Quick Hits: Mikolas, K. Seager, Judge, D-backs

Cardinals right-hander Miles Mikolas will begin the season on the injured list after receiving a platelet-rich plasma injection, per Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. As of now, it appears Mikolas will make his 2020 debut toward the end of April or in the beginning of May, according to Goold. It’s a blow to the Cardinals’ rotation, which got back-to-back quality seasons from Mikolas in 2018-19 and now has to fill a couple openings behind Jack Flaherty, Adam Wainwright and Dakota Hudson. Carlos Martinez and Kwang-hyun Kim were already known to be in the running before Mikolas went down, and now Daniel Ponce de Leon, Austin Gomber, Ryan Helsley, Alex Reyes, John Gant and Genesis Cabrera are also in the mix, Goold writes.

Here’s more from around the game…

  • Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager was the subject of trade rumors over the winter, when “a handful of teams” discussed him with the M’s, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times writes. Seager has stayed put to this point, and he’s now the longest-tenured player on Seattle’s roster, though he realizes a deal could still come together. The 32-year-old admitted to Divish that a trade remains “a definite possibility.” Seager enjoyed a bounce-back season in 2019, but he’s still owed $37MM over the next two years. His contract also includes a 2022 $15MM club option that will turn into a player option if he’s dealt, which could help stand in the way of a trade.
  • Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge has been battling a right shoulder issue early in camp, but he’s progressing in his recovery, George A. King III of the New York Post relays. Judge told manager Aaron Bone he’s “game-ready,” but the Yankees are taking it slow with their prized slugger, whom injuries limited to a combined 214 of a possible 324 regular-season games from 2018-19. “Start reintroducing him to full swinging and stuff in the next couple of days I would think,’’ Boone said. “I am sure in the next day or two it will probably start to ramp him back up.’’
  • Thanks to a productive 2019 season at the Double-A level, Diamondbacks first base prospect Pavin Smith has a chance to make his major league debut sometime this year, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic observes. Smith was the seventh overall pick of the Diamondbacks in 2017, and while he hit well in low-A ball that year, he provided little to no power (zero home runs, .097 ISO). He then didn’t produce at a particularly impressive clip at the high-A level the next season, but Smith turned it around last year. In his Double-A debut, he put up a .291/.370/.466 line with 12 homers and almost as many walks (59) and strikeouts (61).

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Tony Cingrani Generating Interest

Left-hander Tony Cingrani has shown flashes of promise since he made his major league debut with the Reds in 2012, but injuries have knocked his career off course in recent years. Cingrani, who most recently took a big league mound with the Dodgers in 2018, totaled just 22 2/3 innings that year and then didn’t pitch in the bigs at all last season. He underwent shoulder surgery in June, and the Dodgers traded Cingrani to the Cardinals in July. That was a financially motivated move on the part of both teams, though, as the Cards knew he wouldn’t pitch for them in 2019.

Just under seven months after Cingrani went to St. Louis, he remains one of the southpaw relievers left on the free-agent market. The 30-year-old might not be without a team for much longer, however. Jon Heyman of MLB Network tweets that Cingrani’s “drawing a ton of interest.” It’s not clear which clubs are after Cingrani, nor is it known how healthy he is right now.

A starting option during the early portion of his career, Cingrani transitioned to the bullpen on a full-time basis in 2015. As a reliever, he owns a 4.27 ERA/4.19 FIP with 10.08 K/9 and 4.68 BB/9 across 175 innings. Those aren’t sparkling numbers overall, but in his most recent MLB action two years ago, Cingrani did strike out 14.0-plus hitters per nine and post a sub-3.0 BB/9, averaging just under 94 mph on his fastball along the way. With so few intriguing relief choices left in free agency, someone figures to take a low-risk flier on Cingrani if he’s nearing a return to health.

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MLBTR Poll: Yankees’ Third Base Situation

A year ago at this time, Miguel Andujar was the clear-cut favorite to open the season at third base for the Yankees. Had it not been for an out-of-this-world two-way showing from the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani in 2018, Andujar would have entered the season fresh off AL Rookie of the Year honors. Andujar fell short to Ohtani, though, and then endured a year to forget in the second season of his career.

Shoulder problems limited Andujar to just 12 games in 2019, but the Yankees had no trouble carrying on without him, evidenced by their 103-59 record and their first AL East title since 2012. One reason the Yankees finally regained control of the division? Gio Urshela, who grabbed the reins at third base as a result of Andujar’s health woes and became one of the injury-riddled Yankees’ most valuable players. It was a shocking rise for Urshela, who had never been known for his offense in prior major league stints with the Indians (2015, 2017) and Blue Jays (2018).

Before last year, Urshela had not hit more than 15 home runs in a professional season, yet he managed to mash 21 in the majors in 2019. That career-high HR total helped Urshela to an outstanding .314/.355/.534 line with 3.1 fWAR and a personal-best hard-hit rate in 476 plate appearances.

Urshela’s track record of success isn’t long, but the World Series hopeful Yankees are believers. General manager Brian Cashman has made it known that Urshela’s the front-runner to open the upcoming campaign at the hot corner for New York. So, despite his impressive performance as a rookie, Andujar’s behind on the Yankees’ depth chart. They’re even giving the soon-to-be 25-year-old work at first base and in the outfield early this spring in an effort to keep his bat in the lineup, per Bryan Hoch of MLB.com.

Andujar may be hard-pressed to struggle more at first or in the outfield than he has at third, where he accounted for minus-25 Defensive Runs Saved and a minus-16 Ultimate Zone Rating in his first season. But make no mistake, Andujar can hit. In his first season in the majors, he piled up 606 trips to the plate and batted .297/.328/.527 with 76 extra-base hits (47 doubles, 27 homers, two triples).

Considering his offensive upside, Andujar may well return to his past role as the Yankees’ primary third baseman sometime this year. Urshela, 28, will have to relinquish the job first, though. Which of the two do you think will log more time at the hot corner for the Yankees in 2020?

(Poll link for app users)

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Rangers Getting Nick Solak Work In Center Field

Acquired in a July trade that sent righty Peter Fairbanks to the Rays, Rangers infield prospect Nick Solak impressed upon being promoted to the show late in 2019, hitting .293/.393/.491 with five home runs, six doubles, a triple and two steals in 135 plate appearances. Pair that with his .289/.362/.532 slash in Triple-A last year, and it’s easy to see why Rangers president of baseball ops Jon Daniels, manager Chris Woodward and the rest of the organization’s decision-makers are so intrigued by Solak’s potential.

However, while there’s room for flexibility in the infield, the Texas organization is more focused on having Solak learn a position that is largely new to him this spring; Woodward tells Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News that learning the ropes in center field is Solak’s “top priority” in Spring Training. Danny Santana is currently the team’s top option in center, but playing Solak there would free Santana to bounce around the diamond.

It’s a semi-surprising development for the 25-year-old Solak, who has played just 165 professional innings in center — nearly all of which came with the Rays’ Double-A affiliate back in 2018. He’s played left field a bit more regularly (506 pro innings), but the overwhelming majority of Solak’s experience on defense has come at second base, where he’s logged 2951 innings.

The possibility of Solak suiting up as even a semi-regular option in center field is indeed intriguing. Playing Solak in the outfield and not at third base would free the Rangers to use Todd Frazier at the hot corner regularly, giving former top prospect Ronald Guzman and perhaps non-roster players like Greg Bird and Sam Travis a chance to impress at first base. It’d also allow Santana to shift into a super-utility role that probably better suits him; the Twins tried Santana as a regular center fielder early in his career without much success.

For much of the offseason, center field looked to be an area of need in Arlington. (Of course, it very arguably still does, even with the Solak wrinkle now in play.) Delino DeShields has been the Rangers’ most regular option in recent years, but he’s now in Cleveland. Joey Gallo logged significant innings there in 2019 and graded out surprisingly well in the estimation of many defensive metrics, but the Rangers seem to prefer him in right field. Prospects Leody Taveras and Julio Pablo Martinez need more time to develop. And the Rangers clearly weren’t enamored of the options on the free-agent and trade markets — at least not at their respective asking prices.

Can Solak successfully make the move? FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen pegs his speed and arm at average on the 20-80 scale but grades him as a well below-average defender overall (though he nevertheless checked in as the game’s No. 109 overall prospect on Longenhagen’s rankings). Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo offer similar opinions at MLB.com, calling him a “fringy” defender all over the infield and outfield despite his athleticism and ability to run. Of course, if Solak hits like he did in Triple-A and in his big league debut, the Rangers might very well be able to live with some defensive growing pains as he adjusts to increased outfield reps. Santana will remain on hand as an option, should the experiment prove unsuccessful, but the manner in which Solak takes to his new position will be an fascinating scenario to watch as the Cactus League progresses.

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Camp Battles: Phillies’ Rotation

Finishing an even 81-81, the Phillies were a disappointment in 2019, in part because of their rotation. Their starting staff wound up 17th in the majors in ERA, 20th in K/BB ratio and 23rd in fWAR. The subpar production from the Phillies’ group of starters contributed to the team’s eighth straight year without a playoff berth, but the club has since since made a real effort to improve its rotation and better its chances of earning a postseason spot in 2020.

The Phillies’ biggest move of the winter was signing right-hander Zack Wheeler to a five-year, $118MM guarantee. He’s now near the top of a staff that’ll also include Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta from one through three. Right-hander Zach Eflin’s set to occupy the fourth position, per Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia, which leaves a handful of names vying for the last place in the Phillies’ rotation. Touted prospect Spencer Howard could make his debut this year, but the Phillies will bring him along slowly, so it doesn’t seem he’s in the running for a season-opening rotation spot. Here’s a look at those who are…

  • Vince Velasquez, RHP: The 27-year-old Velasquez throws hard (around 94 mph), but his ERA has hung around the 5.00 mark in recent seasons. He worked out of the Phillies’ rotation and bullpen last year, striking out just under 10 batters per nine (against 3.11 BB/9) from the team’s rotation. Problem is that Velasquez didn’t do well to prevent runs in either role. He ended up with a 4.91 ERA/5.21 FIP over 117 1/3 innings.
  • Nick Pivetta, RHP: Pivetta was an effective starter for the Phillies as recently as 2018, but the wheels came off last season. He concluded the year with an ugly 5.38 ERA/5.47 FIP in 93 2/3 innings, some of which came as a reliever, though he did continue to post an average fastball upward of 94 mph.
  • Ranger Suarez, LHP: The 24-year-old Suarez didn’t make a single start for the Phillies last season, but he did turn in a 3.14 ERA/3.89 FIP with 7.77 K/9, 2.22 BB/9 and a 55.1 percent groundball rate in 48 2/3 innings from their bullpen. Suarez does have quite a bit of starting experience in various levels of the minors, though. He owns a 4.02 ERA with 6.5 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 87 1/3 innings in Triple-A ball.
  • Cole Irvin, LHP: Irvin, 26, made his major league debut last season, mostly working from the Phillies’ bullpen. He tossed 41 2/3 frames of 5.83 ERA/5.06 FIP ball with 6.7 K/9 and 2.81 BB/9. Irvin was far better as a Triple-A pitcher from 2018-19, during which he logged a 3.07 ERA with 6.9 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 in 255 innings.
  • Damon Jones, LHP: Jones, 25, was an 18th-round pick of the Phillies in 2017 who hasn’t gotten to the majors yet, but he does rank as their 20th-best prospect at MLB.com. However, Jones had difficulty across a 34-inning Triple-A debut last season, when he walked just under seven batters per nine. Overall, Jones has issued free passes to a bit under five hitters per nine in the minors, so despite a lofty K/9 (11.1), it’s difficult to imagine him opening the season in Philly’s rotation if he doesn’t significantly improve his control.

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Pirates’ Pablo Reyes Suspended 80 Games For PED Violation

Pirates infielder/outfielder Pablo Reyes has been suspended 80 games after testing positive for the banned substance Boldenone, Major League Baseball announced on Wednesday. Reyes was designated for assignment by the Pirates and sent outright to Triple-A Indianapolis last month.

Reyes, 26, has seen action with the Pirates in each of the past two seasons but struggled in 2019 after an intriguing debut in 2018. Overall, he’s mustered only a .229/.295/.368 slash in 220 plate appearances as a big leaguer. That said, Reyes also carries a solid .281/.341/.471 line through 589 plate appearances in his Triple-A career. Today’s PED revelation and last year’s league-wide offensive explosion in Triple-A will cause many to question the legitimacy of that production, however. Reyes missed about a month of the 2019 season due to an ankle injury.

Having been outrighted off the roster, Reyes was already facing an uphill battle to make it back to the big leagues. Now, with a half-season suspension for a performance-enhancing substance, his road to a second tour of duty in the Majors is all the longer.

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Jesus Aguilar, Brian Goodwin, Aledmys Diaz Win Arbitration Hearings

Marlins first baseman Jesus Aguilar, Angels outfielder Brian Goodwin and Astros utility player Aledmys Diaz have all won arbitration hearings against their respective teams, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports (via Twitter). Aguilar will now earn $2.575MM in his first season with Miami, rather than the $2.325MM at which the club filed. Goodwin will be paid $2.2MM instead of the Angels’ $1.85MM submission. Diaz, meanwhile, will take home a $2.6MM salary instead of the flat $2MM filed by the Astros. Aguilar and Goodwin are repped by the MVP Sports Group, while Diaz is a client of agent Jaime Torres.

Miami claimed the 29-year-old Aguilar off waivers from their fellow Floridians up in St. Petersburg, as the Rays weren’t keen on paying the slugger’s arb salary after picking him up in a July deal with the Brewers. Aguilar was an All-Star in 2018 when he broke out with a .274/.352/.539 slash and 35 home runs, but his offensive output scaled way back in ’19. He was hitting just .225/.320/.374 at the time the Brewers swapped him for righty Jake Faria, and while he improved a bit with Tampa Bay, his overall production this past season was nowhere near his 2017-18 levels.

That said, the Marlins clearly feels there’s significant rebound potential with Aguilar. He’s currently lined up to be the organization’s primary first baseman, and a return to form would make him a steal of a waiver claim. Aguilar is controlled through the 2022 season via arbitration, so he could be a multi-year piece in Miami if he rights the ship.

Speaking of savvy waiver claims, Goodwin was claimed by the Angels at the end of Spring Training last year after the Royals put him on release waivers. Despite being cut by a rebuilding club, Goodwin intrigued the Angels as a potential stopgap with Justin Upton sidelined. What they got instead was a very solid .262/.326/.470 slash that was accompanied by 17 home runs, 29 doubles and three triples. Goodwin was a near-regular in Anaheim last year, appearing in 136 games and taking a career-high 458 plate appearances. His output was strong enough that the Angels now view him as an important piece of the outfield puzzle. Like Aguilar, he’s controlled through 2022.

Diaz hit .271/.356/.467 in 247 plate appearances with the Astros in 2019. The versatile 29-year-old played primarily 140 innings at third base, 151 innings at second base and 161 innings at first base while also logging brief action at shortstop and in left field. Houston was Diaz’s third team in three seasons, but he’ll return to give new manager Dusty Baker some versatility off the bench and serve as a backup option for any of the team’s four regular infielders. He, too, is controlled through the 2022 season. Also of note — Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle observes that this, somewhat remarkably, is the sixth consecutive arbitration loss for the Astros organization (Twitter link).

Up until this point — as can be seen in MLBTR’s 2020 Arbitration Tracker — players had gone just 1-for-7 against teams in 2020 trials. Dodgers righty Pedro Baez was the lone player to topple his club in arbitration, while Jose Berrios, Shane Greene, Josh Hader, Joc Pederson, Eduardo Rodriguez and Tony Wolters had all come up short. The players have now evened things out a bit, as they’re suddenly 4-6 in this February’s arb proceedings. The hearings of Archie Bradley, J.T. Realmuto and Hector Neris are still pending results.

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Orioles Claim Andrew Velazquez, Designate Richard Urena

The Orioles have claimed utilityman Andrew Velazquez off waivers from the Indians, per a club announcement. To create roster space, the team designated fellow infielder Richard Urena.

Velazquez, a 25-year-old switch-hitter, has only minimal MLB experience. In 648 total plate appearances at the Triple-A level, he owns a .260/.316/.415 batting line with 16 home runs.

If Urena clears waivers, he’ll likely end up competing for a job with Velazquez … among others. Both of these players have similar backgrounds — including that they primarily came up as shortstops. Velazquez has greater experience at other spots, particularly the outfield.

The field is rather broad. Urena had himself been claimed off waivers recently. With that move, the O’s dropped Pat Valaika, who’s also still in camp — as is fellow recent addition Ramon Urias. Other utility candidates with MLB experience include Stevie Wilkerson, Jose Rondon, Dilson Herrera, and Jesmuel Valentin. Those and perhaps still other players will be looking to win spots in the bench mix, as the O’s appear set to go with a double-play combo of Jose Iglesias and Hanser Alberto.

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MLBTR Poll: Can The Rays Take Down The Yankees?

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg just offered both a realistic and a hopeful assessment of the state of play in the AL East, as MLB.com’s Juan Toribio was among those to report on Twitter.

“Our division is going to be hard because we have the best team or the second best team in baseball that we’re competing against, which is the usual,” says Sternberg. “But I think we’re going to give them a run for their money.”

One imagines the owner of the low-budget Rays winking as he delivered that last line. Of course, what’s scariest about the Yankees — presumably, that best/second-best team he was referring to — isn’t their money, standing alone. It’s the fact that they’ve committed to a disciplined, altogether Rays-like process for spending it.

That’s not to say this isn’t a good time to strike. In fact, it may be as good a window as any for the Rays with the Red Sox dealing away Mookie Betts and the Blue Jays still ramping up. With former Rays exec Chaim Bloom now in charge of baseball ops in Boston, there’s another streamlined death star under construction. And the Toronto organization has a new slate of hopeful young stars, so it could soon also be a threat. The Orioles … well, they may be further off, but they’re undertaking their own modernization efforts.

Despite their financial limitations, the Rays have compiled yet another intriguing roster that’s loaded with flexibility. Is it enough to take down the Yanks? We know the Bronx Bombers will be the favorite in most quarters, so let’s approach the subject this way: what are the odds the Rays can win the division?

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