PT TOMORROW: AL East — Hunting for saves in BAL

Baltimore Orioles

Mychal Givens (RHP, BAL) will reportedly begin 2020 as the Orioles’ closer, but Hunter Harvey (RHP, BAL) may soon be hot on his heels.

Baltimore made clear recently that Harvey is not a candidate for the team’s rotation, its sorry state notwithstanding. That leaves Harvey primed to assert himself in a high-leverage relief role for the Orioles.

While Harvey scuffled a bit in 11 starts for AA-Bowie last year (5.19 ERA, 1.42 WHIP), his relief work at AAA-Norfolk was better (4.32 ERA, 1.11 WHIP with a 22/5 K/BB in 16.2 IP).  

The oft-injured former top prospect still boasts a 98-plus-mph fastball, which he deployed to strike out 11 in his 6.1 MLB innings in 2019 while allowing only 1 ER.

Givens’ fastball may be a notch below Harvey’s, but generating swings and misses was not a problem in 2019, thanks in large part to an improved change-up. 

Bigger issues for Givens, as noted in the Baseball Forecaster, were his control and increasing ineffectiveness against left-handed batters. 

In addition, Givens, who will turn 30 in May, is the type of player the Orioles likely would not hesitate to flip for younger talent, if the opportunity presents itself. As a result, it may be less a matter of if Harvey can take over the ninth inning as when. 

Harvey does look like a clear Plan A as an alternative to Givens, at least in the long term.

Thanks to a 60% strand rate, Richard Bleier (LHP, BAL) saw his three-year streak of sub-2 ERAs come to a halt in 2019. His xERA history shows the degree to which he had been overachieving, though his strong ground ball rate and control could make him a stopgap option if Harvey is deemed not yet ready to assume the ninth-inning mantle.

Meanwhile, Miguel Castro (RHP, BAL) has never demonstrated the type of command that would make him a strong late-inning option, despite a fastball that looks the part, and Shawn Armstrong (RHP, BAL) suffers from a similar deficiency.

 

Boston Red Sox

The inclusion of David Price (LHP, LA) that also sent Mookie Betts (OF, LA) to the Dodgers moved Martin Perez (LHP, BOS) up a chair into the No. 4 slot in the Red Sox rotation, at least to start the season.

How long Perez will last in that role remains to be seen but, as noted in the Baseball Forecaster, there is not much in his skills profile on which to hang much hope. 

Behind Perez, things do not get much prettier, and the team, which experimented with the use of an opener late last season has not ruled out doing so again this year. 

If the Red Sox do not go that route, one name that interim manager Ron Roenicke has mentioned Ryan Weber (RHP, BOS) on a couple of occasions. Roenicke has accurately lauded Weber’s ability to throw strikes, and his sinker has proven effective in inducing ground balls. But Weber has shown no ability to miss bats whatsoever. 

Other candidates include Matt Hall (LHP, BOS), whom Boston acquired a month ago in a trade with the Tigers. Hall has given up more than an earned run an inning (33 ER in 31.1 IP) in his limited major league work, which has been exclusively in relief. 

Hall did show a bit of potential as a starter at AAA-Toledo in 2018 (2.67 ERA, 1.16 WHIP in 10 starts), but his second tour of the level in 2019 was considerably worse (5.30 ERA, 1.54 WHIP in 13 starts).

There also may be some upside potential in 23-year-old Tanner Houck (RHP, BOS), a non-roster invitee to spring training who has yet to make his major league debut but found some success as a reliever at AAA-Pawtucket last season (2.05 ERA in 22 IP). 

Other young pitchers who could get a chance to start at some point include Kyle Hart (LHP, BOS) and Mike Shawaryn (RHP, BOS)

Two other pitchers who have hovered around the periphery of the Red Sox rotation for the past few seasons but have not shown much of an ability to make themselves fantasy relevant are Hector Velazquez (RHP, BOS) and Brian Johnson (LHP, BOS). 

 

New York Yankees

While it would likely take an injury to Aroldis Chapman (LHP, NYY) — as noted in the Baseball Forecaster, Chapman’s skill set remains robust — there may be a bit more saves potential in Thomas Kahnle (RHP, NYY) than is immediately apparent.

The Yankees are paying Adam Ottavino (RHP, NYY) and Zack Britton (LHP, NYY) a combined $22 million to set up Chapman. Each has at least some closing experience — in Britton’s case, more than a little — and each posted some nifty looking surface stats in 2019. 

But in each case, there is reason to think that issues with their control may begin to take their ERA northward, especially as their strand rate luck runs out.

Meanwhile, while Kahnle’s health and consistency are not ideal, his SwK and ground-ball tilt would make him an ideal candidate to fill in if Chapman were to become unavailable, especially if he maintains or builds upon the velocity he recovered in 2019.

The Yankees have another pitcher with elite skills in Chad Green (RHP, NYY), though the team has been more inclined to use Green in multiple-inning stint than other members of the bullpen.

Green also worked as an opener occasionally in 2019. That experiment was expected to be abandoned in 2020, though that was before injuries to James Paxton (LHP, NYY) and Luis Severino (RHP, NYY) struck.

 

Tampa Bay Rays

The off-season has not exactly been kind to the playing time prospects of Nate Lowe (1B, TAM), as between Jose Martinez (OF, TAM) and Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (1B, TAM), the team has brought in a couple of additional contenders for playing time at first base and designated hitter, to go along with Lowe and Ji-Man Choi (1B, TAM).

The Rays say they may give Tsutsugo some time in the outfield, though none of Austin Meadows (OF, TAM), Kevin Kiermaier (OF, TAM) and Hunter Renfroe (OF, TAM) are expected to sit all that often. To the extent they do, Manuel Margot (OF, TAM) looms as a better defensive option, and a right-handed bat to boot, providing a better natural complement to Kiermaier or Meadows than the LHB Tsutsugo.

The more likely alignment will have Tsutsugo and Choi at DH and first base against right-handed pitching, with Martinez playing against most lefties, at a minimum.

But by losing 20 pounds by adopting healthier eating habits in the off-season, Lowe is trying to give Tampa something to think about, even as his remaining minor league options loom as a natural way to resolve this roster crunch. 

Lowe will reportedly spend a fair amount of time this spring at third base, a position that his slimmed-down may help him field more adroitly. 

While the Rays already have a third baseman with upside potential in Yandy Diaz (3B, TAM) who figures to get most of the team’s playing time at the position, it is perhaps worth noting that Diaz, too, has a remaining option.

As compared to Lowe, Diaz is an “established” veteran, but if Lowe forces his way onto the roster, a demotion of Diaz — or Margot — would be a way to resolve the issue, if it came to that.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

While the Blue Jays’ young core hammer out their preferred batting order slots — Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (3B, TOR) has successfully lobbied to hit cleanup behind Lourdes Gurriel (OF, TOR), who will be most often behind Cavan Biggio (2B, TOR), with Bo Bichette (SS, TOR) leading off — the most interesting camp battle may be to figure out who get the final slots to play supporting roles to those stars to start the season.

While Derek Fisher (OF, TOR) and Anthony Alford (OF, TOR) may not warrant legs up in that competition based on how little they have shown in the majors thus far, their lack of remaining minor league options may be enough to force them onto the roster.

Instead, the battle may revolve around Joe Panik (2B, TOR), Brandon Drury (3B, TOR) and Rowdy Tellez (1B, TOR), any of whom could be stashed in the minors. 

Drury may have an edge to claim one roster spot, just based on positional flexibility — he played every position but catcher and center field last year — and handedness. Having Drury around could allow either Travis Shaw (1B, TOR) or Biggio to sit against tough left-handed pitchers.

While it might be hard to envision a veteran like Panik getting stashed in the minor leagues, Toronto took a similar approach last year with Eric Sogard (3B, MIL), and it worked out swimmingly. 

Tellez certainly offers the potential for more offense than the ultra-boring Panik. But one question is whether the allure of that offense is sufficient to absorb the defensive downgrade that would result from having Teoscar Hernandez (DH, TOR) log more of his playing time in the outfield, which Tellez’s presence on the major league roster would seem to necessitate.

Once that is factored in, it becomes a bit more likely to envision Tellez being sent to AAA-Buffalo, where he could play every day and get into a sustained groove.

But even if that is the way the Blue Jays are leaning, a big spring from Tellez could alter those plans.

 


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