Mining the News (2/23/24)

Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

American League

Athletics

Joe Boyle is adding a sweeper.

Focusing this offseason on translating that high-strikeout form to the big leagues, Boyle added a sweeper to his arsenal of pitches, which also includes a traditional slider and curveball.

Blue Jays

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. dealt with full-body pain for most of last season.

The first baseman had documented issues with his left wrist and right knee last year — he missed a handful of games, but was never placed on the injured list — but he said his pain spanned “from head to toes.” That said, Guerrero didn’t want to use nagging injuries as an excuse for his performance, instead saying the onus was on him because he didn’t prepare as well as he could have.

“If I tell you that I didn’t play with pain in a lot of games, I would be lying,” he said. “But that’s not an excuse. It’s part of the game. Sometimes you got to go on the field and grind, even if everything hurts. Also, I probably won’t blame that because I didn’t have the best preparation in the offseason last year.”

Guardians

Kyle Manzardo will likely start the season in AAA.

Kyle Manzardo will probably open the year in Class AAA. Guardians officials reiterated in the offseason the difficulty of hitting in Cleveland in April and how a slow start can bury young hitters. (Of course, there’s also the whole service time thing.) One thing to note: Manzardo grew up in Northern Idaho. I’d say he’s pretty used to hitting in the cold of April.

Estevan Florial is ahead of Myles Straw for the centerfield job.

4. Who lines up next to him remains to be seen, but I get the feeling they’d love Estevan Florial to claim the job in February and March. It might seem obvious, but Guardians hitting coach Chris Valaika was the first to go on record this week and say Myles Straw is competing for his job this spring. Marking him in the lineup every day is no longer a given. Ramón Laureano has plenty of experience in center, but Florial is the one Vogt called “a specimen.”

5. The Guardians flipped oft-injured Cody Morris to the New York Yankees for Florial over the winter. It makes sense. The Yankees need arms, and Florial had no logical path to consistent at-bats in the Yankees’ stacked outfield/lineup. He’s 26 now and hit 28 home runs in Class AAA last year, but he has never had more than 71 plate appearances in a major-league season.

6. “He’s a specimen, I can tell you that,” Vogt said. “You just look at him in the box, there’s a presence there. He’s excited for this opportunity.”

Rangers

Evan Carter believes there are no good lefties in the minors

Despite what the media says — he pointed (respectfully) to the scrum with a chuckle — Carter believes his numbers against left-handed pitchers is something that will come with time and reps more than anything.

“Good lefties in the Minors don’t exist, they’re all in the big leagues,” he said, only partly joking.

… but he struggled against those minor league lefties with a .595 OPS.

A .243/.338/.257 slash line against lefties in 70 at-bats in the Minors

If he can’t hit bad lefties, how is he supposed to hit good ones?

José Leclerc is the leading closer candidate but the manager won’t officially declare one just yet.

While Leclerc seemingly enters Spring Training leading the conversation at closer after a dominant postseason, manager Bruce Bochy stopped short of saying that would be the case. Kirby Yates also joins Robertson, Leclerc and Sborz as high-leverage options going into the regular season.

Bochy said he’s not going to place any of the four potential closer options in any sort of order for the moment, not wanting to pigeonhole himself so early in camp. But he also noted that Leclerc closed a lot of games last year, especially in the postseason, and will likely do the same this year, whether he has a specific title or not.

“We’ve got some high-leverage guys down there that can help each other out and help give guys days off,” Bochy said. “I’m not going to get into exactly what the pecking order is, because they’re all really good relievers with really good resumes. They’ll all be used like the ballgame.”

Rays

Jonathan Aranda (Utility-only on some sites) is expected to see time at first, second, and third base.

Trading Raley will create some left-handed at-bats that Aranda can claim. But with an established group of starting infielders and other prospects banging down the door, he’ll have to be versatile enough to handle first, second and third base to get the kind of consistent at-bats that he’s acknowledged he needs in order to find his rhythm. Thus, defensive work was a big focal point for Aranda over the winter.

Wander Franco doesn’t have a locker.

Franco, who does not have a locker set up in the Rays’ clubhouse, was reinstated to Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster in the offseason after finishing the season on administrative leave while being investigated by Major League Baseball and authorities in the Dominican Republic.

Good.

Richie Palacios (OF qualified) will play some second base.

Richie Palacios, acquired from the Cardinals for Andrew Kittredge this offseason, will work some at second base while spending the majority of his time in the outfield. Palacios played a lot of second base in the lower Minors, but he focused more on all three outfield spots in recent years. The Rays hope that reintroducing Palacios to the infield will add to his versatility and their late-game roster maneuverability.

Randy Arozarena has beefed up.

Arozarena reported to Spring Training this week with a noticeably bulked-up physique, having packed on muscle with the idea that a stronger body will lead to a stronger finish than he had last year.

“My main focus during the offseason: Get stronger. I feel like last year, the second half, I kind of lost some weight at the end,” Arozarena said, with communications director Elvis Martinez translating. “Strength training was part of my main focus to come ready for camp this year.”

Royals

Daniel Lynch IV has added 25 pounds.

Lynch said he put on 25 pounds as part of his rehab process, with a focus on strengthening his shoulders to limit future injuries.

Twins

Chris Paddack hopes to throw between 140 and 160 innings.

The Twins are going to count on Paddack heavily in the rotation as he builds up to what he hopes will be a 140-160 inning workload following a short but eye-popping cameo in the bullpen last fall that gave the organization faith in the bounceback of his stuff and primed him for a full offseason of preparation to start.

Matt Canterino is healthy and aiming to throw 125 IP.

Eighteen months and one surgically repaired elbow later, it looks like Canterino and the Twins made the difficult but correct call. He’s healthier now than he’s been in years, having completed the lengthy rehab process during the offseason, and Canterino doesn’t look out of place alongside the big-league pitchers in Twins camp this spring. Twins officials have resumed raving.

Early reports on his post-surgery stuff are encouraging. His fastball still sits in the mid-90s, but it might be his third-best pitch behind a very good changeup that can neutralize left-handed hitters and a sharp slider he uses mostly versus righties. His command of all three offerings, which suffered while trying to pitch through pain, is already feeling improved.

For now, Canterino will get a shot to prove he can handle a starter’s workload, and he’s aiming for around 125 innings this season, building up gradually.

White Sox

Dominic Fletcher is the leading right-field candidate.

Yankees

Anthony Volpe has flattened out his swing.

The biggest point of emphasis for Anthony Volpe coming into this season was changing his bat path, he told The Athletic. Last year, Volpe had an uppercut swing through the zone. It led to him hitting 21 home runs but also led to inconsistency at the plate throughout the season. Volpe was known for an all-fields approach throughout the minor leagues, but his swing path in his rookie season looked like one that was trying to sell out for the home run. He simplified it this offseason, and it’s already drawing rave reviews.

“A lot of the changes I’ve seen this offseason coming into camp, I’m excited about it,” Judge said. “Just the way his bat path is working and how he’s using the whole field.”

Volpe doesn’t need to be a slugger for the Yankees to be their best. A higher on-base percentage from Volpe at the bottom of the order would go a long way for LeMahieu, Judge and Soto to drive him in.

National League

Brewers

• The team is worried about Gary Sánchez’s wrist.

The Brewers had lingering concern over the condition of Sánchez’s right wrist after his physical, and the expectation is he will accept a lower base salary with incentives that would enable him to earn the original $7 million if he stays healthy.

Sánchez, playing for the San Diego Padres, suffered a season-ending fractured right wrist last Sept. 6 when he was hit by a 98-mph fastball by Jeff Hoffman of the Philadelphia Phillies.

Giants

Sean Hjelle is expected to be a swingman.

Sean Hjelle could also be a candidate to enter the mix, though Melvin has suggested that the 6-foot-11 right-hander might be better suited for more of a swingman role out of the bullpen.

Mets

• Prospect Christian Scott is adding a sweeping slider.

To build on that, Scott is also adding a sweeping slider to his existing gyro slider, which has a tighter and more downward break.

“I want to have a little bit different of a look,” he said. “I’m trying to learn when to use both; that will be a big part of my development this spring training, for sure.”

Nationals

• The team wants Jake Irvin to throw his changeup more.

The Nationals are looking for Irvin to continue that progress this season as a young arm alongside right-hander Josiah Gray, 26, and lefty MacKenzie Gore, who turns 25 this week. They have tasked him with working on his changeup, which he threw for five percent of his pitches last season, to create separation from his fastball.

“With him, it’s just repeating his delivery, pounding the strike zone,” said manager Dave Martinez. “He made some big strides last year from when we first got him to the end. It was a lot for our young pitchers to go through, but they went through it. … This year, knock on wood, if everything goes well, we’ll hope that he can ride the season all the way through.”

Stone Garrett might be healthy by Opening Day.

“I just want to make sure that he’s 100 percent before we get him out there and really start fully going,” manager Dave Martinez said. “But he looks good. Look, he worked diligently all winter long to get himself ready. I think he’s in a good spot. I think as of right now, he could be ready for Opening Day, and that’s the way we’re looking at it.”

Padres

Jackson Merrill will play some outfield.

Merrill’s Cactus League debut will come in the outfield, Shildt said on Tuesday. The team’s No. 2 prospect in the MLB Pipeline rankings, Merrill has spent nearly his entire career at shortstop. But without much opportunity available in the infield, Merrill is competing for one of the two current outfield vacancies. Still, Shildt made it clear that Merrill would continue to get reps at short this spring.

“Listen, we’ve got open competition [in the outfield],” Shildt said. “We also want to make sure we keep a guy that’s got a skill set to play in the infield that’s very high and proven, to make sure he doesn’t lose it. So it’s a balancing act.”

Jurickson Profar is still dealing with visa issues.

Jurickson Profar, who is sorting through visa issues before he can take his physical and formally sign his contract, would make eight.

Michael King is adding a mystery pitch.

Michael King was originally set to follow Joe Musgrove on the mound in Thursday’s Cactus League opener. Then, in his first live batting practice session in camp, he faced the likes of Tatis, Manny Machado, Xander Bogaerts and Jake Cronenworth and received positive feedback on a pitch he began experimenting with in the offseason. That prompted King to run a rescheduling idea by pitching coach Ruben Niebla, who quickly approved.

Instead of pitching Thursday, King threw live BP again Wednesday (on four days’ rest). He now expects to make his Cactus League debut Monday against the Cleveland Guardians.

“I said I’d rather do another (live BP) where I can get live feedback on that pitch,” King said.

Phillies

J.T. Realmuto and the team worked on his plate approach.

An in-season adjustment is easy to discuss but difficult to implement. For years, Long has wanted Realmuto to quiet his leg kick, which became higher and higher in 2023 as the veteran catcher searched at the plate.

Then, when Realmuto stepped into the lab and saw data that reinforced how his body was working against him, he was curious. Long pulled video from when Realmuto was at his best — different parts of different seasons — and it led to an enlightening discovery.

Realmuto hit at the lab three times a week in November. He worked with Rob Segedin, a former big-league utilityman who now has one of the fanciest titles in the Phillies organization: director of integrative baseball performance and strategic initiatives. Segedin oversees the burgeoning biomechanics program. The Phillies believe it’s an important development tool; they are among MLB teams leading in this realm.

Kyle Schwarber dealt with a knee issue last season.

That includes Schwarber. It starts with his health. He battled a knee issue last year, which bothered him more than he wanted anybody to know. Not that Schwarber had blazing speed, but his sprint speed dropped from 26.4 feet per second in 2022 to 25 feet per second.

“I definitely feel in a way better spot than last April,” he said.

Reds

Matt McLain hurt himself by taking too many swings.

McLain expected to take fewer BP swings in camp and before games, and he will stress quality swings over quantity.

“I think it was too early for the amount of workload I was doing,” he said. “So I could have held off a week or two before I got to where I was at. And the plan was originally I was going to use spring as a little bit of a build-up as well, because I was out here early. Just kind of going at it, and it happened.”

Once cleared by the medical staff in the offseason, McLain took swings but didn’t have a recurrence of the issue.

“Looking back on it, there’s nothing that’s going to match the intensity of me hitting in the cage versus me hitting live,” McLain said. “That’s not the same as BP swings. I’ve got to be smarter about it moving forward. Luckily, it looks like we avoided something. I’ll take some days off and get back at it.”

Graham Ashcraft is adding a changeup.

While facing hitters during Saturday’s workout, Reds starting pitcher Graham Ashcraft wasn’t planning on tinkering with his new pitch. But he ended up throwing four changeups anyway, including getting a swing-and-miss strikeout with the fourth one.

“I’ve been flirting around with the changeup,” Ashcraft said. “I just have to see how it profiles out on the mound before I really take it into a game.”

Jonathan India is expected to play all over the field but is still dealing with a foot injury.

Bell expects India — the 2021 National League Rookie of the Year — will get opportunities this season at second base, first base, third base, left field and designated hitter. An offseason flare-up of the foot injury has him on a modified running program in camp, reducing his ability to do outfield work.

Rockies

Sean Bouchard, for now, is the starting right fielder.

Bouchard, 27, enters 2024 penciled in as the Rockies’ right fielder, although there will be challengers in camp, with a bevy of prospects expected to bang on the door during the season. But no matter how gaudy the rankings or how salivating the power-hitting potential of others, it will take a lot to overtake Bouchard. Tasks like wearing down a pitcher with plate discipline and being on base for others become important for the Rockies, who play in an extreme offensive environment at Coors Field but are on a different baseball planet on the road.





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.

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tagemandbagem
3 months ago

Wonderful. Mining the News is a national treasure and an incalculable part of keeping up on MLB happenings.