by Ray Kuhn
With the season starting on a Thursday this week, the schedule has been a bit odd for the first few days of the year. That is why not every team was active yesterday despite Sunday generally being a day where all 30 teams take the field. However, that didn’t mean we without some exciting action on the field. Let’s take a look at some of the performances that stood out:
1) There Was a Debut for the Angels
At this point, I’m not sure there’s any possible way you could have missed the buzz around Shohei Ohtani. After striking out two batters in his first inning of work, the Angels’ new addition allowed three runs to Oakland in the second inning. That didn’t come as much of a surprise to many as Ohtani had his share of struggles this spring. He did look impressive picking up those early strikeouts, but at least at first, things will likely be up and down for the right-hander as he continues to adjust to the major leagues. To close out the day though, he once again showed why he was in such high demand as Ohtani retired 14 of the last 15 batters he faced.
Ohtani certainly was impressive as he struck out six batters and limited Oakland to just three hits and one walk. He came very close to hitting 100 miles per hour, 99.6 was his hardest thrown fastball, with an average velocity of 97.6 on that pitch. The biggest development though, is that he had success getting his slider and splitter to move, as that was not the case during Spring Training. It’s also hard to ignore the 18 times Oakland hitters swung and missed.
2) Don’t Ignore the Astros’ Debut
In Pittsburgh, Gerrit Cole was the ace. In Houston, Cole is the fourth starter for the Astros but he looked much better than that yesterday. The lone blemish for Cole was a Joey Gallo solo homer in the first inning as the right-hander then settled in for the afternoon. Overall, Cole threw seven innings of one run ball for the victory while allowing just one other hit and walking three. He struck out 11 batters as his first start in a Houston uniform was a successful one. Cole was in control the entire afternoon as both the velocity and the movement was there. After he had issues with the long ball in Pittsburgh last season, it would be easy to suggest a continuation of that issue after Gallo went deep in the first inning, but overall, Cole looks like a different pitcher than he did last year. Again, it was just one start, the stuff is clearly there.
3) Berrios and Dozier Carry the Day for Minnesota
Brian Dozier gave his starting pitcher all he needed yesterday with a home run to start of the game, and Jose Berrios took it from there. After putting a 5.41 ERA away from home last season, the right-hander didn’t appear to have any issues pitching in Baltimore on Sunday. A popular choice to take the next step among pitchers for this season, Berrios picked up a complete game shutout as he allowed just three hits and one walk while striking out six. For good measure, Dozier added a second solo shot later in the game as Minnesota put up seven runs on the afternoon. The bigger story has to be the 23 year old Berrios. It wouldn’t surprise me to see some growing pains though, so resist the urge to buy him at a premium just yet. Last season, he had a 4.93 ERA when he went through the opposing batter for the third time, so it was a good sign to see him go the distance yesterday.
4) Harrison Sets the Table for Pittsburgh
After the Pirates moved Cole and Andrew McCutchen this winter, Josh Harrison wasn’t too pleased about the direction in which they were going. Still in Pittsburgh, Harrison hasn’t let those feelings adversely effect him through the first three games of the season. On Sunday, after Trevor Williams did all the work in the first game of the double-header, Harrison led Pittsburgh’s offense to close out the sweep. The second baseman was a triple shy of the cycle as he drove in two runs and scored twice. Through three games, Harrison is hitting .357. While he doesn’t do much from a fantasy perspective that truly stands out, he is still a solid performer who gets his share of at bats and is eligible at both second and third base.
5) Smoak Continues the Power Show
After finally breaking out last season and hitting 38 home runs, Justin Smoak’s encore got off to a pretty good start on Sunday. Smoak always had power and potential, but in 2017 he finally put it together. He saw his ISO jump from .174 to .259 while dropping his strikeout rate from 32.8% to 20.1%. Smoak’s batting average went from .217 in 2016 (with a .295 BABIP) to .270 last season (with a .285 BABIP). Both Smoak’s fly ball rate and home run/fly ball rate changed by about two percent, for the better, but thanks to all the other improvements he made, we saw his home run total jump from 14 to 38. Yesterday, you could easily make the argument that Smoak won the game for Toronto as he hit a two run homer in the seventh inning and then followed that up with a grand slam an inning later.
6) Peters Shuts Down The Cubs
Generally this isn’t the case, and it also wasn’t expected to be the case at all this season, but the Cubs have to be ecstatic about leaving Miami. On paper, it looked like Chicago was going to have a nice and easy start to the 2018 season, but instead, they ended up splitting a four game series with the Marlins. And yesterday, their bats appeared to have headed back to Chicago a day early. Dillon Peters kept the Cubs off-balance all afternoon as he scattered six hits across six innings of work for the victory while walking one batter and striking out two and not allowing a run. Peters did get 31.1 innings of work with the Marlins last season in which he had a 5.17 ERA, 4.52 xFIP, but other than that, his highest level of experience was Double-A. In 45.2 innings there last season, Peters had a 1.97 ERA while striking out 7.88 batters per nine innings. He doesn’t profile as an especially over power option, but Peters is going to get innings in Miami’s rotation and based on his minor league success, he does warrant a closer look.
7) Maybe DeJong is For Real
Yes, I know it is three games into the season, but so far that is all we have to go on. Last season, Paul DeJong emerged out what seemed to be nowhere and hit 25 home runs in 108 games for the Cardinals while hitting .285. Over a full season, that translates to 30 home run production, and coming from a shortstop, valuable fantasy production. There were issues though, as DeJong walked just 4.7% of the time while striking out 28% of the time. But with a .247 ISO, he warranted some attention for 2018. Yesterday, DeJong went deep twice against the Mets, and through three games he is hitting .364. The problem though, is that he has already struck out five times.
8) Harper Goes Deep Twice
There is no reason not to expect big things from Bryce Harper for this season, as long as he stays healthy that is. On Sunday, the power was on display as he took both Sal Romano (not surprising) and Rasiel Iglesias (impressive) deep for this first two home runs of the season. Through three games, Harper has a 1.429 OPS, and the big thing for fantasy owners, is that they have to hope he manages to stay healthy and on the field all season.
9) Bellinger Gets on the Board
The Dodgers’ offense has been slow to get going so far this season, but on Sunday they busted out for nine runs. A big part of that, was Cody Bellinger. As he attempts to follow up his award winning rookie season, Bellinger took a few games to wake up out of the gate. On Sunday though, any concerns (there shouldn’t have been any) were alleviated as he went deep for the first time this season. It was a two run shot for the first baseman as Los Angeles put up four runs in the sixth inning to break open the game. It was also the first two RBI of the season for Bellinger, who also added a single while improving his batting average to .154. After four games, there is still no reason to panic.
10) Haniger Moved up the Clean Up Spot
Last season, despite missing time due to injury, Mitch Haniger had an impressive debut with Seattle. In 96 games, the outfielder hit .282 with 16 home runs and 47 RBI, and Seattle is counting on him once again for this season. After starting the season off perfect by going 3 for 3 on Thursday, Haniger went deep on Saturday and was then moved up to the fourth spot in the batting order for Sunday. That did come because Nelson Cruz is currently sidelined with an ankle injury, but it is a good sign nonetheless. Haniger promptly went deep once again (a two run shot) and he could be a player to watch.
Make sure to check out all of our 2018 Preseason Rankings:
|Starting Pitchers||1-20: 03/24/18|