Going Deep: What Pitchers to Watch in Spring Training

The long winter has ended, and spring training officially begins today as the Mariners take on the Athletics at 3:05 p.m. EST. Let’s be honest though. The first couple of these games are great to watch, but after about a week of them, you’re ready for real baseball. Unless you know what to look for.

NickPollack and I wanted to provide you with a quick, digestible guide made up of things to watch for. We figured it’d be helpful to give you our thoughts on who and what to take notice of.

Before we begin, it’s important to remember a few things:

  • Spring training is spring training. Last year, Lucas Giolito had a 2.04 ERA over 17.2 IP in spring training, and how did his 2018 turn out?
  • Baseball Reference has a super helpful statistic called “OppQual” on its spring training page. The metric is based on the levels pitchers’ opponents played at in the previous season. For example, if a pitcher saw all MLB players, his OppQual would be a 10. The average is around 7. When you’re trying to gauge a pitcher’s success, I think it’s helpful to take the OppQual into account.
  • While we can’t predict whether a pitcher is bringing a new pitch to camp, we can keep referring to this incredibly helpful guide that Jason Collette frequently updates over at Fangraphs.
  • Don’t just rely on box scores to find out what you want to know because they can be misleading. If there’s a pitcher you’re interested in drafting, do your best to see him throw in spring training.
  • Check this fantastic resource for daily updates on velocity.
  • Pitchers. Are. Tinkering. If you see a guy have four walks in an outing, there is no reason to hit the panic button. He very well could be just throwing curveballs over and over without minding the outcome.

Who to Watch and What to Watch For

 

NL East

 

Jared Eickhoff (Philadelphia Phillies)  First and foremost: How is his health? Eickhoff had surgery for his carpal tunnel this past year and made a brief but effective return that featured some of the best curveballs he’s ever thrown. While there was a minor setback to begin camp, it looks like Eickhoff is back on track. We’ll be looking to see what his breaking pitches look like and for any indication where he’ll start the year: in the minors or in the rotation. As will be true with every guy returning from injury, we want to focus on his velocity. For Eickhoff, we’re looking to see if he’s sitting 91.

Vince Velasquez | Zach Eflin (Philadelphia Phillies)  Are both of these pitchers showing growing confidence in their secondary pitches? If things go poorly for Velasquez and Eickhoff is proving to be healthy and consistent or Eflin is having more success with his breaking pitches, Velasquez could lose the No. 5 role.

Mike Soroka | Luiz Gohara | Touki Touissant (Atlanta Braves All three are fighting for the fifth spot in the rotation. We expect Soroka to take it, but if Gohara and Touissant show better consistency and success, they may steal it from Soroka.

Pablo Lopez | Trevor Richards | Sandy Alcantara | Caleb Smith (Miami Marlins)– All four are fighting for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation. If Smith shows good command with his fastball and his velocity is sitting 92-93, we expect him to grab a spot. If he struggles, we expect Lopez and Richards to take the two spots in the rotation with Alcantara replacing either one of them should they struggle. Either way  for the first time in years  there will be competition in Miami.

Joe Ross | Jeremy Hellickson (Washington Nationals)  If Hellickson is really struggling or taking a bit longer to wipe off the cobwebs and Ross is excelling, then perhaps Ross takes the fifth rotation spot. We both see this as Hellickson’s job to lose though.

 

NL Central

 

Nick Kingham | Francisco Liriano (Pittsburgh Pirates)  If Kingham excels in spring training, he should both wrap up the fifth rotation and see his draft stock come way up. If he struggles, we’d expect Liriano to take the role.

Carlos Martinez (St. Louis Cardinals)  CarMart has already been shut down for two weeks, and while the organization says it’s not a cause for concern, we are a little concerned. It seems like the Cards want to take it slow with CarMart though, and that’s understandable. That said, we want to see if CarMart can stay healthy and perform well enough to ensure his spot in the rotation.

Alex Reyes | Dakota Hudson | Daniel Poncedeleon | John Gant (St. Louis Cardinals If CarMart is indeed hurt or does get placed in the bullpen, all of these pitchers are now competing for a spot. Theoretically, if Reyes is dominating, that may make it easier for the Cards to put CarMart in the pen. If Reyes is struggling or they want to be more patient, keep an eye on whether the other arms are having success.

Corbin Burnes | Brandon Woodruff | Zach Davies | Freddy Peralta (Milwaukee Brewers)  There are two opens spots in the Brewers rotation and while Davies should have the No. 4 spot out of gate, the fifth rotation spot could likely go to the best perform between Burnes, Woodruff and Peralta.

Jimmy Nelson (Milwaukee Brewers)  Check that his velocity is sitting 94 mph.

Yu Darvish (Chicago Cubs– Is his velocity as good as this tweet makes it seem? We want to make sure he’s sitting 93-94 mph on his four-seamer and sinker.

Luis Castillo (Cincinnati Reds) – Is he hovering 97 on his fastball?

 

NL West

 

Merill Kelly (Arizona Diamondbacks Kelly has the No. 5 job locked up already, but with that said, this is our first opportunity to get a good look at him. We’ll be paying attention to see how hitters react to his circle change and whether that curveball is as hittable as it appears to be. Check out this Going Deep piece on Kelly for a deeper dive.

Jeff Hoffman | Antonio Senzatela (Colorado Rockies While we wouldn’t bet on Hoffman taking Senzatela’s spot in the rotation, we still want to see if Senzatela struggles and whether Hoffman is sitting 94-95 on his fastball.

Ross Stripling | Kenta Maeda (Los Angeles Dodgers) The starting pitcher that performs better out of the two will likely get the No. 5 rotation spot.

Drew Pomeranz (San Francisco Giants Is he sitting 91 mph?

Matt Strahm (San Diego Padres There are currently a lot of holes in the Padres rotation with Joey Lucchesi and Robbie Erlin being the only locks. Strahm has the stuff to be a starter, and if he has a dominant spring, we can see him replacing either Eric Lauer, Luis Perdomo, or Bryan Mitchell in the rotation.

 

AL East

 

Jonathan Loaisiga | Domingo German (New York Yankees– There is no place in the rotation for these guys, but you should still be keeping an eye on their performances. If the Yanks rotation suffers any setbacks, the spring training performances of Loasiga and German may give a good indication of who’d get the call first. For the record, we slightly prefer Loaisiga.

Nate Karns (Baltimore Orioles It’s been two years since we’ve seen his curveball. Does it still looks like this? Is he sitting 92-93 with his fastball?

Dylan Bundy (Baltimore Orioles)  Does he have a good feel for his changeup, and does he appear to be utilizing his pitches differently (the latter may be tough to tell)?

Sean Reid Foley (Toronto Blue Jays) Is he performing well or struggling?

Aaron Sanchez (Toronto Blue Jays)  Is this sustainable, and are the blisters out of the way?

Tyler Glasnow (Tampa Bay Rays)  Is he throwing his changeup a lot?

Yonny Chirinos | Jake Faria | Ryan Yarbrough (Tampa Bay Rays)  Are things going to be different for Faria? We think all three of these guys will remain … whatever you call pitchers who throw after an “opener,” but perhaps if they dominate they may be utilized differently (especially Faria).

 

AL Central

 

Michael Pineda (Minnesota Twins Is his velocity sitting 93-94? No need to panic if he’s not there in his first start or two as it may take him a bit to ramp up, but by early March if the velocity is consistently there, that’d make Pineda a more appealing draft target.

Michael Fulmer (Detroit Tigers)  Fulmer had surgery in the offseason and is wearing a knee brace into spring training. We want to see what his changeup looks like as well as the movement on his fastball. We’re looking to see if he’s sitting 95-96 with his heater.

Matt Boyd (Detroit Tigers)  Is he consistently touching 92 on his four-seamer?

Tyson Ross (Detroit Tigers)  Like Boyd, is Ross consistently touching 92 on his heater?

Jakob Junis (Kansas City Royals)  Is Junis integrating the curveball he started tinkering with last year?

 

AL West

 

Jesus Luzardo (Oakland Athletics)  The likelihood that Luzardo has a job out of camp is not high. That aside, we’ll be checking to see if he’s dominating opponents as that may give us a clearer look as to when he may be called up.

Josh James | Collin McHugh | Forrest Whitley | Brad Peacock (Houston Astros)  The fourth rotation spot should be a lock for McHugh, and Peacock would have to have a really impressive spring training to oust James from the No. 5. Keep an eye on Whitley; he shouldn’t break camp in the rotation, but a strong spring training performance will further prove he won’t be far off.

Yusei Kikuchi (Seattle Mariners We want to see what the other offerings aside from his fastball and slider look like against MLB talent.

Justus Sheffield (Seattle Mariners)  Sheffield likely doesn’t have a spot in the rotation out of camp, but a strong spring training performance should indicate how soon his call-up could be.

Matt Harvey (Los Angeles Angels Is Harvey’s velocity sitting 95? We’re curious to see if the increased velocity we saw when he went to the Reds last year sticks.

Frankie Montas (Oakland Athletics Is Montas throwing his changeup at all? Also, is he going to his four-seamer more or continuing to rely on that sinker?

Drew Smyly | Shelby Miller (Texas Rangers Both guys are returning from injury, so we’re curious as to what their velocity will look like. Smyly should hopefully be sitting 90 (remember, he’s a curveball guy who comes from the left side, so high velocity isn’t expected) and 94-95 from Miller.

Let us know in the comments who you’re going to be keeping an eye on in spring training and what you’re hoping to see.

(Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)

Alex Fast

Alex Fast is Head of Operations at Pitcher List. Co-host of On The Corner, and host of the weekend edition of First Pitch, Alex received his masters in interactive telecommunications from NYU's ITP. He dedicated his time there on bringing new, interactive tech to the game of baseball and created a thesis about how the sport is under-utilizing data visualization. All opinions are Alex's and Alex's alone. A die-hard Orioles fan, Alex is well versed in futility and broken pitching prospects.

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Comments


Touki Time

This is a great article – I love it getting into the grit of who is doing what in spring training, very under rated.

Touki pitched ~ 160 innings in 2018 and Soroka pitched ~ 60 innings due to injury. Soroka has pitched lots of innings in previous years. You combine that with Teheran’s performance over the last two years may push him out of the rotation – do you think the Braves will factor managing Soroka’s innings into who wins the starting rotation for the beginning of the year?

Ben

Can you guys please do a follow up on this article towards the end of spring training and comment on each item to show how each played out?

Bbboston

Alex,

In need of keeper advice. League setting: AL only; 9 teams; 27:12-All Players:Pitchers; 8 keepers allowed; $305 budget; 1,200 minimum innings pitched, forcing at least 6 SP at all times. Current keeper list:
1b/OF Gallo$6
OF Hicks $7
OF Betts $30
SS/ 3B/1B/2b Profar $10
1b/2B/OF Merrifield $10
SS Polanco $10
SP Clevinger $13
SP Heaney $5

I love that list. However, I also recognize the dearth of quality SP. FYI auction prices for aces will run $27-40; these available – Sale,Berrios, Snell. Decent list of 2/3’s, but not enough to go around.

My quandary: do I replace either Gallo or Polanco with Skaggs $11 or Shoemaker $5. I like both those SP’s, but on a pure “net keeper value” analysis they don’t make the cut. Thoughts?

Bbboston

PS: I think Polanco is a break-out candidate. My current strategy is to keep him because:
– with that list of leadoff/speed players I will own runs and steal categories out of the gates and for the year.
– Polanco’s story was lost in Narc conviction: solid 5-tool light contribution with batting approach changes that are signaling more power and BA.

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