PT TOMORROW: NL East—Is this the Ender?

Atlanta Braves

Ender Inciarte (OF, ATL) is off to a sluggish start in 2019. The 28-year-old outfielder is slashing .227/.303/.352 with 8 R and 6 RBI in 88 AB, though his 2 HR and 3 SB are keeping him fantasy relevant for now. Although his .275 xBA suggests a bounce-back in that category is likely, there are other concerns. Inciarte is batting 8th in the order more frequently this year, unduly inflating his walk totals and capping his SBO%. What’s more, his usually stellar defense (career 8.2 UZR/150) has been porous (-6.0 UZR/150). Adding to his woes, the center fielder was removed from the game on April 29 with an apparent hamstring injury. How strong is Inciarte’s grip on the starting job, and who might step in for him if the .500 Braves are looking for a spark?

So far, Ronald Acuna (OF, ATL) has stepped in to replace the injured Inciarte in center field. Although predominantly a left fielder, Acuna has played five games in CF this year and 13 G in ’18. He certainly has the speed to man the spot, though it remains to be seen if the Braves would want to stick him there for an extended period. If the team is comfortable with that arrangement, it would open up several options to play in LF.

Johan Camargo (INF/OF, ATL) has started four of the Braves’ first 17 G in LF. His line hasn’t been much better than Inciarte’s: .237/.297/.390 with 1 HR, 6 R, 10 RBI, and 1 SB in 59 AB. He’s most valuable to the Braves in a super-utility role given his defensive versatility, so if the team were looking to make a more definitive switch in LF, they might want to look elsewhere.

Adam Duvall (OF, ATL) has been raking at AAA-Gwinnett, hitting .306/.388/.647 with 18 R, 7 HR, 16 RBI, 11 BB, and 16 K in 85 AB. His power is unquestioned: before suffering a down year in 2018, the veteran outfielder hit 31 HR in 2017 and 33 in 2016 with the Reds. His improved plate discipline this year—albeit in the minors—is especially encouraging given his career 70% ct% and 0.25 Eye in the majors. If given a chance to crack the lineup in Atlanta, Duvall could make some noise.

A couple other left fielders not on the 40-man roster are also enjoying fine starts in Triple-A. Rafael Ortega (OF, ATL) sports a 1.014 OPS with 6 HR and 3 SB in 88 AB. He’s been more of a doubles hitter in the minors, but walked more than he struck out in ’18 for the AAA-New Orleans Baby Cakes (44/31 BB/K in 280 AB) and has 247 SB in 1016 G in his MiLB career. 24-year-old Travis Demeritte (OF, ATL) is exhibiting better plate discipline this year after repeating Double-A in ’18. He’s hit as many as 28 HR in a minor league season. If he can keep up his .273/.364/.455 slash line, Demeritte might finally get a taste of MLB action this year.

 

Miami Marlins

On April 27, Marlins manager Don Mattingly announced that Brian Anderson (3B/OF, MIA) would play more in right field moving forward, attempting to rectify a situation that had “turned into kind of a mess.” The team had paraded a trio of candidates intending to replace the injured Garrett Cooper (OF, MIA), the Opening Day right fielder who injured his calf only three games into the season.

First, a quick look at Anderson: his .240/.325/.337 with 2 HR and 3 SB in 104 AB qualifies him as one of the most successful Marlins batters this year. He’s coming off a solid rookie season (.273/.357/.400 in 590 AB) in which he split his playing time between 3B and RF. Anderson is finally converting some of his above-average speed (career 118 SPD) into steals, and could threaten double-digit SB totals if he continues to get the occasional green light. His 106 HctX and 93 xPX suggest that his power ceiling remains modest, but he has managed to reduce his GB% to 42% versus 52% in ’18, a necessary step to increase his home run potential.

The fact that Mattingly sees Martin Prado (INF, MIA) as part of the solution to the RF/3B conundrum says a lot about the state of affairs in Miami. Prado has slashed a mostly empty .286/.203/.381 in 63 AB. His best asset is his 87% ct% (career 88%); he hit .305 in 600 AB as recently as 2016.

Cooper is currently rehabbing with Class-A Jupiter, where he’s recorded 6 H in 9 AB, including 2 2B and 1 HR. Once he proves that he can play a few games in a row, he should get called up to Miami in short order. Cooper had a solid spring (.926 OPS in 43 AB) and opened some eyes in 2017 with 17 HR and a 1.080 OPS for AAA-Colorado Springs (a hitter’s paradise). He can play either corner outfield spot and first base, giving the Marlins the option to move him and Anderson around in search of their optimal lineup.

 

New York Mets

As disappointing as the vaunted Mets rotation has been to date—as of April 28 their starters were 27th in the league with a combined 5.40 ERA—their bullpen has been worse, ranking 28th with a 5.70 ERA. Who are the culprits and what can the Mets do to address the situation?

Starting from the back of the bullpen, Edwin Diaz (RHP, NYM) has been as advertised and essentially blameless in this debacle. The 25-year-old has a 1.54 ERA and 0.84 WHIP with 2 BB, 20 K, and 8 SV in 12 IP. His only blemish has been a loss on April 29, in which he gave up a game-winning home run to Jesse Winker (OF, CIN) in the top of the 9th of a tie game. Otherwise, Diaz and his 278 BPV are about as safe a bet as any closer in baseball.

Jeurys Familia (RHP, NYM) was re-signed by the Mets after he was traded to OAK before the deadline last season. He was brought in to provide a potent one-two punch as the setup man; instead, Familia’s been pitching punch-drunk. His control has completely abandoned him while posting a 6.17 ERA, 1.89 WHIP, 10 BB, and 12 K in 12 IP. A 5.19 xERA and -3 BPV round out a truly ugly set of stats. If he doesn’t find the strike zone soon, he could get knocked down in the pecking order.

Seth Lugo (RHP, NYM) and Robert Gsellman (RHP, NYM) were instrumental to the Mets bullpen last season. Lugo topped 100 IP in 2017 and 2018 in a swingman role. Last year, he provided value across the board, posting a 2.66 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 3 W, 11 Hd, 3 SV, and 103 K in 101 IP. As of April 28, Lugo’s ERA stands at 4.32, but his 1.14 WHIP and 180 BPV, along with 5 Hd and 22 K in 17 IP, suggest that Mets manager Mickey Callaway could use Lugo in higher-leverage situations if needed.

Gsellman also delivered a grab bag of pitching counting stats in ’18: 6 W, 15 Hd, 13 SV, 70 K, with a 4.28 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 80 IP. While his WHIP has risen to 1.47 this year, he’s been stung by a 38% H%. Of note are his increased velocity (+1.4 mph), SwK (12%), Dom (9.0), and BPV (131). If he can maintain those skills, he could have a career year out of the pen.

 

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies have gone through a particularly difficult stretch during which they've lost their starting shortstop, backup shortstop, center fielder, backup center fielder, and co-closer to injury. Jean Segura (SS, PHI) was activated on April 27, while Odubel Herrera (OF, PHI) and David Robertson (RHP, PHI) are nearing their returns. Roman Quinn (OF, PHI) and Scott Kingery (INF/OF, PHI) will be out for several weeks more. We covered the Phillies’ SS situation in this space last week, and their bullpen woes the week before. This week, we’ll look at the musical chairs in the outfield and what we might expect to see there moving forward.

Andrew McCutchen (OF, PHI) was signed to play LF, but in the wake of the injuries to Herrera and Quinn, the club has decided to roll the dice and play him at his old position in CF. So far, so good. As of April 28, McCutchen has played three games in center, opening up a spot in right field for manager Gabe Kapler to play Nick Williams (OF, PHI).

When Bryce Harper (OF, PHI) signed with the Phillies, Williams was the player who stood to lose the most playing time—and indeed he has. Coming into this season, Williams had two years of major league experience under his belt and produced decent but not great numbers. After posting a .811 OPS in 2017, he slumped to .749 last year with 17 HR in 407 AB. Still, this year he was entering his age-25 season; another step up was certainly possible. Williams finally started a game on April 26, and as long as the team is willing to keep playing McCutchen in center while Herrera is on the mend, Williams should continue to benefit.

 

Washington Nationals

The Nationals are dealing with injuries to several key players. Trea Turner (SS, WAS) has been out since the very beginning of the season. More recently, Ryan Zimmerman (1B, WAS) and Anthony Rendon (3B, WAS) were knocked out of the lineup. Setup man Trevor Rosenthal (RHP, WAS) was placed on the IL ostensibly because of the flu, but the team may be giving him an extended breather to sort out the disastrous start to his season. Meanwhile, the oft-injured Sean Doolittle (LHP) has somehow managed to avoid the injury bug—for now. Who’s backing him up at closer in case the bad bugs bite?

We mentioned Trevor Rosenthal’s current viral infection and early-season woes. Though not currently available to sub in for Doolittle, Washington had high hopes for the former closer when they signed him during the offseason. Unfortunately, he has yet to deliver: in only 3 IP, Rosenthal has walked a whopping nine batters against three strikeouts. The good news is that his velocity (98.3) is still intact. He’ll rehab in the minors and try to straighten things out.

Former Marlins closer Kyle Barraclough (RHP, WAS) has assumed setup duties in Rosenthal’s absence. Although his 1.86 ERA looks pretty shiny from the outside, Barraclough’s performance to date has closely mirrored his checkered career numbers. He strikes batters out at a healthy clip (11.2 Dom) while issuing too many free passes (5.6 Ctl). A 37% H% is contributing to his high 1.66 WHIP, but with sub-par 53% FpK, 10% SwK, and 74 BPV—and two blown saves in as many opportunities—Barraclough isn’t exhibiting closer-worthy stuff.

Enter Wander Suero (RHP, WAS). If we look past his unsightly 7.50 ERA, we can see his more palatable 3.68 xERA. Suero counterbalances a less-than-stellar 4.5 Ctl and 10.5 Dom with a healthy 65% FpK and 16% SwK. His 91 BPV may not scream dominant closer, but he might be Washington’s best bet to fill in; that is, unless they end up signing Craig Kimbrel (RHP, FA).


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