He’s shown us a lot,” manager Dave Roberts said. “When we look back a year, where he’s come from, he’s done nothing but allow us to be very optimistic. Every time he’s gotten better and we’re building him up to be a starter and break camp with us. That’s the plan on our end. He worked hard to put himself in a position where he’s at right now. We’re a better team if he’s in the starting rotation.”
You’ll want to monitor his progress over the next couple weeks.
While Kennys Vargas has wasted away on the bench of Puerto Rico’s World Baseball Classic team, Byung Ho Park has wriggled his way back into the DH conversation, putting together arguably the most impressive spring of any Minnesota Twins hitter.
The former KBO star, who averaged 43.3 home runs in his final two seasons at Korea’s highest level, was a disaster in 2016, but he was playing most of the season with a wrist injury that he eventually had surgically repaired in August. He homered nine times in 98 at-bats before it became an issue.
There’s also the possibility he put too much pressure on himself after signing a big contract to play in a new and unfamiliar environment. It’s an excuse that few players can live down, but according to MLB.com, Park has a history of this sort of thing, wanting so badly to impress his first KBO team that he’d take batting practice until his hands bled. It was only after moving on to his second team, where the expectations weren’t as high, that he became an offensive force.
Sure enough, he routinely took extra batting practice last spring, which may have contributed to the wrist injury. Park is changing the way he prepares for games this season.
“As in quantity, it’s less, but in terms of quality, it’s better,” Park told MLB.com through a translator. “It’s been great. In terms of my body, I feel no pain in my wrist.”
Of course, you can’t explain away his strikeouts, so he’ll pretty much have to put up a big home run total to keep his batting average respectable. But we may not have heard the last of him in Fantasy, particularly if he beats out Vargas for the DH job this spring.
Ray of hope?
Robbie Ray had 218 strikeouts last year. His 11.3-per-nine inning ratio ranked second among qualifying pitchers. But he also had a 4.90 ERA and 1.47 WHIP.
His problems were twofold: a league-leading BABIP that may not have been within his control and a high walk rate that most certainly was. After walking three over 1 2/3 innings over his first spring start, though, he has walked a combined two in four starts since, spanning 15 1/3 innings.
“He’s got three, four quality pitches that he can use at any time,” manager Torey Lovullo said, “and once he gets into a really good sequence with the catcher and gets in a rhythm with how he’s using those pitches, it can be pretty impressive.”
Ray is a popular breakout candidate this year just in the hope that BABIP regression helps him get the most out of that strikeout rate, but if he becomes a more consistent strike-thrower, that could make an even bigger difference.
You don’t often find that kind of strikeout potential in the middle rounds of a draft.
The job goes to Jarrett
Jarrett Parker didn’t have his best showing Tuesday against the San Diego Padres , striking out in each of his four at-bats, but it was a good day for him overall. The San Francisco Giants announced Mac Williamson would miss the next two weeks without a quad injury, which obviously removes him from the opening day consideration. Parker, then, is their starting left fielder by default.
Which isn’t to say he wouldn’t have been by merit anyway.
The 28-year-old has already demonstrated big power in both the minors and the majors, homering 11 times across 176 at-bats over two seasons at the highest level. He had managed to keep the strikeouts in check this spring before Tuesday’s showing, but those are the biggest reason he hasn’t gotten an extended look until now. Plus, as a left-handed batter, he may be forced to platoon with Williamson or someone else down the road.
He’s probably just NL-only material for right now -- a cheap source of power in a format where you can never get enough it -- but he could become an intriguing matchups play for mixed-leaguers over the course of the season.
Even with much of the cannon fodder now optioned to minor-league camps, Peter O’Brien continues to destroy the baseball, hitting his spring-leading seventh home run Tuesday at the Diamondbacks.
With so many of his batted balls leaving the yard, his batting average, as you might expect, is on the high side -- .333, to be exact -- which masks a pretty horrid strikeout rate. He has 17 in 45 at-bats
But the power is real, and it alone might be enough to sustain him in the majors. The upside is probably something on the Chris Carter level, particularly since the Kansas City Royals ’ home environment isn’t as friendly as what he’s seeing in the Cactus League. But his home runs aren’t exactly cheap shots. Other than Giancarlo Stanton , there may not be a hitter who hits the ball as hard.
Jorge Soler , who the Royals acquired to be their big power hitter, hit only his first home run of the spring Tuesday and is batting .140 (6 for 43). I don’t think it’s realistic for O’Brien to unseat the 25-year-old or really to unseat anybody, but if Soler struggles in the regular season or Brandon Moss gets hurt, O’Brien is absolutely a player you’ll want to have stashed away in an AL-only league.
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