Mining the News (3/15/21)

• Every few days, I’ve been updating these Spring Training velocity readings.

American League


Yordan Alvarez will have to sit for a couple of days whenever he plays in the field.

“I can’t get on board with that yet until we get clearance from the trainers,” Baker said. “It would help our team and flexibility if he could play the outfield and first base. In the past, whenever he played the outfield, we had to sit him down for a couple of days. Maybe his new knees after he got them operated on, that might permit him. As of now, we have to treat him with kid gloves and make sure he goes deep into the season.”

DH for life.

Jose Altuve may hit leadoff.

Altuve has the most experience batting leadoff of any player on the Astros roster, with 380 career starts in the leadoff spot, his most outside of batting second (530 times). He has hit third 333 times and has fewer than three dozen career starts at any other spot. Altuve went 0-for-4 from the leadoff spot Sunday.

“That’s something I would consider and something he would consider, too,” Baker said. “Like I said, I’m experimenting with different lineups to see which ones, you know, suits us best as a team and as a unit. Definitely, it’d have to be a consideration of a conversation with Altuve, which I’ve had already. We’re just trying it.”

It still seems like Myles Straw could hit leadoff, but the Astros are working on a backup plan once the “Straw” plan fails.

Blue Jays

Tanner Roark revamped his delivery.

Currently on the table is a mechanical change to his delivery. Roark is hinging off his hip more and using his back leg to push off the rubber and drive him while relying less on his quadriceps. In the past, Roark used his front leg to drive toward the plate, but this change should help him generate more power as he hurls each pitch. This offseason, the right-hander also introduced a weighted balls routine in the hopes of speeding up his arm action. In his last outing, Roark pitched three efficient, scoreless innings (31 pitches, 23 strikes) and averaged 90.7 mph on his fastball. He said it was “a big moving forward-type of outing for me.”

Even a 10 to 20% boost in talent means he is unrosterable.


Andrés Giménez will likely be the starting shortstop.

All signs have been pointing toward Andrés Giménez winning the Opening Day shortstop job, but the Indians have yet to make it official. Although Francona didn’t specifically name Giménez the starter, he indicated that things are trending in that direction.

“I think part of the reason we felt comfortable enough to move Amed [Rosario to the outfield] is because of what we see in Giménez,” Francona said. “But I think, again, whether it’s injuries, I think this kid is a really bright spot for us. Without just flat out saying where he’s going to play and when, he’s done a heck of a job. We really like him.”

Gimenez’s fantasy value is up because of this news. And therefore the team is having Amed Rosario play centerfield during “B” games.

The Indians’ first off day of the spring is slated for Sunday, but Aaron Civale, Amed Rosario and Oscar Mercado will get a few more reps. Francona talked to Rosario about the idea of him seeing some time in center before camp breaks. With a “B” game scheduled for Sunday against the Reds, the Indians decided to have his first trip to the outfield be in a slightly lower-intensity game.

Rosario is projected to be the better hitter while Mercado already has experience in center field.


Shed Long Jr. will not be ready for the season’s start.

Shed Long Jr. also hit on the field for the first time since the Mariners slowed down the second baseman’s rehab from shin surgery last September. Long has yet to appear in a Cactus game, and given his timeline and the way that the injury has responded, he’ll likely be headed to the alternate training site in Tacoma when big league camp breaks. That would keep him close to the Major League athletic training staff.

Long and Dylan Moore were projected to provide similar production, so Moore was at risk of losing playing time. With Long’s injury, Moore has more time to establish himself.


Wander Franco has been starting at third base.

Franco started at third base in the Rays’ 8-7 loss to the Braves on Sunday at CoolToday Park in North Port, Fla., his first appearance in a game at a position other than shortstop.

I’m for whatever it takes to get him to the majors.


• The Royals are considering a bullpen by committee.

Closing duties might depend on the day. Royals manager Mike Matheny’s philosophy last year trended toward using your highest-leverage reliever — typically your closer — in the highest-leverage situations. Sometimes, that was the sixth or seventh inning. Greg Holland took over save opportunities when Trevor Rosenthal was traded last year, and you’ll likely see Holland in those situations again this year, too. Josh Staumont, Jesse Hahn and Davis are other names to consider when in need of a save.

Here are our projections for the bullpen.

Not good but the strikeouts are high. Of the pitchers listed, Scott Barlow and Greg Holland interest me. Holland added 1.4 mph last season, upped his groundball rate to ~50%, and dropped his walk rate to 2.2 BB/9. Scott Barlow was similar with the near 50% GB% and 2.70 BB/9 to pair with his 11.7 K/9. None of the others have shown as much upside.


• The infield playing time situation is a mess.

If Schoop indeed becomes a realistic option at third, the Tigers could have an infield of players who can play different positions, with shortstop Willi Castro acting as the constant. Jeimer Candelario can play either infield corner, as can Renato Núñez, though the Tigers aren’t likely to use Núñez at third. Isaac Paredes has bounced between second and third base all week, and he can also play short in a pinch. Niko Goodrum, Harold Castro and Greg Garcia can play all over.

By the end of the season, I’m sure certain players will provide mix-league value, but picking out those players right now is impossible.

National League


Devin Williams is finally facing hitters.

National League Rookie of the Year Award winner Devin Williams, coming along slow this spring after his 2020 season abruptly ended with a right rotator cuff injury, took a big step toward a Cactus League outing on Saturday when he faced hitters for the first time in batting practice.

As much as I find middle relievers more and more valuable, I’m not going to invest a 13th round pick in a broken middle reliever. I’ll grab a healthy one off the waiver wire.


• The Cardinals will go with a six-man rotation when necessary.

In Zoom conference call with reporters Thursday morning, pitching coach Mike Maddux said the team is going to “honor the off days” when the season starts and make sure that they roll with a five-man rotation and adjust around the off days so that everyone gets to take advantage. He mentioned how later in the season, when long stretches of consecutive games arrive, they can insert a sixth starter to give the rotation a break.

It seems like the starters will get just a handful of two-start weeks.


Adbert Alzolay could get another option and start the season in the minors.

The Cubs are still awaiting word on whether righty Adbert Alzolay will have a fourth Minor League option for the upcoming season. If he does, it could help the club better manage the pitcher’s innings by optioning him to the alternate training site to start the year.

Alzolay would still be in the rotation but for the first handful of games, the Cubs would be able to carry an extra reliever. Follow the situation as some owners might overreact and drop him.

Craig Kimbrel is working through some mechanical issues.

Closer Craig Kimbrel was charged with four runs in two-thirds of an inning in Friday’s game against the Brewers. The veteran righty, who is sorting through some delivery issues, has given up nine runs on seven hits with two walks and one strikeout in 2 2/3 innings this spring.

This bullpen was a mess before this news and the injury to Rowan Wick. It’s tough to get excited about any of the other options.


Carson Kelly reworked his swing.

But Kelly got back to basics this winter and returned this spring with a swing that more resembles the one he had in 2019, when he broke out for 18 home runs and an .826 OPS. A swing that had been lost he believes has now been found. Kelly believes the search for it – the purposeful, measured one he undertook this offseason, not the frantic one he conducted last season – has left him a better hitter.


Brandon Belt will not be healthy by Opening Day.

Brandon Belt’s readiness for the Giants’ opener is more of a question, as he got a late start on Spring Training and still hasn’t played in any games. Belt told reporters (including Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle) that he spent several weeks recovering first from a positive COVID-19 diagnosis and then a case of mono almost immediately afterwards.

Some combination of Tommy La Stella or Wilmer Flores will fill in for Belt.


Patrick Corbin is learning a cutter while still throwing slower than in the past.

His fastball velocity is up more than 3 mph compared to his final Grapefruit League start a year ago, when he threw around 88 mph in one of the final baseball games before the COVID-19 shutdown.

His changeup usage is trending upward, already accounting for 13 percent of the 79 pitches he has thrown in two early tune-ups.

And he is learning how to throw a cutter from perennial Cy Young Award contender Max Scherzer.

First, a cutter would help him get to three pitches

Second, the velocity is news is misleading. His velocity is better than last year(91 mph vs 90 mph), but still not up to his 2019 levels (92.5).

• Yasmany Tomas could be used at several different defensive positions.

This spring, the Nats have been getting looks at Yasmany Tomás at the corner-outfield and infield positions. The 30-year-old played four seasons with the D-backs from 2015-19 (he spent all of ’18 in Triple-A). Over that time, he played 148 games in right field, 108 in left, 31 at third and five at first for Arizona.

“We’re playing him [at] different positions,” Martinez said. “He looks very comfortable. We watched him at first base — he didn’t make any plays, but he looks comfortable over there. So that’s good that we can plop him at first, possibly third, both left and right field. So far, he’s doing well.”

Not only can Tomás defend multiple spots, he maneuvers them with agility.

I swear this is not from The Onion.


• Manager Jayce Tingler would like to settle on a single closer.

Still, manager Jayce Tingler has said he’d prefer to settle on one man for the ninth inning by the end of camp, and the Padres skipper has deemed the race for that spot “an open competition” this spring.

Quite a competition, too. The mid-February additions of Mark Melancon and Keone Kela add two pitchers with ninth-inning experience to the back end of a bullpen that already featured Drew Pomeranz and Emilio Pagán.

“In an ideal world, you’d like to have a set ninth inning guy,” Tingler said. “Are we open to committee? Are we open to matchups? We are. But we’d love to come out of here feeling, ‘Well, this is our ninth-inning guy,’ and we can move forward.

The Padres have several closer options and fantasy managers who guess the right one will be getting all the Saves.


Scott Kingery and Odúbel Herrera could be in a center field platoon.

Read between the lines, and this much is clear: It is very, very possible the Phillies do not begin the season with an everyday center fielder. This was always an option they had in reserve if no one emerged this spring as deserving of the bulk of playing time. And that is fine. Even if someone won the job outright, it was far from a guarantee that the starter on April 1 would be the same person on June 1. It’s the one position where the Phillies can have a moving target. Is it ideal? No. Is it better than having three unclaimed positions? Yes.

So, the Phillies could deploy a platoon with Odúbel Herrera and Scott Kingery in April. If they want to prolong all of the decisions given the incomplete spring results, they could keep Roman Quinn on the roster — especially since Brad Miller’s recent rib cage injury could sideline him to begin the regular season.

Zack Wheeler can decide at any point to be a groundball or a strikeout pitcher.

Zack Wheeler struck out a career-low 18 percent of batters he faced in the abbreviated 2020 season and still enjoyed overwhelming success. It was an unexpected plot twist. But it was by design. He traded strikeouts for groundouts.

The experiment worked. It has armed Wheeler with a great trait for a starting pitcher — unpredictability.

“I think I can have it both ways,” Wheeler said earlier this month. “Because I know I still have the stuff. I was trying to get in and out of there last year. Obviously, the less pitches they see, the less you’re out there, the less damage you’re going to have.

Wheeler should end up as a productive pitcher, but the route he takes to get there may be different from start-to-start.


Anthony Alford, Dustin Fowler, and Brian Goodwin are battling it out for the coveted Pirates centerfield job.

Spring training is a feeling-out process for coaches and players alike. The three candidates for the center-field job — Goodwin, Alford and Dustin Fowler — are all newcomers to the Pirates and to each other.

Goodwin is the only one of the three projected for an OPS over .700.

Mitch Keller thinks he has more control the harder he throws.

“My last fastball, I just kinda said, ‘Aw, F it,’ and threw it hard like I’m used to. Didn’t worry about where it went,” Keller said after his one-inning outing on March 1. “When I throw harder, I actually locate better instead of trying to throw strikes. It was a good learning experience for me. Just kinda getting back into the way I used to feel.”

There is some through to his comment. In the starts when he has averaged 95.3 mph or higher, he posted a 3.0 BB/9. When his fastball was 95.1 mph or slower, it was a 5.4 BB/9. At least so far in his career, harder is better.

• Manager Derek Shelton is coaching the team to be aggressive on the basepaths.

One way to generate more offense is to run the bases better. Last year, the Pirates were minus-19 in base-running gain (which includes stolen bases, extra bases taken, outs advancing and times doubled off). That was the fourth-worst mark in the majors.

“We’ve talked about being more aggressive,” manager Derek Shelton said. “It’s intentional, and we’re doing a good job with it.”

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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3 years ago

“Yasmany Tomas didn’t make any plays, but he looked comfortable…” He’s so comfortable that he fails to bend over in time to catch a sharply hit ball to him. Even giving him a look does not speak well of the Nats player assessments. Although I suppose he was a DH auditioner if the NL went DH.

3 years ago
Reply to  tomjef

” we can plop him at first” was probably not a good choice of words for the manager.