Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers
One of two core players picked up in the July 2007 Mark Teixeira swap (Elvis Andrus being the other), Feliz beings mid-to-upper-nineties smoke, a hard high-70’s curve and an occasional mid-80’s changeup out of the ‘pen. The 22 year-old (in May) struck out 10.6 batters per nine innings in the minors. He has 11.8 K/9 in 34.1 big league frames, with 2.62 BB/9 and a 3.11 expected FIP. Feliz is adept at getting hitters to chase out of the zone, with a 30.1 outside swing percentage (25 percent MLB average).
Feliz’s long term role has yet to be determined, but there’s little doubt that he can be an effective, high-leverage reliever for the Rangers in 2010.
Chris Snyder, Arizona Diamondbacks
With Miguel Montero (torn meniscus in right knee) hitting the DL and likely headed for surgery that could sideline him for a significant amount of time, Snyder becomes the everyday backstop for the D-Backs.
Snyder is no stranger to health issues, as the 29 year-old was limited to 202 plate appearances in 2009 with a back injury that required surgery. His line (.200/.333/.352) and wOBA (.304) look ghastly, but he drew a walk nearly 16 percent of the time and still managed a .152 ISO. A .237 BABIP dragged down his numbers considerably.
Yeah, Snyder can’t beat a Molina in a foot race (career 1.0 Speed Score) and he pops the ball up a lot (career 14.7 infield fly rate), two traits that deflate BABIP (his career mark is .274). But if he’s healthy and gets a few more bounces to go his way, Snyder could be a nifty NL-only option: ZiPS projects a .239/.341/.438 line the rest of the way.
Jeremy Bonderman, Detroit Tigers
Bonderman has broken many hearts over the years. He has one of the largest splits between ERA (4.77 career) and xFIP (4.00) among starters, the result of a career .316 BABIP and a lower-than-usual strand rate (67.7 percent). Bonderman scarcely pitched at all over the 2008 and 2009 seasons following a procedure to correct Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. It’s enough to make you wanna throw a chair.
While one start doesn’t tell us much, Bonderman did look good while taking on the Indians on April 10th. In five frames, he struck out five and walked two, surrendering one hit and one run. Bonderman pounded the zone with his fastball and slider, throwing 59 of his 91 pitches for strikes (64.8 percent). Stamina and durability are big issues, but Bonderman is owned in just four percent of Yahoo leagues. He’s worth a look.
Chris Young, San Diego Padres
It’s been a rough couple of years for Young. He took an Albert Pujols liner off the face in 2008, while also struggling with a right forearm injury. In 2009, Young underwent right shoulder surgery that limited him to just 76 innings. As an extreme fly ball pitcher in a park where long drives die at the warning track, he’s in the best possible environment. But Young’s velocity has dipped from the high-80’s to the mid-80’s, and his walk rate has increased considerably. His percentage of pitches within the strike zone has plummeted, as has his swinging strike rate.
Now, Young heads back to the DL with shoulder tightness. Precautionary or no, Young’s stuff has declined over the past few years to the extent that he would be a liability in less hospitable ball parks. He shouldn’t be on your radar unless/until he can show more than mid-80’s “heat” high in the zone.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Texas Rangers
It’s difficult to remember now, but Salty was once the key piece in the aforementioned Teixeira bounty. But in 874 career major league plate appearances, the switch-hitter has authored a .251/.313/.388 line, with a .306 wOBA. Saltalamacchia has handled fastballs at an average rate, but off-speed stuff has flummoxed him: -2.4 runs per 100 pitches against sliders, -0.97 runs/100 versus curves and -1.37 against changeups. Not surprisingly, Salty has seen a rather low proportion of fastballs (55.4 percent).
Saltalamacchia underwent surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome late last season, and he was recently placed on the DL with upper back stiffness. He won’t turn 25 until May, but the former top prospect is a flawed player at the moment. In Salty’s stead, Taylor Teagarden will try to prove that he can avoid being eaten alive by big league pitching. ZiPS (.215/.291/.369) thinks he’ll remain a tasty dish for opposing hurlers.
Ben Sheets, Oakland Athletics
Again, we’re dealing with small sample sizes here. But Sheets hasn’t shown crisp stuff with the A’s. The long-time Brewer, who missed the entire 2009 season with a torn flexor tendon in his right elbow, has a 4/7 K/BB ratio in 11 frames. Sheets has averaged 91.2 MPH with his fastball, compared to 92-93 MPH in past years. His swinging strike rate is 4.7 percent (8-9 percent MLB average), and his contact rate is well above average (88.1 percent, 80-81 percent MLB average).
It’s entirely possible that Sheets’ early struggles are forgotten in the coming months, with his fastball hitting its normal velocity and his performance improving greatly. The problem is, we just don’t know if that will occur at this point. If you own Sheets, don’t dump him for pennies on the dollar. But keep an eye on his fastball and curve in the coming weeks to see if they start to round into form.
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