Sometimes we make too big a deal about Spring Training. Sometimes we don't make enough of a deal about Spring Training. If you're confused don't worry. The Oracle is here to put everything in perspective for you. The Brewers' ace is good to go as he's overcome an injury. The Dodgers and Phillies aces are struggling, but you shouldn't be too concerned. The Padres hope to have a one time elite prospect in their rotation early in the year. A once time power lefty is trying to revive a once thought to be dead career. The Tigers have zero certainty about how they are going to handle the 9th inning. The Yankees have a battle on their hands for the 5th starter role. Who will emerge with the job? Read on to find out.
GALLARDO READY TO ROCK
There was some concern when Yovani Gallardo strained his groin recently, but it seems like it will end up being a rather minor issue since he has been cleared to pitch in the World Baseball Classic when Team Mexico takes on Team USA. As for Gallardo's 2013 fantasy outlook, nothing has changed. A step below the elite, Gallardo is nonetheless an impressively consistent, high level arm that you want to target on draft day. He's one of just three hurlers in baseball who have struck out at least 200 batters each of the past four years – the others are Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander – and Gallardo is also one of just six arms who have won at least 13 games each of those seasons (Jered Weaver, Mark Buehrle, CC Sabathia, Verlander and Hernandez are the others). He's as money in the bank as any pitcher really can be.
ARE YOU SERIOUSLY WORRIED?
Clayton Kershaw allowed four runs and seven hits in his three innings of work Tuesday against the Padres to inflate his spring numbers to a 9.00 ERA and 2.25 WHIP. Panic time? Time to drop him 10 spots in your rankings? Is he hurt? Are his mechanics off? My thoughts? Who cares. It's eight innings. EIGHT. That's one games worth folks. Kershaw appears to be fine physically, there is no mention anywhere that the hip issue that bothered him last season is something he is dealing with, so just let it go for now.
Cole Hamels had one of the worst outings you will ever see from an elite hurler Tuesday. Hamels allowed eight runs and 12 hits while recording all of eight outs while pitching against the Dominican Republic. The D.R. team has six players that could be all-stars this season on it, so it wasn't like it wasn't like it was an easy day at the office, but still, right? Don't worry with Hamels. He's physically OK, it was just a bad day.
CLOSING IN ON A RETURN
Andrew Cashner has an elite arm. Andrew Cashner has been unable to stay healthy. Most recently he's working his way back from a thumb injury that he suffered on a camping trip (you can't make this stuff up). A first round selection in 2008, Cashner owns some impressive minor league numbers including a 2.76 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 8.4 K/9. However, he's only been able to throw 111.1 innings at the big league level the last three seasons, though that hasn't stopped him from having some success (he has an 8.89 K/9 mark). The Padres would love for him to be their 5th starter this season, and pitching in the NL, in that ballpark in San Diego, makes even moderate arms worth paying attention to. Cashner, he has an elite arm. The risk factor is off the charts given his history, and he's still working his way back from that thumb injury (he hopes to be ready at some point in early April), but this is certainly a name you should be thinking about in the reserve rounds of your mixed league draft if you're hoping to hit a late home run.
YOU SHOULD BE WORRIED...
Jair Jurrjens has an ERA over 9.50 this spring with the Orioles. I've long told people they've overestimated his talent. At this point it's likely a long shot that he will be a part of the Orioles' arms to start the year.
THE WALKING DEAD?
Scott Kazmir threw three scoreless innings Wednesday, and I can't believe I'm saying this, but darn if he doesn't look like a viable option on the bump for the Indians (he hit 93 on the gun and consistently was sitting in the 89-92 range according to MLB's Jordan Bastian). Now that isn't to say you should go racing out to draft Kazmir, but it's certainly intriguing. The last time Kazmir was a viable fantasy option was 2008. Yeah, that's a loooooong time ago isn't it. He's a lefty who has had success, he's got an 8.74 K/9 mark for his career, but it's going to take a lot more than a handful of solid outings in Spring Training for me to recommend him as someone you should target.
Bruce Rondon, the hard throwing rookie of the Tigers, appears to have already lost his shot at locking down the 9th inning for the Tigers. He's issued six walks in 3.2 innings this spring, and is now spending time working on his mechanics. There's still a chance he locks it all in and handles the 9th for the majority of the season, but the Tigers are designed to win now, and that means they need to get someone they can trust to work the 9th inning. There have been reports of the team looking outside the organization – Brian Wilson, Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Marmol have been mentioned – but nothing has happened as of yet (Wilson still has to prove he is healthy, the Cubs seem to want to wait until the season is underway to move Marmol and Jose Valverde, the Tigers closer last season, isn't going to be brought back into the fold). So, if no deal is made, how is this situation going to work out? The candidates...
Al Alburquerque has a huge arm with 85 Ks in 56.2 career innings. He's also yet to allow a dinger, has a 1.59 ERA and 1.13 WHIP, and is a ground ball master (58 percent of batted balls for his career). This is an elite skill set with one concern – his BB/9 rate of 5.88 too often conjures up memories of Marmol
Joaquin Benoit struck out 10.65 batters per nine last season while posting a 3rd straight effort of a K/BB ratio of 3.70 or better. Check out his ratios' the last three years as well – 2.71 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 10.39 K/9, 4.44 K/BB. That's elite pitching. Problem is there are some in the Tigers organization that don't think he could handle pitching on back-to-back days regularly.
Octavio Dotel is 59 years old, but he can still get batters out. His K/9 rate dropped to 9.62 last season, that after five years in a row above 10.3, but he also walked only 1.86 batters per nine innings – two full batters below his career rate. He also has 109 saves during his career including 22 as recently as 2010.
Phil Coke has six saves in his career, and in three of the past four seasons he's had at least 17 holds. He's a lefty though and that usually makes the road a bit more difficult. He did have a 8.50 K/9 mark last season with a strong 49 percent ground ball rate.
Rick Porcello? Really? Here is what manager Jim Leyland said. “I don't think it's a far-out idea. I just think it's highly unlikely."
This one could literally go in any direction, and right now it appears that a bullpen by committee situation is likely to take hold making all of the relievers in play risky adds in mixed leagues.
YANKEES 5th SPOT
Ivan Nova has to be in the driver's seat for the 5th spot in the Yankees rotation. At the same time, the Yanks have stopped well short of just handing him the job which is understandable. Sure Nova has won 28 games the last two years, but he's also failed to throw 175 innings in either season. He's also been ineffective at times, that's what you call it when a guy has a 5.02 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in a season like Nova did in 2012. It's also unclear just what time of hurler Nova is. Nova's K/9 rate has gone from 5.57 to 5.33 to 8.08 in his three seasons. How does a guy who strikes out five an a half batters per nine innings for two years bump that mark up over eight? Second, he's dropped his walk rate at the same time with BB/9 marks of 3.64, 3.10 and 2.96 in his three seasons. All told he's the owner of a 4.38 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 6.60 K/9 mark an a 2.13 K/BB ratio. None of that is anything other than league average stuff (it's actually worse than that).
Nova's main competition for the starting gig is David Phelps. As a rookie last season Phelps made 11 starts among his 34 outings as he tossed 99.2 innings for the pinstriped club. Phelps posted an 8.67 K/9 mark and 2.53 K/BB ratio, better numbers than Nova. A more traditional pitcher, he's not a ground ball heavy arm (his GB/FB ratio last season was 1.12) like Nova, Phelps has also looked really sharp this spring allowing just one run over nine innings.
If Phil Hughes isn't ready to start the season in the rotation because of his wonky back then Nova and Phelps will be a starting. Otherwise it's anyone's guess who will get the 5th spot, though I have the feeling it will be Nova.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Friday at 5 PM EDT. For more of Ray's analysis you can check out BaseballGuys.com or the BaseballGuys' Twitter account where he tirelessly answer everyone's questions.
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