Cubs Notes: Baez, Bryant, Russell, Maddon, Castro

Earlier today, Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago appeared with host Jeff Todd on this week’s edition of the MLBTR Podcast, and the two discussed a variety of Cubs topics, from the Welington Castillo trade to Starlin Castro and the team’s rotation. For Cubs fans (and others) who have already checked that out, though, here are a few more notes on the team that sits four games back in the NL Central and currently leads the Padres 3-0…

  • Infielder Javier Baez has hit well at Triple-A this season, posting a .296/.375/.423 batting line in 80 plate appearances, but there doesn’t seem to be any rush to get him back to the big leagues at this time. Via David Kaplan of CSN Chicago (on Twitter), GM Jed Hoyer said that the Cubs “…want to take our time on Javy Baez. He is playing well, but we want to let him continue to keep working right now.” Addison Russell has seen most of the time at second base, where many thought Baez would play this season. After some early struggles, Russell has settled in and is hitting .273/.333/.455 over a 22-game stretch.
  • Speaking of Russell, agent Scott Boras, who represents both Russell and Kris Bryant, praised the Cubs organization prior to tonight’s game, writes Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago. Boras feels that both Bryant and Russell have “dramatically” improved since joining the team, leading him to praise the organization’s developmental techniques. Boras said that his main gripe in Spring Training was that he wanted Bryant to know that his fate wasn’t pre-determined (presumably, that is, to know that he wouldn’t be reassigned to minor league camp at the end of Spring Training). He also praised manager Joe Maddon for his communication skills and work with young players. “Joe Maddon is a talent,” said Boras. “He’s very good at giving the players a focus at a variety of levels of their careers. And that has a lot to do with why they’re performing so well in their careers.”
  • Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports feels that the Cubs should think twice before considering a trade of Castro. Rosenthal spoke to a number of Castro’s teammates as well as Maddon, assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske and president Theo Epstein — all of whom feel that the 25-year-old has made strides in terms of maturity, preparedness and defense this season. Rosenthal notes that with $37MM owed to Castro from 2016-19, his contract is highly affordable as well. Of course, Castro has struggled at the plate early this year, as even after a pair of singles tonight he’s hitting .272/.304/.346, which translates to a wRC+ of just 76 (24 percent worse than the league average).

Smyly Will Not Have Surgery, Is Confident He Can Pitch In 2015

Rays left-hander Drew Smyly tells reporters, including Matt Stein of Sports Talk Florida, that he will not undergo surgery on his left shoulder, as had previously been reported to be likely. Instead, Smyly will undergo an eight-week rehab program that doctors feel will allow him to pitch again this season.

Smyly’s rehab program would have the lefty — acquired as one of the key pieces in last July’s three-team David Price/Austin Jackson blockbuster — playing catch again within a week or two, Stein writes. Doctors have told Smyly that the tear he has in his labrum is not significant and were nothing but positive about the results of his MRI. Surgery “isn’t even an option” at this time, per Stein.

That, of course, doesn’t preclude surgery entirely; as Stein notes, the end result of the injury could be that Smyly is forced to go under the knife. Smyly pointed to former college teammate (and current Dodgers right-hander) Mike Bolsinger as a reason to be optimistic. Bolsinger had a similar situation in his right shoulder in college but rehabbed the slight tear, Smyly says, and never wound up undergoing surgery to repair the issue. Smyly feels that it’s possible for him to return to the Rays in July or August. “I’m hopeful and confident that I’ll pitch again this year,” he said.

If Smyly is to avoid surgery altogether, it could be a major boon to the Rays’ playoff chances. The team currently sits with a 22-19 record — tied with the Yankees for the AL East lead. (They’re also leading the A’s 1-0 as of this writing.) If Smyly can return, he would join a rotation that has lost Alex Cobb but hopes to be bolstered by a returning Matt Moore next month. Chris Archer has taken a step forward in 2015, pitching like a No. 1 starter, while Jake Odorizzi has been excellent and Nathan Karns has come around after a slow start. A rotation of Archer, Odorizzi, Moore, Smyly and Karns would look formidable down the stretch, health permitting, and it could allow Alex Colome to shift to the bullpen, where his 94 mph fastball could play up even further.


Astros Release Darin Downs

The Astros have released left-handed reliever Darin Downs, reports ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick (Twitter link). The 30-year-old was claimed off waivers out of the Tigers organization in 2013 but was outrighted to Triple-A following the 2014 season.

Downs spent significant time in the Houston bullpen last season but struggled to a 5.45 ERA with a 27-to-19 K/BB ratio with a 43.9 percent ground-ball rate in 34 2/3 innings of work. The cumulative result of Downs’ efforts in parts of three seasons at the Major League level is a 4.76 ERA with 8.3 K/9, 3.9 BB/9 and a 43.5 percent ground-ball rate. Downs’ overall numbers aren’t particularly eye-catching, but he’s held left-handed hitters in check quite well as a big leaguer, allowing just a .202/.291/.310 batting line in 189 plate appearances. Downs has a 4.96 ERA with 11 strikeouts against three walks in 16 1/3 innings at the Triple-A level this season.



Brewers Outright Jim Henderson

The Brewers announced today that they have outrighted reliever Jim Henderson to Triple-A Colorado Springs. The right-hander, who formerly served as the club’s closer in the 2013 season, has struggled with shoulder injuries since that time, however.

Henderson, 32, is a former 26th-round pick of the Expos (2003) that didn’t surface in the Majors until his age-29 campaign. He’s totaled 102 innings at the Major League level and posted a solid 3.44 ERA with 12.1 K/9, 3.6 BB/9 and a 32.5 percent ground-ball rate in that time, also accumulating 31 saves. He’s spent the 2015 season getting up to speed after labrum and rotator cuff debridement surgery in 2014. Henderson has reached the Triple-A level again, but he’s allowed four runs on seven hits and five walks with five strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings there.

That he’s been outrighted means that he’s already cleared waivers, so every club in the Majors passed on an opportunity to claim the 6’5″ righty. With this move, Milwaukee opens a spot on their 40-man roster, which now has 39 players.


Dodgers Suspend Erisbel Arruebarrena For Season

5:23pm: The Dodgers say that Arruebarrena has been suspended for the season due to “repeated failures to comply with his contract,” per J.P. Hoornstra of the L.A. News Group (Twitter link).

3:47pm: The Dodgers have indefinitely suspended Cuban shortstop Erisbel Arruebarrena for undisclosed disciplinary reasons, reports Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register. President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman confirmed to Plunkett that the 25-year-old Arruebarrena is suspended but declined to give further detail, referring to the situation as an “internal matter.” As Plunkett points out, that would suggest that Arruebarrena has not done something that would warrant a league-mandated suspension (e.g. PED usage, drug of abuse).

Arruebarrena won’t collect any of his guaranteed salary while he is on the restricted list. The defensive-minded shortstop signed a five-year, $25MM contract with the Dodgers in February 2014 that contained a $7.5MM signing bonus and called for annual salaries of $1.5MM (2014), $3MM (2015), $4MM (2016-17) and $5MM (2018). The Dodgers’ new front office — headed by Friedman, GM Farhan Zaidi and senior vice president Josh Byrnes — clearly was never as enamored with Arruebarrena as the preceding group; Arruebarrena was designated for assignment this offseason and outrighted off the 40-man roster after clearing waivers.

Arruebarrena received a cup of coffee with the Dodgers last year, hitting .195/.244/.220 in just 45 plate appearances at the big league level. His minor league work was more impressive, with his best work coming in 95 PAs at the Triple-A level. Overall, in 272 minor league PAs, Arruebarrena slashed .259/.304/.417 with six homers and a pair of stolen bases. As Plunkett reminds, however, he was also seen as the catalyst in a brawl between the Triple-A affiliates for the Dodgers and Diamondbacks, and his role in that tussle netted him a five-game suspension from the Pacific Coast League.

Friedman declined to indicate exactly how long Arruebarrena would be suspended, but he’s yet to play a single game for the Dodgers at any level in 2015.


Minor Moves: Joe Paterson, Dan Hennigan

Here are today’s minor moves from around the league…

  • The Royals have released left-hander Joe Paterson from his minor league contract, tweets Matt DeFranks of FOX Sports Kansas City. Paterson, who turned 29 two days ago, was a non-roster invitee and had a solid Spring Training that put him in consideration for a roster spot. However, he’s struggled at Triple-A this season, yielding eight runs on 14 hits and five unintentional walks with 12 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings. Paterson has yet to replicate the strong numbers he put up in his 2011 rookie season with the D-Backs.
  • The Dodgers announced that they’ve signed infielder Dan Hennigan to a minor league contract and assigned him to Class-A Great Lakes, the team announced (on Twitter). The 25-year-old was a non-drafted free agent and had been playing with the independent Camden RiverSharks of the Atlantic League.

Phillies Notes: Revere, Utley, Howard, Nola

Ben Revere‘s name has begun to surface in trade rumors, but the speedy outfielder tells Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com that he isn’t fazed by seeing his name floated as a trade candidate. Revere says that the talk isn’t distracting, characterizing it as something that every player has to deal with at some point. (I’d imagine that having been traded once in the past has prepared him somewhat as well.) “This is a business,” Revere says. “When [Cody] Asche and [Domonic Brown] come back we’re going to have a lot of outfielders and someone might be out. I just have to prepare to help my team win whether it’s here or somewhere else. Just bust my tail and try to stay in the lineup.” Salisbury adds that he, like others, hears that the Angels have indeed discussed Revere with the Phillies.

Some more Phillies notes…

  • Continuing to play Ryan Howard and Chase Utley could actually help the Phillies’ rebuild, opines MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki. Zolecki points out that in mid-April, fans wanted Howard to be benched, if not released, but he’s hitting .292/.346/.615 with eight homers in 27 games dating back to April 21. By demonstrating that level of production, Zolecki notes, Howard can only have helped his trade value. The same could eventually be said of Utley, who is struggling badly this year. The Phils have little to lose by continuing to run Utley out there, however, he argues. The club will have plenty of time to see Cesar Hernandez play in the coming years, and Utley isn’t blocking a top-tier prospect. While some are worried about triggering Utley’s vesting option, Zolecki notes that if he’s still hitting well below .200 come July, the team can very easily alter that pace in the second half of the season.
  • General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and president Pat Gillick were on hand for yesterday’s Double-A Reading game, writes Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News, and the two saw a masterful performance by 2014 first-round pick Aaron Nola. The Phillies’ top decision-makers saw Nola fire seven shutout innings, allowing just four hits and a walk against seven strikeouts in an effort that dropped his ERA to 1.54 through 52 2/3 innings. However, Amaro said that the team is not yet ready to give Nola a look at the Major League level, Lawrence writes. “There are some things he needs to work on still,” said Amaro. “There’s some areas he’s continuing to work on. We continue to discuss and put together a plan for him. We’re in the middle of formulating that plan.” Amaro wouldn’t say what specific areas Nola needed to improve, but the GM did say that it was certainly within the realm of possibility that Nola would pitch in the Major Leagues this season.

Hyun-jin Ryu Undergoes Season-Ending Shoulder Surgery

Dodgers left-hander Hyun-jin Ryu underwent shoulder surgery today that revealed damage in his labrum, manager Don Mattingly told reporters, including J.P. Hoornstra of the L.A. News Group (Twitter link). The labral repair surgery will end Ryu’s 2015 season without throwing a pitch, though Mattingly told reporters that the team’s expectation is that Ryu will be ready to pitch in Spring Training 2016.

The 28-year-old Ryu is earning $4MM in 2015 — the third season of a six-year, $36MM contract signed in the 2012-13 offseason. He’ll join right-hander Brandon McCarthy on the shelf for the duration of the season, leaving the Dodgers with just 60 percent of their projected rotation available for the rest of the year on May 21.

Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Brett Anderson will front the rotation moving forward, but Anderson’s injury history is among the lengthiest of any active pitcher in the league, so the Dodgers have to be at least somewhat concerned with their rotation depth moving forward. To this point, both Mike Bolsinger and Carlos Frias have pitched well as substitutes, but neither has any sort of track record in the Major Leagues.

Ryu projected as the Dodgers’ No. 3 starter this season after adjusting from the Korea Baseball Organization to Major League Baseball quite well from 2013-14. In those two seasons, Ryu worked to a combined 3.17 ERA with 7.7 K/9, 2.0 BB/9 and a 49.2 percent ground-ball rate. However, he failed to reach 200 frames in either of those campaigns, and he bothered by shoulder troubles in 2014, spending time on the 15-day DL early in the season and seeing his season end on Sept. 12 due to shoulder fatigue.

The Dodgers have a rich farm system that should afford them the ability to trade for rotation help if they see fit. Given the fact that the only starters who are guaranteed to return in 2016 are Kershaw, Ryu and McCarthy — Anderson is on a one-year deal, whereas Greinke has the ability to opt out of his contract’s remaining three years after the season — Los Angeles could is a speculative fit not only for rental pitchers such as Scott Kazmir, but for longer-term assets like Cole Hamels (if, of course, it is determined that trades are the best route).

The Dodgers have steadfastly refused to include Corey Seager, Julio Urias or breakout rookie Joc Pederson in trades to this point, and I’d imagine that will continue to be the case as the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline approaches. Nonetheless, the team has enough depth in the farm system that it will have a number of realistic targets to explore if president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, GM Farhan Zaidi and VP Josh Byrnes elect to engage other clubs in trade talks.


NL East Notes: Revere, MASN, Espinosa

The Phillies have indeed been talking about a deal involving outfielder Ben Revere with the Angels, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki reports. With Philadelphia moving Cody Asche to a corner role and presumably prepared to give Domonic Brown another shot at the big league level, Revere figures to find himself without a role. Revere is earning a relatively steep $4.1MM salary in 2014 and will be eligible to be tendered arbitration contracts each of the next two seasons.

A bit more from the NL East…

  • Commissioner Rob Manfred left little doubt where he stands on the still-pending legal dispute between the Nationals and Orioles regarding television fees, as Eric Fisher of the Sports Business Journal reports (Twitter links). “Sooner or later MASN is going to be required to pay those rights fees,” said Manfred of the increased payouts awarded to the Nationals by the league’s Revenue Sharing Decisions Committee. Technically, the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network is the plaintiff in the lawsuit; it is jointly owned by both clubs but controlled by Baltimore, which holds a majority share. That validity of that panel’s decision is the immediate matter at issue in the suit.
  • Danny Espinosa has been a pleasant surprise for the Nationals, but his turnaround is due more to a lack of trying too hard than to any intentional adjustments, as James Wagner of the Washington Post writes. While Espinosa spent the spring hitting exclusively from the right side of the plate, he returned to a switch-hitting approach during the season and has suddenly thrived from the left side. The 28-year-old middle infielder is playing on a $1.8MM contract this year, and can be controlled for two more years via arbitration. Washington gained an extra season of arb control when it demoted him early in 2013. Espinosa has long been talked about as a trade candidate, but with Anthony Rendon injured and Ian Desmond struggling in his final contract year, that increasingly seems unlikely — despite the fact that Espinosa’s value is higher now than it has been in some time.

Amateur Notes: Draft, Fulmer, Kolek, Martinez

The game of baseball is struggling to maintain youth participation, writes Brian Costa of the Wall Street Journal, who says that the trend poses real concerns for an otherwise thriving sport. Newly-minted commissioner Rob Manfred has honed in on the issue since taking office, saying that “the biggest predictor of fan avidity as an adult is whether you played the game.” It’s a fascinating read that’s well worth your time.

Let’s check in on some amateur notes from around the game:

  • ESPN.com’s Keith Law (Insider link) posts his first mock draft as June 8th draws near. While acknowledging that it is still early, Law predicts that the Diamondbacks will take Vanderbilt shortstop Dansby Swanson with the first overall pick while the Astros will add LSU shortstop Alex Bregman and high school outfielder Kyle Tucker with the second and fifth picks. Law adds that he does not expect Vandy righty Carson Fulmer to make it past the White Sox with the eighth pick.
  • Speaking of Fulmer, Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs suggests that he represents a relatively rare “Black Swan” option in this year’s draft. You’ll need to read the piece to understand the concept, but McDaniel uses that classification for a subset of players that have been somewhat underappreciated by traditional player assessment tools: “small, right-handed, major-college starting pitchers with little to no injury history and a good performance record.”
  • The antithesis of the Black Swan pitcher, perhaps, is the high school power arm, and the Marlins took an enticing one last year in Tyler Kolek. Josh Norris of Baseball America checks in on the 2014 second overall selection, who the club chose over Carlos Rodon. Now featuring an increasingly promising curve, the 19-year-old is said to be showing signs of developing into the top-of-the-rotation starter that Miami dreamed of when it chose him. Of course, his stat line has yet to reflect that promise, and he has a long way to go.
  • The White Sox join a growing list of clubs with “serious interest” in Cuban outfielder Eddy Julio Martinez, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez tweets. The 20-year-old is free to sign at any time, though it’s possible he could wait until the next July 2 period kicks off this summer.
  • Agent Joshua Kusnick discussed the draft from an advisor’s perspective in a podcast with Ryan Sullivan (draft talk begins around the 24:00 mark), sharing his thoughts on the slotting system and the possibility of a worldwide draft, among other issues.

Podcast: Bruce Chen Talks Retirement; Patrick Mooney On Cubs

Longtime MLB veteran Bruce Chen joins the show to talk about his decision to bring an end to a distinguished career after throwing more than 1,500 big league innings over 17 seasons. Though he ended his career with the Indians, Chen saw action with eleven big league teams — most prominently, the RoyalsOrioles, and Braves. The consummate crafty lefty, Chen has a fascinating story both personally and as a ballplayer.

Jul 22, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Bruce  Chen (52) throws a pitch against the Chicago White Sox during the first inning at U.S Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY SportsAlso hopping on with MLBTR is Cubs beat writer Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago, who stops by to discuss the team’s most recent moves and to break down how things are shaping up for the trade deadline.

This episode comes to you courtesy of DraftKings.com, who invite you to use promo code “MLBTR” for a free shot at playing fantasy baseball for cash prizes!

Click here to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and please leave a review! The podcast is also available via Stitcher at this link.

The MLB Trade Rumors Podcast runs weekly on Thursdays.


AL East Notes: Craig, Smyly, Ellsbury, Saunders

It is by now well-documented that Allen Craig of the Red Sox has experienced a significant decline at the plate, leading to his outright off of the 40-man roster. But as Alex Speier of the Boston Globe explains, the fall-off has been so steep that it actually has historical dimensions. Looking at other players who posted consistently strong batting lines in their age-26 to 28 seasons, Speier shows that no other player has fallen as far as has Craig (62 OPS+) in the following two years. There could, of course, still be some hope of a turnaround given the complicated role that injuries in his struggles and the fact that he is still only 30.

  • Rays lefty Drew Smyly appears to be reconsidering the surgical route and could instead attempt to rest and then rehab his ailing left shoulder, ESPN.com reports. It’s not clear what precipitated the changed approach, but manager Kevin Cash says that the current plan may allow Smyly to return later this year. “We’re optimistic,” Cash said. “We’re hearing good things.” While any return to action would, at this point, presumably be rather late in the year — Smyly was just placed on the 60-day DL and would obviously require a lengthy resting and rebuilding process — the realistic possibility of a return could impact the team’s summer trade market plans.
  • The Yankees good news on Jacoby Ellsbury, who will not need surgery on his just-injured right knee, as Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com reports“It is not anything that requires surgery so we are not holding anything that is doom or gloom,” said manager Joe Girardi. “We just have to see how he responds over the next few days and see what [team doctor Chris] Ahmad says.”
  • Meanwhile, the Blue Jays are still set to be without outfielder Michael Saunders for three to five weeks, MLB.com’s Gregor Chisolm reports. Saunders says he suffered a bone bruise in his left knee that arose out of his recent surgery to remove his meniscus. The Jays are still bringing up the rear in the division, of course, and will hope that Saunders can return to action sooner rather than later.

2016 MLB Free Agent Power Rankings

We’re a quarter of the way through the 2015 MLB season, and there’s been significant movement in free agent stocks.  It’s time for a new installment of the 2016 Free Agent Power Rankings.

As a reminder, these rankings represent earning power in terms of total contract size, assuming everyone reaches the open market after this season and goes to the highest bidder.  Here’s MLBTR’s full list of 2015-16 free agents.

1.  Justin Upton.  San Diego agrees with Upton, who is on pace for 40 home runs this season.  He could surpass his career high of 31 right around his 28th birthday, which is in late August.  Oddly, the Padres left fielder has done all his damage so far at Petco Park.  Upton will be 3-4 years younger than Robinson Cano and Albert Pujols were when they reached free agency, and he has a chance to top their $240MM contracts.

2.  David Price.  Price’s ERA at last check-in was 0.40, so it had nowhere to go but up.  He’s now at a more mortal 3.40, 22nd among American League qualifiers.  It’s probably just an eight-start blip on the radar, but Price’s strikeout and groundball rates are down this year and he’s allowed more than a hit per inning.

3.  Johnny Cueto.  Is Cueto a better pitcher than Price right now?  I’m considering the possibility more seriously.  Cueto, who is six months younger than Price, leads all of baseball with 7.23 innings per start.  Last year, only Price bettered Cueto’s regular season total of 243 2/3 frames.  Cueto is more than a workhorse, though, as he has a 3.03 ERA on the season.  He stands a decent chance of being traded by the Reds this summer, making him ineligible for a qualifying offer.

4.  Jason Heyward.  Heyward is settling in with the Cardinals, batting .273/.343/.398 since we last checked in.  That’s in line with his last couple of seasons, but another 10-15 home run campaign isn’t going to get him a monster contract.  Just 26 in August, Heyward’s youth and defensive value should still result in a deal worth well over $100MM.

5.  Jordan Zimmermann.  Zimmermann has shined in the five starts since our last update, bringing his ERA down to 3.66.  His skills in this quarter season have faded considerably from last year, though, as his 15.2% strikeout rate would represent a career worst.  Again: it’s just eight starts.  But a good $50MM hangs in the balance for Zimmermann.

6.  Alex Gordon.  Gordon had December wrist surgery, but his power production seems fine this year.  He’s slugging .472 since we last checked in.  Gordon has been hit by a pitch an AL-best nine times, pushing his OBP up to .378.  Whatever age-based gap there might be between Gordon and Heyward, Gordon is closing it with a five-plus wins above replacement pace.

7.  Zack Greinke.  Greinke jumps up two spots this month, as he’s third in the game with a 1.52 ERA.  A third consecutive sub-3.00 ERA season should help his earning power, though he owes much of his success this year to an unsustainable .217 batting average on balls in play.  It’s a fantastic start to the season regardless.  Zimmermann has two and a half years of age on Greinke, but Greinke is the better pitcher right now.

8.  Ian Desmond.  There’s been nothing redeeming about Desmond’s contract year, which has been replacement level so far.  This was a guy in the running for the best shortstop in baseball from 2012-14, but in 2015 his numbers are way down.  He’s been hitting like Jean Segura, and he’s on pace for baseball’s first 40-error season since Jose Offerman in 1992.  Desmond will still do fine financially, as he faces little competition on the shortstop market.

9.  Yoenis Cespedes.  Cespedes’ biggest problem has been readily apparent in 2015, as his 3.1% walk rate is tenth-worst among qualified hitters.  That has contributed to a .290 OBP.  I think Cespedes’ power still makes him a top-75 hitter in MLB, but he hasn’t been in the last calendar year.

10.  Jeff Samardzija.  Little has gone right in Samardzija’s eight starts for the White Sox.  He’s whiffed only 17% of batters, and his groundball rate has taken a tumble.  His skills back up a 4.00+ ERA.  The 30-year-old righty is as good a bet as anyone on this list to be traded this summer.  If Samardzija continues to struggle, he could be out of the top ten next month.

Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler is pushing for a spot on this list, with a .269/.352/.428 line and improved defense.  He doesn’t turn 30 until March, but has to be penalized for an injury history that hasn’t allowed him to play in 120+ games since 2012.  Howie Kendrick, Denard Span, Adam Lind, Colby Rasmus, and ageless hurlers Aaron Harang and A.J. Burnett are among the other free agents off to strong starts.


AL West Notes: Castillo, Jackson, Parker, Gonzalez, Pujols

Though his role with the Cubs had diminished, Welington Castillo was still “shocked” to learn he’d been traded to the Mariners, he tells Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times“I wasn’t expecting it. Now I’m here. It was a long day yesterday. Now I’m here and ready to go. I’m really excited to be here.” Castillo discusses the sometimes overlooked difficulty of being traded for a catcher, as he’s already been informed that he’ll be behind the dish for Thursday’s matinee, leaving him scarce time to get to know starter J.A. Happ, whom he’ll catch for the first time in his career. “I’m going to go and sit and watch video with him and go over the lineup, ask him, ‘what do you want to do, what do you like to do? What’s your first pitch? What’s your last pitch? What’s the pitch you throw behind in the count for a strike?’” Castillo is excited for the opportunity to play more, as even though he won’t be Seattle’s everyday option at catcher — that honor will still go to Mike Zunino — he should now pick up a couple of starts per week. With the Cubs, Castillo had just 47 plate appearances on the season.

More from the AL West…

  • After speaking with Mariners director of minor league player development Chris Gwynn, Divish also reports that top prospect and 2014 first-rounder Alex Jackson has been shut down with a shoulder issue. According to Gwynn, Jackson hurt his left shoulder in Spring Training while diving for a ball, and the injury has likely hampered his swing this season. That would explain how Jackson, who slashed .280/.344/.476 in his pro debut with the club’s Rookie-level affiliate in 2014, saw his production plummet to .157/.240/.213 with Class-A Clinton in 2015. Jackson will head to extended Spring Training for the time being as he works to rehab the injury.
  • Athletics righty Jarrod Parker underwent successful surgery to repair the fractured medial epicondyle in his right elbow, reports MLB.com’s Jane Lee. The club briefly thought that Parker might need a third Tommy John surgery after he initially sustained the injury, making this operation something of a relief, despite the its generally unfortunate nature. There’s still no timetable on his recovery, however.
  • The Rangers‘ decision to designate Carlos Peguero earlier today opened a spot on the 25-man roster and was likely influenced by the impending return of Josh Hamilton (who will pick up most of Peguero’s at-bats in the corner outfield), but Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tweets another wrinkle to the move. The open spot on the 40-man roster won’t be filled immediately — Klein was already on the 40-man, as is Hamilton — which could allow the Rangers to give former first-round pick and consensus Top 100 prospect Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez a look in the rotation if they wish. Gonzalez hasn’t dazzled in his first taste of Triple-A pitching, but the 23-year-old does have a lifetime 3.14 ERA with 7.0 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in the minors.
  • Albert Pujols left the game tonight after being hit by a pitch on the hand, but Angels GM Jerry Dipoto told reporters, including Mike DiGiovanna of the L.A. Times (Twitter link) that there are no fractures. Pujols will be day-to-day with a bruise but shouldn’t miss any significant amount of time.

International Notes: Martinez, Fox, KBO

A few notes on the international prospect front…

  • The Giants were among the clubs to scout 20-year-old Cuban center fielder Eddy Julio Martinez in the Dominican Republic recently, reports MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez (All Twitter links). At this time, the Giants, Yankees, Angels, Blue Jays, Nationals, Rockies, Tigers and Dodgers are all in the mix for Martinez. One scout placed the lofty comp of a young Andruw Jones on Martinez, Sanchez adds, though clearly not every scout will be quite that bullish. Martinez is expected to work out for more clubs this week and is eligible to sign at any time.
  • Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweeted recently that the Twins are also among the teams to have scouted Martinez (and other Cuban prospects) as of late. Wolfson hears that as many as 17 teams watched Martinez work out late last week.
  • Sanchez hears that interest in Martinez and in Bahamian shortstop Lucius Fox is picking up (Twitter links). Scouts love Fox’s tools, and the fact that he is already 18 years of age is actually a bonus in this instance, as he comes with more experience than most July 2-eligible prospects. Fox, unlike Martinez, isn’t eligible to sign prior to July 2.
  • Jung Ho Kang‘s early success with the Pirates will help pave the way for hitters from the Korea Baseball Organization to make the jump to Major League Baseball, opines C.J. Nitkowski of FOX Sports (video link). Manager Clint Hurdle recently revealed to Nitkowski that in Spring Training, he had some concerns about whether or not Kang would be able to handle the increased fastball velocity he’d encounter in Major League Baseball. As Nitkowski points out, that hasn’t been an issue for the powerful infielder to this point; Kang has seen 101 fastballs registering at 93 mph or faster, and he’s whiffed on just five of them in addition to going 9-for-18 on those that he’s put into play. Recent reports have indicated that Kang’s former Nexen Heroes teammate, Byung-ho Park, is hoping to jump to MLB himself next season.