Daily Intel – 3/31/2018

Hopefully, today will be our first day with all 30 teams making it on to the field.

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Arizona Diamondbacks

  • Two games with the new humidor in Chase Field, and a total of 27 runs and five home runs have been hit so far. Small sample size and all, but maybe this won’t be the offensive drain most thought it would, especially for fringe-value guys like 3B Jake Lamb and 2B/SS/OF Chris Owings. 
  • SP Robbie Ray picked up just one swinging strike out of the 39 four-seam fastballs he threw, per Baseball Savant. Those fastballs came in at an average of 92.6 mph. Last year, he averaged 94.5 mph on that same pitch. He walked three batters in his five innings, but still struck out eight. This looked more like 2016 Robbie Ray, not the 2017 version that vaulted him in to borderline SP1 status this draft season.

Atlanta Braves

  • SP Mike Foltynewicz had a successful season debut, going five innings and allowing just six baserunners, striking out seven. His fastball and sinker velocity at in the same 95-96 mph range as last season, but the key to note was his curveball, which he threw 20 percent of the time after using it just 13 percent of the time last year. If Folty can make this consistent pitch mix stick, he’s going to have great breakout potential. Watch his next start and add him if he puts up another line like this.
  • OF Preston Tucker has been a consistently above average hitter at Triple-A and in brief major league stints with Houston over the last four seasons. He’s got the skill, he’s just always needed a chance. OF Ronald Acuna is going to be up soon, and the Braves did bring in OF Peter Bourjos to split time in left field with Tucker while they play service time games with Acuna, but we’d recommend keeping Tucker on your watchlist for the first half of the season. All he needs is playing time, and there’s no guarantee that Acuna sets the world on fire (he probably will, though, he’s that good), and OF Nick Markakis is due for an injury, because he’s played 147+ games every year of his career but one (2012)! Tucker’s a long-shot flyer, we get it, but we like his skill set.

Baltimore Orioles

  • The O’s were off yesterday after their walk-off win on Thursday, but some interesting news from their minor-league levels. OF Austin Hays, who drew some deep sleeper talk due to his 2017 Double-A performance and Baltimore’s lack of offseason action in their lineup, is going back to Double-A Bowie to start the season, not moving up Triple-A Norfolk.

Boston Red Sox

  • In one sense, this was the same SP David Price who dominated at Tropicana Field for years, allowing just four hits and no runs over seven innings. But his velocity was down a little bit, and he didn’t use his curveball at all, which is not surprising considering how little he used it last season. I’m not sure how long Price can keep this up with the elbow problems he’s had, but I’d ride him every time out until the injury bug strikes, especially in daily fantasy when he’s got a non-Yankees matchup.
  • 2B/3B Eduardo Nunez beat out an infield single in the seventh inning, but in diving in to first base he was shaken up and needed to see the trainer before staying in. With the right knee issues he had in spring and the dependence of his value on speed, little issues like this are worth noting, especially if he doesn’t take a stolen base opportunity soon. Nunez’s season-long value is heavily dependent on his production while 2B Dustin Pedroia is out, and it’s important he runs this month to help owners who grabbed him as a 20-plus steal source.

Chicago Cubs

  • Props to manager Joe Maddon for getting through a 17-inning game using just six pitchers, with one of whom, RP Brandon Morrow, only throwing two pitches before allowing the game-winning hit. RP Eddie Butler was the star here, throwing 90 pitches (two more than starter Kyle Hendricks) and going seven innings. The Cubs rotation isn’t some sort of lock – Jon Lester is aging quickly, Yu Darvish has had recent injury issues, and Tyler Chatwood doesn’t have some infallible track record. Keep an eye on Butler in 15-team mixed leagues and add him in NL only if he’s not already on someone’s roster.
  • OF Albert Almora Jr. and 2B/OF Ben Zobrist both got in the lineup yesterday, replacing 2B/OF Ian Happ and OF Jason Heyward. Almora led off and went 1-for-4, a positive sign for his value as a reserve/fifth outfielder in most leagues.

Chicago White Sox

  • An off day for the Sox yesterday after their 14-7 win on Thursday, but here’s a reason to really watch 3B Matt Davidson over the next two days. Per Statcast, Davidson’s three home runs on Thursday set a record – he’s the first player since the Statcast technology debuted to hit three home runs 110+ mph in the same game. They clocked in at 115.1 mph, 114.0 mph, and 113.9 mph, respectively. Davidson was a borderline roster-worthy player in 12-team leagues heading in to the season, so if he hits the ball hard again today and tomorrow, I’d recommend adding him. We’ll follow-up on this in tomorrow’s newsletter.

Cincinnati Reds

  • Manager Bryan Price was up front about the possibility of OF Billy Hamilton batting somewhere other than leadoff this year. Hamilton started 135 games last year and led off in all of them. He hit ninth yesterday, with top prospect and minor-league OBP machine OF Jesse Winker getting the start in the one hole.
  • A terrific opener for 2B Scooter Gennett was the one offensive bright spot. He saw 23 pitches in going 4-for-4, aggressively fouling off a lot of great 2-strike Max Scherzer pitches. Gennett batting cleanup creates a lot of natural prevention of the fear of regression many had coming off his second half breakout last year, especially with Winker and 1B Joey Votto likely to be getting on base in front of him quite a bit.

Cleveland Indians

  • On off days with no news, which applies to yesterday’s Indians situation (and the Mets…keep your eyes open for this same text later!), we’ll try to find the best piece of content to point to – in this case, it’s Jordan Bastain’s MLBlogs notes and quotes from Thursday’s game, with some insight as to why the team surprisingly carried OF Rajai Davis on the final roster. Davis is an AL-only reserve type for now, but he still seems to have the green light, so if he seems to be on the path for 12-15 at bats a week, he could be a mixed league add for steals-starved squads.

Colorado Rockies 

  • OF Charlie Blackmon led off again, going 1-for-5 with a three-run home run off SP Robbie Ray. Blackmon was aggressive against Ray, putting the ball in play on 1-0 pitches in two of his first three appearances against him.
  • RP Antonio Senzatela was the first arm in after a nightmare start from SP Tyler Anderson (2 2/3 IP, 7 ER), going 2 2/3, allowing three hits and two runs, striking out one. Senzatela’s threw his four-seam fastball about 72 percent of the time last year, per Fangraphs, mixing in a slider about 22 percent of the time and rarely throwing his changeup or curveball. Last night, in 46 pitches, he threw that fastball 33 times, the slider 12 times, and curveball just once. If Senzatela is ever going to have any shot at sticking long-term in the rotation, he’s going to need to add that third pitch, and it feels like a missed opportunity if he’s not going to do it while he’s in the bullpen. There will be an opening in the Rox rotation at some point, either due to failure (Anderson is on that track already) or injury.

Detroit Tigers

  • RP Shane Greene, the closer to start the season, came on in a 6-6 game in the ninth, gave up three runs on three hits, only got 2 outs, and somehow wasn’t the worst closer in the game (see the Pirates section for that). Greene was drafted very late among the guys entering the season with a locked-in closer role, and outings like this are why. We’ll see how patient manager Ron Gardenhire is, though the Tigers probably stand to gain the most value from Greene by letting him close at even a mediocre level so they can flip him in July.
  • OF Leonys Martin has had fantasy relevant seasons before, and in leading off yesterday, he’s on our radar. Martin went 1-for-6 with a walk, but he hit the ball very hard the four times he put it in play, including a 402-foot fly out that exited his bat at over 108 mph, according to the terrific @MLBBarrelAlert Twitter feed. If Martin can get some sustained run at the top of the lineup over the next 7-10 days, he’s worth a speculative add in 12-team and deeper leagues.

Houston Astros

  • Per Brian McTaggart of MLB.com, OF Kyle Tucker, the no-doubt top hitting prospect in the organization, will start the season at Triple-A Fresno. This is no small feat for a 21-year-old, and it shows just how close the Astros think he is to contributing. If you have a minor league watch list, Tucker should be at the top of it, because OF Josh Reddick and OF/IF Marwin Gonzalez are in no way assured of playing time in the corner outfield long-term.
  • With an incredibly deep and talented bench, and a potential star like Tucker on the way, the lineup mixing and matching of manager A.J. Hinch will bear watching. Yesterday gave us our first comparison point, with right-handed SP Doug Fister on the mound after lefty SP Cole Hamels faced Houston on Thursday. The differences? Reddick moved up to second (from sixth on Thursday), 3B/SS Alex Bregman moved down to fifth (from second on Thursday), and C Max Stassi and OF Derek Fisher replaced C Brian McCann and OF Jake Marisnick hitting ninth and eighth, respectively.

Kansas City Royals

  • No news on this off-day for KC, but a cool note here from Royals Review about OF Alex Gordon playing center field after years of top-notch defense in left field. Sometimes, fantasy value is as much about volume playing time as it is performance. Gordon, if he stays healthy (kind of a big if), could provide that volume value in 15-team mixed leagues.

Los Angeles Angels

  • One of two unsettled AL West bullpen situations we’ll hit here today (Texas being the other) – Blake Parker got the save last night, but not without some trouble. It took him 27 pitches to get three outs, and he allowed three baserunners and a run before shutting down the 2-1 win. RP Kenyan Middleton, not RP Cam Bedrosian, pitched the eighth, allowing a hit and striking out one, but needing just 11 pitches to get out of the inning (he threw nine strikes). If I had to put money down in Vegas on the first pitcher to lose a closer role, it’d be Parker.
  • The Angels brought back OF Ben Revere on a minor league deal. With OF Chris Young getting DH at bats yesterday and 1B/DH Albert Pujols at high-risk of injury, Revere makes for a stash in AL-only leagues and maybe even 15-team mixed for teams that left the draft table with less speed sources than they would’ve liked.

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • Andy McCullough of the LA Times reported positive news on 3B Justin Turner’s timeline in returning from his left wrist fracture, noting that he is getting closer to swinging a bat. We normally wouldn’t note this kind of news, because it really is along the original timeline that was reported for his return, but Turner was a top-100 pick for a lot of teams, so it’s always good to have reassurances that things are on track and a panic trade/waiver add/drop does not need to happen. Continue plugging in who you can at third and wait out Turner’s likely early-May return.
  • We were firm believers in the logic behind RP Kenley Jansen’s lofty draft position, which toward the end of spring training was as high as the low-30s in some leagues. With lofty draft position comes lofty expectations, though, so seeing Jansen’s cutter down more than 5 mph last night as he gave up a tie-breaking home run to 2B Joe Panik is cause for worry. Jansen’s response to that velocity drop, per McCullough, was “Who cares?,” while manager Dave Roberts attributed it to a mechanical issue. Either way, the last thing you want to do in April is worry about one of your roster anchors, but that’s where we now are with Jansen until he shows two or three appearances in his old form.

Miami Marlins

  • OF Cameron Maybin came off the bench again, but he’s making a case to get some starts at the top of the order soon. In six plate appearances, he got on base four times, didn’t swing and miss once in seeing 26 pitches, and he got caught stealing. Yes, that last part is not a great outcome as an individual moment, but the fact that he’s running is good. Maybin stands to gain a ton of value the moment he gets regular starts in the one or two hole. Worth noting that OF Lewis Brinson led off again and went 4-for-8 with a strikeout.
  • Whenever you’ve got a rotation full of this many question marks, it’s worth latching on to the first couple of guys that show something, because odds are they’ll end up being valuable because of innings volume. Enter SP Caleb Smith, starting just his third major league game. Smith is a lefty with a decent minor league track record, and according to Craig Mish, C J.T. Realmuto said he was the most impressive new Marlins pitcher in the spring. He struck out eight Cubs in 5 1/3 innings and allowed one run on four hits and three walks. Smith is on our radar for 15-team leagues as early as this month, and two or three more starts like this will make him a 12-team stash.

Milwaukee Brewers

  • RP Brandon Woodruff, a number five starter who we believe bears watching in his first few starts, came on to pitch the sixth and seventh innings last night, allowing one run on three hits and striking out one. He also took two line drives off his body, but he said after the game he was fine. Of note, Woodruff was averaging 96 mph on the 22 four-seam fastballs he threw.
  • OF Lorenzo Cain stole a base for the second consecutive game. He was also far more aggressive at the plate, seeing just 11 pitches in his five plate appearances after getting 21 in the same number on Thursday. Cain has come out hot with five hits now in his first 10 at bats, and he’s a great play for DFS on Saturday. It’s worth tracking how aggressive he stays on the bases with two strong contact hitters – OF Christian Yelich and 1B/OF Ryan Braun – hitting directly behind him.

Minnesota Twins

  • SP Ervin Santana was still drafted in most 12-team and deeper leagues, and yesterday MLB.com Twins reporter Rhett Bollinger tweeted that Santana’s return is looking more like for May rather than April. If you drafted him, that’s still not a reason to cut him yet, unless it becomes a matter of choosing between him and another injured starting pitcher for a scarce reserve spot.

New York Mets

  • On off days with no news, which applies to yesterday’s Mets situation, we’ll try to find the best piece of content to point to – in this case, it’s Anthony DiComo’s piece on MLB.com about how OF Brandon Nimmo‘s improvements are likely to create a logjam in the outfield once OF Michael Conforto returns.

New York Yankees

  • OF Aaron Hicks has been a popular sleeper for two years now, with the caveat always being “if he can stay healthy.” After one game, he’s not healthy. Hicks hit the disabled list with a pulled muscle in his rib cage, which isn’t ideal for a sport like baseball that requires a lot of core twisting to hit. Here’s a nifty rundown from MLB.com on what that means, including this note on timelines from other players who have suffered this injury: “In 2014, Dexter Fowler missed eight weeks with an intercostal strain. Carlos Gomez missed three weeks in 2017. David Wright missed one month of Spring Training in 2012 and then missed time in the spring of 2013 at the World Baseball Classic with the same injury.”
  • RP Aroldis Chapman got his first save chance, and showed the same odd in-game inconsistency that plagued him last year, when he briefly lost the closer role. After throwing seven straight strikes (a foul ball included) to strike out 3B Josh Donaldson and 1B Justin Smoak, Chapman left fastballs in bad spots in consecutive at bats against OF Steve Pearce and 2B/3B/SS Yangervis Solarte, who rapped them for doubles and a run scored. Both hits came on two strike counts. With a bullpen this deep and an unknown managerial commodity in Boone, any stumble by Chapman bears tracking.

Oakland A’s

  • A fantastic performance from SP Sean Manaea, with 7 2/3 innings yielding just four baserunners, one run, and seven strikeouts. His one mistake wasn’t even really a mistake, as OF and Hall of Famer Mike Trout took a bottom-of-the-strike-zone changeup and pulled it out for a home run in the left field corner. Manaea showed a nice three-pitch mix over his 77 pitches, continuing the increased slider usage he showed last year.

Philadelphia Phillies

  • It’s going to be a lot of fun tracking manager Gabe Kapler’s tendencies on a daily basis. He used nine pitchers last night, with SP Nick Pivetta going just four full innings on 73 pitches before giving way to the bullpen. Unlike Thursday, this strategy worked, with the eight relievers going seven innings and allowing just one run. Still, for a popular deep sleeper SPs like Vince Velasquez and a supposed ace like SP Aaron Nola, these tactics could really hurt their fantasy value.
  • One of those relievers, closer Hector Neris, was much better than Thursday, pitching a perfect ninth inning in a tie game, needing just 12 pitches. The trend to track, though, is Kapler using Neris on consecutive days, both in non-save situations. Nothing wrong with that, but it is likely to impact the number of save opportunities Neris gets.

Pittsburgh Pirates

  • The implosion of RP Felipe Rivero brought back memories of many half- or one-year wonder closers that gain a ton of offseason helium, fall apart the following April, and are never heard from again as fantasy contributors. Recent versions of this model include Sam Dyson (2017 Rangers), Steve Cishek (2015 Marlins), and Jim Johnson (2014 A’s…though he did have two great seasons as Baltimore’s closer, so a more sustained track record). Now, in fairness, Rivero’s velocity was good, and the anecdotal evidence is that he may have been overthrowing, leading to the three walks he allowed. But an outing this awful puts a closer in immediate trouble, even for a team with low expectations and a guy with a brand new contract extension.
  • Lots of offensive heroes in a 13-run outburst, but 1B Josh Bell is the one worth singling out. He saw 26 pitches in his six plate appearances and only swung and missed twice. It is that type of high-contact approach that makes Bell a very valuable fantasy piece in points formats and weekly head-to-head, because he’s unlikely to go in to prolonged slumps. If he can start adding some power as he ages, he’ll be a great dynasty target, as well.

San Diego Padres

  • RP Brad Hand got work on consecutive days, and the results were poor. His velocity was down just slightly, about .5 mph for his two main pitches, the four-seam fastball and slide (per Baseball Savant), and he allowed five runs on four hits in blowing a 6-3 lead and his first save chance.
  • 2B Carlos Asuaje batted fifth again behind OF Jose Pirela. Asuaje started 83 games last year and primarily hit second. He could have some value if RBI opportunities continue to present themselves via Pirela and 1B Eric Hosmer, who has had an on-base percentage over .360 in two of the last three years.

San Francisco Giants

  • With SP Madison Bumgarner and SP Jeff Samardzija on the shelf through April, SP Johnny Cueto is going to need to produce outings like last night – seven innings, one hit, no walks, no runs, four strikeouts. He was also perfect through six innings. After decreased cutter usage over the last three seasons (he threw it 20 percent of the time every season from 2013-2016, down to 10 percent last year, per Fangraphs), Cueto threw just five cutters in 97 pitches last night. He still has four other pitches to lean on, though, and we’ll see if this mix allows him to bounce back to the levels that made him a top-50 pick in drafts heading in to the 2017 season.
  • RP Tony Watson got another inning of high-leverage work and was great again, striking out two in the eighth inning of a scoreless game. But RP Hunter Strickland matched him with the exact same line in earning his second save in as many games, locking up the win for Watson after 2B Joe Panik homered in the ninth to break the tie. I’m confident now saying Watson should be among the top of your watchlist for “next in line” closers, but Strickland is off to a nice start and retains the natural advantage of being a righty. The Giants are carrying another lefty reliever in addition to Watson, but there’s always the risk that manager Bruce Bochy won’t let Watson move in to the closer role because of the need to play matchups in the later innings.

Seattle Mariners

  • C Mike Zunino landed on the disabled list with the side issue that popped up in batting practice Wednesday. As we said in yesterday’s Daily Intel, these types of injuries can linger and impact a batter’s swing for a while. The move is retroactive to March 27 and allows Zunino to return April 7, but I bet this will do serious damage to his fantasy value in the first full month of the season.

St. Louis Cardinals

  • 1B/OF Jose Martinez is in line for regular duty at first base, according to Rick Hummel, and his bat makes him an add even in 10-team leagues. If his defense ends up costing him regular at bats, then drop him, but the upside is too high for him to sit on waivers in any league.

Tampa Bay Rays

  • SP Blake Snell was very good, showing the same improved control that he ended 2017 with and led to some draft-season buzz. Manager Kevin Cash did stick to a trend the Rays have championed in recent years, which is removing their starters when they go through a batting order for the third time and get in trouble. For Snell, he exited at 84 pitches at 5 2/3 innings. That is probably right around where most of his starts are going to fall this year.
  • The first of what is likely to be many “bullpen days” is today, with RP Andrew Kittredge starting the game. The first few of these games are worth watching closely to see what kind of innings Kittredge, RP Austin Pruitt, RP Yonny Chirinos, and RP Matt Andriese can rack up in this system. Andriese pitched two inning sin relief yesterday, so I doubt he goes today, and if he does, it won’t be more than three batters.

Texas Rangers

  • In the first run of the new Rangers bullpen structure, manager Jeff Banister played it like he said he would when he named Keone Kela the closer – lefty Alex Claudio came in a high-leverage spot in the 6th, striking out 1B J.D. Davis with the bases loaded, then pitching a clean seventh inning. RHP Kevin Jepsen followed with a clean eighth, and Kela finished it off in the ninth, allowing just one walk, but throwing half of his 16 pitches for balls. I’d continue to track Kela’s command, especially if Jepsen is pitching well in the eighth inning.

Toronto Blue Jays

  • A moderately successful debut for SP Aaron Sanchez, in the sense that he didn’t get hurt or show signs of last season’s blister issue bothering him and his four-pitch mix was in the same general velocity range as they were in his 2016 breakout. He did allow eight hits and four walks in 5 2/3 innings, but this Yankees lineup is going to do much worse to starters all season long. Sanchez is worth tracking closely in his next start.
  • 2B Devon Travis led off again, and went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, again. OF Curtis Granderson, who we’ve said we’d love to see in the leadoff spot for fantasy value purposes, wasn’t much better, going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and seeing only nine pitches in his three at bats (in fairness, SP Masahiro Tanaka was terrific, and balls out of the zone were rare).

Washington Nationals

  • SS Trea Turner, a top-5 pick in most formats this season, opened the season in the number six hole of the lineup. Mark Zuckerman of the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN, the Nats’ home broadcaster) wrote about this on March 25, with a quote from manager Dave Martinez hoping that Turner hitting in front of OF Michael A. Taylor would lead to Taylor getting “more fastballs” to hit. This is crazy-town thinking from Martinez, and for a surefire first round pick that promised to be the most stable source of elite stolen bases, long-term deployment of this strategy could spell major trouble for Turner’s upside. Fastballs are not pitches to run on, and Taylor’s propensity to swing and miss (nearly 32 percent K rate last year) does not make bode well for Turner getting the green light when he does reach in front of Taylor.
  • Taylor saw 15 pitches in his four turns at the plate…and just six fastballs. Still, there are fantasy positives to this lineup card, and it is the placement of high-OBP bats OF Adam Eaton and 3B Anthony Rendon going 1-2 in front of OF Bryce Harper and 1B Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman is likely to step back a little from last year’s power production, but if Eaton and Rendon are on base often, he may be able to offer just as much fantasy value thanks to more RBIs.
  • Worth noting the Nats bullpen rhythm after six innings of dominance from SP Max Scherzer – RP Brandon Kintzler worked the seventh and RP Ryan Madson worked the eighth, both with a one-run lead, and RP Sean Doolittle closed it out with a two-run lead.

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