Mining the News (2/24/23)

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

American League


Griffin Canning is fully healthy.

Right-hander Griffin Canning, meanwhile, was described by manager Phil Nevin as “full go,” notes Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register. The Angels plan to be cautious with the former second-rounder and top prospect after he missed the 2022 season due to a back injury, but Nevin says he’ll throw live batting practice this week.


Adam Oller is adding a slurve.

Oller also feels like a new pitcher from a repertoire standpoint. Setting up his offseason workouts at Dynamic Sports Training in Houston, Oller began developing a new pitch. Constantly sending video of his sessions to A’s pitching coaches Scott Emerson and Mike McCarthy, he worked on adding a new breaking ball, which he describes as somewhat of a hybrid between a slider and a curve.

“It turned into more of a hard curve,” Oller said. “The biggest difference between mine and others right now is, when I’m up to full speed, mine is like 84-87 mph while still keeping the bigger break on it.”

Blue Jays

Yusei Kikuchi also added a slurve.

Kikuchi has added a breaking ball that’s midway between a curveball and a slider. It’s new, but early looks have been encouraging and he’s been working with Toronto’s staff to find the right shape and velocity.

“I’m focusing on the strike percentage [with the breaking ball],” Kikuchi said through a club interpreter. “Last season, mainly, I was focusing on the strike percentage with my fastball. This season, I’m focusing on it with offspeed pitches. That’s what has changed.”

Zach Thompson is the team’s seventh starter.

First in line will be either Kikuchi or White. Beyond that, Walker mentioned Zach Thompson, who is impressing in camp after making some adjustments since joining the organization. Then there’s Drew Hutchison, the 2015 Opening Day starter who is back on a Minor League deal and could very well be called upon at some point in ’23.

“He’s a matured pitcher. He’s been through the wars a little bit and dealt with a lot of adversity,” Walker said of Hutchison. “I wouldn’t say he’s reinvented himself, but I would say that mentally, he’s a different animal. He knows who he is as a pitcher and I certainly think he’s capable of getting Major League hitters out consistently.”


Jorge Mateo will have to hit better in order to keep his job.

Mateo, however, has a little more competition at shortstop. He is the incumbent and is considered a defensive whiz. But he batted .221 with a .646 OPS in 150 games last season. If he struggles at the plate again, the Orioles have other options, including third baseman Gunnar Henderson and a pair of shortstops at Triple A in Joey Ortiz and Jordan Westburg.

So, Mateo needs to stay healthy and likely needs to hit better, as he did last August when he batted .277 with an .816 OPS, to play 150 or more games this season. He understands that. And said developing more offensive consistency was a major emphasis this offseason.

Red Sox

Jorge Alfaro can play first base so he might have the edge for Boston’s backup catcher.

“The thing with Alfaro, he can play first, too,” said Cora. “I think that’s what he’s going to do for Colombia. He’s going to catch, play first and DH. So the bat plays, but right now we really like our duo, you know, they’re pretty good. So, let’s see where we’re at by the end, but we’re very pleased with them.”


Kyle Isbel is trying to lift the ball more.

Isbel joined several Royals players who went to Driveline, the data-driven training center, this offseason. Isbel sought answers on his bat path. He found himself hitting a lot of ground balls last year rather than his typical line-drive approach. His 44.6% hard-hit rate was above league average, but it wasn’t showing in the results.

“I wanted to get an in-depth, camera footage, data of what’s going on,” Isbel said. “Like, what’s the problem? I’m hitting balls hard, but they’re low. I just need to be able to optimize the barrel and get better results. Not even that results are everything, but at some point, they need to come. And I need to put myself in a better position to get them.”

This spring, Isbel’s left-handed swing looks smoother. That’s because of his load in the setup, letting his hands stay back, which helps his rotation and leads to driving balls. In 2022, he shortened his hands and tended to come down and across the ball.

Brad Keller is hoping to throw a slow curve.

Keller has thrown a curveball before, but not in games. He made it a focus this offseason to give him speed differential between a mid-90s fastball, a 92-92 mph sinker and a 87 mph slider. He also sometimes throws a 90 mph changeup.

“As a group, we talked about what it would look like if he got something in the low 80s paired with his mid-90s fastball and everything in between,” Sweeney said. “So that was a focus of this offseason, find some sort of spin that would help with speed differential. He came in with some really impressive pitches.”


Alex Kirilloff is still experiencing wrist pain.

Currently, Kirilloff’s swings are occurring in the batting cages, off a pitching machine and in coach-pitched batting practice. While he’s participated in several live batting practices this week, he hasn’t taken a swing, instead is using those sessions against teammates to track pitches.

He sees progress being made with an increased workload.

He still experiences an occasional ache in his wrist, but at no point in the build-up so far has there been a reason to shut down Kirilloff.

Joey Gallo doesn’t like to change.

“Yeah, I guess?” Gallo said. “But during the season, you’re just trying to figure out a lot of things out at once. I didn’t know I was moving as much as he told me. But it was pretty noticeable when you look back at it. I was making it really, really tough for myself.”

The Yankees and Dodgers are two of the more analytically advanced clubs, and Gallo said both teams tried to help him. In the end, he blamed only himself, saying he found it difficult to break bad habits.

Gallo said his focus is getting back to the player he was in 2019 …

I guess he’ll just continue to suck.

Josh Winder is still babying his shoulder.

Right-hander Josh Winder is about a week behind the other Twins pitchers as he begins this camp due to an offseason flare-up of soreness in his right shoulder, but the 26-year-old expressed optimism that he and the Twins have finally found an approach to put the persistent issue to rest.

“Kind of approaching my shoulder a little bit differently this spring,” Winder said. “Working on some finer details and making sure there’s been a little bit more stability in there. It feels like a really sustainable process right now. Something I can replicate at home and come back during the season. So I really like what we’re doing in there.”

Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said that Winder experienced soreness when first starting his offseason throwing program in December, which led the club to slow down his progress.

Griffin Jax is adding a cutter.

Griffin Jax’s cutter

Look for: Its existence

In his words: “I want to throw it hard. If I’m going to use it almost in place of my fastball, it needs to be low to mid-90s. It has been. It’s been anywhere from 91-94, so I’m very happy with that. But the movement is where it’s been a little inconsistent from day to day, so that’s been the biggest harp. Sometimes, I’ll get around it too much and it almost turns into a slider, which, I don’t need another one of those.”

National League


Ian Anderson is adding a slider.

Ian Anderson used his new pitch, a slider, to strike out two of the Braves’ best hitters, Michael Harris II and Matt Olson, during his first live batting practice session of spring training Thursday. He drew attaboys from pitching coach Rick Kranitz and approving nods and comments from teammates.

Olson described how Anderson’s changeup and new slider look the same coming out of his hand and continue to do so until the changeup moves down and away from a left-handed batter, while the slider moves down and in

“It’s a really good pitch for him, just tunneling-wise,” he said. “They kind of look the same, then split off opposite ways. … He was looking good.”

“It’s just something that I can throw to righties mostly, something other than fastball/changeup,” Anderson said, before showing in live BP that it can also be quite effective against lefties. “I do think the biggest thing was getting the ride back on the fastball, and the shape and all. Now that I have that, I feel like any little bit of a slider will definitely help me tremendously. Just moving away from righties, kind of keep them honest on my changeup.”


Dylan Carlson played through a thumb injury that sapped his power.

Carlson posted a respectable .257/.325/.410 line over 75 games in the first half, but saw his numbers plummet to .205/.301/.333 due to what was ruled a left thumb strain. His power was down — he hit just 8 home runs in 2022 compared to 18 in 2021. He especially struggled against right-handed pitching, recording just a .633 OPS.

Carlson acknowledged the difficulty of trying to play through the injury and admitted he swayed from the swing fundamentals that had helped him thrive as a National League Rookie of the Year finalist in 2021. One of his focuses this spring is to re-establish consistency in his swing.

“I kind of picked up some bad habits within the last season trying to protect my hand a little bit,” Carlson explained. “So I’m trying to get out of that and get back to trusting myself and trusting what I see in my ability.


Joc Pederson is taking reps at first base.

“I think with Belt leaving and then you have LaMonte, we’re just a little shorter on depth at first than in the outfield. I’m not going to be the starting first baseman, by any means. It’s more so just a utility, depth type of role, from my understanding.”

Kapler, for his part, believes Pederson has the ability to develop into a serviceable first-base option for the Giants if necessary.

Brandon Crawford’s knee will never be right.

Crawford’s right knee issue is related to cartilage damage, which he had treated with cortisone last year for the first time in his career.

“It’s cartilage thing, so it is not necessarily going to heal itself,” he said. “I just hope to keep it strong enough around the [joint] to relieve the pain that I feel from it. There are certain movements that still don’t feel great, but if I can keep it to where it is right now, it will be fine for the season.”

Kapler said load management will factor in Crawford’s usage.


Trevor Rogers is adding a sinker.

“Adding a sinker, mid-to-upper 90s, will definitely add to [his] repertoire,” Cooper said. “Hopefully [he’ll] make it back to the 2021 Trev and put last year behind him. There’s so much talent there. He’s still super young.


Cole Hamels will not be a rotation option until mid-season.

But Hamels threw a bullpen Thursday, his first since arriving in Peoria. He’s been throwing one per week, but he’s about to ramp up to two. Plus, he’s now working with a big league training staff with a vested interest in his recovery.

At some point, likely toward the end of camp, Hamels will begin facing hitters. Considering the layoff, he expects a prolonged period of pitching simulated games at the team’s Spring Training complex. If all goes well, Hamels will be pitching competitively midseason.


Scott Kingery has reworked his swing.

“[Kingery has] shortened his stroke,” Thomson said. “He’s worked a lot with [hitting coach Kevin Long] in Arizona all winter. He’s getting on top of the ball and hitting more line drives, making more contact.

“We know how talented this guy is. He can play anywhere on the diamond. He can run. He can steal bases. He just got away from his swing at one point. He looks like we’re getting him back close to where he was. That home run today was pretty impressive. I know it’s BP, but it’s moving forward, for sure.”

Kingery can play the infield or outfield, including center field. The Phillies are looking for somebody to back up Brandon Marsh in center.


Ke’Bryan Hayes is getting fat in order to steal more bases.

In that regard, it will be sort of ironic if this turns out to be Hayes’ most prolific base-stealing year. This past offseason, he intentionally bulked up by 10 or 15 pounds, but he doesn’t think it will slow him down.

“I wanted to get back to that 210-(pound) mark, like I was in the minor leagues,” Hayes said. “I think having a little bit of fat on me will add some durability. I’m still figuring out how to move at this weight again, but I’m already feeling better with that.”

Luis Ortiz will start in the AAA rotation.

Ortiz received a crash course in navigating stressful environments, but with the Pirates signing Rich Hill and Vince Velasquez to complement Mitch Keller, Roansy Contreras and JT Brubaker, Ortiz will likely begin this season with Indianapolis. In Triple-A, Ortiz will have an opportunity to refine his changeup, a pitch that will be invaluable to his growth.

The right-hander threw his changeup only 5.1 percent of the time in the brief sample size of four starts, and while he impressed with his awesome fastball and biting slider, Ortiz knows he’ll need an established third pitch in his bag. Pitching coach Oscar Marin told Ortiz that he needed a changeup to throw against lefties, and Ortiz said he’s working on the changeup more than his heat or bender.

“I was not afraid of throwing the changeup but I was leaving [it] up in the strike zone, but I know I’ve got to throw that changeup to lefties more,” Ortiz said.


Nick Senzel reworked his swing last season right before getting injured …

Late last season, assistant hitting coach Joel McKeithan suggested a new adjustment. Similar to 2019, Senzel stood tall and hovered his left foot off the ground as the pitch arrived. But, he would be less wide in his stance and more balanced.

“It allows him to move in rhythm to the ball and be a little more athletic in recognizing and adjusting to pitches. He should be able to get his good swing off on anything,” said McKeithan, who was promoted to hitting coach in the offseason. “It was like, ‘OK, what didn’t you like about trying this the first time? What are the foundational things you need to have in your swing?’ The main thing was just finding balance.”

Five of Senzel’s top seven exit velocities came in September, including a season-high 109.5 mph on Sept. 4 vs. the Rockies and 107.3 mph on Sept. 13 vs. Pittsburgh.

… and will likely not be ready for Opening Day.

The healing went poorly and Senzel needed surgery. He wore a boot and used a scooter to get around most of the offseason and only resumed baseball activity a couple of weeks ago. He still came to camp in good physical shape, but now, he needs to get into baseball shape. That has him behind others in getting ready for the season. He still hasn’t hit against pitchers in camp and isn’t scheduled to play in the early Cactus League games.

That puts Opening Day in doubt.


• The team plans on resting their good hitters at home.

The Rockies’ advantage at home has always been high-scoring games, and the resulting psychological effect on opposing pitchers. Now manager Bud Black wants to tweak the formula to lessen the negative edge of the Coors Field effect.

The theory is fewer starts, especially early in the season, for frontline players could mean a fresher team late in the season. And who knows? It may give the team a greater chance on the road.

“We’ve talked about it this offseason probably more than any other time,” Black said. “Generally speaking, you will probably see a little bit more of a guy not starting at home than what you would have in the past.”

RIP to all the hitter values for this team.

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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25 days ago

How serious should we take the Colorado announcement ? What other reason is there to keep anyone on that roster besides home games ?

24 days ago
Reply to  john

I liked that the motivation was to keep them fresh at the end of the season. To do….what…. exactly? Does he think they are playoff bound?