PT TOMORROW: AL West—January rotation snapshots

Oakland Athletics

This club doesn't have anything close to the 1-2 frontline of the HOU rotation—but now in January it may own the division's best SP depth, including plenty of youth-and-prospect upside. Projected Opening Day starters Sean Manaea, Mike Fiers, Chris Bassitt and 2019 surprise Frankie Montas (RHP, OAK)—who posted a 2.63 ERA, 4.5 Cmd and 49% GB% over 96 IP prior to his 80-game PED-related suspension—all posted sub-4 ERAs under varying workloads last year, and will likely be given some early rope for repeats. But at least Fiers and Bassitt appear to have exceeded 2019 expectations, and there are better arms about to challenge them.

The obvious names are top-shelf prospects Jesus Luzardo (LHP, OAK) and A.J. Puk (LHP, OAK), both coming off injury-and-rehab-dominated seasons—but both of whom also looked very healthy by the end of September. Coming off season-long lat issues, Luzardo posted 12 IP of two-run, 16/3 K/BB with two saves in his September MLB debut. At the end of his rehab for Tommy John surgery, Puk flashed similar late-season dominance in his first OAK go-around (11 IP, 13/5 K/BB, 4 runs allowed). Both pitched exclusively out of the pen, and will be on workload watch in 2020, but should find themselves in the rotation at some point in 2020, perhaps early. 

Daniel Mengden (RHP, OAK) and Paul Blackburn (RHP, OAK) both have MLB innings under their belts—but that might be the only thing that gets them early consideration, since neither has done much with them thus far. Prospects James Kaprielian and Daulton Jeffries have intriguing long-term ceilings, but don't figure to make their MLB debuts in early 2020. This looks like a very watchable rotation all season long.

 

Houston Astros

Electronic sign-stealing has been this winter’s biggest story out of Houston, and may have even contributed to limited front office activity. But the bottom line is that the starting pitching this otherwise loaded club needs is just not freely available these days. And following the free agent defections of Gerritt Cole and Wade Miley, the club has plenty of innings to fill in a division that projects to be more competitive than in recent seasons.

Currently the #3 starter on paper, one-time-All-Star Lance McCullers (RHP, HOU) will be almost 17 months off of Tommy John surgery and should be ready to contribute something. But to date McCullers has been unable to avoid significant physical breakdowns in any of his four MLB seasons; his frontline potential is just that until something changes, and his workload will be limited in 2020. After flashing small-sample positives (3.95/4.32 ERA/xERA, 5.7 Cmd, 12% SwK) in his HOU debut last season, rookie Jose Urquidy (RHP, HOU) looks penciled in behind McCullers as of Opening Day. But Urquidy struggled vs. MLB RHBs (.821 OPS), and a lack of GB tilt lands him in trouble when his plus command is off. It’s an intriguing floor, but how Urquidy fares over a long MLB season is anyone’s guess.

Uber-prospect Forrest Whitley's (RHP, HOU) ability to rebound from a drug-of-abuse suspension, poor control and injuries that have now produced two consecutive lost minor league seasons will also factor into the rotation picture. Through all of his recent issues (60 IP, 7.99 ERA, 86/44 K/BB in 2019) , Whitley's stuff remains top-shelf and primed to move quickly if harnessed. A good post-season Arizona Fall League performance (25 IP, 2.88 ERA, 32/9 K/BB) was encouraging.

Of the other 40-man-roster names with starting experience, Brad Peacock (RHP, HOU)—4.12/4.45 ERA/xERA last year—will again get consideration, but a balky shoulder limited him to just 7 IP in relief after 15 2019 starts. Josh James (RHP, HOU) also fell victim to 2H shoulder issues and his 5.1 Ctl remains problematic. Framber Valdez's (LHP, HOU) 61% GB% and 11% SwK combo are attractive, but weren't enough to neutralize a 5.6 Ctl and .834 OPS vR last year. If healthy, all of these names seem likely to be working multi-inning stints as of Opening Day—and someone has to make some early starts. Now healthy ex-prospect Frances Martes (RHP, HOU) and light-skilled change-up artist Rogelio Armenteros (RHP, HOU) also have MLB IP under their belts, and may also get March consideration. Stay tuned.

 

Los Angeles Angels

The winter additions of Julio Teheran and Dylan Bundy have added more depth than quality to the division's most injury-beleaguered rotation from 2019. And the dwindling supply of available SPs (free agent or otherwise) raises questions as to how the Angels might fill innings from the bullpen. The arrival of Mgr Joe Maddon also adds to the intrigue, given that he's prone to more tinkering than many skippersand will likely have to, given the questionable collection of arms he's inherited.

Hansel Robles (RHP, LAA) solidified his grasp over the ninth inning with a surprisingly solid 2H (1.80/3.48 ERA/xERA, 12 saves over 35 IP), backed up by both good luck and improving peripherals. But Robles' workhorse 73 IP career season and LAA's needs may give him more multi-inning roles in 2020, and have the net effect of spreading the saves around at least a little more. In that case, look for hard-throwers Ty Buttrey (RHP, LAA) and now-recovered (from Tommy John surgery) Keynan Middleton (RHP, LAA) to get some late multi-inning opportunities as well. Both have work to do, but both are familiar with high-leverage work and throw high-90s gas when right. And both may be an adjustment away from making this an intriguing bullpen, particularly for deep-league fantasy owners seeking quality IP with strikeout upside.

Another name that projects to be in the long-relief mix at some point is Felix Pena (RHP, LAA). Following season-ending ACL surgery last August, Pena will begin 2020 on the IL, but is projected back sometime in May. And apart from a poor June, Pena worked well as LAA's long option behind openers, posting a 77/23 K/BB and 8 wins in relief. Another arm and role to keep an eye on.

 

Seattle Mariners

The only obvious AL West rebuilder, and it shows up in a rotation that seems likely to struggle early and often. It's headed by Marco Gonzales (LHP, SEA), whose 3.99 ERA last year was belied by a 5.12 xERA, 6.5 Dom and sub-90 mph velocity. Both Gonzales (203 IP) and #2 starter Yusei Kickuchi (LHP, SEA)—5.46/5.30 ERA/xERA over 162 IP—have durability working for them. But while this may be fine for an MLB rebuilder, the projected overall results are scary, even in fantasy environments switching from Wins to IP as a scoring stat. The MLB veteran behind them is free agent sign Kendall Graveman (RHP, SEA), whose immediate health and IP are an open question. Following 2018 Tommy John surgery, Graveman pitched just three minor league IP in 2019. He owns a career 4.38/4.55 ERA/xERA over 4.46 MLB IP, and will likely have a restricted workload.

Currently projected in the #4-5 spots are prospects Justus Sheffield (LHP, SEA) and Justin Dunn (RHP, SEA), who own just 43 MLB IP between them. Both have longer term upside, but look iffy over the near-term. Sheffield struggled with both command and control in his MLB debut, posting a 5.50 ERA in 36 IP, though a 13% SwK and 52% GB% were encouraging. Dunn has yet to see a Triple-A inning and may need more minor league seasoning. A bullpen that enters 2020 minus an obvious closer and high-leverage options doesn't seem to provide much IP relief—at least in early January. Opportunity abounds in SEA, but the solutions are difficult to identify.

 

Texas Rangers

Entering the off-season with three Opening Day rotation spots way up in the air, the club quickly turned this around with the acquisitions of Corey Kluber, Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles. The addition of three veteran starters to Lance Lynn and Mike Minor puts the Rangers in a far more competitive situation than they were in 2019, when the rotation allowed almost 5.5 runs per game and was one of the worst in baseball.

If all remain healthy, the obvious immediate casualty is Kolby Allard (LHP, TEX), who posted a 4.96/5.37 ERA/xERA over nine 2H starts after being rushed up in an effort stanch the blood flow. A former 2015 first-round pick, Allard's ability to miss bats and overall stock backed up during his ascension to more competitive levels. A 6.6 Dom (8% SwK) during his 45 IP TEX debut says he still has work to do, but his pedigree, recent velocity bump and age all suggest he's still watchable in the high minors.

Prospects Joe Palumbo (LHP, TEX) and Brock Burke (LHP, TEX) were also slagged in their 2019 MLB debuts, posting a 9.18 ERA in 17 IP and a 7.43 IP over 27 IP, respectively. Both have mid-to-back-of-the-rotation upside at an age when more development is possible. And now both looked ticketed for Triple-A along with Allard to begin 2020. Jonathan Hernandez (RHP, TEX) leapfrogged Triple-A after posting a 5.16 ERA over 96 IP at AA-Frisco, ending his 2019 with a late 17 IP effort in TEX (4.32 ERA, 19/13 K/BB). Great stuff, woeful command, and he'll now likely join the others in Triple-A in an effort to iron out his issues prior to getting a 2020 MLB opportunity. The Rangers suddenly have some high-minors depth worth keeping tabs on in Cactus League play and early 2020.

 


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