WHO’S PLAYING WHO?
San Diego Padres, 2B
Jake Cronenworth is part of the mix. I wrote:
Came over to the Padres with Tommy Pham last winter and was the primary second baseman, though he did slide to other positions when needed, and ended up as a rookie of the year finalist. He showed himself to be a well-rounded ballplayer, with a good strike zone approach, some power, and good speed, and he is an ace second baseman. His expected batting average was .324 last year, better than DJ LeMahieu's, which must mean something good. He struggled against lefties in limited at-bats, but was wildly successful against them in 2019 in Triple-A, something to keep an eye on but not yet worry about. What Cronenworth means is solid major league talent on both sides of the diamond, too, with a short record as a successful Triple-A hurler not too far in his past. How many homers he hits and how many bases he steals is going to depend on what his team needs, don't expect outlandish changes to his game, but with experience he could become a solid power-speed guy with an excellent batting average.
Not bad! But he’s going to platoon, apparently, seeing most of the at-bats versus righties, with the newly-signed Ha-Seong Kim:
Arrives from Korea an experienced hitter, a professional since his teen years, and at a young age. He has above-average speed, is a good fielder, and has shown power (30 homers in 2020), though how all of that translates to the major leagues remains to be seen. It is notable that he has major league options and is expected to platoon at 2B, playing mostly against lefties, so a big breakout this year would be surprising. It may or may not be useful to note that Jung Ho Kang, who nobody wants to be compared to, hit 40 homers and .356 as a 27-year-old in KBO before coming to the Pirates, where he hit .287 with 15 homers. The suggestion is that Kim should be a solid major league part-timer to begin this year, with the potential to get even better as he accustoms himself to the US style of play and competitive atmosphere, but with a limited price due to playing time issues.
Photo by Mike LaChance. CC 2.0
The potential fly in the ointment, of course, is Jurickson Profar, who the Friars also signed in the offseason:
Remarkably consistent the last three years, though if you scan his statlines 2019 was a bummer because of dismal batting average luck on balls in play. But if his isn't the profile of a 20 homer 10 steals guy whose is? Makes a lot of contact but doesn't generally hit the ball hard, so maybe the deadened ball will hurt him this year. That's a reason to be a little wary, though he can play all over the field so the risk is more about the quality than the quantity. He's struggled some years versus righties, but in other years not. He’s a good ballplayer who may be a risky fantasy bet this year.
In sum: All three players are solid major leaguers with some power and some speed. All could probably play full-time, but the Cronenworth-Kim platoon, with Profar in reserve, filling in all over the diamond, might actually be the best configuration for the Padres. But it leaves them all in the 350-450 plate appearances range, which gives them limited mixed-league utility.
Colorado Rockies 2B
Brendan Rodgers and Garrett Hampson are vying for the job. Rodgers was having a good spring (two homers, for instance) when he hurt his hamstring last Saturday trying to steal a base. The injury is not considered severe and he may be back soon, but will he be back soon enough? Will an opportunity open for Hampson, and will he take advantage of it?
Hampson has shown he’s not much of a hitter for average, but he has good speed and can fill in all over the field. If he’s not playing second he’ll be splitting time with Sam Hilliard in center and Ryan McMahon at third. Maybe not as much PT as last year, but some roles.
As for Rodgers:
His 2019 season ended with July shoulder surgery to repair the labrum in his right shoulder, but he showed himself to be physically ready last July. Still, the Rockies sent him to the alternative site to start the season, at least partly because their roster was crowded, and he didn't get the call until mid-August when David Dahl went down. He got into seven games, hit .095, and didn't walk once, then went down with a strain in that same shoulder. The Rockies said it wasn't serious, but it ended his season, a wasted one for the former top prospect. Assuming he's healthy come spring, he's supposed to be, he's still very much an unproven prospect who has missed much development time the last two years. At some post-hype point he's likely to demonstrate why he was expected to become a first-rate hitter with decent power, but it's going to take major strides that may not come this year.
But they may! There is some chance Rodgers will stay healthy and reach his potential this year, in which case he becomes a $20-25 earner. Maybe more, especially in Colorado. Mixed leaguers won’t have to invest a ton to find out. In NL-only leagues the price will be dear enough to hurt if this year isn’t the one.
CINCINNATI REDS Infield
Joey Votto has Covid. Some players, Freddie Freeman comes to mind, had serious cases last July and bounced back just fine. Really, more than fine. Others struggled, though it isn’t always clear whether it was the after-effects of the disease or the distortions of a short season that mattered. We don’t know.
For the time being, Votto is out.
Mike Moustakas is still at second base, but he was not good there last year and it makes sense to move him to third base.
Because that would allow the Reds to play powerhouse Eugenio Suarez at shortstop instead of the extremely unqualified Kyle Farmer. The only problem is that Suarez hasn’t played short since 2015 and there’s probably a reason for that.
But Suarez at short and Moustakas at third was the Reds lineup yesterday (Tuesday).
This shuffling would move Nick Castellanos to first base, which would probably improve the outfield defense a lot—by subtraction. Until Votto returns.
That opens up second base. Jonathan India has been garnering attention with his bat. He was a No. 5 overall pick in 2018 but doesn’t inspire the prospectorial confidence that some do. Essentially, a decent contact hitter without the defensive skills to stay in the infield for long and maybe not enough power to warrant a spot in a corner outfield spot. But the bar this year is, is he a better second baseman than Moustakas? And is he a better bat than Kyle Farmer? Those aren’t high bars.
It should be noted that the Reds have Dee Strange-Gordon, who could play second, and they picked up veteran sub Mike Freeman this week, who can fill in most everywhere.
Go with the guys who can hit (Moustakas, Suarez, Castellanos) and let them play. India could be a pleasant surprise, but not one to count on.
Toronto Blue Jays DH/Catcher
There are a couple of issues here. Rowdy Tellez looked like a limited and one-dimensional hitter before 2020. Instead:
His season ended in the second week of September with a right knee strain, but until then he showed excellent power and a vastly improved control of the strikezone. He also dramatically cut his strikeout rate, making a lot more contact and hard contact too. What he didn't do is barrel the ball much, instead hitting against the shift to the opposite field. An impressive display of adjustment and progress by the young power hitter whose limited hit tool limited his prospect status. Of course nobody pays power hitters to ground the ball the opposite way, so Tellez is going to have to further adjust if he's going to reach his fantasy potential. That's a reason not to be too bullish based his progress last year, but a .275 hitter with 25 home runs is a decent base to work from. And a talented hitter making smart adjustments successfully means there may well be much more potential to be had.
While Randall Grichuk has been a consistent full-time player the last two years, and a 20+ homer guy in limited time for four years before that. Neither Tellez nor Grichuk has much of a platoon split, if any, but for DH to work they will platoon. Presumably Grichuk will also get outfield time, but unless Teoscar Hernandez’s 2020 breakout turns out to be a serious fluke or someone gets hurt at-bats are going to be hard to come by.
What does this have to do with catcher?
Danny Jansen is one Blue Jay catcher. He worked well with Hyun-jin Ryu last year, and while he hasn’t become the offensive force it was hoped when he was a prospect, he’s just 25 years old and more development is possible.
Reese McGuire was the backup last year, and he’s out of options this year, so he would seem to be the likely backup, but Alejandro Kirk is knocking on his door. Kirk is just 22, with no experience above High-A except 25 major league at bats last summer, so he would seem to be destined to start the season, at least, in Double-A, but there is plenty of chatter around that he might make the team out of camp.
I’m not sure I believe it, but the best justification, that Kirk’s bat will make the Blue Jays better immediately, is difficult to believe because there aren’t many at-bats unless Kirk also DHs sometimes, but hard to ignore if it’s true. Which puts Tellez and Grichuk at risk.
I think Kirk will go to the alternative site, play a month or six week’s games in Double-A he’ll move up to the big team, maybe in June, if he truly is ready. But I could be wrong. A cheap bet on Kirk is a bet well placed.
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