Fantasy Baseball Spring Training Takeaways: Mixed results for Matt Harvey, Garrett Richards

The Dark Knight went all two-face in his first start back from thoracic outlet syndrome Sunday.

His first inning was easy-breezy. He struck out Dexter Fowler and Aledmys Diaz looking and induced a ground ball out of Yadier Molina , all major-leaguers. His second inning? Well, he didn’t make it out of the second inning, surrendering a three-run homer to Jose Martinez , a minor-leaguer, before departing with two outs.

His final line left much to be desired:

Matt Harvey SP / N.Y. Mets (Sunday vs. Cardinals)
IP: 1 2/3 H: 4 ER: 4 BB: 0 K: 3

But of course, coming back from such an intensive procedure -- he actually had a rib removed to alleviate tension on the nerves and blood vessels in his right arm -- the results aren’t as important as the process. And seeing as his fastball sat in the 92-to-94-mph range, Matt Harvey is very much a work in progress.

“We’ve got a long way [to go],” manager Terry Collins told MLB.com. “As long as he felt good about it, as long as he didn’t have any discomfort, I think we’re OK. I think we’re on the right track.”  

As an admitted Harvey optimist, I’ll say it was about what I expected. If he was throwing 98 out of the gate and striking out six in two innings, he’d be getting glowing reviews right now and no longer such a value in Fantasy, and value is my top reason for liking or disliking any player.

As it is, the reviews were mixed.

He looked, as Collins said, like he was on track. He wasn’t missing his spots badly. He had a feel for his secondary pitches. He took his first step toward getting back to who he was.

He has five more spring starts to regain his velocity, which is something a lot of pitchers have to do this time of year, and even if it’s not all the way back by the start of the season, it’ll be closer. Alex Cobb said it took him a full year to regain the velocity from his thoracic outlet surgery.

“The biggest thing for me is just going out there more and more and getting used to facing other teams,” Harvey said. “The velo will come.”  

Someone asked how this performance would change Harvey’s ranking in Fantasy Baseball, and I would say not at all. Maybe some of the ultra pessimists who weren’t even sure he’d make it this far will bump him up a little, but nobody was expecting him to blow hitters away from the start.

Poor Richards

Harvey wasn’t the only front-line starting pitcher to debut after a major injury Sunday. Perhaps even more notably, Garrett Richards was back from a torn UCL repaired not by Tommy John surgery but by stem cell therapy. And his stuff was a little closer to normal, with a fastball ranging from 94 to 98 mph.

His line wasn’t any better, though:

Garrett Richards SP / L.A. Angels (Sunday vs. Reds)
IP: 2 H: 4 ER: 3 BB: 0 K: 2

“There were a couple of counts where I fell behind and overthrew a couple pitches, but for the most part, the sinker was sinking, the cutter was cutting,” Richards told MLB.com. “For me right now, it’s just about recovering in between and having good work in my bullpens and just continuing to fine-tune my mechanics.” 

He has some work to do for sure, but the important thing to remember is all pitchers do this. We’ve already seen miserable starts from Carlos Carrasco , Jon Lester and Madison Bumgarner , to name a few, as well as sudden about-faces from Rich Hill and Sean Manaea .

If every one of Richards’ spring starts goes this way, it might be cause for concern, but he gets the benefit of the doubt for now. Even at his healthiest, he’d sometimes struggle with command.

Andrew Benin8-for-10-di

That’s right: Andrew Benintendi , the consensus top prospect in baseball, is 8 for his last 10 this spring. 

All aboard the hype train.

OK, so it probably isn’t affecting his Draft Day value too terribly much yet, and you’re not wrong to be encouraged by the performance. It’s not just a bunch of singles, after all. Six of those eight hits were for extra bases, including two home runs, and he’s coming off a splashy 2016 debut in which he already proved he could handle major-league pitching.

Andrew Benintendi LF / Boston (2016 season)
BA: .295 HR: 2 2B: 11 OPS: .835 AB: 105

My one word of warning is that he’s only 1 for 2 against left-handers this entire spring, and because he’s a left-handed hitter on a team where Chris Young resides on the bench, playing time is a concern.

Chris Towers weighed the pros and cons of drafting Benintendi a few weeks ago, but once I’m in the double-digit rounds of a draft, I dare to dream, man. And the dream scenario for Benintendi is something like Andrew McCutchen in his prime.

No reason to be scared off now.

Broxton not going quietly

One player who could see his draft stock skyrocket this spring, given the dearth of stolen base help in Rotisserie drafts, is Keon Broxton , who hit .294 with eight home runs, 16 steals and a .937 OPS over 143 at-bats in his final return from the minors last year. 

But whether because the Milwaukee Brewers ’ top prospect, Lewis Brinson , plays the same position or because the organization hasn’t given Broxton preferential treatment in the past, the enthusiasm over the 26-year-old has been lacking.

With another homer Saturday, though, Broxton has been one of the most exciting players in the Cactus League:

Keon Broxton CF / Milwaukee (2017 spring)
BA: .412 HR: 2 SB: 1 OPS: 1.385 AB: 17

And manager Craig Counsell has come to appreciate having him and Jonathan Villar batting back-to-back at the top of the lineup. He’s his leadoff hitter, in other words, and those guys aren’t so easily cast aside.

Plus, the Brewers have more reason to be encouraged this time around. See, there’s a reason Broxton was so effective after his final trip to the minors last year. He made some extensive mechanical changes that allowed him to take off, with the goal being to model his swing after the similarly built Eric Davis.

It seems to be working.

“When [Broxton] squares the ball up, he hits the ball so hard,” Counsell told MLB.com. “Keon, he’s been a quick learner since he’s been there. The things that have happened, they have happened fast.” 

A 20/40 season isn’t outside the realm of possibility here, and you can get Broxton late, potentially as your fifth outfielder.

Here we go again with Pineda

Perhaps the most electrifying pitching performance of this weekend was from a pitcher who often electrifies in small doses. Michael Pineda struck out five, all in a row, in his two-inning debut Saturday.

But how many times have we been down this road with him? He has put together a 2.25 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings over his previous three spring trainings, and you may remember where his numbers ultimately wound up last year.

Michael Pineda SP / N.Y. Yankees (2016 season)
W-L: 6-12 ERA: 4.82 WHIP: 1.35 IP: 175 2/3 K: 207

But manager Joe Girardi said those numbers don’t add up.

“We scratched our heads a lot last year when you looked at his numbers, month by month. It just doesn’t make sense,” Girardi told MLB.com.  

He’s right, of course. They don’t add up. Pineda had the best strikeout rate (K/9, anyway) in the AL, the ninth-best strikeout-to-walk ratio and, fittingly, a FIP (3.79) a full run lower than his ERA, which would suggest he pitched better than he fared. But they didn’t at all jibe in 2015 either, so I’m reluctant to dismiss it as a fluke.

Equipped with a quality fastball and slider, Pineda has an ace reliever arsenal, which is why he’s able to dominate in short stints like this one, but he’s missing that third pitch to fulfill his ace starter aspirations.

It’ll take a lot more than a two-inning gem to get me buying in again.

Walker takes a step forward

Speaking of developing third pitches, Taijuan Walker is insistent he’ll throw his slider more than the 1 percent of the time he featured it last year, according to BrooksBaseball.net.

“I think it’s going to be a big pitch for me, if I can continue to throw it and have confidence in it,” Walker told MLB.com.  

So far, so good with it. He allowed one hit over his three innings Sunday, striking out two, which brings his spring line over two starts to this:

Taijuan Walker SP / Arizona (2017 spring)
IP: 5 H: 3 ER: 0 BB: 0 K: 5

“You watch the bullpens, and then you transition into the live BP, and you wonder how it’s going to translate [into games], and I have been very pleasantly satisfied with how that’s translated into games,” manager Torey Lovullo said. 

Walker, who was once considered the top pitching prospect in baseball, was hyped as a breakout the last two springs but isn’t getting nearly as much attention this time around. He’s in a worse park after coming over from the Seattle Mariners this offseason but a more favorable league, and he has never had trouble throwing his pitches for strikes. He just needed a little more deception.

Maybe this slider will give him it. With that hope, you couldn’t find too many late-rounders with more upside.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Raised in Atlanta by a board game-loving family during the dawn of the '90s Braves dynasty, Scott White was easy prey for the Fantasy Sports, in particular Fantasy Baseball, and has devoted his adulthood... Full Bio

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