Mining the News (2/26/21) by Jeff Zimmerman February 26, 2021 American League Astros • Myles Straw is looking forward to the challenge of leading off. “I’m going to have to be more aggressive this year,” Straw said. “I know it; the coaches know it. I’m going to go into this season coming out swinging as a whole. I know pitchers are going to attack me, so staying ready to hit and grinding out at-bats and having good at-bats and having deep counts and working pitchers. … I’m looking forward to the opportunity.” I can’t believe Straw is going to leadoff but Dusty Baker is in charge. • Yordan Alvarez is still limited in his workouts. Astros manager Dusty Baker said third baseman Alex Bregman has yet to work out on the field this spring because he “tweaked” his hamstring, and he mentioned that designated hitter Yordan Alvarez has also been limited to working indoors so far as part of his recovery from double knee surgery. … He underwent arthroscopic surgery on both knees in August and continues to recover. Alvarez had a slight tear of the patellar tendon in his right knee, which was repaired, and a routine cleanup was performed on his left knee. “It’s no secret with Alvarez,” Baker said. “He’s recovering from surgery, and we’ve got to take him slow.” How slow? I can’t find any reason to count on Alvarez with an average NFBC ADP of 73. Blue Jays • Tyler Chatwood could be used in two-inning stretches. Signed as a reliever, the right-hander expects to pitch in late, high-leverage innings, similar to Jordan Romano, Rafael Dolis and projected closer Kirby Yates. Chatwood could be stretched a bit longer than those three right-handers with some two-inning outings, but by facing hitters just once, he can max out his best pitches without saving something for later. “You’re attacking from the get go,” Chatwood said Tuesday from Dunedin, Fla. “You’re not worried about having to see [a batter] two or three times. You’re going out there to get him out with your best pitch. As a starter, you might try to save a pitch for a big situation that you want to go to. With this, you’re trying to get the guy out as quick as possible and with the least amount of pitches as possible as well.” Chatwood would be an interesting arm in a short outing. When he relieved in 2019, his fastball velocity jumped 2 mph. Then the next season, he backed off that fastball and his strikeout rate jumped to 12.1 K/9. Finally, the first time through the order in 2020, he allowed just a 2.61 ERA. He’s been elite in short outings and could be a great option off a fantasy bench when not enough starters are worthy of that week’s lineup. Tigers • Robbie Grossman will hit near the top of the lineup. Hinch said he envisions Grossman hitting toward the top of the order. For now, it’s unclear if a leadoff role could actually be in his future. “He is attractive hitting in the first inning at some point,” Hinch said. “I have to assess where the lineup is and who can function there. But the style of at-bat in terms of seeing some pitches, do some damage, draw a few walks, be a good hitter, switch-hitting component, all in his favor for hitting at or near the top.” This news, along with Grossman’s reworked swing, could make him be surprisingly productive. • Tarik Skubal is working on adding a splitter. “If I could take Casey’s splitter — that’s a pitch that I’m learning — so if I could take Casey’s splitter and just add it right to my arsenal, I would really like that,” Skubal said. It’s not quite that easy, but he’s working on it. He doesn’t need the pitch with two non-fastball with at least a 13% SwStr% but there is no harm in trying. Twins • Miguel Sanó could see some games at third base. Though Sanó’s primary position will remain first base, he is expected to get some work at third to maintain the roster’s versatility. “This is a different team,” Baldelli said. “We’re going to do it in a completely different way this year. … We’re going to look to different guys and make this thing work in a completely different way, and hopefully in an even more productive way.” White Sox • Lance Lynn is trying to add s consistent curveball. A curveball thrown with sharp vertical drop could play on this same plane — mirroring the fastball until it falls off the table — and Lynn has been inching toward that reality to adjust to his new approach. Just looking at his 2020 Baseball Savant numbers, the few curves he did throw (8.4 percent) climbed north of 2,600 rpm for the first time since Statcast started providing public data in 2015. That’s above-average raw spin. Across all seasons, his curve had just a 10% SwStr% (his fastball is at 12% SwStr%), so his curve will need some work to become a viable option. Yankees • Giancarlo Stanton may see some time in the outfield. General manager Brian Cashman has said that he intends for Stanton to serve as a designated hitter this year, but manager Aaron Boone said he’d like Stanton to keep his outfield skills sharp. “I don’t want to be completely resigned to him just being a full-time DH,” Boone said. “I think the more he can continue to stay athletic and be an option on defense, I don’t think it’s out of the question. Ultimately it might be something that actually does help him stay more healthy.” Being able to start Stanton in a spot besides Util would be huge for his fantasy value. National League Braves • Cristian Pache has reworked his approach at the plate. Snitker has been encouraged with the mechanical adjustments Pache has made while spending the past year attempting to make his swing cleaner and more consistent. “I feel like it’s been a continuous growth throughout the seasons,” Pache said. “I think the time has allowed me to learn the strike zone a little better and shrink it some. I think that has helped me connect the bat to the ball a little better. Once you do that with a little more consistency, I think the power comes as well.” He needs to get the ball in the air since his minor league groundball rates hovered around 50%. Brewers • Freddy Peralta is being stretched out as a starter or an extra-long reliever. “We’re going to take the approach we have with Freddy kind of every spring. He’s going to be a starter at the beginning of camp, and again, this gets back to this innings puzzle that we’re going to be putting together throughout the season,” Counsell said. “I think the best way to say it, [president of baseball operations] David [Stearns] and I talked the other day, is Freddy’s going to pitch more innings than he ever has in a season, I think, because of just the innings puzzle. “We’re going to need innings from Freddy at points in the season. So I think at the start for sure it makes sense to stretch him out, treat him as a starter, and as we get to Opening Day, we’ll see where we’re at and see what that means.” … The Brewers awarded Peralta a five-year contract extension last spring, and he introduced a slider to his fastball-heavy arsenal. Counsell expects more progress with that pitch in 2021. Peralta has been throwing two innings per appearance the last couple of years. Maybe he’s headed to the rotation or going to be in a piggy-back situation. Expect more news soon. And he’s trying to add a change. What’s next for Peralta is a change-up, which would give him four pitches. “I don’t know if it’s going to be soon or this season,” Peralta said, “but I’ve been working on the change-up really hard. It’s important for me to have multiple pitches. I just need to wait until the spring games, keep working on the change-up, see how it is, how confident I feel, how confident the catchers are. Then we’ll have a decision.” With his slider at a 21% SwStr% and fastball at 15%, a league-average change would allow him to face a lineup the third time. • Josh Lindblom 린드블럼 has been working on his spin efficiency. Lindblom remembers perusing the active spin leaderboard and feeling dismayed at how far he had to scroll before finding his name. His fastball ranked 455th of the 550 pitchers who threw at least 250 pitches last season, at 76.6% efficiency. “That’s not good at all, especially for what I’m trying to do with my fastball,” Lindblom said. … So, after consulting with Brewers senior vice president of player personnel Karl Mueller and pitching coach Chris Hook, Lindblom established a narrow goal: Improve his active spin. His fastball already had a 12% SwStr% and a 20% GB%. Any more rise added to his fastball will push it to being the league’s best at just 90 mph. Giants • Evan Longoria could move into a third base platoon with Tommy La Stella. Longoria, who is signed through the 2022 season, said he plans to maintain an open dialogue with manager Gabe Kapler and have frequent discussions about when it would make the most sense to give him a day off. Longoria posted a .671 OPS against righties and an .859 OPS against lefties last year, so the Giants could opt to start the left-handed-hitting La Stella at third against right-handed pitching this year. “I don’t think Evan has any interest in playing 162,” said Kapler, a former teammate of Longoria with the Rays. “We’ll get him off his feet at the time it makes more sense for other players, but also for Evan.” I know Longoria has the big contract but his OPS projections (~.725 OPS) are about 50 points lower than La Stella’s (~.775). Over his career, Longoria has hit lefties 80 points higher while La Stella has hit righties the same 80 points higher. There could be a case made for Longoria belonging on the bench. I liked Longoria as a volume play in draft-and-hold leagues but if he’s in a platoon, he’s unrosterable. Marlins • Only one of Isan Díaz or Jazz Chisholm will make the MLB roster as the second basemen. The other is off to AAA. Marlins manager Don Mattingly foresees just one of the two making the Opening Day roster — barring an injury. Since Díaz and Chisholm are young and inexperienced, getting regular at-bats to further their development is more important than being on the bench for the Major League club. During the spring, there will be enough at-bats to go around, with Chisholm also seeing time at shortstop. Both are projected for OPS’s under .700 so not fantasy relevant. Nationals • Carter Kieboom is reworking his swing. Kieboom’s offseason plan was the same as last year — prepare to be the starting third baseman, a role that manager Dave Martinez said in December was Kieboom’s to earn once again. Kieboom started off by healing the bone contusion he sustained after being hit by a pitch on his left hand in late September. Then he worked on fine-tuning his swing — which included adjusting posture to eliminate sudden, late movements — and simplifying his approach. I’d hope the hitter with one extra-base hit in 122 PA would try something new. • Victor Robles also revamped his swing. “He looks good, he really does,” manager Dave Martinez said on Wednesday, the second day of full-squad workouts. “He slimmed down a little bit, his footwork has been good in the outfield. He revamped his swing a little bit — he’s a little shorter to the baseball. So far, everything looks good.” Hopefully, he can make a little more contact and drop his 28% K%. Padres • Jurickson Profar could spell Trent Grisham in center field against lefties. Profar can play all three outfield positions, and he’ll get an extended look in center field during Spring Training. If he can handle backup duties there, he might get a few starts against tough left-handers, giving Trent Grisham a day off. Grisham’s value will take a huge hit if he sits against lefties. Phillies • The Phillies are going with a five-man rotation. Girardi still sees the Phillies opening the season with an eight-man bullpen and a five-man rotation. “I’m thinking of 13 [position players] and 13 [players], but I guess I’m allowed to change my mind,” he said. • Andrew McCutchen is running without a last year’s limp. “I mean, I feel like I’ve got a left and right leg this year,” he said Wednesday at Spectrum Field. “Not two right legs.” McCutchen said he is finally feeling like himself again after tearing the ACL in his left knee in June 2019. Phillies manager Joe Girardi said he no longer sees a limp when McCutchen stops running. Coaches see improved quickness. McCutchen just sees the possibilities of regular playing time and normal production over the course of a 162-game season. The injury explains why his Spring Speed dropped from 28.8 f/s in 2019 to 27.4 ft sec in 2020. Hopefully, he can regain some of the speed back. Pirates • Ke’Bryan Hayes expects to see fewer fastballs this year. Pitchers last year tried to overpower Hayes with fastballs, but he punished those heaters at a .423 clip. Hayes knows he’ll see a lot more breaking balls this season. “Pitchers are going to make adjustments,” Hayes said with a shrug. “It’s a cat-and-mouse game. I’ll just be going about each day, having a plan when I do my early cage work.” Hayes was seeing more fastballs as last season went on. He could struggle some as he adjusts to more breaking balls. • Chat Kuhl is planning on throwing more four-seamers. The next step for Kuhl? Increase trust in his four-seamer. He relied heavily on his slider, which he called “old reliable” last season, pushing its usage to a career-high 34.5 percent of his total pitches thrown in 2020. Meanwhile, on the fastball side, he threw only 13 four-seamers to mix in with his 332 sinkers. His sinker (6% SwStr%, 41% GB%), while not great, is better than his and four-seamer (4% SwStr%, 30% GB%). • There are no closer candidates right now. Nobody in camp can safely be called the best candidate for the closer spot. “We definitely want to keep our eyes open for more pitching,” Cherington said. I see no reason to draft any of the bullpen arms. Look for closers on a good team. Rockies • Trevor Story is aiming for 30 homers and 30 steals. Had last year been a full season, Story had a chance at 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases. Not since the Marlins’ Hanley Ramirez (33 HR, 35 SB) in 2008 has a shortstop produced a 30-30 season. Only Hall of Famer Barry Larkin (Reds, 1996), Alex Rodríguez (Mariners, 1998), Jimmy Rollins (Phillies, 2007) and Ramirez have accomplished the feat while primarily playing short. “I felt like I was on a good pace last year, and obviously we didn’t play enough games, but that’s been on my radar,” he said. Nice. • Brendan Rodgers wants to go back to an old swing. With the pain out of his right shoulder and the figurative pressure off both shoulders, Rodgers wants to replace the tight — maybe even uptight — swing he has shown in the Majors with the short-to-the-ball thunder that produced an .855 OPS in 387 Minor League games. Now, if he could only find a way to stay healthy.