- The Royals continue to look at top prospect Brady Singer in big league camp, and there’s still a chance Singer could fill the fifth starter role, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan writes. Singer has a 4.76 ERA over 5 2/3 spring innings, striking out six batters and walking four. Given that Singer has never even pitched at the Triple-A level yet, it would be a surprise to see him in the majors quite so soon, though Kansas City is clearly intrigued by the 23-year-old. Selected 18th overall in the 2018 draft, Singer posted a 2.85 ERA, 8.4 K/9, and 3.54 K/BB rate over 148 1/3 combined innings at the high-A and Double-A levels, and is cited on the current top-100 prospect lists posted by MLB.com (59th) and Baseball Prospectus (64th). There isn’t necessarily any urgency about the Opening Day roster, as since the Royals won’t need a fifth starter until April 8, Singer could continue to work out at extended Spring Training. If not Singer, K.C. could use Jorge Lopez as a fifth starter, or perhaps use an opener rather than a traditional starter to handle the rotation spot.
The Royals and Tigers have “shown interest” in A’s utilityman Jorge Mateo, reports Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic. Other clubs, too, have seemingly checked in, although one A’s source tells Rosenthal overall interest in the 24-year-old is “tepid.”
Mateo hit a decent .289/.330/.504 with 19 home runs and 24 stolen bases in Triple-A in 2019. That marked a significant step up from his abysmal showing there the year prior. He’s in the mix with Franklin Barreto, Vimael Machin and Tony Kemp for the seemingly wide open second base job in Oakland. There’s some upside in that group, but none of the players involved are yet established. More challenging, it’s not a group that comes with a ton of roster flexibility.
Mateo, Barreto and Kemp are out of minor-league options, meaning each has to make the active roster or be exposed to waivers. Machin, meanwhile, is a Rule V pick; he, too, must spend the entire season on the 26-man or be exposed to waivers (and if unclaimed, offered back to the Cubs’ organization).
It’s difficult to imagine a situation in which all of Mateo, Barreto, Machin and Kemp make the season-opening roster. There’s little reason not to explore the trade market for whomever the front office isn’t comfortable with making the roster.
Mateo and Barreto, also 24, would figure to draw some interest. Each was once a highly-touted prospect with youth still on his side. Neither has a strong MLB track record- Mateo has yet to reach the majors at all- but there are likely teams intrigued by their physical tools and generally solid minor-league performances.
The Royals and Tigers each seem like sensible matches if the A’s were to part with Mateo (or Barreto for that matter, although there’s no indication either team has expressed interest in him). Unlike Oakland, neither K.C. nor Detroit has much of a chance of contending for a playoff spot in 2020. There’d be limited harm in giving Mateo an extended MLB look in hopes he can make good on his past prospect status. He wouldn’t fetch nearly as much in trade as he would’ve a few years ago, but it’s not hard to imagine the A’s extracting something of value, whether from the Tigers, Royals, or another organization.
Notably, the Tigers have season-opening waiver priority leaguewide. (They’re followed by the Orioles, Marlins, then the Royals). If Oakland can’t come to an agreement on a trade but decides not to carry Mateo on the season-opening roster, Detroit would have first crack at him on waivers. That could inspire some urgency on Kansas City’s part to make a deal, depending on the extent of their interest in the speedster.
- Royals’ shortstop Adalberto Mondesi has yet to make his spring training debut thanks to the shoulder surgery he underwent last September. His rehab was “paused” recently due to some soreness, manager Mike Matheny told reporters (via Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com), but a visit Friday with his surgeon confirmed Mondesi is on schedule in his recovery. Kansas City continues to hold out hope the talented 24-year-old will be able to return by Opening Day.
- There is a growing likelihood that the Royals will use first basemen Ryan O’Hearn and Ryan McBroom in “a soft platoon” to open the season, Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com writes. As we touched on Friday, the left-handed O’Hearn is seeking a bounce-back year after logging horrid production in 2019. The right-handed McBroom was better with the Royals last year in his first season in the majors, hitting .293/.361/.350. However, it was only an 83-plate appearance sample, in which McBroom failed to hit a home run, struck out over 30 percent of the time and was the beneficiary of an unsustainable .440 batting average on balls in play. To his credit, though, McBroom thrived as a Yankees farmhand last season in Triple-A ball, where he slashed .315/.402/.574 and slugged 26 homers in 482 PA.
We’ve already looked at potential bounce-back candidates from the American League West and the AL East. Let’s now move to the AL Central and begin with established hitters who may be able to rebound in 2020.
Eddie Rosario, OF, Twins:
The free-swinging Rosario was a 32-home run hitter last season, but despite that, his fWAR plummeted from 3.5 in 2018 to 1.2. His overall line in 590 plate appearances (.276/.300/.500 – good for a 103 wRC+) was close to average, owing in part to the sport’s fifth-lowest walk rate (3.7 percent). And whereas Rosario received positive marks as a fielder in 2018, he notched minus-8 Defensive Runs Saved, a minus-5.6 Ultimate Zone Rating and the game’s worst Outs Above Average mark (minus-17) a year ago.
Jose Ramirez, 3B, Indians:
Ramirez was one of the most valuable players in baseball from 2017-18, though a slow start and a 5 percent-plus drop in walk rate last year doomed the switch hitter to a mediocre .255/.327/.479 line in 542 plate appearances. That said, Ramirez still finished with 23 homers, 24 steals and 3.3 fWAR, so he wasn’t exactly a drain on Cleveland’s lineup. And Ramirez was infinitely better after the All-Star break (176 wRC+ in the second half, 68 in the first), giving the Indians hope he’ll be at his best from the get-go this year.
Franmil Reyes, DH/OF, Indians:
While Ramirez came alive in the second half of the season, Reyes was somewhat disappointing after the Indians acquired him from the Padres in July. The 24-year-old still concluded with 37 HRs, but he saw his wRC+ (109) drop by 20 points from the prior season and his on-base percentage go down by 30 points. In all, he was a .249/.310/.512 hitter. Nevertheless, the powerful 24-year-old did rank in baseball’s 98th percentile in hard-hit rate and its 99th percentile in average exit velocity.
Miguel Cabrera, 1B/DH, Tigers:
Cabrera is undoubtedly one of the greatest hitters of all-time, but it’s fair to say he’s nowhere near the offensive force he was during his halcyon days. Thanks in part to knee problems, the 36-year-old was pedestrian at the plate in 2019, when he batted .282/.346/.398 with 12 home runs and a career-low ISO (.116) across 549 appearances. Cabrera also posted one of the lowest walk percentages of his career (8.7) and, according to Statcast, saw his average exit velocity fall by 4 mph and his hard-hit rate drop by 10 percent compared to the numbers he logged during an injury-shortened 2018. Regardless of whether Cabrera rebounds, the Tigers aren’t going to contend in 2020. However, it would be reassuring for the team to see a glimpse of vintage Cabrera, who’s still owed $132MM through 2023.
C.J. Cron, 1B, Tigers:
One of Cabrera’s newest teammates in Detroit, Cron’s coming off a so-so season with the division-rival Twins. Although Cron did hit 25 home runs, the type of production he recorded as a Ray the previous season wasn’t really there. He wound up with a .253/.311/.469 line (101 wRC+, down from 123 in 2018) over 499 trips to the plate. There were some positive signs, though: Cron’s strikeout rate went down by 4.5 percent, his swinging-strike percentage declined by roughly 2 percent and he was a Statcast darling, ranking near the top of the league in several categories – including hard-hit percentage (82nd percentile), average exit velocity (84th) and expected weighted on-base average (86th).
Jeimer Candelario, 3B, Tigers:
Candelario was a 2.5-fWAR player in 2018, his first full season in the majors, but devolved into a replacement-level performer last season. The switch-hitting 26-year-old batted a weak .203/.306/.337 with eight homers in 386 PA, and the Tigers banished him to the minors for a good portion of the season because of his uninspiring output at the sport’s highest level. Statcast didn’t offer any reasons for hope, either, ranking Candelario in the game’s 17th percentile in xwOBA, its 24th percentile in hard-hit rate and its 31st percentile in average exit velocity.
Salvador Perez, C, Royals:
The typically durable Perez, 29, didn’t play at all last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, though it seems he’s coming along well in his recovery. Assuming he does stay on track, the Royals will have to hope for better numbers than what the highly respected six-time All-Star offered when he last took the field in 2018. Back then, Perez registered an unspectacular .235/.274/.439 line in 544 PA and earned bottom-of-the-barrel grades as a pitch framer; however, he did throw out an incredible 48 percent of would-be base stealers.
Maikel Franco, 3B, Royals:
Once a quality prospect, Franco seldom lived up to the hype in Philadelphia from 2014-19. Last season was especially rough for Franco, who hit a disastrous .234/.297/.409 in 428 attempts en route to minus-0.5 fWAR. The rebuilding Royals then bought low on Franco in free agency, signing him for a $2.95MM guarantee. Franco’s still just 27, and he’ll be eligible for arbitration in 2021, so he’s worth a shot for Kansas City.
Ryan O’Hearn, 1B, Royals:
O’Hearn was fantastic during his 170-PA major league debut in 2018, but things fell apart over a much larger sample size last season. The 26-year-old amassed 370 PA and stumbled to a .195/.281/.369 showing. A 63-point drop in batting average on balls in play (.230) didn’t help, though, and O’Hearn did put up above-average exit velocity and hard-hit marks. However, he only ranked in the league’s 24th percentile in xwOBA (.308, compared to a .279 real wOBA).
- The Royals aren’t sure when Adalberto Mondesi will make his Cactus League debut, but they continue to expect the shortstop to be ready for the season opener, manager Mike Matheny stated over the weekend (via Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com). “It’s just about getting him enough reps to be ready by Opening Day. We should be good,” Matheny said of Mondesi, who’s working back from the left shoulder surgery he underwent last September. Before suffering that injury, the 24-year-old turned in his second straight productive season, totaling 2.4 fWAR with a .263/.291/.424 line and 43 stolen bases.
The Yankees, Royals and Marlins are among the teams that have scouted a recent throwing session from right-hander Henderson Alvarez, The Athletic’s Marc Carig reports while chronicling the 29-year-old’s latest comeback efforts. Alvarez has frequently taken to social media to post clips of his workouts and bullpen sessions, and he’s drawn at least a few speculative scouting assignments, although obviously no deal has come together yet. If or when he does sign, it’d surely be on a minor league pact.
Since being named to the NL All-Star team as a 24-year-old back in 2014, Alvarez has thrown just 37 innings in the Major Leagues and 116 1/3 innings of affiliated ball in the minors. He’s also tallied 165 1/3 frames in the Mexican League. Alvarez underwent shoulder surgery in both 2015 and 2016 — the effects of which have largely derailed what looked to be an otherwise promising career. However, he remains motivated to return to the big leagues, telling Carig: “I know I can still give more.”
Alvarez did pitch in affiliated ball last year, throwing 53 innings with the Nationals’ Triple-A club. Like most pitchers in Triple-A — the Pacific Coast League in particular — he was plagued by home runs, serving up 15 long balls en route to a 5.94 ERA. After being cut loose by the Nats, Alvarez returned to Mexico to make six starts for los Tigres de Quintana Roo. In 34 2/3 innings, he logged a 3.12 ERA with a 23-to-5 K/BB ratio and a 57.6 percent ground-ball rate. He closed out the season with a complete-game victory wherein he allowed one run.
The Yankees have lost Luis Severino for the season (Tommy John surgery) and James Paxton for more than a month of the regular season (back surgery), so it’s only natural to see them at least exploring depth additions in the rotation. At the moment, it looks as though Jordan Montgomery will take the fourth spot behind Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ. The competition for the fifth spot includes Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga, Mike King and Chad Bettis, among others.
The Royals, meanwhile, don’t have a defined fifth starter, and club decision-makers have been open about the possibility of bringing in a veteran option even as they allow their plethora of highly regarded young arms to compete for that starting job. Brad Keller, Danny Duffy, Jakob Junis and Mike Montgomery should hold down the top four spots. The competition for the team’s fifth starter presently is vast and could ultimately be a revolving door early in the year if the club opts to use an opener. Jesse Hahn, Eric Skoglund and Chance Adams are among the names on the 40-man roster vying for a look. Top prospects Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar could all be factors eventually as well.
Rotation help isn’t as needed in Miami, where the Marlins have a wealth of controllable options with MLB experience who’ll comprise one of the game’s youngest starting staffs. Sandy Alcantara, Caleb Smith, Pablo Lopez, Jose Urena and Jordan Yamamoto have the most experience, and the wave of high-end arms immediately behind them includes the likes of Sixto Sanchez, Nick Neidert and Edward Cabrera. But Alvarez’s lone All-Star season in ’14 came as a Marlin, and a comeback with the Miami organization would make for a compelling storyline in South Florida.
- Royals pitching prospect Ashe Russell underwent Tommy John surgery last year and is still recovering, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan reports (Twitter links). The exact date of Russell’s procedure isn’t known, though Flanagan said it took place “awhile” before last June. That would put Russell roughly on pace to return to the mound sometime before the end of the season. Russell has tossed only 38 1/3 professional innings since being selected 21st overall in the 2015 draft, and hasn’t pitched at all since the 2016 season. Back in July 2017, we learned that Russell had taken a “mental break” from baseball, in the words of Royals assistant GM J.J. Picollo. Russell’s agent described the issue as somewhat more pitching-related in nature, saying Russell was “having trouble with his pitching mechanics” and “needed a change of scenery” from the Royals’ training facilities. The 23-year-old righty is currently at the Royals’ Spring Training camp.
Some notes on the Yankees and Royals to kick off Sunday morning:
- Salvador Pérez logged four innings behind the plate in the Royals’ spring training game Friday (h/t to the Associated Press). That marked his first catching action since his Tommy John surgery last March. “It was kind of like Opening Day — once you catch the first pitch, it’s a regular game,” Pérez said postgame, via the AP. “I blocked some balls, threw to second base between innings. It was all great.” At last check, the 29-year-old was on track to be ready for Opening Day. In 2018, Pérez hit just .235/.274/.439 (89 wRC+), but he’s long shouldered extremely high workloads behind the plate in Kansas City.
That Wade Davis is likely to be named the Rockies’ closer in and of itself isn’t shocking. Davis is one of the most accomplished closers of this era, changing the game with an incomparable three-year run of dominance with the Royals from 2014 to 2016. Over that span, Davis appeared in 185 contests, posting a 1.18 ERA/1.86 FIP. He gave up just three home runs in that time, and along with running mates Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera, showcased the potential for an uber-dominant bullpen to undergird a champion. Whether that unit was truly transcendent is a debate for another day, but they did, at the very least, help drive the transformation of bullpen usage that, in part, defines our current era of baseball.
And yet, Davis wasn’t the nominal closer on those Royals teams. Not until an injury to Holland forced him into the role. But he is, once again, the nominal closer for the Colorado Rockies despite the 8.65 ERA he posted in 50 games last season, per MLB.com’s Thomas Harding.
In the Rockies’ defense, putting Davis back into the closer role allows manager Bud Black to deploy Scott Oberg or Jairo Diaz in higher-leverage situations, though there are other ways to protect Davis, should that be the goal. Davis’ trajectory should be a fun one to track throughout the season, as it’s hard to imagine many more opportunities to watch a team roll it back after their closer posted an ERA over 8.00.
Also to consider, Davis is making a chunky $17MM this season. The Rockies could be free of their obligation to Davis with a $1MM buyout prior to 2021. Regardless, they’re gonna make every effort to put their investment to good use this season.