Brad Boxberger was far from the most desirable closer in Fantasy, what with his 3.71 ERA and 1.37 WHIP last year, including 4.33 and 1.44 in the second half. But he was a safe closer in the sense that no one or no thing impeded his chances of accumulating saves.
So much for all that.
1. Box up Boxberger
Boxberger, who actually led the AL with 41 saves despite the not-so-pretty peripherals, had core muscle surgery and will miss eight weeks. That puts him coming back toward the end of May, assuming he doesn't suffer a setback along the way. And as we saw with outfielder Denard Span last season, setbacks are pretty common with this sort of injury.
The reason is because the core muscles deteriorate from the lack of activity, and so the back muscles have to compensate. Ultimately, it was Span's back that plagued him, but it all started from the core muscle surgery.
Maybe Boxberger will avoid that pitfall. I'm sure the impact on the back isn't lost on the Rays' medical staff, so let's assume they're on top of it and he really is back to 100 percent in late May. It's possible that either Alex Colome or Danny Farquhar -- the replacement isn't entirely clear as of now -- could be locked into the role by that point. Again, Boxberger wasn't exactly lights out last year.
So his stock is clearly down, and it goes beyond just adjusting for the time he's going to miss. At this point, I'd rather have one of the higher-end prospective closers, like Will Smith or Jason Grilli.
2. Moore strikeouts, fewer walks
It seems like ancient history now, but way back in 2012, Matt Moore was sandwiched between Bryce Harper and Mike Trout in the Baseball America prospect rankings. And they were among the most pessimistic. MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus both had him No. 1.
And seemingly just as ancient, he was a pretty effective pitcher -- not one without his flaws, as his 4.3 walks per nine in 2012 and 2013, his two full seasons, would tell you, but he also had a 3.57 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 8.7 strikeouts per nine innings during that two-year period. He was on his way to becoming something, in other words.
But then came Tommy John surgery and all that goes with it -- the reduced effectiveness, the long rehabilitation, the erratic return, the forgotten success.
So now comes ... hopefully, more starts like this:
And here, courtesy MLB.com, is the video evidence:
The performance brings his spring tally over 10 1/3 innings to 11 strikeouts compared to (gasp!) zero walks.
Let's roll back a little to his erratic return in 2015. It was only erratic for the first six starts. Then, Moore went back to the minors, had a 16-strikeout game, and returned to deliver a 2.97 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings in six starts.
The control was dramatically improved then -- better than we've ever seen it for the 26-year-old -- and it seems to have carried over. And if you don't think a pitcher can improve his walk rate over time, check out Clayton Kershaw's first few years.
You don't want to let a talent like Moore slip by you in the late rounds.
3. Also, Velasquez ...
What a fine display of pitching in Clearwater, Fla., Thursday afternoon. Opposing Moore for the Phillies was their favorite for the fifth starter job, the prize of the Ken Giles deal this offseason, Vincent Velasquez. Yeah ... he pretty much matched Moore:
He was throwing 94-95 mph, which is pretty good, but nothing major-league hitters aren't used to. It tells me that Velasquez hides the ball exceptionally well and explains why he had 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings over his minor-league career.
The Phillies are playing coy, saying they'll make their decision at the end of spring training, but if you ask me, this battle is as good as over. Velasquez, with his relief pitcher eligibility, is a must-have in Head-to-Head points leagues and a sleeper even in Rotisserie leagues.
4. He doesn't Mesoraco around
You know how Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco, after a breakout 2014 season that nearly brought him to Buster Posey's level, was plagued by a hip injury early last season that the Reds only months later decided required surgery? And you know how they've held him out all spring due to his continued rehabilitation from that surgery?
Well, they finally put him in a game Thursday -- just a couple innings, nothing too strenuous -- and in his one and only at-bat, he crushed a ball over the left field fence.
This is probably a good time to remind you that the 25 home runs he hit in 2014 came in only 384 at-bats. He had a couple injury flare-ups that year, but each time, he'd hit the ground running when he returned, homering three times in five games after one DL stint and six times in 15 games after another. The Reds are going to ease him in, letting him catch just a few innings here and there after first, but he passed every test with flying colors Thursday, throwing out 1 of 2 attempted base stealers and making another strong throw to second base on a fakeout by Rajai Davis.
I'm getting the sense this will end well for him. Round 16, where he's getting drafted on average, could be a major discount.
5. Hammel strikes again
One of the more confounding pitchers of the 2015 season was Jason Hammel, who took a 2.86 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings into the All-Star break, making him a notable snub for the midseason honor, and then stumbled to the finish line, coming close to losing his job.
But he offered an explanation after his previous start Saturday.
"I actually was delivering the pitch with my legs, not my arm," Hammel said of his success against the White Sox that day. "I know the fastball command will get even better. Today it was good, but it can get better. The delivery was a lot more effortless. Using the legs, the arm felt a lot better."
He also told MLB.com he worked to strengthen his legs this offseason and is throwing on more of a downward plane.
With another four strong innings Thursday against the Diamondbacks, he has allowed just one run in 10 innings with one walk and 11 strikeouts this spring. He was one of my favorite sleepers at this time a year ago. It's worth getting behind him again.