- Ron Roenicke was Jonathan Lucroy’s manager with the Brewers for over four seasons, and with Roenicke now serving as the Red Sox interim manager, he was the motivating factor in convincing Jonathan Lucroy to sign with Boston. “He called me and he wanted me to come. It was a big one,” Lucroy told reporters, including MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo and MLB.com’s Ian Browne. “He’s like, you’ll get an opportunity to come here and make the team. Right now, that’s all you can ask for with a guy in my position.” Lucroy signed a minor league contract with the Sox after a pretty quiet stint in free agency, as Cotillo notes that Lucroy “negotiated with a few clubs who backed out of deals at the last minute.” This isn’t to say that Lucroy is surprised at how his trip through the free agent market went, given his struggles over the last three seasons: “Analytically, I’ve been terrible. Seriously. I’m not trying to make excuses. I’m not surprised I didn’t get a big league offer.” Now, Lucroy is reunited with his old skipper and will compete with Kevin Plawecki for the backup catching position.
- The Rays are known for cycling different players through a position rather than having a set everyday starter, and MLB.com’s Juan Toribio examines how the club will juggle its many third base options. Yandy Diaz, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, Joey Wendle, Daniel Robertson, Nate Lowe, and Mike Brosseau could all factor into Tampa Bay’s choices at the hot corner, while also being rotated around to other positions on the diamond. Diaz is expected to get the majority of playing time, while Tsutsugo’s readiness at third base is perhaps the biggest wild card in the mix, as he hasn’t played the position since 2014 as a member of the Yokohama BayStars.
- The Blue Jays face some interesting decisions with their bench mix, as the Toronto Star’s Gregor Chisholm observes that slugger Rowdy Tellez might not make the Opening Day roster. Since minor league signing Joe Panik “is almost a sure bet to be included on the roster” as a utilityman and outfielders Derek Fisher and Anthony Alford are both out of options, this trio might have the advantage over Tellez, who is defensively limited to only first base. Tellez has shown some strong power (25 homers, .475 slugging percentage) over 482 MLB plate appearances, though is somewhat one-dimensional at the plate, as evidenced by his .241 career average and .299 OBP. Fisher and Alford will both need to perform well this spring to block Tellez, however, and Chisholm notes that Brandon Drury also isn’t a lock for the roster, as the Blue Jays could opt to cut Drury and just go with Panik as the primary utility player. Since Drury was an arbitration-eligible player, releasing him before Opening Day would leave the Jays on the hook for just a small portion of his $2.05MM salary. If Drury was released, Chisholm speculates Toronto could potentially put those savings towards signing another veteran player who might become available as teams trim their rosters in advance of the season opener.
Longtime Blue Jays prospect Anthony Alford will be out of options next spring, increasing his urgency to make an impression with the club, Laura Armstrong of the Toronto Star writes. That said, opportunities in a crowded Toronto outfield aren’t necessarily easy to come by. Manager Charlie Montoyo said this week that he plans to “try to play him just like anybody else,” Armstrong notes, but the sheer volume of outfielders will inherently limit Alford’s time on the field.
The Jays also have Teoscar Hernandez, Derek Fisher, Billy McKinney and Jonathan Davis vying for playing time in addition to Randal Grichuk, who signed a five-year contract earlier this year. Furthermore, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. could soon return the injured list. Alford has seen time in parts of three seasons but still has just 24 games in the Majors to his credit — during which he has not been productive. The former two-sport star also slashed a rather lackluster .259/.343/.411 in Triple-A this season. Injuries and his time in football have played a role in limiting Alford’s development, who indeed needs to make a favorable impression at the MLB level sooner rather than later.
More from the AL East…
- The Orioles, too, are trying to evaluate their long-term outfield mix by getting as looks at Austin Hays, DJ Stewart and Mason Williams this month, as explored by MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko. The club views Hays as a potential opening day center field candidate next season, Kubatko notes. Hays made his MLB debut as a 21-year-old in 2017 but played only about a half season’s worth of games in 2018 and 2019, thanks in part to a fractured ankle that required surgery. Prior to his debut, Hays was one of the fastest-rising prospects in all of baseball, and it seems the organization hasn’t soured on him even after a regime change in the front office. Kubatko adds that the Orioles would like to keep Williams, a former top prospect with the Yankees, in the organization this offseason, so it seems he’ll have a chance to stick on the 40-man roster. Stewart, meanwhile, posted big numbers in Triple-A but was also limited by ankle and concussion issues. Beyond that, GM Mike Elias spoke to Kubatko about the difficulty of evaluating players based on Triple-A results at a time when changes to the baseball have clearly skewed the offensive environment.
- Jhoulys Chacin has thrown well with the Red Sox since signing a minor league deal there, writes Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe, who wonders if the righty could be making a case for a job next season. The Red Sox’ lack of pitching depth proved to be a significant flaw in 2019, and Chacin would represent a low-cost option who has fit in well with his new teammates. Abraham recounts the story of how Chacin came to be with the Sox, outlining a pressure-filled bullpen session that served as an audition for the veteran righty. “They wanted to see me pitch and said maybe they would give me an opportunity,” Chacin recalls. “I had 30 pitches to show them what I could do.” Since passing that test and landing a roster spot, Chacin has tossed 5 2/3 shutout innings with two hits, three walks and seven strikeouts.
While there’s not much hope of the Blue Jays contending in 2019, that doesn’t mean it’ll be a quiet season. There has been some early-season roster maneuvering already in Toronto and more could ensue in the course of the campaign.
- With Alen Hanson and Socrates Brito reporting for duty, the Jays have a pair of new position players to work into the mix. Whether either or both have staying power remains to be seen, but the out-of-options players would need to be exposed to waivers if they’re not held on the active roster. To create space, the Jays optioned back outfielder Anthony Alford (who’s evidently not yet in line for a real look at the majors) and hurler Sean Reid-Foley. Lefty Thomas Pannone is jumping into the rotation vacancy, though he may ultimately just be keeping that spot warm.
- The Toronto pitching staff will at some point feature bounceback candidate Clay Buchholz. As MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm reports (links to Twitter), he’s one of several hurlers on the mend. Buchholz has already built up to sixty pitches and may be ready for the majors in the next ten days or so. Relievers Ryan Tepera and Ryan Borucki are also working back from injuries; the former seems to be on Buchholz’s timeline while the latter could return by the end of April. Meanwhile, David Phelps has resumed throwing as he tries to work back from Tommy John surgery. His timeline is not apparent at present.
- Much of the intrigue this year will come from the young talent trying to force its way onto the MLB roster. No player has more hype than Vladimir Guerrero Jr., though he’s only one of several top prospects with obvious ability and intriguing MLB bloodlines. Vladito is also still working back from an oblique injury. He’s set to launch a rehab assignment this evening, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca tweets, with a Class A stop to open the season.
- The possibility of an early (even pre-MLB) extension for Guerrero or other top Jays prospects seems interesting. GM Ross Atkins discussed that possibility recently, as Emily Sadler of Sportsnet.ca writes, though he didn’t really tip his hand on the likelihood of such a deal. If anything, he seemed to downplay such a scenario (at least in the immediate term). “It happens with a lot of discussion, a lot of interaction, a lot of back-and-forth,” said Atkins of extensions for younger players, “and what’s important to a player and what’s important to an organization has to line up and those risks are very different.” Regardless of contract possibilities, the Jays are still preparing to face multiple near-term promotion questions. On that issue, Atkins struck much the same tone he has previously, saying: “We want to have the most well-rounded and complete player as possible, but we’re not going to wait for that. We’re going to do the best of our ability to balance that.”
The Blue Jays announced today that they have recalled outfielder Anthony Alford. He was already on the 40-man roster, so no corresponding moves will be required.
It’s an oddly timed move on the surface, as Alford — who is by most accounts one of the organization’s top prospects — wrapped up his Triple-A season a couple of weeks back. He’s also the last 40-man player, aside from outfielder Dalton Pompey, to be activated.
As Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca explains, though, the timing makes more sense when you look more closely. Alford is being asked up as a way of rewarding him for his efforts this year, Davidi writes, the club is wary of allowing him to accrue enough service time that he may ultimately qualify as a Super Two.
To this point, despite very limited MLB action, Alford has accumulated 101 days of service. Had he spent all of September on the active roster and cracked the 2019 roster very early in the season, he might have been on track for an early arb trip.
As things have turned out, there’ll be no real consideration of Super Two status — at least, that is, at the beginning of the 2019 season. The longer Alford remains in Triple-A next year, in fact, the more important the number of service days becomes, because it’ll also be possible for the Jays to keep him short of a full season of MLB service.
Ultimately, this timing call is hardly a major strategic undertaking, since Alford still needs to show he’s deserving of a full look in the majors. Certainly, this situation doesn’t merit the kind of scrutiny that has attached to decisions not to promote some other, more hyped young players (including a certain teammate of Alford’s).
Alford, after all, managed only a .240/.312/.344 slash line in his 417 plate appearances at Triple-A. That’s not what was hoped for after a strong showing last year at Double-A and in the Mexican Pacific Winter League. After running a 45:35 K/BB ratio in 289 plate appearances at the penultimate level of the minors in 2017, Alford’s 112:30 mix this year is especially disappointing.
2:15pm: The move is now official; Petricka has indeed been optioned.
2:05pm: The Blue Jays are promoting outfield prospect Anthony Alford, according to Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca (via Twitter). Toronto has removed reliever Jake Petricka from the active roster, per Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca (via Twitter), though the precise mechanism is not yet clear.
Alford had previously received an exceedingly brief promotion in the 2017 season. But he suffered a fractured hamate bone almost immediately upon reaching the bigs. He ended up recording 68 days of MLB service on the year, but very little of it came on the active roster.
The 23-year-old has long been regarded as a high-end prospect. He has received consensus top-100 leaguewide billing entering each of the past three seasons (including the present one). Alford has drawn praise for his broad and fairly well-developed skillset despite limited time as a professional.
Thus far in 2018, however, Alford has struggled. He has recorded just six hits (one for extra bases) in his 42 plate appearances at Triple-A. Of course, he also was still working back to health after opening the year on the DL owing to a hamstring strain.
Given the struggles out of the gate, it’s a bit surprising at first glance to see this move. That said, the Jays may simply be looking to buttress their position-player unit temporarily while dealing with the absences of Steve Pearce and Randal Grichuk. With Curtis Granderson exiting yesterday’s contest with a tight hamstring, the club may simply have taken the easiest path to adding another outfielder for a few days.
As things stand, then, it’s not at all clear that Alford is set to receive a full run at the MLB level. If he does, though, he could finish the current season with over one full year of service. (In addition to the time he had already, Alford added another twenty days due to the DL stint.) Should that come to pass, he’d reach arbitration eligibility in 2021 and free agency in 2024. If not, those milestones would occur one year further (at the soonest).
For Petricka, the departure comes the day after his contract was purchased and he made it onto the active roster. He gave up one earned run on three hits, while recording two strikeouts, in 1 1/3 innings yesterday. Petricka does have options remaining, so it’s possible he’ll remain on the 40-man while heading back to Buffalo.
Blue Jays outfield prospect Anthony Alford will miss the next three to six weeks with a Grade 2 hamstring strain, writes Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet. Obviously, that takes the highly touted 23-year-old out of consideration for a spot on the Opening Day roster, though he was likely facing an uphill battle in that regard anyhow, given the crowded outfield mix in Toronto and a presumptive desire for Alford to get everyday at-bats. A third-round pick in 2012, Alford has been lauded as one of the game’s top 100 prospects by virtually every major outlet in the past three seasons. He’s viewed as a key piece of the Blue Jays’ future, although despite making his MLB debut last season, he still has just three Triple-A games and 68 Double-A games on his minor league resume. The injury could cost him as much as a month of the season, but it still seems quite plausible that he could return to the big leagues late in the 2018 season with more minor league seasoning.
A bit more from around the American League:
- Right-hander Luke Bard is turning some heads in Angels camp as he vies for a spot in the big league bullpen, writes Mike DiGiovanna of the L.A. Times. The younger brother of former Red Sox setup man Daniel Bard, Luke was selected by the Angels out of the Twins organization in the Rule 5 Draft back in December. The 27-year-old was a supplemental first-rounder back in 2012 but has had his development slowed by shoulder and hip surgeries. Finally healthy in 2017, Bard turned in a 2.76 ERA with 13.6 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and a 32 percent ground-ball rate in 65 1/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Bard’s spring ERA is skewed by one outing where he was rocked for five runs in just a third of an inning, but he’s impressed manager Mike Scioscia in the remainder of his outings and expressed a willingness to work multi-inning stints out of the ’pen. “His stuff is good, he spins the ball well, and hopefully he’s going to be a multi-inning guy,” Scioscia tells DiGiovanna. “With the makeup of our club, multi-inning [relievers] are really important.”
- The signing of Logan Morrison made switch-hitting Kennys Vargas somewhat of an odd man out with the Twins, writes MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger. According to Bollinger, Vargas is expected to be placed on outright waivers at the end of camp, and the Twins are hopeful that he can clear and stick with the organization. The switch-hitting 27-year-old is listed at a towering 6’5″, 275 pounds in this year’s media guide, and while he’s shown some power in the bigs (.185 ISO, 35 homers in 859 PAs), he’s also whiffed at a 29.2 percent clip and posted a meager .311 OBP. Given the manner in which clubs have begun to devalue OBP-challenged sluggers with limited defensive capabilities — Vargas is strictly a first baseman/DH — there’s perhaps a possibility that he could make it through waivers and remain with the club.
- Right-hander Mike Fiers’ struggles this spring haven’t yet put his rotation spot in jeopardy, though Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire suggested that the 32-year-old offseason signee would be well-served to show some positive signs in the final weeks of camp (via Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press). “We’re planning on this guy being in,” Gardenhire said of Fiers, who has been torched for 12 runs (including four homers) in 11 1/3 frames this spring. “…But at the end of the day, when we get down to the end here, we have to make some decisions and we’re going to go with the guys that are getting it done and right now, he’s just gotta fight through it because he’s a veteran.” Gardenhire later added that Fiers’ veteran status will buy him a bit more leeway than the team’s younger arms. As Fenech notes, Fiers has been unequivocally outpitched by lefty Daniel Norris, but Norris has a minor league option remaining and could head to Triple-A to open the season.
SATURDAY, 6:53pm: Alford will indeed undergo surgery and is likely to miss at least four to six weeks, per Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com.
9:07am: The Jays have announced that Alford will meet with hand specialist Dr. Donald Sheridan next week and that he’s likely to have surgery.
WEDNESDAY: The Blue Jays have placed outfielder Anthony Alford on the 10-day DL, as Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca first reported on Twitter. Per the club’s announcement, Alford has been diagnosed with a fractured hamate bone in his left wrist.
Alford, 22, had only recently been called up for his first taste of the big leagues. At the time, it wasn’t clear whether he’d hold down a roster spot for more than a brief stretch. Now, Alford will accrue major league service time while he heals. His expected recovery timeline isn’t yet known, though typically such injuries require around six weeks of down time.
Injuries rarely come at opportune moments, but the timing is particularly unfortunate here. Alford was off to a strong start at Double-A, slashing .325/.411/.455 with 16 walks against 24 strikeouts before his promotion. That came on the heels of a tepid 2016 performance, and the club surely hoped to see him extend that momentum — perhaps setting the stage for holding down a regular MLB role.
From the team’s perspective, it also hurts to see Alford’s service clock run while he’s out. It’s possible for the youngster to pick up as many as 136 days of service this year. Even if he ends up returning and being optioned later in 2017, thus limiting the tally, the service days accrued now could potentially play a role in determining when Alford reaches arbitration or even free agency.
Coming up to take the open spot on the active roster is Dwight Smith Jr. The 53rd overall pick in the 2011 draft, Smith had recently been optioned after making his own MLB debut following a strong showing to open the season at Triple-A.
The Blue Jays are promoting top outfield prospect Anthony Alford to the Majors this afternoon, reports Jason Munz of the Hattiesburg American. Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi reported yesterday that the team has been debating a promotion for Alford.
Alford, 22, entered the season as a consensus Top 100 prospect in the game, topping out at No. 55 on the list of ESPN’s Keith Law. His early play has done nothing but further that status, as Alford was off to an impressive .325/.411/.455 start to the season with three homers and nine stolen bases through 33 games with Double-A New Hampshire. Baseball America recently bumped him to No. 34 on their mid-May update of the league’s top 100 prospects.
Of course, it’s not clear that Alford’s promotion will be long-term in nature. The Jays issued a two-game suspension to Kevin Pillar yesterday, so they’re a bit short-handed in the outfield at the moment. Alford will give manager John Gibbons another option in the outfield, but it’s also possible that he could return to New Hampshire once Pillar is reinstated. The Jays did promote outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. in place of Pillar yesterday, but outfielder Darrell Ceciliani suffered a shoulder injury in last night’s game and could potentially be looking at DL time.
The Jays probably don’t want Alford to occupy a bench role when he could be gaining vital everyday at-bats in the minors, and there doesn’t appear to be an everyday role in the Majors unless there’s an injury that the club has yet to announce. Ezequiel Carrera has hit well in left field thus far, while Pillar has been sensational in center. Jose Bautista got off to a slow start in right field, but he’s hitting .289/.394/.542 over his past 23 games.