Cactus League: Trial Separation
It is morning here on the west coast, and I bring you the glad tidings that Tyler O’Neill has already homered today. He did so off of Luis Severino (not some A-ball scrub), and he did so for Team Canada.
As you know, the WBC is underway, with Seoul and Tokyo hosting several games already,* and with other teams getting ready by playing MLB clubs in spring training. The M’s are losing quite a few players to the event, as we talked about the other day. Robinson Cano’s batting 2nd, Nelson Cruz 5th, and Jean Segura 7th for the Dominican against Pittsburgh today, for example. Edwin Diaz is in Puerto Rico’s bullpen as they face San Francisco, and Felix will be with Team Venezuela.
Drew Smyly will join Team USA later, but for now, he’s looked pretty sharp for Seattle. He’s coming off his worst year, and it’s nice to see his velocity already at or a bit higher than it was last April. He’s clearly working on his cutter, too – he threw more of them than he did his primary breaking ball, his weird non-curving curve. I’d kind of prefer he just ditched the pitch entirely, but I suppose improving it works, too.
Smyly’s kind of an anomaly in that so much of the contact against him comes as fly balls. Among all starting pitchers last year, no one had a higher average launch angle against than Smyly. No M’s starter is anywhere close to Smyly in that regard, but then, no Mariner starter is close to him in average exit velocity either. Smyly yielded the weakest contact – on average – of anyone the M’s might use as a starter this year (the highest? James Paxton, who actually had the *lowest* launch angle). Smyly is walking the tightrope by throwing rising fastballs up in the zone, and getting plenty of pop-ups and lazy fly balls (and whiffs, of course), but also yielding the occasional long ball. Again, a big part of the problem in recent years has been his secondary or tertiary pitches, which have been annihilated. This is not to say that he needs to try to get grounders with his cutter. Several relievers have made their living by yielding fly ball contact/avoiding grounders, even with breaking balls: ex-Mariner Shawn Kelley’s turned himself into a minor star with this approach. Steve Cishek, too, has a slider that batters get under pretty frequently, which may explain some of his volatility (a tiny change in break may make the difference between a texas leaguer and a long home run). Kenley Jansen generally only throws one pitch, but it’s all but impossible to hit on the ground. Smyly’s approach works for Justin Verlander, as well; the Tigers ace has cut his GB rate by almost 10 percentage points in the past 3-4 years, and recovered his old effectiveness at the same time.
Tonight, the non-WBC M’s take on Cleveland and Carlos Carrasco. Carrasco put together a solid year for Cleveland, but missed time with a fractured hand suffered just before the Indians’ playoff run. The righty’s late emergence as a frontline starter roughly 7-8 years after being tabbed a top prospect has been a great story, and he’s maintained his effectiveness now for 2.5-3 seasons. That said, last year saw his HR rise for the 2nd straight year, and lefties started to hit him a bit harder than before. Lefties had destroyed Carrasco early in his career, one of the major reasons he seemed destined to become a busted prospect. But a trip to the pen and some improved command made Carrasco deadly to righties and lefties alike. From 2014-2015, lefties hit just .205 off of him, with just 35 extra-base hits. Last season, though, lefties slugged 11 HRs and 28 XBHs on their way to a .441 SLG%. Something for Indians fans to watch for/worry about.
The game starts at 6:10pm, Seattle time, and will be televised on Root Sports.
1: Dyson, LF
2: Martin, CF
3: Seager, 3B
4: Valencia, DH
5: Vogelbach, 1B
6: Haniger, RF
7: Ruiz, C
8: Motter, SS
9: Freeman, 2B
* The story of the tournament thus far (the actual tournament, not the even-less-real-than-regular-spring-training games against MLB clubs) has been Team Israel, who won their first two games, including an upset of South Korea in Seoul. They feature ex-Rainier Ty Kelly, and another ex-Rainier, Andrew Lorraine, serves as pitching coach.