Category Archives: BASEBALL

NL East Division position comparison: bullpens

My evaluation of the National League East Division teams has moved on from the position players to a ranking of the pitching staffs of each ball club. I began earlier today with a look at the projected starting rotations. Now, the bullpens will undergo that same evaluation and ranking.

The performance and even the make up of Major League Baseball bullpens are extremely difficult to evaluate at this time of year. Many teams enter spring training with as many as half of their projected relief pitcher spots up for grabs. Injuries will also take their toll on the relievers, both in the spring and then during the season.

As I evaluate each club, I will list the handful of arms that I feel are most likely to be impactful for that team during the season. This will include the projected closer as well as any quality setup and match-up arms.

I will give mention during the team write-up to any pitchers who could begin the season in the bullpen, but who may ultimately end up impacting the rotation as starting pitchers due to injuries. In parentheses after their names you will find a designation for whether they are left- or right-handed.

Combine the starting pitching rankings from earlier today with these bullpen rankings, add them to the examinations of each of the other positions around the diamond which took place over the previous ten days, and you will get a good idea of where each team stands entering spring training.

Early next week, I will take a look at the managers, giving them that same evaluation and ranking treatment. Pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater, Florida on February 11, just 10 days from now, for the opening of Phillies spring training.

NL EAST – 2020 BULLPEN RANKINGS

  1. Atlanta Braves: Mark Melancon (R), Will Smith (L), Shane Greene (R), Sean Newcomb (L), Darren O’Day (R), Luke Jackson (R), Chris Martin (R), A.J. Minter (L), Touki Toussaint (R), Jacob Webb (R)

The two-time defending NL East Division champion Braves possess an embarrassment of pitching riches. That extends to their bullpen group. Smith is an especially solid addition as a southpaw, signing as  free agent back in November after two strong seasons in San Francisco, including an NL All-Star season a year ago. Right-hander Patrick Weigel could emerge from the minors this season to help out if needed. The Braves also have veteran Felix Hernandez and youngsters Kyle Wright Bryse Wilson competing for the fifth-starter job. Any or all of them could impact the bullpen if not being used in the rotation at the majors or at Triple-A. There is still more pitching depth nearly ready among their top prospect group. Atlanta appears to be well-insulated from any type of pitching injury issues.

2) New York Mets: Edwin Diaz (R), Dellin Betances (R), Seth Lugo (R), Jeurys Familia (R), Justin Wilson (L), Robert Gsellman (R), Paul Sewald (L)

It would be hard for me to believe that young closer Diaz, who turns 26 during spring training, won’t bounce back from a somewhat down season in 2019. Even during a year where his ERA ballooned to 5.59 and his WHIP to 1.379, Diaz had a 15.4 K/9 rate and a 99/22 K/BB ratio across 58 innings. If he cannot beat out Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello for a starting rotation nod, Steven Matz will contribute out of the pen as well. Betances, Lugo, and Familia all have closer stuff. Wilson is leaned on heavily as a southpaw arm. He could get help in that regard from prospect David Peterson during the season. The health of former Yankees stud Betances, who turns 29 during spring training, will go a long way towards the New York pen maintaining this ranking during the season.

3) Philadelphia Phillies: Hector Neris (R), Seranthony Dominguez (R), Jose Alvarez (L), Francisco Liriano (L), Adam Morgan (L), Bud Norris (R), Victor Arano (R), Ranger Suarez (L), Robert Stock (R)

The Phillies bullpen has the potential to finish anywhere from second to fourth on this list by the end of the 2020 season, which can also be said for the Mets and Nationals relief group. If I had more confidence in Dominguez being and remaining healthy for the full season, I might even have ranked them ahead of New York already. New skipper Joe Girardi has a ton of arms with which to work and to sort out during spring training. Those could ultimately include arms like Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Cole Irvin, and Enyel De Los Santos, all of whom will try to win the fifth starter job at the outset. The Phillies might have  the deepest selection of lefty relievers in the division. If only they had a strong starting southpaw for their rotation. If the team can stay in contention, they just might finally get some value out of David Robertson late in the season. They also bought a lottery ticket in former Nats closer Drew Storen this winter.

4) Washington Nationals: Sean Doolittle (L), Will Harris (R), Daniel Hudson (R), Roenis Elias (L), Wander Suero (R), Tanner Rainey (R), Hunter Strickland (R), Ryne Harper (R), Javy Guerra (R)

The bullpen was a problem, perhaps the only real problem, for Washington during much of the 2019 season. Recognizing that fact and not wishing to go down that road again they inked free agent righty Will Harris. The Nats also re-signed free agent Daniel Hudson, who was outstanding after coming over in an early-August trade from Toronto last year. Hudson is forever etched in Nationals history after recording the final out in their World Series victory. A trio of youngsters vying for the fifth starter job – Joe Ross, Erick Fedde, and Austin Voth – could also impact the bullpen. If they use Doolittle as the closer, the rest of the pen lacks an impact southpaw, where Elias is likely to be asked to handle the load, at least initially. Prospect arm Seth Romero could ultimately be the answer in that role.

5) Miami Marlins: Brandon Kintzler (R), Drew Steckenrider (R), Jose Urena (R), Jarlin Garcia (L), Ryne Stanek (R), Tayron Guerrero (R), Yimi Garcia (R), Adam Conley (L), Jose Quijada (L)

The Fish signed the 35-year-old Kintzler last week to serve as the closer, allowing a talented group of young arms more time to develop in the setup and match-up roles earlier in games. This is indeed a talented, albeit largely inexperienced, bullpen crew. When top prospect Sixto Sanchez is ready it will bump someone, likely either Elieser Hernandez or Pablo Lopez, to the pen. If enough of these pitchers take a step forward, the Miami bullpen could quickly become a legitimate strength and begin to shoot up these rankings.

 

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NL East Division position comparison: starting pitchers

My evaluation of the National League East Division clubs moves on to ranking the pitching staffs of each team, beginning  with this look at the projected starting rotations. Later today the bullpens of each team will undergo that same evaluation and ranking, concluding the player portion of the process.

For the rotation evaluations, I have listed the projected top four starting pitchers for each team at the beginning of their below write-ups. Those arms make up the primary consideration in their ranking position. During the subsequent discussion, any arms in the running for a fifth-starter slot or who might impact the rotation at some point during the season will be noted.

Combine these pitching rankings with the examinations of each position around the diamond which have been taking place over the last ten days and you will get a good idea of where each team stands entering spring training. Those prior pieces can be viewed through links at the bottom of this article.

Early next week, I will take a look at each club’s manager, giving those skippers the same evaluation and ranking treatment. Pitchers and catchers are due to report to Clearwater, Florida on February 11 for the opening of Phillies spring training.

NL EAST – 2020 STARTING PITCHING RANKINGS

  1. Washington Nationals: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez

The defending world champions have the clear top three starting pitchers in the division, perhaps in all of baseball. However, a note of caution. That run to the first World Series title in franchise history put an extra month of wear and tear on those arms. Washington would not be the first team to find that becomes a difference maker in the following season. The Nats have a trio of interesting arms vying for the fifth starter role in Joe Ross, Erick Fedde, and Austin Voth. If those three can prove ready to handle more of the starting workload, it would allow the Nationals to baby Scherzer and Strasburg along a bit during the summer.

2) New York Mets: Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, Noah Syndergaard, Michael Wacha

No team in the division has the potential to match the Nationals top three arms more than the Mets top trio. Syndergaard and Stroman in particular could elevate their games to another level. The real difference makers in the end in determining whether the Mets contend in the 2020 season is more likely to come from the back-end arms of Wacha and Rick Porcello. Beyond that, Steven Matz and Robert Gsellman give New York quality depth options. If Syndergaard and Stroman don’t have that extra level or break down physically, the Mets could easily slide down these rankings by one or two slots. For now, I like their talent.

3) Atlanta Braves: Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz, Max Fried, Cole Hamels

The addition of the veteran Hamels to what was  a very youthful group could prove to be the smartest addition by any team in the division this off-season. The two-time division champion Braves also purchased a lottery ticket in former AL Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez. Atlanta has an exciting group of young arms fighting for rotation roles beyond that in Kyle Wright, Sean Newcomb, Bryse Wilson, and Ian Anderson. The Braves quality young depth gives them a far better chance to weather injuries to any of their projected top starters than any other team in the division. It also gives them some potential trade chips to fill in any holes during the season.

4) Philadelphia Phillies: Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin

The Phillies are fine at the top two spots with Nola and Wheeler. Beyond that will come the pitchers whose performances will ultimately determine whether the Phillies can finally contend for a postseason spot in 2020. Can Arrieta stay healthy? He has given the club strong April-May performances the last two years, only to break down physically each year. Can Eflin elevate his game to become a truly effective big-league mid-rotation starter? Even if the Phillies get positive answers to these two questions, they have more questions beyond that than any of the clubs ranked above them here. Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Cole Irvin, and possibly Enyel De Los Santos will battle for the fifth starter role to open the season. However, top pitching prospect Spencer Howard should be ready to impact the rotation by May or June.

5) Miami Marlins: Sandy Alcantara, Caleb Smith, Pablo Lopez, Jordan Yamamoto

Alcantara is not as well known to most fans as the other top arms in the division but he has legitimate talent and can be a part of the Fish rotation for years to come. Smith is a solid arm who generally keeps them in contention during his starts. Top prospect Sixto Sanchez should be ready to join the rotation at some point this summer. The Marlins have a further trio or arms in righty Edward Cabrera and lefties Braxton Garrett and Trevor Rogers who will be starting off in the minors, but who, like Sanchez, will be hoping to push for rotation spots later in the summer.

 

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NL East Division position comparison: bench reserves

My look around the National League East Division with a position-by-position evaluation and ranking for each club comes to an end today where position players are concerned.

The Philadephia Phillies fared well at catcher, where they had the top player, and in both center field and in right field, where the projected starter finished second. The Phillies came out at third in the division at each of first basesecond baseshortstopthird base, and in left field.

The defending World Series champion Washington Nationals had the top-ranked player at shortstop as well as in left field and center field. The two-time defending NL East champion Atlanta Braves came out on top at first base, second base, and in right field. And the top player at third base came from the New York Mets.

Today it’s time to take a look at each team’s projected reserve players. The backups and pinch-hitters are going to play a pivotal role in each club’s ultimate success or failure. That is especially so with those who are actually more like platoon starters, or who end up seeing significant playing time due to injuries during the season.

Not only as spring training unfolds, but also during the course of the season, these groups of reserve players will surely change. Unexpected players will win jobs in in the Grapefruit League. Teams may still sign a veteran free agent or two in order to bolster their bench. Top prospects will be called up by their respective clubs, relegating a few players who open the season in a starting lineup to the bench.

Over this weekend the process of evaluating each team will wrap with a look at the starting pitching options on Saturday and then the bullpen arms on Sunday. Finally, I’ll examine and rank the managers as we open a new week.

Once the process is complete,  fans should have a better idea as we begin the month of February as to exactly where their favorite team in the division stands as spring training opens. Pitchers and catchers report on February 11 to Clearwater, Florida for the highly anticipated opening of Phillies spring training.

NL EAST – 2020 BENCH / RESERVE RANKINGS

1) Washington Nationals: The final makeup of the starting infield for the defending world champions is very much in flux as they enter spring training. Howie Kendrick, Starlin Castro, and Asdrubal Cabrera are each in the mix at both second and third base. That trio of veterans will be trying to hold off top prospect Carter Kieboom. A pair of veterans in franchise icon Ryan Zimmerman and newcomer Eric Thames should man first base. Backing up their talented starting outfielders are Michael A. Taylor and Andrew Stevenson, while Wilmer Difo offers another infield option. And the Nats also have an enviable catching tandem in Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes. Whomever skipper Dave Martinez decides to use in his starting lineup on a given day, he will likely have the best bench group in the division as substitute and pinch-hitting options.

2) Philadelphia Phillies: About the only thing we can say for sure about the Phillies bench group is that, given health, Jay Bruce and Roman Quinn will make the squad in the outfield, with Nick Williams as another possibility. On the infield, super-utility player Scott Kingery will likely open the season as the starter at third base. However, once top prospect Alec Bohm is ready, Kingery could bolster the bench by returning to that super-sub role. Behind the plate, Andrew Knapp will be trying to hold off Deivy Grullon for the backup job. The Phillies have a number of solid non-roster invitees coming to spring training, any of whom could make the team. That group includes infielders Josh Harrison, Neil Walker, and Phil Gosselin among others. Veterans Matt Szczur, Mikie Mahtook, and Nick Martini will be among the newcomers trying to force their way into the outfield mix. New skipper Joe Girardi has one of the most wide-open bench battles entering the spring, but it’s a talented, veteran group. He will sort it all out during March and as the season moves along, but it’s almost certain to end up as a much more talented group of subs and pinch-hitters than Phillies squads of the last few years.

3) Atlanta Braves: The two-time defending division champion Braves may have the most talented starting lineup in the NL East entering spring training. If they can improve themselves at third base, that will be a certainty. In the outfield, much will depend on whether Ender Inciarte is healthy and starts in center field. Assuming that is the case, it relegates Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall to bench roles. Tyler Flowers and Travis d’Arnaud give the Braves a strong catching tandem. Young Austin Riley could win the starting job at third base, but Johan Camargo enters spring with the job. One of them will be a reserve, as will Adeiny Hechavarria and Yangervis Solarte on the infield. Outfielders Shane Robinson and Charlie Culberson will be among the veteran non-roster invitees trying to make the team. During the season, either of top prospect outfielders Drew Waters or Cristian Pache could push to the big-leagues. That would make Inciarte a member of the bench as well.

4) New York Mets: If the long-shot possibility of Yoenis Cespedes returning to the starting left field job pans out in spring, that likely pushes J.D. Davis to the bench. That is, unless new manager Luis Rojas decides to give him the starting job at third base, moving Jeff McNeil to second. Should that happen it would make high-priced veteran Robinson Cano a member of the bench brigade. Dominic Smith should provide depth in left field and at first base, with veteran Jed Lowrie as an infield reserve and Jake Marisnick the same in the outfield. Tomas Nido is likely to serve as the backup catcher.

5) Miami Marlins: A big question with Miami will be where does Brian Anderson play most of his innings? He could be the right fielder or third baseman…or split time at both. Jonathan Villar probably starts at either second or third, leaving Isan Diaz and Jon Berti as infield reserves. Garrett Cooper will likely serve as a backup at first base and on the corner outfield spots. Harold Ramirez should see plenty of time as a backup across all three outfield spots. Veteran Francisco Cervelli was signed to serve as the backup catcher. With a team as young as the Fish, a number of prospects could push their way to the big-leagues at any point, further muddying the bench mix for skipper Don Mattingly to sort out.

 

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NL East Division position comparison: right field

The National League East Division position-by-position evaluation and ranking of the starting eight position players comes to an end today with a look at right field.

The Philadephia Phillies had the top catcher in my rankings. The club’s projected starter ranked second in center field, and third in the division at each of first basesecond baseshortstopthird base, and in left field.

The defending World Series champion Washington Nationals had the top-ranked player at shortstop as well as in left field and center field. The two-time defending NL East champion Atlanta Braves came out on top at first base, second base, and now again in right field.

On Thursday, I’ll take a look at the backups and pinch-hitters for each team and rank each of those projected bench groups. Over the weekend the projected starting pitching rotations, bullpens, and finally the managers will be covered.

Once this evaluation process is complete, Phillies fans should have a better idea as February arrives of where the team stands as spring training opens. Pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater on February 11, less than two weeks from now.

NL EAST – 2020 RIGHT FIELD RANKINGS

1) Ronald Acuna Jr. Atlanta Braves: There are two particularly frightening things to consider regarding Acuna for the rest of the National League East. First, he turned just 22 years of age this past December. Second, the Braves got him to a sign a contract paying him $17 million through 2026 with team options at the same salary for two more years beyond that. Acuna is likely to be terrorizing opponents for many years. He won the 2018 NL Rookie of the Year Award after slashing .293/.366/.552 with 26 home runs, 56 extra-base hits, 64 RBIs, 78 runs scored, and 16 steals in just 111 games that year. In his first full season a year ago, Acuna made his first NL All-Star team and won a Silver Slugger Award. He slashed .280/.365/.518 with 41 homers, 65 extra-base hits, 101 RBIs, 127 runs scored, and 37 stolen bases. For that performance, Acuna finished fifth in 2019 NL Most Valuable Player voting. On top of all that offensive production, Acuna is an outstanding defender in right with the ability to handle center field as well. He has the talent to win multiple MVP’s going forward.

2) Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies: After starring with the Nationals for seven seasons during which he was an NL All-Star six times and the 2015 NL MVP, Harper signed with the Phillies as a free agent prior to last season. He did not disappoint, producing a season in which he slashed .260/.372/.510 with 35 homers, 114 RBIs, 72 extra-base hits, 98 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases. Harper also elevated his defensive game enough that he was a Gold Glove Award finalist. He improved as the season wore on, slashing .290/.374/.621 starting August 5, also cutting down his strikeout rate from that point. With an improved Phillies lineup around him, a year of comfort in the environment, and that strong finish, Harper could be poised for another All-Star campaign in which he is a leading NL MVP contender in 2020. He plays at still just age 27 for the entire season.

3) Michael Conforto, New York Mets: Turning 27-years-old on March 1, Conforto is under control with the Mets for just two more seasons. He can become a free agent after 2021, and the Mets are going to have to try to get him signed long-term before that point, because this is a player they cannot afford to lose. Conforto has a .253/.353/.481 career slash line over his first five seasons, and that is about the level at which he performed last year. If the 33 homers, 63 extra-base hits, 92 RBIs, and 90 runs scored is his peak production during his prime, that’s pretty good in these non-PED years. While Conforto will never win a Gold Glove Award, neither is he a poor defender. He ranked seventh in 2019 Fangraphs UZR among all big-league right fielders.

4) Brian Anderson, Miami Marlins: Anderson, who ranked second on my third base list, is the only player who I ranked at two different positions. In 2018, Anderson played 91 games in right and 71 at third. Last season he appeared in 67 games at third base and in 55 games in right field. While he is a better defender in right field than at the hot corner, the fact is that the Fish have a group of strong prospects coming in the outfield and no better options coming at third base. In 2020 when Anderson is in right field, newcomer Jonathan Villar could see action at third with young Isan Diaz playing second. It is not likely that manager Don Mattingly is going to really commit to a regular position for Anderson until he sees how his players look in spring training.

5) Adam Eaton, Washington Nationals: Having turned 31 years of age back in December, Eaton is the oldest starting right fielder in the division. He is also the weakest overall defender, though he does possess a solid arm. In his return from two injury-marred seasons a year ago, Eaton slashed .279/.365/.428 with 15 homers, 47 extra-base hits, 49 RBIs, 103 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases. That is about his offensive upside at this stage of his career. The Nationals have the top left and center fielders in the division. But while both are talented, they are also young. Washington is happy to live with Eaton’s modest production and defense at this point in exchange for a veteran presence that he brings to the group. But don’t be surprised to see them bring in a more dynamic option via an in-season trade during the coming summer if they are contending again in 2020 as expected.

 

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NL East Division position comparison: center field

My evaluation of the National League East Division teams moves to center field today as I continue to rank the Philadelphia Phillies and their divisional competitors on a position-by-position basis.

The Phillies had the top catcher in my rankings and the club’s projected starter ranked third in the division at each of first basesecond baseshortstop, third base, and in left field.

Right field will come on Wednesday, and then each club’s bench group will follow on Thursday. Over the weekend the projected starting pitching rotations, bullpens, and finally the managers will be covered.

Center field is currently not a glamour position within the division. There are a number of younger players being used by the clubs. Any of those players could still develop into a more impactful player in the coming years and vault up the list. That includes a couple of prospects in the minor leagues who aren’t likely to appear in the upcoming 2020 campaign.

Once this evaluation process is complete, Phillies fans should have a better idea as February arrives of where the team stands as spring training opens. Pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater on February 11, less than two weeks from now.

NL EAST – 2020 CENTER FIELD RANKINGS

1) Victor Robles, Washington Nationals: The Nationals had the clear front-runner in left field with Juan Soto, and the defending world champs also have that in center with Robles. Though it was the third season in which he made an appearance with the Nats, he was still rookie-eligible a year ago. Robles, who turns 23 in mid-May, finished 6th in the 2019 NL Rookie of the Year voting during a season in which he slashed .255/.326/.419 with 17 home runs, 53 extra-base hits, 65 RBIs, 86 runs, and 28 stolen bases. Robles is also an outstanding defender, leading all MLB center fielders – in fact all outfielders overall – in defensive runs saved last season. After finishing as a runner-up to Milwaukee’s Lorenzo Cain in 2019, Robles should eventually earn a number of Gold Glove Awards at the position.

2) Adam Haseley, Philadelphia Phillies: Haseley was a surprise emergency call-up by the Phillies last season who saw far more time in the big-leagues than ever originally envisioned. That promotion and playing time came due to the injuries suffered by Andrew McCutchen, Roman Quinn, and Jay Bruce and the Odubel Herrera domestic violence suspension. While he didn’t light the world on fire, neither did Haseley embarrass himself. In fact, no less an authority than the folks at Bill James Online named Haseley as their top defender for the month of September. He slashed .266/.324/.396 with five homers, 14 doubles, 26 RBIs, and 30 runs scored over 242 plate appearances across 67 games, 59 of those as starts. Haseley has been penciled in as new manager Joe Girardi‘s starter entering the season. He turns 24 in early April, and the 2017 first round draft pick could emerge as a legitimate difference-maker in the 2020 campaign.

3) Brandon Nimmo, New York Mets: Nimmo, who will turn 27-years-old as spring training comes to an end, missed nearly three-and-a-half months of the 2019 season due to a bulging disk in his neck. Finally returning to the lineup in September, Nimmo slashed .261/.430/.565 with five homers, 10 extra-base hits, 15 RBIs, and 14 runs scored over the final month as the Mets went 17-10. Jake Marisnick, who turns 29 at the end of March, was signed as a free agent. A far better defender than Nimmo, Marisnick could take some playing time away here, especially in late-game situations.

4) Ender Inciarte, Atlanta Braves: The 29-year-old Inciarte was the center field starter in Atlanta during the 2016-18 seasons. After beginning the season as the starter once again last year, Inciarte began suffering what turned out to be a series of injuries. A bad back at first cost him a couple of months, and then injuries to the quads in both of his legs finally ended his season early. The Braves could slide Ronald Acuna Jr.over to start in center field and use either Adam Duvall or Nick Markakis in right field. But while Acuna would excel anywhere on defense, the club’s overall best defensive outfield would have Inciarte in center with Acuna in right. Another factor to keep an eye on is that the Braves have a pair of hot outfield prospects who could be ready quickly in Cristian Pache and Drew Waters. Either could push for a starting role before 2020 is over.

5) Lewis Brinson, Miami Marlins: Many felt that Brinson was prepared to break out as a leading NL Rookie of the Year candidate with Miami in 2018 after he arrived from Milwaukee as part of the four-prospect package in January of that year for Christian Yelich. However, Brinson underwhelmed as a 24-year old. He returned last season, but rather than take a step forward, he seriously slid back, demoted to the minor leagues after hitting just .197 with no offensive impact over the 2019 season’s first month. After returning on August 5, Brinson didn’t fare any better, slashing only .160/.230/.200 with just five extra-base hits and no stolen bases over 166 plate appearances across 48 games. The Fish have a trio of talented outfield prospects rushing through their system in Monte Harrison, Jesus Sanchez, and JJ Bleday, and all three could be starting by some point in the 2021 season. But only Harrison, who also arrived as part of that Yelich trade with Milwaukee, is really a center fielder, and he lost time a year ago with a wrist injury. Brinson will likely get a long look this year in hopes that his raw talent will finally translate into on-field results.

 

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