The Divisional Outlook column is a new feature at BaseballHQ.com for 2013. Each column -- one per day except on Sunday -- will be dedicated to one division and attempt to identify and examine playing-time issues as, or even before, they become news. Player skills history, a team's track record with player development, managerial tendencies and organizational depth will all be considerations. The combination of the revamped Playing Time (news analysis) column and the Divisional Outlook (forward looking) column will cover all aspects of player performance on a day-to-day basis in 2013. --Ed.
By Greg Pyron
New York Mets
The closer situation is in flux in New York. Frank Francisco (RHP, NYM) has been shut down due to inflammation in his right elbow and manager Terry Collins on Tuesday told reporters that Bobby Parnell (RHP, NYM) will begin the season in the closer role.
Brown to get legit chance?
Parnell was a setup man for most of 2012, but he replaced Francisco late in the season and converted all three save chances. He made significant strides last year improving his Cmd from 2.4 to 3.1, while also inducing more groundballs (up 11% from 2011 to 62% GB%). In doing so, his BPV soared into triple digits. If Parnell can sustain those aforementioned skills gains, the job could be his to keep.
If Parnell falters, Brandon Lyon (RHP, NYM) could be next in line. The veteran had arguably the best season of his career in 2012, posting an xERA below 4.00 and a triple digit BPV for the first time. Collins has said that he would prefer to leave Lyon in a setup role, but it is pretty clear that the Mets don't have a whole lot of trust in Francisco.
The fifth starter spot is up for grabs this spring with Julio Teheran (RHP, ATL), Sean Gilmartin (LHP, ATL), and J.R. Graham (RHP, ATL) fighting for the job.
Teheran's disappointment for much of 2012 can be traced to a changed windup. Worried about the risk of future injury due to Teheran's rather violent delivery, the Braves
tweaked his mechanics and, needless to say, the experiment failed and was scrapped in late July. His performance then began to resemble what everyone had come to expect from the highly regarded prospect and that momentum carried over into the Dominican Winter League (3.23 ERA in 30.2 IP).
Gilmartin, the team’s first round pick in the 2011 amateur draft, could be poised to pounce on the opportunity if Teheran struggles this spring. The 22-year-old is not overpowering, but he controls each of his four pitches and mixes them well. With just 37.1 IP above the Double-A level, the Braves would prefer that he open the season at Triple-A Gwinnett.
Graham is a long shot to win the job this spring (only nine starts above Single-A), but he is someone to keep an eye one as there is a chance he could make it to Atlanta sometime this season. A college closer, Graham is still making the transition to starting pitcher after being selected in the 4th round of the 2011 amateur draft. In his first full season as a starter, the 22-year-old posted a 2.80 ERA, 110K/34BB and a 2.2 GB/FB ratio in 148 IP combined at Single-A and Double-A.
Daniel Rodriguez (LHP, ATL) is an under-the-radar guy worth tracking. The 28-year-old led the Mexican League in strikeouts a year ago (135 in 117 IP) and posted a 2.54 ERA prior to signing with Atlanta in August. The non-roster invitee features a 89-92 mph fastball with a good change-up and a nice curve. He made just one start at Triple-A Gwinnett before season’s end.
Teheran enters camp as the favorite to claim the job, but he'll have to earn it.
The Marlins signed Placido Polanco, 37, (3B, MIA) to a one-year contract in an attempt to solidify third base. However, there is certainly reason to question that decision. He is coming off a career worst season that saw him appear in only 90 games due to a lower back injury. A 92% ct% sounds good until you combine it with 56% GB%, 48 PX and 81 Spd.
The veteran figures to lose some playing time, to Greg Dobbs (3B, MIA). Dobbs isn’t an everyday option though, as evidenced by his .252/.284/.290 vs. LHP. Kevin Kouzmanoff (3B, MIA) and Chone Figgins (3B, MIA) are in camp as non-roster invitees. Kouzmanoff managed a mere .270/.304/.379 with 2 HR in 347 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A last year. Figgins has not been able to muster a batting average better than .188 over the past two seasons and there are no signs of an impending rebound.
There isn’t much in the way of help at the minor league level. Zack Cox (3B, MIA) is the closest in their system to being ready, but he struggled mightily with plate discipline (90 K/22 BB) in 394 AB between Double-A and Triple-A after putting up a solid 2011 minor league campaign (.306/.363/.434 with 13 HR in 516 AB combined at Single-A and Double-A).
Unless someone surprises, third base looks to be bereft of much offensive production.
The outfield corners in Philadelphia will be interesting to watch this spring, with John Mayberry Jr. (OF/1B, PHI), Domonic Brown (OF, PHI) Delmon Young (OF, PHI) and Darin Ruf (OF/1B, PHI) all in the running for playing time.
Young was signed with the hope that he would man right field, though he has pretty stark splits (.256/.288/.382 vs. RHP in 2011 and .247/.279/.370 vs. RHP in 2012) and his contract suggests that he may not necessarily be guaranteed an everyday job. He is likely to miss the first couple of weeks of the season after November ankle surgery.
Mayberry figures to have a roster spot locked up, as he is out of minor league options and has proven to be a weapon vs. LHP (.284/.328/.547 with 20 HR in 320 career AB vs. LHP). He can also play center field in a pinch.
Brown, now 25, has not developed as expected since 2010. While the former top prospect has increased his ct% over the past couple seasons, his power has gone in the opposite direction (PX trend, 2010-12: 129-101-103). He owns a lifetime .208/.284/.302 slash line vs. LHP. The Phillies have not yet given him an extended look in the starting lineup -- and it remains to be seen whether or not he'll get one in 2013.
Ruf is perhaps the most intriguing candidate. The 26-year-old hit 38 HR at Double-A Reading and 3 HR in 33 AB with the Phillies in 2012. The right-handed hitter has also shown the ability to hit RHP (.286/.371/.498 over the past two years in the minors). A first baseman by trade, he is a work in progress in left field. But Ruf could early fairly significant playing time with a strong spring.
Danny Espinosa (2B/SS, WAS) revealed recently that he played the final month of last season with a torn left rotator cuff. He elected to not have offseason surgery and instead opted to strengthen the muscles around the affected area and attempt to play through it. The switch-hitter managed just 13 hits in 74 AB with 27 strikeouts after suffering the injury on September 7th (that doesn’t include 1-for-15 with 7 K in the postseason). He claims to be feeling much better now, but this certainly bears watching.
If problems arise, Steve Lombardozzi (2B/OF, WAS) would be in line for more playing time. Lombardozzi produced an 88% contact rate in 384 AB last year with very little power (52 PX). He sported a .360 OBP and 30 SB in 134 games between Double-A and Triple-A in 2011, but the speed hasn’t yet manifested itself in the majors.
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