It’s almost time for baseball to return, yet there are many questions left to answer across many ballclubs. In the first of our three-part series detailing pitchers and hitter, allow me to outline every question that needs answering inside each organization’s starting rotation.
As you watch intrasquad and exhibition games in the next few weeks, keep all of these notes in mind. Maybe you’ll spot a tweak in mechanics, a higher velocity, or maybe a new pitch that will help you get an edge before the season starts.
The talk of Zac Gallen “needing to earn” a rotation spot is all but forgotten by now. Don’t worry about his security, he’s fine.
Mike Leake has elected to sit out of the 2020 season, opening the door for Merrill Kelly to own the fifth spot in the rotation. There will likely be an opportunity for Jon Duplantier to sneak in some starts, but save for a desperate strikeout stream, he shouldn’t be considered in most leagues.
Make sure that Luke Weaver is still throwing his cutter effectively—it was the secret pitch that allowed him to attack the zone effectively last season before his season was cut short due to an elbow injury.
We won’t know until the season starts, but keep your ear to the ground about Madison Bumgarner and his massively increased spin rates from 2019. Paired with a possible increase in his curveball usage, Bumgarner could make a major rebound 2020.
The Braves have come out and spoken out about their intention to be cautious with their starters in the beginning, possibly going just 2-3 frames in the first few passes. Let’s see who is getting a bulk of work in July to get a better sense of how this will play out.
Cole Hamels was delayed with a rotator cuff injury in February, though it’s assumed he’s ready to go now. Let’s hope it’s not affecting him any longer.
We saw a shocking demotion for Mike Foltynewicz last season, a product of his slider fizzling out after a remarkable 2018 season. He found it a bit in the second half, though, and watch his early starts to see if it’s still there.
Is Felix Hernandez still relevant? There are plenty of Braves starters itching for a starting gig and if he’s not performing early, the Braves may not give him much of a leash to figure it out.
I’m excited to watch more of Mike Soroka as he has the ability to develop his slider and changeup into proper strikeout offerings. I’ll be taking notes to see if we see his changeup or slider used differently during these intrasquad games.
Then there’s Max Fried who introduced an effective slider last season, but it came at a time when his fastball and curveball weren’t performing at their peaks. If his hook and heater are cruising, this could dictate a strong campaign.
I’ve been excited to see the development of John Means this year and I’ll be on the lookout for his curveball in July. He’s discussing working on the pitch to make it a better weapon, one that would pair very well with his fantastic changeup and solid heater.
Asher Wojciechowski has been working on a split-change and also discussed his lack of fuel at the end of last season. If he’s displaying the same slider and cutter we saw in July last year across the next few weeks, he could turn into a difference-maker.
Alex Cobb is still in Baltimore and we’re hoping we get a return to “the thing”, his split-change that has come-and-gone over the years. Let’s see if it’s there during camp.
Boston Red Sox
After a season plagued by injuries, Nathan Eovaldi could have a fresh start in 2020 and could bring back the fantastic high-heater, cutter for strikes combination that propelled him in 2018.
Does Eduardo Rodriguez really have a new slider… again? We heard it last year in the spring and that turned into four months of mediocrity before a two-month surge to redeem his season.
We saw a shocking spike in Martin Perez’s velocity in the spring of 2019, but it fell off a bit as the year continued. Maybe we see another early surge from Perez that sticks through a shortened season.
We saw a ridiculous second half from Yu Darvish that featured just seven walks in over 100 innings, paired with a jump in velocity as he claimed to “figure it out” near the second half, shifting his release point. Armed with a new knuckle-curve taught to him by new teammate Craig Kimbrel, I’m looking at Darvish to wow us from the opening bell.
Wait, is Tyler Chatwood actually the Cubs’ fifth starter? That can’t be right… okay. That’s right. Maybe Alec Mills or Adbert Alzolay step in, but I’m not sure that’s something we should be excited about (Maybe Jharel Cotton? Colin Rea?). This is going to be… interesting.
Chicago White Sox
Wouldn’t it be cool if Lucas Giolito maintained the outlandish success of his changeup while making a leap with his slider to turn it into a legit strikeout offering? Please show me that in July, Giolito.
We’ve assumed that a healthy Michael Kopech earns a rotation spot, but currently a winter signing of Gio Gonzalez is in the way. It’s possible the White Sox move to a six-man to accommodate, but is that what we truly want?
The White Sox made a few more moves in signing both Dallas Keuchel and Yasmani Grandal,a pairing that could make for a very effective nibbler in Keuchel this season. Let’s see if they work well together early.
Grandal could also spell success for a pair of young arms still struggling with their command—Dylan Cease and Reynaldo Lopez. They both need help with their breakers and changeup and I’ll be watching intently for progress in the next few weeks.
Sonny Gray’s second half outburst was fueled by his slider and curveball performing as good as we’ve ever seen them. Will they still be just as effective after a nine-month layover?
Once again, we’ll be curious to see how Trevor Bauer develops. He’s known as a tinkerer with the ceiling of a true ace for any fantasy staff. If he’s cruising early, there may not be enough time for him to break what’s already fixed.
The Reds have a pair of players in Tyler Mahle and Lucas Sims on the outskirts of their current rotation. There’s a chance they can demand their way into the staff with a strong month, and keep them in mind if there are any setbacks in the rotation. Mahle still needs a better secondary pitch, though.
Speaking of a secondary pitch, I’m curious if Anthony DeSclafani’s curveball will be strong number-three option early. He’ll likely be experimenting with it during Summer Camp and a major change there can pay major dividends.
Despite being on the 60-man roster, Carlos Carrasco is still a question to pitch this year given his susceptibility to COVID-19 after cancer treatment. If the team is cautious, then one of Adam Plutko or Logan Allen would likely step in. I’d prefer the latter, but Plutko looks to be in the favor of the Indians at the moment.
Mike Clevinger had knee surgery in February and rushed back to the field in March, raising eyebrows if he was overexerting himself. Now that months have passed, the assumption is he’s all set to go, but we’d like to see it first.
We’re still waiting to hear the full details of the regular season and as of now it looks as though the Rockies will be playing home games inside Coors. The values of German Marquez and Jon Gray change dramatically if they are able to avoid the death trap that is Coors Field, so you better be on top of this one.
Michael Fulmer is returning and we hope his 2016 changeup is as well. And that he’s hitting 95 mph easily. And axing his sinker in favor of four-seamers. It’s a big ask for all three, but even just two of those would be a welcome sight in camp and could spell a strong campaign ahead.
Matthew Boyd was flirting with increased velocity and an improved changeup and curveball in the spring. We’re crossing our fingers for 92+ consistently and a confident changeup behind it.
Then there’s Spencer Turnbull who has an intriguing repertoire that has yet to reach its potential. If he’s removing his sinker in favor of a strong four-seamer + curveball + slider combination, there could be legit 12-teamer production ahead.
Keep an eye out for young arms to get there chance as the bottom of the Tigers’ rotation leaves a lot to be desired, with Casey Mize and Matt Manning having outside chances to make starts this year. I’d anticipate the Tigers’ low playoff chances inhibiting their promotions, but hopefully we get some fun glimpses in the next few weeks.
There will likely be few issues with Justin Verlander after getting plenty of months of rest following his groin injury. The real concern is with the backend of the rotation… what on Earth will that look like?
The expectation is for Jose Urquidy and Josh James to round out the staff, though each have elements that could bring concern before the season starts. We haven’t seen much of Urquidy in the rotation and if he’s showcasing a dip in quality early, the Astros have many options to turn to, from Austin Pruitt to Brad Peacock, Joe Biagini, Framber Valdez,and Rogelio Armenteros or even a callup of Forrest Whitley. The same goes for James, who dealt with command issues last season and has to prove his ability to comfortably pitch five frames before nailing the spot.
There are plenty of eyes on Lance McCullers as well, who will be pitching for the first time since 2018. Originally planned for just 110-120 frames, the expectation is for McCullers to be let loose in the shortened season, but the Astros may still be hesitant to push him in games, electing to limit his pitch count instead of innings. It’s not a given that he can go six innings strong—a feat that wasn’t a part of McCullers’ skill set before injury. Keep tabs on how the Astros use him in July.
Kansas City Royals
When you think of the 2020 Royals, little should jump into your mind. My main and awkwardly sole focus for their summer camp is Brad Keller. The weeks before his 2019 season came to an abrupt end due to injury, Keller displayed a shocking two mph jump in his velocity, sitting above 95 mph after hovering 93 mph for ages. If that velocity is there in the coming weeks, there’s streamer appeal there, with a chance for more if his slider command comes through.
Los Angeles Angels
Here’s a odd transition coming from the Royals—the Angels have plenty up in the air as we enter the season. The word is Shohei Ohtani will be pitching just once a week, but when will that begin? Will he get nine full starts or fewer?
With Ohtani going once every seven instead of the normal five, the Angels will introduce a six-man rotation… though given their injury questions, it may look something close to a seven or even eight-man by the end of the year. There’s Andrew Heaney who has faced injuries in each year of his career, Griffin Canning who received a PRP injection during spring training and may not make it through the full year. Listen closely to news of their health in July.
On the backend, we’re all excited to see if Dylan Bundy can figure it out in a change of scenery, so monitor his discussions of pitch usage—we want more sliders, fewer fastballs, and hopefully an improved changeup that mimics the one of his rookie year.
Then there’s Patrick Sandoval. Is he actually the sixth starter or is it Felix Peña? Maybe Matt Andriese? Or hey, why not Dillon Peters or Jose Suarez? It’s a short leash for Sandoval, so let’s hope he’s commanding his slider and changeup well with heaters sitting in the mid-90s.
Los Angeles Dodgers
With all the talk of Walker Buehler and David Price, you may have forgotten that Clayton Kershaw spent time with Driveline over the winter in an effort to increase his velocity from a declining 90 mph mark. Yes, I’m pumped to see if Price can get his changeup back in order, but give me that 92 mph Kershaw!
The expectation is for Julio Urias to be given the clear as the fourth starter, though there is a larger haze surrounding Alex Wood. He was sitting 92+ in the spring—a lovely sight as he had been around 90 mph prior with the sole exception being his 2017 breakout—and we hope he’s still there in the coming weeks.
Wood could lose his grip and open the door for the plethora of arms in the wings—Ross Stripling, Dustin May, and even Tony Gonsolin. I’d expect them to their chances in that order and monitor how the Dodgers use them in the weeks ahead. This could get interesting in a hurry.
We sat down with Caleb Smith on our podcast who described his hip injury limiting his velocity and performance in the second half of 2019. If Smith is pumping 92+ with ease, he could perform at a high level like his phenomenal April and May of last year.
We also talked to Smith’s teammate Pablo Lopez in a stupid fun conversation where he detailed his new emphasis on changeups. You should love this as the pitch is flat out filthy and its 22% usage last year could use a sizeable bump. Watch the usage early and see if the results come with it. We have a feeling they will.
There is a battle at the back of the rotation with Jordan Yamamoto and Elieser Hernandez each qualified to take the fifth spot. I’d give the edge to Hernandez at the moment as he holds the best pitch of the pair in his slider. Either one could be considered a streamer against below-average teams early, so pay attention to how the Marlins lean.
We had a glimpse of Josh Lindblom in the spring and liked what we saw, but hey, more footage won’t hurt, right?
The real story here is the fifth spot of the Brewers rotation with Brett Anderson, Brandon Woodruff, and Adrian Houser likely taking the other three spots. Originally, Eric Lauer was out of the running as he was sidelined with injury, but now he’s healed up, potentially blocking Freddy Peralta or Corbin Burnes from snatching the spot.
It would be fascinating if either one warranted a starting gig, though. Peralta has been working on a new slider that could change his approach entirely, while Burnes’ fastball command was horrendous last year (I blame its slight cut action that did him few favors) and a step in the right direction could amplify the effects of his deadly slider.
The top of this rotation is pretty set without much question. Jose Berrios was working on a new breaking ball, so keep an eye out for that, but I have little faith that it’ll make a large difference in the scope of the season. The real oddity is the fifth spot, which is currently held by Jhoulys Chacin. We had planned for Rich Hill to be the No. 5 arm in Minnesota by the end of July, but we’re still waiting to hear news that he’s been given the clear to snag his rightful claim.
New York Mets
The biggest question is what we’ll get out of Marcus Stroman. He discussed changing the shape of his cutter in September last year as a major transition for himself, and we may see a step forward this season as a result. It may be tough to overcome the mediocre Mets defense behind him, especially as a heavy groundball arm that doesn’t miss an exceptional amount of bats, but don’t overlook that cutter in July. It could spell out something larger.
With Noah Syndergaard out of the picture, the trio of Rick Porcello, Steven Matz, and Michael Wacha seem firmly locked in the Mets rotation. Take notes on Wacha’s pitch mix—hopefully there’s something fresh there to make him a consideration once again. There’s also some intrigue with Matz if he ups his slider usage once again.
New York Yankees
No Luis Severino means Jordan Montgomery could be safe as the No. 5 arm in New York. He was touching 94 mph in the spring and sitting higher than his pre-TJS velocity, and let’s hope it’s more of the same this month. Paired with a 12%+ SwStr rate from his rookie year and a high Win chance, there could be plenty of value here.
Outside of Montgomery, Masahiro Tanaka is the only arm of notice as he struggled with his splitter plenty last season. He’s not trusted by many for a consistent season, but if that splitter is in a groove early it may be something to capitalize on.
How are these young guns going to look? We’re all excited for Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk to get their chances, but it’s unclear how much we’ll see. There’s a chance Chris Bassitt gets the rotation spot from Puk and it could be a battle through the final week of camp.
Okay this is both a mess and wonderful. I’m stoked to watch Zack Wheeler on the Phillies and I hope he moves more North-South with his heater and slider, leaning on the latter more often for strikeouts. There’s a lot of potential there and if we get a sense of a change early, it could add a lot of helium late in draft season.
Then there’s the back half. Is Vince Velasquez going to be good enough to stick as the No. 5 arm? There was a small bit of hype surrounding a possible return of Nick Pivetta (don’t put
Robert stock into that). The Phillies have added Spencer Howard to their 60-man player pool, granting the possibility of Howard starting right away if he impresses in intrasquad games. Don’t rule it out, just pay attention to these performances and consider the possibility.
I’ve been looking forward to watching 2020 Pirates for a long while after they uprooted their analytics division over the winter and brought it plenty of smart people to improve their pitching staff. Joe Musgrove was showcasing increased velocity and a larger emphasis on elevation and low secondary pitches in February; now that his injury scare is behind him, he may be in stride to dominate early.
With both Chris Archer and Jameson Taillon out for the year, the path may be easier for Chad Kuhl to make his return from TJS. I’m curious if his slider usage skyrockets as it’s a phenomenal offering that saw an upward trend right before his 2018 injury. With the new staff behind him, that slider mixed with upper 90s velocity makes him very interesting if he can beat Derek Holland for the No. 5 spot.
And then there’s Mitch Keller. Watch for his fastball to not get hammered as he commands his slider for whiffs and curveballs for strikes. No news here is good news, for the most part.
San Diego Padres
In Padres camp, we’re all excited to see Garrett Richards do his thing again. We’re hoping for mid-90s velocity and good command with his slider and heater to get comfortable rostering him in leagues.
Chris Paddack and Joey Lucchesi each have been working on new pitches—Lucchesi a proper changeup to pair with him churve, while Paddack has been aiming to alter the shape of his curveball. These could help each take a step forward, though they remain to be seen.
The talk is the possibility of MacKenzie Gore forcing his way into the rotation if Zach Davies or Lucchesi doesn’t pitch up to snuff early on. Pay attention to the Padres’ ownership entertaining the idea as swift promotions have been done by the Padres in the past with Paddack and Fernando Tatis Jr.
San Francisco Giants
With Tyler Beede under the knife with TJS, the final rotation spot currently belongs to Andrew Suárez, though Dereck Rodriguez or Logan Webb could force their way quickly. Webb has the largest fantasy upside of the crew, though that’s more for the rare stream and less of a 12-teamer necessity.
Meanwhile, Johnny Cueto makes his return and we’re all curious how he’ll look. He’s few seasons removed from a true fantasy asset and there could be a new spark in a shortened season.
The Mariners are expected to open with a six-man rotation, allowing Justin Dunn and Taijuan Walker to get their chances. There’s upside in both arms, so monitor their velocities and whiffs in the spring, while taking note of their early schedule.
There was a little bit of hype that Yusei Kikuchi was hitting 95 mph with ease in the spring. If he can do that while aiming up as he did sporadically in 2019, he could turn into a major surprise.
St. Louis Cardinals
The rotation appears set with Carlos Martinez back as a starter, Miles Mikolas healthy from his forearm strain, and Adam Wainwright getting another shot, maybe his last. Be aware of Daniel Poncedeleon and Genesis Cabrera in the wings, though. They could have an impressive spring and if Mikolas’ arm flares up again or Wainwright isn’t quite cutting it, one of them could slide in.
And hey, why not. Watch if Jack Flaherty is as immortal as his second half of 2019 was. Likely not, but that would be cool.
Tampa Bay Rays
The top three of the Rays’ rotation are clearly locked with Blake Snell, Charlie Morton, and Tyler Glasnow. Morton should be more of the same with increased curveballs, though Glasnow has a new splitter that I’m curious to get more looks at soon. Meanwhile, Snell saw a massive drop in zone and swing rates on his slider and curveball last year and I’d love to witness more strikes from breakers in camp out of the gate.
It’s assumed that Yonny Chirinos and Ryan Yarbrough claim the final two spots, with the latter likely opened for constantly. There’s a chance Brendan McKay forces his way in with a strong camp, though I’d anticipate a six-man rotation instead of replacing another. McKay has the repertoire that speaks to success, but his command failed him mightily in the final summer months last year. Watch that cutter and curveball usage intently.
Ohhh right! Corey Kluber was traded in the off-season and is finally getting a chance to show that his 2019 was a complete fluke. Show me unreal breakers and we’ll all be resting easily in no time.
Jordan Lyles seems locked into the fifth spot of the rotation and look for him to get in a groove early with his curveball and heater. He’s been known to go on stretches of quality when those are in rhythm.
Toronto Blue Jays
Will Nate Pearson make an appearance this season? We hope so, though Trent Thornton currently has the No. 5 spot and, if he uses his breakers and four-seamer effectively, I don’t see him losing the spot. Watch both Thornton and Pearson’s performances and discussions with scrutiny.
With Joe Ross making the hard decision to sit out the 2020 season, Austin Voth has to beat out Erick Fedde this summer to grab a rotation spot, and it could very well happen. Voth presented a strong array of secondaries last year, even with moments of 94+ mph velocity as well up from his 92/93 mph range. It’ll be the battle to watch in Washington across the next three weeks.
(Photos courtesy of Icon Sportswire / Adapted by Justin Paradis)