PT TOMORROW: AL West—Powering Up

Los Angeles Angels

Against all odds, Tommy La Stella has become an integral and near everyday part of the offense. After never earning more than 169 AB in any of his previous four seasons with the loaded Cubs, La Stella has taken advantage of the opportunity he's had with the needier Angels—with whom he now has 80 AB through May 1. And La Stella has earned these AB by setting a personal best with 7 HR, his newfound power getting reasonable small sample support from a 115 / 137 PX/xPX and a 159 HctX. La Stella's 27% hr/f obviously won't last, but it may not have to. His fine plate skills have never been better (93% ct%, 11% bb%), and biggest separation between La Stella's .250 BA and .323 xBA seems to be a 19% h%. At least right now, La Stella has given LAA every reason to keep him in the lineup, and us reason to think that some of his breakout is for real.

But La Stella's defense remains a problem. He doesn't excel at either 2B or 3B, and has in fact already committed three errors at the former. And his new club's MLB-ready talent is starting to bubble to the surface. David Fletcher (2B/3B/OF, LAA) is currently on the utility player track in Anaheim, playing all over the infield as well as some LF. But his best position is 2B, and Fletcher's 95% ct% have produced a .307/.303 BA/xBA through 88 AB. Now up as injured Zack Cozart's roster replacement, Luis Rengifo (2B, LAA) is holding his own thus far (4-for-16, 2/3 BB/K, 149 HctX), has speed and a potential running game and is a more capable defensive 2B. Taylor Ward (3B, LAA) is back in AAA-Salt Lake City primarily to brush up on the requirements of his new position. But Ward's bat (15/14 BB/K, 3 HR, 1.044 OPS through 59 AB) seems to be coming quickly.

La Stella is in uncharted waters as a lineup regular and HR hitter. His ability to maintain regular playing time will depend on his bat remaining well ahead of his glove, and staying more viable overall than his younger competition. He's more than roster-worthy right now, but La Stella's owners shouldn't ever get too comfortable.

 

Houston Astros

A one-game lead entering May gives the division's best club little sense of urgency, perhaps because it also owns the division's best collection of near-MLB-ready names. And this may be the only reason that surging Yordan Alvarez (OF/1B, HOU) is still at AAA-Round Rock. To date, Alvarez is just crushing PCL pitching and the new Triple-A baseball, posting a PCL-leading 12 HR and .916 Slg through 83 AB, with 20 of his 32 hits going for extra bases. Alvarez's 13 BB, .386 BA and reasonable 74% ct% point to a legit offensive threat is hardly a one-dimensional slugger. As a 21-year-old with just 250 Triple-A AB of experience, a well-positioned club can afford to let Alvarez spend more time there and perhaps experience some ups and downs. But age and experience are no longer limiting factors in the face of numbers like these. Alvarez would already be up for most other clubs, and GM Jeff Luhnow has recently been quoted as saying that the club "is looking forward to the time he debuts, which will hopefully be this summer."

As noted by almost everyone paying attention, Alvarez seems to have surpassed OF prospect Kyle Tucker (OF, HOU) in the hitter pecking order now, unless / until something changes. Tucker failed to impress in his 2018 MLB intro in which he was just 9-for-64 without a HR, and he's now struggling again early with a .167 BA through 84 AB. Tucker does have 5 HR and 5 SB, and he owned Triple-A pitchers in 2018, as his .989 OPS (407 AB) attests—and it's only May 2. But at least for now, Tucker is the more likely of these names to become a 2H trade chip. And Alvarez seems more likely to replace either Tyler White (DH, HOU)—12-for-46, 59% ct%, anemic power metrics and still looking for his first HR of 2019—or struggling Tony Kemp (OF, HOU), whenever the club thinks it optimal. But without an injury or a massive team hitting slump, mid-summer seems like a good bet for his ETA.

 

Oakland Athletics

Over the past two weeks, a club that a year ago slugged its way into a post-season wild card spot by leading all MLB clubs in HR has gone yard just seven times—and have unsurprisingly dropped six games in a row and nine of their last 12 contests. Some of this can be traced to the loss of Matt Olson (1B, OAK) to a broken hamate bone, and the anemic production to date provided from replacement Kendrys Morales (1B/DH, OAK)—.162 BA and just one HR through 74 AB. The 36-year-old Morales still makes hard contact (131 HctX), his plate skills (82% ct%, 13% bb%) have been exemplary, and a 4% hr/f should correct to some degree at some point. But Olson began a Triple-A rehab on May 1, and will likely be ready for promotion within another week or two. And when that happens, the glove-challenged Morales will be without regular playing time—particularly now following the Khris Davis extension.

Another issue has been the lack of production from Jurickson Profar (2B, OAK), a situation that will more likely be allowed to correct itself sometime into May. Similar to Morales, Profar has posted a fine 84% ct% and 116 HctX, his .165 BA (.250 xBA) through 103 AB being fueled primarily by an 18% h%. But unlike Morales, Profar is just 26, with more future year value going forward. And his most likely replacement is Franklin Barreto (2B, OAK), who has backslid during a poor Triple-A start that currently finds him with a .198 BA, 34 Ks and just 2 HR through 86 AB. Shortstop Jorge Mateo (SS, OAK) has gotten a few 2B reps at AAA-Las Vegas, and is showing both improved plate skills (16/21 BB/K through 112 AB) and a .339/.383/.527 line to go along with his running game (7/3 SB/CS) in the early going. If Profar needs a timeout, Mateo seems like a more likely replacement over the near-term than Barreto. This OAK offensive slump bears watching.

 

Seattle Mariners

After reportedly throwing without issue for four consecutive days and off a mound on Wednesday, May 1, Wade LeBlanc (LHP, SEA) may return from his Grade 2 oblique strain sooner than expected. The big question is whether LeBlanc can hold up under the increased activity, and so far so good, with another bullpen session scheduled for Friday and Monday. If all goes well, the club could opt to begin LeBlanc's rehab late next week. 

If this becomes a mid-May decision, the likely roster casualty is Erik Swanson (RHP, SEA), who has struggled (6.62/4.92 ERA/xERA over 18 IP) in the first four MLB appearances. Swanson's fine 2018 Triple-A control (14 BB 72 IP) has carried over, and in fact he hasn't walked a single batter in any of his three MLB starts. But being too consistently around the plate has had its consequences, and a 45% FB% has a culprit in the 5 HR to date that have done most of the damage. Until/unless he can tame this problem and/or miss a few more bats (currently a 7.1 Dom, 10% SwK), Swanson is an easy demotion call, be it back to the bullpen or AAA-Tacoma.

A name that has suddenly put the brakes on any discussion of his imminent removal from the rotation is Felix Hernandez (RHP, SEA) who has posted a 16/2 K/BB over his most recent two starts while allowing just five runs over 13 IP. An exquisite 1.1 Ctl (73% FpK) and 52% GB% are the catalysts for Hernandez's sudden turnaround, with his current 3.56 xERA after six starts being the best of his last four years. We're clueless as to where the King might take this, but he suddenly looks roster-worthy again.

 

Texas Rangers

Is Logan Forsythe (1B/2B, TEX) suddenly born again in TEX as a 1B? Knee and shoulder injuries helped zap Forsythe's power over the past two seasons in LA and MIN, when he hit just .228 with 8 HR in 732 AB and left him without much MLB interest. But now after a slow start taking over 1B for injured Ronald Guzman (1B, TEX), Forsythe suddenly looks playable again, posting an .845 OPS through 79 AB that includes 3 HR, a 122/148 PX/xPX, and 123 HctX.

Obviously we're leery of small samples, and Forsythe's current .860 OPS vR (over 63 AB) is almost 200 points better than his career mark. And unfortunately for the 32-year-old Forsythe, the 24-year-old, left-handed-hitting Guzman is set to begin a rehab this weekend at AAA-Nashville, and could be activated sometime the following week after missing almost a month with a strained hamstring. The Rangers' need to determine whether Guzman is their future adds to a dilemma that finds all of veterans Forsythe, Danny Santana and Hunter Pence all playing well in their limited playing time. Barring an injury, one of these names could soon be on waivers—and it could depend on who impresses over the next week. Stay tuned.

 


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