Articles by Clay Link

A listing of all the articles written by Clay Link for the RotoWire Blog.

More Takeaways From The Arizona Fall League

A day after the Giants beat the Royals in Game 7 of the World Series, while most of the baseball world was mourning the end of the 2014 season, I was lucky enough to travel to Phoenix to watch some of the game’s top prospects showcase their skills in the Arizona Fall League.

The Fall League, now in its 22nd year, is referred to as a “graduate school” for the game’s best young talents, but it’s also a way for players to make up development time lost due to injury or other reasons, and for scouts from around the league to get a look at players they weren’t able to see live during the regular season.

Some of the bigger names in the AFL, specifically Byron Buxton (finger), Addison Russell (personal), Kyle Zimmer (shoulder) and Rusney Castillo (thumb), all left the league in the week leading up to my arrival, but that didn’t deter from what was a tremendous learning experience.

I was able to see, with my own eyes, many of the top prospects that I had only been able to read about previously. It was a great way the gauge the raw tools of these athletes.

Let this serve as a sort of appendix to Derek VanRiper’s excellent ‘Wheelhouse’ article, which you can read for FREE here. There will be some overlap, but I’ll hit some prospects that he didn’t go into great detail with or simply didn’t touch on, ones that made an impression on me for one reason or another.

Players I Whiffed On In 2014

Tony Cingrani, P, CIN – The warning signs were obvious; extreme reliance on the fastball (81.5 percent), low BABIP (.241) and below average command. Cingrani was, however, outstanding as a rookie, posting a 2.77 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 10.3 K/9 over 18 starts in 2013, while setting a major league record for most consecutive starts with five hits or fewer allowed. He got off to a decent enough start this season, with a 3.34 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 32.1 April innings, but a bout of shoulder tendinitis sent him to the shelf in early May. The 23-year-old would be shut back down in June with what was labeled a shoulder strain, and his attempts to start back up with a throwing program were halted by renewed soreness in the region. Full disclosure, I’m a Reds fan, but I saw Cingrani as a $12-16 player this past spring, putting him in SP3-4 territory in leagues that start nine pitchers. It clearly didn’t work out, and long-term, I’m not sure Cingrani is much more than a late-inning reliever, though the team figures to stretch him back out this coming spring given its lack of organizational starting pitching depth. The shoulder remains a concern, and he scrapped his curveball from an already-thin repertoire (0.2 percent), after throwing it 7.2 percent of the time in 2013. Even if he’s back at full health and manages to earn a rotation spot in spring training, I would be hesitant to throw more than a couple bucks at him in auction.

Justin Verlander, P, DET – A return to Cy Young form seemed unlikely following Verlander’s lackluster (by his standards) 2013 campaign, but I still thought he was a lock for 200+ strikeouts, a number he had reached in five consecutive seasons entering 2014. Verlander finished strong last year, with a 2.27 ERA, .231 BAA and 4.8 K/BB over his final 39.2 regular season innings, and was dominant in the postseason (0.39 ERA over 21 innings), but he disappointed from start to finish this season, averaging 6.9 K/9, his lowest rate since 2006. Still just 31, Verlander has lost a full two miles per hour on his fastball over the past two seasons (from 94.3 to 92.3), and his swinging-strike rate plummeted to 8.7 percent this season, from 10.5 percent in 2013. His line drive rate actually improved this season to 19.8 percent, but he didn’t even end up returning positive value according to the RotoWire Inseason Values tool, making the $34 I spent on him in Staff Keeper League 2 (inflation and scarcity people!) seem downright laughable.

Training Camp Notes: Ready, Set, Gronk!

  • In a statement which came as music to the ears of his fantasy owners, Rob Gronkowski said Monday that he has been given the green light to play in the Patriots’ regular season opener against the Dolphins on Sunday. Gronkowski did not play in the preseason and his limitations in camp — he rejoined 11-on-11 drills and started taking minor contact just two weeks ago — had some fretting about a possible “game-time decision” tag in Week 1. However, while noting that he is “mentally and physically ready,” Gronkowski indicated that he may be eased into the gameplan, saying he’s “definitely not [playing] every single snap” and that he wants to “just get out there, get my feet wet.” Regardless, Gronkowski figures to be on the field whenever the team in the red zone, and he may end up seeing the most targets of anyone on the team when it’s all said and done.
  • Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker returned to individual drills Monday, 10 days after suffering a concussion, his third since Nov. 17 of last year. According to the Denver Post, Welker could be cleared to fully participate in practice as soon as Wednesday or Thursday, which would put him in line to play in Sunday’s opener against Indianapolis. The injury led to speculation of retirement amongst the media, and resulted in many owners receiving a steep discount on draft day. Welker caught a career-high 10 touchdowns in his first season with the Broncos and is a strong bet for another 100-plus targets, but another concussion within the first several weeks could put him in danger of missing an extended period.
  • Although he wore a protective flak jacket during last Thursday’s exhibition against the Lions, Sammy Watkins aggravated the rib injury he suffered a week prior. Watkins was still able to practice with the team Monday, and afterward he expressed confidence that he will take the field for Sunday’s game in Chicago. The 21-year-old suggested it’s a matter of pain tolerance, noting that “if I need to take a breather or take two or three plays off from being hit then that’s what I’m going to do.” The opportunity is there for the rookie to lead the team in targets by a significant margin, and he’ll get a Bears team in Week 1 that ranked among the bottom five in the league last season, with 4,281 yards surrendered through the air.
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Training Camp Notes: The Welker Conundrum

  • Wes Welker told Broncos coach John Fox that he was “feeling good” Monday, two days after suffering a concussion in the team’s preseason loss the Texans, his third concussion in roughly 10 months. Fox acknowledged concern but brushed off any talk of the injury forcing Welker into retirement, saying simply that the 33-year-old “will be out there when healthy.” Before Welker can return to practice, however, he must be cleared by the team’s medical staff and an independent doctor, per league protocol. With less than two weeks go until the regular-season opener against the Colts, Welker’s status is decidedly cloudy, but if he does end up sitting out Week 1, it would open the door for Andre Caldwell or perhaps Cody Latimer to see looks out of the slot.
  • Vikings coach Mike Zimmer named Matt Cassel the starting quarterback for the team’s Week 1 matchup against the Rams, saying Monday “at this stage and where we’re at right now, that’s the best thing to do.” It was really just a formality, as Cassel started each of the team’s first three preseason games and played nearly three full quarters Saturday against the Chiefs. While first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater has fared well in exhibition play, completing 26-of-40 passes with four touchdowns and no interceptions, the veteran Cassel has successfully led a first-team unit missing Adrian Peterson, completing 26-of-39 passes with two touchdowns and one pick. Bridgewater will have to bide his time for now but he did run a pro-style offense at Louisville and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he started at least a handful of games as a rookie.
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Training Camp Notes: Two Top Dogs Wounded

  • Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Jamaal Charles hurt his foot on a “grassy slope” while carrying a box out of his training camp dorm room at Missouri Western State University last week, saying he “just kind of rolled his foot over on the curb.” The choice of words could lead to some conspiracy theories, but Reid stressed, “It was that simple. That was it.” Although the team admitted some initial concern, Charles was said to be feeling better Monday and he was cleared by X-ray and MRI exams of any structural damage. Reid was unsure, however, whether Charles would be able to take the field for Tuesday’s practice, and it’s too early to tell whether Charles will be able to play in Saturday’s exhibition game against Minnesota.
  • LeSean McCoy returned to the field Monday but his subsequent comments did little to ease concerns about his health. Explaining his absence from Sunday’s practice, McCoy said he was “really, really hurting pretty bad” after injuring his left big toe in a joint practice with the Patriots earlier in the week. He described the ailment as “a small version of turf toe” and revealed that he too underwent X-ray and MRI exams after suffering the injury. Clearly no fracture or major ligament damage was found, and McCoy was adamant that he’s “fine,” but he did say that the toe bothers him when he tries to push off. That’s not ideal for a player whose dominance is predicated on elite acceleration, and though he does expect to play in Thursday’s preseason game, he suggested his reps will likely be limited. If McCoy and/or Charles end up needing additional maintenance in the coming days, it could impact the top of some weekend drafts.
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