If there has been one overarching theme to the 2014 MLB season so far, it’s been players missing time. Whether it’s been because of (asinine) draft pick compensation rules, attending the birth of one’s child (goodness me was that David Murphy-related ‘controversy’ farcical), or as in the vast majority of cases, due to injury, far too many players have been off the field, their absences spoiling the game we all love.
The month of June is off to a promising start however. After the spate of Tommy John surgeries necessitated in April and May, as far as I’m aware, we’ve now gone three days without one being announced (It’s my understanding that Chris Withrow of the Dodgers was the last player to have been announced as going under the knife). Even better, a host of players are making their returns this week – all carrying some relevance. Let’s break them down quickly;
– Stephen Drew, who was only absent by his own/Scott Boras’ doing after turning down a qualifying offer over the winter, finally made his season debut for Boston last night, going 0-2 with a walk in a defeat to the Cleveland Indians. Having played in the minors since May 21st having finally signed a pro-rated contract for around $10 million this year, the left-handed Drew batted eighth in the Red Sox lineup and instantly slotted in at shortstop, pushing Xander Bogaerts to third base, and with both Mike Napoli and Mike Carp out, the surprisingly effective Brock Holt across the diamond to first. While there were certainly more ideal landing spots out there (Detroit have a more glaring need, and less infield competition), landing back in Boston can only be considered a good thing for Drew. Sure, he probably could have gone to the Mets, but their stinky offense and the Wilpon Quagmire of Financial Despair (H/T to Jonah Keri) would likely have ensured a less than happy tenure in Queens. He won’t be anything special for the Sox, but in need of some stable production, he’ll fill a role nicely – the same attitude with which he should be approached in terms of fantasy pick-ups. He’ll be a stable middle infielder, a low-upside, high-basement type, perfect for a team ravaged by injury or simply short of middle infield depth. Just don’t expect Drew to be a savior, both in reality or fantasy.
– Jose Abreu on the other hand, woah boy. This fellow’s return might be make-or-break for your fantasy squad. After two weeks on the disabled list and a couple of simulated games at U.S. Cellular Field, the Cuban slugger, who even after being out since May 18th still led the White Sox in home runs (15) and RBIs (42), was activated in time for the start of a three-game set against L.A. at Dodger Stadium. With no DH hole to be stashed in, Abreu jumped right back into the thick of things playing first base, and picked up where he left off at the plate, muscling out a two-run shot off of Clayton Kershaw in his second at-bat, Chicago’s only runs of the game. And this was after being struck in the chest by an overthrown ball while stretching during pre game warm-ups! The Sox have been treading water without him, but with the AL player of the month for April back in the mix, they could yet put a run together in the disastrous AL Central for second-place behind Detroit. He should immediately be back in fantasy starting lineups too, though it will be worth paying attention to whether he perhaps gets a day of rest from playing the field at some point in this interleague series.
– Elsewhere, Josh Hamilton is slated to make his return to the Angels lineup today in a game against the Astros, in which first base prospect and recent contract signee Jon Singleton will also be making his debut for Houston. Hamilton has been out since April 9 with a torn ligament in his left thumb having (rather rashly) slid into first base headfirst, but was hitting .444 with two home runs in the tiny sample size prior. His return will likely spell trouble for the 42-year-old Raul Ibanez, who has been god-awful in 2014, though I’d be concerned if you were starting him in your league anyway. Hamilton should probably reside on your bench for at least a couple of days while you evaluate his return; thumb injuries can be tricky, and Hamilton is prone to streaks even when fully healthy. Resting him is probably the safe play, unless you don’t have any other viable outfield options. Of course, slotting Mike Trout straight back in after he missed Sunday’s game with back stiffness is a no-brainer.
– Stay away from Yordano Ventura though! After a disastrous May 26th outing in which his velocity noticeably dropped and he was forced to exit in the third inning, the 23-year-old flamethrower dodged the Tommy John bullet and was instead diagnosed with “lateral elbow discomfort.” After successfully completing a bullpen session, Ventura will be thrown back in on Thursday to face the Cardinals in the Battle For Missouri. In addition to his prior inconsistency, not only do I dislike the match-up, but I’m worried about Ventura’s long-term outlook; elbow injuries don’t normally solve themselves this quickly, especially ones which cause such an appreciable velo decline. Though he’s officially returning, don’t be surprised if Ventura heads straight back to the trainer’s room in a month or so.
– Aramis Ramirez is back in the Milwaukee lineup tomorrow after sustaining a strained left hamstring on May 13. He’ll be able to DH too, given how the Brewers are visiting Target Field for an interleague series. A notorious slow starter, Ramirez should be a more than viable third base option the rest of the way should he avoid re-aggravating that hammy… Andrew Cashner, after an elbow scare, is scheduled to rejoin the Padres’ rotation on Saturday against the Nationals. Unless you’re in absolute need of gaining ground over the weekend however, it’s probably best to let this one play out with the hard-throwing righty on your bench however… Ryan Zimmerman should be appropriately settled back in to the Washington lineup by then – the 29-year-old has been cleared to return on Tuesday after breaking his thumb on April 12th. Where he’ll play however, remains intriguing; the right-hander has been playing left field during his rehab stint at Potomac, so Ryan Zimmerman: ML Outfielder might be a thing now… In obligatory Reds news, Joey Votto (quadriceps) is nearing a rehab assignment, and Mat Latos threw 4 2/3 scoreless innings in his latest Triple-A start. He should be back next week.
You have no idea how close todays installment of 2014 MLB Season Preview was from becoming a celebration of all things Mike Trout. It would have put yesterdays appreciation of new Kansas City Royal Norichika Aoki to shame. Common sense prevailed for now at least – though I’ll no doubt be wearing my no. 27 jersey into enemy territory (read: Safeco Field) when I make the trip up to Seattle in May. As it is, my Los Angeles Angels preview today looks at one of Trout’s 2014 outfield mates, and a prime breakout candidate; after an impressive end to 2013, Kole Calhoun is touted to begin 2014 as Anaheim’s leadoff hitter and everyday right fielder.
Listed at a generous 5’10, the left-handed Kole Calhoun certainly didn’t look like a future big league regular when he was selected out of Arizona State by the Angels in the 8th round of the 2010 Draft – scouts dubbing him a “hard-nosed non-athletic grinder” (per Baseball Prospect Report). Even heading into 2013, John Sickel could only envision Calhoun as “a good fourth outfielder and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him become a coach or manager someday” – not exactly a glowing report, but testament to big league potential at least. Fast forward a year to 2014 however, and the now 26 year old Calhoun profiles to not just defy expectations as Anaheim’s starter in right field – joining Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton in a star-studded Angels outfield – but is also on track to become their everyday leadoff hitter.
Calhoun’s rapid ascension has occurred on the basis of his superb hitting at every level so far, including during his impressive 2013 rookie season. In his first full season of professional ball at Class A Empire in 2011, the diminutive Calhoun hit .324, blasted 22 HRs, stole 20 bases, and was subsequently named the organization’s minor league player of the year. Immediately promoted to Triple A Salt Lake City for 2012, Calhoun succeeded again in slashing .298/.369/.507, though both his HR and SB totals dropped off slightly. When the winter acquisition of Josh Hamilton blocked his surge to the majors in 2013, Calhoun quickly forced the Angels’ hand by crushing Triple A pitching at a .354/.430/.620 clip, pasting 12 HRs in 240 at-bats for good measure; with the big team under-performing once again, and beset by injuries, he was called up for good in late July.
In a 58 game stretch in which played most everyday (he amassed 49 starts), the supposed fourth outfielder cracked 8 HRs on his way to posting a .282/.347/.462 line (including an .889 OPS against lefties) – and quickly became one of the bright spots in what otherwise became another waste of a Mike Trout pre-arbitration year for the Angels franchise. Calhoun’s performance too, made quite the impression on the team’s GM Jerry Dipoto, who demonstrated his faith in the right fielder’s emergence by trading away fellow outfield competition Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos, upgrading the roster in other areas while clearing the way for Kole to breakout in 2014. As if his actions weren’t a vote of confidence enough, Dipoto took added his voice to the matter this Spring, saying of Calhoun “He does a lot of things well. He defends, he throws, he throws accurately, is a good baserunner, he swings, he’s got patience, he gets on base, he’s got power.” Not bad praise for a “grinder” 8th round pick who was expected to contribute little, if at all, at the big league level.
Having dropped Trout into the 2-hole midway through last season, the leadoff position in manager Mike Scioscia’s batting order is open for Calhoun to win this spring. Of his chance, Scioscia recently was quoted in saying “I think Cole is definitely a candidate… Whoever is hitting in front of Mike has to be a player who, first, is able to take advantage of being challenged and, second, bring some on-base to the table with decent speed to where they aren’t clogging up the bases.” Barring a spring disaster, Kalhoun should win the role; last year he possessed both an above-average BB% (9.5) walk rate and a below-average SO% (18.5%) whilst also defying the platoon splits often associated with lefties (.356 wOBA vs LHP, .329 wOBA vs RHP). He’s no slouch when it comes to power either, his ISO of .210+ at every stop (discounting his .179 in 222 PA with LAA) deterring pitchers from simply attacking him over the plate. With adequate speed on the basepaths too, Calhoun seems ideally suited to be driven in by his outfield mates – filling a need which haunted the Angels after Trout’s move last year.
Given the opportunity, it’s hard not to envision the scrappy Calhoun succeeding as he has done at every level so far. At 26 already, he’s unlikely to be a future star, but a prominent role as an above-average regular is more than attainable this season – should he continue the play which surprised so many in 2013. Whether it’s because of the Mike Trout Magic Dust, or his “hard-nosed non-athletic grinder” attitude, Calhoun seems ready to once and for all cast off the scouts’ dispersions. Watch for his breakout to poke out from under Trout’s mighty outfield shadow; unheralded as ever, Calhoun is coming.