PT TOMORROW: NL East—When Toussaint goes marching in

Atlanta Braves

As expected, the Braves made some changes to their rotation this past week. Kyle Wright (RHP, ATL) was sent down on April 13 after a particularly rough outing against the Mets. In a corresponding move, the Braves recalled Touki Toussaint (RHP, ATL) with the intention of adding him to the bullpen. Toussaint had an impressive extended outing on April 13 (6 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K) in relief of Sean Newcomb, who bombed (1.3 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 0 K). Afterwards, Toussaint was rewarded with a spot in the rotation, while Newcomb was sent down.

Toussaint has filthy stuff. Per the 2019 Baseball Forecaster: “Top prospect flashed electric stuff with 9.9 Dom and 25% H% in MiLB… Walks will breed volatility, but three useful pitches, a GB lean, and consistent ability to miss bats make him a worthy rookie gamble.” He has the talent to stick in the rotation if he can limit the walks.

Michael Soroka (RHP, ATL), nearly ready to return from a shoulder injury, was considered for a spot start for the Braves next week, but will instead remain at AAA-Gwinnett for the time being. If he can stay healthy—admittedly a big if—Soroka’s advanced feel (3.28 xFIP, 1.9 BB/9 at Double-A in 2017) could translate to a successful run in the rotation. For now, he’ll have to bide his time.

 

Washington Nationals

The Nationals signed Brian Dozier (2B, WAS) to a one-year, $9M contract in January. The short-term deal gives Washington the flexibility to call up top prospect Carter Kieboom (SS, WAS) to play 2B when they deem him ready. After Trea Turner (SS, WAS) went to the IL with a broken finger, there was some speculation that Kieboom could be promoted to take his place at short. After all, the team has an established track record of playing highly-skilled prospects at the major league level despite their youth.

Instead of Kieboom, the Nationals have opted to fill in with Wilmer Difo (INF, WAS). Difo’s line so far has been underwhelming: .184/.262/.263 with 1 HR in 38 AB. Meanwhile, Kieboom has put on a fireworks display at AAA-Fresno: .382/.488./.618 with 5 XBH, 1 HR, 1 SB, 6 BB, and 12 K in 34 AB. Except for the low ct%, he’s off to a hot start. On April 3, GM Mike Rizzo announced that Kieboom wasn’t ready to be promoted. That was before the MLB service time deadline had passed; we’re now on the other side of it.

Meanwhile, the struggling Dozier has been losing playing time to Howie Kendrick (INF, WAS). Dozier is mired in a deep early-season slump, hitting .159/.213/.227 with 2 BB against 12 K in 44 AB. As of April 14, Kendrick had started four of the past seven games at 2B, collecting 7 H and 2 HR in 14 AB.

Dozier and Difo’s struggles, Kieboom’s hot start, Kendrick’s injury history (206 IL days last three years), and the fact that every win will be precious in the stacked NL East may combine to force Rizzo to reconsider Kieboom as a possible solution to the Nationals’ infield woes. After bouncing between 2B and SS in spring training, and given the expectation that his path to playing time with Washington would presumably be at 2B, it’s worth noting that Kieboom has started seven of nine games at short in Triple-A. Stay tuned.

 

Philadelphia Phillies

David Robertson (RHP, PHI) landed on the 10-day IL on April 15 with elbow soreness. The injury may help to explain his early season woes: 5.40 ERA, 2.10 WHIP, 6 BB, 6 K in 7 IP. We’ll know more about how long he may be out after the results of an MRI are back.

Robertson’s subtraction from the equation does little to clarify the jumbled back end of the Phillies’ bullpen. Hector Neris (RHP, WAS), Pat Neshek (RHP, PHI), Jose Alvarez (LHP, PHI), and Victor Arano (RHP, PHI) have all been used at the end of games during the past several close contests, with Neris, Neshek, and Alvarez earning saves. Arano was credited with a win after pitching late in a 14-inning game.

At this point, it seems safe to take at face value Gabe Kapler’s promise to mix and match the arms in his bullpen. Curiously, after the team’s first 15 games, the preseason favorites for saves have yet to record one.

Robertson may have to wait some time to get a crack at his first, while Seranthony Dominguez (RHP, PHI) has been used to set up, recording two holds. The fact that Dominguez owns the nastiest stuff (13.5 Dom, 97.1 Vel, with an 89 mph slider inducing a -2 Launch Angle and producing a 38.1 Whiff%) might actually work against him earning most of the saves moving forward if Kapler truly is committed to using his best arm in the highest-leverage situations. That could give Neris and Neshek a larger slice of the saves pie than previously thought.

 

New York Mets

Heading into the season, the Mets were assumed to have a leg up on their division rivals with their powerful rotation. Their offense was projected to be average at best. Instead, as of April 15, the team ranked 4th in MLB in runs scored per game at 6.07, while their starters were 20th with a 4.71 ERA. Bringing up the rear is Jason Vargas LHP, NYM), whose ghastly 14.21 ERA (8.76 xERA) has him on the bubble. Following Vargas’s disastrous April 13 start (4 ER, 2 H, 3 BB, 0 K in 0.3 IP), the Mets announced that they’d skip his next turn. The restless locals, however, are calling for his outright ouster.

The trouble is, even if the Mets bumped Vargas from the rotation, who would be available to replace him? His most likely successor, Corey Oswalt (RHP, NYM), was sent down after his role in that same April 13 blowout (5 ER, 6 H, 4 BB, 2 K in 3.7 IP). The team seems resistant to the idea of re-converting Seth Lugo (RHP, NYM) or Robert Gsellman (RHP, NYM) to starting roles. Walker Lockett (RHP, NYM) could be in line but has yet to pitch in Triple-A because of elbow tightness.

Hector Santiago (LHP, NYM) has stated two games for AAA-Syracuse to the tune of 5 ER, 7 H, 3 BB, 10 K in 10 IP. Last year, he was much more effective as a reliever (3.62 ERA, 10.2 Dom in 69.7 IP) than as a starter (6.12 ERA, 6.7 Dom in 32.3 IP). Maybe a couple more decent games in Triple-A will earn him a spot start for the Mets.

The name on everybody’s lips, of course, is Dallas Keuchel (LHP, FA). The former Cy Young winner had a perfectly cromulent 2018: 12 W, 3.74 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 153 K in 205 IP. Keuchel would represent a clear upgrade over Vargas despite his below-average 6.7 Dom in 2018. The Mets have reportedly checked in with the left-hander, but a deal does not appear to be imminent.

 

Miami Marlins

Veteran Neil Walker (INF, MIA) has settled in as the regular 1B in Miami, starting 11 of the team’s first 16 games at the position. His results so far have been mixed: .208/.283/.417 with 5 R and 3 RBI, but with 3 HR runs and 1 SB in 48 AB. A 21% HR/F suggests that the home run barrage could be short lived, though his 145 HctX, 152 xPX, and 21% h% can all be counted as positives. Even if the results catch up with his skills, the poor team context in MIA will act as a drag on his counting stats.

Martin Prado (INF, MIA) has had the balance of starts at first base. His triple-slash looks incredible: .462/.500/.577. Unfortunately for the 35-year-old Prado and fantasy players, it’s all show and no substance, with a mere 3 R, 2 RBI, 0 HR, 0 SB in 26 AB. His strong plate discipline (92% ct%, 7% BB%, 1.00 Eye) and .317 xBA probably won’t be enough to offset the projected lack of playing time.

The Marlins have two other players with experience at first base who could potentially enter the mix at some point. Peter O’Brien (OF, MIA) played 17 G for the Marlins at 1B in 2018. His performance last year (.273/.338/.530 4 HR in 66 AB) had Marlins fans buzzing. But O’Brien got off to a glacial start this year (.111/.200/.222 with 48% ct% in 27 AB) and was sent down to Triple-A on April 12. Meanwhile, Garrett Cooper (1B/OF, MIA) will try to make good on an excellent 2017 season at Triple-A (.366/.428/.652 with 17 HR in 279 AB) as soon as he returns from a calf injury, perhaps before the end of April. He was slated to play in RF to begin the season, but he did start four games at 1B for the Marlins in 2018 and 73 G there at Triple-A in ’17.


Click here to subscribe

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