Mining the News (3/30/22) Pt. 2

American League

Astros

Framber Valdez added a cutter.

The first spring start of Grapefruit League play this year went much more smoothly for Valdez, who threw 30 pitches in three scoreless innings in Monday’s 2-1 win over the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium. Valdez also debuted a cutter he picked up in the offseason that he hopes to add as a viable weapon with his sinker and curveball with an elite spin rate.

Cristian Javier will likely start the season in the bullpen.

Baker said Monday that right-hander Cristian Javier will probably begin the season in the bullpen, which isn’t a surprise. Javier began last season in the rotation but moved to the bullpen after Valdez came off the injured list in late May. With starting pitchers likely not stretched out to begin the regular season, the Astros need Javier to eat up innings in the bullpen.

Guardians

Steven Kwan has reworked his swing.

Kwan, Fink and Alex Eckelman, the organization’s director of hitting development, workshopped his swing for about three weeks last spring. A few games into the trial, he crushed a pitch to dead center at a 104 mph exit velocity, something he says he had never done before.

National League

Braves

Huascar Ynoa and Kyle Wright are in line for the fourth and fifth starter spots.

Manager Brian Snitker said last week that Ynoa and Wright likely had an edge in the race for the fourth and fifth spots, based on what they’ve done at the big-league level. Ynoa had a 3.02 ERA in 10 games (nine starts) with 50 strikeouts and 11 walks in 44 2/3 innings last season before breaking his pitching hand when he punched a dugout bench at Milwaukee. He missed three months and wasn’t the same after returning.

Wright, the fifth pick of the 2017 draft, has a bloated 6.56 ERA in 21 games (14 starts) over parts of four MLB seasons. But he pitched six scoreless innings in a division series-clinching win against Miami in 2020, and in the 2021 World Series, Wright struck out the side in a one-inning relief stint in Game 2 and came through with 4 2/3 innings of one-run ball in a Game 4 win at Houston. Wright, 26, pitched three scoreless innings in his only start so far this spring.

Cubs

Jonathan Villar will mainly be sharing time with Patrick Wisdom at third base.

The plan going in for the versatile Jonathan Villar is to get most of his playing time at third base (shared with Patrick Wisdom), but the Cubs can also use him at second base, at shortstop in a pinch or as one of the DH options.

“I’ll be ready for everything,” Villar said. “Because I’m here to help the team and I’ll take any opportunities to play.”

Dodgers

Cody Bellinger has changed his swing … again.

Shifting the sliders back and forth in his swing has brought with it different challenges this spring. The tinkering has continued — he once again has the bat up on his shoulder, one of several moving parts scouts have noticed as Bellinger has looked for the right feel. Some of the adjustments are as simple as bending his lead arm to find a quicker path for the bat to the ball.

The timing of his swing has yet to catch up. And for as close as Bellinger has stressed he is, the results just haven’t followed.

What could go wrong … again?

Andrew Heaney is adding a sweeper.

Heaney’s fastball-heavy approach proved lacking in his stints with the Angels, Marlins and Yankees (opposing hitters slugged a whopping .537 off Heaney’s heater last season); adding the sweeper is part of the value the Dodgers sold him on this winter. The Dodgers believe adding the breaking ball will help him continue to vary his pitch mix and sequencing.

Andrew Heaney will start games while Tyler Anderson will have a flexible role.

That work will continue in the Dodgers’ rotation, at least to start the season. Roberts has noted several times this spring that the organization sees Heaney, who signed for $8.5 million in November, as a starter and will use him to open games rather than as a matchup-shifting back end of a piggyback like they are currently contemplating with Tyler Anderson — another veteran starter who signed for similar money ($8 million) as Heaney.

Edwin Ríos is finally healthy after dealing with a sore shoulder for years.

For Edwin Ríos, the discomfort in his right shoulder had been a constant dating to his college days at Florida International. Rather than subside, the pain grew. And as Ríos’ own stature grew, evolving into one of the most prodigious bench sluggers in baseball, the shoulder went along with it.

“It” was a partially torn labrum in Ríos’ right shoulder that would require surgery, in May, for the second time after he’d originally undergone surgery on the shoulder back in college.

Now, he’s managed to return this spring with very few limitations. He’s been throwing without issue. The thump has returned to his bat. And he very much looks the part of the fearsome slugger who could play prominently into Los Angeles’ bench, particularly after adding another long ball Monday. He has two homers in 12 at-bats during Cactus League play.

Chris Taylor’s shoulder has limited his playing time.

Chris Taylor hasn’t played in the outfield and has only played second base a handful of times this spring after undergoing surgery on his right elbow in November. But he won’t be limited once the season gets underway, Roberts said.

Giants

Logan Webb is experimenting with a new cutter.

Webb threw four innings at Maryvale and gave up two-run homers to Willy Adames and Rowdy Tellez, although the second one came on an experimental cutter that he seldom throws in the regular season. He said he hasn’t had time to process his journey from a pitcher hoping to establish himself to a full-fledged staff ace, mostly because a new puppy has required most of his attention away from the field.

Marlins

Edward Cabrera has added a sinker.

This spring, Cabrera is focused on developing better control of his slider and his sinker, which he has yet to throw in the Majors, but he is working on adding to what is already a four-pitch arsenal. In 2021, Cabrera leaned most heavily on his four-seamer (38.8%), followed by his changeup (23.4%) and his slider (21.8%). Though he threw his curveball for just 16% of his pitches last season, it garnered the second-highest strikeout rate (29.4%), just behind his slider (31.3%).

By adding a second fastball to his arsenal (the sinker), Cabrera stands to benefit even more from his offspeed pitches. On Monday, Cabrera liked the feel of both his slider and his sinker, a sign his hard work is paying off.

Phillies

Bryson Stott could take over as the third baseman instead of Alec Bohm.

A few good weeks in spring training wasn’t going to alter that evaluation. Ever since the Phillies drafted Bohm, some within the organization were steadfast in their assessment that he would not be an everyday third baseman in the majors. Those opinions were shunned before. Now, it is the prevailing thought because Bohm’s hitting has not justified the losses in the field.

Bohm hasn’t played well in this abbreviated spring. Stott has. The Phillies have an easy narrative if they choose one first-round pick over the other. The problem is how they arrived at this point, and whether this is a bridge that must be burned in the next 10 days.

Pirates

• A personal favorite, Roansy Contreras, was optioned to the minors.

On Saturday, Castro and right-hander Roansy Contreras were optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis. Both probably will make it back to Pittsburgh by midseason.

Shelton said Contreras needs to polish his breaking stuff at Indy, but hinted that he might not be there long. A forearm injury last year limited Contreras to 12 starts at Altoona and one at Indianapolis.

“There’s still some development left to do with Ro, and we’re going to do that to start the year,” Shelton said.

Reds

Joey Votto changed the bat he uses.

Now, as Votto readies for his 16th season in Major League Baseball, he’s making a dramatic change, and will come to the plate wielding a 36-inch model JV19HP-LDM bat with a distinctive “hockey puck” knob on the end, one specifically tailored to not only his swing, but also his goal — which is to lead the majors in barrels. Barrels are a statistic measuring a combination of exit velocity and launch angle, leading to the optimal outcome in terms of balls in play.





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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TheUncool
3 months ago

Yeah, Belly, “What could go wrong … again?” indeed…


El Burro
3 months ago
Reply to  TheUncool

the less thinking he does, the better