Cactus League Game…2nd to Last, Rockies at Mariners
Roenis Elias vs. TBD, 7:05pm
A live game on Root Sports/MLB.tv as the M’s near the finish line of the Cactus League Season. This’ll be Roenis Elias’ last game before officially joining the M’s rotation, along with Chris Young. Think about that sentence.
The game is crucial for Elias, and for the M’s in projecting how his initial month-or-so in the rotation might go. The first time we saw him, his release point was all over the map, but he had a surprisingly lively fastball. Since then, he and the M’s have talked about changes they’ve made to simplify his delivery. So, on the eve of the regular season, is he noticeably more consistent? Does this help or hurt his platoon splits (it looked like he dropped down vs. lefties against LA)? And how does he deal with a Rockies club who’s seen him before? Elias is a great story, and he’s worked hard to earn his spot, but we’re talking about promoting a guy from AA based on a good-not-great spring training featuring an 8:8 K:BB ration. I wish him all the best, and it sounds like he may be more mentally ready for the challenge than Brandon Maurer, last year’s surprising promoted-from-AA Cactus League star.
One thing that’s going to be critical to Elias as a pitch-to-contact guy who generates a lot of fly balls is the outfield defense behind him. On paper, he’s a good fit for Safeco, as lefty flyball pitchers benefit more from the marine layer’s RH-power-suppressing properties. But a terrible OF defense – as the M’s trotted out last year – can counter that advantage. Elias posted a 40% GB rate the past two years in the minors by MLCentral; Statcorner has him around 41 or so, against a league average of 46%. Whatever number you pick, he’s been below average in the minors, where GBs are MORE common than in AAA/MLB. His strikeout rate isn’t huge, as his primary breaking ball (the slow slurve) probably isn’t going to rack up whiffs. Couple this with the M’s new acquisition posting the lowest GB rate in MLB in recent years, and suddenly Dustin Ackley and Abe Almonte are a bit more important than they otherwise would’ve been. Ackley in particular looked a bit lost in the OF last year, but that had a lot to do with his lack of (recent) experience. He’s been better in the spring, and the upgrade from Ibanez/Morse to Ackley – even a still-learning Ackley – seems like a massive one. Ackley was always going to be a key to the season, as going from a well-below average hitter to a league average one could really help the line-up’s balance and productivity.* With Elias/Young, his defense will be all the more important as well.
1: Almonte, CF
2: Miller, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Smoak, 1B
5: Seager, 3B
6: Morrison, DH
7: Ackley, LF
8: Saunders, RF
9: Zunino, C
That’s probably your opening day line-up right there.
The final issue in camp has been what to do with Nick Franklin. Once he lost the supposed SS battle, and once the M’s decided not to snap at any of the offers they got for him, they could transition him to a super-sub role, or they could send him to AAA. Today, they opted for the latter. This has to be bitterly disappointing to Franklin, who’s been great this spring, but it *does* mean he’ll continue to get regular at-bats and can either concentrate on the middle infield, or refine his routes in the OF if the M’s are serious about the super-sub thing. The M’s will go with Stefen Romero in the 5th-OF/back-up CIF role.
* We’ve mentioned it before, but the M’s have scored far fewer runs than you’d expect just judging from their total number of walks/hits/HRs/etc. This was probably due – in part – to the fact that the bottom of the line-up was sooooo bad. Of course actual runs would trail hits/walks when you had Brendan Ryan/M’s catchers/2012 Ackley trying to knock runners in.