PT TOMORROW: NL Central—Marte set to return

Pittsburgh Pirates

Starling Marte’s 80-game PED suspension will end on July 17 (barring a rainout), with the Pirates’ outfielder available to return on July 18. Marte will play left field initially upon his return, although if Andrew McCutchen (OF, PIT) is traded this month, Marte could return to center field where he played prior to being suspended in April.

Adam Frazier (2B/OF, PIT) has seen the majority of left field playing time over the past two months and will see the largest hit in playing time. He will move into a utility role and could see time all around the diamond as a reserve: he has played every position except catcher and first base in 2017.

Platoon bat Jose Osuna (1B/OF, PIT) could find himself out of a roster spot with Marte’s return. Neither he nor John Jaso (1B/OF, PIT) have done much this season to suggest they deserve more than a reserve role with the Pirates. Osuna is just 24 and has just over 250 AB at Triple-A, so regular playing time in the high minors could be beneficial. Jaso is in the final year of his contract, so it’s possible he is traded this month to a team looking for a left-handed bench bat.


Chicago Cubs

Mark Zagunis (OF, CHC) and Jeimer Candelario (3B, CHC) have both seen time in the majors with the Cubs this season as short-term injury replacements, with neither receiving an extended audition. Both are currently with AAA-Iowa as the Cubs’ hitters are all healthy coming out of the All-Star break.

Candelario is primarily a third baseman, but has seen some limited time at first base in the minors over the past two seasons and he spelled Anthony Rizzo (1B, CHC) there one game earlier in the year. He would be an option to fill in for Rizzo and Kris Bryant (3B/OF, CHC) if either were out for extended time. The #4 prospect in the Cubs 2017 Organization Report, he has 10 homers and 23 doubles to do along with a .266 AVG, 13% bb% 74% ct% through 237 AB this season at Triple-A.

Zagunis is the top minor league depth option among outfielders in the Cubs’ system, though the ability of Bryant, Ian Happ (2B/OF, CHC) and Ben Zobrist (2B/OF, CHC) to flex between the infield and outfield means that he’s no sure bet for a call-up at the first hint of injury to a Chicago outfielder. Zagunis was covered in Call-Ups during June.


Cincinnati Reds

Reds starters had an MLB-worst 5.91 ERA at the All-Star break with a baker’s dozen of different pitchers having started at least one game for the Reds. The club hopes the return of Homer Bailey (RHP, CIN) and an intriguing first few major league starts from Luis Castillo (RHP, CIN) lends stability to the rotation. After getting shellacked in his first two starts (15 ER, 3 HR, 5 BB over 4.2 IP), Bailey recovered with a pair of PQS-2 outings, giving up one ER in each start. In his last healthy season (2014), he had a 3.46 xERA and 92 BPV. The Reds will give him plenty of chances in the second half to recover that form as long as he is healthy.

After jumping straight from Double-A to the big leagues, Castillo has showcased his punchout ability with an 11.7 Dom and 13% SwK, but he has not been able to translate the 1.5 Ctl he had in the minors this year to the majors. He has a 3.9 Ctl and 47% FpK through four starts for Cincinnati. He’s given up five HR through 23 IP (1.96 hr/9) after giving up five HR in 80.1 IP at AA-Pensacola.

Nick Richards warned in his Call-Ups write-up that Castillo may not stay up for long if the club feels he needs to work more on his secondary pitches in the minors, but early on the 24-year-old righty is faring better than the Reds' other internal options. He has held his own (3.13 ERA and 1.39 WHIP) through four starts, which is not something that Rookie Davis (RHP, CIN) or Amir Garrett (LHP, CIN) have to their credit.

Sal Romano (RHP, CIN) made his second MLB start on July 6, tossing a PQS-3 against the Rockies in Coors Field. Romano has a 3.06 ERA and 1.30 WHIP through nine starts at Triple-A, though he has just a 9% SwK and 5.36 Dom. Though optioned to the minors over the All-Star break, he is expected to rejoin the club as their fifth starter on July 18.

If Romano struggles, Cody Reed (LHP, CIN) could be next starter up for the Reds. After a horrific 14 IP stretch to open the year in which he had a 1.0 Cmd and 6.43 ERA in mostly relief work, Reed has made 12 starts for AAA-Louisville and has a 9.5 Dom and 3.21 ERA, though he also has a worrisome 5.6 Ctl.


Milwaukee Brewers

As Ryan Braun (OF, MIL) continues to deal with a calf injury that has resulted in two disabled list stints in 2017, manager Craig Counsell has acknowledged that Braun’s playing time will be closely managed during the second half. Even if Braun manages to avoid another DL stint, expect Hernan Perez (2B/3B/OF, MIL) to continue to see significant time in left field, where he has already played 39 games in the first half.

If Braun aggravates his injury, the Brewers have outfield reinforcements waiting in the high minors. Lewis Brinson (OF, MIL) had 31 AB with Milwaukee during June. Since being sent back down to AAA-Colorado Springs, he has whacked 6 2B and 4 HR in 54 AB, bringing his season-long slash line to .339/.412/.573, impressive even in an extremely hitter-friendly environment.

Brinson could also take playing time away from Keon Broxton (OF, MIL). Broxton has been a strong fantasy asset thanks to his power-speed combination (14 HR and 17 SB at the All-Star break), but his .304 OBP, a 58% ct%, and lack of hard contact (76 HctX) could compel the Brewers to call up Brinson and give him a share of center field playing time.

Recently-recalled Brett Phillips (OF, MIL) is also an option to fill-in if Braun lands on the DL again. The 23-year-old was hitting .293 with 17 HR at AAA-Colorado Springs, but has a 67% ct%.


St. Louis Cardinals

Seung-hwan Oh’s (RHP, STL) ineffectiveness in June had opened the door for Trevor Rosenthal (RHP, STL) to take over as Cardinals closer. In an eight appearance stretch for June 11 to June 27, Oh gave up runs in five outings, which led to two losses and one blown save. The longball was the primary cause of his troubles: Oh surrendered three home runs during this stretch. Increased fly ball tilt (his FB% has risen from 41% in 2016 to 50% this season) and hr/f regression has led to Oh’s 1.5 hr/9 this season.

Rosenthal was not able to seize the opening, giving up runs in four of five appearances between June 23 and July 1. He earned one save (while walking two and giving up a run) on June 28 and nearly blew another save on July 1, only to be removed in favor of Matt Bowman (RHP, STL), who recorded that game’s final out. It was Bowman’s first career save and working mainly the seventh inning for the Cardinals this season, Bowman is not in consideration for ninth inning duties. Oh has recorded two saves since July 1 and appears to be the Mike Matheny’s closer...for now.

Oh has been solid (93 BPV and 3.5 Cmd) aside from his home run issues, so if he can avoid giving up home runs for a bit, he could strengthen his grasp on the closer role. That, however, is anything but a sure bet. Rosenthal, recent wildness aside—he had a 6.8 Ctl in the month prior to the All-Star break—has been dominant this season with a 14.3 Dom and 163 BPV. If Oh’s gopheritis persists and Rosenthal gets another opportunity at the closer role, he is well-positioned to claim the closer role and earn plenty of second half saves.

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