Saturday, October 8, 2016

2016 Player Reviews: Joel De La Cruz, Tyler Flowers, Mike Foltynewicz

Hope all of you are surviving the effects of Matthew as it climbs the coast. In central Virginia, it's been rain and a lot of it. Nothing like rainy weather to push you to write some more so let's dive back into the next set of players in the Player Review series. One of the players has already moved on as Jed Bradley, who I wrote about a few days ago, is headed to Baltimore via waivers.

Before I forget, I have updated my options page, which you can view here. Also, feel free to check out the last article in this series or click here for all of the articles in one central place.

*All ages are as of opening day, 2017.

Joel De La Cruz, RHP, 27 years-old

2016 Review: A minor league free agent out of the Yankees' organization, De La Cruz was a veteran of eight minor league season (plus two lost years) before coming to the Braves. His numbers with Gwinnett were pedestrian (4.28 FIP, 1.8 K/BB) and that included two major league promotions. Both times, De La Cruz didn't get into a game. However, with the starting rotation reeling (and Bud Norris soon to be traded), the Braves brought De La Cruz up to stay in late June. Over 22 games, including nine starts, De La Cruz was a bit worse than his Gwinnett numbers (5.19 FIP, 1.7 K/BB) and gave up his fair share of homeruns.

2017 Projection: De La Cruz is one of those guys who might get less of a look now that Roger McDowell has moved on. A three-pitch pitcher, De La Cruz relied heavily on his sinker and though his GB% rate in the majors wasn't very high, it was his M.O. in the minors (1.9 GB/FB rate). The next pitching coach might not stressed sinkers as much as McDowell did, which could make De La Cruz a bit less attractive as a guy to bring back in 2017. Beyond that, he turns 28 next June and this system is deep in options that are more intriguing than De La Cruz. So, with all of that in mind, it wasn't surprising to see De La Cruz outrighted to Gwinnett on Friday. He could be brought back out of familiarity, but again, the Braves might not be that interested anymore.

By Editosaurus (Own work) [CC0], via
Wikimedia Commons
Tyler Flowers, C, 31 years-old

2016 Review: This season was so weird for Flowers, who came back to the organization that originally drafted him in '06 last offseason. His .338 wOBA was a career best by 20 points. His triple slash of .270/.357/.420 made him a leader on this offense, especially before the arrivals of Matt Kemp and Dansby Swanson. According to Statcorner, Flowers finished fourth in the majors in pitch framing and would have ranked higher had he not missed time on the DL and shared too much time with A.J. Pierzynski. But...there was that weird caught stealing metric. Flowers was never gifted at nailing potential basestealers. His career-best rate was 33% and he's been around the league average during his career. Until this year. When he caught just three of 63 potential thieves. The other two catchers, Pierzynski and Anthony Recker, weren't great at catching baserunners either, but both looked much better in comparison to Flowers. By all accounts, Flowers wasn't dealing with shoulder issues that should have led to this problem so either it was mental or mechanical.

2017 Projection: Provided the former ChiSox can get his throwing issues behind the plate resolved and produces at the plate again, he'll be a good option for the Braves in 2017 in at least a platoon role. He actually doesn't have a dominant platoon advantage one way or the other, but if the Braves found a left-handed hitting catcher, Flowers could spell the new addition against southpaws. As a starter, he's a stopgap and if he hits like he did in 2016, he's a fairly effective stopgap at just $3M for next season. The Braves will shop for a better option behind the plate, but if it doesn't materialize, Flowers is a decent enough fallback.

Mike Foltynewicz, RHP, 25 years-old

2016 Review: This season certainly didn't begin the way Foltynewicz would have liked. After a pair of ailments set him back, including a blood clot that prematurely ended his 2015, Folty opened the year with four starts in Gwinnett where he was mostly great, but wild. He was brought back to the bigs in May for six starts before landing back on the disabled list. Of those first six starts, four included outings where he allowed two or fewer runs. His return to Atlanta at the end of June saw him struggle with consistency. He'd dominate the White Sox over seven scoreless with 10 K's before giving up seven runs to the Twins three starts later. The Twins!? But that's kind of expected with young pitchers trying to figure it out. In that aspect, we saw noticeable improvement from Folty. In comparison to 2015, he increased his groundball rate 8% while utilizing his hard slider more. Furthermore, his FIP came down nearly 80 points while his swinging strike percentage also climbed slightly.

2017 Projection: If anyone has joined Julio Teheran on the white board as a member of the 2017 rotation, it's Folty. While some might still be convinced Folty is a better fit in the bullpen, as long as he continues to make strides - like he did this year - I am comfortable with him getting time as a starter. With the dismissal of McDowell, perhaps a new pitching coach can help Folty reach new heights. I really think that if he can develop his changeup to go with his fastball/slider combo that got him to the majors, it will be a stepping stone to a long run in the majors as an effective starter. Love that we saw him induce many more grounders this season. and a 14.5 K/BB% is about 2.5% better than league average. There's a lot to build from heading into 2017. Foltynewicz is in a great place to claim and hold a spot in the starting rotation moving forward.

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