Fantasy Baseball Spring Training Takeaways: Dominic Leone, Cam Bedrosian in line for saves?
A couple of surprising closer candidates have emerged, according to Scott White, who also looks at Jake Junis' and Sean Newcomb's dominant outings.
We're at about the halfway point of spring training, and some of the position battles are coming to a head.
Including ones we didn't even know existed.
Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, who's as inside as insiders get, writes a column from time to time in which he offers notes for all 30 teams, and in his most recent one Thursday, he made this claim for the Angels:
"Cam Bedrosian is seen as the current favorite for the closer's job."
Say what, now?
I wasn't even totally sure the job was up for grabs, but at the same time, there was a reason I ranked Blake Parker outside my top 24 relievers even though he had a 2.54 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings last year, and it's because I didn't trust manager Mike Scioscia to make the right decision. It took him five months to come around to Parker last year even though he was obviously the team's best reliever. The fact Parker has a 9.82 ERA this spring compared to Bedrosian's 0.00 mark certainly doesn't help.
But look, Heyman wasn't quoting anybody, and it's hard to tell given the format of the piece whether it was just his perception of things or honest-to-goodness reporting. Plus, "is seen as the current favorite for the closer's job" doesn't exactly refute Parker's candidacy. It could still end up being Parker.
It seems solid enough for me to move Bedrosian ahead of Parker in my rankings, though. I won't be ranking either especially high given the uncertainty.
So Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak tried to clarify the Cardinals closer situation on KMOX-AM Sunday but only muddied the waters. When asked who would the fill the ninth-inning role if the season started today, here's how he responded:
"You're saying because Gregerson is out, right, it would probably be Dominic Leone," Mozeliak said.
Some of the news aggregators emphasized the second half of that statement: Leone would be the closer if the season started today. But it's a misleading report without the first half, in which Mozeliak implies that Leone's closer status is contingent on Luke Gregerson still being hurt.
Gregerson is presently hurt, battling a minor oblique strain, so if the season started today, he wouldn't close. But the season doesn't start today. It starts in two weeks, and in two weeks, he may be better.
Mozeliak anointed Gregerson the closer before the start of spring training, and even though Leone would appear to be capable of handling the role after compiling a 2.56 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings in 65 appearances for the Blue Jays last year, we have little reason to believe Mozeliak or the Cardinals have soured on their initial choice.
Gregerson is still my top target here, but at least now we know the backup for saves.
Even more Bauer power
Trevor Bauer has already been a buzzable player this draft prep season, which I didn't think was entirely justified going off last year's numbers. True, he had a 3.35 ERA with 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings over his final 23 appearances (22 starts), which is when then pitching coach Mickey Callaway convinced him to throw his curveball more, but his 1.35 WHIP during that same stretch didn't inspire much confidence. He seemed decidedly middle-tier to me.
But then came Monday's gem against the Rangers in which he recorded eight strikeouts in five two-run innings. His comments afterward shed new light on the performance.
"It's the first time all spring I've thrown my full complement of pitches," he told MLB.com, "so I was really encouraged by the slider and the curveball playing together and how effective those were when paired together."
The slider is new. He apparently added a slider to his arsenal this offseason, and it's supposed to be modeled after Corey Kluber's. Monday's start was the clearest indication it could be a new weapon for him.
"By the time I get to the season, I will have 60 innings under my belt with it," he said. "A lot of those innings -- probably 40 to 50 of them -- are going to be throwing nothing but sliders as my breaking pitch. So, I have a generally idea of how I want to use it and it's been good."
The biggest thing Bauer needs to do to take the next step is throw strikes consistently, but another swing-and-miss pitch would certainly help. Maybe he's deserving of the buzz after all.
Pirela de Skill
With Eric Hosmer bumping Wil Myers to right field, Hunter Renfroe and Jose Pirela were thought to be in a battle for the starting left field job, but manager Andy Green put an end to the drama Monday, in part because Pirela has hit .481 (13 for 27) with two home runs and a 1.448 OPS this spring.
"Based on what he's done in spring training this year, he's been the same guy," Green said, referring to Pirela's strong finish last season. "It's going to be hard to supplant him in the lineup, but he can bounce to a couple different positions."
So what does it mean for Renfroe? Well, there's a chance he could see a fair amount of time in left field. Already this spring, Pirela has played some second base, where the Padres don't have a great option, and he has experience at every position but catcher. Renfroe won't be in line for full-time at-bats, though, which limits his appeal to NL-only leagues.
But mixed-leaguers shouldn't sleep on Pirela. He was on about a 20-homer pace with a .288 batting average and .837 OPS last year and is someone I often find myself drafting for my bench in five-outfielder leagues.
Jakob with a K
Jake Junis -- or Jakob Junis, as he's known on his birth certificate -- just plain carved up the Padres Monday, striking out seven over four near-perfect innings (he did hit a batter). It was just his second official spring start, which makes it hard to tell if it was a total aberration or a sign of him elevating his game, but he did partly credit a new pitch for the performance.
"I threw quite a bit with the new curveball and got some swings and misses," he told MLB.com. "I wasn't just relying on the slider today."
Junis' slider was good for a 15 percent swinging strike rate last year but was possibly made less effective by him throwing it one-third of the time. His biggest advantage was getting called strikes at a rate that would have ranked among the top 25 qualifiers. If he has another pitch to put hitters away once he's ahead, a breakthrough season could be in store.
He's just a little outside the draftable range in standard mixed leagues but is certainly a pitcher to keep an eye on.
Braves left-hander Sean Newcomb may have sewn up a rotation spot with his performance Monday against the Phillies. He threw 4 2/3 perfect innings, striking out six. For a guy who has always struggled with his control, issuing 5.1 walks per nine innings in 19 starts as a rookie last year, his two walks in 11 2/3 innings this spring are encouraging.
Apparently, they're by design, too. Newcomb certainly has swing-and-miss stuff, boasting a fastball-curveball combo that some have compared to a young Jon Lester, so he doesn't need nibble.
"It's just a different mentality," he said. "I'm attacking guys. If they hit it, chances are it's going to be an out. Physically, I feel more in control. I feel in control with my fastball. I'm able to put that on the corners where I want to."
If Newcomb can take these strike-throwing ways into the regular season, he could really surprise people. The 24-year-old has the ceiling of an ace.
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