DIVISIONAL OUTLOOK: NL East—Top prospect Jose Fernandez gets the call

Miami Marlins

Injuries to Nathan Eovaldi (RHP, MIA) and Henderson Alvarez (RHP, MIA) have prompted the Marlins to make a rather bold and surprising decision. Jose Fernandez (RHP, MIA), one of the top pitching prospects in the game, will begin the season as the team’s fifth starter. Read more about Fernandez in our Call-ups column.

Alex Sanabia (RHP, MIA) was chosen to fill the other vacancy in the starting rotation. The 24-year-old has battled elbow issues over the past couple seasons, but posted a 4.06 ERA, 6.4 Dom and 2.4 Ctl in 88.2 IP at Triple-A last year.

Alvarez and Henderson are both dealing with what is being described as mild shoulder inflammation and could miss most or all of April. It will be interesting to see what happens when they are ready to return. Sanabia will almost certainly be shipped back to Triple-A, but it is unclear who else will be removed from the rotation. Kevin Slowey (RHP, MIA) or Wade LeBlanc (LHP, MIA) could be moved to long relief. The team has just one left-handed reliever, Mike Dunn (LHP, MIA), and LeBlanc fared well in that role last season (2.53 ERA in 21.1 IP as a reliever compared to 4.18 ERA in 47.1 IP as a starter).

 

Atlanta Braves

Jonny Venters (LHP, ATL) was placed on the disabled list, retroactive to March 27, with a left elbow sprain. He was examined by Dr. James Andrews and given a platelet rich plasma injection in the elbow on April 2. He will be shut down for four weeks.  The hope is that the 28-year-old is just dealing with some inflammation and that the injection coupled with the time off will have him healthy so that he can begin a throwing program about a month from now. Because having Tommy John surgery typically causes inconclusive MRI results (Venters had Tommy John surgery after the 2005 season), an MRI provided little insight into the extent of the injury.  However, other tests performed gave reason for Andrews to be optimistic that there is no ligament damage and that the current course of action could work. If all goes well, he could return in the second half of May, but there is presently no official timetable for his return.

Anthony Varvaro (RHP, ATL), who is out of minor league options, took the vacant roster spot created by Venters being placed on the disabled list, but Luis Avilan (LHP, ATL) and Jordan Walden (RHP, ATL) will have to pick up most of the slack in the bullpen. Walden was already expected to be in a setup role so the main beneficiary figures to Avilan.

Avilan, 23, thrived in the bullpen after his call-up last July, posting a 3.37 xERA, 8.3 Dom, 2.5 Ctl 47% GB% and 106 BPV in 36 IP. He had success against both right-handed and left-handed batters, allowing a .559 OPS vs. RHB and a .528 OPS vs. LHB.

If the current treatment plan doesn't work as hoped and Venters is forced to miss an extended period of time, the team could opt to bring up Wirfin Obispo (RHP, ATL) or Alex Wood (LHP, ATL) from the minors. Both guys made major impressions on the team this spring. Obispo, 28, amassed a 3.00 ERA, 8.5 Dom and 4.0 Ctl in 96 IP combined between Double-A and Triple-A last year. He followed that up with an impressive spring, striking out eight while allowing just two hits and walking none in five scoreless innings.

Wood, who was the team's second round pick in the 2012 amateur draft, has pitched as a starter thus far in his professional career, but there are some in the organization who feel his future could be as a late inning reliever, possibly as soon as this summer. The 22-year-old posted a 2.22 ERA, 8.9 Dom and 2.4 Ctl in 52.2 IP at Single-A last year and allowed just one earned run in seven innings this spring.

 

New York Mets

Another team struck by the injury bug, the Mets opened the season with two members of its projected starting rotation on the disabled list: both Johan Santana (LHP, NYM) (surgery, anterior capsule in left shoulder) and Shaun Marcum (RHP, NYM) (biceps tendinitis).

Marcum missed quite a bit of spring training action due to various ailments. He received a cortisone shot two weeks ago for an impingement in his throwing shoulder and then dealt with neck discomfort. This was the first mention of biceps tendinitis, but it is not thought to be serious. The veteran was to pitch a simulated game on April 2 and then start against the Marlins on April 7. However, that plan was scrapped after he experienced neck pain while warming up. Now the Mets will need a starter for April 7 and possibly beyond as Marcum tries to get healthy. Marcum is scheduled to be examined by team doctors in New York April 4.

Aaron Laffey (LHP, NYM), who hasn't posted a BPV above 23 or xERA better than 4.67 since 2007, is expected to be summoned from Triple-A to pitch in his stead. Some have speculated that Collin McHugh (RHP, NYM) might have an outside chance at getting the opportunity simply because he is on the 40-man roster while Laffey is not, but that shouldn't be an issue as the team can simply shift Santana from the 15-day DL to the 60-day DL to make room.

Looking ahead, the injury to Santana should make it easier for the Mets to bring up Zack Wheeler (RHP, NYM) later this summer—probably around mid-June at the earliest. As we discussed previously, Jeremy Hefner (RHP, NYM) will step into the current vacancy created by the Santana injury. Hefner, 27, posted a 4.35 xERA, 1.37 WHIP and 6.0 Dom in 94 IP as the team’s swingman last year--a role for which he’s probably best suited.  It most likely won’t be as difficult to unseat Hefner as it would’ve been if one of the projected starting five.  If Wheeler pitches well at Triple-A, we would be surprised if he didn’t get the call by the end of June.

 

Philadelphia Phillies

It will be interesting to see how the playing time shakes out at the corner outfield positions between Domonic Brown (OF, PHI), John Mayberry (OF, PHI), Laynce Nix (OF, PHI) and eventually Delmon Young (OF, PHI).

We gained a little insight into the right field situation in the season opener as the right-handed hitting Mayberry was in the lineup, not the left-handed hitting Nix, against Tim Hudson (RHP, ATL). It won’t be a straight platoon as manager Charlie Manuel plans to use a variety of factors including past performance against a certain pitcher and the recent performance of his own guys when deciding who will start in right field each day.

Brown figures to play nearly every day in left field until Young is healthy. It’s possible that Manuel might opt to play Brown against all but the very toughest lefties. That type of arrangement would make sense, at least for the first couple months of the season, as the team needs to finally give Brown an opportunity to play on an extended basis. Rather than assume that he can’t hit lefties, they should give him a chance to show whether or not he can.

Young was scheduled to play right field for three innings in a simulated game on April 2. Barring a setback, he could return from November microfracture surgery on his right ankle by the end of the month.

The addition, on April 2, Ezequiel Carrera (OF, PHI) became yet another piece to the puzzle. Claimed off waivers from the Indians, the 26-year-old replaces Rule 5 draftee Ender Inciarte (OF, PHI) as the team's fifth outfielder. The left-handed hitting Carrera sported a .704 OPS, 2 HR and 8 SB in 158 PA with the Indians last year and can play all the outfield positions. Carrera is six years younger than the other lefty-hitting reserve outfielder, Nix, while possessing much more speed and better defensive ability in center field. Nix posted a .730 OPS with 3 HR, 63% ct% and 3 BPV in 127 PA last year, including a putrid -65 BPV, 53% ct% and .561 OPS in 68 AB in the second half, and followed that up with a dismal spring (.569 OPS and 16 K in 65 AB). Obviously someone will have to go when Young returns from the DL and, at this point, it would appear that Nix could be in jeopardy of losing his spot.

 

Washington Nationals

Henry Rodriguez (RHP, WAS) wound up getting the final spot in the team’s bullpen. There had been some concern over his health, but he was deemed ready for Opening Day. J.C. Romero (LHP, WAS) traveled to D.C. with the team as it broke camp and presumably would have taken that spot if Rodriguez had needed some time on the disabled list. It remains likely that Romero will get a shot at some point this summer as the team has just one left-hander, Zach Duke (LHP, WAS),on the Opening Day roster and he certainly appears to be next in line whenever an extra bullpen arm is needed. 


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