Fantasy Baseball Spring Notebook: Dylan Bundy, Josh James gaining sleeper appeal; is now their time?
From velocity increases to Chris Davis' re-emergence to important injury updates for Blake Snell and Aaron Judge, Scott White breaks down the latest from around spring training.
If you've gotten burned by Dylan Bundy before, you're in good company.
The 27-year-old was at one point considered the top pitching prospect in baseball. Injuries set him back early in his career, but even in more recent years, he has flashed the potential that once made him the fourth overall pick in the draft, most notably with a swinging-strike rate that ranks among some of the game's elites.
The talent is there, but he needs a new approach to fully realize it. And that's why a change of scenery with his move to the Angels this offseason is genuine cause for enthusiasm. The Orioles don't have a great track record of developing pitchers, after all, and it's clear Bundy had stalled out with them, his home runs becoming a more defining characteristic than his strikeouts in that small ballpark.
Early returns this spring are promising. He has yet to allow a hit in four innings, striking out seven and walking one. Moreover, the game plan he's describing seems well suited for his arsenal. What his fastball lacks in velocity it makes up for in spin rate, and high-spin fastballs are best at inducing swings and misses up in the zone, where they look like they'll drop down into a hitter's sweet spot but then don't. That's where Bundy plans to live with his fastball this year.
"It's a tough pitch to hit because it looks good to hit, but it's hard to catch up to," Bundy said. "Just got to locate it well."
Even if Bundy shows up to Anaheim the exact same pitcher, he's bound to improve just from the change in venue, but the upside makes him one of the more exciting lottery tickets at a position where you'll need your share, especially since the cost is as low as it's ever been.
Some other tidbits from around spring training:
- Josh James has an even easier sleeper case than Bundy, provided he wins the Astros' fifth starter job. The 26-year-old had a 14.7 K/9 rate pitching out of the bullpen last year, but it may have fallen by the wayside because of his 5.1 BB/9 rate. He reworked his delivery this offseason to become more "linear" toward the plate, and sure enough, he threw 20 of his 25 pitches for strikes in his spring debut Friday, striking out three over two perfect innings.
- Jordan Montgomery, who's the leading candidate for one of the final two spots in the Yankees starting rotation, has only bolstered his case so far, striking out seven while allowing just one hit over four innings. He has touched 94 mph with his fastball, a mark he didn't reach in his return from Tommy John surgery late last year, but back when he was throwing that hard as a rookie in 2017, he had a swinging-strike rate on par with Walker Buehler. He could be a sleeper with the Yankees offense and bullpen backing him.
- Speaking of rising velocities, Joe Musgrove has been clocked at 94 mph this spring. That's where his fastball was over his final eight starts last year, when he had a 3.74 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 9.5 K/9. He has said his biggest priority this spring is to command the fastball up in the strike zone, and since his, like Bundy's, measures high in spin rate, that's a good strategy for him. There have been reports of him this spring, but he's pitching through it for now. We'll see.
- Yusei Kikuchi is also throwing notably harder this spring. The 28-year-old left-hander fizzled in his first year over from Japan, but he also wasn't following his usual throwing regimen. "I'm able to throw a lot more this spring, especially because [new pitching coach Pete Woodworth] really does believe in me and trusts me on my work ethic and just how I work," Kikuchi said. His fastball has been clocked in the 94-96 mph range this spring compared to 92.5 last season, and his slider, which averaged 86, is up closer to 90.
- All of these pitchers looking to throw up in the zone will do so at their own peril against Paul DeJong, who says he'll be keying in on that pitch after getting caught chasing down and away too often last year. "When you're looking for everything and just trying to get the job done, you can get a little off your game," DeJong said. "[I'm] trying to visualize before where I want the ball and then swinging in that zone. I trust myself in that zone." DeJong already has three homers in five games this spring. Something clearly went right for him last April, when he hit .342 with five homers and 14 doubles, and then went very wrong for him thereafter. Maybe he's onto something.
- Blake Snell got a cortisone shot in left elbow — "just because the inflammation was annoying," he said — but he feels good overall and plans to pitch later this week. He had surgery to remove loose bodies from that elbow late last season, but of course, elbow soreness immediately has people fearing something UCL-related. The injection was on the opposite side of the elbow from that ligament, though.
- We're still waiting for resolution on Griffin Canning's elbow after an MRI revealed "chronic changes" to his UCL. Canning has described it as "normal wear and tear," and manager Joe Maddon has called it "a joint vs. ligament situation," which would suggest it's not a season-ender. Maybe the Angels are just living in denial, but for everyone drafting right now, Canning is basically radioactive. There isn't much downside to scooping him up with your last pick. We'll probably know more before the season starts, and you can swap him out then if necessary.
- Aaron Judge has been in and out of the trainer's room all spring with shoulder soreness, and Giancarlo Stanton has officially been diagnosed with a calf strain. Here we go again, right? Well, let's not overreact just because those two have an injury history. It sounds like these particularly ailments are fairly minor, unlikely to keep them out much beyond opening day, if even that long. "I'm very optimistic on both Aaron and Giancarlo not being long-term things," manager Aaron Boone said. "I feel good about the prognosis of things, even though in the immediate [picture] — because of what has happened and what went on last year — the flames get a little fanned."
- Carlos Martinez, who is trying to reclaim a rotation spot this spring after the health of his shoulder forced him to the bullpen (and the closer role) last season, threw three hitless innings in his latest spring outing Saturday, striking out four. "Right now I feel really good," Martinez said. "Last year I felt frustration because of [shoulder weakness], but right now I feel really comfortable." Martinez was a No. 2-type starter in Fantasy before his injury problems of the past two years, and we all could use another competent pitcher in the starting role right now. The Cardinals have also been getting strong outings Daniel Ponce de Leon and Austin Gomber, but Martinez is the one to root for as a more proven commodity.
- Could Matt Shoemaker be one of those competent pitchers? The 33-year-old had a 1.57 ERA through five starts last year before suffering a torn ACL, so his spring debut in which he struck out five over 2 2/3 scoreless Monday is noteworthy. He has typically under-performed his peripherals but has been leaning more and more on his wipeout splitter in recent years, which could result in more whiffs and weaker contact.
- According to Cardinals beat writer Anne Rogers of MLB.com, top prospect Dylan Carlson may be forcing his way into the left field conversation. The 21-year-old is 7 for 14 in the early going with more walks (4) than strikeouts (3). Tyler O'Neill is considered the front-runner for that job and, at 24, deserves his chance to break through as an everyday player. But how sold are the Cardinals on Dexter Fowler in right?
- If you want to talk prospects making an impression, though, Nate Pearson takes the cake there. The Blue Jays flamethrower has delivered three perfect innings with six strikeouts, making Josh Bell look foolish on one. Because the 23-year-old threw only 101 2/3 innings last year, the Blue Jays are playing it cautiously with him, but it doesn't sound like they're ruling out a 2020 debut, provided it doesn't impede his development. "Because of the upside, because of the potential for him to be a workhorse — and we feel strongly that he will be — we are entirely focused on his development," general manager Ross Atkins said. "And a big part of his development is ensuring that he has every chance to increase that workload in a logical and smart way."
- Just what has gotten into Chris Davis? The two-time MLB home run champ has hit a combined .172 the past two years but is already up to three home runs this spring. It's probably nothing — the guy's almost 34 and has had severe contact issues throughout his career — but he did add 25 pounds of muscle this offseason, which he says has given him the confidence not to over-swing. "I think a lot of it is peace of mind," Davis said. "I think I'm stronger. I know I'm stronger. In the box, I'm not trying to do too much. I don't have to try to generate power. That's always been my Achilles' heel. Most of the time, when I've had success, it's because I made it more simple, not gone out and over-swung." Color me skeptical, but it's a situation worth monitoring.
- Do the Mariners have a closer? Manager Scott Servais says probably not. "There will be no closer," Servais said. "Unless somebody jumps up and grabs the position and he looks super comfortable and he's just shoving it and looks great, then it might grow into that. But right now, we don't have one." My money's on Matt Magill, who has been limited so far by a sore shoulder but got five saves down the stretch last season. Servais seemed to downplay the most obvious alternative for the role, new acquisition Yoshihisa HIrano. "There might be certain guys that we want velocity [from]," Servais said. "That probably would not be Hirano at that point."
- Do the Orioles have a closer? They've been reluctant to assign roles as well, but Hunter Harvey might be the direction they're leaning. The 25-year-old struck out 11 over 6 1/3 innings late last year, allowing just one earned run, and manger Brandon Hyde has already said he "has closer stuff." Mychal Givens faltered in the role last year and may fit better as sort of a late-inning workhorse, which was the role he filled the previous three years.
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