Over the course of a few days, the Blue Jays lost 3/5 of their rotation to injury. That will certainly put a strain on their minor league system, and it could necessitate a deal of some kind as they look to stay competitive. That's the key here - created opportunity. A trade could open the door for a pitcher with upside who has been blocked in another organization. Our job is to identify the real upside, and be sure to avoid a warm body that could negatively impact a fantasy rotation. The Notebook forum is now open for business. Always remember, knowing what a guy has done is not nearly as useful as knowing what he is likely to do going forward. So, let's get started with this week's edition by taking a look at a few recent performances; some good, and some bad:
Some Arms Who Have Made Us Take Notice:
Felix Hernandez (SEA) - With all of the 2012 injuries and ineffectiveness of pitchers who were generally considered reliable and durable, it was natural to see questions regarding King Felix when he went through his recent string of subpar performances. I took the opportunity to check in on Hernandez in his start against the Giants Sunday. Following a pattern of pitchers I choose to watch, he looked very much like the reliable, durable, and extremely effective King. In all fairness, his problems of late can be directly linked to some back issues, and those have reportedly subsided. In this one, he was again 90-94 with his fastball, his slider had good bite, his change-up was devastating, and he threw everything in the cupboard pretty much wherever and whenever he wanted. The offense the Giants could muster was typically a result of hitting pitcher's pitches - hey, that happens - and he appeared to be in control throughout the game. Unfortunately, the Mariners offense didn't earn him a win, but that's nothing new, so his owners can be happy that he is healthy, and apparently ready to be the King again.
Recommendation: The only negative I saw, was a tendency to overthrow the change-up early in the game. Perhaps he was feeling good, was amped up over the missing back pain? If there is a downside, it would be that back ailments are sometimes intermittent and lingering, but I wouldn't let that stop me. He has proven to be a workhorse, and should anchor a fantasy rotation.
Daisuke Matsuzaka (BOS) - Before Yu Darvish, Matsuzaka was the most recent big name pitcher to arrive from the Pacific Rim. In general, especially recently, he has done a great deal to make fantasy owners leery of buying into numbers generated in Japan. He underwent Tommy John surgery, and is now just a couple of starts into his return, but he may be available in many leagues where his past troubles have made him less appealing without a reasonably long stretch of effectiveness to prove he is worthy. That said, I think this might be the time to take that leap of faith before others are ready to do so. In watching his last start against the Cubs (admittedly a rather soft trial), he showed good velocity, good movement on his pitches, oh, and a fair amount of rust that will gradually fade. He settled in after the first couple of innings, and better displayed the ability to command his full arsenal of pitches, so there are signs he could, with time to get it all in synch, be at least an adequate starter in your second-half fantasy rotation.
Recommendation: Injuries, and the need to get specific bats into the lineup in inter-league play have hurt the Red Sox both offensively and defensively (Ortiz at first base and Gonzalez in right field is just one glaring example). As Dice-K settles in, and as Boston's lineup normalizes (Ellsbury should be back soon), his value could increase dramatically. Obviously there are no guarantees, but he is probably worth a flier.
Brad Lincoln (PIT) - Back in 2006, he was a very highly regarded prospect, and the Pirates made him their first pick in the draft (fourth overall). Since then, he has toiled with mixed results in the minor leagues, with a few cameo appearances with the Pirates, but he has done little to distinguish himself. Late last year, he did show some promise making several quality starts, and he has done quality work as a swingman early this year, but he hasn't been able to take that next step. Probably his biggest roadblock is an inconsistent third pitch. His fastball is certainly adequate, and he has experienced a bump in velocity, probably due to some adjustments in his mechanics which were a mess a couple of years ago, and he has a nice curve, but he lacks a reliable change-up, and that is a problem as he gets deep into a game. A two-pitch pitcher is always going to be better in short stints out of the bullpen, and right now that is probably the best place for Lincoln, either there or in Indianapolis, refining his repertoire.
Recommendation: There are things I like when I watch Lincoln - his fastball movement, and his ability to work in and out as well as up and down, with the fastball. There is certainly room for him in the Pirates rotation while some of their high profile kids develop, but he needs that third pitch. There is still time, but he will be a decent reliever, and a risky starter until it all comes together for him.
Mike Leake (CIN) -. Here is a guy who throws enough quality innings to get noticed, but also sometimes throws enough gopher balls to get pulled before qualifying for a win. That's pretty much what happened in his most recent start against Cleveland. After allowing a two-run homer to Shin-Soo Choo in the first inning, the Reds provided him with a 6-2 lead going into the fifth inning. Choo homered again, and a base hit and a walk later, he was out of the game, without qualifying for the win. It's easy to understand Dusty Baker's quick hook, Leake is not overpowering (he needs a strong tailwind to touch 90 mph), and his variety of off-speed stuff can be pretty hittable when he doesn't locate it perfectly. Given the dangerous home park he pitches in, it would be difficult to run him out there in your fantasy rotation too often. Recommendation: I could see using him in pitcher-friendly parks against weaker hitting teams, but that makes his functional usefulness a little too limited. Too many base runners, and too many long balls in Cincinnati's home run heaven are too risky for my taste. If he had pinpoint control, and had it virtually all of the time, then he could be seriously considered, but I'll pass on him.
Joe Kelly (STL) - It doesn't happen very often, but occasionally a young unheralded pitcher will pop up, and somehow catch my eye. Such is the case with Kelly. After seeing a couple of innings in his first start, I made a point to look in again in his start against Kansas City. He is in the major leagues because top prospect Shelby Miller has been struggling in the minors, and the Cardinals don't want to rush him, but Kelly showed some upside in his work this past week. He has a solid fastball that sits 92-95 and touched 96, and a slider that has some nice tight spin, and hits the mid 80's. While I generally liked those two offerings, it became pretty clear what will be his Achilles heel - he doesn't have much of a change-up, and that leaves him very vulnerable to left-handed hitters. Given some more time, he could develop a more diverse arsenal, but right now he will be a risky play against teams that can (and will) stack their lineups with lefty swingers. Recommendation: He's possibly one to monitor. I don't think he is going to be a top tier starting pitcher, in fact, if he can't come up with another effective pitch to use against left-handers, he could end up in the bullpen, but there were some positive things.
I was asked the other day who might step in to the Padres closer gig if Huston Street is dealt. I'll admit I had to think that one through. They dealt away Ernesto Frieri, the most qualified candidate, Dale Thayer filled in reasonably well when Street was hurt, but he's not the long term answer. After exploring the options, I think I'll make Brad Boxberger my lukewarm grab and stash favorite. The Cubs ended the musical chairs game late last week and put Carlos Marmol back in the closer's role. He's no less volatile now than he was earlier, but their viable options were almost non-existent. The Nationals again expressed confidence that Drew Storen will be back before the All-Star break, and even though he has not yet headed out on a rehab assignment, things are progressing for him. Tyler Clippard will continue to keep his spot warm. The Twins' Matt Capps has a sore shoulder, but is not expected to miss much time. There is no clear fill-in, but Jared Burton or Glen Perkins would be the most likely candidates should a need arise.
While most people are drooling over the impending arrival of Trevor Bauer, I have to admit I am even more anxious to see Danny Hultzen try out a big league mound. Last year's draft was incredibly deep in pitching, and although it was a tough call, I had Hultzen ranked slightly ahead of both Gerrit Cole and Bauer. Speaking of Bauer, the Diamondbacks have been rumored to be offering Joe Saunders around in trade talks. That would provide the needed opening in their rotation to bring Bauer up. Be alert. Casey Crosby was ineffective in three starts for the Tigers, so Jacob Turner will get his opportunity this week. His Triple-A numbers suggest he may not be completely ready (not generally a concern for the Tigers), but he is an excellent talent that should be considered in deeper leagues, and even more so in keepers. The Cardinals want to see more secondary pitches from Shelby Miller, and are now calling his pitches. His major league debut is on hold for now. In Milwaukee, Tyler Thornburg could be close to his major league debut. It would likely be short term, but he could be worth a look.
I mentioned the Blue Jays at the top of this article, but "kid" help from within their system could be scarce. They do have some excellent arms, but the best of them, guys like Noah Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino, and Aaron Sanchez aren't ready to help at the big league level yet. The most likely addition from the minors is Jesse Chavez who has done reasonably well since making the transition from the bullpen to starting, while both Brett Cecil and Carlos Villanueva also figure to get regular turns while the others heal. None of these are "kids" but they do appear to be in line for some innings over the next few weeks. Look for the Jays to find a more viable alternative outside the organization so none of these have a truly secure spot, and should be considered risky investments.
Again, is there a pitcher you would like to see analyzed in an upcoming Notebook? Throw the name out and I'll see what I can do. In fact, I would like to remind readers to check back often as each week's Notebook will feature updates in the comments section on evolving mound situations. And, as always, keep in mind this is an interactive forum, so your comments are always appreciated. I will respond to any comments or questions as soon as possible. Thanks!
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