Mining the News (12/1/20) by Jeff Zimmerman December 1, 2020 • Pitcher Kohei Arihara (NPB) will join shortstop Ha-Seong Kim (KBO) as the top international free agents. The news on Kim has been known for a while but the Arihara news will be interesting for any team needing pitching (i.e. all teams). The 28-year-old Arihara had his best season in 2019 with a 2.46 ERA, 0.919 WHIP, and 8.8 K/9. All the stats were a little worse in 2020. The Davenport translation on his 2020 season is a 5.09 ERA and 5.9 K/9. Not the best numbers so maybe he’ll end up as a long reliever. • The KBO’s Sung-Bum Na (OF/DH) has been posted and MLB teams have 30 days to negotiate a signing. Na has been an above-average hitter in KBO since his second year in the league and a star-level performer for much of that time. In 4140 career plate appearances since debuting as a 23-year-old, he’s batted .317/.384/.542 with 179 home runs, 244 doubles and 25 triples. … He moved to right field for the 2015 campaign, and that’s been his primary defensive home since, although he’s still logged some occasional time in center — most recently in 2019 when he started 18 games there. However, Na’s 2019 season was cut short by a severe knee injury that resulted in him being placed on a stretcher and taken off the field in an ambulance, as he told ESPN’s Marly Rivera earlier this year. He underwent surgery and spent seven months rehabbing from that procedure. Na doesn’t seem like a priority add with the defensive limitations and he is coming off a major knee injury. Quite a few major leaguers fit the desciption as a broken down slugger. American League Angels • Shohei Ohtani didn’t feel right when he returned from surgery. Ohtani was returning to pitching after Tommy John surgery kept him off the mound in 2019, and he admitted to feeling “different” while pitching post-procedure, saying “I’ll think I want to do something a certain way, but sometimes I can’t.” If the first question out of any reporter’s mouth with him isn’t, “Does pitching still feel different?”, they are failing at their job. • Jared Walsh is supposed to be the full-time first baseman. [Walsh is] expected to be the club’s regular first baseman, and the new position-player pitching rules limit when he could be utilized. This is huge for his value and kills off any value left for Pujols in deeper leagues. Pujols will have to share DH at-bats with Shohei Ohtani. There is a chance in information is bogus and Walsh just rots on the bench while Pujols rots on the field. In any case, Walsh should be added in all formats in case he is a full-time hitter. Athletics • Seth Brown and Mark Canha could end up in platoon. The A’s could always decide to bring in an outfielder through free agency, but right now, Brown has a good chance of beginning 2021 in some form of a platoon role with Mark Canha in left field. Wait … WHAT? While Canha doesn’t really have a career platoon split (.796 OPS vs RHP and .765 OPS vs LHP). If anyone is going to lose at-bats to Brown (who deserves some), it’s Khris Davis and his sub-.700 OPS over the past two seasons. Blue Jays • Robbie Ray blames changing his delivery for his 2020 struggles. Ray’s quest to return to that 2017 form isn’t complicated. He’s tinkered with his delivery recently, which didn’t bring the results he’d hoped for, so this is all about getting back to his version of “normal.” Another season with pitching coach Pete Walker is the perfect place to do that. … “When my fastball command is off, I’m not able to use my breaking balls to effectively get guys out,” Ray said. “For me, it’s about getting that fastball under control and finding whatever it is in my delivery to have that consistency, to have that fastball command. The other pitches will be fine. They are what they are, they’re strikeout pitches.” Ray was better with the Blue Jays (4.79 ERA) than the Diamondbacks (7.84 ERA). He raised his Zone% from 41% to 48% which is more in line with his career numbers. Ray was making progress in Buffalo, but he still had a 6.1 BB/9 so there is still more work to do. Rangers • The Rangers may have Sherten Apostel play first base as part of a youth movement. Enter prospect Sherten Apostel, a third baseman who appears to be blocked by Gold Glove winner Isiah Kiner-Falefa and top prospect Josh Jung. The Rangers don’t have a big-time prospect at first base. The Rangers believe Apostel can play third base despite size (6-foot-4, 235 pounds), but he worked at the alternate camp in 2020 at first baseman and even logged a few games there after making his MLB debut. While Apostel struggled in 21 MLB plate appearances (.293 OPS), he hit 19 minor league home runs in 2019 as a 20-year-old. It’s tough to know if he’s draftable, but he should definitely be on everyone’s radar. • Elvis Andrus may not be the Rangers shortstop for much longer. But even if Andrus is capable of a full comeback season at age 32-33 in 2021, there’s going to come a time — and probably soon — when he can no longer be penciled in as the starting shortstop for the rebuilding Rangers. Anderson Tejeda should be on everyone’s radar after he hit three homers and stole four bags in just 77 plate appearances last season. He has 15 HR/15 SB potential and is basically free at the point he is being drafted (488 NFBC ADP). Red Sox • Eduardo Rodriguez expects to be 100% for the start of next season. Tigers • Bryan Garcia made a mid-season tweek that helped him. Garcia’s success in 2020 centered on his combination of a sinking fastball and offspeed pitches — sliders against right-handed batters, changeups against lefties — as well as a midseason adjustment from former pitching coach Rick Anderson. While Garcia’s ground-ball rate reversed from 2019 to ’20, with more fly balls than grounders, his exit velocity improved as the season went on, avoiding barrels more than missing bats. His slider improved after the adjustment and became the putaway pitch he’d been seeking, even as his use of it decreased. There is just a ton of pixie magic surrounding Garia. While he did lower his ERA from 2.53 to 1.04 from August to September, his already low K-BB% just moved from 2.0% to 2.3%. He was saved by allowing no home runs with only a 44% GB%. His xFIP and SIERA were close to 6.00. Just ignore. Twins • Tyler Duffey may share the Twins closer’s role next season. Who will be the Twins’ closer next season? — Joe L. Probably the same as this season. Taylor Rogers and a yet-to-be-determined right-hander splitting closing duties, with Tyler Duffey the leading in-house candidate to take over Sergio Romo’s slice of that pie. I suspect it’ll be a while before we see a Twins closer with 40 saves again, because Rocco Baldelli (and an increasing number of other managers) prefers flexibility and matchups. For the last two seasons, Duffey has been startable even without the saves. During that time, he had a 2.31 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and 12.5 K/9. Add in some Saves and he’ll be a steady contributor in any league. White Sox • Andrew Vaughn should get the bulk of the DH at-bats. As for Andrew Vaughn, I would expect him to be the designated hitter for the bulk of the 2021 campaign. That idea won’t preclude the White Sox from adding another more veteran possibility, but Vaughn should be ready for regular big league time. The only player who this affects is Yasmani Grandal who will continue to “rest” on his off days instead of gaining a few extra at-bats. National League Braves • The Athletic interviewed the Braves hitting coach, Kevin Seitzer, and here is are some of his takes on several hitters. Dansby Swanson made several swing changes. Yeah, [Swanson] made some changes with his swing this year. I mean, some big-time changes as far as mechanics go. And, oh, my gosh, it was so much that, I mean it really put him in position to where he could handle pitches all over the strike zone. And any pitch, basically. And the power came the other way better than it’s ever been. But when he got in trouble is when he would lose his approach of staying middle-oppo gap and got a little, not necessarily pull-happy, but see-it-and-go happy It’s amazing how little love the industry has for Swanson with the potential to hit 25 home runs and steal 12 bases. Balanced production must not be cool. • Ozzie Albies’s struggles can be linked to his wrist injury. For me, I’ve always been the furthest away from him thinking that [Albies] needs to go right-handed only. I mean, this kid is super-special. When the wrist goes bad, you might as well just put a stake in his brain, because nothing works. Your hand, your wrist — you can get away with (injured) shoulders, you can calm things down even with a back a little bit, with how violent you can get with your swing. But when you’re trying to fire with those hands, it totally makes sense as to why he struggled. But then he got going after he got back (from the injured list). The effects of the injury were obvious with his Max Exit Velocity dropping from 110.8 mph to 106.5 mph. If he heals up, 30 home runs are reachable. • Ronald Acuña Jr. nursed several injuries during the season. [Acuña} just was grinding physically. I feel like he was never fully healthy all year. I mean, he had some unbelievable games hitting homers in two or three games in a row, and then all of a sudden he’s on the DL. It was like, “Oh, my gosh, you were on fire. And now you’re down for two weeks.” So for him, it was a constant grind. We had to monitor his volume with his swing before the games, because of the wrist and hand. And so, we nursed him through 60 games and the postseason. And he was a gamer and a grinder and wanted to be on the field, but at the same time, I could see that the stuff wasn’t the same. The mechanics weren’t the same. The hand speed wasn’t the same. It was not normal Ronnie. So from an evaluation standpoint on this year, I’ll just say, he survived. My one worry with Acuña is that he’ll stop stealing in order to try to stay healthy. It’ll be tough to take the brakes off a 23-year-old, but the Braves need him in the lineup. Cardinals • Jordan Hicks could end up closing next season. All signs point to Hicks rejoining the team next season and factoring into the bullpen. He’s recovering and has rehabbed his elbow, regaining his strength and building up his arm with bullpen sessions. I don’t know if the Cardinals will immediately put him back in the closer role, because he hasn’t been on a big league mound since June 2019, but they are hoping that at some point in ’21, they’ll have him pitching in the ninth inning again. He’s still a ways from closing but his progress should be monitored as the regular season nears for a cheap source of Saves. Cubs • Adbert Alzolay is penciled into the Cubs rotation with his new slider. Alzolay currently looks poised to grab one of the other two vacancies. Just look at what Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein had to say about the young righty at the end of the season: “Going into the year we were hoping that Adbert could develop into a Major League starter, and now, we see one. And he’s somebody that I think is primed to slide into the rotation.” … In Alzolay’s final two starts for the Cubs in September, the righty struck out 15 batters and walked four in nine innings combined, allowing two runs on four hits. In those two outings, Alzolay generated 15 whiffs out of 34 swings against his breaking balls. Epstein called the new slider a “Major League weapon” for the righty. A rotation spot is nice but the slider is hot. Its shape is more like a hard curve and in 95 pitches, it generated a 19% SwStr5 to go with his good curve (13% SwStr%) and change (19% SwStr%). Combining the three pitches with his 95-mph fastball and the 12.2 K/9 happens. Walks (5.5 BB/9) are the only roadblock to elite production. Dodgers • Gavin Lux should not be considered the starting second baseman. Is second base Gavin Lux’s position to lose in 2021? — Jason (@RabbitohJag) It’s more like Lux’s to win, not to lose. He’s already lost it twice. Assuming he’s not traded, he needs to re-establish his credentials, demonstrate consistency that he’s a big league hitter and that the defensive yips that have haunted him are gone. He’s clearly a gifted talent. So were rookies Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger, but they performed at a high level immediately. With winning expectations, the Dodgers don’t have the patience of losing while a young player learns to be a big leaguer. So far, the stage has been too big for Lux. Backup plan? How about Chris Taylor, the starting second baseman in the World Series? The Dodgers gave Lux one at-bat during the postseason. One. They have no faith in him, so it’s time to grab Chris Taylor (236 ADP) on the cheap and fade the Lux (206 ADP) until he can prove he’s ready for the majors. Giants • The Giants signed Jason Vosler. San Diego didn’t have a spot for Vosler due to the presence of infielders Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr., Jake Cronenworth and Eric Hosmer, but the Giants plan on giving [Volser] an opportunity to carve out a role on their 26-man roster in 2021. They followed a similar blueprint with Mike Yastrzemski, Donovan Solano and Alex Dickerson, who each grew into key roles with the Giants after being overlooked in other organizations. While Volser will be a 26-years-old rookie this upcoming season, he has the tools to be a productive hitter. He made my Muncy-Voit breakout hitter list since he had above average walk, strikeout, and power numbers in AAA. If given everyday at-bats, he could be a productive hitter. Nationals • Carter Kieboom will have to earn a starting role. Kieboom can’t be penciled in at third base in November for a team trying to get better. If they upgrade other positions and find a quality hitter who plays the outfield, perhaps Kieboom is on the Opening Day roster. But I think the return of Starlin Castro, who can play third, gives the Nats some flexibility and — at the very least — presents a situation in which Kieboom will have to earn any starting spot. It’s tough to value Kieboom as any more than a reserve pick. Padres • Chris Paddacks fastball underperformed in 2020. With Paddack, the Padres already have a baseline of an excellent fastball. In 2019, opponents slugged .391 against it (compared with an unruly .658 mark this year). Whatever the reason — and there are plenty of theories — the metrics on Paddack’s fastball were poor in 2020. His spin rate dropped, and, as you noted, his “ride” was worse, too. The pitch carried two inches above league average in ’19 but was 0.6 inches below in ’20, according to Statcast. I think the two-pitch gimmick has worn off and hitters are just sitting on the fastball. Reds • Michael Lorenzen plans on starting next season. Over his career, he’s started 26 times (21 in his rookie season) but has 202 relief appearances. He has struggled as a starter with a career 4.95 ERA and 3.57 ERA as a reliever. Even though he has a full assortment of pitches (four-seamer, sinker, cutter, slider, change, curve), he’s been owned each time through the lineup (1st: 3.79 ERA, 2nd: 5.10 ERA, 3rd: 7.18 ERA). While he’s likely to lose some velocity as a starter and therefore his pitch production will degrade, his four-seamer (13% SwStr%), change (21% SwStr%), and slider (24% SwStr%) are above-average pitches. Overall, buy especially with an NFBC ADP of 562. • Both Freddy Galvis and Jose Garcia are not going to be the Reds shortstop next season. Is Jose Garcia the Reds’ full-time shortstop in 2021? — @rbmidkiff on Twitter Probably not. General manager Nick Krall recently indicated that the top offseason priority is to find a veteran shortstop to replace Freddy Galvis. Garcia isn’t out of the picture entirely, however, and he will have a chance to compete for a spot. My expectation is that more time in the Minor Leagues is likely for 2021, and I could see him being more of a regular in ’22. By adding at least an average shortstop, the Reds can improve by a couple of wins. Rockies • Garrett Hampson will be a utility player from now on. But that’s not the only issue. You hit on it. It’s not just about Fuentes. This is a pool that includes McMahon and Brendan Rodgers. Hampson is a full utility player now. That’s his role. But if McMahon moved to first, it would open up a spot for Rodgers. But based on the evidence we’ve seen so far, with the roster as-is, the best option appears to be McMahon at second and Fuentes at first. There’s hope that Hampson and his career-.690 OPS can slide into the Rockies lineup. Hampson’s fantasy value is from the steals he provides (23 SB in 559 career PAs), not his bat.