Opening Day Rookie Pitchers: AL Style
I have long petitioned that Opening Day for Major League Baseball should be a National holiday. Unfortunately, it has become a little to disjointed as they take three days for all the teams to play their first game. I get that this is a money grab as there will be more opportunity for National exposure through television with the initial games spread out. My ideal Opening Day situation would that similar to NFL Football. Now that interleague runs daily, it would be awesome to rematch the World Series participants in a Sunday Night ceremonial Opening Night game. On Monday, wall to wall games starting at 12 noon EST with games kicking off each hour with the last few games starting on the West Coast at 9 and 10pm EST. This would create a National Holiday feel. Guys would schedule their vasectomy around this much like is done during the first weekend of March Madness. If networks can’t get their TV money around this concept, I don’t think they were trying hard enough.
But I digress…even with the current landscape of Opening Day festivities, I get a tear in my eye as it represents the “real” start of Spring in the West Coast and provides a glimmer of hope that the snow that always seems to hit the East Coast in late March will eventually melt away. My role during my 4th year at Major League Fantasy Sports will be to continue to promote and analyze the MiLB and the dynasty side of fantasy baseball. We have seen a real shift in how organizations handle their prospects in the last decade. It used to be that players would spend a minimum of 3-5 years before seriously being considered for the Major League 25 Man Roster. Teams are now more willing to advance top “polished” talent quickly through their system to get them impacting their big league teams sooner rather than later. In 2017, there were over 20 rookie eligible PITCHERS just in the American League that made their team’s Opening Day roster. What kind of impact can we expect these rookies to have on your favorite team and on your fantasy teams? Let’s take a look…
The American League East is always a cut-throat division and this year looks to be no different as veterans were by and large selected to fill out the rosters as these teams don’t feel they can play their unproven players and “keep up with the Jones’.” All the guys that made the team are relievers and most are just place fillers during early-season four-man rotations and Spring injuries. None of these guys are among their organization’s Top 15 prospects let alone on the national radar.
The Red Sox chose to give Ben Taylor his first taste of Fenway by including him on their roster as the long reliever. Mostly a full time reliever now, he has only a year and a half of pro ball in the Minors. He hasn’t pitched beyond AA in his career but he is 24-years-old and polished with nice minor league career stats that could place nice in the long-relief role. In 134 career minor league innings pitched, he sported a 3.02 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 10.21 K/9 and 2.62 BB/9. He can be a nice value in super deep leagues with large rosters. Robby Scott gets the nod to round out the Boston pen after a decent six inning stint in 2016. He likely is the first one optioned down when David Price is ready to return since they are going with a four-man rotation to start the season.
NYY — Jonathan Holder, RHP
After a Spring where the Yankees showed off their “Baby Bombers” to the league, they only kept one rookie eligible pitcher. Jonathan Holder did have eight appearances in the Major Leagues in 2016 and wasn’t particularly good. However, since converting to a full-time reliever in 2016, Holder proved in over 40 appearances in AA and AAA combined last year to be the type of bullpen arm they love. His numbers were excellent in 2016 with a 2.50 ERA, 0.66 WHIP, 13.91 K/9 and 0.96 BB/9. I grabbed him in two of my deep leagues to help bolster my ratios and my middle reliever stats (holds, inherited runners stranded). He isn’t expected to pitch to that level, at least not right away, but he has the stuff to add needed depth to the middle innings for the Yankees’ pen.
TB — Kevin Gadea, RHP *
The Rays bought some time as Gadea is starting out the year on the DL. They will take their time with him as they must keep him on the 25 Man Roster all season or they will have to return him to Seattle due to the guidelines of their claim in his season’s Rule 5 draft. I’m expecting him to be back in the Seattle organization by mid-season.
More status-quo in the Central. Only two starters here and one won’t last a month, but still some value can still be found.
CWS — Dylan Covey, RHP
This was a curious move by the White Sox. They have a whole slew of young prospect pitchers that could have filled in their #5 starter most of which have had at least some MLB experience. Covey was a Rule 5 pick from OAK and therefore he had to be placed on the 25 Man Roster in order to stay with the club. They must have seen something they liked despite a rough camp because they chose him over Giolito, Lopez or Fulmer. I don’t see any value in him in any fantasy league. He will likely only be here the four to six-week Carlos Rodon is on the disabled list.
CLE — Shawn Armstrong, RHP
Probably the last one to make the cut, Armstrong has had nearly 10 different trips back and forth to the Majors over the last two seasons. Although he produced very average stats, he dominated the last two seasons in AAA. He is a pro-typical reliever with a plus fastball, flashing plus slider and not much else. I think the Indians have faith that he will grow into a high-leverage late innings reliever. Another deep roster flyer in leagues that have large rosters with middle relievers. He struck out over 12 per 9 during his six minor league season (263.1 innings) but be aware that he also has walked 4.61 per 9.
KC — Matt Strahm, LHP (No. 1)
Strahm was a revelation last fall as he compiled a 1.23 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and struck out 30 in 22 total innings. He is expected to be a late inning set-up man and could help all fantasy leagues that value middle relievers.
MIN — Adalberto Mejia, LHP
After making his debut late in 2016 after a deadline trade with the Giants, Mejia pitched out of the pen for 2.1 innings and wasn’t good. However, he profiles as a starter and had a killer Spring. On the strength of his training camp, he beat out Jose Berrios for the last spot in the rotation. He has a four-pitch mix without a plus pitch but does have two quality pitches with above average command. He could stick in the rotation because he will throw strikes and keeps the ball in the park (0.66 HR/9 over 566 career innings). Great depth pick up for your fantasy rotation.
The AL West brought 13 rookies home with them this Spring. Combination of quality relievers and potential starters can be found here. Be the first to grab these lottery tickets.
Not sure what role Paulino will play early in the season. He is currently hurt and didn’t need to be optioned yet due to being designated to the DL. Once the bone bruise heals, I would expect that he goes down to AAA to get stretched out again. Assuming Colin McHugh comes back soon, he would get the first spot that opens up due to injury or struggle (Musgrove, I’m looking at you). Paulino will get some looks this year and could be good, but ultimately, he doesn’t crack the permanent rotation until 2018. Keep him on your radar for a waiver wire pick-up this season for when he gets his chance. Gustave makes the team to round out the bullpen. His fastball could be an 80 grade triple-digit offering and he just needs his slider to be above average to be a truly special reliever. He has improved his control as he has advanced into the higher levels of the minors and had a great debut last fall in Houston. They could be grooming him to be a closer and he has been a hot commodity in dynasty leagues this offseason. An excellent investment for this season and beyond.
LAA — Vicente Campos, RHP*
Campos is a $1 scratch-off lottery ticket. The former Yankees farm hand has suffered throughout his career with injuries including Tommy John surgery and a fractured elbow. He is worth the low-risk shot as a free agent because he has a plus fastball and two more legitimate Major League pitches (curveball and change-up) that he throws with command. Once he returns from the DL, he will likely earn a bullpen spot where he left off last season, but could go back to AAA and get stretched out as a starter like his entire minor league career. Let’s face it, the Angels rotation is fragile with Richards, Shoemaker and Skaggs so there could be an opening early in the season.
Montas and Cotton are already paying dividends on the deadline trade last season that sent Rich Hill and Josh Reddick to Los Angeles. Montas is the higher rated prospect, but Cotton takes the #3 spot in the rotation and Alcantara grabs the #5 spot. I have been talking up Cotton all off-season. I love his combination of stuff and command. He is a legitimate starter and could contribute all season long in multiple categories. His change-up could be best in the business and proved he could pitch at this level with a successful fall debut. I’m not surprised that Alcantara made the team as he was out of options, but I predicted him to grab the last bullpen slot. Instead they put Montes in there (likely due to his 100 mph fastball) and move Jesse Hahn to long-relief. The Athletics will live and die this year by how their pitching holds up this season. I like how they are taking risks and hope it pays off. I have stock in Cotton in every league I could this year. He is hot in dynasty and should be rostered in all formats.
It is crazy to think that a team that plans on competing for the wild card and division title would bring six rookie pitchers north with them to start the season. That being said, it’s not quite as crazy as it first looks. First off, Whalen and Zych start the season on the DL so they don’t really count. Dillon Overton earns a bullpen spot but starts the season on Paternity leave while fellow rookie, Chase De Jong takes his spot. De Jong goes back down in a week and Overton doesn’t offer anything to fantasy owners. Pazos makes the team because they need a lefty. Please take note of this last guy, Dan Altavilla. The converted starter dominated over 12.1 innings in Seattle in 2016. Although he doesn’t possess true command, he’s not really wild either and has closer stuff. Plus-plus fastball reaches triple-digits out of the pen and his plus slider is devastating and will get out righties. He will likely pitch the 8th right out of the gate and will fill in as closer on nights Edwin Diaz needs off or is injured. Get this guy on your team for deep reliever leagues. He will crush it this season.
TEX — Jose Leclerc, RHP
Leclerc is another fringe prospect that makes the team after a fantastic Spring. What makes him interesting is he has a plus fastball and change (nearly unhittable), but he can’t hit the broad side of a barn. If he could throw strikes he could be a closer, as it stands he has a third pitch (curveball) that is above average and could develop into a third plus pitch. Texas seems willing to let him work it out in “the Bigs” as his strikeout ability could come in handy.
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Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio: Join Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore live on Sunday April 9th, 2017 from 7-9pm EST for episode #82 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will be previewing the coming week’s key matchups and discussing key fantasy information.
Our guests this week are Craig Mish, and Professor Mark Rush. Mark is the Chief Editor for MLFS, a writer, and occasional guest on our shows. Craig Mish is the host of a fantasy baseball show on Sirius Satelitte Radio along with Jim Bowden from 9-11am EST Monday through Friday. Craig is also the host for a show on Sirius every Sunday morning with FSWA Hall of Famer Lenny Melnick from 7-10am EST.
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