PT TOMORROW: AL East—With Pedroia injury, Chavis gets chance in BOS

Boston Red Sox

Dustin Pedroia (2B, BOS) has again hit the injured list with what the team is calling “left knee irritation” and not a serious injury. By now, fantasy owners know not to take such pronouncements at face value, given the constant injury woes that have defined the latter stages of the career of the 35-year-old former American League MVP.

As the initial companion move to Pedroia being placed on the injured list, the Red Sox called up a pitcher, Marcus Walden (RHP, BOS). Coupled with the unavailability of Brock Holt (2B, BOS), who is out with a scratched cornea, that appeared to have left second base all to Eduardo Nunez (2B, BOS). But then Nunez himself hit the injured list on April 19, prompting a transaction that had been the subject of speculation in the local media.

The Red Sox called up one of the team’s top prospects, Michael Chavis (3B, BOS), who hit 31 HR between High-A and Double-A in 2017 and then finished the season well in 2018 after serving an 80-game PED suspension (.910 OPS across three levels).

This year, Chavis has been moving around the diamond at AAA-Pawtucket — six games at 3B, five at 2B, one at 1B — and again has his power stroke working (10-for-40, 4 HR).

Given that those five games are Chavis’ first in his minor league career at the position, there had been some question as to whether the Red Sox wanted to give Chavis a little more time to adapt to the position. But with the team scuffling and seemingly in need of a jolt, Chavis' upside potential apparently proved too hard to resist. 

It remains to be seen how long Chavis will remain in the majors, but he certainly has the talent to be able to take the job and run with it, combining power with a decent-enough contact rate. 

Before hitting the IL, Nunez had started the season ice cold at the plate (7-for-44). While a 19% hit rate has not helped, Nunez has not shown any signs of reversing troublesome trends with his Eye, hard contact rate or power metrics. Add in his less-than-stellar glove work, and he may have trouble working his way back into the second base mix, if Chavis seizes the opportunity (or if Pedroia can make it back onto the field).

Chavis' stint on the roster may only last until Holt is good to go. Or, if Chavis struggles and Holt and Pedroia are still not ready, the at-bats could fall to Tzu-Wei Lin (2B, BOS), who was called up along with Chavis. Lin spent most of 2018 at AAA-Pawtucket and posted a decent .307/.362/.448 slash line in 302 plate appearances, albeit with minimal power (5 HR) and stolen-base success (3-of-7).

But Chavis certainly bears watching, if not pre-emptively picking up in deeper leagues.

 

Baltimore Orioles

While John Means (LHP, BAL) has been bumped from the Orioles starting rotation in favor of the returning Alex Cobb (RHP, BAL), manager Brandon Hyde has pledged to “mix him in” as a starter as the season progresses, based on his early season success.

Through his first 13.2 IP, Means has struck out 13 and walked four while giving up three earned runs. While BaseballHQ’s minor league analysts did not forecast sustained success for Means as a starter, projecting him instead as a lefty specialist or long reliever, Means’ strikeout rate does have some support from a 13% SwK.

Hyde has ruled out using a six-man rotation, so Means may have to bide his time until the Orioles have a long stretch of games without an off day or a starter could use an extra day of rest.

Then again, opportunity may not be hard to come by in Baltimore, where the first two appearances of Dan Straily (RHP, BAL) — 10 ER in 4.2 IP — seemed to validate the Marlins having granted Straily his release. Straily righted the ship on April 15, giving up just one run and two hits over five innings in a win over the Red Sox (1 BB, 2 K).

A similar tale can be told about Andrew Cashner (RHP, BAL), who lowered his ERA under 5.00 with a 5-IP, 2-ER outing on April 18. Cashner’s six strikeouts were an aberration for a pitcher who is into his third straight year with a SwK of 7% or less.

While it would be unwise to expect too much from a pitcher with a “middling repertoire,” Means is at least in pole position to get the next opportunity in the Orioles rotation.

That is true even though the more accomplished Nathan Karns (RHP, BAL) appears on track to return to the team soon. Given Karns’ persistent health woes, the Orioles seem to inclined to have Karns pitch out of the bullpen, enabling his workload to be managed carefully.

 

New York Yankees

The main story of the Yankees’ early season has been a veritable conga line onto the injured list. At varying speeds, players are ramping up their rehabilitation activities, and in some cases their returns may be mere days away.

In some cases, the trickle-down effect of players’ activations are fairly straightforward. Gary Sanchez (C, NYY) is eligible to come off the IL on April 21 and appears on track to hit that date or close to it, likely earning Kyle Higashioka (C, NYY) a return trip to the minor leagues.

Troy Tulowitzki (SS, NYY) may return at some point on the Yankees road trip that begins next week, which should curtail the team’s reliance on players like Gio Urshela (3B, NYY) and Tyler Wade (2B, NYY) to round out its infield most days.

Giancarlo Stanton (OF, NYY) would seem to be on a similar timetable as Tulowitzki, having hit “with some intensity” off a tee this past week, apparently without suffering any sort of setback. At least for now, between the outfield and DH spot, there is room to accommodate Stanton without displacing anyone other than, say, recent call-up Mike Ford (1B, NYY), presuming that Luke Voit (1B, NYY) serves as the everyday first baseman.

The squeeze, then, will only come when Aaron Hicks (OF, NYY) is ready to return, perhaps in the early part of May. At that point, the big question may be whether Clint Frazier (OF, NYY) has done enough to relegate Brett Gardner (OF, NYY) to a bench role.

Buoyed by a wide gap between their respective hit rates — 38% vs. 16% — but also superior power skills, Frazier has outperformed Gardner thus far.

An added complication to this playing time picture is that, if Miguel Andujar (3B, NYY) is able to avoid surgery on the labrum tear in his right shoulder, the team is reportedly considering having him log some or all of his at-bats at DH or first base to minimize the amount he has to throw. That would at least theoretically throw Stanton into the already crowded outfield mix, but given that Andujar’s timetable to return remains murky at best, the concern about how at-bats would be allocated can be put off for another day.

If the Yankees ever do get all of these players back onto their active roster, it may close off a path to a return to the majors for Greg Bird (1B, NYY), presuming he can heal up from his left plantar fascia tear. Between his slow start and inability to stay on the field, the team will likely want to see an extended period of health and production from Bird before allocating any serious playing time to him.

 

Tampa Bay Rays

An offshoot of the Rays holding leads into so many of their early season games is that more clarity has been brought to which pitcher or pitchers in the Tampa Bay bullpen might offer fantasy owners the most help in the saves category.

There had been little doubt heading into the season that Jose Alvarado (LHP, TAM) had the skills to handle ninth-inning duty, but manager Kevin Cash withheld a full-throated endorsement of Alvarado as his closer in the preseason. Those who forged ahead and “drafted skills, not roles” have been rewarded, as Alvarado has converted his first four save opportunities in dominating fashion, striking out 16 in 9.1 IP, which an 18% SwK suggests is sustainable.

The Baseball Forecaster noted that improved control could take Alvarado to the next level, and while he has issued four free passes in those 9.1 IP, a 64% FpK offers at least some hope for improvement on this front as well. When batters have managed to get the ball in play against Alvarado, they are beating it into the ground (69% GB), only adding to his effectiveness.

But Cash has also used Alvarado to get tough outs earlier in the game (two holds), which has opened the door for Diego Castillo (RHP, TAM) to emerge as a clear Plan B and notch a pair of saves in his own right.

Castillo allowed a two-out rally and took an 11th inning loss in the team’s April 18 game but otherwise has been fairly dominating as well, boosting his ground ball rate and posting a 13% SwK that suggests some strikeout upside. Getting ahead of hitters remains a challenge for Castillo (49% FpK), but the self-inflicted wounds have been non-fatal, thanks to his otherwise strong skills.

Meanwhile, frequent opener Ryne Stanek (RHP, TAM) has thus far been on the outside looking in to the saves picture, perhaps due in part to his continued fly ball tilt. Stanek has had no trouble getting swings and misses, however (13 K in 9.1 IP, 22% SwK).

The Rays continue to have a fair amount of faith (1.38 LI) in Chaz Roe (RHP, TAM), who has been victimized in the early season by some bad luck (38% H%, 20% HR/F), but he is clearly behind Castillo in the right-handed reliever pecking order.

Meanwhile, Colin Poche (LHP, TAM), who drew some dynasty league interest by posting eye-popping numbers at AAA-Durham last season (1.08 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 78/17 K/BB in 50 IP), is off to a dreadful start at the same level in 2019, after having also struggled during spring training.

In just 4.2 IP, Poche has already yielded 10 ER — four more than last year — on eight hits and two walks. He has also already matched his 2018 total by yielding two home runs.

Given the sturdiness of their major league bullpen, the Rays can afford to give Poche ample time to work out his struggles. But his major league debut, which looked imminent at the end of 2018, may be growing more distant by the day.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

Given the state of offensive production at the catching position, many fantasy owners may not have heeded the warning in the Baseball Forecaster to “be wary” about investing too heavily in Danny Jansen (C, TOR) — and now they may have a bit of buyer’s remorse.

After struggling in September, Jansen has picked up where he left off in the early season, going 8-for-50 with only one extra-base hit. Jansen’s 2018 xPX had cautioned not to assume too much power production from him, and thus far that indicator has proven prescient.

Jansen’s struggles led to more opportunities for Luke Maile (C, TOR), who drew a modicum of interest last season by boosting his walk rate and hitting well against left-handed pitching (.820 OPS), moving him into the “won’t kill you” category of backstops. Maile probably remains in that category, though his 65% contact rate is a bit worrisome.

If Jansen’s struggles persist, the Blue Jays could let him get his head together at AAA-Buffalo by swapping places with Reese McGuire (C, TOR). McGuire was surprisingly effective at the plate during a short stint with the Blue Jays in 2018 (9-for-31, 2 HR), though his work at the plate in Triple-A (.651 OPS in 92 games in 2018) suggests that performance was largely a fluke. McGuire has started the 2019 season 8-for-33 for AAA-Buffalo.


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