PT TOMORROW: AL East—Drury power surge may salvage PT in TOR

Toronto Blue Jays

The arrival of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (3B, TOR) has seemingly lit a fire under Brandon Drury (2B, TOR). Guerrero arrived in Toronto on April 26, and within the next four games, Drury had more than doubled his season home run total, from two to five. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that Drury is struggling mightily to make contact, suggesting that perhaps he has gone a bit too far in adjusting his approach to get his power to emerge. The way Drury has steadily exchanged ground balls for line drives and fly balls also speaks to an evolving plate approach, but the pieces just have not come together yet.

At the same time, with his surprising success — with 3 HR in 46 AB, he has already matched his career high — Eric Sogard (2B, TOR) has seemingly put a hammerlock on the Blue Jays second base job, at least for now.

Sogard is benefiting from an elevated hit rate, to be sure, but his strong contact rate is nothing new. Perhaps Sogard fits into the category of players who stand to benefit the most from the “juiced ball” (if in fact we have one). But more likely, after a couple of hot weeks, Sogard will regress to his career norms, which could provide an opening for Drury to mount a challenge for a second base job that has already changed hands once this season.

Speaking of which, down in Triple-A, Lourdes Gurriel (2B, TOR) is showing there is nothing wrong with his bat (21-for-57, 1.119 OPS), so he could get another chance once the team is convinced he is ready to provide more consistent defense.

Not to be outdone, Cavan Biggio (2B, TOR) continues to crank along for AAA-Buffalo as well (1.131 OPS). Biggio has played multiple positions—though mostly infield—in the past several seasons, though some observers have noted the league-worst production of Toronto’s right fielders.

Biggio has spent scant time in right field in his minor league career: one game this year, two in 2018 and one in 2017. But it may be worth monitoring whether he begins to appear more frequently at the position in the days ahead, suggesting a determination by the organization that outfield time is the path of least resistance for Biggio to earn a promotion, something his bat is suggesting he may be just about ready for.

Those right field struggles may also explain the team’s decision to sign Ben Revere (OF, TOR) to a minor league contract. Once Revere completes extended spring training, the plan is for him to report to AAA-Buffalo.

If the 31-year-old Revere can show he still has something left in the tank — and his contact skills, at least, were still intact when he was last seen in the majors in 2017 — he could provide some cheap speed to fantasy owners before too long.

As a result, players like Billy McKinney (OF, TOR) and Teoscar Hernandez (OF, TOR) may have to pick up the pace soon or risk demotion. Yes, Socrates Brito (OF, TOR) and Alen Hanson (2B, TOR) have been just as bad if not worse offensively, but it is McKinney and Hernandez who have remaining minor league options.

 

Baltimore Orioles

Word out of Baltimore is that the team is beyond pleased with the defense of Richie Martin (SS, BAL). This is a good thing for Martin, as it is certainly not his bat that is keeping him in the lineup.

Contact had not been an issue for Martin in Double-A last season (81% ct%), but perhaps unsurprisingly he has found it considerably harder to put the ball in play in the majors. What contact Martin has made has been soft, and the inability to get on base is obviously also limiting his opportunities to put his above-average speed skills to use.

To give Martin a breather — as has happened with a bit more frequency of late — the Orioles shift Jonathan Villar (2B, BAL) to shortstop, which opens up second base for one of two players: Steve Wilkerson (2B, BAL) or Hanser Alberto (3B, BAL).

Wilkerson’s first 30 AB since being recalled have featured a pair of home runs and a pair of stolen bases as well. Neither power nor speed has been a hallmark of Wilkerson’s minor league career, though he did run a bit in the low minors (18 SB in 461 PA at High-A in 2016). Wilkerson, too, has yet to show he will be able to make consistent contact in the majors, but the moderate power-and-speed potential could be somewhat interesting in deep leagues, if his playing time opportunities continue to expand.

On the other side of the coin is Alberto, whose main skill is his ability to make contact, but he does not seem to bring much to the table in either the power or speed departments. Alberto, too, has some double-digit-steal seasons in the low minors on his resume, but they are further in the rearview mirror (2013-2014).

Alberto has benefited from an elevated hit rate in the early season, but the fact that he is not hitting the ball particularly hard enhance the chances his current lofty batting average will tail off — and likely soon.

The minor leaguer in the Baltimore system closest to the majors — unless the team decides to give Jace Peterson (3B, BAL) yet another whirl — is probably Christopher Bostick (2B, BAL), though he would seem to be no upgrade over Wilkerson and Alberto, with moderate power and speed at best.

At Double-A, 23-year-old Rylan Bannon (2B, BAL), acquired in the Manny Machado (SD, 3B) trade, is off to a nice start (.936 OPS), but given that this is the first success he has experienced in the high minors, he is probably still a ways away from making his major league debut.

 

Boston Red Sox

With Dustin Pedroia (2B, BOS) and Eduardo Nunez (3B, BOS) in the midst of rehabilitation assignments, the question of whether Michael Chavis (3B, BOS) has done enough to sustain his spot on the major league roster will soon come to a head.

On the surface, the question would seem to be a no-brainer, given that Chavis has displayed the type of power that no longer seems to be within reach of either Pedroia or Nunez at this stage of their careers, if it ever was. Chavis has also shown good plate patience and even a bit of speed through his first dozen or so major league games.

However, there are some red flags with Chavis performance, most notably his 63% hit rate, a lack of hard contact and a fortunate hit rate that is likely to send his batting average back in the direction of his .225 xBA. A 27% HR/F is unlikely to last, either.

On the other hand, Nunez had been off to a miserable start to the season before suffering a back injury and is perhaps earning little enough money ($5 million) that a big-market team like the Red Sox might choose to designate him for assignment at some point, particularly once Brock Holt (2B, BOS), who is dealing with a shoulder impingement, is also healthy.

Of course, expectations should also be modest that Pedroia will be able to stay on the field for any prolonged period of time, and perhaps the roster crunch will resolve itself without anyone having to be cut loose.  

A couple of other wrinkles to watch with this situation: One, the team has been less than thrilled with the defense at third base — Chavis’ natural position — of Rafael Devers (3B, BOS), even as Devers’ bat has begun to heat up. Chavis could platoon with Devers, which would perhaps give the Red Sox infield defense a bit of a boost, or at least take a bit of pressure off Devers.

Also, Steve Pearce (1B, BOS), who started the season on the injured list with a calf injury, is off to a miserable start, as his contact rate has fallen off a cliff. Presumably, that will turn around at some point, but if Pearce is still feeling the after effects of his preseason injury (or if the Red Sox are at least willing to pretend he is), Chavis could slide into the role of the platoon partner of Mitch Moreland (1B, BOS), at least temporarily.

With so many moving parts, it is hard to handicap Chavis’ chance to stay on the roster. On the one hand, his spot may be a little less secure than some suppose, given some of his early home run heroics. On the other hand, it’s not like a demotion is inevitable, either.

 

New York Yankees

As the Yankees have had to tap deep into their reserves to fill out their lineup card early this season, one player who has taken advantage of his opportunity thus far is Giovanny Urshela (3B, NYY).

To be sure, some of Urshela’s success can be attributed to an elevated hit rate, but Urshela is also generating plenty of hard contact and hitting more than his fair share of line drives.

As of May 2, Miguel Andujar (3B, NYY) had played in extended spring training games on three straight days, apparently without incident. While his return to the Yankees thus may be near at hand, there is at least some reason to believe that Urshela’s playing time will survive Andujar’s return.

Andujar will be playing with a partially torn labrum, and New York may wish to minimize his chances of aggravating the injury by having him log his at-bats at first base and designated hitter, as has been discussed in this space previously. The fact that Andujar has two errors in his first two games at third base with High-A Tampa also hints that the injury may hamper him more in the field than at the plate.

It also seems like Urshela will not have to worry about competing with D.J. Lemahieu (2B, NYY) for at-bats at least for a little while, given that the continued absence of Troy Tulowitzki (SS, NYY) leaves room for both in the lineup. Tulowitzki recently experienced a recurrence of calf pain, and the timetable for his return is uncertain.

Basically, Urshela should continue to have a short-term window of playing time until three of the Yankees’ phalanx of injured outfielders return, thereby squeezing the designated hitter at-bats. Unlike fellow fill-ins Mike Tauchman (OF, NYY), Mike Ford (1B, NYY) and Tyler Wade (2B, NYY), Urshela does not have remaining minor league options, and the team is less likely to expose Urshela to waivers, given his run of success at the plate, especially as compared to Tauchman, Ford and Wade.

Urshela could thus continue to have deep-league value by accumulating at-bats, runs and RBI in the near term.

 

Tampa Bay Rays

After Emilio Pagan (RHP, TAM) logged his third save of the season April 27, fantasy owners opened up their FAAB wallets and paid dearly to roster the 28-year-old right-hander.

So, who converted the Rays’ next save opportunity? Diego Castillo (RHP, TAM), naturally.

If anyone claims to know exactly how saves will be allocated among Pagan, Castillo and Jose Alvarado (LHP, TAM) over the balance of the season, they are probably fooling themselves. But we can at least make some reasonable deductions about the players’ current status and go from there.

Pagan’s first two saves came generally against right-handed-heavy lower portions of a weaker opponent (Kansas City). Such opportunities were very much in line with a strategy coming into vogue whereby a more highly skilled pitcher gets the “tough outs” in the seventh or eighth inning, and then a slightly lesser pitcher comes in to finish the job in the ninth.

Pagan’s third save was slightly different, in that he was guaranteed to face at least the top two hitters in the Red Sox order along with at least one left-handed hitter, Andrew Benintendi (OF, BOS), and he actually got the final out against a second left-handed hitter, Mitch Moreland (1B, BOS).

That’s the long way of saying that manager Kevin Cash’s trust appears to be building in Pagan, and perhaps for good reason. Pagan has had a little extra life on his fastball in 2019, and while it hasn’t necessarily shown up in his still-very-good strikeout rate just yet, his SwK is better than it has ever been. In addition, Pagan’s control (1 BB in 8 IP) is supported by his FpK, and he is also inducing a few more ground balls than he has in the past.

That’s not to say that Castillo has been a slouch. His skills are just fine, his ground-ball tilt even more pronounced, and his challenges with first-pitch strikes — perhaps his main flaw — continues to be something he is able to overcome.

Alvarado, meanwhile, has been enduring a bit of a rough patch, taking losses in back-to-back games April 21 and 22, and allowing seven baserunners in 2.2 IP between April 20-27. He is now nearly a month removed from his last save (April 7).

As good as Alvarado has been, his control has been a bit iffy going back to last year, and there isn’t a strong suggestion of improvement in his FpK (57%). But when Alvarado has managed to find the strike zone, he has been as unhittable as ever (16% SwK).

It would be wrong to write a pitcher with as strong of skills as Alvarado out of the saves picture, especially when Castillo has been struggling a bit with left-handed hitters. Nonetheless, at least for the time being, he may be a slight underdog to get the ball in the ninth inning.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.