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Bullpen Report: You can start these relievers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Two weeks ago, we introduced the term "SPARP" to the Fantasy playing masses. It was basically an easier way to describe the fine/shady/impure art form of using a starting pitcher in a relief pitcher spot. I personally hate the practice -- it skews the value of closers and gives pitchers like Freddy Garcia value where there should be none. But I don't make the games. And it's foolish to stubbornly refuse to use the SPARP strategy in a league where it's legal, because you'll most likely lose a few games to teams streaming two-start SPARPs ("TSSPARPs") [Note: the "T" is silent] where closers should normally be.

Still, this is a strategy that plenty of Fantasy players embrace, so I figured the time has come for a bizarro Bullpen Report, where we begrudgingly give some sort of value to the various SPARPs out there.

This is against everything I stand for, but I live to serve.

Must-start SPARPs

Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners
Shelby Miller, Cardinals
Kris Medlen, Braves

How dominant has Iwakuma been this year? He currently has 44 more points than Jason Grilli, who has 25 saves, a 1.10 ERA, and 14.9 K/9. Ignore the little blue "cold" icon next to Iwakuma's name. He is a stud as a starter and borderline otherworldly as a SPARP.

In spring training, Shelby Miller was locked in a battle for the fifth spot in the St. Louis rotation. Now he's the third-best relief pitcher in Head-to-Head points formats, trailing Grilli -- who, remember, is having essentially the same season as the guy who finished eighth in MVP voting last year (Craig Kimbrel) -- by just six points.

SPARPs you can start ... as starters!

David Phelps, Yankees
Hector Santiago, White Sox
Andrew Cashner, Padres

Of this group, Cashner is probably the most stable of this group in terms of staying power. There will eventually be a crunch when Michael Pineda and Jake Peavy return from injuries for Phelps and Santiago, respectively. But Cashner may be the least intriguing of this second tier of SPARPs, at least until his strikeouts come back.

Phelps' overall numbers won't blow anyone away, but of his nine starts this season, five of them have featured Phelps allowing two or fewer runs. And if you discount his first stretch-out start (four earned runs) as well as the two late May starts where he was struck in the arm by a line drive (four earned runs) and the following start where he may have still been feeling the effects of getting beaned (four earned runs), Phelps looks even better. [Note: Yes, I sweat Phelps, but he needs at least two more normal starts allowing four earned runs before I give up on this extenuating circumstances excuse-making exercise]. In his minor league career, Phelps started 90 of the 91 games he appeared in, producing a 2.51 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and a solid 7.6 K/9. I think the more he starts, the better his numbers will be.

Santiago, meanwhile, requires far fewer contextual explanations for his case as being used in non-SPARP situations. As a starter, Santiago has a 3.00 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and a 10.4 K/9. His ERA, WHIP, K/9 and pretty much every other measurable statistic are better when he's starting (as opposed to RPARPing). And his sample size gets a little bigger when you consider Santiago's four-start run at the end of 2012, when he put together a 1.86 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in four starts. His value may come from being RP eligible, but Santiago can be started in most formats as an actual starter and should deliver decent value back to his owners.

Two-start SPARPs

Kyle Kendrick, Phillies
Wade Davis, Royals
Alexi Ogando, Rangers (injured)
Nick Tepesch, Rangers

After a nice start to the season -- one that vaulted him to the 13th spot (currently) among RPs -- Kyle Kendrick has seen things take a somewhat ugly turn. In his last seven starts, Kendrick has a 4.91 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. I suppose you can stream him depending on the opponent, but I'm leaning more toward the "leave him on the wire" side of things, as this latest version of Kendrick seems more in line with what we've seen through his career.

Wade Davis, meanwhile, is a pitcher I would drop Kendrick for. I've heard all the arguments against Davis -- his velocity is down as a starter, he found his niche in the bullpen last year, he generally just isn't that good -- but I like Davis. Maybe it took him some time to adjust to starting, maybe he just had some kinks to work out early on. But in his last three games, Davis has a 2.04 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings. He has six games of six or more strikeouts in his 14 starts this season, a surprisingly high number considering his drop in velocity. Davis is a former top 20 prospect who never really struck a lot of batters out but had the potential to deliver low ERA and WHIP. As a regular starter, he's got some trust issues. But as a SPARP who could replace a shaky Jose Valverde for an owner in a Head-to-Head points league, he's worth the gamble. Over the last 14 days, Davis is the 10th-best reliever.

Single-League SPARPs

Justin Grimm, Rangers
Alfredo Figaro, Brewers
Chad Gaudin, Giants
Esmil Rogers, Blue Jays

Most Added Relievers (as of 6/21)
Player % change
1. Esmil Rogers, RP, Blue Jays 23
2. Joaquin Benoit, RP, Tigers 13
3. Junichi Tazawa, RP, Red Sox 9
4. Alfredo Figaro, RP, Brewers 9
5. Steve Cishek, RP, Marlins 7
6. Kevin Gregg, RP, Cubs 6
7. Greg Holland, RP, Royals 5
8. Oliver Perez, RP, Mariners 5
9. Kenley Jansen, RP, Dodgers 4
10. Jose Veras, RP, Astros 4

First off, let's just address the obvious -- the Rangers have way too many SPARPs on their roster. It's at four right now (counting the injured Ogando and sometime-starter Josh Lindblom), but there's always the chance they stretch out Robbie Ross, who was a starter throughout the minors, at some point this season, too. The issue with the various options the Rangers offer is that none of them are can't-miss options in the RP slot. Alexi Ogando was close earlier in the season, but he's been battling shoulder issues and might slide back into the bullpen when he returns. Grimm and Tepesch have been too inconsistent for anything more than two-start consideration in deeper leagues, but only in weeks when they have solid matchups.

The interesting SPARP here is Chad Gaudin, who is currently sporting a 2.83 ERA over 47 2/3 innings pitched. In three June starts, though, he has a 4.24 ERA and 1.18 WHIP, with 12 strikeouts in 17 innings. Of course, that was all before his start Thursday, during which he was hit by a line drive. We weren't sure of his status at the time this column was published. For what it's worth, though, in his career Gaudin has been a pretty pedestrian starter, according to the numbers -- a 4.70 ERA in 78 starts. But part of Gaudin's value is his swingman flexibility, and a good chunk of those starts came as a spot starter or getting stretched out. In the right situation and with the right pitching coach -- and in that spacious home park -- Gaudin might be a nice two-start SPARP in NL-only leagues for as long as he remains in the rotation. Just make sure to watch his injury status through the weekend.

SPARPs on the scrapheap

Freddy Garcia, Orioles
Tyler Lyons, Cardinals
Tom Koehler, Marlins
Jeremy Hefner, Mets

Tyler Lyons was a borderline candidate for the NL-only category because he's had flashes of good this year. But I had the opportunity to pick him up in a 24-team Head-to-Head points format, where starters are scarce, and I passed. The corresponding move would have been to release John Axford. That exercise was kind of telling in what I thought about Lyons. A few more uninspiring starts from Lyons and he could be sent down for Michael Wacha. Because of that, I'm not really willing to add him in even the deepest of Fantasy leagues.

Honorable Mention SPARPs

Tony Cingrani, Reds
Drew Smyly, Tigers

Cingrani and Smyly are currently relievers in starters' bodies. Both have been relegated to bullpen roles, but both seem like the obvious candidates for the next open rotation spot. While Cingrani is the more high-profile of the two, Smyly can offer a very low WHIP and some high strikeout totals. Why he's stuck in relief in favor of Jose Alvarez remains a mystery, but I have a hunch Alvarez will get a couple turns in place of the injured Anibal Sanchez while Smyly stretches out and gets ready to take over the spot. Owned in 24 percent of leagues, if you missed out on the Cingrani rush, Smyly makes for a stellar speculative alternative.

And let's not forget …

Dylan Bundy, Orioles
Brett Myers, Indians

I threw Bundy and Myers in here just because they, at one point, were considered top SPARP options, before injury struck and their futures became far more vague. Bundy now looks like another September call-up for the bullpen -- if he can overcome his forearm injury. Myers, meanwhile, has just started playing catch and doesn't have a timetable for a return. When he does make it back, he'll have to contend with an out-of-nowhere Corey Kluber, Scott Kazmir and possibly Trevor Bauer in order to reclaim a rotation spot. While they may have a bit of value in some formats, I think it's safe to drop both of these pitchers in single-season leagues.

There you go. SPARPs. We shall never speak of this again.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Nando Di Fino at @NandoCBS . You can also send our staff an e-mail at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Brewers' Khris Davis to work on being a patient hitter in 2015
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Brewers outfielder Khris Davis realizes he didn't show patience at the plate last year in his first full major-league season, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

"I built a reputation in the organization of being a patient hitter," Davis said. "I felt like I wasn't a patient hitter at all last year. I was a little eager, wanting to please too much, too early. I found out I'm human."

Davis drew just 32 walks in 549 plate appearances while posting a .299 OBP in 2014, a number far away from his career .392 OBP in the minors.

"He was different last year," manager Ron Roenicke said. "Everybody goes through different phases. Guys change. (His walk total) was too low. He's a guy I think should be fairly patient. He sees pitches well. When he starts getting anxious, he becomes more aggressive and chases more. He realizes it, which is the first step. If you don't realize it and don't listen to other people when they tell you that, then you have issues. You have to have good self-awareness to be a good player. Sometimes these players don't have good self-awareness. But if they had better self-awareness they'd be a better player."

Davis is determined to fulfill the potential that caused the organization to move Ryan Braun to right field before the 2014 season and plug Davis into the regular left-field role.

"I can't thank them enough for having patience with me," Davis said. "I'm going to work it out. When you get here, you want to stay. That's the toughest part at first. I don't think this league has seen the best of me yet. I'm ready to pull that out and prove it day by day. I learned so many lessons there are too many to name."

Davis hit .244/.299/.457 with 22 home runs and 69 RBI in 501 at-bats.


Indians' Francona keeping a close eye on Giovanny Urshela
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Indians manager Terry Francona has been keeping a close eye on third-base prospect Giovanny Urshela, who was only recently cleared for a full range of activities after tweaking his knee during winter ball, MLB.com reports.

"He has a tremendous reputation of being a really good defender," Francona said. "I think I've been more wanting to watch his gait, just to make sure he's not favoring that leg. He promised us that, if he was, he'd let us know, but I also know he's a young kid in his first major-league camp."

Urshela suffered the injury on Nov. 15 and has rehabbed the injured knee at the team's spring-training facility in Goodyear, Ariz.

"He's worked really hard to get himself to where he can go through a normal spring," said Indians' director of player development Carter Hawkins. "We're very excited about the spot he's in right now, given the possible outcomes of the injury."

Urshela saw his first action at the Triple-A level in 2014, hitting .276/.331/.473 with 13 home runs and 65 RBI in 395 at-bats with Columbus.


Reds' Brennan Boesch to see time at first base this spring
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Reds manager Bryan Price indicated Friday that outfielder Brennan Boesch would see time at all three outfield spots as well as at first base as he competes for a roster spot this spring, MLB.com reports.

"We already know he's a terrific player," Price said of Boesch, who has never played first base professionally. "He kind of got banged up and lost his way a little bit, but I think he feels -- and we feel -- that he's back on top of his game, and maybe his best days are ahead of him."

Boesch said he doesn't see the battle for a reserve outfield role as a "competition."

"I only care about the competition against the pitcher, and that's really as basic as I keep it," Boesch said. "You aren't competing against other players. We're all on the same side here. We're all wearing Red jerseys. Let the chips fall where they may."

Boesch struggled in limited time with the Angels in 2014 but hit .332/.381/.636 with 25 home runs, 85 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 374 at-bats with Triple-A Salt Lake.


Dodgers' Mattingly: Turner has 'put a lot of time in and it shows'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Dodgers infielder Justin Turner earned a nonroster invitation to the team's camp last year and ended up leading the team in batting average, and he's been working on his body like a fiend over the winter, MLB.com reports.

"Going into last year, we felt if he played every day, he'd get in trouble, and we found that out, but this year maybe he can handle more," manager Don Mattingly said Friday. "He's really been diligent about his work, been at Dodger Stadium almost daily. He's put a lot of time in and it shows."

Turner credited strength-and-conditioning coach Brandon McDaniel for his workout success.

"Brandon did everything. He's been a one-man wrecking crew," said Turner. "He and his family deserve the credit. I've been able to establish a routine and train consistently. Before I signed a year ago, I was on my own, going to 24 Hour Fitness, had to coordinate everything myself."

Turner added that he lost 18 pounds this winter through a healthier diet. Mattingly said that he intends to use the infielder at the corner-infield positions and also potentially up the middle.


Nationals' Matt Skole: 'I'm eating healthy and working hard'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Nationals first baseman Matt Skole missed most of 2013 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and struggled at the plate in 2014 but showed up to camp in better shape and will look to rebound in 2015, MLB.com reports.

"This offseason, I had a little more time to work on my body," Skole said. "I really got after it in the weight room. I ate right. I ate healthy. I think that was probably the biggest difference for me. I'm about the same weight as I was. I just leaned out a little bit. I'm eating healthy and working hard."

Skole worked with hitting coordinator Troy Gingrich for a month after the season and learned to keep his hands up in order to hit the ball consistently after having his hands too low during his down 2014 season.

"After taking a year off, it was more difficult than I thought it would be," the left-handed-swinging Skole said. "But coming back, I turned some corners, made some strides as far as getting to know myself as a player and know the things I need to fix. I think everything I did last year was a stepping stone for this year."

Skole hit .241/.352/.399 with 14 home runs and 68 RBI in 461 at-bats with Double-A Harrisburg last season.


Report: Dodgers sign center fielder Travis Witherspoon
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) The Dodgers signed center fielder Travis Witherspoon to their organization, according to a report from Baseball America

Witherspoon has previously been in the Angels and Mariners organizations. In six years of minor-league ball, Witherspoon has posted a career batting average of .252 with 68 home runs. He hit a minor-league single-season best 15 home runs in 2014 with the Mariners' Single-A affiliate High Desert Mavericks. 


Phillies' Buchanan 'working on being a complete pitcher'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Phillies pitcher David Buchanan is "working on being a complete pitcher," manager Ryan Sandberg said, per the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The team's coaches spoke with Buchanan in the fall about command and pitch sequencing, executing bunts and thwarting would-be base-stealers, and Sandberg noted while examining the players that arrived early that the pitcher had taken the advice to heart.

"My biggest goal [this spring] is to show our front office and our coaches that I can throw the ball over the plate," Buchanan said. "That's one thing I had success with last year. I wasn't walking guys. I was throwing strikes, and that's what I'm known for. That's why I succeeded in the minor leagues; I was throwing strikes. So that's what I want to do this spring training, is continue to do that, pound the zone, force early contact and keep the ball on the ground."

Buchanan is scheduled to pitch the team's Grapefruit League opener Tuesday against the Yankees.


Giants' Bochy: Hunter Strickland 'needs to get a little smarter'
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland is ready to learn from his mistakes from the tail end of his 2014 season.

Starting strong once he was called up from Double-A Richmond, Strickland gave up six home runs in the postseason. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said the remedy to put Strickland back on track is simple. 

"He needs to get a little smarter," Bochy said, per MLB.com.  

Strickland will be competing for a spot in the bullpen during spring training. His fastball is a strength, though it's a matter of his command improving on the mound. 

"The failures are what make guys better, I feel like," Strickland said. "I feel like they made me better. Just being in tune with yourself and knowing who you are and what you've got to do. In this game, you're not going to make it too far if you don't have confidence. If you don't believe in yourself, who else is going to believe in you?"


Mets' Nieuwenhuis, den Dekker competing for roster spot
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Mets left-handed hitters Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Matt den Dekker will be battling for one roster spot this spring, MLB.com reports.

While Nieuwenhuis is out of options, manager Terry Collins indicated that den Dekker has responded to the team's request that he reduce his strikeouts when sent to Triple-A last season.

"We'll just see how it translates this spring into what kind of an offensive player he can be," Collins said of den Dekker. "We know he's got the defensive skills."

Collins said that whichever outfielder shows the most promise will make the initial 25-man roster.

"He plays the game right. He's fearless," Collins said of Nieuwenhuis. "But right now, we've got to get some offense from one of those two guys. Which one of those two guys is going to be able to come off the bench as a pinch-hitter? The best closers in our division are all right-handed, so the left-handed hitter off that bench is going to be a big piece."


Stephen Strasburg wants to stay with Nationals
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Though Stephen Strasburg's agent Scott Boras denied a report that he wanted to be traded in January, the right-handed pitcher said himself that he wants to remain with the Nationals and has no issues with the organization. 

"I haven't said anything like that," Strasburg said in an interview with MLB.com. "I don't feel like that. You have to accept it because that's how the system works. It's like they pick up on any little thing and they twist it. Some people want to turn it to see how many clicks they can get on the webpage."

Strasburg is set to be the ace of a deep rotation that looks to be on of the best in baseball this coming season. With the Nationals winning their second divisional title in the past three seasons, Strasburg said he's happy with the organization. 

"It's the team that drafted me. I love the players here, I love D.C. Winning cures everything, that's for sure," Strasburg said. "I'm excited to be part of the resurgence so far. It's great to see the type of players we bring in here every year. The expectations keep going up and up. Hopefully, we can do big things this year."


 
 
 
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