Rich Hill entered this spring as sort of a trendy sleeper after he finished last season with four dominant starts for the Red Sox. His wipeout curveball can pile up strikeouts when he's throwing it just right.
But this spring he has been anything but right. Struggling with his release point and, along with it, his command, his greatest strength has become his worst enemy, hanging on a tee for opposing hitters to wallop.
Which makes me wonder if we've been backing the wrong curveballer this whole time.
1. Eye opener for Eickhoff
Jerad Eickhoff, like Hill, dominated down the stretch last season, though his showing lasted eight starts instead of just four. During that time, he had a 2.85 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings and earned rave reviews from his teammates.
"If none of the other guys [who came over in the Cole Hamels trade] ever pan out, he's worth it alone," Jeff Francoeur said at the time, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer .
The key to his success was indeed his curveball, which was on full display in his spring debut Tuesday against the Twins.
That, friends and neighbors, is one nasty hook.
In all, he had seven strikeouts over four innings, and while he also gave up three runs on four hits, again, it was his spring debut. And he still earned those rave reviews.
"He's a freaking stud," said catcher J.P. Arencibia, who was on the receiving end of those curveballs.
I know I liked Eickhoff at the end of last season, but maybe his fractured thumb at the beginning of spring training created an out-of-sight, out-of-mind situation. In any case, he's top of mind now.
2. Here we go with Nicasio
It finally happened Tuesday afternoon.
For the first time in a draft I took part in, Juan Nicasio got picked.
It's going to start happening more and more until the Pirates confirm he's going to the bullpen. Of course, he may not with the way he has performed this spring. He followed up a 10-strikeout effort over four innings March 16 with an eight-strikeout performance over five innings Monday. Here's a look at the first of those dominant outings:
It may be a legitimate breakthrough. Pitching coach Ray Searage has done more with less, and Nicasio told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he finally has a slider he feels comfortable throwing to both right-handers and left-handers, which has made all the difference. But quotes like this one tells me he hasn't changed the Pirates thinking too much:
"We don't want to say it's a wide-open competition, yet at the same time we brought Juan here for a reason," general manager Neal Huntington said.
Maybe I'm just being too literal, but the reason they brought in Nicasio was to fill a swingman role. And if he hasn't forced an open competition by now, when will he?
Still, there's no harm in throwing a late-round pick Nicasio's way, especially in a Head-to-Head points league where his relief pitcher eligibility would come in handy. Just remember that the pitcher getting all the buzz because of a bump in strikeouts at this time last year was Zach McAllister, and that ultimately went nowhere.
3. Shi Shaw!
One player who has seemingly changed management's thinking with his play this spring is Travis Shaw, who after a 0-for-2 performance Tuesday is batting .450 (18 for 40) with two homers, four doubles and a 1.188 OPS -- this after hitting 13 home runs over 226 at-bats in his first taste of the majors last season.
At first, he was just fighting to make the roster. Then, the Red Sox seemed intent on making him a super sub at the four corner spots. Lately, though, they've been playing him at third base exclusively and liking what they've seen.
"I think he's played the position with some ease," manager John Farrell told MLB.com. "He's shown some good range, particularly to his glove side. The internal clock and the range has been good."
All indications are they've soured on Pablo Sandoval, the previous front office's big-ticket signing, so it might be time to prioritize Shaw over Sandoval in AL-only leagues and maybe have him in your periphery in mixed.
4. White the answer?
According to MLB.com, Tyler White appears to have gained the edge over Jon Singleton, A.J. Reed and Matt Duffy in the Astros first base battle. With a 2-for-2 performance Tuesday, he's batting .371 with one home run, a .966 OPS and six walks to seven strikeouts.
"He's doing everything that he can do to make a good impression. His quality of at-bats are very good, and he doesn't go outside the strike zone very often, he doesn't pull off the ball very often, he doesn't do anything," manager A.J. Hinch told MLB.com. "He always does things that are right."
It doesn't mean he'll play every day -- Hinch has said Marwin Gonzalez will get some at-bats at first base no matter who wins the job -- but White may not have the home run power to factor in mixed leagues even if he does. He's now firmly an AL-only sleeper, though, and an especially intriguing option in leagues that reward on-base percentage.
5. A 10 for Foltynewicz
Making just his second Grapefruit League appearance Tuesday against the Astros, Mike Foltynewicz looked nothing like the erratic mess who made 15 starts for the Braves last season, allowing one run on two hits with five strikeouts to one walk over 3 2/3 innings.
It may not seem like much, but it's probably enough to vault him ahead of Williams Perez and Manny Banuelos in the battle for the fifth starter job.
"[Foltynewicz] really threw it good," manager Fredi Gonzalez told MLB.com. "All his pitches, his changeup and his two-seamer, he was really impressive. The ball looked like it had a little extra giddy-up in the strike zone. ... It was everything you wanted to see and more, really, for his second outing in the spring."
As MLB.com points out, the Braves won't need a fifth starter until April 12, and with extended spring training, Foltynewicz will have a chance to make a third, fourth and fifth start before then. He has time to get ready. It's just a matter of him feeling confident after having a rib removed to address a blood clot in September.
But will he be this effective when the light goes on? It's hard to say. Clearly, the stuff is there -- he routinely hits 100 mph with his fastball -- and he's now in a good spot health-wise. But the keys for him will be his command and the development of his secondary arsenal.
A couple good breaking balls there. It's something to monitor given his ceiling.