Mining the News (2/21/24)

American League

Angels

José Suarez will be stretched out as a starter and is out of options.

Like Adell, Suarez is out of Minor League options and will have to be exposed to waivers if he doesn’t make the team. Suarez, 26, is coming off an injury-plagued year that saw him post an 8.29 ERA with 28 strikeouts, 20 walks and 10 homers allowed in 33 2/3 innings. But he has had success in the past, including a 3.86 ERA in 207 1/3 innings from 2021-22.

Suarez is currently stretched out to be a starter, giving the Angels some rotation depth. But his best chance of making the club is as a long reliever and potential spot starter.

Astros

Jeremy Peña has quieted down his swing.

Two hours later, Peña publicly debuted his drastically different batting stance during the Astros’ first full-squad spring training workout. Gone is the constant twirling and wagging of his bat before a pitch is delivered.

Peña now rests the bat on his right shoulder and has more subtle movements with his front leg: a far more controlled stance designed to be more efficient and subdued.


Such variability underscores what a work-in-progress Peña’s swing still is. He spent his entire amateur and professional baseball life with the same bat-wagging stance and swing mechanics. This is a total overhaul, a change Peña must continue to embrace.

José Abreu will need to DH more.

One of those may be more load management. Abreu’s work ethic and rigorous regimen endeared him to teammates last season, but Espada has already acknowledged that the 37-year-old could benefit from some days at designated hitter this season to preserve his body.

Abreu started 134 games at first base last season and seven as the designated hitter, due perhaps in part to Houston’s nonexistent first-base depth. Jon Singleton, Trey Cabbage and even Mauricio Dubón now provide enough coverage to allow Abreu a day or two off defensively — if the veteran accepts the assignment.

I don’t think this news hurts Abreu or Yordan Alvarez (the normal DH). Instead, I expect Alvarez to move to the outfield and one of the outfielders like Chas McCormick or Jake Meyers will sit.

Blue Jays

Nate Pearson is adding a splitter.

That sounds like a job for a splitter.

New pitches trail closely behind “the best shape of my life” as baseball’s most overcooked spring storyline, but there’s sturdy logic behind Pearson’s new pitch, and he’s in the right company. Standing in the Blue Jays’ clubhouse Tuesday morning, he nods his head to the left where the next nameplate in the row reads “Erik Swanson.”

Guardians

Scott Barlow made several improvements after joining the team last year.

Enter Barlow, who has prior closing experience with the Royals and worked with former Cleveland pitching whisperer Ruben Niebla in San Diego after a 2023 midseason trade to sharpen his stuff. They tweaked his slider grip to enhance its horizontal movement, leaned on his two-seam fastball more often and improved his occasionally slumping posture. His numbers, unsurprisingly, improved after those changes. Barlow, who can become a free agent after the season, has logged a 3.36 ERA across six big-league seasons.

Deyvison De Los Santos, the team’s Rule 5 pick, implemented a mid-season swing change.

[Deyvison De Los Santos] did make some midseason swing tweaks and found better results in the second half despite an alarmingly low walk rate. If he doesn’t break camp with the club, the Guardians can offer him back to the Arizona Diamondbacks, so there’s not much risk involved in taking a closer inspection of his bat for the next six weeks. A third baseman by trade, De Los Santos will shift to first and the corner outfield since third is occupied by some guy named José Ramírez who, coincidentally, has mentored De Los Santos this spring.

Before the change, he was hitting .206/.269/.308 but after the change, it jumped up to .312/.333/.580

Rays

Yandy Díaz played through groin pain for about half the season.

“When you focus on your goals and try to achieve what you have in mind, you try to carry that over to the next year and keep that mentality for the next season,” Díaz said. “[The groin] affected me a little bit, obviously. There was still pain throughout the year, but it’s something that just happened. You don’t expect injuries to happen, but hopefully this year it’ll be better.”

Of course, Díaz did more than just hope for better health. He swapped out some of his heavy weightlifting over the offseason in favor of agility training. The Rays noticed a difference even before he reported to Charlotte Sports Park and fielded ground balls during Monday’s first full-squad workout.

Before the July 25th injury, he was hitting .318/.401/.508 but after the injury, he hit .348/.425/.545. The injury didn’t seem to bother Diaz much.

Tigers

• The team will not use a six-man rotation.

The final spots in the bullpen could be a real battle, too. And some of it might be related to what happens with the starting rotation. It’s common knowledge the Tigers are entering camp with six starters — Kenta Maeda, Tarik Skubal, Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Jack Flaherty and Reese Olson — and they have no interest in using a six-man rotation early in the year.

Joey Wentz, who is out of options and will transition to the bullpen.

Left-hander Joey Wentz is working exclusively as a reliever this spring. And because Wentz is out of options, the Tigers risk losing him if he does not make the bullpen out of camp.

Twins

Christian Vázquez spent the offseason working with Driveline.

Though multiple sources throughout the clubhouse said Vázquez handled the situation professionally, sitting out the playoffs didn’t sit well with the two-time World Series champion. Yet rather than act in a way that could be construed as detrimental to his team, Vázquez used the snub as motivation during a rigorous offseason program full of hitting, cardio and pickleball.

Within a week of the end of the season, he flew to Seattle to work with Max Dutto at Driveline Baseball, a data-driven player development program. With encouragement from Twins assistant hitting coach Derek Shomon, Vázquez sought to determine why his offense sharply fell off.

After finishing last season weighing 215 pounds, Vázquez arrived at camp at 208.

• If healthy, Anthony DeSclafani will start the season in the rotation.

Ostensibly ticketed for the fifth and final spot in the Twins’ rotation ahead of youngster Louie Varland, DeSclafani has the most to prove in terms of health and performance among that starting group — but he’s also shown he can get plenty of outs in this league.

In that regard, he’s toying with two new offerings that he has workshopped this offseason: a new sweeper that won’t replace his cutter but aim to act as more of a swing-and-miss pitch, and a split changeup with more depth to replace his traditional changeup, which got a paltry 15% whiff rate last season.

It’s been a mixed bag so far, with the quality of those pitches worse in camp than they had been during his offseason development, DeSclafani said.

Yankees

Jasson Domínguez could begin minor league games by April or May.

Domínguez said that he spent most of the offseason rehabbing in Tampa. The Yankees have said they expect Domínguez to be ready for Major League games sometime in the summer; manager Aaron Boone suggested that Domínguez could play in Minor League rehab games in April or May.

National League

Braves

Spencer Strider is adding a curveball.

“Kind of,” Strider said. “I mean, we’re working on a couple things, just like playing with different shapes of the slider. The terminology, you know, on all this stuff — sweeper, slider, cutter, curve, slurve, who knows what anything does? I think it’s just manipulating the ball a little more, seeing what kind of different shapes I can get.

Strider worked on the pitch this winter, and if he’s confident enough to throw it in games that count, the thought of him giving hitters that breaking ball to think about is enough to make even more Strider Ks dance in the heads of Braves fans, coaches and Snitker.

Brewers

Sal Frelick has been taking reps in the infield and could platoon with Brice Turang.

As a rookie last season, Frelick rated as an above-average defender in both right and center fields. But this spring, he’s also preparing to play second base and third. If he proves capable in the infield, the implications for both his future and the Brewers’ could be profound.

He also could fill in at second, moving in from the outfield if Murphy wants to remove Brice Turang for a right-handed pinch-hitter.

Cubs

Christopher Morel will concentrate on third base.

“Christopher’s done so much with the bat that it’s our job to figure out the best way to deploy him,” Counsell said Saturday. “My idea at the start of camp is to kind of focus mainly at third base. Let’s see where we’re at. Let’s evaluate that as we go. But let’s give him a chance at third base. Let’s give him some consistency at third base and see where we’re at, roster-wise, at some point in camp and then go forward from there.”

Adbert Alzolay is not being given the closer’s role.

“It certainly could be Adbert,” Counsell said. “I just don’t think at this point we make decisions on that. Adbert obviously did a really nice job with it last year. He had success doing it and that matters, absolutely.”

Diamondbacks

Geraldo Perdomo will be the team’s starting shortstop.

Mets

• The team is going to try to start Kodai Senga every sixth day.

“We’re going to treat it similarly to last year,” pitching coach Jeremy Hefner told The Athletic, “with the caveat that we’re going to listen to (Senga) and listen to his body and what it’s telling us.”

Last year, Senga made 26 of his 29 starts with at least one extra day of rest. Throughout the season, the Mets either manipulated their rotation or added a sixth starter to prevent Senga from pitching on regular rest, defined as four days between starts.

Sean Manaea adjusted his changeup and added a cutter this offseason.

Manaea most appreciated the one on the slider. The next day while playing catch, he hurled a slider. He liked the movement he saw. So he started using it in games, beginning with an outing against the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 30.

From that date until the end of the season (85 innings), Manaea had a 3.60 ERA/3.19 FIP.

While Year 1 with Driveline was all about velocity, Year 2 focused on pitch mix. Manaea continued to work on his sweeper, which might profile best against left-handed batters, who batted just .100 off the pitch in 2023. Wanting more depth from his changeup, he switched the grip, making it a potential chase pitch, from Langin’s perspective. And he added a cutter, which could be a critical weapon against right-handed batters. That would be four pitches to go along with the higher velocity.

Jeff McNeil is dealing with a “somewhat normal” tear in his UCL.

Jeff McNeil’s elbow issues sprang up late in the season, when an MRI revealed a partially torn UCL. McNeil received a platelet-rich plasma injection, missed the final week of the season and couldn’t pick up a bat until December. But after that, everything was simpatico. A follow-up MRI showed the tear still present, but McNeil said that’s “somewhat normal.”

“The doctor said it’s something that may flare up day to day and might have a day where it’s a little bit bad,” he said. “But hitting three or four times a week this offseason, I didn’t have a problem with it so I’m really confident with it going into the season.”

Padres

Xander Bogaerts is moving to second base.

Xander Bogaerts, the shortstop the San Diego Padres signed last offseason to an 11-year, $280 million contract, will play second base this year, manager Mike Shildt said Friday. Ha-Seong Kim 김하성 will return from second base to shortstop, the position the utility Gold Glove Award winner primarily and impressively played in 2022.

• The plan is for Robert Suarez to get most of the team’s Saves.

For now, Suarez is the favorite for a majority of the Padres’ save opportunities.

“There will be days where guys are going back-to-back (days) and they need an extra day,” Shildt said. “The bullpen fluidity literally changes every year about who’s available. But (Suarez) is a guy that’s got all the things that … work perfectly at the end of a game.”

Pirates

Josh Fleming is bringing back his cutter.

While he doesn’t strike out many, Fleming’s 61.6% ground-ball rate last season ranked in the 98th percentile among pitchers, according to Baseball Savant. The plan is for him to start several games, then evaluate whether that is the best option or if he would be best deployed out of the bullpen.

Fleming also came to Pirate City with a new pitch he’s dusting off: A cutter. It was his second-most used pitch in the early years of his career, but he scrapped it in the middle of the 2022 campaign.

Over Fleming’s career, his cutter has a 7% SwStr% and 33% GB%. It’s not a good pitch.

Reds

• Even though Noelvi Marte feels “good”, he’ll miss the first five games of Spring Training.

Cincinnati Reds third baseman Noelvi Marte said the hamstring that suffered the Grade 2 strain during a winter league game feels “good” as he arrived at the team’s facility late this week for spring training.

But he’s also on a more deliberate, monitored schedule that he said is expected to delay his debut in games this spring until after the first five games of the Cactus League schedule.

Nick Lodolo’s leg is not at 100% yet.

Lodolo, 26, acknowledged that his leg isn’t feeling 100 percent yet but he is pain-free when pitching.

“If everything goes well, goes perfect, he’ll be ready to start the season on time,” Reds manager David Bell said. “When healthy, we’ve all said this, there may not be anybody like him or better than him.

Jonathan India is still dealing with plantar fasciitis.

2B Jonathan India is limited with plantar fasciitis, the same injury he dealt with this offseason. India has been working out at the team’s complex and said he feels good.

• Because of his toe surgery, Graham Ashcraft is behind.

RHP Graham Ashcraft is a little behind after right big toe surgery in September. He is a few days behind the other starters, the Reds said, but it’s mostly about conditioning.

Rockies

Justin Lawrence or Tyler Kinley will start the season as the closer.

Rockies right-handed relievers Justin Lawrence and Tyler Kinley throw different breaking pitches, but measurements show they are equally nasty. They’ve also had big moments as middle relievers and setup men.

But going into 2024, with Daniel Bard’s spring slowed because of a knee injury, either Lawrence or Kinley will likely have to protect ninth-inning leads as closer. Both had a crack at the job last year, with mixed results.





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 four FSWA Awards including on for his Mining the News series. He's won Tout Wars three times, LABR twice, and got his first NFBC Main Event win in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

3 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Jorge Soler vs Train (UNEXPECTED)member
1 month ago

The Tigers should just use a 6 man rotation and ease Mize back into it…..If I were them I would use a 6.5 man rotation and have Olson and SGL each pitch 4+ innings every 6th day

montrealmember
1 month ago

But that would mean less starts for Tarik Skubel. They want him every 5th day as long as he’s healthy.

whiptydojoemember
1 month ago
Reply to  montreal

I wish sadtrombone could write a take just like this:

  1. accurate
  2. Less than 100 words