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2014 Draft Prep: Pitching staff rankings

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The Top Two

St. Louis Cardinals
Cincinnati Reds

The Cardinals are, simply put, awesome. There's little not to like here, starting with an ace at the top of the rotation (Adam Wainwright) all the way down to No. 5, where the underrated Joe Kelly (2.69 ERA over 37 appearances last season) will compete with the electric-armed Carlos Martinez (2.69 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 9.3 K/9 over four minor league season) for the last spot. ... The Reds opened up a rotation spot for Tony Cingrani, who brings a low ERA and WHIP and plenty of strikeouts to a team now managed by Cincinnati's former pitching coach, Bryan Price. Both the Reds and Cardinals have stud closers, and the bullpens are solid -- although the Reds, with the underrated J.J. Hoover (2.86 ERA/1.11 WHIP, 9.1 K/9 last season) and Sam LeCure (2.66 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 9.7 K/9) in middle relief, could have a slight edge. The Reds don't get the top spot because of some injury concerns -- Johnny Cueto had three trips to the DL last season and Mat Latos is coming off elbow (bone chips) and knee surgeries.

Four Excellent Staffs

Detroit Tigers
Pittsburgh Pirates
Tampa Bay Rays
Atlanta Braves

The Tigers have arguably the scariest 1-2 punch (Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer) in baseball at the top of their rotation, but their season may rest on Rick Porcello (an extreme groundballer who got a huge infield defensive upgrade behind him this offseason) and Drew Smyly (who will transition into the rotation after a 2.37 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 9.6 K/9 in a relief role last season). If Porcello and Smyly click, this could be an elite rotation. But Verlander's 2013 velocity issues and offseason surgery hold them back just a little bit. ... The Pirates finished third in staff ERA last year, and will get a full season out of Gerrit Cole, Wandy Rodriguez, and the quietly effective Charlie Morton (3.26 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 20 starts last year). If pitching coach Ray Searage can do with Edinson Volquez what he did last year with Francisco Liriano, the Pirates could finish top five in ERA again. ... The Rays ended up keeping David Price this offseason, giving the rotation a huge 2014 boost. Alex Cobb is near-elite and could make the jump this season, while Matt Moore looks to bounce back and Chris Archer should build on his 3.22 ERA and 1.13 WHIP from last season. ... The Braves are the defending ERA champs, but the recent spate of spring injuries is cause for concern. This is a rotation that could feature Freddy Garcia and David Hale instead of Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy for stretches. Alex Wood -- who had a 3.13 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings last season -- is a tremendous sleeper in this rotation. He could be Medlen 2.0. Julio Teheran, Ervin Santana and Mike Minor should be able to carry this staff.

Four Very Good Staffs

Washington Nationals
New York Yankees
Oakland Athletics
Los Angeles Dodgers

The Nationals added Doug Fister to the rotation in a December trade with the Tigers. He has a career 1.21 WHIP, and he hasn't finished a season with an ERA above 3.70 since 2010. Stephen Strasburg could get to elite status this season, while Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann aren't too far behind. The team lacks a stud in the No. 5 spot, but Tanner Roark could surprise. ... The Yankees added Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka to the rotation, and Michael Pineda should have a solid season coming off shoulder surgery. But the fortunes of the staff may rest on CC Sabathia, whose ugly 2013 raised a good amount of red flags. ... With Bartolo Colon gone, the A's are losing about 200 innings of low ERA (2.65 last season) and WHIP (1.17), but they've proven several times that it's foolish to count them out. Scott Kazmir needs to keep his renaissance momentum going, while Dan Straily remains a high-upside wild card -- the 25-year-old was all over the place in 2013, with four months of 4.40-plus ERA and two of 3.07 or lower. His K/9 decrease also hurts his value, but Straily did look magnificent in September, with a 2.10 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. Injuries to A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker kill the buzz a little, but Drew Pomeranz could sneak into the rotation and end up being a major sleeper. ... There's not much to not like about Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-jin Ryu as the top three in the Dodgers rotation. But the final two pieces -- Dan Haren and Josh Beckett -- are the keys to this staff either being one of the best in the game or a borderline disaster. Haren has battled back issues in the past, but had a 3.29 ERA and 1.05 WHIP from July 2013 forward, striking out 84 batters in 87 2/3 innings. And while Beckett missed most of 2013 with surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome, he's the owner of a career 3.94 ERA and 1.24 WHIP, with most of that ERA damage coming as a member of the Red Sox rotation, in the AL East, pitching in a very hitter-friendly environment.

Three Staffs That May Surprise

Miami Marlins
New York Mets
Seattle Mariners

Laugh all you want at the Marlins and Mets, but they have some young, intriguing talent on the rosters. Nate Eovaldi doesn't get the sexy strikeout numbers, but his 94.1 mph average fastball last season was seventh-highest in the majors (among pitchers with 100-plus innings pitched). Jose Fernandez is a stud, while Jacob Turner produced a 3.74 ERA in 2013 and Henderson Alvarez sported a 3.59. Their average age? 22 1/2. And that's with electric prospect (and 22-year-old) Andrew Heaney on the way. ... The Mets added the ageless Bartolo Colon in an offseason signing, and he will anchor a staff that includes the underrated Dillon Gee (3.62 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 32 starts last season) and the good-when-he's-not-hurt Jonathon Niese. Zack Wheeler could be Shelby Miller 2.0 this season, and Daisuke Matsuzaka finished 2013 with a heaping dose of hope -- a 1.37 ERA in his final four games. If Matsuzaka can park his ERA in the 3.50 area, the Mets could have a better-than-average staff. ... The Mariners have an ace in Felix Hernandez, a stud in Hisashi Iwakuma (who should be back to form by May), and a future stud in Taijuan Walker (who needs to quickly get past his spring shoulder issues). The forgotten man here is James Paxton, another young hurler who had a 1.50 ERA and 0.92 WHIP over four starts last season. Paxton was a bit erratic over a four-year minor league career, but he was a top prospect in 2012 and 2013 and can carry a low ERA with decent strikeout rates. The larger confines of Safeco should be a welcome change from the hitter-friendly PCL, where Paxton produced a 4.45 ERA over 28 appearances last year.

Five Solid Options

Boston Red Sox
Los Angeles Angels
Arizona Diamondbacks
Texas Ranger
San Francisco Giants
Milwaukee Brewers

John Lackey repeating his 2013 season seems somewhat unlikely, while Felix Doubront has a good amount of risk paired with his upside. ... The Angels have some really intriguing parts in the rotation. Jered Weaver is great, C.J. Wilson turned around his 2013 (after having bone chips removed in the offseason), Hector Santiago has a 3.30 ERA and nearly a strikeout per inning as a starter (over 150 innings) and is moving to a friendlier home park, and while Tyler Skaggs' 5.43 ERA in a handful of major league innings leaves much to be desired, he was twice pegged as a top 15 prospect by Baseball America, carrying a 3.34 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and 9.8 K/9 over 498 2/3 minor league innings. ... The Diamondbacks have successfully cornered the market on relatively low-strikeout, boring starters who probably won't wow you with ratios, but should be able to compile one of the better rotation ERAs in the majors. The key here is a bounceback from Brandon McCarthy, who struggled early in the season, but had a 3.27 ERA over his final five starts. ... The Rangers have one of the best pitchers in the majors in Yu Darvish, and an underrated asset in Alexi Ogando (3.12 career ERA and 1.14 WHIP), but the most interesting project would be Robbie Ross. The lefty has been great out of the bullpen the last two years, but excelled as a starter in the minors (2.88 ERA and 1.17 WHIP over 381 2/3 innings). Ross is a longshot to make the rotation, but if he snags that No. 5 spot, he could be a great AL-only sleeper candidate. ... The Giants' fortunes may rely on Tim Lincecum, who has been one of the biggest Fantasy mysteries over the last two seasons. The 29-year-old went from two Cy Young Awards to a 4.76 ERA and 1.39 WHIP over the past two seasons. The good news is that his strikeout rate was still a robust 9.0 K/9 in that two-year stretch. The bad news is that it's decreased every year since 2008. ... The Brewers added a jolt to the staff with the signing of Matt Garza this offseason, but both he and Yovani Gallardo are similarly risky, with injuries (Garza) and a decrease in velocity (Gallardo) hindering their prospects for full, solid campaigns.

Three Rotations That May Not Be As Bad As You Think

Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres
Kansas City Royals

You're not going to find Fantasy gold on the Rockies, but this isn't the same terrible pitching staff of old. Jorge De La Rosa (16 wins, 3.49 ERA), Jhoulys Chacin (14 wins, 3.47 ERA), and Tyler Chatwood (eight wins in 20 starts, 3.15 ERA) all posted sub-3.50 ERAs last season. Throw in the potential of Brett Anderson and the (likely) mid-season arrivals of prospects Eddie Butler and Jon Gray, and this staff actually has a shot at five starters in August all sporting ERAs below 3.50... The Padres have one of baseball's hardest throwers in Andrew Cashner; he's going to be joined at the top of the rotation with two reclamation projects -- Ian Kennedy and Josh Johnson. Kennedy has been pretty erratic throughout his career, but was very good in 2011 (21 wins, 2.88 ERA, 1.09 WHIP). Johnson has Cy Young-caliber stuff, but needs to stay healthy. If they can click, this could be a scary rotation in a spacious home park. ... The Royals have James Shields up top and Yordano Ventura at the back end. Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie aren't going to strike out a lot of batters, but they will flirt with 200 innings and produce a sub-4.00 ERA.

Four That Need Things To Break The Right Way

Baltimore Orioles
Toronto Blue Jays
Philadelphia Phillies
Chicago White Sox

Here's what each team needs to happen for them to outperform expectations:

Baltimore: Kevin Gausman and Chris Tillman have to fulfill their potential, and Ubaldo Jimenez needs to replicate 2013 (3.30 ERA, 9.6 K/9) and not fall back into 2011-12 form (5.03 ERA, 8.0 K/9 over 365 innings).

Toronto: Brandon Morrow needs to stay healthy, R.A. Dickey needs to prove that 2013 was an injury-riddled fluke, and Drew Hutchison has to capitalize on potential. Bonus points if Ricky Romero (1.29 ERA and 1.14 WHIP over seven spring innings) and his seemingly-cured knees can get back to his pre-2012 form.
Philadelphia: Cole Hamels needs to avoid complications from the shoulder issues, A.J. Burnett hopefully remembers all the good advice Ray Searage gave him, and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez needs to deliver on the hype.
Chicago White Sox: Erik Johnson needs to produce Hector Santiago's numbers over a full season -- although there's a decent chance he can improve on them (2.21 ERA and 1.08 WHIP over three seasons in the minors). Chris Sale is elite and Jose Quintana is underrated. They need Felipe Paulino to hit the ground running and claim that fifth spot in the rotation, picking up momentum from his start to 2012 (1.67 ERA, 39 strikeouts in 37 2/3 innings).

The Bottom Four

Minnesota Twins
Cleveland Indians
Houston Astros
Chicago Cubs

The Twins may crawl out of this group if Alex Meyer and Kyle Gibson show up halfway through the year (or earlier). And they do have a staff with a lot of talent (Phil Hughes, Ricky Nolasco, and Vance Worley have all posted solid seasons, while Mike Pelfrey was a top prospect and Kevin Correia has been good for stretches in the past). ... The Indians have tons of potential in Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber, but there's also a large amount of injury and regression risk. This is a rotation that could finish in the bottom 10 or top 10, but probably nowhere in between. ... The Astros have an interesting staff. Scott Feldman had a career year in 2013, and Jerome Williams has the potential for a decent ERA and WHIP. If Brad Peacock can get into the rotation and deliver on his promise, things could be looking up. For now, though, the Astros don't look to have a ton of Fantasy upside heading into the season. ... The Cubs do have potential -- Jeff Samardzija had a 2.85 ERA and seven games with seven or more strikeouts at the start of June last season, before slumping the rest of the way out. But the rest of the pitchers -- while they won't be disasters -- don't have the kind of upside needed to carry the Cubs out of the bottom spot heading into 2014.

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Player News
Brewers have discussed Francisco Rodriguez
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:15 pm ET) The Brewers have discussed reliever Francisco Rodriguez, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

The news shouldn't come as a major surprise. Rodriguez has been linked to the club since the team traded Yovani Gallardo, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. Brewers owner Mark Attanasio basically confirmed the news, saying agent Scott Boras contacted the team following the Gallardo trade in order to try and convince them to sign some of his players. Attanasio didn't rule out the move, and said general manager Doug Melvin is considering everything. "Frankie [Rodriguez] had an 89 percent save percentage and the guy has never been on the disabled list," he said. "We know he likes Milwaukee."

Rodriguez posted a 3.04 ERA over 68 innings last year. 


Twins' Mike Pelfrey feels 'normal' heading into camp
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:59 pm ET) Twins pitcher Mike Pelfrey feels "normal" heading into camp, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The 31-year-old Pelfrey was knocked around in five starts before undergoing elbow surgery last season. He's been able to rehab during the offseason, and should be 100 percent heading into spring training. Pelfrey said he started throwing Dec. 1, and admitted he feels "normal" now. 

Pelfrey posted a 7.99 ERA over five starts last season.


Mariners sign Endy Chavez to minor-league deal
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:06 pm ET) The Mariners have signed outfielder Endy Chavez to a minor-league deal, according to the Tacoma News Tribune

The 36-year-old has been linked to the club recently, and finally decided to return. He spent the first month of last season in the minors, but joined Seattle in late May. Chavez hit .276/.317/.371  over 232 at-bats. The deal includes an invite to spring training. 


Brewers' Scooter Gennett prepping for full-time role
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(5:52 pm ET) Brewers infielder Scooter Gennett is prepping for a full-time role in 2015, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Gennett had a bit of a breakout season in 2014, but platooned with Rickie Weeks. With Weeks now a free-agent, Gennett is looking at a full-time role. "When it comes to playing every day and facing lefties, I’m looking forward to that," he said. "It has been a while. I can finally get back to my game."

Gennett admitted that he doesn't think it will be that hard to adjust to seeing left-handers while at the plate. "For me, it doesn’t matter what side it is coming from if I’m getting consistent at-bats," he said. 

The 24-year-old Gennett hit .289/.320/.434 over 440 at-bats last year.


Twins' Alex Meyer willing to pitch out of the bullpen
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(5:44 pm ET) Twins reliever Alex Meyer is willing to pitch out of the bullpen, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press

The 25-year-old Meyer is considered one of the team's better prospects, and started 27 games last season at Triple-A. Meyer posted a 3.52 ERA over 130 1/3 innings. While Meyer could compete for a rotation spot during spring training, he said he would be open to pitching out of the bullpen if that will put him in the majors faster. "Whatever it takes to help the Minnesota Twins," Meyer said. "If it’s me being a left-on-left guy, I really don’t care."

As long as he stays healthy, Meyer is expected to make his major-league debut at some point in 2015.


Brewers GM not looking to add another starting pitcher
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5:09 pm ET) Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said Sunday the team is not looking to add another starting pitcher to replace Yovani Gallardo.

"I don't think we have room for a notable starting pitcher," Melvin said. "We'd like to add a pitcher that could be a spot starter."

Milwaukee currently has Jimmy Nelson as their fifth starter, who went 2-9 in 2014 with a 4.93 ERA and 57 strikeouts for the club.


David Murphy's role unclear for Indians heading into season
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4:53 pm ET) Indians outfielder David Murphy is heading into his second season with the club and is trying to figure out what his role will be with the team.

Murphy said Sunday he got the chance to speak with general manager Chris Antonetti when the team traded for Brandon Moss in December.

"Communication is huge just in general in this game," Murphy said. "It's nice to go into the season knowing how he feels, and I'm sure he's speaking for the front office and the coaching staff. Just having an idea of how they feel about it, and giving me a chance to voice my opinion in how I feel about it, the lines of communication are open. I definitely think that's a good thing. It's kind of hard to know at this point how things are going to fall into place."

Murphy, who hit .262 with eight home runs and 58 RBI in 2014, knows being traded is one option to find playing time.

"I think everybody can logically see that there's only so many spots out there for so many players," Murphy said. "I'm prepared to lose playing time, but not to the point where I'm going to get 150 at-bats. If that's the case, and that's the best-case scenario for them and for me, I'm open to [a trade]. But I feel like this team has a great chance to win, and for that reason, I would love to be here."

Indians manager Terry Francona said recently Murphy will be the right fielder in Cleveland to open the year.

"Well, it's hard to say right now, because we don't know how healthy Swish or Moss are," Francona said. "So right now, Murph's our right fielder. I don't know if that's going to change in the next month or not."


Brewers' Tyler Thornburg thankful to avoid serious injury
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(4:23 pm ET) Brewers pitcher Tyler Thornburg was lucky to avoid Tommy Joh surgery in 2014. After being place on the disabled list in June, Thornburg was diagnosed with a wrist flexor strain. However, after a few more starts, doctors determined Thornburg injured his UCL. Thankfully for Thornburg, rest and time off was enough to allow the injury to heal.

"I feel great," Thornburg said. "Honestly, the best thing ever was the timing of everything. Right now and I’m very optimistic and if it works out I definitely feel very blessed for not having to go the other route. We had time; that was the biggest thing. We gave it as much time as possible to heal.

"The way we have it scheduled now, I would be ahead of everyone, " he said. "So it’s just in case of a setback, then I would be perfectly on schedule. But what we have planned right now, if I’m not having any setbacks then we can just kind of scale it back a little bit.

Thornburg finished 2014 with a 3-1 record with a 4.25 ERA in 29 2/3 innings.


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(2:52 pm ET) White Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie says his offseason weight training program has enabled him to add 15-20 pounds of muscle, "which should translate into driving the ball harder," reports ESPN.com.

“Honestly I’m hoping that by taking the same swing that I did last year, because I’m stronger, I’m hoping that translates into more power,” Gillaspie said, per the website. “It may or may not. We have enough guys that do hit for power on this team now. There are quite a few of them, so truthfully, I think I might be just as valuable getting on base, drawing walks, moving runners.” 

Gillaspie hit .282 with seven homers and 57 RBI in 130 games last year.


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(2:36 pm ET) Brewers reliever Tyler Thornburg, who missed the second half of last season with an elbow injury, is throwing bullpen sessions as he tries to prepare for spring training, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Thornburg went 3-1 with a 4.25 ERA in 27 appearances before getting shut down in June.

 
 
 
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