Spring training battles: lefty reliever

If Danny Duffy does not secure a rotation spot, that will leave the KC Royals without a left-handed starter. That may make it more imperative for the Royals to carry at least one left-handed reliever.

Danny Duffy

Royals lefty starter Danny Duffy during spring training 2015 (Jen Nevius).

If Duffy does not win a rotation spot (which I do not think he will), the left-handed reliever spot is his to lose. Duffy would be the favorite. He has electric stuff, but has yet to be a consistent starter, making him a prime candidate for the bullpen. In 2015, left-handed hitters hit .239 against him with six extra base hits (zero home runs).

If Tim Collins is healthy, this may be his spot to lose. I do think the Royals will be cautious with him and at least send him on a rehab assignment to start the season. Collins also has nasty stuff, but walks have been a problem throughout his career (121 in 211 big league innings). In 2014, left-handed hitters hit better against him (.273) than righties (.235).

When the Royals signed Brian Duensing to a minor league contract last week, I immediately felt he would win a bullpen spot out of spring training, even though he regressed a bit last year with Minnesota. He became a full-time reliever back in 2013, though he allows his share of walks and hits (63 walks and 166 hits in 164 innings the last three seasons with the Twins). In 2015, left-handed hitters hit better against Duensing (.288) than righties (.235), though he only allowed five extra base hits to lefties.

David Huff could be a swing man (spot starter or long reliever), as lefties and righties hit about the same against him. He pitched well with the NY Yankees in 2014 in 30 games, but the LA Dodgers didn’t give him much of a chance last season (three games) despite his good numbers in Triple-A OKC: 2.20 ERA in 23 games (four starts). He allowed 49 hits (four homers), walked just eight, and struck out 43 in 57.1 innings.

Now to the long shots…

Scott Alexander

Lefty Scott Alexander during spring training 2015 (Jen Nevius).

*Scott Alexander: He has been a full-time reliever since 2013 and pitched well with Triple-A Omaha last season, earning him a September callup. Opponents hit just .209 against him, with lefties hitting .140. In 63.1 innings with Omaha, he walked 17 and struck out 50. While Alexander’s numbers have been good the last two seasons, the Royals haven’t been in a hurry to use him in the big leagues.

*Brian Flynn: He was one of the final cuts in spring training last year and was expected to be one of the first callups if someone got hurt or pitched poorly. Instead, Flynn got hurt in the first and only game he pitched in 2015 (2/3 of an inning on April 9th). He will need to prove he is fully healthy. Flynn could easily become a favorite if he does that and has the same type of spring he had in 2015.

Check out the article on Flynn via the Kansas City Star.

*Sam Selman: I feel like I write the same things about Selman every year: if only he could control his arsenal. When he does, he doesn’t get hit hard (only three home runs allowed in 2015) and he racks up the strikeouts (69 in 56.1 innings in 2015). However, he walked 42 (205 walks in 339 career minor league innings). Lefties hit just .211 against hi in 2015.

*Matt Strahm: He burst onto the scene in 2015, fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. While he may not have great, overpowering stuff, he hides the ball well and it is hard to pick up. That has led to a ton of strikeouts (121 in 94 combined innings in 2015). Strahm began the year in Lexington adjusting to being a reliever, was promoted to Wilmington, and then moved to the Blue Rocks rotation after five relief appearances. Strahm held opponents to a .180 batting average (though he did allow five homers in Wilmington) with lefties hitting just .158 against him (zero home runs). If he returns to the bullpen in 2016, he could skyrocket to the big leagues by season’s end.



My picks: Duensing and Duffy

About Jen Nevius

I first became a KC Royals fan way back in 1995 when I attended my first Wilmington Blue Rocks game. I fell in love with minor league baseball then and began following the Royals as former Blue Rocks clawed their way to the big leagues. 3+ years ago I started covering the Royals for Aerys Sports, but since the site has been shut down, I am going out on my own.
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