Mining the News (1/5/21)

American League

Angels

• Signs continue to point to Jared Walsh being the full-time first baseman.

Albert Pujols is entering the final season of his 10-year contract signed before the 2011 season, but he’s likely to spend it in a backup role. Jared Walsh had a breakout rookie season in 2020, batting .293/.324/.646 with nine homers and 26 RBIs in 32 games. He will head into Spring Training as the favorite to be the club’s regular first baseman, but he’ll have to earn the job, especially considering the small sample size in 2020. But Walsh appears likely to be the regular at first base with Pujols serving as a backup and occasional DH when Ohtani isn’t available. Matt Thaiss could also see some action at the position, but Walsh has moved ahead of Thaiss on the organization’s depth chart.

• In the January paper copy of the Baseball America magazine, it mentions that Jo Adell reworked his swing.

A month into the season, Adell tried to alter his swing path to get the ball in the air more and quieted his stance to remove some of the movement from his pre-swing setup.

What a difference. Here is his first single of the season.

And the last single.

It’s a quieter swing that I prefer. The change didn’t lead to improved results, but at least he trying to have fewer moving parts after posting a 22% SwStr% against fastballs last season.

Athletics

• Just some more news on Jake Diekman being the leading candidate for the closer’s role.

If not, left-hander Jake Diekman appears to be the leading candidate to take over as closer, with right-handers Lou Trivino and J.B. Wendelken also in the mix.

Blue Jays

Alejandro Kirk is in the running as the Jays main catcher.

Entering Spring Training in 2020, it looked likely that Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire would split the catching duties 60-40 or 70-30, with Jansen getting the lion’s share. Perhaps a split strategy emerges between Jansen and Kirk, with Kirk also seeing some DH at-bats, but this could go in a dozen different directions. If there’s one certainty, though, it’s that Kirk’s bat is too good to hold out of the lineup unnecessarily.

Our projections have Kirk as the best hitter and I’d not be surprised if he was getting 75% of the plate appearances by season’s end. He’s a must draft in all formats at this point (325 NFBC ADP).

Indians

Oscar Mercado will start in center field.

When Cleveland’s season came to an end in 2020, the team was confident in Oscar Mercado’s plans for the offseason to improve on his disappointing season. After the Tribe non-tendered both Delino DeShields and Tyler Naquin, it seems even more likely that Mercado will still have his spot in center next season.

That leaves the corners. Daniel Johnson seems set to get his shot in right field, and Jordan Luplow will be an option in left. If neither Naylor nor Bauers earns the starting job at first, they could be options in the corners as well.

Mercado’s 2020 season (.128/.174/.174, 3 SB) was a complete disaster compared to his 2019 season (15 HR, 15 SB, .269 AVG). With a current NFBC ADP of 381, he’ll be worth taking a dart on in waiver wire leagues so he can be dropped if he continues to struggle.

James Karinchak still seems to be the favorite to close.

The Tribe parted ways with closer Brad Hand, declining his $10 million option for 2021. While Francona was hesitant to list any names who could be potential replacements this early in the offseason, he did note that James Karinchak — the favorite to take over the closer’s role — will certainly be one of their high-leverage hurlers.

• It might be a couple of months before Nolan Jones gets promoted.

Do you get the sense that Nolan Jones is destined for a June call-up? I’m assuming that it won’t be earlier due to clock-suppression concerns. — Quincy W.

That sounds about right. They’ll want to give him time to polish his outfield glove anyway. Antonetti and Chernoff said the basis for increasing his defensive versatility was to forge a quicker path to the majors, since they prefer not to shift José Ramírez off third base.

With the complete lack of talent in the Indians’ outfield, Jones will get a chance if he is any bit competent.

Mariners

• The Mariners plan on starting Ty France at DH and eventually move him to third base.

But Seager doesn’t seem to fit in the long-term plans for a team building for the future, given his seven-year, $100 million contract expires after this season. All the other veterans in similar situations have long since been shipped away for younger help, but Seager’s $15 million team option for 2022 turns into a guaranteed player option if he’s traded, and that has limited trade possibilities.

Whether that changes now that the 33-year-old is in the final stages of that deal remains to be seen, but Dipoto already has acquired a potential replacement in Ty France. The 26-year-old France figures to fill the designated hitter role for now, but the clock seemingly is ticking louder on Seager’s time in Seattle.

Right now, France is only projected for about 100 games played, but that estimate seems conservative. With a full season of at-bats, he could hit 20+ homers. Not bad for someone being draft after pick 300.

Orioles

Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, and DJ Stewart will be fighting over one outfield spot with Ryan Mountcastle and Anthony Santander entrenched in the other two.

Austin Hays: … 2021 Outlook: He’ll be competing with Cedric Mullins for the starting spot in centerfield, but regardless Hays should be a big part of the 2021 club.

Cedric Mullins: … Outlook: A spot in the Orioles outfield rotation to begin the season.

DJ Stewart: … 2021 Outlook: He’ll be in the outfield mix to start the year.

This playing time situation needs to be closely monitored. Hays (224 ADP) and Mullins (406 ADP) both have the potential for double-digit home runs and stolen bases. It might be prudent to draft both. It’s a situation to closely monitor in Spring Training.

Rangers

• The Rangers have outlined the infield playing time allotment.

Andrus has been the Rangers’ starting shortstop for 11 years. Now Texas is committed to moving Isiah Kiner-Falefa from third to shortstop. That means Andrus would seem to be the leading candidate to play third, but the Rangers are concerned about his decline in offensive production the past few years. They could still acquire another third-base candidate.

Odor has been the Rangers’ second baseman for the past six seasons, but there is a good chance he could get pushed aside by Nick Solak. Texas is going to give Solak a chance to be the everyday second baseman, but unlike Kiner-Falefa, he still must earn the job in Spring Training.

“Rougned is in a little more competition with Solak. I want Solak to focus on second base. I want to see what he can do and how it looks. I think his best place is second base. Obviously, Rougned has to earn his playing time. He hasn’t been as consistent the past few years. I want him consistent on both sides of the ball. He’s got a lot of power, he gets big hits for us, but the consistency hasn’t been there.”

At second base, there will be a battle between Rougned Odor and Nick Solak. Isiah Kiner-Falefa will take over at short. Elvis Andrus will play third base until third base prospect Josh Jung is ready to replace him.

The biggest issue for me would be the chance that Odor starts out hot and Solak struggles some. Twitter is going to get lit up on the Odor hate, but it’s an option.

Taylor Hearn and Jonathan Hernández may throw more than one inning.

“With Hearn, we would like to build him up and see what it looks like. Jonathan Hernández, we would like to see him in that bullpen role, 2-3 innings at the most. We have some guys who can fill some innings, but we are going to have to be creative in how we use these guys.

“All those guys are not going to be 1-2 inning guys. We are going to build them up in Spring Training as if they were going to head into the season as starters. Their role on the team will be how we see fit. But I would like for all of them to prepare to earn a spot in the rotation.”

If they could throw 80 to 100 innings, both or their values would jump, especially if they can get a few Wins or Saves along the way.

Rays

David Hess is happy to see how the Rays will improve him.

“That was a big thing,” Hess said. “One thing the Rays have built a track record of is developing guys and being specific in who they’re looking for, and so when they came in that quickly, we right away knew how serious they were. That meant a lot to us. That was just something, them being the first team and how interested they were, that tipped the scales in their favor in a pretty good way.

Rays: Don’t throw your change (8% SwStr%) or curve (10% SwStr%).

Hess: OK?

Rays: Throw your fastball (6% SwStr%, 93 mph) less than 50% of the time.

Hess: Sure

Rays: Finally, throw the slider (15% SwStr%) the rest of the time. Nice talk (leaves room).

Tigers

José Ureña changed his pitch mix last season.

Last season was more of a return to previous form. While his sinker was still his dominant pitch, his slider became more important, and he dusted off his four-seam fastball.

“We opened up a little bit more of the zone, attacking with the straight four-seam on the outside corner, and it made a big difference when we came out with the slider,” Ureña said. “That will help a lot.”

He posted a career-high swinging-strike rate (11%) but also a career-high walk rate (5.0 BB/9) killed his overall production. I think he’s a great late-round add in a best-ball or draft-and-hold league for the chance he puts it together.

White Sox

Luis Robert was likely injured in early September and his production fell off with no extra-base hits over the last few weeks.

National League

Braves

Mike Soroka will likely be eased into a starting and might not be part of the Braves Opening Day rotation.

The good news is the Braves have said Soroka could be ready by the start of the season. The better news is that their rotation depth allows them to avoid the potential pitfalls of rushing his return. It would be nice for the young right-hander to get a second straight Opening Day start. But there will be plenty of those left in a future that will be influenced by his current rehab.

When the season begins, eight months will have passed since Soroka tore his right Achilles tendon. Given that the Braves will be carefully monitoring the post-2020 workloads of their starters, there will be even more reason to give the talented hurler all the time he needs to recover.

Anyone who drafts Sorokahas to know that the Braves want him for a playoff run, so the kid gloves may stay on for a while.

Chris Martin and Will Smith will likely share the closer’s role.

Assuming Smith’s long-ball woes were just a 2020 fluke, he is more than capable of returning to the closer’s role, which he had with the Giants in ’18 and ’19. Martin provides another strong option if it makes more sense to match Smith up against a left-hander or two before the ninth. Whatever the case, the ’21 closer is likely already on the roster.

Being the right-hander, Martin will see more Save chances, but Smith is being drafted earlier (252 ADP vs 464 ADP). If anyone is looking for a late closer, here he is.

Cristian Pache will soon have the centerfield job.

Will Cristian Pache be ready to begin his reign as Atlanta’s center fielder?

Pache certainly altered the narrative after being forced into an everyday role when Adam Duvall was injured during the second inning of Game 1 of the NLCS. Had this not occurred, the general consensus would likely be that Pache needs a little more time at the Triple-A level. But the top prospect homered and doubled while going 4-for-22 in the NLCS, after having spent almost all of this season at the alternate training site.

He has potential for double-digit steals and homers for free (378 ADP). I’m not sure if I’d draft him in a redraft league, but I’ll closely monitor the situation and swoop in if he gets full-time at-bats.

Brewers

• The Brewers are considering tacking on 100 innings to a pitcher’s 2020 total.

“Those are discussions that we’ve had already,” manager Craig Counsell said. “I think it’s going to be a little case-by-case, pitcher-by-pitcher based on their history and their individual history, but I think all teams are going to have to address it, certainly. For starters, I just think the tops were in the 80s, so we’re going to tack on 100 innings. There are some relievers who will have their innings tripled. It’s different, and definitely it’s something that I’m sure the whole industry’s thinking about.”

Here are some projected totals for the starters:

Starter: 2020+100 IP, FG Proj IP

It looks like our projected innings might be a little ambitious.

Cardinals

Tommy Edman will play second base and what is left of Matt Carpenter will try to play third base.

Right now, the Cardinals see Tommy Edman as their everyday second baseman after they declined Kolten Wong’s option. That leaves Matt Carpenter at third base. Carpenter, who is entering the final guaranteed year of his contract, will likely get the opportunity to start the season as the everyday third baseman, but with the contract shrinking each day that passes, the Cardinals will be less likely to ride it out through an entire season if he struggles like the past two years.

As of now, the Cardinals really don’t have a good in house replacement for Carpenter (or Edman).

Mets

• Without an NL DH, Dominic Smith and Pete Alonso could end up in a first base platoon.

If the National League proceeds without a designated hitter in 2021, the Mets won’t have an obvious place to deploy Dominic Smith, their most valuable offensive player in ’20. Left field remains an option, though far less of one if the Mets acquire Springer. That leaves first base, where Smith outperformed Pete Alonso on both sides of the ball last season. Will that performance be enough for the Mets to call first base an open competition between Smith and Alonso, who is just two years removed from his breakout, 53-homer NL Rookie of the Year Award campaign? Or will Smith go back to the bench, where he thrived as a slugging, left-handed pinch hitter in 2019? Is a third option, such as a trade of Smith — a popular clubhouse figure — in play?

These aren’t easy questions with simple answers, but the reality is it will be difficult for the Mets to find playing time for both.

R.I.P. both their fantasy values for now.

Padres

• The Padres have one too many position players with the signing of Ha-seong Kim. Here are two takes on the situation.

And.

Two Padres sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was no firm plan of where Kim would play and characterized the deal as part of the Padres building Dodgers-like depth where multiple quality players are virtually interchangeable at many positions. One of those sources insisted there are no plans to move second baseman Jake Cronenworth to the outfield.

Three possible outcomes. First, the NL adds the DH and the problem is solved. Second, Kim doesn’t play until someone (e.g. Tommy Pham) gets hurt. Finally, everybody’s playing time gets cut as players get additional rest. The DH would solve this problem, but right now, Kim is about undraftable.

Reds

Shogo Akiyama reworked his swing during the season.

The biggest change was his front foot placement

Before

After

The production difference is pretty stark with a .527 OPS in August and a .821 OPS in September. Why not take a chance of a rebound with a Shogo Akiyama since his current ADP is at 404?

Joey Votto ditched his passive approach mid-season and just tried to crush the ball.

In late August, he appeared to hit rock bottom with a four-strikeout game that left him batting .191 and Bell benched Votto for three games.

Votto used the time off to watch other hitters and made his own adjustments. Instead of trying so hard to control the strike zone, he became less selective and stood taller in the batter’s box. As a result, Votto hit the ball harder and he batted .258 with a .941 OPS and eight home runs over his final 29 games.

“For me to a hit a ball hard and far, I’m going to make some mistakes,” Votto told Sirius-XM radio on Dec. 18. “I didn’t feel quitting was an option. I adjusted. Because I was at a rock-bottom place. I felt like I need to take a major, major leap and need to let go of something I’ve been holding on to. I started taking more chances at the plate, trying to hit the ball harder and hit the ball farther.

So here is his before (poop) stance:

And after.

He was a completely different player after taking the games off.

Time Frame: K%, BB%, OPS
Before: 13%, 16%, .647
After: 25%, 17%, .941

Hopefully, the real Joey Votto will stand up this year.

Tucker Barnhart is expected to get most of the at-bats at catcher.

No, I think Tucker Barnhart gets the majority of the starts. This team is still built on pitching and a big reason for the success of the pitching the last two years has been the catching with Barnhart and Curt Casali.

If there’s a DH, Stephenson will get a chance to get in the lineup a little more that way, but he’ll still certainly get his starts behind the plate. This is mostly a guess, but I’d think Barnhart starts two out of every three games with Stephenson starting most games against left-handed pitchers but Stephenson won’t start only against lefties.

Again, another situation where the NL DH will change a hitter’s value, in this case, Stevenson’s.





Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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rossredcay
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rossredcay

Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems like Hays, Stewart and Mullins are fighting for two spots in the OF, no? Mancini at first, Mountcastle at DH, right?

TheBabbo
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TheBabbo

Linked article says Mountcastle starting in LF most days with some time at 1B/DH, Santander in RF, Hays/Mullins battling for CF and Stewart in the mix for fill-in time (presumably in the corners, since he has never played CF in the majors). So it’s really Hays and Mullins fighting for one spot, there’s no indication Stewart is being considered for a starting job.

rossredcay
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rossredcay

I don’t get it, there’s a missing spot here somewhere. Are they assuming Chris Davis is still getting a bunch of PT?

TheBabbo
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TheBabbo

You can read the article for yourself, but it mentions Mancini, Mountcastle, Sisco and Davis as being in the mix for time at DH. So the lineup (for now) would look something like Severino at C (Sisco backup/DH), Mancini at 1B (occasional DH), Sanchez at 2B, Ruiz at 3B, Martin at SS, Mountcastle in LF (some 1B/DH), Hays/Mullins in CF (and OF backup), Santander in RF, Stewart backup OF, Davis some 1B/DH, Valaika super-utility.

rossredcay
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rossredcay

I guess I need to re-up my Athletic membership (lapsed a couple months back)!

TheBabbo
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TheBabbo

Sorry, forgot that was a paid link. Anyway, it’s just one writer’s opinion – the Fangraphs team page projections look a little different, with Mancini mostly at DH. Mountcastle mostly at 1B, Cisco getting most of the AB at C, Hays solidly in CF, and LF as a three-way split: https://www.fangraphs.com/teams/orioles#depth-chart