By now, you've probably heard that Cody Bellinger has re-upped with the Cubs, agreeing to a three-deal with multiple opt-outs. You can read Chris Towers' full analysis of the signing here.

As Chris points out, Bellinger's failure to secure a big payday shows that those within front offices share the skepticism of those within the Fantasy Baseball space. For as well as Bellinger performed during a resurgent 2023, the data doesn't back it up. Specifically, his 87.9 mph average exit velocity was a career worst and ranked in the bottom quarter of the league.

But a note in Jeff Passan's report for ESPN caught my eye:

"Bellinger often cut down on his swing with two strikes, making softer contact but avoiding strikeouts. His whiff rate plummeted to a career-low 15.6% as he hit .279 with two strikes, second in all of baseball behind Luis Arraez."

So Bellinger's career-worst average exit velocity was at least partially a result of his two-strike approach, which was a net positive for his production. Given that context, are we maybe being too dismissive? Granted, Bellinger's max exit velocity was no great shakes either, but rather than being his lowest, it was his highest since 2020. And now that he's back in the locale that set him straight in the first place, maybe his current fifth-round cost is discount enough. Quality outfielders are hard to find, after all.

Speaking of which ...

Merrill making his case

Jackson Merrill started each of the Padres' first three games, going 2 for 6 with a double and two walks. Normally, such regular work is uncommon so early in spring training, but the Padres want as many at-bats as they can get at their top prospect, who's auditioning for one of two outfield openings. Though he's naturally a shortstop, he already seems to have met the bar defensively with a couple of nice catches in his first two games. Beat writer AJ Cassaval of the team's official website has gone so far as to say "if Merrill can prove it at the plate, he'll be on the roster."

Wait, what? Seems aggressive for a 20-year-old who barely made it Double-A and merely did OK there, batting .273 with five homers, five steals and a .782 OPS in 46 games. But the Padres have a history of putting prospects on the opening day roster sooner than convention would say they're ready, with past examples including Chris Paddack, Fernando Tatis and C.J. Abrams. Whatever you make of Merrill's performance, he's universally regarded as a top-20 prospect, and his impending arrival should move him up draft boards.

Ragans comes out blasting

The most electric pitching performance of the spring so far belongs to the same pitcher who generated the most buzz down the stretch last year. Cole Ragans -- who broke through with a 2.70 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 11.6 K/9 in his final 11 starts for the Royals -- struck out five and walked none in two scoreless innings Sunday, his fastball peaking at 101 mph with 20 inches of induced vertical break. Here's what that looked like:

It doesn't confirm that Ragans is everything we dream he'll be. He said he's not satisfied with the movement of his slider right now, and that pitch was arguably the key to his breakout last year. But what this outing does tell us is that his emergence as an overpowering pitcher last year wasn't a mirage. He didn't shrivel up in the offseason. His upside is plain as day, and I think it's enough to make him a top-15 starting pitcher in all formats, despite what his ADP suggests.

Greene's splitter not so green

Hunter Greene has mostly been a fastball/slider pitcher to this point in his career and has endured mostly peaks and valleys with that approach. He's worked to develop two pitches this offseason and was pleased with the way one of them performed in his spring debut Sunday.

"The split was fantastic today," said Greene after striking out four in 1 2/3 innings against the Angels. "It was unbelievable."

He was less satisfied with his curveball, calling it "a little iffy" while adding that he'll keep working on it. Realistically, he may need only one change of pace offering for his triple-digit fastball to play up to its full capacity. "I do like both of them," pitching coach Derek Johnson said of Greene's new pitches earlier this spring. "I think for now we'll just try to figure out which one he can throw for a strike the most."

Mr. Jones a big star, at least

Spencer Jones may not have a chance of making the Yankees' Opening Day roster, but he's putting himself on the fast track with his performance so far. The headline-grabber was a 470-foot home run Saturday, but in all, he's 5 for 5 with a walk. Standing 6-foot-6, Jones is capable of generating superlative exit velocities akin to the 6-foot-7 Aaron Judge, but a high strikeout rate and suboptimal launch angle limited his production in the minors last year. According to Bryan Hoch of, Jones worked with a personal hitting coach to shorten his swing this offseason, and so far, the results are there.

Of course, it's only five a-bats and not actually enough to change the 22-year-old's trajectory, but when a prospect of this stature begins to generate this sort of buzz, it's worth acknowledging.

Boy oh Boyle

Despite having what Baseball America considers to be a 70-grade fastball and 70-grade slider, Joe Boyle has never placed particularly high on any sort of prospect rank list because his control in the minors was terrible, resulting in 7.2 BB/9 across three seasons. But when the Athletics called him up for a three-start stint late last year, he threw 66 percent of his pitches for strikes en route to a 1.69 ERA and 0.81 WHIP. And when he made his spring debut Saturday, he was similarly efficient, needing just 23 pitches to set down six of seven batters, including three via strikeout. He walked none in his two innings of work.

"Boyle looked great," Athletics manager Mark Kotsay said. "He pounded the zone like he did last year in his three starts and mixed pitches. The breaking ball looked good. Fastball had life. He came out of the chute ready to roll."

Boyle peaked at 101 mph and even threw a couple sweepers, a new pitch for him. Ultimately, he'll only go as far as his control takes him, but the stuff is there, as is the opening in the Athletics rotation. I'm beginning to think he deserves some sleeper attention in Fantasy.

Harrison may cut it after all

Unlike Boyle, Kyle Harrison was a highly-rated prospect before debuting last season, but like Boyle, control was considered his biggest hurdle. And also like Boyle, it seemed like a non-issue during Harrison's late-season stint, which lasted seven starts rather than just three. His spring debut Sunday went much the same way, with him striking out four and walking none in two perfect innings against the Rangers.

"They had literally no chance against his fastball," said catcher Tom Murphy, who wasn't with the Giants last year.

Of course, the fastball is less of a concern for Harrison than the other pitches. The left-hander worked with the Push Performance development program to refine his secondary arsenal this offseason, focusing on his changeup and cutter, and he thinks the former will help him to be more efficient. "It was a pitch that allowed me to get back in counts and get guys out early," he said. "I threw it in a couple of 0-1 counts and felt like from there I could do whatever."

The outing was an encouraging one for another up-and-coming pitcher who may not be getting enough sleeper love, particularly when you consider that the Giants are lining him up to be their No. 2 starter.

Is that Cole Irvin?

The award for most surprising pitching performance so far goes to Cole Irvin, who struck out three in two perfect innings Sunday at the Pirates. But it wasn't just the result that raised eyebrows. It was the pitches themselves. All five of Irvin's offering were up at least 1.3 mph from a year ago, with one fastball peaking 95.9 mph, making it the fastest pitch he's ever thrown in a major league game (if this one counted, anyway). And with that, this command-and-control lefty took on the look of a power pitcher.

Turns out Irvin spent the offseason working with Tread Athletics, according to, which is the same performance training company that turned Cole Ragans into a fireballer last offseason. After shoring up his delivery, optimizing his arsenal and even shedding 10 pounds, the left-hander looks like a different guy.

And it's good timing with the Orioles having a couple new openings in their starting rotation. Even as a soft-tosser, Irvin's fly ball tendencies seemed like a good fit for Camden Yards' deep left field fence. If he's able to miss bats at a decent clip, he might be a real find. Keep an eye on him.

Giolito's sliding scale

Lucas Giolito's first spring start for the Red Sox was mostly unremarkable. He struck out one and walked one over two hitless innings -- no big deal. But in that start, he unveiled a new slider grip that he hopes returns him to his former glory.

"Little adjustment with the slider," Giolito told "Coming into camp, the whole pitching team, they were showing me some data about it, how it was getting a little bit too slow, a little bit too curveball-ish, so we switched up the grip. About a week ago, I started working on that, and I was pleased with how it was coming out. Still continuing to hone that in, but throwing the slider in like the mid-to-high 80s I think is a better move for me."

Giolito averaged 84.0 mph with his slider last year. When he broke out in 2019, he averaged 84.6 mph with it. During his last great season in 2021, he averaged 85.6 mph with it. So the Red Sox may be onto something. Of course, missing bats wasn't Giolito's problem last year -- his 204 strikeouts ranked 13th -- but after back-to-back years with an ERA near 5.00, all tweaks are welcome.

Nola no longer caught looking

After Aaron Nola delivered a 4.63 ERA in 2021, he bounced back with a 3.25 ERA the following year. Now that he's coming off a 4.46 ERA, what hope do we have of a similar recovery?

For starters, Nola had a 2.27 ERA over his final six starts, postseason included, and that success carried over to his first spring start, in which he struck out three over two perfect innings. But more important than the results Sunday were the revelations that came out regarding last year's struggles. According to, the pitch clock unexpectedly impacted Nola. The way he looked at it was causing him to leave pitches over the fat part of the plate. 

"Last year, he felt like he couldn't see where he wanted to go. His eyes were late. His stride was a little across his body. His upper body was a little closed off," pitching coach Caleb Cotham said. "He's looking at the right pitch clock. So when a runner's on base, he's coming set, he's looking at that clock, the hitter, the runner, the hitter, that pitch clock. So it kind of nudged [his front shoulder] this way [to the right]."

The solution was simply to look at the other timer -- the one on the left side of home plate rather than the right side -- which aligned his body better to hit the outside corner against right-handed hitters. Of course, it doesn't seem like his bad year was driving down his price too much in Fantasy -- he's a top-12 starting pitcher by ADP -- but it doesn't hurt to shed a little light on the mystery.

Mr. Anderson, welcome back

Speaking of mysteries, Tim Anderson's statistical collapse last year was one of the biggest, leaving him to sign a one-year $5 million deal with the Marlins this offseason. But as some have theorized, the knee sprain that he suffered last April may have set him on the path to ruin.

"[The injury] took a toll," Anderson said after joining his new team Saturday. "You're talking about the front side of an MCL sprain. I had nothing to hit up against. It led to a lot of ground balls."

Anderson was batting .298 (14 for 47) at the time of the injury, which was much more in line with his .318 batting average from 2019 through 2022 than his final .245 mark last year. He also had five of his 13 stolen bases before the injury. It was pretty obvious he wasn't feeling right, but now that we have his description of how it impacted his mechanics -- not to mention his assurance that he's now 100 percent -- there's hope for a rebound yet. And the draft cost is next to nothing.

Quick hits

  • Kodai Senga, who's out with a capsular strain in his right shoulder, is facing three-week shutdown after a PRP injection. The Mets hope the injection will allow him to resume throwing in three weeks, which could put him on track to return in late April or early May.
  • Angels manager Ron Washington confirmed Saturday that Carlos Estevez is the team's intended closer even with the signing of Robert Stephenson this offseason. "Right now, we've got him as a closer," Washington said. "So we don't need to talk about that." Estevez had a 6.59 ERA in 27 1/3 innings after the All-Star break last year.
  • Spencer Strider struck out four over two scoreless innings in spring debut Saturday, throwing his new curveball three times. "The curveball will give me a little more room to move my fastball around," he said.
  • Teoscar Hernandez, who's now with the Dodgers, is coming off a disappointing but still productive season with the Mariners. Turns out he had trouble seeing the ball at T-Mobile Park, according to The Orange County Register, hitting .217 with a .643 OPS there vs. .295 and .830 on the road.
  • Justin Verlander was already behind schedule because of a shoulder issue, and it's sounding more like he won't be ready for the start of the season. "We've still got some time," he said. "It's tight, but things are progressing." He's throwing bullpens twice a week but has yet to begin facing hitters.
  • Sal Frelick led off for the Brewers on Saturday and went 2 for 2 with a double, a walk and a stolen base. More notably, he played third base and is expected to see action there as well as at second base, possibly opening the door for him to win a job at one of those positions rather than the outfield.
  • Five of MacKenzie Gore's 26 pitches Sunday were changeups. That's a 19 percent usage rate compared to 2.9 percent last year. He struck out four and walked none in his two innings of work.
  • Not even two days after Mark Bowman of reported that Reynaldo Lopez "might be the early favorite" for the Braves fifth starter job, Bryce Elder, the incumbent for the role, had a rocky spring debut, allowing two runs on four hits in 1 1/3 innings.
  • Carlos Rodon, who's looking to bounce back from a miserable first season with the Yankees, struck out five in 2 2/3 innings against the Blue Jays on Sunday. He also walked two.
  • Jonathan Aranda, who Rays president of baseball operation Erik Neander said last week "deserves a chance for a really serious look," went 2 for 2 with a double in the team's first spring game Saturday. "For me, that was the highlight of the day," manager Kevin Cash said. "I really want to see him have a good camp." Aranda, 25, slashed .339/.449/.613 at Triple-A Durham last year and is the early favorite for the DH opening.
  • Henry Davis, who played mostly right field as a rookie last year because of concerns about his defense behind the plate, was the Pirates' starting catcher for their first spring game Saturday. There were three wild pitches in his five innings of work.
  • Randy Arozarena's biceps are gigantic now. Whether or not that's a positive development, I'll let you decide.