As I reflect on Monday's events in Boston, the usual emotions come to the forefront: anger, fear, sadness. The desire for revenge on the perpetrator(s) is palpable, as is the hope that this was the work of merely one disturbed individual rather than a coordinated terrorist action. All we can do in the wake of this tragedy is mourn the victims, hope for justice and hug our kids a little tighter - I know I have done all three. Oh, and a fourth - enjoy our National Pastime.
On that note, let's look at a handful of situations on my mind, and judging by your questions/emails, on your mind as well:
What Happens to Evan Gattis Once Brian McCann Returns?
McCann's recovery from a shoulder injury appears to be taking a bit longer than expected, but he's scheduled to play catcher in extended spring action this week. A minor league rehab assignment would likely follow, putting McCann on track to return before the end of April. Meanwhile, his replacement, Gattis, is batting a healthy .324/.385/.735 in 39 PA. What will the Braves do? They can't stash Gattis at first base given Freddie Freeman likely will be back from an oblique injury right about the time McCann returns. Gattis also played outfield in the minors, but that position is full as well. Apparently the organization doesn't see him at third base, as the combination of Juan Francisco/Chris Johnson could certainly use an upgrade. At this point we have to think the Braves don't view McCann capable of catching 5-to-7 games a week, so the guess here is that Gattis avoids a demotion to Triple-A and catches a couple times a week, getting spot starts in the outfield and at first base. That should still give him plenty of NL-only value. Longer term, McCann is an impending free agent, so the Braves could look to deal him at the deadline or just let him walk in the offseason. That would leave Gattis in line to be the team's primary catcher come 2014, if not sooner.
Can Jose Reyes Possibly be Replaced?
I had Reyes as the top shortstop on my draft board due in large part to the medical history of one Troy Tulowitzki, so oops on that. Reyes will miss three months with an ankle injury suffered on a slide into second base. The Jays will, at least for now, attempt to replace Reyes with a combination of Maicer Izturis, Emilio Bonifacio and Munenori Kawasaki. Kawasaki is the wild card, as he swiped 105 bases in his last three seasons in Japan, but when given 115 PA by the Mariners last year, managed to hit just .192/.257/.202. He also hit .267 or lower in two of those three seasons in Japan, so expecting much in the way of AVG is wishful thinking. Perhaps he swipes a couple bags, but as the expression goes, "you can't steal first base." Bonifacio is probably the best speculative pickup, as he had a .360 OBP and 50 steals as recently as 2011 before falling back last year. Bonifacio played shortstop for the first time since 2011 on Friday, so it might take him a while to gain SS eligibility. Still, as a second-base or middle-infield play, you could do worse in deeper formats. Izturis will get some time as well, but despite the unexpected two 2013 home runs, he has little offensive upside.
Is Carl Crawford's Start for Real?
Seen as a "we won't give you Adrian Gonzalez unless you take this guy off our hands" component in last August's blockbuster deal with the Red Sox, Crawford has embraced National League baseball in getting off to a .396/.442/.563 start through 13 games. We know he's not going to keep up a .474 BABIP, but we also don't really expect him to hit .396 all year either. What he is doing is acting much more like a leadoff man than he did in his Boston years in which his walk rates were a mere 4.3 and 2.4 percent. This year he's at 7.7 percent, which is in line with his glory years with the Rays, particularly 2009-2010. Crawford is also swinging at just 23.9 percent of pitches outside the zone versus the 38 percent he showed in Boston, and he's simply swinging at fewer pitches overall (41.2% vs. 50.5% for his career). Crawford is seeing about 3.5 pitches per plate appearances, which is about in line with his career numbers, so it's apparent that he's simply doing a better job waiting for a pitch he can hit. Crawford has swiped just two bases (caught twice) - the days of 60 steals are long gone - but if he can keep up his approach at the plate and hit .300, 25-30 steals is possible. I think he's going to continue to get healthy and continue to be happy playing on the west coast, so while the .396 average is obviously inflated, I do think he's back. I'd project somewhere in the range of .295/.335/.465 the rest of the way, and that might be a bit conservative.
Which Prospects can We Expect to See within the Next Few Weeks?
I'm asked most often about Billy Hamilton, but Hamilton has a .298 OBP through his first 11 games, and though he's already stolen seven bases, the Reds probably want to see him carve up Triple-A pitching before they bring him up. Still, I have Hamilton in several leagues and expect to reap those rewards within the next month or two.
Others we should monitor:
Nolan Arenado (3B-COL) - Through 10 Triple-A games, Arenado has hit .459/.500/.892 with a whopping 10 doubles and two home runs. Colorado third basemen have hit .302, but they have yet to hit a home run and actually have just one extra-base hit (double) in 43 at-bats. The team is probably waiting for late April, as calling up a prospect with no MLB service at that time will delay free agency an extra year, until after the 2019 season. Of course, if Arenado keeps hitting at this rate, he may see the big leagues even sooner.
Wil Myers (OF-TB) - Rays right fielders are a collective .227/.292/.587 through Monday. The left fielders sit at .195/.233/.341, and even the designated hitters are an incredible 3-for-38. Myers, meanwhile, has yet to homer in 48 Triple-A PA, but he's still hitting .297/.417/.351 after last year's .304/.378/.554. Is there really any doubt that he would be an upgrade? This is clearly a case of the Rays keeping Myers down to avoid starting his service clock. He'll be in the big leagues by May 1.
Mike Zunino (C-SEA) - Jesus Montero is batting just .216/.216/.243, and though he is hitting .467 in 15 at-bats, Kelly Shoppach is what he is - a solid backup catcher. Zunino, meanwhile, has homered in four of his first 41 Triple-A PA and is hitting .278/.341/.750 overall. He's sound defensively and possesses the power of which the Seattle lineup is in dire need. It's a question of when, not if, Zunino gets the call this year. I'll say May 15 as a starting guess.
Is Paul Maholm the Next C.J. Wilson or ... Gulp ... Cliff Lee?
At age 29, left-hander Cliff Lee posted a 7.1-WAR season en route to going 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA.
At age 30, left-hander Paul Maholm is on pace for a 7.0-WAR season and is already 3-0 with a 0.00 ERA through three starts.
Admittedly it's a stretch to make this sort of comparison after three starts, but Maholm has struck out 25.3 percent of batters faced versus last year's 17.8 percent, and he's shown the best control of his career with a 2.2 BB/9. Sure, one of his starts was against the light-hitting Marlins, but he's also faced the Phillies and Nationals. Sure, a .212 BABIP might not be sustainable, but it's also possible Maholm is doing something to help keep his BABIP down. To that, hitters are making contact on 78.5 percent of his pitches versus last year's 82.7 percent and a career-high 86.9 percent in 2011. When hitters are making contact, Maholm is benefitting from a team defense that ranks second in the league from a UZR/150 perspective. Maholm still will have trouble if he's not locating his 86-88 mph fastball consistently, but it wouldn't surprise to see him have a career year at age 30.
What to do About these Hot names - Tony Cingrani and Nate Schierholtz?
Cingrani - Cingrani has yet to get the expected call, with the Reds opting for Justin Freeman to replace the injured Johnny Cueto (triceps). Cingrani is off to a blistering Triple-A start, recording a 26:2 K:BB in 14.1 innings, and after Freeman was pulled from his last start after just two innings, it's possible he is up only temporarily until the team needs a fifth starter. Then perhaps, enter Cingrani. We questioned Cingrani's upside and secondary stuff in our 2013 player outlook, but it's hard to argue with the results so far. I've yet to see him pitch this year, but I look forward to seeing him with the Reds soon.
Schierholtz - So far, it appears the change in ballparks agrees with Schierholtz. He's off to a .343/.410/.629 start in 40 PA. Sure, the .357 BABIP is destined to drop (.310 for his career), but he's hitting the ball hard (26.7% line-drive rate), and his 12.5-percent K rate would be by far a career low if it holds. Schierholtz is on the positive end of a platoon with Scott Hairston, but with Hairston starting 1-for-11, perhaps manager Dusty Baker will give Schierholtz a shot at southpaws as well. In 295 career PA, Schierholz is hitting a respectable .285/.317/.391, though he hasn't been nearly that good recently (not enough at-bats?). He's never hit more than nine homers in a big-league season, but in that ballpark given regular at-bats, I could see 20.
Sleeper Relievers in the Minors
Josh Lueke (TB) - Leuke may have a shaky past, but from a pure baseball perspective, he has the stuff of a potential future closer. In eight innings for Triple-A Durham, Leuke has two saves and a 13:3 K:BB in eight innings. Fernando Rodney has reinvented himself late in his career, but Leuke has a shot at the role at some point in the next year.
Heath Hembree (SF) - Sergio Romo has a lock on the closer job in the near term, but in terms of the team's future closer, it could be Hembree. Hembree gets his fastball up in the mid-90s, and he is getting closer experience with Triple-A Fresno. Keep an eye on him as an option later this year.
Evan Meek (TEX) - Meek was once viewed as a future closer before injuries took their toll and the Pirates cut him loose. Now apparently healthy, Meek is the closer for the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate in Round Rock and already has three saves and a 6:2 K:BB in four innings. He could be an option later this year if Joe Nathan gets hurt.
Chad Beck (TOR) - Beck has seemingly come out of nowhere at age 28 to strike out 12 in five innings as a Double-A closer. Given the Blue Jays' struggles in late innings he could be an option.
Keith Butler (STL) - The 24-year-old Butler saved 25 games last year, and after opening 2013 in Double-A, he's already been bumped a level. Butler has allowed just one hit in five scoreless innings with a 9:1 K:BB, and given the struggles the Cardinals have had in the late innings this year, he could surface in St. Louis.
My Take on Disappointing Rookies
Jedd Gyorko (2B-SD) - As I write this, Gyorko is 0-for-2 on Tuesday, leaving him a disappointing .234/.339/.298. He has drawn eight walks to nine strikeouts, so it's far too early to cut him loose in most formats. Gyorko had a .968 OPS in Triple-A a year ago, and as a second baseman, his bat has plenty of value in most leagues. I'd stand pat and wait for what I think is the inevitable turnaround. The lack of power is surprising, but then again, the PCL versus Petco Park is like night and day for hitters.
Aaron Hicks (OF-MIN) - Hicks has started his career in a huge funk, going 2-for-43 with 20 strikeouts to put him in real danger of a trip to Triple-A. Hicks had a solid spring and a .841 OPS in Double-A last year, and he maintains some upside. That said, this is a really ugly start, and Hicks is probably Triple-A bound. Darin Mastroianni is Plan B in center, but there is nothing to suggest that Mastroianni is anything more than a one-category guy (steals) in deeper formats. Looks for Hicks to spend a couple months in Triple-A before returning to the Twins and hopefully turning things around.
Wily Peralta (SP-MIL) - Peralta has good stuff, but he scuffled to allow five earned runs on seven hits with three walks and just one strikeout in four innings. Peralta's ERA climbed to 6.19 as a result, and in 16 innings, his K:BB sits at a mediocre 10:8. Peralta can get his fastball up in the mid-90s, but there's clearly some work to do on his secondary stuff. Peralta will get more chances, though if Tyler Thornburg can fare well in Triple-A, the Brewers could make a move with Peralta.
My Take on Some Shaky Bullpen Situations
Cubs - The ineffectiveness of Carlos Marmol and the injury to Kyuji Fujikawa has brought back last year's very temporary duo, Shawn Camp and James Russell. Russell has allowed one baserunner in four innings with five strikeouts this year. Russell, however, is not your typical closer. He's a soft-tossing lefty who averages slightly north of 88 mph with his fastball. He should get more save chances than Camp, but both are worth owning in NL-only formats.
Boston - With the injury to Joel Hanrahan (groin - out two weeks), Andrew Bailey gets the first crack at the ninth inning. Bailey, of course, has closer experience with 81 career saves, but he's already blown his first opportunity of this year Monday against the Rays. Bailey, however, has shown excellent early velocity in striking out nine to just two walks in the early going, so it's possible he keeps the job even upon Hanrahan's return.
St. Louis - Mitchell Boggs may have survived last week's poor outing (six runs in a third of an inning), and in his last four innings, Boggs has allowed just one run. Trevor Rosenthal had a couple hiccups reacently, resulting in a 4.50 ERA to go with his 10:1 K:BB in eight innings. Rosenthal probably is second on the closer pecking order behind Boggs, but don't rule out Edward Mujica as potential option No. 3. Rosenthal is the guy to own in keeper leagues to be sure. For now, though, the pecking order goes Boggs, Rosenthal and then Mujica.
Detroit - Joaquin Benoit received manager Jim Leyland's endorsement, but Benoit has also allowed runs in two of his last four outings, and after last year's 3.68, we've already seen the best he has to offer. While Bruce Rondon hopefully sorts things out in Triple-A, the Tigers are left to choose from among Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Al Albuquerque and Phil Coke. Obviously Leyland and fantasy owners hope that one emerges from this pack, but for now, all are worth owning in deeper formats.