Yesterday, Doug Miller over at MLB.com wrote about the the five biggest story lines of the spring, or at least as he saw them. He begins and ends his piece discussing young, future stars of the game in Kris Bryant and the most recent wave of Cubans, but it's a larger story within the points he touched on in the middle that has my full attention.
We're still three weeks away from the start of the regular season (hurry baseball) and the injury bug is already inflicting serious damage to several clubs, particularly in the east.
Cliff Lee: Gone with a career threatening elbow injury. If the Phillies didn't need to trade Cole Hamels before (they did), they really need to get that ship sailing over the next three and a half months.
Yu Darvish: Gone for the year and headed for Tommy John surgery. Think about being a Rangers fan for a moment: World Series appearance in 2010, come within one out of winning the whole thing TWICE in Game 6 in 2011 in one of the most bitter defeats of all time, collapse and lose a large division lead in 2012, collapse again in 2013 falling from the division lead to a wild card spot to out of the playoffs in September, have the injury bug attack and destroy your 2014 squad to the tune of 95 loses, and then lose your ace before 2015 even starts. Or to put it another way, they haven't won s single playoff game since their failure to close out that epic Game 6 four years ago, and it doesn't look like they will be winning any playoff games this year either. I guess the baseball gods are still really upset about this.
Mets: They get their own category. In just the last few days, they lost reliable lefty reliever Josh Edgin to TJ surgery and now the news surfaces today that Zack Wheeler will likely need the same procedure. Suddenly the pitcher depth of this team doesn't look nearly as solid as it did a week ago.
Marcus Stroman: This is another devastating injury from last week in which a pitcher is gone for the year. In this case, Stroman tore his ACL. This feels especially devastating to the Blue Jays chances in what figures to be a tight AL East. At the start of the spring, I felt as though this team was one Cole Hamels trade away from jumping into the driver's seat in this division thanks to their excellent core of position players and a rotation that needed a little more work. Now, I don't know what they're going to do. Toronto was going to win a lot of games with Stroman on the mound this season, and with him gone, they need to make a move just to get back to where they were before.
These are just the major spring training elbow / knee / need Tommy John injuries from this spring. This doesn't include the long, long list of players who are not likely to see action on opening day, but Chris Sale, Kenley Jansen, Hunter Pence, Josh Hamilton (even before he relapsed), and Chris Capuano among others are all on it.
This is a list that's already brutally long, and going to get longer in the next three weeks. Every day the Rockies go without adding a player to this list means they're gaining ground on the field. Colorado already entered the season with one troublesome injury (who knows what's going on with Tyler Anderson), but just by going three weeks without any major mishaps - A very unusual occurrence for this team in recent years - they're already in better shape than a handful of teams in in this department.
So to all Rockies: Please don't get hurt, please don't get hurt, please don't get hurt, please don't get hurt, please don't get hurt! I'm kind of looking forward to seeing what this team can do when it's relatively healthy.
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The lead off spot for the Rockies is a bit tricky. Last year, Charlie Blackmon had a hot April and that apparently gave him squatting rights to the top of the lineup for the rest of the season despite only posting a .314 on base percentage from April 28th on. Blackmon consistently batting atop the lineup didn't irk me so much last August and September because the club was out of contention (In fact, a part of me liked seeing him rack up the extra at bats), but if he's there most days in 2015, it's a mistake on Walt Weiss' part. The problem however is who should replace Blackmon in that role, and there is no perfect answer.
So far this spring, Corey Dickerson has consistently slotted into the lead off spot and appears to be the early favorite to take over that role - If there is a favorite. The problem the Rockies have here is that all of their high on base guys also hit for power, or in the case of Drew Stubbs and Justin Morneau (who wouldn't be hitting at the top of the lineup anyway with his speed), have all of their production from both the power and on base departments cut to situations where they're facing pitchers of a certain handedness.
The guy I'd actually like to see in the lead off spot more often is Carlos Gonzalez.
- He posted an on base of at least .363 for four straight seasons from 2010 through 2013
- He's a much, much better hitter when he concentrates on burning opposing pitchers to the opposite field, and I feel he'll be more inclined to do that out of the leadoff spot.
- He's the best base runner on the team. Cargo has speed, quickness, and smarts when it comes to this aspect of the game,which is a very rare combination.
- I don't feel like we'd be wasting his power because the Rockies have to put a power hitter in the lead off spot if they want a guy with a high on base percentage there.
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Drew Creasman wrote about the nine most volatile Rockies last month in an attempt to underscore how unpredictable this team might be in 2015. Well guess what, the folks over at Baseball Prospectus agree with him. Last week, they looked at the most volatile rotations in baseball, and the Rockies came in with the top spot by quite a good margin. Also, the second through sixth spots were all American League teams, so the Rockies have by far the most volatile rotation in the National League.
This is made even more interesting when you consider that only four of the nine guys Drew highlighted in that piece were potential members of the rotation. The rest were Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Drew Stubbs, Rex Brothers, and Boone Logan. Furthermore, two of the four starters dissected here were Jon Gray and Eddie Butler who are likely to start the season in the minors, which brings even more volatility into play.
All of this is a good thing when you're projected by almost everyone to be a sub .500 team.
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Oh, and back to Corey Dickerson for a moment, he's working hard on improving his defense. I actually believe it's possible he becomes average in that department. He has the speed to cover ground, and the work ethic to get the most out of his tools. He'll never have a strong throwing arm, but he can still improve his first step, and that's exactly what he's focusing on.
It may be hard to believe, but he's already made huge strides here between 2012 and 2014. When I followed the Tulsa Drillers around for three weeks back in the spring of 2012, Dickerson was called up in June and he took some of the most hideous routes I've ever seen to balls. Everything hit in his direction was an adventure. While last year still wasn't great, the steady improvements are noticeable. If he turns up his game a notch or two here, he'll be serviceable on that side of ball, which is all he needs to be with what he does at the plate.
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There's some excellent quotes from Adam Ottavino in this fangraphs piece about how he's trying to emulate Garrett Richards of the Angels. Here's a little snippet:
"I'm focusing on Garrett Richards now, because he throws across his body like I do. Plus, my velocity spiked toward the end of the year, so while he's throwing a tick harder, we're in a somewhat similar range. Some of his pitches cut a little more, and maybe sink a little differently, but at the end of the day, we both throw across our bodies with the same two pitches. It's a similar set of variables."
These are really encouraging comments from a key member of the bullpen because it shows a high level of understanding within his game and what he can do to make the necessary tweaks to improve.
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Finally, Mike Petriello writes that baseball needs to fix its broken service time system. But here's the thing, I don't think it's broken. Petriello argues that because the Cubs are likely to hold Kris Bryant down at the start of the season to delay his service clock that the system needs tweaking, but as a baseball fan, I like that he's being held down.
First, I don't need to see Kris Bryant's debut on opening day. I've already got so much baseball action to pay attention because it's opening day and it's special by itself. Whenever Kris Bryant is eventually called up, that becomes its own special day later in the season and stands out.
Second, I also like that the small and mid market clubs (which the Cubs are not, but the little guys use this too like the Rays did with Longoria and the Rockies did with Arenado) can keep a guy down for a couple of weeks and get what amounts to a seventh year of control out of a player before he hits free agency.
Finally, as Petriello fully acknowledges, no matter where you place the cutoff for the necessary amount of service time for the club to gain an extra year of control, teams will play games. As far as I'm concerned, this is fine, and I like seeing the big name prospects come up in late April.