KEEPERS: The changing 2016 landscape, part 3

The third of our spring series in which we attempt to advise owners in keeper leagues that are already trading and adding free agents. We'll try to focus and dig deeper into rapidly changing circumstances, winter roster moves, spring developments and other activity that may need more scrutiny than they've been given to date. This series covers similar ground as the Playing Time Tomorrow space, in an effort to supplement and extend that effort for keeper and dynasty formats that are active and need navigating now.

Several weeks ago we noted the attempted comeback of Cory Luebke in PIT, along with all of the reasons why his progress should be monitored this spring. Luebke has since reportedly been impressive and shown a velocity hike in advance of his contract opt-out date, by which time the Pirates need to make him part of their bullpen or get his permission for a minor league assignment. Also mentioned in that piece was Juan Nicasio (RHP, PIT), who has ultimately become the Pirates off-season pitching acquisition making the most significant spring impact.

Following a spring in which Nicasio has allowed no runs while posting a 24/5 K/BB through his first 15 IP—including a recent five-inning stint—Nicasio looks like he has not only made the team, but appears to be getting rotation consideration. The previous skills Nicasio flashed as a rookie in 2011 over 13 starts never quite resurfaced after that season ended prematurely with line drive off his neck and a fractured vertebrae. In particular, his control deteriorated, Dom faded and gopheritis persisted in Colorado, as the Rockies gradually gave up on him as a starter. But Nicasio's SwK-supported Dom jumped into double-digits out of the LA pen in 2015, as his velocity soared all season long. And while his career-worst 4.9 Ctl helped fuel a 4.04/4.46 ERA/xERA and 1.56 WHIP, a career-best 62% FpK suggests Nicasio is capable of better.

Our call:  ​At age 29, Nicasio is obviously young enough to improve and for a return to the rotation. A miniscule 2% hr/9 last year following his escape from Coors Field speaks to his stuff and ability to limit HR damage—and PNC Park should help. Obviously being under the tutelage of PIT pitching Ray Searage is a plus, as is being on a solid offensive team with bullpen support. And the back of the Pirates rotation is suspect. But despite outstanding velocity, Nicasio's fastball dependency and limited repertoire give us pause, along with his historical control issues. Perhaps he'll be Searage's latest miracle, but as a starter over the long-haul this seems like a stretch.

That said, we like Nicasio's upside as a multi-inning bullpen weapon in his new environment, particularly—obviously—in strikeout leagues, with future closer upside if his control can be harnessed. A control implosion appears to be his biggest risk, but a healthy Nicasio would appear to have some good years ahead of him—and should be a strong consideration for any roster willing to take on what looks like limited bullpen risk.   

 

Yasmani Grandal has been shelved since March 21, this time with a strained forearm. At last report, he seemed to be a 50/50 proposition for Opening Day, but a throwing arm injury isn't the best way for a catcher to begin the season. Despite a history of sketchy health and LA's pairing him liberally with A.J. Ellis to limit their exposure, Grandal finished 2015 hitting .186 over his final 156 AB in the 2H and having off-season surgery on his left shoulder. He's never accumulated more than 377 AB in any of his four MLB seasons.

The big questions are how much time Grandal will miss this season—whether now or later—and who will be the beneficiary. One-time starter Ellis has been Clayton Kershaw's personal catcher forever, but despite a mini-power surge in 2015, patience is his only plus offensive tool, his BA is a liability, and he'll turn 35 in April. On the other hand, rookie Austin Barnes (C, LA) has shown terrific plate skills—252/249 BB/K, .300 BA over 1865 career AB—throughout his minor league career. Barnes also owns a 20/2 SB/CS and popped 21 HR over his most recent 576 high minors AB in 2014-15, though he's been described as primarily a gap hitter by most analysts to date. He's rated as a solid receiver with an average arm, has seen extensive time at second base, and can play third base as well. At age 26, Barnes would seem old for a rookie but not for a catcher. He's coming off a good spring in which he's hit .256 over his first 43 AB, with 4 HR, 8 BB and two SBs without getting caught. 

Our call: ​Barnes' immediate opportunity obviously depends on Grandal's health, how long he might be out, and whether LA is willing to play him again through injuries. Even then, it's possible that Ellis could start off with most of the playing time. But Barnes' versatility and LA injuries—a nagging calf problem has limited second baseman Howie Kendrick to 23 AB this spring—could open the door for a roster spot and limited AB to begin the season. Barnes has enough talent to take things from there, and if his time isn't now, then it's soon. The high demand for MLB catching being what it is currently, an eventual trade that somehow provides Barnes with a clearer opportunity wouldn't be a shock. From a fantasy standpoint, the slim pickings at catcher gives Barnes legitimate value in deep, two-catcher leagues, with minimal risk—i.e., what are you otherwise missing out on? His age and broad skill-set make Barnes worth a roster spot in deeper leagues using reserves.

 

Despite an outstanding two-pitch combination, Cam Bedrosian (RHP, LAA) has been a disappointment over his first two seasons, as suggested by that 5.81 ERA and 5.3 Ctl over his first 53 MLB IP. Bedrosian was able to dominate in the minors again, posting a 42/14 K/BB with a 2.78 ERA over 36 IP in the hitter-friendly PCL last season. But poor control and wavering command/composure to date at the MLB level continue to neutralize his terrific stuff. And after watching Bedrosian cough up three runs against San Francisco on March 2, LAA observers braced themselves for more of the same. But following that initial Cactus League performance, Bedrosian has been outstanding, allowing just two runs while posting a 16/3 K/BB over his next 10 IP. So what are we to make of this?

Our call: With respect to Bedrosian's stuff, seeing is believing. But spring training being what it is, it's impossible to tell whether he's beyond the issues that have plagued him as a major leaguer. His control isn't likely to ever be stellar, and he still needs to prove himself vs. LHBs. But mid-90s velocity and a wipeout swing-and-miss slider can neutralize a bb/9 that is closer to 4 out of the pen. And what makes us lean toward taking this flyer is Bedrosian's late-inning opportunity, i.e., Huston Street's 2015 2H performance and continued velocity decline, and soft-tossing Joe Smith looking mortal after 2014. Given this and LAA's poor overall MLB-ready depth, the light going on for Bedrosian could lead to a big role upgrade in short order.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.