PT TOMORROW: NL West—Dodgers rotation nearing full strength

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers’ rotation is getting healthier, and it may not be long before another planned member of the Opening Day staff—Rich Hill (LHP, LA)—returns to action. Shut down toward the end of spring training with a knee (MCL) injury, Hill threw a simulated game last weekend and then a 54-pitch rehab start on Wednesday, potentially lining him up for a start with the big-league club later next week. 

Given Clayton Kershaw’s (LHP, LA) recent return, Julio Urias (LHP, LA) should be transitioning to the bullpen in short order, which should help limit his innings—perhaps to somewhere in the 75-100 IP range suggested by some close to the team. For his part, Urias struggled (8 ER, 13.7 IP) through his first three turns in the rotation, with all of that damage admittedly coming against stiff competition (@COL, MLW). He’s shown improved velocity (95 mph) and the upside is immense, but he could be difficult for fantasy owners to hold, depending on the format.

The team also has Hyun-Jin Ryu (LHP, LA) rehabbing from what appears to be a mild groin injury, announcing that he will rejoin the rotation this weekend against the Brewers. When that happens, the team has already stated that Ross Stripling (RHP, LA), who allowed 8 ER in his first 3 starts (25 IP), will move to the bullpen.

While the staff has clearly has considerable depth, it was interesting to see Caleb Ferguson (LHP, LA) get the first chance to start a bullpen game last weekend, throwing 51 pitches in the outing. Ferguson, featured here last week in the bullpen discussion, worked as a starter in the minors, and owns a 3.10 ERA (3.15 xERA) with a 10.7 Dom (12% SwK) and 2.3 Ctl (61% FpK) across his 58 MLB innings the past two seasons.

Along with Ferguson, Dustin May (RHP, LA) could be a name to monitor as the year progresses, perhaps forcing his way up to the majors later in the season. May, the team’s #4 prospect, has the size and stuff to be a #2 starter long-term, and he’s really generated excitement in the last year or so—thanks in part to increased velocity (now 95-96 mph) and improved stuff. He’s done nothing to dampen the enthusiasm so far this year, having a nice spring (12.3 IP, 2 ER, 9/4 K/BB) and a impressive start (14 IP, 3 ER, 17/4 K/BB) down at Triple-A.


San Francisco Giants

The Giants are getting a strong contribution from their bullpen to open the season, with their combined 1.77 ERA through 18 games ranking them tops in MLB.

Closer Will Smith (LHP, SF) is picking up right where he left off last year, locking down all 4 of his save opportunities while allowing 1 ER with 7/2 K/BB in his first 6 innings. This comes on the heels of a 2018 in which he posted a 2.55 ERA (2.99 xERA) in 71 IP, his first season back from Tommy John surgery. And while a trade of Smith has been rumored for a while now, those can be difficult to predict, making him one of the league’s better bets for as long as he has the gig.

Though there was some speculation in March that former closer Mark Melancon (RHP, SF) would get another crack at the job, his uninspiring spring (13 H, 3 BB in 6.7 IP) wasn’t enough to land him back in the role. In his first 8 appearances to start the season, however, Melancon has yet to allow a run—generating ground balls (65%) even if the swing-and-miss stuff isn’t quite there (8% SwK). He hovered around the 9.0 Dom range even in his most dominant years, but the 34-year-old may need to miss a few more bats if he hopes to regain the role at some point in the future.

One reliever in the pen who’s having no trouble getting whiffs is 26-year-old Reyes Moronta (RHP, SF), who has put out some fires in high-leverage situations so far this season. As noted in the 2019 Baseball Forecaster, control is a bit of an issue for Moronta, who owns a 4.8 Ctl mark in 80 career innings in the majors. But he’s allowed just 3 walks so far (albeit with a 57% FpK), while dazzling with 15 K (12% SwK) in 9 IP. If he can harness the control while maintaining the strikeouts, he could certainly emerge as the next in line should something happen to Smith.


Colorado Rockies

Earlier this week, the Rockies put catcher Chris Iannetta (C, COL) on the IL with a lat strain that, even though no official timetable has been given, should keep him out for at least a few weeks.

In his absence—and with Tom Murphy (C, SEA) no longer part of the organization—the team recalled Drew Butera (C, COL) from Triple-A. Butera, 35, has spent most of his time as a backup since entering the league in 2010, and his offensive profile has consistently been underwhelming. Across 1,227 career at-bats, he owns a .201 BA (.219 xBA) and a total of 19 HR on a career 56 xPX. Coors Field can hide a number of offensive inadequacies, but it might be asking a bit much to expect an offensive outburst in Colorado.

That said, Butera should spend the bulk of time backing up Tony Wolters (C, COL), who has excelled defensively in his time with the Rockies. Wolters has also been making harder-than-usual contact in the early going, with HctX (108) and xPX (105) marks both above league-average in his small-sample work—a noticeable step up from his career levels of 62 and 52, respectively. Wolters said he made an effort to simplify his approach in the offseason, but we’ll want to see those levels stick before changing our offensive expectations for him.

Depending on the severity of Iannetta’s injury, it will also be interesting to see if the Rockies look outside the organization for help behind the plate.


San Diego Padres

Don’t look now, but after spending the first couple of weeks batting near the bottom of the order, Manuel Margot (OF, SD) has been finding his name atop the lineup card pretty regularly since late last week.

Margot’s playing time became a bit more solidified with the injury to Franchy Cordero (OF, SD), and the team hasn't exactly seemed committed to the idea of having Wil Myers (OF, SD) patrol center field, given his mere two starts at the position to date. So if Margot can resemble the hitter that turned heads in 2017, he could be in line for a major uptick in production. So far, Margot has built upon the modest contact gains he displayed last year, currently at 84% through 56 at-bats, and even though he only has 1 BB on the season, he's doing a slightly better job of laying off pitches outside of the strike zone.

On the flip side, Margot’s move up the lineup has led to Ian Kinsler (2B, SD) finding the 7th spot in the order, not to mention feeling the playing time squeeze posed by the arrival of Luis Urias (2B, SD), discussed here last week. Kinsler continues to be victimized by a lowly (17%) hit rate, but his overall power metrics (88 HctX, 65 xPX) suggest a return to previous 20-HR levels could be difficult to achieve for the 37-year-old.


Arizona Diamondbacks

Wilmer Flores (1B/2B, ARI) looked to have an edge on the everyday 2B position this spring—even with the signing of Adam Jones (OF, ARI), which figured to push Jarrod Dyson (OF, ARI) to more of a 4th outfielder role. But Flores has started just 10 of the team’s first 18 games, with 9 of those starts coming at 2B, and he’s not exactly forcing the issue with his offensive performance.

Flores has struggled in recent seasons to find consistent playing time, often used against LHP—against whom he owned a .274/.318/.520 line with 24 HR in 394 AB heading into 2018. But Flores actually had more success against RHP last season, and looked poised for an extended look with NYM before hitting the DL in September with early-onset arthritis in both knees. He appears to have entered this spring at full health, with 15 hits (1 HR) in 42 at-bats, but he’s off to a rough start with 10 hits (0 HR) and just 1 RBI in 46 at-bats while regularly hitting 3rd in the lineup. Yes, it’s too early to draw any sweeping conclusions, but the lack of starts coupled with the fact that he was dropped to #6 in the order against a lefty earlier this week are certainly signs to monitor moving forward.

While Ketel Marte (2B/SS/OF, ARI) has typically manned the keystone when Flores sits, Ildemaro Vargas (2B, ARI) is another who could get the occasional look. Vargas, a 27-year-old switch-hitter, spent several years in the minors before his debut in 2017, and he’s posted a .255 BA (.284 xBA) in his first 51 career at-bats. He profiles as a utility infielder with little fantasy value, although he did have a 35-game hitting streak last year in Triple-A (where he hit .311 on the season), and he did steal 21 bases (in 22 attempts) across three levels in 2016.

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