The perplexing Danny Salazar had a decent 2016 before succumbing to mysterious “forearm tightness” that all but ended his season in September. However, when Salazar was healthy in 2016 he was solid. He posted a 3.87 ERA and 161 strikeouts in 25 games. Salazar has looked even better recently with 28 strikeouts, third among all pitchers in spring training. Salazar can be electric, but he has to guarantee he’s past all of the mysterious injuries. If he is, Salazar’s Cactus League success should translate to a better 2017.
Last season did not go well for Sonny Gray. The Oakland pitcher went 5-11 with a 5.69 ERA and surrendered a career-high 18 home runs in 22 starts. Gray has had success in the big leagues before, but if this spring is any indication, he could be in for one long summer. In a total of four innings pitched over two games, Gray has given up seven runs, walked four batters, and compiled a ghastly 15.75 ERA. As if that weren’t enough, Gray is slated to start the season on the disabled list due to a strained lat.
After watching Drew Pomeranz go up in flames in his two starts, the last thing Red Sox fans probably want to see is Yankees’ starter Masahiro Tanaka on an absolute tear. The Yankees starter has yet to allow a single run in 18.2 innings and has fanned 22 batters in five spring starts. Tanaka has been steady during his time in New York, and the early signs point to another very good season.
As encouraging as his teammate Danny Salazar has been, Carlos Carrasco has been equally disappointing. Carrasco, thought to be the No. 2 in Cleveland’s rotation behind Corey Kluber, has allowed a staggering 14 earned runs and matches Sonny Gray with that hideous 15.75 ERA. The struggles, combined with elbow soreness, are scary considering Carrasco just missed an entire playoff run due to a broken hand. Reports indicate that Carrasco felt better after a minor-league start on March 20, and if he continues to progress could very well bounce back. It just might not happen before Opening Day.
Stud – Taijuan Walker, SP-51
Arizona's Taijuan Walker has been very impressive to start the spring; he didn’t allow a run in any of his first three outings. If there is any cause for concern it might be that his two longest outings were his worst (3/15 against Chicago and 3/20 against Oakland, when he faced 19 and 21 batters, respectively). Walker had his fair share of growing pains as Seattle's top prospect before he was traded to Arizona, owning a home run rate among the highest in the league. The most recent starts may just be growing pains as Walker gets his legs under him, but he’s shown serious reason for promise.
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Dud – Jeff Samardzija, SP-46
It’s been a tough start to 2017 for Jeff Samardzija. In the four games he’s started, Samardzija has allowed 22 hits, 14 earned runs, and graced the Giants with an 11.12 ERA. This is probably not the start he was hoping for considering the last time we saw him he owned an 18.00 ERA in two playoff appearances. Ouch. Samardzija has historically been a bit of a wild card (only two out of nine seasons with a +.500 winning percentage), so his struggles are worth monitoring.
After missing the entire 2015 season due to Tommy John surgery, Darvish bounced back in 2016 and was solid in 17 starts (7-5, 3.41 ERA). Darvish has picked up right where he left off, striking out 17 batters and posting a 2.84 ERA in four spring training starts. Because athletes are often better two years after major injuries, this could be the year Darvish gets closer to his pre-surgery form.
Acquired from the Padres prior to last summer's trade deadline, Red Sox lefty Pomeranz has struggled in two starts, allowing five earned runs in just four innings. He has just one strikeout and three walks, so fantasy players might want to think twice before drafting Pomeranz.
Do we even need to talk about how good Clayton Kershaw is anymore? The man has had an ERA under two in three of the past four seasons, led the NL in strikeouts three times and won three Cy Young Awards. The one lingering concern for Kershaw might be his health, as he did spend a large portion of the 2016 DL due to a herniated disc. Still just 29 years old, Kershaw came out firing this spring, and - with the exception of one game against Seattle - has looked sharp. If his back holds up, Kershaw will continue his reign as fantasy baseball’s No. 1 ace.
As with Darvish, Adam Wainwright is in his second year removed from a serious injury -- the difference between the two is that Wainwright is pushing 35 years old. After tearing his Achilles in 2015, he was clearly not the same guy in 2016 (4.62 ERA) and his spring has been more of the same. In four Grapefruit League starts, Wainwright has surrendered 17 hits and 14 runs, and walked six batters. This is deeply troubling for a player with his age and injury history.
The second Gray on this list has had a much better start to his 2017. The 25-year-old is in the running to be Colorado’s Opening Day starter, and has looked the part this spring with a 1.42 ERA, 16 strikeouts and a 2-0 record. These signs of progression are consistent with his career numbers in that Gray has improved every year he has been in the majors. Colorado has had an influx of offensive talent in recent years with the likes of Charlie Blackmon, Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez. An ace pitcher would be a breath of fresh air for the Rockies.