Sure, it’s still technically the offseason, but as of last week, spring training is underway. Traditionally, that means one thing: It’s time to hope. It’s time for fans of the best teams to hope for a championship. And it’s time for fans of the worst teams to hope for a surprise — a Cinderella run toward relevance. The regular season can slam shut doors of possibility, but right now, all doors remain open.
Hope is different everywhere, and it’s partly informed and moderated by preseason projections. Teams and fans aren’t going into spring training blind. Once rosters get more or less set, different analytical services use prior data to project what’s likely to happen. Here are the current projected 2018 standings at FanGraphs. There will be shifts between now and Opening Day, but they probably won’t be dramatic. Right there, you can get an informed idea of which teams look solid and which teams look weak.
From the fan perspective, maybe mathematical projections rob us of the fun of the unknowable. It’s clear the White Sox are rebuilding, but the projections also make it clear how far they still have to go. Without the math, it might be easier to dream. But allow me to let you in on a little secret: Projections aren’t destiny. Projections don’t work against hope. They just make clearer what’s being hoped for.
I’m going to talk about three teams I think could be major surprises — in a good way, relative to the projections. Before I get there, I’d like to provide some prior examples. I have a sheet of preseason team projections stretching all the way back to 2005. Over 13 years, several teams, of course, have been projected to be below average or worse. Many of those teams were below average. But some were very successful. Among my favorites:
• The 2005 White Sox were projected to win 79 games. They won 99 games — and the World Series.
• The 2015 Royals were projected to win 79 games. They won 95 games and the World Series.
• The 2012 Orioles were projected to win 70 games. They won 93 games and lost in the American League Division Series.
• And the 2017 Diamondbacks were projected to win 77 games. They won 93 games and lost in the National League Division Series.
Those aren’t the only overachievers. They’re just, shall we say, inspiring ones. Who might overachieve this year among the current below-average ballclubs?
New York Mets put infielder Luis Guillorme on IL with hamstring injury
NEW YORK — The Mets placed infielder Luis Guillorme on the 10-day injured list with a left hamstring strain on Sunday, a day after he scored the tying run as a pinch-runner in a comeback victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
The 26-year-old Guillorme is batting .293 in 56 games this season. He missed six weeks earlier this year with a right oblique strain, returning on June 11.
The Mets recalled right-hander Geoff Hartlieb from Triple-A Syracuse. He has made one appearance for New York this season after being selected off waivers from the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 9.
New York Mets don’t plan to sign top pick Kumar Rocker because of concerns with physical exam, sources say
Barring a drastic change between now and the 5 p.m. ET signing deadline, the New York Mets do not plan to sign right-hander Kumar Rocker, the 10th overall pick in the amateur draft, sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.
Rocker, 21, whose dominance at Vanderbilt made him the most well-known college player in perhaps a decade, had an agreement in place to sign for $6 million after he slipped down draft boards earlier this month. But the deal fell apart following his physical examination, and multiple sources said they do not expect a revised one to come together before the deadline.
The possibility of the Mets and Rocker coming to an eleventh-hour agreement always exists, and past deals that looked dead were eventually consummated. But the momentum in recent days, and the expectation of multiple sources, is that the Mets are unlikely to change their stance.
If Rocker does not sign, the Mets would receive the 11th pick in the 2022 draft as compensation. It is unclear whether Rocker will return to Vanderbilt or pursue an alternate path, such as pitching in an independent league before re-entering the 2022 draft or signing with an international league.
Either way, the mutual excitement of July 11, the night of the draft, evaporated over the past three weeks. Rocker’s camp, led by agent Scott Boras, insists he is healthy, pointing to the 122 innings he threw over 20 starts in which he struck out 179 batters with a 2.73 ERA this year. Further, sources familiar with Rocker’s situation said, outside orthopedists disagreed with the Mets’ assessment of Rocker’s health, as can happen with multiple examinations. The Mets, sources said, expressed concerns over the health of Rocker’s arm following the physical last week.
Typically, a team has to offer a player 40% of his slotted bonus — the 10th-pick slot is $4.74 million — to reap a compensation pick for an unsigned player. Because Rocker was selected for the league’s pre-draft MRI program and did not participate, however, the rules allow the Mets to forgo an offer and still receive the pick. Players expected to be drafted high often skip the program, which makes a player’s medical information available to all 30 teams.
By not signing Rocker, the Mets would find themselves with $878,500 unspent from their $9.02 million pool. Most teams exceed the pool by up to the 5% allowed without being penalized, which would push the Mets’ unspent money to more than $1.3 million. They had signed other players under slot with the rest reserved for Rocker’s expected $6 million bonus.
Tampa Bay Rays prospect Shane Baz to start vs. Japan at Tokyo Games
YOKOHAMA, Japan — Tampa Bay Rays prospect Shane Baz will make his Olympics debut Monday night, starting for the United States against Japan.
A 22-year-old right-hander, Baz is 3-4 with a 2.26 ERA in 12 minor league starts this season, striking out 82 and walking 10 in 55⅔ innings.
After starting 2-4 with a 2.48 ERA in seven starts at Double-A Montgomery, he was promoted to Triple-A Durham in mid-June and went 1-0 with a 1.96 ERA in five starts, striking out 33 in 23 innings. He was the Rays minor league pitcher of the month in June.
Baz pitched the second inning of the Futures Game at Denver’s Coors Field on July 11, throwing a called third strike past the Atlanta Braves‘ Michael Harris, fanning the Chicago Cubs‘ Brennan Davis and retiring the Colorado Rockies‘ Ryan Vilade on a groundout.
The United States and Japan enter the game with 2-0 records.
Joe Ryan, traded from Tampa Bay to the Minnesota Twins for Nelson Cruz, beat Israel in the U.S. opener Friday, and former Texas Rangers pitcher Nick Martinez got the victory over South Korea on Saturday.
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