As the 2023 season continues, here are three things we’ll be keeping an eye on around the baseball world throughout the day today:
1. Brantley nearing return:
Astros veteran Michael Brantley hasn’t played in a major league game since June 26 of last year due to difficulties while rehabbing from right shoulder surgery he underwent last summer. The 36-year-old outfielder appears to be on the brink of returning, however, with signs pointing to Brantley’s 2023 debut coming as soon as today. When Brantley takes the field, it will mark his fifteenth season as a big leaguer. Brantley is on the 60-day IL, meaning the Astros will need to make room for him on both the active and 40-man rosters before he can return to action.
The veteran outfielder will add an additional left-handed bat to the Houston lineup alongside Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, and could prove to be a potentially impactful one as well; Brantley sports a .306/.368/.464 slash line with a 128 wRC+ since joining the Astros in 2019. With the exception of an injury-marred, 11-game season in Cleveland back in 2016, he hasn’t had a below-average offensive campaign since 2011. Brantley’s return seems likely to cut into the time at DH available to young catcher Yainer Diaz, which could in turn mean Diaz takes more starts behind the plate away from veteran Martin Maldonado going forward.
2. Harris teases external 40-man add:
As noted by Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press, Tigers president of baseball operations Scott Harris spoke to 97.1 The Ticket yesterday morning about the club’s vacancy on the 40-man roster after infielder Isan Diaz elected free agency. Harris suggested that he is “going to try to fill that spot soon,” though he also added that the roster-move “would not be a call-up” of a prospect not yet on the 40-man roster like Colt Keith or Justyn-Henry Malloy. Petzold suggests that a recently DFA’d veteran like Noah Syndergaard or Jurickson Profar could receive a big league deal from the club, similar to the club’s addition of catcher Carson Kelly earlier this month.
3. Acuna approaches history:
Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. has long been considered the favorite in the NL MVP race, even as teammate Matt Olson, former teammate Freddie Freeman, and fellow right fielder Mookie Betts have made strong cases for themselves in recent weeks. Acuna had another big night yesterday in spite of a wild incident in which a pair of fans rushed him on the field in Denver, hitting his 29th home run of the season while stealing two bases.
Acuna now sits at 61 stolen bases on the season, having extended his major league lead in the category over Oakland’s Esteury Ruiz to 10, and his NL lead over Arizona’s Corbin Carroll to a whopping 21. With a 60-bag season already secured, Acuna is just one home run away from becoming the first player in major league history to post a 30-60 season. Overall, Acuna is hitting .335/.418/.572 with a wRC+ of 166 in 601 trips to the plate this season.