Braves right-hander Mike Soroka was removed from today’s game after being hit by a pitch by Austin Voth. Soroka was struck in his right forearm, and while he took his base and finished the inning, he didn’t return to the mound in the bottom half of the frame. The team announced that Soroka was removed “as a precaution,” and MLB.com’s Mark Bowman tweeted that x-rays on Soroka’s forearm were negative. It doesn’t appear as if the injury is too serious, which is undoubtedly a big relief for both the Braves and the rookie sensation. While advanced metrics indicate that Soroka’s grounder-heavy (57% ground ball rate) arsenal is due for some regression, his 2.07 ERA over 78 1/3 innings has been a huge boost to an inconsistent Atlanta rotation.
It’s been a while since the last update on the Cubs’ Ian Happ, who has yet to appear in a Major League game this season after he was optioned to Triple-A out of spring training. The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma, though, offers some insight into Happ’s mindset and process as he works towards rejoining the Cubs. Happ, 24, was a productive big-leaguer in his first two seasons with the Cubs, but was plagued by strikeouts and inconsistency, neither of which is an uncommon issue for a young player. During his time in Triple-A, Happ has focused on refining his approach and retooling his swing with an eye on contributing to a contending Cubs team in the second half. After striking out in 33.8% of his first 875 plate appearances, Happ has that number down to 27.3% in the minors this year, while increasing his ground ball rate as a result of a flattened swing designed to better cover elevated pitches. With Daniel Descalso and Addison Russell getting the majority of the second base reps and Albert Almora Jr. in center field, there looks to be an avenue for Happ to help to the Cubs in the near future, but it appears that the Cubs are content with a patient approach to Happ’s situation.
Here’s the latest on a handful of National League clubs…
- Good news for Rockies shortstop Trevor Story, who recently landed on the IL with a thumb injury that was said to keep Story out for “multiple weeks.” Per the Denver Post’s Patrick Saunders, however, Story is progressing faster than anticipated and could indeed return to the Rockies after the allotted 10 days on the injured list. That would put Story on track to rejoin his team on June 29, which is certainly a welcome turn of events in Colorado. Surely, that’s no guarantee and the Rockies won’t rush their star back, but it’s sure to inspire more optimism than the original timeline.
- The Braves’ bullpen will get a boost this week, with left-hander Sean Newcomb expected to return from the injured list ahead of Tuesday’s game against the Cubs, according to Gabe Burns of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He showed promising signs in his most recent rehab outing and should be ready to pitch for the first time since taking a J.T. Realmuto liner to the neck last weekend. Though Mike Foltynewicz was demoted, thus leaving a void in the Braves’ starting rotation, that won’t be filled by Newcomb, who will remain in a relief role for the foreseeable future.
- Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli could rejoin the team as early as next weekend, tweets Adam Berry of MLB.com. The 33-year-old catcher, who has been on the injured list since May 25 after suffering a concussion, could start a rehab assignment in the next few days and return to action for the Bucs shortly thereafter. Certainly, the Pirates have kept their heads above water with a catching tandem of Elias Diaz and Jacob Stallings, both of whom have thus far outperformed Cervelli, who struggled in the season’s opening months.
9:15am: The Braves have optioned Foltynewicz and recalled reliever Chad Sobotka, per a team announcement.
8:24am: Right-hander Mike Foltynewicz was the Braves’ No. 1 starter a year ago, when he seemingly broke out with a 2.85 ERA/3.37 FIP in 183 innings. Now, after a rough opening to 2019, he’ll be the Braves’ most accomplished starter in the minors. They’re optioning Foltynewicz to Triple-A Gwinnett, Mark Bowman of MLB.com reports. The club will call up a reliever to fill Foltynewicz’s roster spot Sunday, per David O’Brien of The Athletic.
Foltynewicz started the Braves’ win over the Nationals on Saturday, but he didn’t contribute to his team’s cause. The 27-year-old yielded eight earned runs on eight hits and two walks (with two strikeouts) over four innings. His ERA/FIP combo now sits at a bloated 6.37/6.10 across 59 1/3 frames this season. While Foltynewicz’s walk rate looks normal (3.03 per nine), the rest of his numbers have dipped as his ERA has skyrocketed. After fanning nearly 10 batters per nine a year ago, Foltynewicz’s K/9 is down to 7.58 – his worst since he began his Braves tenure in 2015. His groundball and fly ball figures have also gone in worrying directions, helping lead to a hefty 20.5 percent home run-to-FB rate.
It isn’t just homers haunting Foltynewicz, whose hard-hit rate against has gone up by more than 5 percent since 2018, according to Statcast. As a result, batters have managed a .373 weighted on-base average/.347 expected wOBA off him. A decline in velocity surely hasn’t helped matters. Foltynewicz led all NL starters in average fastball velo a year ago, clocking in at 96.4, but has seen the mean fall to 95.2 this season. With that in mind, it’s worth noting he began 2019 on the injured list because of elbow issues and didn’t debut until late April.
The Braves will now hope Foltynewicz can work his way back via the minors and return to help their cause down the stretch. Despite his struggles, the reigning NL East champions are charging toward another division title, boasting a 45-32 record and a 5 1/2-game lead over their nearest competitor. Standout rookie Mike Soroka has been their ace, while rotation mates Julio Teheran and Max Fried have logged decent production. The club also just added Dallas Keuchel, who made his season debut Friday. It’s unclear who will join them in Foltynewicz’s place, though Bowman names Triple-A righty Bryse Wilson as a possibility.
With Foltynewicz heading to Gwinnett for now, he’ll stop accruing big league service time. Having racked up 87 days of service this year, he’s at four years and 78 days for his career. As things stand, Foltynewicz is on track to reach free agency after the 2021 season. He’s on a somewhat pricey $5.48MM salary at the moment, making his demotion all the more notable.
JUNE 17: The Braves plan for left-hander Dallas Keuchel to make his season debut Friday against the division-rival Nationals, according to manager Brian Snitker (via David O’Brien of The Athletic and Mark Bowman of MLB.com).
Keuchel has pitched two minor league tuneup games since he ended his protracted trip to free agency with a one-year, $13MM agreement on June 7. The first, in which Keuchel threw seven shutout, one-hit innings at the Single-A level, went swimmingly. Keuchel added another seven frames in a Double-A start Saturday, though he allowed 11 hits and three earned runs. However, the Braves are “encouraged” by the fact that Keuchel threw 101 pitches in that outing, Bowman writes.
Although the reigning NL East champion Braves lead their division by 2 1/2 games this year, they’ve gotten to this point with middling starting pitching. In need of a complement to superb rookie Mike Soroka, the club made a notable in-season commitment to the 31-year-old Keuchel, who often excelled in Houston over the previous half-decade and has a 2015 AL Cy Young Award on his resume.
Keuchel is now about to join a Braves rotation which, aside from Soroka, isn’t the most trustworthy group. Julio Teheran has enjoyed a major bounce-back year in terms of bottom-line results, but as always, his peripherals aren’t as encouraging as his ERA. Meantime, Max Fried has cooled off since a great start, Mike Foltynewicz has been surprisingly poor after what looked like a breakout 2018, and Kevin Gausman (now injured), Sean Newcomb, Kyle Wright, Touki Toussaint and Bryse Wilson haven’t offered solutions over a combined 22 starts.
Fortunately for Atlanta, Keuchel’s not the only reinforcement on the way. Injured center fielder Ender Inciarte – out since May 15 with a lumbar strain – has been cleared for baseball activities and could embark on a rehab assignment next week, per Bowman. However, as Bowman notes, Inciarte will not reclaim the starting job in center field when he returns to the majors.
The Braves can’t sit rookie standout left fielder Austin Riley, who will continue to line up alongside Inciarte’s center field replacement, Ronald Acuna Jr., and right fielder Nick Markakis. The defensively adept Inciarte had center on lockdown in Atlanta from 2016 until landing on the IL this year, but his injury and subpar start over the first month and a half of this season opened the door for the hot-hitting Riley.
- Two teams made significant signings beyond the 10th round that will have hefty impacts on their draft bonus pools, as every post-10th round draft pick who signs for more than $125K will have the extra money counted against the pool. The Braves signed 13th-round pick Tyler Owens to a $547.5K bonus, as per MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, while MLB.com’s Jim Callis reports that the Cardinals have signed 14th-rounder Tyler Statler to a $300K bonus. Both Owens and Statler are right-handed pitchers out of high school, who had respectively committed to attend Florida and Southeast Missouri State.
- Braves second-rounder Beau Philip (No. 60) has signed a below-slot deal for $700K, Mayo tweets. He’d have earned $1,157,400 at full value. Philip barely cracked MLB.com’s Top 200 entering the draft, coming in at No. 195. The Oregon State shortstop should be able to stay at the position, write Callis and Mayo, who laud his athleticism and bat speed.
Third baseman Josh Donaldson was one of the majors’ elite players from 2013-17, a five-year, 3,270-plate appearance span with the Athletics and Blue Jays in which he ranked second only to Mike Trout in fWAR (34.4). Donaldson slashed .282/.377/.524 along the way and placed fifth in wRC+ (148) and sixth in home runs (164). In 2015, his best season during that stretch, Donaldson smashed 41 homers en route to American League MVP honors. Four years later, though, it’s highly questionable whether Donaldson will ever approach the MVP conversation again.
After an injury-limited 2018 season with the Jays and Indians, with whom he combined for a solid but unspectacular .246/.352/.449 line (117 wRC+) in 52 games and 219 trips to the plate, Donaldson headed to the NL via free agency this past winter. While he only inked a one-year contract with the Braves, they gave him $23MM in hopes he’d rekindle his glory years. However, two-plus months into the season, his production hasn’t matched his expensive salary.
The 33-year-old Donaldson turned in a 1-for-4 performance in a win over the Pirates on Thursday, contributing to a .236/.349/.419 line in 269 PA this season. While Donaldson has been a durable option for the Braves so far, his wRC+ only rates 5 percent above league average – his worst mark since his rookie year with the A’s in 2012. Having hit nine home runs, Donaldson’s on pace for 21, which would be his fewest in a full season. And Donaldson’s current ISO (.187) would also go down as his worst over a full campaign.
One of the problems, it seems, is that Donaldson’s not hitting enough fly balls. Donaldson’s pulling the ball more than ever, but that’s not particularly beneficial if he’s not elevating it. Although Donaldson was one of the game’s most notable spokesmen of its fly ball revolution during his heyday, his FB rate in 2019 (34 percent) is 8-plus percent lower than where it was in 2017 and checks in nearly 2 percent below league average. It’s unfortunate, too, because Donaldson’s 97.7 mph exit velocity on flies and line drives ranks 10th in the majors this year, according to Statcast. Donaldson’s 93 mph exit velo on all batted balls sits an even better ninth, though there’s not a ton of value in hitting hard grounders – especially when you possess below-average speed.
Beyond Donaldson’s batted-ball profile, his increasing strikeout rate presents more bad news. Donaldson has gone down on strikes 28.3 percent of the time this season, up from 18.4 percent during his half-decade stretch of greatness. To his credit, Donaldson’s somewhat offsetting that with a high walk rate (13.8 percent). However, he’s chasing more pitches than ever outside the strike zone, swinging and missing more than he has since his 34-PA debut in 2010, and making far less contact than he did in his star-level years.
Left-handed pitchers, whom the righty-swinging Donaldson has pulverized throughout his career, have been especially tough on him this year. He has slashed a horrid .167/.335/.229 against southpaws, who have stifled his power (ISO heatmaps via FanGraphs: 2010-18; 2019), in part because he’s no longer offering much resistance against offspeed pitches.
Adding everything up, Donaldson’s weighted on-base average and expected wOBA (.340/.354) indicate he’s still a quality producer at the plate. Beyond that, with three Defensive Runs Saved at the hot corner this season, Donaldson’s still capable of handling his position. But Donaldson’s not the All-Star performer he was in Oakland and Toronto, and he hasn’t done a lot in Atlanta to help his stock as he gears up for a second straight trip to free agency.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
8:54pm: Shewmake signed for full slot value, Jim Callis of MLB.com tweets.
7:48pm: The Braves have announced the signing of first-round draft pick Braden Shewmake. Bonus details aren’t yet known.
Shewmake was taken with the 21st overall selection, which came with a $3.13MM bonus pool allocation. The Texas A&M infielder becomes the second of the two Atlanta picks to put pen to paper. The Braves already tied the knot with Shea Langeliers, who was taken with the compensatory pick (ninth overall) from the club’s failure to agree to terms with last year’s first-rounder.
While he didn’t draw pre-draft grades as high as his eventual selection, Shewmake was seen as a potential first-round talent. ESPN.com’s Keith Law (#26) and Baseball America (#27) were highest on him among the pundits.
Though he’s a highly accomplished collegiate hitter, some wonder whether Shewmake will ever have much power as a pro. He’s also a candidate to move off of the shortstop position in the long run — particularly if he adds the strength necessary to increase his pop. There are several potential paths available for Shewmake; the Braves obviously feel that one of them will lead to a productive MLB career.
The Braves announced Tuesday that right-hander Kevin Gausman has been placed on the 10-day injured list due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot. Lefty A.J. Minter is up from Triple-A Gwinnett in a corresponding move. Meanwhile, the league announced that third baseman Josh Donaldson has received a one-game suspension for his role in last night’s benches-clearing incident with the Pirates, but he’s appealed the punishment and is in Tuesday’s lineup.
With Gausman shelved for the time being, lefty Sean Newcomb will likely make at least a one-off return to the rotation in Atlanta this weekend, tweets MLB.com’s Mark Bowman. That’d change in the event that Newcomb is needed out of the bullpen Friday, but he won’t pitch out of the ’pen for at least the next couple of days after picking up a win with 4 2/3 innings of exceptional relief yesterday.
It’s been a nightmare of a season for Gausman, whom the Braves acquired from the Orioles at last year’s non-waiver trade deadline. Acquired to be a piece of the rotation for multiple years, Gausman has instead pitched like a non-tender candidate thus far in 2019. He’s posted a 6.21 ERA through 62 1/3 innings, albeit with more promising K/BB numbers. Gausman has averaged 9.2 strikeouts and 3.5 walks per nine innings while actually logging the lowest full-season home run rate of his career (1.16 HR/9). He’s been plagued by a somewhat elevated .339 average on balls in play, but the greater problem has been an inability to strand runners; Gausman’s 57.6 percent strand rate is nearly 20 percent lower than his career mark (74.2 percent).
It’s not clear how long Gausman is expected to be out, but even if he’s facing an extended absence, this figures to be a brief return to the rotation for Newcomb. Atlanta signed Dallas Keuchel last week, and he’s slated to make a second minor league appearance on Saturday, per David O’Brien of The Athletic (Twitter link). Keuchel tossed seven shutout innings with nine strikeouts in his first appearance with Class-A Rome this week as he continues to build toward a return to the big league mound.
As for Donaldson, he clearly took exception to being hit by a Joe Musgrove offering in last night’s contest and voiced his thoughts toward Musgrove as he walked toward first base. The two eventually had to be separated by Pittsburgh catcher Elias Diaz, and the incident led to ejections for Donaldson, Musgrove and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.
After signing a one-year, $13MM contract with the Braves last week, left-hander Dallas Keuchel made his first minor league tuneup with their Single-A affiliate Monday. Unsurprisingly, the accomplished Keuchel looked too advanced for the level, throwing seven shutout innings and 77 pitches of one-hit, one-walk ball with nine strikeouts. The soft-tossing 31-year-old’s fastball sat in the high 80s and maxed out at 89, per Tim Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Afterward, Keuchel suggested he could return to the majors following one more minor league start. Braves manager Brian Snitker said that “we’ll talk to [Keuchel] to see where he’s at” after he takes the mound one more time. Barring setbacks, though, Keuchel does seem likely to end up in Atlanta after that outing.
- The Braves haven’t yet seen much progress for outfielder Ender Inciarte, skipper Brian Snitker told David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other reporters. (Twitter link.) The veteran center fielder has yet to engage in any significant baseball activities, Snitker indicates, as the club has exercised ample care with his lumbar strain. “Still no timetable,” says Snitker. “… It’s kind of two steps forward and one back, it seems, in the whole process. It’s a back; you’ve got to be careful.”