Last season Giants 3B Pablo Sandoval had weight issues. And really, that’s putting it kindly. The portly Venezuelan slugger was reportedly hovering around 280 lbs for most of last season. The weight didn’t seem to hinder him in his breakout ’09 season (.330/.387/.556), but it certainly did last year when he dipped to a triple slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) of .268/.323/.409. That’s anemic offensive production. Well Sandoval reportedly dropped about 40 pounds this offseason.
Normally I don’t put too much stock in those kinds of reports (usually every overweight player comes into Spring Training saying they lost weight), but if you’ve watched any of the Giants’ games since Opening Day, you’ve seen the proof. He’s clearly slimmed down. The “Kung Fu Panda”, as he’s known, also reportedly started lifting weights for the first time. Ever. It’s not a certainty that being in better shape will automatically help revive Sandoval’s numbers, but it certainly couldn’t hurt. He looks much quicker in the field and in the batter’s box. Keep on eye on him. If his production returns to ’09 levels, he could be a steal. Remember, third base is extremely thin in talent.
More Major League tidbits in the bullets below:
• I kind of figured Angels reliever Fernando Rodney would eventually lose the closer’s job in Los Angeles, but even I didn’t think it would happen this fast. After two rough outings (1.1 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 2K), Rodney is out. There’s really not a lot of room for argument. Even when Rodney is on his game, which is really a relative statement for him, he has a 4+ ERA and gives up a ton of baserunners. Taking over for now will be youngster Jordan Walden. He’s been electric so far this season (4.1 IP, 1 H, o ER, 1 BB, 7 K) and his stuff is more than strong enough to hold the closer’s chair. His fastball hits the upper 90’s and his slider is developing nicely. He’s had some bouts with wildness in the past, but he looks to have remedied that. He’s a must add in most fantasy leagues. There’s a good chance he could be this year’s Neftali Feliz. Also keep an eye on Scott Downs here. He’s injured right now (fractured toe), but he could be back soon and he’s a veteran with closing experience. If Walden struggles, he’s the next logical add.
• Bullpens don’t usually get a ton of respect, but it’s an underrated faction of most Major League clubs. Take a look at the Kansas City Royals. The vast majority of the Royals’ bevy of top prospects are not going to get a shot with the club until later this season or beyond. However, there’s a lot to get excited about in their bullpen. Youngsters Tim Collins, Aaron Crow and Jeremy Jeffress all broke camp with the team and all have considerable upside.
Collins, 21, is the lone lefty of the group and is best known for his short stature (5’7”, 171 lbs). However, his stuff plays much bigger. His K/9 rate in his four minor league seasons was 13.3. That is absolutely silly. The guy can flat-out miss bats. He’s not just a lefty specialist either. This guy has set-up man/closer potential.
Crow, 24, is probably best known for what he hasn’t done. First, he spurned the Nationals by not signing after they picked him ninth overall in the 2008 Draft. He was picked next summer by the Royals and signed, but struggled mightily in the minors as a starter. However, he seems to have really taken off after his move to the bullpen. He’s got a good arsenal with a mid-90’s fastball, plus slider and nasty knuckle-curve. His lack of a changeup isn’t really an issue in the bullpen. He’s got closer potential.
Jeffress, 23, came over from the Brewers in the Zack Greinke deal. He’s struggled with off-the-field trouble, but he’s got a blazing fastball and a nasty curve. The stuff is certainly there if he can get his head on straight. You have to think this trio will make the Royals much more willing to consider trading current closer Joakim Soria. He is signed to a very team friendly deal through 2014 and would net a large bounty in any potential trade.
• Continuing on the bullpen subject for a bit, here’s one of my pet peeves: managers sticking with/bringing in their closer because it’s a “save situation” and ignoring the other factors. I know your closer is theoretically your best pitcher, but if there’s a tough lefty at the plate and you’ve got a big-time lefty in your pen, why do you leave your right handed closer on the mound? All managers should take a quick look at how former Braves’ Manager Bobby Cox ran his bullpen in 2009. Cox had two elite relievers in Michael Gonzalez (lefty) and Rafael Soriano (righty). He wisely played the matchups with these two and got outstanding results. It baffles me that other teams do not do the same. They are so confined by the “save” rule that they ignore all other factors. I know it’s not kind to fantasy owners, but it’s the smart play if you are trying to win baseball games.
• Mariners’ top pitching prospect Michael Pineda made his debut Tuesday night against the vaunted Ranger offense and the results were strong (6 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 4 K). At 6’7”, 260 lbs the guys is a horse on the mound. He’s got great stuff and appears to have a solid hold on a rotation spot. He’s not going to get much run support from the horrid Mariner offense, but he could put up solid ratios with good strikeout numbers. He’s likely to be on an inning limit this year, so enjoy the ride while you can.
• Opposing Pineda in his debut was Rangers’ bullpen fireballer turned starter Alexi Ogando. Ogando followed Matt Harrison’s lead, pitching six scoreless innings and again stating emphatically that I was wrong about the Rangers’ rotation. He’s started only three games in his professional career, so his move to the rotation is a curious one. His stuff was electric in relief, but I would be skeptical of his velocity fully translating to the higher workload of a starter.
• Don’t look now, but former Royals’ mega-prospect (and mega-bust) Alex Gordon may have taken a step towards redemption. For those who don’t remember, Gordon was chosen 2nd overall in the 2005 Draft and was immediately declared the savior of the Royals’ franchise. George Brett comparisons were thrown around routinely and Gordon mashed (.325/.427/.588) in his only season in the minors at Double-A . The Royals had him skip Triple-A completely (a big mistake) and he predictably struggled, bouncing between the Triple-A and the majors for the last four years.
However, last season the Royals sent him down for some tweaking at Triple-A and he completely crushed the ball. He was moved to the outfield to make room for super-prospect Mike Moustakas and declared the Opening Day left fielder for the Royals this season. So far, so good. Gordon’s arm, which was strong for third, is plenty strong for the outfield and he looks more confident at the plate, hitting third in front of underrated DH Billy Butler. He probably won’t ever be the superstar many pegged him as, but he could be a very useful player.
• When Giants SP Tim Lincecum had a down year last season, most blamed it on consistency problems with his mechanics. While that may have contributed to his struggles, his loss of velocity didn’t help either. Lincecum’s average fastball velocity his first two years in the majors was 94 mph. In 2009 it dropped to 92 mph and in 2010 it dropped again to 91 mph. That’s no small decrease.
Well his velocity is back up a tick so far in 2011 as he’s averaging 93.4 mph on his heater. What’s really scary though is that his fastball his probably his worst pitch. FanGraphs has repeatedly rated his slider, curve and change as more valuable pitches. If he can maintain that velocity all season we could see another stat line like 2009. Oh and he struck out 13 Padres last night. Just sayin’.
You’ll notice there aren’t any pitchers below. I think it’s way too early to make judgements on players, but specifically pitchers. Again, bear in mind we are barely a week into the season.
Add: Yunel Escobar, SS, Toronto Blue Jays
He’s not going to blow you away in the counting stats (HR, RBI, SB) and he had a down season last year. And yet, he plays a position that’s incredibly thin in talent, he should be a fixture in the two hole most of the year and he’s going to hit around .300. I’ve invested in him in both of my leagues as a late round shortstop. Ignore the stats from 2010, you’re going to get something much more similar to 2008 and 2009. And if he has a slight uptick in speed or power, you’ve got a top shortstop.
Drop: Chris Johnson, 3B, Houston Astros
Third base is another thin position, but I just can’t endorse this guy. People got excited last season about the power and batting average, but I couldn’t ignore the 15 walks and 91 strikeouts in 94 games. He looks lost at the plate so far and he doesn’t exactly have anyone to help take the pressure off of him in the Houston lineup. Look elsewhere at third. Alex Gordon, mentioned above, still qualifies there in most leagues and should be widely available.
Trade for: Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Cleveland Indians
Yes, he’s struggled mightily so far, but it’s only 20 at-bats. He’s probably going to end up hitting around .300 with 20-25 home runs and 20-25 steals. If another manager is really panicking already, you should be happy to take this guy off his/her hands. Once the weather heats up, so will his bat. The Cleveland lineup is also vastly underrated, providing him some nice protection.
Trade: Carlos Quentin, OF, Chicago White Sox
You shouldn’t trade Quentin because he’s not going to put up numbers. He will. While I don’t think his 2008 stat line will be repeated, he’s a very talented hitter and he’s been scalding the ball so far in 2011. The reason you should trade him is because there’s no way he makes it through the season without an injury. Especially plodding around the outfield everyday. Milk the hot streak and then cut bait before he hits the DL.
Enjoy the baseball this weekend my friends! I’ll be back with more ballpark chatter in a few days.