Mining the News (2/19/20) by Jeff Zimmerman February 19, 2020 A new format, the same in-depth notes. Again, this took too long to dig through. Paul and I are trying to find a way to expedite it. American League Astros • Josh James is being stretched out as a starter. Hard-throwing right-hander Josh James was working out of the full windup during his first bullpen session of the spring on Friday, which is an indication the Astros plan to stretch him out this spring to be a starter. James entered camp last year competing for a rotation spot, but a right quad injury early in the spring derailed those plans. • Don’t expect the Astros hitters to play over 150 games this season. Dusty likes to rest. Former Astros manager AJ Hinch was a proponent of giving players regular days off, and Dusty Baker agrees. Baker said regular players would likely play about 150 games this season, meaning they would get two days off a month. “I believe in rest days and I believe in telling guys when they have rest days,” he said. “There’s mental rest days, there’s baseball rest days, there’s days you say, ‘Hey man, go out and have a good meal and a couple of drinks and let your hair down a little bit and you won’t be off for another couple of weeks.’” Blue Jays • Travis Shaw will hit 5th or 6th with Bo Bichette leading off. Montoyo envisions having Shaw hit in the fifth or sixth spot in the lineup, and the top third is taking shape, too. With Bo Bichette expected to lead off, Cavan Biggio seems likely to slide into the No. 2 spot. • Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is trying to raise his launch angle from either losing weight, pitch selection, and/or mechanics. Hopefully, something works. “There were certain pitches he would try to get to and he fought himself trying to get there. It caused him to jump at the ball – he collided with it and smothered the ball into the ground,” explained hitting coach Guillermo Martinez. “Now, he’s in way better shape. He’s able to keep his legs underneath him, which allows him to stay behind the ball better. And the effort level when he attacks the baseball, it’s just a lot easier and puts him in a much better position to elevate.” … “It was probably a combination of (pitch selection and mechanics),” he told Davidi through an interpreter, explaining the reason for his lack of launch angle in 2019. “But I’m working very hard on that and hopefully everything goes well this year.” • Nate Pearson will probably not be called up until mid-season. The biggest buzz in camp will be reserved for the club’s No. 1 prospect, flame-throwing right-hander Nate Pearson, who still isn’t expected to make his MLB debut until midseason. Montoyo got his first look at him recently throwing a bullpen, and his review was simple. • Matt Shoemaker will be taking it slow in Spring Training will recovering from ACL surgery. The Blue Jays will be careful with Matt Shoemaker early in camp as he completes his comeback from a torn left ACL in 2019. Montoyo said, “He’s got to do his routines moving side to side before we start him in a game.” Mariners • Yusei Kikuchi has reworked his delivery. “Yusei has put in a ton of work since the season ended,” Servais said. Many of those mechanical adjustments were right in line with where the Mariners were expecting change, including specifics such as his hand placement and when his front foot hit the ground. A new voice in those discussions this spring is new pitching coach Pete Woodworth, who at age 31, was promoted to the team’s pitching coach role during the offseason. Woodworth was on hand Sunday as Kikuchi threw his first bullpen with catcher Tom Murphy, with the three meeting afterward to extensively discuss the intricacies of the southpaw’s delivery. … The hope is that these adjustments will lead to increased velocity on his four-seam fastball… Rangers • Nick Solak could be moved to center field with Danny Santana taking on the utility role. Enter the experiment. If Solak could play center field, that would allow manager Chris Woodward to employ Santana as a super-utility everyday player, giving each of the starters a little time off by playing a different position every day. But is that realistic? The Rangers seem to think it’s at least worth a shot and have been very upfront about their plan to use spring training to find out. • Eli White is also being considered for the center field job. Eli White is no longer being considered as a utility player. The Rangers have been impressed with the progress he is making offensively and want to anchor him in center field. Woodward said that if White’s bat keeps improving, he can be an “elite” center fielder. • Ronald Guzmán is going back to the swing he used when he was 16-years-old. Ronald Guzmán was 16 when he first signed with the Rangers on July 9, 2011, out of the Dominican Republic. Now he wants to go back to hitting the way he did in 2010 before he turned professional. “I’m going to be Ronald Guzmán and swing my way,” Guzmán said. “Keep it simple. Be myself. Not overthink things. Focusing on being myself.” Minnesota designated hitter Nelson Cruz endorsed that idea. Guzmán worked out with the former Rangers outfielder in the Dominican Republic this winter. Guzmán had a visa issue that kept him from working out in Texas, so he hooked up with Cruz. Red Sox • Michael Chavis may get some time in the outfield. Michael Chavis can already play first, second and third. Don’t be surprised if he soon adds outfield to his portfolio. If Chavis hits like the Red Sox expect him to, they will want him in the lineup as much as possible. • Alex Verdugo is likely to miss Opening Day with a back injury. Saturday was the first time Verdugo said publicly what the injury was, and the 23-year-old outfielder also acknowledged that the reports that surfaced earlier this week — that he is likely to miss Opening Day — could wind up being accurate. “We’re not trying to rush that,” Verdugo said. “We don’t want to give fans or give people a false hope or just even a deadline that we miss again. So it’s just — we’re going to take our time on this and make sure that we’re right. So that way, when I am playing, when I’m able to be in Boston, that it’s the whole year and it’s continuous. And we don’t have any setbacks or anything like that.” Royals • The Royals expect Mondesi and Perez to be ready by Opening Day. Mondesi, like Perez, is expected to be ready by Opening Day. Tigers • Miguel Cabrera is limiting his swings during Spring Training. With his 37th birthday looming in April, Cabrera is saving his swings for the unbeaten Father Time, trying to fight his way back in the count. After an ill-fated search for his lost power led to bulk and injuries last year, he shifted his focus this offseason. At the encouragement of the Tigers and the recommendation of a nutritionist, he said he has tweaked his diet to try to cut back on carbohydrates. • The Tigers outfield has four players for only three spots. It seems like Victor Reyes will be the odd man out. Detroit’s outfield is pretty well full following the Cameron Maybin signing. But Maybin has had 400 plate appearances in only one of his last four seasons, in part due to injuries. While Maybin should be able to earn the starting job in right field, he should also get his share of days off. On the other side of the outfield, Christin Stewart is trying to re-establish himself as the starter, but he could sit against tough lefties despite near-even hitting splits in the last couple of years. Add it together, and there’s a real role for the switch-hitting Victor Reyes in a four-man outfield mix, bouncing between left and right while also giving center fielder JaCoby Jones an occasional break from running all over Comerica Park. • Jake Rogers has a new swing. This year, Jake Rogers reported to camp with a tweaked swing and a clean slate following his .125 average with the Tigers down the stretch. He has the potential for a hot camp, which may not earn him a spot on Detroit’s Opening Day roster — especially if Austin Romine claims the starting job — but it could put him in position for an early callup. Twins • Jorge Polanco is about back to 100% after offseason ankle surgery. Polanco ran “close to 100 percent” on Saturday and said that the ankle feels fine when he swings the bat. He did indicate that there was a bit of a mental block for him due to the lingering effects of the surgery, but still characterized his progress as “really good.” He underwent the procedure with Dr. Richard Ferkel in Los Angeles in the fall to correct a chronic issue due to repetitive stress, which he said first flared up around the All-Star break in 2019 and became more severe towards the end of the season. He opted for surgery after some offseason rest did little to alleviate the discomfort. Before the All-Star game, he was hitting .312/.368/.514 and his production dropped to .273/.341/.447 for the season’s second half. White Sox • Dylan Cease has made an adjustment to his delivery. The biggest point of offseason focus for White Sox starting pitcher Dylan Cease was not getting too rotational on his front side during delivery. It actually was work for the 24-year-old right-hander beginning at the end of last season. “Reynaldo [López] actually brought it to my attention, and then I talked to Coop [pitching coach Don Cooper] and Has [assistant pitching coach Curt Hasler],” Cease said. “And we all kind of agreed I was getting a little too rotational. • Michael Kopech will be on a limited innings count like Cease was on last season. Cease ended up with 29 starts and 141 IP between AAA and the majors. In all likelihood, Kopech will begin the season with Triple-A Charlotte, and he will need to work his way back to Major League preparedness after tallying only four big league starts. His innings total will also be watched in 2020, with the White Sox potentially handling him as they did Dylan Cease last year, by limiting his innings and pitches in Spring Training and in Charlotte. National League Braves • A reminder, Mark Melancon is still the Braves closer. Mark Melancon might still hold the title of closer. But Braves manager Brian Snitker is looking forward to the potential luxury of being able to use Melancon, Will Smith and possibly Shane Greene to all draw some save opportunities throughout the upcoming season. Brewers • Ryan Braun and Avisaíl García will be sharing time in right field. Brewers manager Craig Counsell revealed his preferred outfield alignment on Monday as position players reported to camp, saying the plan calls for Christian Yelich shifting from right field to left, Lorenzo Cain staying put in center and newcomer Avisaíl García sharing time in right with Braun. Ben Gamel is the fifth outfielder. • Freddy Peralta added a slider this winter on top of a curve he started throwing more in September. He’s transforming from a one-pitch to a three-pitch guy. Peralta spent the winter in the Dominican Republic, resurrecting the slider he’d strayed from in recent seasons, including the past two years in the big leagues when he pitched predominantly with four-seam fastballs, curveballs and the occasional changeup. He added a slider to that mix at the urging of the Brewers, beginning with meetings at the team’s Dominican training complex with former pitcher Carlos Villanueva, who is now a special assistant to the GM for player development. Cardinals • The Cardinals may start the season with a bullpen by committee. With Jordan Hicks recovering from elbow surgery and unavailable until midseason and Carlos Martinez eyeing the rotation, the Cardinals are in the market for a closer and intend to hold auditions all spring. • With Miles Mikolas headed to the IL to start the season, Kwang-Hyun Kim and Carlos Martinez will likely fill the final two rotation slots. With the news that Miles Mikolas will start the season on the injured list, the Cardinals’ rotation vacancy went from one to two. And the candidate pool expanded to include a variety of options. Kwang-Hyun Kim and Carlos Martínez were already vying for the one open spot in the rotation, and now the group of starter candidates will expand to include John Gant, Ryan Helsley and Genesis Cabrera, who all could serve as short-term starters and then be scaled back to the bullpen. • Mikolas wants to get to work on improving his slider which underperformed last season. He also lost some velocity on the pitch — 87 mph in ’19 compared to 88 mph in ’18. And despite producing similar swing-and-miss results, it was hammered when put into play. Opposing hitters posted a .480 slugging percentage on the pitch last season, compared to a .245 slugging percentage in 2018. The home run-heavy season surely played a role in that, but Mikolas also said he changed the shape of the pitch in the spring last year to stay ahead of the league adjustment he knew might come. Hindsight is 20/20. “I was trying to add some more break to it, and it made it a little bit slower and gave it a different shape,” Mikolas said. “In an effort to make something better and constantly improve, I kind of shot myself in the foot and made it worse, is what the numbers would say.” Numbers aside, Mikolas didn’t like the way it complemented and worked off his other pitches. Later in the season, he started locating it better and put an emphasis on shaping the pitch as he had in 2018. From there, he felt like the results improved. • Add Ryan Helsley as a dark horse Cardinals closer candidate. My guess is Ryan Helsley will emerge. I’m sure if you were to ask Mike Shildt now, he would throw out about 10 names, including Giovanny Gallegos, John Gant and Andrew Miller. In the end, I think they’ll go with the guy who throws 98 mph. Did you see Helsley at the end of last season, including the playoffs? He was making even good hitters look silly. He’ll start out the spring building up to start games, but if all of the established starters remain healthy, I see Helsley sliding back into the bullpen, and he’s the guy whose stuff best matches that of Jordan Hicks, who probably won’t be ready until July. Cubs • Tyler Chatwood has the inside track to the Cubs fifth rotation spot. Earlier this week, Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy indicated that right-hander Tyler Chatwood is a leading candidate for the fifth spot in the rotation. Chatwood, who turned in a solid season as a swing man on the staff last year, said Wednesday he is ready to prove he can take that job and run with it. “I feel like this is the best spot I’ve ever been in — mechanics, throwing and everything,” Chatwood said. “I’m just excited to get going and show people what I can actually do, my full arsenal that I have, and it’ll be fun. I’m enjoying it.” • Albery Almora Jr. is working on a new swing. Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. said he needed time to “disconnect” over the offseason following the worst season of his career (.236 average, .651 OPS and 64 wRC+). Then, Almora got to work on some swing changes related to his timing at the plate. The outfielder did not delve into the specifics. Diamondbacks • The Diamondbacks are trying to get more out of Madison Bumgarner’s pitch mix. Expect the Arizona version of Bumgarner to mix in a little more offspeed and breaking stuff. Over the past seven seasons, Bumgarner’s curveball has generated a whiff 16.7 percent of the time and more often than not has resulted in a groundball when put in play. Like Seaton’s hair, Herges considers the pitch to be elite, yet it sits in a distant third place in his pitch mix. Herges wants to emphasize it more in certain spots along with a changeup that Bumgarner barely throws. That pitch, the coach said, could be “one of the better changeups in baseball.” Dodgers • Ross Stripling has a new/better changeup. Stripling, back in contention for the fifth-starter spot after his aborted trade to the Angels, has been tinkering with a new grip for his changeup. The early results were so positive that the club set up special video and spin-rate technology to better analyze the pitch. His change was above average last season with an 18% SwStr% and 66% GB%. I guess it can get better. Giants • Tyler Anderson should be ready when the season begins. Left-hander Tyler Anderson reached a significant milestone on Monday, throwing his first bullpen session since undergoing left knee surgery in June. The Giants initially thought Anderson would open the year on the injured list, but he’s ahead of schedule and could be ready to pitch in games by the end of March. Marlins • The Marlins will have Jonathan Villar play center field … until he can’t. #Marlins manager Don Mattingly said Jonathan Villar will start camp working in center field. He'll still get infield reps, but team hopes CF works out. They have backup plans if it doesn't. — Jordan McPherson (@J_McPherson1126) February 17, 2020 Nationals • The Nationals are looking to use timeshares at second and third base. Washington has several options in the infield with players that can defend at multiple positions. Starlin Castro will play mainly second base during Spring Training, said Martinez, while Howie Kendrick will divide most of his time between first and second. Both could play third base later in Florida, but that position will be managed primarily by Kieboom and Asdrúbal Cabrera. Padres • Chris Paddack has a new curveball. “I got a new grip, been working on a few things,” Paddack said earlier this week of his curve. “The confidence, man, especially toward the end of the year last year, working on it all offseason — it’s the third pitch.” Paddack’s curveball evolved steadily during the 2019 season. It started as a slow looping pitch, then he made it bite more sharply, and by the end of the season, he had added a few ticks of velocity. • Since he’s old and at the end of his contract, the Padres are going to let Garrett Richards throw as many innings as he wants. Barring further injury, Garrett Richards is unlikely to be restricted in his workload in 2020. The veteran right-hander returned from Tommy John surgery late last season and went through his normal offseason progression this winter. • Jurickson Profar is going to focus on just playing second base. As such, Profar is expected to spend the entirety of Spring Training working at second base. A season ago, he struggled with his arm at the position, committing 11 throwing errors. The Padres feel the best way to get him on track is to give him repeated reps there. “Right now, where we’re trying to get his progression on the throwing, we find it best to just stay concentrated at second base,” Tingler said. “But, again, being a switch-hitter and being able to play six or seven different positions, we view that as a positive.” • Matt Strahm is only going to be used as a reliever this season. Tingler confirmed that left-hander Matt Strahm is slated to work as a reliever this season. But given his background as a starter, Strahm will likely be used in a non-traditional sense. Expect the veteran lefty to regularly eat two or three innings, and his presence should help the Padres shorten games. Phillies • Jean Segura may be playing second or third base. But where will Segura play? It is one of the spring’s more interesting storylines, which Phillies manager Joe Girardi said might not be decided until the middle of March. Segura had his best season in 2016, when he played second base with Arizona. He has never played third before, though he worked out at the hot corner Monday. Those are considerations as the Phillies align their 2020 infield. “He’s comfortable at second,” Girardi said. “So maybe he doesn’t need as many reps at second as we’re trying to figure out who is going to play third and who is going to play second. He looked really good there today. He almost looks really natural there because of the different arm angles he’s accustomed to throwing with. It was good to see. He was having fun out there.” • Prospect Spencer Howard has yet to begin throwing. The Phillies plan on managing his workload so he can pitch deep into the season. But the Phillies expect to call up Howard to pitch important innings this season. And considering the 23-year-old right-hander missed seven weeks with shoulder tendinitis last year and worked only 99 1/3 innings, including a half-dozen fall-league starts, they want to be judicious about his early usage to make certain that he’s available later. “Every pitch he throws in March is a pitch he’s not going to be able to throw in September,” general manager Matt Klentak said when camp opened. “We are going to be very slow with Spencer on purpose. It’s not because something is wrong, and it’s not because we don’t like him. It’s because we like him a lot, and we need to set him up for success to pitch deep into the season this year.” Pirates • The Pirates plan on running … a lot. Shelton has previously said the Pirates will be an “aggressive” team on the bases this year, and he reiterated on Sunday that baserunning “will be a point of emphasis” for the entire team. The amount of base-stealing they encourage, however, will be dependent upon who’s in the lineup. “If you have eight guys who are going to stand and bang, you’re probably not going to steal a lot of bases,” Shelton said. “If we get game situationally in the right place, then we may move them.” • With them running more, expect huge numbers from Jarrod Dyson who is the centerfielder. As long as he’s healthy, Polanco will join Pittsburgh’s starting outfield alongside Bryan Reynolds in left and Jarrod Dyson in center. The right fielder is the last man standing not only from the much-hyped outfield that included Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte; he’s the only Pirates player remaining from the 2015 National League Wild Card club, the Bucs’ last postseason team. • Adam Frazier played through two early-season injuries that were behind his struggles. Frazier said for the first time on Monday that he broke his right index finger last Spring Training, then sustained a Grade 1 separation of his right shoulder after an awkward fall on Opening Day. Frazier was sidelined for a stretch last spring, but he didn’t miss any time after the shoulder injury and, in fact, led the 2019 Pirates with 152 games played. Frazier said he didn’t want anyone to disclose his injuries, nor was he trying to use them as excuses for his early-season slump. A Gold Glove Award finalist at second base, Frazier’s OPS by month went: .681, .633, .714, .922, .721, .866. • Mitch Keller will look to change his pitch mix and move away from his fastball. “I knew I threw a lot of fastballs, but I didn’t really know the numbers to a ‘T’ or anything like that,” Keller said. “But sitting down with Oscar and [Meccage], they went over it this offseason and really dove deep into my usage, my splits to righties and lefties. It was pretty high on the fastball, which is probably one of the reasons my fastballs got hit around more than usual — because I was throwing it more than usual, and guys were just sitting on it.” • Cole Tucker reworked his swing aiming for more up an uppercut approach. Their training focused on Tucker’s swing path. Ideally, the work will help the long-limbed switch-hitter keep his bat in the strike zone longer and add a little more loft to his swing after slashing just .211/.266/.361 with two homers and 40 strikeouts in 159 plate appearances for Pittsburgh last season. … And Tucker hit the ball hard pretty often last season. His 36.5 percent hard-hit rate was 2 percent better than the Major League average, according to Statcast, and his 87 mph average exit velocity was 0.5 mph lower than the league average. But his 6.6 degree launch angle was noticeably lower than the league average of 11.2 degrees, leading to fewer line drives and fly balls — the best form of contact. Reds • Tucker Barnhart is giving up switch-hitting. Over his career, he’s hit .220/.297/.296 as a right-handed hitter and .258/.336/.391 from the left side. Barnhart, 29, batted exclusively left-handed over the final month of last season as he contemplated giving up switch-hitting. “For me it’s the right decision,” Barnhart said on Saturday. “For the team, it’s the right decision. At the end of the day, it’s about doing what’s best for the team and producing to help the team win. Doing that, left-on-left, is putting my best foot forward, in my opinion, to help the team. Rockies • Brendan Rodgers will not be able to play games until May as he recovers from shoulder surgery. Black acknowledged that infielder Brendan Rodgers, the No. 29 prospect in the sport according to MLB Pipeline, has made progress from the labrum surgery that ended his 2019 season in July. While the Rockies don’t expect Rodgers to have a Major League impact until May, he could get at-bats as a designated hitter during the spring, Black said. • Antonio Senzatela is adding a curve to his pitch mix. The other talk was with fellow starter German Márquez, who shared a key observation during a catch session in August. Senzatela would unleash a nice curveball while throwing on the outfield grass but keep it in his pocket on the mound. “He just told me, ‘Why don’t you throw the curveball in games?’” Senzatela said. “I told him, ‘I don’t have too much confidence in it.’ He said, ‘Just try it.’” “I told him it was good,” Márquez said. “And the velocity difference was good between the slider and the curveball, so he had another pitch.” • Jeff Hoffman has completely reworked his delivery. Compare his bullpen sessions in early Spring Training to those he threw at this time last year, and it’s the difference between basketball and football. That’s how much different Hoffman’s motion from glove to throwing position has become. A sweep well below the waist before circling to throwing position has become a much shorter rise and lift. It’s much the same motion that Lucas Giolito used in going from inconsistency in the Nationals’ organization to a 2019 All-Star with the White Sox.