Playing Fact or Fiction with MLB's Hottest 2016 Spring Training Buzz, Week 5
It seems as if spring training has only just begun, but in less than 20 days—17 to be exact—teams will step on the field to play the first meaningful baseball of 2016. The start of the regular season is almost upon us, and while some roster decisions have been made, there are plenty of questions left to answer.
Is a pair of prospects set to break camp with a contender? Have two veteran, journeymen pitchers thrown their way onto Opening Day rosters? Does a new addition to the free-agent pool already have another team lined up?
We'll hit on all of that and more in this week's edition of Fact or Fiction.
Fact: Chien-Ming Wang Will Be on Kansas City's Opening Day Roster
The last time Chien-Ming Wang was a difference-maker in the major leagues, Kansas City was a 69-win team, Ross Gload was the team's starting first baseman and none of the players who have led the Royals' resurgence had yet to make their MLB debuts.
It's been a long time.
Yet here we sit, nine years since Wang went 19-7 with a 3.70 ERA over 30 starts for the New York Yankees, and the 35-year-old looks poised to crack the Opening Day roster of the reigning world champions.
"He looks now like the same pitcher I had eight or nine years ago," said Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland, who held the same position during Wang's tenure with the Yankees, per MLB.com's Jeffrey Flanagan. "A little amazing."
Wang has allowed only one earned run over six innings of relief this spring, walking one and striking out five. While he's not a flamethrower, he has seen a noticeable uptick in his fastball speed, telling Flanagan that his heater is up 5-6 mph from the 88-89 mph range it sat in last year.
Given his age and history of arm problems, Wang's success may not be sustainable over the course of a full season. But the Royals will ride the lightning they've caught for as long as they can—and then move on to the next live arm looking to find some of that Kansas City magic.
Fiction: Juan Nicasio Will Be Part of Pittsburgh's Opening Day Rotation
Even after delivering a dominating performance against Baltimore in which he struck out 10 batters over four scoreless innings, Juan Nicasio still has no idea what his role with the Pittsburgh Pirates will be on Opening Day.
"I don't know. I'm working hard for the chance to be in the rotation, but I can't control all that," he told MLB.com's Adam Berry. "I try to do my job. I can't take care of that decision."
If his job was to make filling out the back end of the Pirates rotation a difficult decision for manager Clint Hurdle, then Nicasio has been wildly successful. "We're going to play it out," Hurdle told Berry about his plans for the rotation. "Every outing leads to the next outing. We like what he's doing."
It'd be hard to find fault with what the 29-year-old has done this spring. Nicasio has scattered five hits over 10 innings of scoreless baseball, issuing three walks and 16 strikeouts along the way.
But of the four pitchers vying for the final two spots in the rotation—Nicasio, Jeff Locke, Jon Niese and Ryan Vogelsong—he's the only one with extensive bullpen experience, having made 52 relief appearances with the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.
A two-pitch pitcher who relies on his fastball and slider to keep batters off balance, Nicasio has only cracked the 100-inning plateau once in his five-year career, tossing 157.2 innings of work over 31 starts for Colorado in 2013.
With a limited arsenal and without a lengthy track record of being able to work deep into games—something the other three contenders for a rotation spot can point to—Nicasio is destined to start the season in the Bucs bullpen.
Fact: The Adam LaRoche Saga Is Not an Example of Right vs. Wrong
Adam LaRoche decided to walk away from his 12-year career—and $13 million salary—after a dispute with Chicago White Sox President Ken Williams over how much time LaRoche's 14-year-old son, Drake, was spending in the clubhouse, according to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal.
You can't fault LaRoche for siding with his son—any father worth anything would—and his now former teammates had both of their backs.
“We wanted Drake in the clubhouse, and we were backing Adam in every aspect,” White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton told CSN Chicago's Dan Hayes. "Drake would clean cleats, he would help out in drills, he’d help pick up baseballs. He’d pick up baseballs if you needed to hit them. He didn’t say boo to anybody. Never a trouble in the clubhouse.”
Yet you can't fault the White Sox for wanting to set a precedent moving forward, either. While baseball is a game, it's also a business—a privately owned one at that. The team is well within its rights to set rules and limits on access by nonemployees.
Did the timing stink? You bet.
This is something the club should have discussed with LaRoche months ago, not halfway through spring training. Mistakes were made. There was a way for this to be handled discreetly, one that would have allowed a teenage boy to keep his dignity and not become the focal point of a spring training storyline.
But this isn't a situation where sides need to be—or should be—taken. It's one that, quite frankly, should be left alone to fade into the shadows where it belongs.
Fiction: A.J. Reed and Tyler White Will Crack Houston's Opening Day Roster
With Evan Gattis' status for Opening Day uncertain as he works his way back from February sports hernia surgery, Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow suggested that prospects A.J. Reed and Tyler White could take his place during a recent appearance on SiriusXM's MLB Network Radio:
Both could make the team...but I wouldn’t say just two guys, either. I think Matt Duffy’s got to be in that equation as well. [Pacific Coast League] Player of the Year, he’s had a good spring so far and you can’t count Jon Singleton out either. He’s had a couple of good years in the minor leagues, just hasn’t put it together at the big leagues.
While Gattis occupies only one roster spot, there are two positions in play here—first base and designated hitter. And there's another player Luhnow failed to mention that factors into all of this as well—outfielder Preston Tucker.
Both Duffy and Tucker made their MLB debuts—and started their service-time clocks—last season. Neither one has had a terrible spring, so it's not a stretch to assume that both are going to be part of the team's Opening Day roster.
Duffy, like White, is a right-handed hitter who's capable of playing the infield corners. If the Astros are going to go with a platoon at first base, either Singleton or Reed—both lefties—would be the choice.
Tucker, a left-handed bat, hit 13 home runs in 98 games, and with Houston's outfield already set, he's a logical candidate to take some at-bats as a designated hitter. White's right-handed bat could platoon with him there.
The Astros have options but not enough available roster spots to bring both prospects along for Opening Day. It also makes little sense to start both of their service-time clocks when Gattis is going to be back shortly after Opening Day, assuming he starts the year on the 15-day disabled list.
When it's all said and done, only one of them will break camp with the Astros. The next two weeks will determine which one gets the nod.
Fiction: Ruben Tejada Is a Lock to Wind Up in St. Louis
We said it was a fact a few weeks ago that Ruben Tejada wouldn't make it to Opening Day as a member of the New York Mets and, sure enough, the Amazin's released the 26-year-old infielder after he passed through waivers unclaimed.
That's led to speculation that the St. Louis Cardinals, without starting shortstop Jhonny Peralta for 2-3 months, will swoop in and sign Tejada as additional depth at the position.
A career .255/.330/.323 hitter over parts of six seasons—and as MLB.com's Anthony DiComo accurately tweeted, nothing more than an average defender at shortstop—Tejada is sure to draw interest as a free agent.
But that interest won't only be coming from the Cardinals.
The Los Angeles Dodgers could be in the market for a stopgap solution while top prospect Corey Seager works his way back into the lineup, while teams like the Colorado Rockies and Tampa Bay Rays, with somewhat unsettled situations at shortstop, might see Tejada as an upgrade—or a platoon option.
Really, any team looking to add a utility infielder is going to have at least some level of interest in Tejada.
So while it's entirely possible that he winds up in St. Louis, it's far from a sure thing.
Unless otherwise noted, all spring training statistics courtesy of MLB.com. All other statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs. All contract information courtesy of Cot's Contracts (via Baseball Prospectus).
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