Mining the News (2/27/23) by Jeff Zimmerman February 27, 2023 MLB • Infielders aren’t able to play on the grass because of the new shift rules. Crawford won’t be able to leverage that arm by playing on the cut of the outfield grass when slower runners are at the plate. The new rules limiting defensive shifts require that infielders have both feet on the dirt when the pitch is released. Crawford drew one warning from an umpire Saturday for having his heel on the edge of the grass. Because violations are reviewable, even the most minor infractions could nullify an out or an inning-ending play in the regular season. Several infielders with cannon arms were able to play on the outfield grass against slow righties and still throw them out at first. Since the infielders have to play in, a few of those righties might see a few more balls get through this year. • Some of the managers are having trouble getting calls in on time. Torres said he’ll need to adjust his pre-pitch routine to ensure he’s in the batter’s box at the eight-second mark. Kiner-Falefa said picking up signs from the third-base coach might prove to be a challenge initially. “(The third-base coach) has got to get it from Boonie, right?” Kiner-Falefa said. “And then he’s got to give it to me. That might be eight seconds there.” Boone said the communication with his coaches would have to be more efficient to make sure batters get the correct information in a timely manner. For now, the pitch clock is a huge advantage for the pitcher. American League Angels • Tucker Davidson added a sweeper. Davidson put it all together in his Cactus League debut on Saturday in a 5-1 win over the Mariners, retiring all six batters he faced, including three via strikeout. He also found success with his new sweeper, which is replacing his overhand curveball and uses the same grip that Ohtani utilizes for his highly effective version of the pitch. But Davidson said the key to his success was simply throwing more strikes. • Jo Adell added 18 pounds of muscle. Adell spent the entire offseason in Arizona and was training at the Angels facility almost every day. He gained about 18 pounds in muscle — from 212 pounds to 230. He certainly fits the “best shape of his life” cliche. Blue Jays • It’s assumed Yusei Kikuchi will get the fifth starter spot. The Blue Jays have a pretty set five-man rotation, assuming Kikuchi wins the last job, but which arms could be the Nos. 6, 7 and 8 options? Walker mentioned Thompson, Mitch White and Drew Hutchison as the guys who are standing out so far for those next-man-up jobs. “It’s a good group of guys. And I think we have some quality arms that can certainly compete right now and fill in if necessary,” Walker said. Guardians • Cal Quantrill is trying to add two new pitches to generate more swing-and-miss. “I’m toying around with a couple new things.” … The resounding answer: “There’s still room to try to get more swing-and-miss,” Quantrill said. … One way to create more swing-and-miss, he said: “I tried to refine the curveball this offseason, or at least find one we think we can use more consistently.” He threw his curveball only 4 percent of the time last season, relying primarily on a sinker/cutter/changeup mix. … “I’m not hiding it,” he relented. “I’m working on a splitter a little bit, but I’m not sure to what extent I’m going to use it. I want to play around with it this spring and see what it does. It’s really just a changeup held a little differently. That was our thought going into the offseason. Blue Jays • Daulton Varsho will not catch in Spring Training games. Daulton Varsho is the starting left fielder, but the Blue Jays want to keep his skill set as a catcher fresh in case he ever needs to step in behind the plate. Later in camp, Varsho, who was developed as a catcher with the Diamondbacks, will work with the team’s relievers to get to know their stuff. There are no plans for Varsho to catch any spring games. Mariners • J.P. Crawford is making new adjustments after failing with his 2021 adjustments. The first results of Crawford’s adjustments manifested in his first Cactus League at-bat on Friday, an opposite-field single off Nick Martinez in the Mariners’ 3-2 win over San Diego. It was trademark for Crawford, the on-base machine, slapping the ball to a gap, but it also featured loud contact — something he hopes is a bigger part of his hitting profile. “It’s a game of adaptation,” Crawford said. “Pitchers have adjusted to us, and we have to do our job to adjust back to them. They’re not pitching down. They’re not throwing sinkers anymore. So swinging down at the ball isn’t going to work, and that’s what I’ve been taught my whole life. You’ve got to get out of that. You have to change.” This isn’t the same objective that Crawford had two years ago, when he arrived at camp 20 pounds heavier intending to add more slug. It’s more about leveraging his lower half better and finding a smoother feel for his swing, which, admittedly, became long as the season wore on. Rangers • Brad Miller played through a neck injury last season. Brad Miller (33) It wasn’t so long ago (2021) when Miller hit 20 home runs as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies. He dealt with a neck injury all season in 2022, which contributed to his low production, and ultimately landed him on the IL for the last month of the season. He’s owed $4 million this season, so he’ll probably start the season as the other half of the Robbie Grossman platoon (.765 OPS vs. right-handers versus .607 vs. left-handers in his career) but he’ll need to stay healthy and boost those numbers back up a bit to stay there all year. • Robbie Grossman is going to play more than just a short-side platoon. “I wouldn’t lock (Grossman) into a platoon right now,” manager Bruce Bochy said Friday. “You look at the numbers against right-handed pitching, and you can say ‘All right, the splits aren’t quite as balanced.’ But still, that’s going to be part of the competition, too. Is there somebody that we think might give us a little more of an edge against right-handed pitching? But the thing about Grossman is that he does have experience from that side too. And I think to be fair to him (we’ll) look at him from both sides. Now, you look at the other candidates, you’ve got to look at what their talents are from that side. It’s gonna be interesting to see how that pans out.” Red Sox • The team plans on batting Rafael Devers second and Masataka Yoshida cleanup. Lineup construction doesn’t necessarily start at the top of the batting order. It starts at the top of the pecking order. For the Red Sox, that means building around their best player (Devers) and their biggest offseason addition (Yoshida). “Our main goal is to keep Raffy and Yoshida split up,” Cora said. “And try to keep Raffy in the second spot.” Yoshida’s combination of plate discipline and contact skills suggests a leadoff hitter, the Red Sox believe in his power potential, and they don’t want to stack Devers and Yoshida — both left-handed hitters — back-to-back in the lineup. If Devers is going to bat second, the most logical place for Yoshida is cleanup, which is exactly where he’s been in each of his first two games this spring. Royals • Nate Eaton looks to be a utility bench bat. Eaton played second base in the Royals’ 8-7 win over the Mariners at Surprise Stadium on Sunday afternoon. This was two days after he started in right field. In a couple of days, you might see him at third base or in center field. In other words, Eaton is as versatile as they come. That — along with his fiery style of play, elite speed and plus-plus arm — might earn him a roster spot on Opening Day. The Royals’ center-field depth is thin with Drew Waters (left oblique strain) out, so Eaton will get reps there behind Kyle Isbel. Kansas City sees Hunter Dozier as its starting third baseman, but Eaton will still see time there if the Royals have to make a change. Eaton got his first look at second this spring on Sunday, and he will also see time in the corner outfield, especially if the team prioritizes defense there. • Scott Barlow is adding a sinker. Barlow brought a new two-seam fastball to spring, and the feedback he’s gotten from hitters so far is clear: Throw it more. White Sox • Romy Gonzalez had an issue with his tonsils last year that caused him to lose 30 pounds. [Gonzalez’s] tonsils caused problems from Spring Training throughout the early part of the ’22 season before they were surgically removed. The only benefit of the procedure was being able to crush a ton of ice cream — and discover his favorite flavor. “Half-baked Ben and Jerry’s,” Gonzalez said. “The cookie dough and brownie in there, it’s awesome. “No, it was terrible,” he admitted of his tonsil issues. “I ended up losing 30 pounds. I gained five or six pounds after the recovery and all that when I got back here to Arizona to rehab. I didn’t feel strong at all. This year I’m in full health, full go and ready to go to show what I can do.” Yankees • Clarke Schmidt added a cutter. Clarke Schmidt’s cutter could have staying power. The Yankees right-hander offered a new look over two perfect innings in the Yankees’ 7-0 victory against the Braves on Sunday afternoon at George M. Steinbrenner Field, striking out five of the six batters he faced. … Schmidt said that he began working on the cutter this winter to help neutralize left-handed hitters, but after seeing it in action, he believes it could also be a weapon against righties. So do the Yankees. With some limited Spring Training StatCast values, here are some comps to Schmidt’s cutter. There is such a wide wide range of similar pitches because of the velocity and especially the spin. It might be a pitch where its own results are most important. In 11 pitches, he got two swinging-strikes (18% SwStr%). National League Braves • Eddie Rosario is seeing great after getting his sight fixed. If wondering how different Eddie Rosario looks in comparison to the early part of his frustration-filled season last year, it’s best to point out he is no longer struggling to make solid contact while taking swings during simple soft-toss drills. “He’s not even the same guy,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Even in Spring Training last year, that bat to ball wasn’t there like it normally was. I can’t believe he actually went as far as he did in the season with that.”. … Rosario missed more than two months, returned in July and continued to perform below expectations. He produced a .659 OPS over 65 games after returning from the injured list. It took time for his vision to adjust, and he had to mix and match contact lenses looking for the right fit. • Ozzie Albies is still not 100% after end-of-season shoulder surgery. Ozzie Albies won’t play second base until next week but appears fully recovered from arthroscopic surgery on his throwing shoulder, a clean-up procedure done in October to alleviate discomfort he had felt off and on for a few years. Albies will serve as the designated hitter in Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener against Boston and likely DH in two more games before moving to his second base position in about a week, Braves manager Brian Snitker said. Cubs • When Kyle Hendricks returns from the IL, he will have a new windup and therefore new results on his pitches. Hendricks’ arm action isn’t drastically different, but the discerning eye will notice a difference. Previously, from hand break, he’d bring his right arm far back behind him, stabbing backward and extending his arm fully at a 90-degree angle from his body. Now, his hand goes down, the arm path is much shorter – meaning he doesn’t go as far back – and he quickly comes back up to his ear and fires to the plate. Mets • Justin Verlander is bringing back his changeup. Coming off a Cy Young season, Justin Verlander is once again tinkering with his pitch mix, as he’s done throughout his 17-year big league career. The changeup used to be a significant part of Verlander’s arsenal, but he began relying on it less and less as his slider became more of a weapon. By his mid-30s, Verlander had all but abandoned his fourth pitch. For his career, Verlander’s changeup has posted a 16% SwStr% and 46% GB%. Phillies • Rhys Hoskins had knee surgery in December. So, it’s a little odd that Hoskins underwent surgery in mid-December to repair his right meniscus, and that revelation came Sunday only when reporters asked why Hoskins was not slated to play Monday after sitting the first two days. “Just wear and tear from last year,” Thomson said. The team said Hoskins was cleared for full activity at the beginning of camp, but he will miss the first week of games. Something to monitor. Now we are finding out. Great. Pirates • Mitch Keller is adding a gyro cutter. All in all, the sinker and the sweeper, two pitches that weren’t in the mix to begin the season, combined to account for 38.4% of Keller’s total pitches. Whereas last season he emphasized velocity and delivery, he dedicated this offseason to refining those pitches, as well as the aforementioned gyro cutter. Looking at some comps, the cutter should generate groundballs but not miss many bats. • Rich Hill had minor elbow surgery this offseason. Rich Hill underwent a minor elbow procedure following the 2022 season, Pirates GM Ben Cherington told Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe. Described as something of a clean-up surgery, it doesn’t appear that the procedure will impact Hill’s readiness for Opening Day, nor did it seem to hurt his free agent market — the Rangers, Red Sox, Orioles, and Angels all reportedly had interest in Hill before he signed a one-year, $8MM deal with Pittsburgh. Reds • Luke Weaver might add a curveball and a cutter. Weaver has been primarily a two-pitch pitcher since 2021 while focusing on his four-seam fastball and his best pitch, the changeup. That is about to change. This spring during side bullpen sessions and live batting practices, Weaver has been focused on bringing back his curveball more often. He is also tinkering with his cutter and hasn’t ruled out eventually reintroducing it into games as well. • As things currently stand, Graham Ashcraft will start the season’s third game at home against the Pirates (and their #3 starter) Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo will start Monday and Tuesday, more or less tipping the hand that Greene is expected to be the Opening Day starter followed by Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft. It’s behind those three sophomore starters that there is an open competition. This might be an early season streaming opportunity, especially with the cooler weather limiting flyball distance.