Mining the News (2/28/24)

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Note: Some of the “news” isn’t really that new. I went back to the beginning of Spring Training and dug for as many nuggets as possible. If I felt the information was useful, I added it.

American League

Angels

• Manager Ron Washington has voiced how he sees the lineup working out.

Washington initially pegged first baseman Nolan Schanuel as his leadoff batter but said he now envisions him as the club’s No. 2 hitter because of the way he gets on base and handles the bat. Infielder Luis Rengifo or right fielder Mickey Moniak could serve as leadoff hitter, while Washington sees Mike Trout hitting third and Anthony Rendon batting cleanup.

“I want somebody who has some speed,” Washington said. “I don’t want Schanuel to get on the bag and then clog them. Now, if I have to come back and make him the leadoff hitter because that’s what he’s done, I’m not saying it can’t change. But I want him in the second hole because he can move the baseball around the field and the second hole is situational.”

After Rendon, Washington said he sees Taylor Ward as his fifth hitter, Brandon Drury sixth and Logan O’Hoppe seventh. Jo Adell, Aaron Hicks or Moniak would likely hit eighth, and Zach Neto is slated to be the club’s No. 9 hitter. Washington views Neto as a second leadoff hitter and said it’s a role that Neto is embracing.

“Neto told me he wants to hit ninth,” Washington said. “He loves restarting and turning the lineup over. He wants to be on the bag and score runs with the big guys at the plate. He said he wanted to hit ninth, and that kid had no hesitation. He knew exactly what he wanted to do.”

Washington said he doesn’t see the Angels changing lineups or batting orders often, as he wants to create some stability. But he also knows things can change over the course of a season and will adapt as necessary.

• Washington also stated that Carlos Estévez will be the team’s closer.

Angels manager Ron Washington was direct when asked whether Carlos Estévez will be the club’s closer to open the season.

“Right now, we’ve got him as a closer,” Washington said. “So we don’t need to talk about that.”

Zach Plesac is being stretched out as a starter.

The Angels will stretch out right-hander Zach Plesac as a starter this spring to give them more rotation depth. But Plesac could still be moved to relief if the team feels it has a need for him in that role. Plesac has Minor League options, so if he doesn’t make the team, he can be sent to Triple-A Salt Lake.

Astros

Brandon Bielak is out of options and will likely be used out of the bullpen.

Though he is scheduled to start Sunday’s game against the Mets in Port St. Lucie, Brandon Bielak said this week he will be used as a one- or two-inning reliever this spring, perhaps an indication the club is doing all it can to carry him on the opening-day roster.

Bielak is out of minor-league options, meaning he’d be placed on waivers if he doesn’t make the team. If Bielak does hit waivers, it is almost guaranteed he would be claimed and the Astros don’t want to risk losing valuable pitching depth so early in the season. Finding any way to include Bielak on the opening-day roster to avoid that seems prudent.

Athletics

Darell Hernaiz will play some third base.

However, with Cactus League play getting underway on Saturday for the A’s against the Rockies at Hohokam Stadium, manager Mark Kotsay has indicated that Hernaiz will spend time this spring at third base, a spot that remains without an established starter.

The hot corner was a black hole for the A’s in 2023, with six players combining to hit .192 with a .556 OPS and 10 home runs in 618 plate appearances. Given Hernaiz’s offensive numbers during his Minor League career — .291/.357/.417 slash line with 106 extra-base hits, 29 homers and 193 RBIs in 359 games — he’s right in the mix at third base with players such as Jordan Diaz, Aledmys Díaz, Abraham Toro and Brett Harris, Oakland’s No. 10 prospect per MLB Pipeline.

Esteury Ruiz cleaned up his swing to make harder contact.

The A’s worked with Ruiz this offseason on cleaning up his hitting mechanics by refining his swing to unlock harder contact. Going the opposite way for a solo shot provided an encouraging early sign that those adjustments could make a difference.

“We know the power is in there but we didn’t see it a lot last year,” Kotsay said of Ruiz, who hit five homers in 497 plate appearances last season. “For him to go to right field and drive the ball out of the ballpark with some good barrel contact, that’s a good start for him.”

Mason Miller is preparing to be a two to three inining reliever and will not start the season as the closer.

“The biggest goal for us is to get Mason Miller out of this camp healthy,” A’s manager Mark Kotsay said. “That’s our focus. We’ll prepare him as a reliever. He’s a guy that can throw two or three innings. But I think [in Spring Training], we’ll probably see him in two-inning stints, at most, towards the end.”

Asked about the possibility on Thursday, Kotsay indicated that he would like to see Miller succeed in high-leverage spots and gradually move up the ladder rather than anoint him as closer from Day 1.

Mariners

Ty France reworked his stance at Driveline this offseason.

The well-chronicled work that Ty France did this offseason at Driveline has been evident from his leaner look — France has focused on conditioning more than ever — but it’s his revamped mechanics that are of far more intrigue.

France has a new setup in the box; in addition to being more stationary, his hands are higher and closer to his right shoulder. The difference is noticeable compared to his previous stance, where his hands were further out and he used a small twirl of the bat to establish rhythm before getting into the hitting position.

Rangers

Dane Dunning has a new mystery pitch.

Rangers right-hander Dane Dunning has been teasing a new pitch since January. He threw it to prospect Wyatt Langford in live batting practice last week. He threw it again in Texas’ Cactus League opener against the Royals on Friday.

But Dunning’s new mystery pitch will remain that way for a little while longer.

Rays

• The team is encouraging José Caballero to pull his fly balls.

Caballero capitalized on a windy morning by cranking a handful of homers during batting practice. Cash said hitting coach Chad Mottola has informed Caballero he has the freedom to pull the ball in the air, advice that’s paid dividends in recent years for Rays hitters like Yandy Díaz and Isaac Paredes.

“He’s letting it loose,” Cash said. “He seems to be taking to that.”

Red Sox

Brayan Bello has reworked his slider.

Bello feels the slider can be his key third pitch behind his filthy sinker and plus-changeup. He also has a four-seamer that he plans on throwing out of the strike zone to get some chase.

On Thursday, Bello threw live batting practice on the main mound at JetBlue Park and felt in a pretty good groove. And the slider was playing.

“I felt more comfortable with that pitch,” Bello said. “I feel like I can throw it in any count. Today in live BP, I used it and felt really good about it. So it was a good offseason for that pitch. I feel like my confidence is up with that pitch.”

Tigers

Javier Báez’s back has been an issue since he signed with the team.

“This offseason, I was working on my low back and my core, which I feel like I wasn’t using the right way last year,” Báez said. “It’s been feeling pretty good. We’ll see how it goes now that we’re going to start.”

The back, Báez said, has been an issue for both of his seasons in Detroit. His only trip to the injured list as a Tiger was for a right thumb injury in 2022, but he has been scratched from lineups for various issues in that time, including a few games against the Dodgers last September with lower back tightness.

Other games, he said, he played through any back issues. He said the problem not only impacted him in the field, but limited his ability to go to the opposite field with hits.

Jackson Jobe will not start the season in the majors according to the manager.

“I’ll tell Jackson probably today that they’re not going to make the team,” Hinch said.

So we can get that one out of the way. Jobe is not in major-league camp to compete for a spot on the Opening Day roster. Rather, the 21-year-old right-hander is here as a sort of preview, a glimpse of what his life could soon be like if all goes well.

Twins

Carlos Correa has a new batting stance and healthy heal.

After all that work starting in November, Correa arrived in Twins camp on Thursday with a healthy left heel and a more compact, direct swing, eager to put one of the most challenging seasons of his career behind him and work back towards the top-of-the-lineup star he became when the Twins gave him a record six-year, $200 million contract last offseason.

Among all those swings, Correa’s does look visibly different, and it starts with how he sets up in his stance, with lower hands and a much lower back elbow before he begins his swing motion. He’s using more of a toe tap than a kick with his front leg, aiming to be smaller with his move into the ground.

White Sox

Garrett Crochet developed a mystery changeup.

“I was able to get down to do a little bit of a mechanical overhaul this offseason. Nothing crazy — just kind of making sure the [velocity] isn’t as forced as it maybe was when I came back from Tommy John [surgery]. That was a big thing in the recovery for me was kind of learning to throw hard often again without putting too much strain on my body, along with developing the changeup further.”

According to Baseball Savant, Crochet has previously relied heavily on the four-seam fastball (thrown 846 times) and the slider (thrown 350 times) as a reliever, with the changeup mixed in (96 times). Crochet admitted to changing his repertoire a little bit this offseason, but he declined to elaborate — adding with a broad smile how he’ll leave it to the media to figure it out and see if it works when unveiled during Cactus League action.

National League

Braves

Spencer Strider has developed a curveball.

Strider had four strikeouts in two scoreless innings of Atlanta’s 6-5 win Saturday and allowed one hit and one walk. He complemented his usual 98-99 mph fastball and slider combo with a changeup and three sharp curveballs.

The curveball is the pitch he developed during the offseason and first unveiled in a live batting practice session last week.

“That’s a real curveball, too,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Nice to see him throw it against another team.”

Cubs

Jordan Wicks reworked his slider.

Wicks tweaked that pitch throughout last season — the different baseballs used in Double-A and Triple-A necessitated grip changes — and he did not have a comfort zone with the slider by the time he reached the Cubs in late August.

This offseason, Wicks wanted to identify a slider grip that worked best with his arm action and would be more reliable as a consistent part of his mix. Working with the Cubs’ pitching group, the lefty shifted his grip off the leather and along a seam and the results were promising out of the chute.

Dodgers

• A bulked-up Gavin Stone was tipping his pitches last season

For Stone, the low point of that adversity came during that May 28 outing against Tampa Bay. The right-hander was sent back to Triple-A Oklahoma City the following day, forced to figure out what was wrong. After reviewing game video, the Dodgers discovered that Stone was tipping his pitches, particularly when he wasn’t throwing his signature changeup.

If a bulked-up Stone — he added 10 pounds this winter — continues to show flashes of the pitcher Los Angeles fell in love with, he’ll make an impact at some point in the 2024 season.

… and is now looking to add a couple of pitches.

Stone has worked on a couple pitches to pair with his four-seam fastball and changeup combination. If Stone can get a consistent third pitch and clean up some delivery issues that plagued him last season, he’ll have a chance to contribute at different points for the Dodgers.

Miguel Vargas developed some bad habits because of his broken finger.

“Coming into the spring with a broken finger and then in the middle of the season getting hit on the hand again, I think that led to a lot of bad habits at the plate,” Vargas said. “I was dealing with a lot of pain and that didn’t fully allow me to be myself.”

• The manager named Emmet Sheehan, Gavin Stone, and Ryan Yarbrough as potential rotation options.

One of the few real competitions in camp is the battle to be the club’s fifth starter. Roberts highlighted Emmet Sheehan, Gavin Stone and Ryan Yarbrough among the candidates to fill out the rotation while Buehler opens the season on the injured list.

Giants

• A bulked-up Marco Luciano will have to earn the shortstop job.

“You never come into camp with a rookie and say this is your job, period,” manager Bob Melvin said. “We want Luciano to grasp it and take it, but he’s going to have to do that. There’s some other guys that can play that position and we’ll see how it goes. As we sit here right now, it’s a great opportunity for Marco.”

Many scouts outside the organization doubt that the 6-foot-1 Luciano — who said he bulked up to 216 pounds over the offseason — will stick at shortstop for the long haul, but the Giants were encouraged by what they saw during his 14-game stint in the Majors in 2023.

Jordan Hicks doesn’t plan on throwing 100 mph as a starter.

The 27-year-old threw all of his pitches — sinker, four-seamer, sweeper, slider and splitter — and topped out at 96 mph, below the 100.1 mark he averaged on his sinker last year.

Hicks anticipates his velocity will jump up to “97, 98, 99” mph once he starts facing hitters in live batting practice next week, though he’s confident he’ll be able to maintain his high-octane stuff as he continues to build up his arm this spring.

Blake Sabol is playing some first base this spring.

After splitting time between the outfield and catcher last year, Blake Sabol could be tasked with learning a new position this spring. Melvin said the Giants could try Sabol at first base to give the club another left-handed option there behind LaMonte Wade Jr. Sabol, 26, hit .235 with a .695 OPS and 13 homers over 110 games as a rookie in 2023, but he’ll be able to be optioned to the Minors now that he’s shed his Rule 5 Draft status.

Marlins

Sixto Sánchez, who is out of options, will need to make the team as a reliever.

The wild card in all this is former top prospect Sixto Sánchez, who threw to hitters on Wednesday. Since he has no Minor League options remaining, he must show the club enough to make the roster. It would be easier in a relief role because of how much it takes to build up as a starter.

A.J. Puk added a changeup and cutter in order to be a starter.

Puk, who added a changeup and a cutter to complement his fastball/sweeper arsenal, is hoping to start for the Marlins in 2024.

“That’s one of those things, just coming out as a starter this spring, I can’t just be a two-pitch guy — fastball/sweeper like I was last year,” Puk said. “I worked on the splitter a lot the previous year, and I kind of banged it in the season last year, just because my arm slot was a little lower than it is now. Now with it being up a little more, I’m able to get on top of that a little better and just get that depth that I want.”

Mets

Tylor Megill, Joey Lucchesi, José Buttó, and Max Kranick are in a competition for the last starter spot. None of the team’s prospects are being considered at this point.

Tylor Megill, Joey Lucchesi, José Butto and Max Kranick are the likeliest contenders for Senga’s rotation spot. The Mets had planned to liberally use a sixth starter the way they had last year, though since that was mostly to accommodate Senga, they may not need to do so in the early part of the season.

Stearns said the club’s next wave of pitching prospects probably requires more seasoning in the minor leagues before it’s ready to contribute in the majors.

Padres

Fernando Tatis Jr.’s swing was never right last season.

Fun aside, Tatis said winter ball was also pivotal in his prep for the 2024 season. His swing never felt quite right last summer. He spent the winter honing it.

That’s largely why the Padres were on board with Tatis’ desire to play extra games during the offseason. He had lost time to make up for.

“I think he was happy with aspects of his season, in talking to him,” manager Mike Shildt said last month. “I also feel like, in talking to him, he wanted to work on a few things. [Winter ball] provided an opportunity.”

Phillies

Zack Wheeler adjusted his changeup grip to be more of a splitter.

Cotham and Wheeler talked about different grips in the offseason. Wheeler settled on a splitter more than a traditional changeup.

“It’s all semantics,” Cotham said. “A changeup, split, circle change, the goal is for the pitch to be slow. And there’s a lot of ways to do that. But he’s landed on a grip that he likes. It’s been really good.”

Johan Rojas added strength this offseason.

Rojas gained strength in the offseason and said he hit for most of the winter while at home in the Dominican Republic. Hitting coach Kevin Long reviewed video of those sessions and guided Rojas with some remote instruction. It’s spring training, so everyone in Phillies camp is optimistic that Rojas’ adjustments will click.

Reds

The team has declared Elly De La Cruz the shortstop and Matt McLain the second baseman.

But on Tuesday, the club noted that Elly De La Cruz will see most of his time at shortstop and Matt McLain will most often play second base.

• Cruz has worked on a new approach at the plate.

Hitting-wise, an approach change began under McKeithan’s guidance.

“We’ve been doing a lot of changes in the Dominican,” De La Cruz said. “Sometimes, you realize that you need to do some changes and you try to fix those. We have this new style that we’re working with, and we’re going to try it out in Spring Training and see how well it works.”

Among the changes was reducing De La Cruz’s leg kick — both as a lefty and righty hitter — and being more patient on pitches.

“The best thing he’s been teaching me is to just stay back and wait for the ball as long as possible. We’ve been working really well,” De La Cruz said.

• Also, Cruz wore down last season, possibly because of the minor league schedule.

“He was gassed. You could see he was gassed,” president of baseball operations Nick Krall said. “Elly is a good example of what happened towards the end of last year with guys. Guys got tired at the end of last year. They didn’t understand what it was like to play more than six games without an off-day because they didn’t have to do it in the Minor Leagues.”

Rockies

Justin Lawrence and Tyler Kinley are now fighting for the closer’s job.

The 38-year-old Bard is entering the final year of a two-year, $19 million contract. Because of his struggles last year, Bard would have been competing for the closer role — mainly with Justin Lawrence, who went 11-for-18 on save chances in 2023 in his first full big league season, and Tyler Kinley, who went 5-for-7 on save chances after returning from right flexor tendon surgery in August.





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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zstam
1 month ago

Fantastic stuff!