Mining the News (3/21/22)

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

American League

Angels

Justin Upton is taking some reps at first base because of Jared Walsh’s heavy platoon split.

But Upton, who is earning $28 million in 2022 and has a full no-trade clause, is fully healthy and the Angels plan to experiment with him at first base, where he could potentially serve as the backup to left-handed-hitting Jared Walsh. Upton would face lefties to give Walsh a break, and he could also platoon with lefty Brandon Marsh in left field as well. Upton is a career .259/.359/.493 hitter against left-handers and batted .225/.355/.483 against them last year.

“We have him working at first base because there might be an opportunity to give Walshy a day off against a tough left-hander,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “There’s different ways to get his bat in the lineup. He’s getting his typical work in the outfield corners, but we wanted to introduce him at first base just in case that became pertinent.”

So far in his career, Walsh has a .604 OPS vs lefties and .945 against righties. Last season, Upton had a .838 OPS vs lefties and .652 against righties. The hitting part should work, but Upton just has to play a passable first base.

David Fletcher is getting considered to be the team’s shortstop.

The Angels have several utility options, including Andrew Velazquez, Tyler Wade, Luis Rengifo, Jack Mayfield and Matt Duffy, but they lack a true starting shortstop. So Maddon said they’ll get Fletcher plenty of work at short this spring, just in case they decide to move him from second base to make room for whoever wins the middle infield job. Velazquez was considered the favorite to start at short, but with the signing of Duffy on Wednesday, the Angels could opt to start Duffy at second and Fletcher at short.

Guardians

Amed Rosario may see some time in the outfield.

Two position qualifications are better than one.

Orioles

DJ Stewart is still not 100% healthy.

Stewart is coming off a 2021 campaign that ended on Sept. 18 with right knee surgery that ultimately defined his offseason preparation. Most of that was spent at Tork Sports Performance in Jacksonville, Fla., with teammates Mike Baumann and Tyler Wells. His knee still isn’t 100 percent, Stewart said, but it’s good enough to play. Hyde has said he wants Stewart in the outfield this spring, and it remains to be seen how his knee might play into his aptitude there.

Ryan Mountcastle will only play first base this year.

Mountcastle is focused on exclusively first base this spring, as manager Brandon Hyde has made clear, for the most part formally setting aside the outfield role Mountcastle learned the past two seasons and the left-infield role he was drafted into. On Saturday, in a 3-3 tie against the Yankees at Ed Smith Stadium, Mountcastle got his first chance to put cleat to infield dirt in game action this spring.

With Mountcastle locked into the first base job, then Trey Mancini will be the everyday DH. Now if someone else needs to DH, Mountcastle or Mancini will have to sit since Mountcastle doesn’t have the flexibility to play in the outfield.

Rangers

Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, and Mitch Garver will occupy three of the top four lineup spots.

“I think it’s Semien-Seager-Garver, wherever that fits — whether that’s at the top or 2-3-4,” Woodward said. “I don’t think I’d go any further (down) than 2-3-4 … I don’t want to fill the leadoff spot with just ‘a guy we think of as a leadoff hitter.’ They gotta have some production there; not just because he’s fast. And I want to put our best guys at the top. So that might be 1-2-3 and then fill the rest out accordingly, but it’s pretty good either way.”

Brad Miller will mainly play left field.

Throughout his nine-year big league career, Miller has played every position except pitcher and catcher. Though he was drafted as a shortstop, he’s as versatile as they come and can no doubt play a number of positions for the Rangers this season.

Woodward said he would like to mainly focus Miller in left field, but he can back up any of the infield positions if a guy needs an off-day or if matchups favor him.

Matt Carpenter was rostered to determine his current talent level.

That was before the Rangers signed Matt Carpenter to a minor-league deal. Does that change anything?

“I hate to say it’s more of a depth signing, but that’s probably what it is,” Woodward said after Saturday’s game. “But if there’s any indication that it’s the Matt Carpenter of the past, we’d be fools not to have him.”

For now, it’s probably best to think of Carpenter as a safety net, should Ibáñez struggle. After all, it’s March 20. Opening Day is less than three weeks away, and Carpenter is coming off an offseason in which he completely overhauled his swing. The transformation would have to be miraculous with only 16 Cactus League games remaining (though he will get at-bats in back-field and intra-squad games starting Sunday).

“I don’t know what that means as far as Opening Day goes,” Woodward said. “But if he’s willing to stay in the organization, goes down and kills it — or if something happens here where all of a sudden a spot opens up …”

Rays

Luis Patiño added a second slider.

Patiño’s fastball, which averaged 95.7 mph last season, can indeed be electric — and might only improve as a result of the physical changes he made over the winter. He tinkered with two sliders in 2021: a tighter breaking ball he picked up last year, which he can throw for strikes and to generate soft contact, and a sweeping slider that should be a legitimate swing-and-miss offering.

Royals

• I can’t cut and paste the entire article by The Athletic’s Alec Lewis, so go read it on all the Royals starters. Here is a sample of 2022 pitch mix changes, if any.

Brad Keller, RHP
2021 repertoire: Sinker, four-seam (with cut), slider, split changeup
2022 repertoire: Sinker, four-seam (with cut), slider, changeup

Brady Singer, RHP
2021 repertoire: Two-seamer, slider, changeup
2022 repertoire: Two-seamer, slider, changeup

Kris Bubic, LHP
2021 repertoire: Four-seamer, changeup, curveball
2022 repertoire: Four-seamer, changeup, curveball, slider

Daniel Lynch, LHP
2021 repertoire: Four-seam, sinker, changeup, slider, curveball
2022 repertoire: Four-seam, sinker, changeup, slider, curveball

Jackson Kowar, RHP
2021 repertoire: Four-seam, changeup, slider, curveball
2022 repertoire: Four-seam, changeup, slider, curveball

Tigers

Casey Mize will make the second start for Detroit this season.

Mize, expected to be Detroit’s No. 2 starter behind Opening Day starter Eduardo Rodriguez, said on Monday that he’d like to work on utilizing his splitter more this year. It was his out pitch in college at Auburn, but the 24-year-old has strayed from it lately.

Derek Hill reworked his swing.

Derek Hill has shortened up his swing a little more each year over the past few springs. Now, Hill is standing with his feet practically touching each other in the batter’s box before he takes his stride. The simple approach with minimal hand movement is something Hill adopted a couple of years ago after working with California hitting guru Doug Latta. Hill, who briefly tried a toe-tap at Double-A Erie, realized he naturally moved his front foot nearly all the way back when he was doing the toe-tap. Now, he’s setting up with his feet close together before launching into a longer stride. It’s interesting and looks a little unconventional. “Honestly just trying to be as compact as possible,” Hill said. “It feels really, really solid right now.”

Twins

Alex Kirilloff’s recovery from wrist surgery was not smooth.

The 24-year-old didn’t have the smoothest recovery; [Kiriloff] started swinging five to six weeks after his surgery and built up to hitting but was shut down in November after the wrist didn’t feel right. He started ramping up again in December, hitting every day with Max Kepler.

White Sox

Michael Kopech will be a few starts behind schedule.

Kopech dealt with COVID-19 at the end of February, so his ramp-up for Spring Training was temporarily halted. He feels healthy now and will throw a few live bullpens before getting a Cactus League start.

Yoán Moncada plans on stealing more bases.

After stealing a total of 28 bases over his five seasons with the White Sox, the athletic Yoán Moncada would like to run more in ’22.

Lucas Giolito’s fastball is sitting 96-97 mph.

Lucas Giolito had lightly acknowledged that his strength additions might pay off in the form of velocity gains, but three innings of live batting practice on Thursday made it unambiguous.

“He’s strong right now,” Katz said. “He was sitting 96-97 mph yesterday

Last season his fastball averaged 93.9 mph. Big news if true.

• The starters will throw around five innings, at most, in their first start.

But if it’s unlikely that any starters are going more than five innings by their first regular-season outing, it stands to reason that Kopech might be a touch behind, especially since the Sox expect his workload to tick up as the season goes on. But even if the usage is more limited, Katz expects to see the benefits of extended outings and Kopech using his full arsenal on display.

“He was fastball/slider, that was all he really needed,” Katz said of Kopech’s arsenal last year. “One of the things that we really worked on last year was the changeup and the changeup right now in the bullpens that he’s thrown has been a huge step.

National League

Cardinals

• The Cardinals plan on platooning quite a bit. Also, Nolan Gorman and Juan Yepez should start the season in the minors.

Manager Oli Marmol is expected to incorporate matchups and platoons more frequently than his predecessors have, a concept that differs from the the set lineups the organization has preferred in the past. By signing Dickerson, St. Louis now has two left-handed bench bats in a predominantly right-handed lineup, and Marmol has additional depth to get creative as the organization determines how best to get the most production out of its young bench.

The most prevalent question is how Dickerson’s presence will affect the playing time of Nootbaar, who opened camp as the club’s reserve outfielder. The Cardinals believe Nootbaar would benefit from seeing consistent at-bats. The DH and the possibility of expanded rosters to open the season allow plenty of room for a fifth outfielder. Although the club is high on Yepez and Gorman, the two young prospects likely will open the season in Triple A.

Cubs

• The Cubs are positioned for a center field platoon.

Chicago also signed Clint Frazier, who offers a righty bat for the corner-outfield spots. Rafael Ortega (139 wRC+ against righties last year) and Michael Hermosillo (.991 OPS against lefties between the Minors and Majors in ’21) offer a platoon pairing for center, and are both versatile enough to play all three spots. Harold Ramírez is also on the 40-man roster as a righty-hitting bench option for the corners.

• The DH will be a rotating spot.

Barring a trade that clears some of the outfield logjam, the arrival of the universal designated hitter will give Ross one more offensive slot to help organize the lineup and defense.

“Yeah, the DH gives us another spot to be flexible,” Ross said. “I see that as kind of a rotating position right now, giving guys that are swinging the bat well and a combination of rest in that area.

• The Cubs will piggyback a few games to start the season.

As things currently stand, the Cubs’ rotation is led by Kyle Hendricks, Marcus Stroman and Wade Miley. Behind that trio, Chicago has two righties (Alec Mills and Keegan Thompson) and now a pair of lefties (Justin Steele and Smyly). Given the short runway to Opening Day, Hottovy has noted that doing “piggyback” outings with multiple pitchers might be a necessity at the start of the season.

Diamondbacks

David Peralta reworked his swing.

“After the season that I had last year, I thought, ‘I need to change something,'” Peralta said. “I think [Brantley’s] one of the best in the business at being consistent. And he cleaned me up. He helped out a lot with that. I always tell him, ‘Thank you for all the hard work you put in with me.’ He taught me how to do everything correctly. I really appreciate that.”

Where he had a leg kick in previous years, Peralta now has more of a toe tap before his swing while he also works on staying back and letting the ball travel.

Dodgers

• The starters should throw around 75 pitches to start the season.

The Dodgers’ expectation is that their starters will be around five innings and 75 pitches for the start of the regular season.

Giants

Carlos Rodón is hoping to throw his curveball more.

Left-hander Carlos Rodón threw two simulated innings during his first live batting practice session at Scottsdale Stadium on Saturday, flashing his explosive fastball and slider, as well as his curveball, which he feels remains a work in progress. Rodón threw his curveball only 1.7 percent of the time last season with the White Sox, but he’s hoping the pitch becomes a greater part of his arsenal this spring.

“In the bullpen, it was really good,” Rodón said of his curveball. “It’s a little different when a hitter gets up there. You get a little geeked. Just trying to control that. It’s going to take a couple of times. Just keep throwing it and it’ll eventually stick.”

Here are the comps and composite grades for last season’s version of the pitch.

Marlins

Jesús Aguilar hopes to be 100% healthy by the season’s start.

Aguilar was on pace for a 100-RBI season in 2021 before experiencing inflammation in his knee in early September. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on Sept. 27 and began rehabbing in Miami before moving to Orlando for two months. It was around that time he could start to run and perform normal baseball activities.

“I’m close,” Aguilar said. “I just don’t want to force, especially now it’s a short Spring Training. So we’ve got to be smart. We’ve got to do things in the right way. I’ll be 100 percent for the season.”

Manager Don Mattingly reiterated that sentiment, saying that Aguilar will “not be pushed too hard early.”

Garrett Cooper doesn’t plan on playing in the outfield.

About a month ago, Cooper flew from California to South Florida to continue training. He is about six to seven pounds heavier after lifting weights a bit more during the extended offseason. He said he tends to be stronger playing first base, since he isn’t taxed as much by the amount of running in the outfield. He was one of the Marlins who took part in workouts that Miguel Rojas put together in Palm Beach Gardens.

The first base and DH spots are filled up for the Marlins with Jorge Soler, Aguilar, and Cooper fighting for two spots.

Mets

Dominic Smith played with a torn shoulder last season.

Smith played much of 2021 with a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder, he revealed to Sports Illustrated and then confirmed Friday. The issue did not require offseason surgery, and Smith said he currently is playing pain free. But it almost certainly contributed to his slide in production last summer, when Smith slumped to a .244/.304/.363 slash line and lost playing time down the stretch.

Eduardo Escobar is expected to be the Mets third baseman and Jeff McNeil the second baseman. J.D. Davis is not expected to get many at-bats.

Unless the Mets trade from their infield depth, one of the challenges for Showalter will be what looks like a positional logjam at the corners. He provided some clarity Friday, confirming free-agent pickup Eduardo Escobar, who has experience playing all over the diamond, is working strictly as a third baseman this spring. That should give Showalter the freedom to pencil Jeff McNeil in at second and Cano at DH most nights, with Escobar and McNeil’s versatility allowing him to mix and match.

J.D. Davis and Smith, both talented bats, appear blocked defensively. The left-handed-hitting Smith could glean at-bats from Alonso at first base, and should benefit from superior defensive skills at the position. But Escobar is a switch-hitter, making a platoon with the right-handed-hitting Davis at third unlikely. Davis can play outfield in a pinch, but so can Escobar, McNeil and Smith.

Barring an injury, that leaves Davis’ best path to at-bats at DH against left-handed pitching or as a pinch-hitter. Those opportunities will be limited in 2022 without the pitcher’s spot in the lineup.

“JD is going to get a chance to contribute to our club,” Showalter said. “In what capacity? That’s going to present itself in different situations. Also with the DH, there will be at-bats for him.”

Nationals

Carter Kieboom will be out for some time with no obvious replacement.

Padres

• The Padres have four rotation spots set with only one open.

Earlier this week, manager Bob Melvin noted that four spots in the Padres’ starting rotation are “set in stone,” those places belonging to Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, Blake Snell and a healthy Mike Clevinger.

Beyond that, it’s an open competition, with Chris Paddack and Martínez at the forefront. Ryan Weathers and MacKenzie Gore (the club’s No. 4 prospect) are also in the mix, plus the Padres are still deciding on a role for right-hander Dinelson Lamet, who will be stretched out over multiple innings this spring.

Phillies

• The Phillies are looking to go with a center field platoon.

The Phillies could probably use one more bat, only because a rotating DH means someone from the bench must be in the lineup every day. For now, if a regular is the DH, Johan Camargo or one of Vierling/Herrera (whoever isn’t playing center) has to be in the lineup too. Tommy Pham is a big righty bat that could fit. So could more traditional utilitymen, and there are many still available.

and

The Phillies brought Herrera back because they did not like the potential costs of and options in the center-field trade and free-agent markets. So they went with somebody they knew. Manager Joe Girardi said there will be a competition in center field this spring, although president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski indicated the organization’s feeling about center when he said on Sunday they see rookie Matt Vierling playing a lot in the outfield.

A Vierling-Herrera platoon is a smart bet.

“Those are the guys that are probably the leading candidates,” Girardi said, “but [Adam] Haseley has a chance to re-establish himself as well.”

and

“Some things will depend on how our center fielders are doing and where they’re at,” Girardi said. “We’re looking at center field. Is it an everyday guy? Is it a platoon situation? [Matt Vierling] had a pretty good year last year. You feel pretty comfortable leading him off against left-handers. We’ll have to look against right-handers. And then there are some other internal candidates, but I haven’t really spoken to them much about it. But let’s just see what all the pieces are first, and then we’ll figure it out.”

Alec Bohm reworked his batting stance.

“What I really like that [hitting coach Kevin Long] is preaching to me and everybody is just be closer to the hitting position,” Bohm said. “Simplify everything. For me, it’s just a touch wider [stance]. I don’t know if it looks a whole lot different, but for me, it feels a lot more under control in the stride and all of that. Today, the ball didn’t feel fast to me. I think that’s one thing I noticed.”

Reds

Shogo Akiyama also reworked his batting stance.

Akiyama, who turns 34 on April 16, noted he put on weight in the offseason to add strength. He also made a change to his approach that includes an updated batting stance.

“If I don’t change anything from the last two years, there won’t be anything different with how people think of me and my hitting, as well,” Akiyama said. “It’s a new challenge. Just hopefully the results come through.

“In the past, I was watching the ball until the very end, but now I’m focusing on hitting the ball in front. And that’s mainly the biggest difference right now.”

Rockies

Connor Joe is not expected to get full-time at-bats.

The trait that earned Joe his opportunities — consistent, high-quality at-bats — could serve him well, especially if starts and playing time are sporadic.

“There are guys that, to bring out the best in them, need regular at-bats,” Black said. “There are guys who are valuable who don’t get 500-600 at-bats. They may get 300-400, but those are really good.





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 once, and got his first NFBC Main Event win in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Josh
8 months ago

Impossible because of the division rivalry, among other things, but Nationals taking JD Davis off the Mets’ hands would be cool. Davis is a butcher at 3B but why not; if I were the Nats I would love to have a bat-first guy the Mets clearly don’t care about. Anyway. It’s going to be an awful year in Nats Town.