Mining the News (2/2/23) by Jeff Zimmerman February 2, 2023 American League Astros • Michael Brantley might not be ready for Opening Day. Astros outfielder Michael Brantley remains hopeful he’ll be ready to be in the Opening Day lineup following shoulder surgery performed in August. Brantley said Monday he will clear another hurdle next week when he begins taking batting practice, a major step with Spring Training less than three weeks away. “I’m doing great,” Brantley said. “Just following the process, following the schedule we have planned out. All is going well. I’m excited where I’m at. I’ve been hitting, running and throwing and I’m very excited where I’m at in the process.” … Brantley said he might be limited when camp starts in West Palm Beach on Feb. 15, when pitchers and catchers report, but he should be able to participate in most workouts. With Brantley slotted in as the primary DH, it’s tough to know who will take his at-bats if he starts on the IL. Athletics • The team will NOT utilize a six-man rotation but will have to be “flexible” with Shintaro Fujinami used to a six-day rotation. Forst said during the Fujinami press conference that the A’s would not be going with a six-man rotation, but he did acknowledge on Friday that he’s expecting a lot of movement in and out of the rotation and that the A’s are going to have to be flexible with Fujinami, in particular, given his history in a six-man rotation. • A.J. Puk will be shifted to the rotation. All of the A’s key relievers from last season are returning, but the team plans to shift Puk into the rotation. Assuming that conversion sticks, this will be a significant hole for the team to fill, as Puk finished second in relief innings (66 1/3) last season and first in strikeouts. • Dany Jiménez is the favorite to win the closer’s role. Jiménez did a solid job in that role last season and is probably the favorite to get save opportunities early in the season, but his fastball velocity is only average and he walks more batters than one would like to see from a closer. That said, Jiménez showed a closer’s steely resolve, wiggling out of several tough situations, and he seems to have an uncanny ability to miss the barrel and induce soft contact. His xERA (2.81) was actually significantly lower than his actual ERA (3.41). It’s probably his job to lose, but Jackson, May and even Smith could be in the ninth-inning mix, as well. • Jesús Aguilar is working on his swing to hit high fastballs. For Aguilar’s part, he’s already been hard at work making adjustments of his own. Setting up his offseason training in Florida, Aguilar has essentially rebuilt his entire batting stance to combat the increased frequency of pitchers throwing fastballs up in the zone. During his load at the plate, Aguilar said he’s worked on getting more on top of the ball by putting his hands lower in the zone and going straight to the ball. “I was doing something different when I load,” Aguilar said. “I just tried to put my hands a little more down and go straight to the ball. I think that was the difference between last year and the year before, when I had good years. I just tried to come back to that setup and go from there.” He has a career 7% SwStr% against four-seamers and a 8% SwStr% last season. Not great but not horrible. Mariners • Dylan Moore is still recovering from off-season core surgery and already experienced a setback. Moore is recovering from offseason surgery on his core that had been nagging him since late August, when he went on the 10-day injured list with a right oblique strain. He recently experienced a minor setback, Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto said during Seattle’s Spring Training preview, but he should be ready for Opening Day. • George Kirby and Logan Gilbert will have their innings limited in Spring Training and to start the season. “When everyone else is ramping up to their two- and three-inning outings, we are going to have Logan and George moving a little slow, and hold the innings back in spring to preserve them on the back end,” Dipoto said Wednesday at the team’s spring training luncheon. “We’re going to be cautious, but not restrictive.” … “The goal is to make sure that their five-inning outing (in spring) happens just before the season gets ready to start,” Dipoto said. “We’re not going to manage their innings in the same way we did manage George’s innings last year or Logan’s innings the year before. • Jarred Kelenic is in the base shape of his life. The Mariners are hopeful the 2023 version of Kelenic will far exceed what he has done thus far at the big-league level, and what the team is hearing about Kelenic this offseason has been positive. “The reports have been over-the-top awesome … both physically and mentally,” said Mariners general manager Justin Hollander on Wednesday. “Jarret DeHart, our hitting coach, was just down with him in Arizona. They did some motion-capture stuff on where he’s at mechanically — he tested through the roof.” • Cal Raleigh (thumb) and Tom Murphy (shoulder) both had surgery this offseason. There was plenty of good news Wednesday in terms of player health, including in regards to catcher Cal Raleigh, who had surgery on his left thumb after the season. “I don’t know how he played down the stretch,” said Servais. Catchers Raleigh and Tom Murphy (shoulder surgery), outfielder Sam Haggerty (left groin), and relievers Andrés Muñoz (right foot surgery) and Paul Sewald (heel and elbow clean-up) will be ready to go at the outset of camp. Orioles • According to the GM, Grayson Rodriguez is expected to make the Opening Day rotation. Mike Elias #Orioles GM just told us @MLBNetworkRadio that he expects Grayson Rodriguez to make their starting rotation out of spring training. #FantasyAlarm . Also believes that OF Colton Cowser will also make his #MLB debut at some point this year. — Jim Bowden⚾️🏈 (@JimBowdenGM) January 29, 2023 Rangers • The GM said José Leclerc, Ian Kennedy, Jonathan Hernández, Danny Duffy, and/or Brett Martin could close with Leclerc being the front-runner. Chris Young indicated Saturday this year’s closer might already be in camp. “(José Leclerc) could easily be the closer. I think Jonathan (Hernández) could be a closer. Ian Kennedy has experience as a closer. I think Danny Duffy has saves in his career. (fact check: he has one save). Brett Martin had saves last year; I know he’s not an option now. There’s just a number of guys that have experience in those leverage roles. Ultimately, what I’m excited about is we should be in a position where we are needing a closer more than we have the last few years.” As Young mentioned, Leclerc would appear to be the obvious front-runner. He has had stretches in his career when his pitches look like guided missiles, un-hittable and barely visible. • Brock Burke could throw over 100 IP out of the bullpen. “Potentially,” Young acknowledged. “I talked to Mike (Maddux, pitching coach) a little bit about that yesterday. It’s open. As dominant as (Burke) was last year … (but) does that reduce his workload and his innings, and is that the best way to allocate the innings that he can contribute? I think Brock is very capable of 100-plus earnings this year. I’m not sure he gets that in a closer’s role. Or maybe it’s a different type of closer’s role; maybe it’s not as conventional. I don’t want to get too far ahead because we’re not committing to that. It could be a traditional type of closer, but certainly we view Brock as a valuable member of our bullpen and he can pitch a number of different roles that could help us win games.” … “I had concerns or wants at the end of the year to want to be a starter again,” Burke admitted over the weekend. “I felt like I could help the team, (that) it would benefit the team, but after a month of the offseason went by, it was like ‘wellllll, you know, maybe we got enough guys to start now this year.’ (So) I feel like my role in the bullpen, with the starters we have this year, is going to be very helpful. … I’m good with whatever they’ve got. If it’s one inning, two innings, break-up innings. Last year, I definitely would have said more innings the better, at one (point) but after getting used to going out there for one inning, I was more comfortable, so I hope that this year, whatever role the team needs me for.” Twins • Kenta Maeda is 100% healthy. Maeda delivered a strong message during his media session Saturday. “No restrictions,” Maeda said. “A normal spring training is expected.” Maeda had Tommy John surgery on Sept. 1, 2021. While he spent last season rehabbing and may have pitched out of the bullpen had the Twins reached the playoffs, Maeda never appeared in anything other than live batting practice. The right-hander is excited about where he is physically and mentally, noting he’s seen good radar gun readings and likes the shape of his pitches. • Jorge Polanco is “ready to go“. Jorge Polanco declared himself ready to go after rehabbing a right knee that frustrated him down the stretch in 2022. • Alex Kirilloff still has a sore wrist. After swinging the bat for most of January, Alex Kirilloff can still feel wrist soreness, but said his pain level has decreased after undergoing surgery for a second straight season. That should be a good sign after a drastic surgery in which doctors intentionally broke Kirilloff’s right wrist in order to shave down the bone to prevent it from rubbing against other bones. … “(Soreness is) definitely there,” Kirilloff said. “They cut my bone so there’s definitely some aches and stuff to go along with that, but from a pain standpoint it feels good. … I think they’re expected to go away. I think anytime you break your bone it can take a lot longer than expected to heal. From my understanding, it gets to that certain point where it’s healed enough to do whatever you need to do and then it keeps healing for a while after that.” White Sox • If needed, Oscar Colás can play center field. Oscar Colás is largely tasked with carrying the White Sox right field position into an above-average place going forward. While he didn’t crack Keith Law’s top-100 prospect list, Colás got an endorsement from Getz in being able to handle center field on occasion in Chicago after all his experience there in the minors last year and he is expected to be a reliable defender in right field. • Sean Burke is likely the next starter to be promoted when the team needs one. As he’s said previously this offseason, Getz identified prospect Sean Burke as expected to be the next in line. “I like his delivery. He’s put together. He repeats the delivery very well. He’s got a power fastball. He can land an above-average breaking ball. His slider continues to get better. I know he’s a guy that’s been working hard with his changeup as well,” Getz said of Burke. “He’s a guy that’s going to be able to add innings. Last year he had a very productive year. Certainly one of our better starters in the minor leagues and worked his way up to Triple A. He’s a guy that we view as a rotation piece fairly soon, and can be for the foreseeable future.” Former 2019 second-round pick Matthew Thompson is the next prospect Getz tabbed as a major-league option at some point in 2023, thanks to “an excellent offseason,” but mentioned non-roster invites Nate Fisher, Jesse Scholtens and recent waiver claim A.J. Alexy as experienced starter options as well. Yankees • Aaron Hicks is tired of being athletic and wants to bulk up. His power was diminished but he still got on base and was able to contribute in other ways. Hicks told Dan Martin of The New York Post in September that he tried to come back from wrist surgery lean and athletic to stay healthy but that it backfired by sapping his power. “I wanted to get faster and healthy, but me playing at 200 pounds isn’t it,’’ Hicks said. “I haven’t been impacting the ball like I wanted to. It’s really showed, with my power down. I wanted to be quicker and it didn’t work out that way.” He told Martin that he was looking forward to adding more strength in the offseason and coming into 2023 with the power restored. National League Braves • Ronald Acuña Jr. thinks he’s back to normal. “I think I can say that I’m normal,” Acuña said. “I’m 100 percent healthy. I really think that I can be a normal player and not play DH that much anymore.” Cardinals • The team will go with a second baseman by committee including Brendan Donovan, Nolan Gorman, and Paul DeJong. The Cardinals likely won’t employ a designated starting second baseman, though. Instead, they’d rather play it by committee, similar to how they filled the position last year. If DeJong can find some sort of offensive rhythm and Gorman can improve on his overall consistency, the Cardinals will have three viable middle infield solutions (including Brendan Donovan) to partner with Edman. Giants The team plans on utilizing some combination of five-man and six-man rotations and tandem starters. “I think it’s really going to be a mix,” Zaidi said in December. “There may be some situations in which we go to a six-man rotation for a period of time. The drawback of that is you’re down to a seven-man ‘pen, but if you have rested starters who are going deep into games and you have guys in the bullpen that can throw multiple innings, that can help mitigate that. I think there will be times we do that. “There will be times when we tandem guys and try to use two of our starters to get through an entire game and give the rest of the ‘pen a day off. That’s something we’ve heard a lot from our relievers over the last couple years.