Mining the News (3/18/21) by Jeff Zimmerman March 18, 2021 • Every few days, I’ll keep updating these Spring Training velocity readings. American League Astros • Josh James’s (hip) recovery timeframe is between late April to late June. Astros right-hander Josh James, who was slated to miss the start of the 2021 season after undergoing surgery to repair a labral tear in his left hip in October, had a “physical setback,” Baker said Wednesday. The manager didn’t divulge details but said James would be “fine in a few days.” … The recovery time for James’ procedure is approximately six to eight months, the team said previously. A sixth-month recovery would take James into late April, while an eight-month recovery would stretch into late June. I’m not even sure James is worth drafting-and-IL-stashing. I expect he’ll come back as a reliever and will be immediately dropped. I’d rather spend the draft capital on someone useable. Athletics • Cole Irvin adjusted his placement on the mound and got skinny. Irvin recently told reporters he’d made some positive adjustments in the offseason, including moving to the other side of the rubber, which he says has allowed him to mix speeds better, and losing some body fat. Whatever he changed, it seems to be working. Albeit a small sample size, Irvin has had an impressive spring. He’s not known for his strikeout numbers but he’s thrown seven strikeouts in eight innings through his three appearances so far. He’s allowed two earned runs in that span and walked only one batter. It’s tough to get a read on Irvin. First, his fastball velocity is down to 91.1 mph after being at 92.4 last season. His velocity might be bouncing around since he has moved from the bullpen to starting over the past few seasons. I tried to watch some of his starts, but the camera angle was garbage so it was tough to get a good opinion of him. • Daulton Jefferies has made an adjustment to his changeup and is developing a slider. [Jefferies] also spent the past offseason making a slight adjustment to his changeup, which he saw go flat when it didn’t drop, giving hitters a 90-mph fastball down the middle instead of a deceptive off-speed pitch. He told reporters that now if he notices it getting flat, he’ll try to create more friction on the ball to slow it down, so it’ll pair better with his fastball. Melvin also noted that Jefferies is developing a slider that “will make him better,” which he has used to get some strikeouts in spring training. Indians • Either Jake Bauers or Bobby Bradley will make the team, not both. The Tribe has a tough decision to make with Jake Bauers and Bobby Bradley batting for the first-base job. Because Bauers is out of Minor League options, he may get the first shot to claim the territory. But Bradley has certainly made it a difficult choice for the coaching staff, showing off some great approaches at the plate, coupled with improved defense. Despite how difficult of a decision it may be, the team isn’t considering carrying both players. Bradley has a 1.239 OPS in Spring Training while Bauers is about half that at .678. Mariners • James Paxton is fine and throwing during “B” games. Paxton has pitched mostly in “B” games, in addition to completing his morning workouts. During an interview with Christopher Russo on MLB Network, general manager Jerry Dipoto said he anticipates Paxton will start one of the first three games of the regular season. “We’ve been doing morning work with James; no injuries, no issues at all,” Dipoto said. “The fact that you haven’t seen him in an ‘A’ game has nothing to do with his physical health. He’s looked great since the day he got in. Physically, he’s in better shape than I think I’ve ever seen him. He’s pretty focused.” Dipoto added that Paxton is hitting 95 to 96 mph with his fastball and is stretched out to three and four-inning increments. • J.P. Crawford has added power and is looking to steal more bases. If it does, it will likely have something to do with the changes Crawford has made to his body, adding strength during the offseason and effectively changing his frame, listed at 6-foot-2 and 199 pounds. Crawford, who lives near the team’s spring training complex, was able to utilize the team’s high-performance center, which is much more than a weight room. … Crawford noticed a difference in how the ball was jumping off his bat during the winter, which has carried over to spring drills. He’s tightened up a few things on the mechanical side in terms of his swing. His contact numbers have been on the rise, and Crawford feels there’s more coming. … Don’t be surprised if Crawford’s stolen-base numbers take a jump as well. Two years ago, he stole five bases. Last season it was six. But he’s placed a greater emphasis on being aggressive on the bases this spring. … “When J.P. gets on base, his lead (at first base) is much different than it has been in the past,” Servais said. “It’s probably a foot to a foot and a half longer, which really gives him a lot of confidence in stealing bases. It’s a little different mindset, which is really going to help him throughout the year.” The possibility of more steals and home runs. Sign me up. Rangers • Only Eli White or Leody Taveras will make the team. Manager Chris Woodward has emphasized that consistency at the plate will be the deciding factor between White and Leody Taveras at center field. The two have been almost identical players in the field this spring, consistently adding to an already solid defensive outfield. So far in Spring Training White has a 1.086 OPS and Taveras is at .598. For managers hoping Taveras will provide steals, they need to remember to not count on bad hitters (sub-.700 career OPS). Rays • The Rays rotation looks set with Tyler Glasnow getting the Opening Day nod. Cash declined to name the rest of his rotation, which is expected to include Ryan Yarbrough, Michael Wacha, Rich Hill and Archer in some order. Tigers • Julio Teheran is in line to make the starting rotation. Manager AJ Hinch on #Tigers righty Julio Teheran: "He came in with a mindset to win a job, and he's getting pretty close to it." — Evan Petzold (@EvanPetzold) March 17, 2021 • Either Renato Núñez or Isaac Paredes will make the Opening Day roster. Not both. The Tigers, though, likely won’t have room to carry both Paredes and non-roster invitee Renato Núñez. Núñez has real MLB power, but the Tigers aren’t in love with his defense at first base. The safer move might be to start Paredes in Triple A and get a little more time to feel out Núñez. But there’s a growing sense the Tigers could be ready to roll with Paredes, which would likely mean Jeimer Candelario moving back to first base. • No one knows who the closer may be. The closer role remains up for grabs with no real separation. It’s quite possible Hinch starts the season with something resembling a no-roles bullpen until everything sorts itself out. The bottom line: It seems like the Tigers are intent on opening the season with their best players (for the most part) on the roster. Nor do they care. Twins • The plan is still to give Josh Donaldson plenty of off days. Over the course of the winter, Rocco Baldelli spoke with Donaldson in-depth about the value of rest and working his way into game shape. There will be days in early April where Baldelli decides to rest Donaldson, perhaps in the case of a day game after a night game or on a particularly cold day. I think 130 games is the maximum number of games he’ll play this year even if he remains healthy. White Sox • Carlos Rodón has been working on his mechanics and velocity. Rodón has made adjustments in mechanics through his work with the core velocity belt and with pitching coach Ethan Katz. That has made it easier to gain command of the four seamer, with the spin getting better, a little more carry and a cleaner delivery, per Rodón. • Tony La Russa is considering Adam Eaton for the second lineup spot. Over the last few days, La Russa has said Adam Eaton will hit second plenty during the season, citing his ability to bunt, hit-and-run and occasionally hit for power, and fulfilling the traditional mold. I can’t wait for more bunts. National League Dodgers • Cody Bellinger is using a new batting stance. Bellinger is still standing straight up, but his stance was clearly more open than it was during the 2020 season. The batting stance he broke out during the Dodgers’ 7-2 loss to the Brewers on Tuesday was closer to what it looked like during the ’17 season, the year he took home National League Rookie of the Year honors. Here is a look at the difference. #Dodgers Cody Bellinger's stance today vs. last year's. Much different. pic.twitter.com/Mk3tgsHqAm — Juan Toribio (@juanctoribio) March 16, 2021 • Austin Barnes will catch a good number of games. Roberts has said Barnes is not the backup catcher but more of a tandem starter alongside Smith. It still seems more likely Smith starts more often. But Barnes is demonstrating wonderful strike-zone control in his spring chances, and he has Kershaw’s trust. It seems fair to expect him to start more than a traditional backup might. I guessing 100 games for Will Smith and 62 for Barnes. Giants • Besides Alex Wood’s health putting his status in limbo, the team’s rotation is set. Wood, who joined the Giants’ on a one-year, $3 million deal over the offseason, is projected to be the lone left-hander in the starting rotation, which also includes Cueto, Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani and Aaron Sanchez. If Wood opens the season on the injured list, the Giants could have Logan Webb fill in. Webb, 24, has impressed this spring by tossing six shutout innings with 10 strikeouts over his first three Cactus League starts. Logan Webb will fill in if Wood starts the season on the IL. Marlins • Tyler Rogers has added a slider and increased his ceiling. The main knock I had on Rogers before this season was the lack of an average breaking ball, but Rogers has changed his grip on his slider and so far this spring has shown a markedly higher spin rate on the pitch. I said in my writeup of him back in early February that he could be a league-average starter with just the fastball/changeup, given the extension in his delivery too. If the slider is even an average pitch for him now – it could be more, although with just two appearances so far this spring I don’t want to draw any strong conclusions – he could be league-average right away, and I’d bump up his ceiling too. Rogers was already projected for 8.9 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, and a 4.12 ERA. Any step forward would be great. Mets • The Mets could go with an opener at times during the season. “I’ve never ruled out having an opener,” Rojas said as part of a longer answer on stretching out Lucchesi. Acquired from San Diego in January, Lucchesi tossed three hitless innings Wednesday in his first Grapefruit League start. He remains a part of the fifth-starter competition alongside David Peterson and Jordan Yamamoto — a battle that could have two winners if Carlos Carrasco isn’t ready for the first week of the season. But perhaps one of those spots in the rotation won’t be for a traditional starter. Rojas has mentioned the concept of the opener with regularity since December, when he included it as one of the in-game strategies he was contemplating more for his second season. He’s brought it up a few times in spring as well as an option for the Mets. • Pete Alonso is trying to improve his plate discipline. And when [Alonso is] in the box, he wants to again narrow focus, to the strike zone and his pitch within it. Plate discipline has been his mantra, and he cited the desire to remember each and every pitch he chased this spring. If he drops his strikeout rate a few percentage points (26% on his career), he can become a batting average contributor. Phillies • Zach Eflin and Spencer Howard might not be healthy by Opening Day. If Eflin and Howard are slow to recover, right-hander Vince Velasquez will likely slide into the rotation. He entered camp competing with left-hander Matt Moore and right-handers Chase Anderson and Howard for the final two jobs, although Moore and Anderson have distinguished themselves with strong springs. • Manager Joe Girardi has not decided on a closer. Girardi said he has not decided on a closer. Archie Bradley, Héctor Neris and José Alvarado are the most likely candidates. “That hasn’t been on our forefront of decisions that we have to make,” he said. “We really haven’t talked about it a lot. The makeup of the rest of the bullpen could affect how we do something. I think we have to figure that out, too.” Pirates • There are four starting rotation locks. Locks (4): Steven Brault, Mitch Keller, Chad Kuhl, Tyler Anderson All of these pitchers are working to make significant gains, but they’re also marked in as starters. Yeah! Reds • Eugenio Suárez is preparing for a possible move back to shortstop. On Tuesday vs. the Rockies, manager David Bell made the move that could shake up the look of Cincinnati’s infield in 2021 and beyond. Normally the third baseman, Suárez started at his former position — shortstop. Mike Moustakas, signed last year to be the second baseman, moved back to his old spot at third base. Prospect Jonathan India, who has performed his way into getting serious consideration to make the team, played second base. … “It’s not likely to be a situation where [Suárez is] switching positions on a night-to-night basis. I say that now, but we hold the right to change our mind and kind of just see where we are after two weeks. This subject has been covered by about everyone, but I wanted to check one thing, his fielding reports as a shortstop prospect. These are all quotes from Baseball America Handbooks. 2012: “…shows flashes of quality defense at shortstop with good range up the middle and a strong arm, but he also committed 24 errors in 70 games last year. Like many young shortstops, he needs to learn to not force throws or rush the double play.” 2013: “Suarez has smooth defensive actions, soft hands and a plus arm, but his range at shortstop is limited by his fringe-average speed. He’s able to compensate in the field because of his above-average instincts for the game. He’s steady and makes plays on all the balls he gets to, though he can get a little too comfortable at times in the field. He played errorless ball in 15 games at second base for West Michigan.” 2014: “…others think he made significant strides on defense and consider him a potential above-average defender at shortstop. He has a plus arm, a quick release, good footwork and soft hands, though he can still get careless at times.” These scouting reports on his shortstop defense seem fine. Hopefully, he has lost too much agility in the last 8 years. Rockies • In typical Rockies fashion, they have no clue where any outfielder is going to play. The left-handed-hitting Hilliard, who prefers center field but can play all three outfield positions, enters the season as part of a rotation. The right-handed Garrett Hampson plays center but can move to the infield, and there will be opportunities to rest left fielder Raimel Tapia and right fielder Charlie Blackmon, both left-handed hitters. Chris Owings and (less frequently) Josh Fuentes, both right-handed hitters and multi-position players, also figure in the outfield picture. Cue the circus music.