Patience or Panic on 10 Early 2016 Spring Training Concerns

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2016

Patience or Panic on 10 Early 2016 Spring Training Concerns

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    Losing Jhonny Peralta is a major blow for the Cardinals.
    Losing Jhonny Peralta is a major blow for the Cardinals.Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

    Spring training is often a time for overreaction.

    On-field results don't always match expectations as players look to shake off the rust and work on refining their game for the season ahead.

    If a team struggles to get into the win column or a player gets off to a noticeably awful start, it doesn't necessarily mean they are doomed—but it does raise a few red flags.

    We have highlighted 10 areas of concern teams are facing this spring and given our take on whether the team and its respective fanbase should be patient or panic.

    The focus here is not so much on individual players but instead on injury concerns and potential areas of weakness that have popped up.

A Complete Lack of Offense from the Cubs

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    With two home runs and four RBI, Addison Russell is one of the few Cubs hitters who have done anything at the plate this spring.
    With two home runs and four RBI, Addison Russell is one of the few Cubs hitters who have done anything at the plate this spring.Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

    Spring training is not about wins and losses, but when an entire team is struggling to put runs on the board, it at least raises a few eyebrows.

    The Chicago Cubs are expected to have one of the best offenses in baseball with Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist joining Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and a host of others who represent plus options at their respective positions.

    However, the offense has been MIA so far this spring, as Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune pointed out heading into Thursday's game.

    "Spring stats are meaningless, of course, but the Cubs are off to a slow start offensively, hitting a major league worst .184 after their first eight games and scoring only 19 runs, also lowest in the majors."

    That lack of offense has resulted in a 1-8 start to the spring slate.

    There is still plenty of time for the hitters to shake off the cobwebs, and at this point, there's really no reason to panic on the North Side.

    The further into the spring that these struggles continue, the more it will become a talking point.

    Verdict: Patience

A Slow Start and an Ankle Injury for Justin Upton

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    Justin Upton is a big part of the Tigers' hopes of returning to contention in 2016.
    Justin Upton is a big part of the Tigers' hopes of returning to contention in 2016.Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    The free-agent market for Justin Upton was slow to develop, but he still netted a big payday when the Detroit Tigers signed him to a six-year, $132.75 million deal.

    Alongside Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez and a healthy Victor Martinez, Upton has a chance to give the Tigers one of the best offenses in baseball.

    First, he'll need to shake off the offseason rust and get healthy.

    Upton is coming off a solid season with the Padres. He posted a .790 OPS with 26 doubles, 26 home runs, 81 RBI and 19 stolen bases.

    However, he's gone just 2-for-14 with nine strikeouts so far this spring, and he's recently been slowed by an ankle injury after colliding with Anthony Gose in the outfield.

    The 28-year-old was back in the lineup on Thursday as the designated hitter, going 1-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout, so the injury does not appear to be a long-term concern.

    Still, it's always nice to see the newcomer make a strong first impression, and it's clear he has some work to do before the season starts.

    Verdict: Patience

More Velocity Questions Surrounding Jered Weaver

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    Jered Weaver is dealing with velocity issues once again this spring.
    Jered Weaver is dealing with velocity issues once again this spring.Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

    According to FanGraphs, Jered Weaver had an average fastball velocity of 83.3 mph last year, a career low and a 3 mph drop from his 2014 velocity.

    Only knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (81.5 mph) threw slower among pitchers with at least 150 innings of work, and Mark Buehrle (83.4 mph) was the only other starter to clock in with a sub-85 mph fastball.

    In the big picture, this is nothing new for the 33-year-old, though, so why should we be concerned?

    Weaver took the mound for his second start of the spring on Wednesday, and none of the 24 pitches he threw over his 2.2 innings of work eclipsed 81 mph.

    The result was an ugly line: 2.2 IP, 6 H, 3 HR, 5 ER, 1 BB, 0 K.

    At this point, he's essentially throwing batting practice, right down to the velocity.

    "I wake up every day hoping this is the day that it's going to click, and it just hasn't happened yet," Weaver told Pedro Moura of the Los Angeles Times.

    Manager Mike Scioscia was quick to come to the defense of Weaver, pointing to the fact that he's gotten by with below-average velocity in the past.

    "A lot's being made of his velocity," Scioscia told Moura. "Not that you don't need velocity or it doesn't make some things easier when you have velocity, but I think he showed he can do this. It's just going to be more command sensitive."

    That command wasn't there on Wednesday, and until it shows up, there is plenty of reason for concern, especially considering C.J. Wilson is nursing a sore shoulder and Matt Shoemaker is also struggling.

    Verdict: Panic

The Marlins Bullpen Without Carter Capps

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    Losing Carter Capps for the year to Tommy John surgery is a big blow for the Marlins.
    Losing Carter Capps for the year to Tommy John surgery is a big blow for the Marlins.Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    With a quirky delivery and a blazing fastball, Carter Capps was one of the most dominant relievers in baseball last season for the Miami Marlins.

    In 30 games, he posted a 1.16 ERA, 0.806 WHIP and a ridiculous 16.8 strikeouts per nine innings.

    That was enough to earn him a shot at competing with A.J. Ramos for the closer's job this spring, but that competition ended before it ever really started when Capps was lost for the year to Tommy John surgery earlier this week.

    So where does that leave the Marlins bullpen?

    Ramos is now locked in as the closer, a role in which he thrived last season, as he converted 32 of 36 save chances with a 2.70 ERA, 1.069 WHIP and 11.1 K/9 after taking over for a struggling Steve Cishek in mid-May.

    The rest of the relief corps is a question mark, though.

    Bryan Morris (67 G, 3.14 ERA) is a steady middle reliever, and rookie Kyle Barraclough (25 G, 2.59 ERA) has setup potential, but more than one player will need to step up to replace Capps.

    "We've got some guys who are going to make up for Carter," Ramos told Craig Davis of the Sun Sentinel. "Obviously, it's a lot easier to have someone like that in the bullpen. But we've got guys that can do the job, and I feel confident."

    There's still time for a guy or two to step forward this spring, so it's not time to panic just yet.

    Verdict: Patience

A Rough Start to the Spring for Giants Starters Jake Peavy and Matt Cain

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    Jake Peavy has allowed 14 hits and seven earned runs in 4.2 innings so far this spring.
    Jake Peavy has allowed 14 hits and seven earned runs in 4.2 innings so far this spring.Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

    A lack of quality starting pitching depth was the San Francisco Giants' undoing last season.

    Madison Bumgarner was once again among the game's best, and rookie Chris Heston was a pleasant surprise, but the rest of the rotation was a mess.

    They set out to rectify that situation in the offseason when they shelled out a combined $220 million to add Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija in free agency, but issues have popped up once again this spring.

    Veteran Jake Peavy dealt with injuries last season but was still a solid option when healthy, as he went 8-6 with a 3.58 ERA and 1.120 WHIP in 19 starts.

    He's healthy now, but the 34-year-old has surrendered 14 hits and eight runs (seven earned) in 4.2 innings of work this spring.

    Meanwhile, it's still unclear exactly what the team can expect from Matt Cain.

    The 31-year-old was one of the best pitchers in the league as recently as 2012, but he's been slowed by injuries the past two seasons to make just 26 combined starts and work 151.0 innings.

    Expected to finally be back at 100 percent this spring, Cain was instead forced to go under the knife again to have a cyst removed from the upper part of his right arm.

    The operation was minor, but it's thrown off his preseason schedule, and his status for Opening Day is once again in question.

    Heston is available as the next man up in the rotation, and prospect Clayton Blackburn is knocking on the door, but questions about the rotation are the last thing the Giants wanted to deal with this spring.

    It's a good thing they focused their free-agency efforts on strengthening their overall rotational depth.

    Verdict: Patience

Eduardo Rodriguez and His Injured Knee

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    Pegged by many as a potential breakout star, Eduardo Rodriguez is dealing with a knee injury that could sideline him to start the year.
    Pegged by many as a potential breakout star, Eduardo Rodriguez is dealing with a knee injury that could sideline him to start the year.Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    An out-of-shape Pablo Sandoval and his 1-for-14 start to the spring are certainly cause for concern, but with Travis Shaw off to a hot start (8-for-14, 2B, HR), the team has a viable fall-back option in place.

    Instead, the Boston Red Sox's biggest concern is undoubtedly the health of Eduardo Rodriguez.

    The left-hander suffered a dislocated kneecap while chasing down balls in the outfield at the beginning of spring training, and he's yet to throw off a mound since.

    Manager John Farrell offered up the following less than optimistic assessment to Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Globe:

    We think he’ll be ready to start the year, but I have to temper that with, he’ll be out there when he’s out of danger. We don’t want to rush it to the point where you’re looking at his landing leg — that’s got to be at full strength. The weight, the momentum coming down the mound, there’s no time frame for that first bullpen to happen, but we’re still hopeful that he’ll be ready for the start of the year.

    Rodriguez, 22, went 10-6 with a 3.85 ERA, 1.290 WHIP and 98 strikeouts in 121.2 innings as a rookie last season, and his big-time upside had more than a few people predicting a breakout performance in 2016.

    The addition of David Price is expected to make a huge difference for the Red Sox this season, but losing E-Rod for any extended period of time would be a significant step back.

    Lefties Henry Owens and Roenis Elias and knuckleballer Steve Wright are the leading candidates to fill a vacant rotation spot, but that would be an obvious downgrade.

    Verdict: Panic

The Yankees Bullpen Without Aroldis Chapman

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    The absence of Aroldis Chapman means a thin Yankees bullpen to open the year.
    The absence of Aroldis Chapman means a thin Yankees bullpen to open the year.Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    The New York Yankees bullpen trio of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman has a chance to be an absolute force this coming season, but first the team will need to make it through the 30-game suspension awaiting Chapman.

    In the interim, Miller will return to the closer's role, and Betances will once again be in the eighth-inning spot where he's been an All-Star the past two seasons.

    The rest of the relief corps looks thin, though.

    Two key arms from last years' pen in Justin Wilson (74 G, 3.10 ERA, 61.0 IP) and Adam Warren (43 G, 3.29 ERA, 131.1 IP) were traded this winter, dealing a blow to the team's depth.

    Chasen Shreve and Bryan Mitchell will be counted on to help replace Wilson and Warren, while a number of young arms will be in the running for the remaining bullpen spots based on their performance this spring.

    "I feel like the story has been three guys," Miller told Ryan Hatch of NJ.com. "I think we’re more than that. We have some depth beyond that that will certainly help us contribute. We need them to contribute, and we need them to be good. It’s in there. I think we’ve got all the pieces to be good, to do our job. It’s up to us to back it up."

    With a boom-or-bust starting rotation, the bullpen will be as important for the Yankees as any team in baseball.

    They will need to find a way to stay afloat for the month they'll be without Chapman, but the relief corps should still be a strength with Betances and Miller at the back end.

    Verdict: Patience

Early Struggles from the Orioles Rotation

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    Yovani Gallardo's first appearance in an Orioles jersey was not pretty.
    Yovani Gallardo's first appearance in an Orioles jersey was not pretty.Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

    The Baltimore Orioles ranked ninth in the league in scoring last year, but a poor performance from their starting rotation led to an 81-81 record and a third-place finish in the AL East.

    A 4.53 ERA from the starters ranked 25th in the MLB and 14th in the AL, and things went from bad to worse when Wei-Yin Chen, arguably their best starter, signed with the Miami Marlins in free agency.

    After a slowly developing offseason with no shortage of rumors, the Orioles finally found a replacement for Chen when they added Yovani Gallardo. He signed on with a two-year, $22 million deal and also cost a draft pick after receiving a qualifying offer.

    Gallardo joins Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Miguel Gonzalez and Kevin Gausman in the projected starting rotation, but it's been an ugly start to the spring for that group outside of Gausman, who threw two scoreless innings in his spring debut.

    • Tillman: Has not pitched
    • Gallardo: 2.0 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 0 K
    • Jimenez: 3.1 IP, 4 H, 6 ER, 4 BB, 3 K
    • Gonzalez: 4.0 IP, 11 H, 8 ER, 1 BB, 1 K

    Tillmanthe Opening Day starter the past two seasonshas been dealing with a right hip flexor strain, and he finally saw game action for the first time on Thursday with two innings in a "B" game.

    "All indications were pretty good, but we’ll see what tomorrow brings," manager Buck Showalter told Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun. "I know talking to him, he was upbeat about it. He was happy to get that behind him, get on his way."

    It's a step in the right direction for Tillman, but looking at the bigger picture, it's hard to see this Orioles team contending with that rotation.

    These early-spring struggles have only further highlighted a staff that could prove to be an insurmountable weakness.

    Verdict: Panic

The Cardinals' Shortstop Situation Without Jhonny Peralta

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    Aledmys Diaz is the X-factor in the Cardinals' shortstop situation.
    Aledmys Diaz is the X-factor in the Cardinals' shortstop situation.Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    More than a few eyebrows were raised when the St. Louis Cardinals gave Jhonny Peralta a four-year, $53 million deal, but it has proved to be a great signing for the team through the first two years.

    Peralta has hit .269/.335/.427 during that span, and he ranks among the leaders at the shortstop position in hits (306, seventh), doubles (64, fourth), home runs (38, second), RBI (146, third) and WAR (7.5, third).

    Expected to be a key part of the offense once again, Peralta will instead be sidelined until midseason following surgery on a torn ligament in his left thumb.

    Many have suggested the Cardinals could explore the trade market for a stop-gap option, but the front office doesn't appear ready to make such a move just yet.

    "I think I'd like to see what we have first and then determine what's next," general manager John Mozeliak told Mark Saxon of ESPN. "Obviously, our goal is to be competitive this year, and if we feel we need to go outside the organization to improve on those odds, then we will. Right now, I don't think that's something we feel we have to do at all."

    Jedd Gyorkowho was acquired in the offseasonhas played primarily second and third base in his career, but he did play 29 games at shortstop last year.

    Greg Garcia is also an option after seeing time on the big league roster last year as a utility infielder, and he's worked with Kolten Wong as a double-play partner in the past when they were teammates at the University of Hawaii.

    The X-factor will be Aledmys Diaz.

    The 25-year-old Cuban defector signed a four-year, $8 million deal two years ago, and he hit .278/.339/.445 with 28 doubles, 13 home runs and 52 RBI between Double-A and Triple-A last year.

    With in-house options to assess, patience is the right answer for now, but if no one steps forward, the needle could eventually move toward panic.

    Verdict: Patience

The Dodgers' Rotation Depth Is Already Being Tested

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    With Brett Anderson set to start the year on the disabled list, Mike Bolsinger becomes a key piece of the puzzle for the Dodgers.
    With Brett Anderson set to start the year on the disabled list, Mike Bolsinger becomes a key piece of the puzzle for the Dodgers.David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    How will the Los Angeles Dodgers replace Zack Greinke?

    That was the big question surrounding the reigning NL West champs after Greinke bolted in free agency and joined the Diamondbacks, and the eventual answer was not what most people expected.

    Rather than spending big on another front-line free agent, the team wound up signing a pair of mid-level arms in Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda.

    Those two joined ace Clayton Kershaw and fellow lefties Brett Anderson and Alex Wood to form what appeared to be a quality rotation from top to bottom.

    Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy are both expected to be back healthy at some point this year, while Mike Bolsinger, Brandon Beachy, Carlos Frias and Zach Lee gave the team good overall depth.

    That depth is already being tested, though.

    Anderson is headed for the disabled list after undergoing back surgery, and with Ryu and McCarthy both still rehabbing, there is now a vacancy in the rotation.

    Wood (2.0 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 2 ER) and Kazmir (3.2 IP, 12 H, 7 ER) are both healthy, but they've been hit hard in the early going to only further add to concerns about the rotation.

    The Dodgers are too talented to simply drop off the map, but this doesn't look like a better team than the one they trotted out in 2015. Meanwhile, the Giants and Diamondbacks have both improved significantly.

    To say it's time to panic might be drastic, but the Dodgers have an uphill battle ahead if they hope to live up to their huge payroll and equally lofty expectations.

    Verdict: Panic

    All standard statistics and WAR totals courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, while spring stats come via MLB.com.

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