I know fantasy football season is well underway, and that’s consuming a lot of folks’ focus, but there are still some intriguing storylines to follow in baseball as we head into the season’s final month. Here are some that are top of mind for me.
What can we expect from Hector Olivera once he’s recalled?
To be sure, Olivera is going to be up soon given the Braves dealt a cost-controlled young left-handed starter (Alex Wood) and arguably their top prospect (Jose Peraza) for the 30-year-old Cuban infielder. He started his pro career strong in the Dodgers organization, batting .387/.387/.581 in seven games for Triple-A Oklahoma City before a hamstring injury kicked in. Since returning with the Braves organization, Olivera is just 6-for-37 (.162, and all singles) in 11 games. The Braves are probably going to bring him up regardless, but they still may hold off a few days to see whether his swing returns first. He’s certainly a bit of a mystery, having missed a full season in Cuba due to blood issues while also being dogged by rumors that his throwing elbow needed Tommy John surgery. Neither appears to be an issue going forward however, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see Olivera hit .300+ with 3-5 home runs in September given every day playing time. To me though, with the late start, the trade, and the health issues, he looks like more of a 2016 buy-low than a 2015 contributor.
Will the Dodgers bring up 19-year-old pitcher Julio Urias next month?
The Dodgers are understandably exercising caution with their 19-year-old (barely) prodigy. Urias’ IP totals by year:
2013 – 54.1
2014 – 87.2
2015 – 76
There hasn’t been an announced inning target for 2015, but 100 sounds about right, all but eliminating the possibility the teenager joins the starting rotation in September. The team has yet to rule out promoting him sometimes next month, but if they do, he’ll likely join the big league bullpen. Urias this year sports a 9.8 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 all the while pitching against guys three to five years older at most stops. He has all the looks of a top-of-the-rotation starter, but it’s probably time to temper expectations for 2015 and even 2016 given his age and importance to the organization. I think we’ll see him in LA next month, but it will a mere preview of what is to come.
Is Todd Frazier finally over the infamous Home Run Derby curse?
I don’t believe in curses, but I do know that Frazier and Joc Pederson haven’t been the same since squaring off in the derby final last month. Frazier’s splits are fairly pronounced:
Pre-break: .284/.337/.585, 25 HR, 13.7 AB/HR
Post-break: .221/.267/.383, 4 HR, 37.3 AB/HR
That said, though Frazier still has just two HR since July 24, he is batting .416 in his last 10 games, including five doubles, so he’s probably going to be just fine. Pederson may be a different story, at least for 2015, but Frazier looks to have his swing back.
I know all about Corey Seager. Who is a lesser-known prospect who could pay off huge next month?
Astros fans know all about this guy and he’s starting to get more nationwide attention, but first baseman A.J. Reed has soared up the prospect charts this year and could soar all the way to the Houston first base job soon.
Reed in Double-A: .336/.409/.546, 7 HR, 31 RBI
Reed in High-A: .346/.449/.638, 23 HR, 81 RBI
He’s been a run-producing machine, even mixing in 79 walks to a reasonable 111 strikeouts. Last year’s second round pick also hit .289/.375/.522 last year, but he’s taken it to a whole new level in 2015. Of some concern is that Reed is just 9-for-43 (.209) versus lefties in Double-A, but that’s a small sample size and he had a 1.024 OPS in 66 at-bats against them in High-A. Conveniently for him, the Astros have gotten very little out of first base this year, with Chris Carter and others combining for a .199/.301/.374 slash. Carter does have 14 home runs, but going into the playoffs with a first baseman batting .180/.293/.269 seems like a poor idea. Reed would be making a leap directly from Double-A, but that happens more than one might think – Michael Conforto for example. I’d grab Reed in all but the shallowest of leagues if I had a roster spot to burn.
Who are five non-closers that could work their way into saves the rest of the way?
Alex Colome, TB – Colome has found new life as a reliever (heard this song before?), tossing another scoreless inning Tuesday to give him just one run allowed in his last 17 innings of relief with a 20:3 K:BB. He’s of course throwing harder and could eventually find himself in the closer mix with Brad Boxberger having allowed runs in each of his last three outings.
Sergio Romo, SF – Romo looks like the Romo of old these days, notching his 27th hold earlier in the week while seeing his 14-inning scoreless streak end the same game. With a 1.7 BB/9, his control is as good as ever, but what’s noticeable is his pushing last year’s 9.2 K/9 to 12.6 this season. Now if he can just continue to drive down an inflated .381 BABIP, Romo could eventually supplant closer Santiago Casilla, who has had a couple rough outings in recent weeks.
Sean Doolittle, OAK – Doolittle has allowed runs in each of his last two outings, but he’s also just off the DL, so there will need to be an adjustment period. In his favor, Edward Mujica is the current closer, so it’s not like he has to pass up the 2015 version of Dennis Eckersley.
Carter Capps, MIA – Capps is currently rehabbing an elbow injury, but he could return soon and with current closer A.J. Ramos struggling, perhaps Capps gets a look next month. His numbers this year certainly warrant a stint as closer – 1.16 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 16.8 K/9, 2.0 BB/9.
Carson Smith, SEA – He appears to be Tom Wilhelmsen’s setup man right now, but Smith is the better pitcher. His 11.5 K/9 is excellent and he generates nearly four groundballs per flyball.
Is Felix Hernandez injured?
Well I put this question down prior to Wednesday’s eight innings of two-run ball against the A’s, but I’ll go ahead and leave it here. Felix prior to Wednesday was working off an 8.48 ERA in five starts, though his 27:5 K:BB in those 28.2 innings was excellent. The first place we want to look is his velocity, so here are his fastball averages for his most recent outings:
8/3 – 92.8 mph – OK, good
8/9 – 93.2 mph – No issues so far
8/15 – 90.8 mph – Uh oh
8/21 – 92.6 mph – Phew
8/26 – 91.7 mph – OK, down again
All in all, nothing too concerning with the exception of that August 15 start, but he may just be experiencing something that even veteran hurlers go though: mechanical issues or simply, just a “bad run”. I’ll be sure to watch his next start for hints that something is wrong, but for now, I’ll have to trust a Mariners coaching staff that let him go eight innings Wednesday.
Is there really hope for Melvin Upton Jr. after all?
Maybe not to be the player we thought he could be after his rookie year, but the elder Upton brother is certainly playing better lately as witnessed by his monthly splits:
April – May: injured
August: .286/.314/.531 (prior to Wednesday’s 0-for-4)
A nice trend for sure, but is 100 at-bats enough of a sample size to answer “yes” to the above question? Not really, but at least he’s now usable in NL-only leagues. He’s actually walking less this year (7.6 percent BB-rate) than in previous years, but the trend in his isolated power (ISO) is certainly encouraging:
2013 – .105
2014 – .125
2015 - .173 – And that’s playing half his games in Petco Park, a pitcher’s haven
Upton’s defense and to a lesser extent his pedigree is going to keep him on a 25-man roster (well, that contract helps too), and although he may be nothing more than a .250-.260 hitter with the upside of a 20-20 guy, that’s a far cry from what we’ve seen the last couple years. Maybe he’s not washed up at 31 after all.
Is Nick Castellanos coming into his own (finally)?
It’s only a month, but after entering August batting just .239/.292/.387, Castellanos got hot, batting .289/.355/.566 after belting his 15th homer of the season Wednesday. He is still at just .248/.303/.424 but overall, in his second full year, Castellanos has made good progress:
- BB-rate up from 6.2 percent to 7.5 percent
- K-rate down from 24.2 percent to 23.9 percent
- ISO up from .135 to .176
Still just 23, Castellanos is one of the organization’s few top-level prospects that it’s declined to trade for immediate help, and he should eventually pay even bigger dividends. He has destroyed LHP to the tune of .351/.410/.553 while hitting just .216/.271/.377 against RHP. The splits went the other way last year, so if he can figure out a better approach against same-sided pitchers, that can only help. I think he has All-Star potential, but that may not happen for another few years.
Which two guys will bring home Cy Young trophies?
Bryce Harper and Mike Trout should be the two MVPs, beating out the likes of Paul Goldschmidt and Josh Donaldson (maybe) while Carlos Correa should be the AL Rookie of the Year, with Kris Bryant edging Matt Duffy for NL honors. The Cy Young voting though should be interesting. My top three contenders in each league would probably be as follows:
1. Chris Sale, CHW
2. Dallas Keuchel, HOU
3. Chris Archer, TB
An injury has resulted in Sale tossing 14.1 fewer innings than Keuchel, but that’s a relatively insignificant number at this point. Sale though has the advantage in most other categories, including a league-leading 229 strikeouts. Sale though may be hurt by a 3.20 ERA, as most voters probably don’t pay a lot of attention to FIP and the like. Keuchel has been very good himself with a 2.28 ERA, 15-6 W/L, 8.0 K/9, 2.0 BB/9. Archer to me is third, though his 12 strikeouts Wednesday were impressive despite the four runs he surrendered. I’m not sure where this one goes, but I do think Sale is the best pitcher in the American League.
1. Clayton Kershaw, LAD
2. Zack Greinke, LAD
3. (with apologies to Max Scherzer) Jake Arrieta, CHC
These three are all over the pitching leader boards, so I see them finishing 1-2-3, with the order very much still up in the air. Greinke’s 1.67 ERA is going to be tough to ignore if he keeps it under 2.00. Greinke’s 155 strikeouts are 67 fewer than those of Kershaw though and he’s down 23 from Arrieta’s total. Still, I think Kershaw finishes strong and walks away with trophy No. 4.
How good is Raisel Iglesias?
(I was originally going to do an “Is Justin Verlander back?” piece, but after last night, I think there are already 500 such articles out there for you to consume.)
If you look at the K/9 leaders in the second half, you see the usual suspects – Clayton Kershaw, Chris Archer, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, Madison Bumgarner, Taylor Jungmann (?), and Iglesias. The Reds have turned over their rotation at a 100 percent clip from last year, opening the door for guys like Iglesias, Anthony DeSclafani, and others to stake a claim on a 2016 slots. Safe to say that Iglesias is doing just that, as since the break, he’s putting up Jacob deGrom numbers:
DeGrom: 7 starts, 10.2 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 1.45 HR/9, 2.70 ERA
Iglesias: 7 starts, 10.2 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 2.64 ERA
Iglesias struck out a career-high 13 in his last start and has lowered his ERA from 5.52 to 3.93 over his last five starts. He received a seven-year, $27 million deal over the winter, and less than $4 million a season for the guy who’s probably the team’s best starting pitcher right now seems like a bargain. Long term the Reds would ideally slot him in as a No. 3-type starter, but for now, he’s their ace and a relatively underrated fantasy option as well.