Spring Flings: Opportunity and Injuries in Texas

Be it the curse of Ian Kinsler or a dark cloud following Prince Fielder but the Texas Rangers are having a trying spring to say the least. On the heels of announcing that Joakim Soria would be the closer with Neftali Feliz battling for a spot in the bullpen, news broke today of Jurickson Profar’s injured shoulder. While Profar attempting to play through shoulder tendinitis was not breaking news, the latest injury to his teres major which runs from the armpit to the humerus will sideline him for 10-12 weeks. Couple that with the injuries listed below and it is all hands on deck for the Rangers:

How does Profar's injury impact the Rangers and fantasy owners?

How does Profar’s injury impact the Rangers and fantasy owners?

Matt Harrison, LHP: Back and neck tightness, day-to-day.

Derek Holland, LHP: Recovering from left knee surgery, 60-day DL.

Joe Ortiz, LHP: Recovering from fractured foot, 60-day DL.

Mitch Moreland, 1B/DH: Tight left oblique, could possibly miss a few games during opening week.

Elvis Andrus, SS: Right elbow soreness, day-to-day.

Joakim Soria as Closer

As to the fantasy shakedowns of these events, here is a look at Joakim Soria first. Soria was a favorite of the old Fantasy Baseball podcasts that tried to nickname him the “Mexicutioner” but that did not stick. Even though he featured a fastball with a 91-92 mph velocity, Soria was able to save 160 games for the Royals during the 2007-2011 seasons. Unlike many closers, Soria features four pitches mixing a fastball with a cutter, a slider, a curveball and a change. Here is a comparison of his velocities through his career which suggests he does not rely on speed as much as his competitor Neftali Feliz does:

Player Card Joakim Soria Velocity

It was speculated back in 2011 that Soria was trading speed for a slower cutter to induce more ground balls to cut down his fly ball rate and home runs allowed. In hindsight it may be that Soria was hurt before he let on and pitched through his injury until he no longer was capable. This speaks to his competitiveness and maybe why Ron Washington is willing to start 2014 with Soria as his closer. The team seems to not have confidence in Feliz and there are articles surfacing in which the Rangers question if they mishandled Feliz while switching him back and forth in his roles with the team.

Although Soria’s velocities are down in the spring, it appears his control is coming back. With spring stats taken with a grain of salt, he has eight strikeouts against zero walks with five hits allowed and one earned run through his first eight appearances. Here are his last three seasons as the closer in Kansas City along with his career totals:

Soria

W

S

H

IP

K

BB

ERA

WHIP

2009

3

30

44

53

69

16

2.21

1.13

2010

1

43

53

65.2

71

16

1.78

1.05

2011

5

28

60

60.1

60

17

4.03

1.28

Career

14

160

260

339

369

101

2.50

1.06

Because fantasy sports trends towards “recency” bias, most players remember Soria’s struggles in 2011 and his return from injury last season. But is Soria really that much of a downgrade from Feliz if his fastball does not return? The frustrating part of this saga in Texas is not just whether Soria can hold the role, but how tenuous is his hold on the job. Using the past couple of years as a guide there will be at least ten closers that will lose their position during the season. This is truly a wait and see situation but what I find encouraging is that 2011 was the outlier. Soria’s spring hints at his control returning to the 2009-2010 levels and knowing he does not need to be a flamethrower to be successful makes it likely he can succeed in Texas. Especially with his ability to induce ground balls which spiked in 2013 with a 1.71 groundball to fly ball ratio and a career high 51.8 ground ball percentage. If Soria makes it into May with the closer job he may just keep it all season. Many are banking on Feliz still garnering the most saves in this bullpen but right now Ogando is slated to pitch the eighth inning with Feliz on the outside looking in. It is prudent to handcuff Soria with Feliz but the longer he goes with the job the easier it will be to cut ties with Feliz. Call me crazy but Soria may surprise and hold on to the role for longer than many think possible. The keys will be his cutter keeping the ball on the ground and if he can get the feel back on his curveball, then his K/9 may return to his pre-operation levels of 9.8 for his career. Soria may be the cheapest 30 saves out there this year.

Profar Injury

Like Feliz, Jurickson Profar has caught the fancy of many fantasy baseball players. I have been in drafts where he was going ahead of Chase Utley and Aaron Hill because fantasy owners crave the next big thing. While Profar is oozing with talent, he has not done what either of the second baseman listed above have done in their careers. The news of him being out for the next 10-12 weeks puts a dent into his 2014 outlook in redraft leagues but may create a buying opportunity for keeper league players. As for the Rangers, what are their options to replace Profar in the lineup? Presently in camp playing for utility infield roles are Brent Lillibridge, Josh Wilson and Adam Rosales. None of those guys are going to push the needle of excitement for fantasy purposes like Rougned Odor, but like Profar over Utley, fantasy prefers sexy to stabile. Odor has hit .294 in camp but most of the pitchers he has faced are closer to AAA than the majors. Baseball-Reference.com has a great tool for this and his competition level faced is 8.8 with 10 being a major league regular and 8 being AAA. Odor only has 134 at bats in AA and would be hard pressed to open the season in Texas as the starter for a playoff contending team.

However the rest of the competition in camp is hardly exciting. Lillibridge plays hard but is best served as a role player and someone who provides a day off for a regular by playing with maximum effort. Josh Wilson and Adam Rosales are light hitting middle infielders and hardly offer the offensive upside that Profar possesses. It stands to reason that the Rangers will go outside the organization to fill the time that Profar will miss. According to Evan Grant, one such player is in Yankee camp by the name of Yangervis Solarte. If the Yankees cannot keep him on the major league roster he may be available to return to the Rangers. In his first 20 games fighting for a roster spot on the Yankees, Solarte is batting .457 with 2 home runs and a whopping 1.141 OPS. Only downside to that is his oppositional rating is only 8.1 which is lower than what Odor has faced.

Other names will surface like Rickie Weeks and Darwin Barney. While Barney is intriguing for the fantasy players who are dreaming of Javier Baez in a Cubs uniform, the super two date is much more likely to pass before Barney is moved. With the depth of the Rangers farm system and spring roster, they could swing a deal with the Brewers for Weeks in return for a Robinson Chirinos type who would fit well in the NL with his ability to catch and play first base. It remains to be seen what direction the Rangers will head but it will be interesting. A move to Texas may be exactly the type of move to rekindle Weeks and would be an uptick to his fantasy outlook for the season. If that happened, Weeks would be an AL only bargain.

There are going to be options to replace Profar on the waiver wires but the deeper the league the sparser those options will be. I looked at the possibilities in leagues I am in and here are some names that were available:

  • 10 Team League Replacements: Kelly Johnson, Anthony Rendon
  • 12 Team League Replacements: Dustin Ackley, Rickie Weeks
  • 15 Team League Replacements: Ryan Flaherty, Jonathan Schoop

I was surprised by the options in the leagues. Kelly Johnson had the chance to out produce Profar this year without the injury even with the batting average risk. Anthony Rendon sees his value depressed by the spring competition but his competition Danny Espinosa could be a cheaper target to replace Profar in real life as well. As the rosters get deeper the options thin out but Dustin Ackley has been hitting the ball well and could be a post hype sleeper with second base eligibility while playing in the outfield. Ryan Flaherty playing in a platoon could provide cheap power filling in for Profar as could Schoop but it remains to be seen if he will break camp with the Orioles. So peruse the wire and do not panic about losing Profar, hopefully this is only a blip on his season but getting a replacement sooner rather than later will save chasing a player via trade and shaking up a roster before the season starts.

Greg Jewett is a staff writer for Roto Analysis and you can follow us on Twitter @RotoAnalysis and @gjewett9

Jurickson Profar picture credit: http://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/brownsvilleherald.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/7/f3/7f3f9e9e-c6b3-11e2-87e3-001a4bcf6878/51a32d75152cc.image.jpg

Statistical Credits:

Fangraphs.com

Baseball-Reference.com

Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News

BrooksBaseball.net

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