Ben Badler of Baseball America has provided three separate looks at the 2017-18 international free agency period over the past week or so, running down 20 well-regarded prospects as well as their likely destinations once the signing period kicks off on July 2. Badler’s scouting efforts do require a subscription, though I’d highly recommend it for those who are interested in the international market (as well as the upcoming amateur draft, which BA obviously covers extensively as well). Financial details on all of the names within aren’t available, though Badler does report that 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Wander Franco (not to be confused with the Royals prospect of the same name) is expected to sign with the Rays for a bonus just shy of $4MM. Franco also ranked No. 1 on the International Top 30 of MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez — another invaluable resource for those wishing to brush up on the top international prospects on the market in the weeks leading up to the new signing period. Those seeking a refresher on the new international spending limitations from the most recent collective bargaining agreement can refer back to Badler’s recap from this past December, as well (no subscription required on that one).
- Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that Rays second baseman Brad Miller won’t be ready for activation from the disabled list when he’s first eligible this coming Friday. Manager Kevin Cash told reporters today that Miller’s abdominal strain still needs to “cool down,” and Topkin notes that Miller has not yet begun running since suffering the injury. Wilson Ramos, on the other hand, is ahead of schedule in his rehab from last September’s torn ACL. He’ll head to extended Spring Training this week and begin a minor league rehab assignment next week. Ramos, according to Topkin, has been hitting, running and participating in full workouts behind the plate.
Rays right-hander Shawn Tolleson underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this week, as per a team announcement. As per the surgery’s usual 12-15 month recovery timeline, Tolleson will miss the rest of this season and a big portion of the 2018 campaign. It’s possible Tolleson could be on the high side of that timeframe since this is his second TJ procedure — he originally underwent the surgery a decade ago while pitching at Baylor University.
The news punctuates what has been a nightmarish two-season stretch for Tolleson, who looked to be coming into his own as the Rangers’ closer in 2015. After posting a 2.88 ERA, 9.1 K/9 and 3.22 K/BB rate over 144 IP for Texas in 2014-15, Tolleson badly struggled last year, posting a 7.68 ERA over 36 1/3 IP and missing time due to back problems.
The Rangers outrighted Tolleson after the season and he elected free agency, going on to sign a one-year, $1MM Major League contract with Tampa Bay. After hitting the DL with back and elbow issues during Spring Training, however, Tolleson’s time with the Rays could expire without him ever officially pitching for the team. The Rays do control Tolleson through the 2018 season, however, as the righty has one more year of arbitration eligibility remaining before gaining enough service time to officially qualify for free agency. Tampa could very well explore re-signing Tolleson to a minor league deal next winter as he continues to rehab, in the hopes that he could return to the mound late in the 2018 campaign.
- Backstop Wilson Ramos is making real progress in his recovery from ACL surgery, Rays manager Kevin Cash said in an appearance on MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM (via Jim Bowden, on Twitter). He is already able to get in a crouch in bullpen sessions and has been taking batting practice, which certainly seems to suggest it may not be long until he begins a rehab assignment.
Jon Heyman of Fan Rag takes a look around the league in his latest notes columns. In addition to providing updates on every National League and American League team, he takes a particularly close look at the Nationals in separate posts. Let’s take a look at some of the items of particular relevance to the transactional landscape:
- The Nationals are beginning to put in phone calls to rivals as they start the search for a new closer in earnest, Heyman writes. Among the players under consideration by the team, at present, are a variety of names with differing contract situations. David Robertson of the White Sox, Kelvin Herrera of the Royals, and A.J. Ramos of the Marlins all have two years remaining at less-than-bargain rates (the latter two via arbitration). Alex Colome of the Rays and Roberto Osuna of the Blue Jays, meanwhile, bring more years of cheap control — and, in all likelihood, astronomical asking prices. Then there’s old friend Mark Melancon, who is in the first year of the four-year pact he signed with the Giants — who evidently beat the Nats’ offer over the winter. Needless to say, there’s quite a lot that could change that picture over the coming months.
- Looking back a bit, the Nationals came closer than any other team to landing Andrew McCutchen from the Pirates over the winter, Heyman adds.Per the report, the sides held talks that “revolved around three players, including Lucas Giolito and veteran Gio Gonzalez.” It’s not immediately clear what else might have been involved, and where things went south, but it’s interesting to hear those parameters. The Nats ultimately pivoted to Adam Eaton, of course, but he’s now out for the year. Perhaps it’s conceivable that the team could take another look at McCutchen, though no doubt the teams would need to start discussions anew with Giolito in Chicago, Gonzalez a key member of the Nats staff and McCutchen struggling.
- The Marlins sale talks had seemingly been building, but Heyman writes that there’s no deal ready to be made at present. For one thing, there are whispers that the purchase price will continue to drop as the organization’s financial health comes under greater scrutiny. For another, there are still questions about where the money will come from on the buyer’s side. “[A]t least the Bush-Jeter group and maybe the Romney-Glavine group, too, [are] still seeking investors,” per Heyman.
- Two significant recent investments made by the Marlins aren’t delivering value at present. Per Heyman, lefty Wei-Yin Chen is headed for a second opinion with his elbow issue still failing to progress. It seems the team could be bracing for a relatively lengthy absence. And Heyman notes that some in the baseball operations department weren’t thrilled at the idea of extending Martin Prado last year at $40MM over three years. He has been playing well enough, but is back on the DL with a recurring hamstring injury.
- Pirates righty Gerrit Cole has looked strong in the early going, but Heyman says the team may not be interested in dealing him even if they continue to lag in the standings. “We’re not in any rush,” a club source tells him. “I don’t think we’re there yet.” The 26-year-old owns a 2.84 ERA with 7.9 K/9 and 1.0 BB/9; while the peripherals are largely in line with his 2016 work, the improved results are supported by jumps in swinging-strike rate (9.9%) and average fastball velocity (a career-high 96.1 mph). With two more years of arb eligibility to go, Cole would likely command a big price at the deadline.
- While the Rays entered play today just one game under .500, that doesn’t mean they aren’t readying for the possibility of selling. Of course, given the team’s pitching depth, it’s imaginable that the team could send out a veteran while still maintaining hopes of cracking the postseason. Per Heyman, Tampa Bay has “already begun calling to get a gauge on the value of Alex Cobb.” Rivals also think the club will be amenable to discussing both Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer, he adds. Cobb, though, is the most obvious possible trade chip. The 29-year-old was homer-prone in his return from Tommy John surgery last year, but has looked solid through 56 1/3 innings this year — his last before reaching free agency. He carries a 3.67 ERA with 6.1 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 to go with a 47.5% groundball rate. Cobb still isn’t getting swings and misses like he used to, but his velocity is better than ever and he has tamped down on the long balls thus far.
The Rays have acquired infielder/outfielder Michael Martinez from the Indians in exchange for cash or a player to be named later and placed fellow infielder Brad Miller on the 10-day disabled list due to a left abdominal strain. In order to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Martinez, Tampa Bay transferred Xavier Cedeno to the 60-day disabled list.
Martinez, 34, was designated for assignment by the Indians recently after collecting four hits and a pair of walks in 15 plate appearances this season. The versatile veteran can play all over the infield and outfield, though he batted just .238/.267/.307 last season and is a lifetime .200/.246/.270 hitter in the Majors (592 plate appearances). Miller has been the team’s primary second baseman this season, but Martinez can now step in and share time at that position with rookie Daniel Robertson.
This week’s installation of “Knocking Down The Door” includes two of the best middle infield prospects in baseball, a 22-year-old first baseman with a .404 OBP in Triple-A, and a pair of starting pitchers who combined for 23 strikeouts in their last start.
Jacob Faria, SP, Tampa Bay Rays (Triple-A Durham)
Despite not making it through the fifth inning in his latest start, the 23-year-old Faria has likely propelled himself to the top of the Rays’ “next in line” spot in the starting rotation. Striking out 13 hitters while recording 14 outs does tend to get a pitcher noticed, as will his overall numbers on the season (3.47 ERA, 3.7 BB/9, 14.4 K/9).
Coincidentally, there is a spot open after Blake Snell was optioned to Triple-A over the weekend. The Rays will certainly discuss whether Faria can have more success than the inconsistent and inefficient Snell, who has completed six innings only six times in 27 MLB starts. Prior to his 108-pitch, 4 2/3-inning outing on May 10th, Faria had back-to-back six-inning starts in which he threw 89 and 91 pitches, respectively, while allowing only two runs with one walk and 17 strikeouts. That should help his cause.
Ronald Guzman, 1B, Texas Rangers (Triple-A Round Rock)
Mike Napoli’s four homers and two doubles over a 10-game span to start the month, as well as the team’s recent six-game win streak, should at least temporarily halt any talk of a lineup shakeup. However, Triple-A first baseman Ronald Guzman hasn’t slowed down one bit, and Napoli is still just 6 for his last 34 with with an overall season slash line of .165/225/.353. Even for a well-respected veteran with a strong track record, that’s not going to cut it for much longer.
The left-handed hitting Guzman struggled after a late-season promotion to Triple-A in 2016, but he’s having no such trouble this time around. After a multi-homer game on Sunday, the 22-year-old is slashing .343/.404/.518 with five homers, five doubles and two triples in 36 games with Triple-A Round Rock.
Yoan Moncada, 2B, Chicago White Sox (Triple-A Charlotte)
The White Sox could have a lineup spot available after optioning designated hitter Cody Asche to the minors today. The corresponding move is a reliever, but that could be temporary with the team possibly calling up another position player in the near future. A pair of candidates, Nick Delmonico, a Knocking Down The Door pick from three weeks ago, and Danny Hayes, haven’t hit much this month and Triple-A Charlotte’s two most productive hitters, Kevan Smith and Willy Garcia, are already in the Majors. Would they promote top prospect Moncada just days after general manager Rich Hahn shot down the idea? It wouldn’t be the first time a team has misled the media on a player move or simply just changed their mind.
The 21-year-old Moncada is still striking out at an alarming rate (42 K in 153 PAs) and was overwhelmed in a late-season stint with the Red Sox in 2016. But he’s also putting up huge numbers in Triple-A (.333/.405/.511 with six homers, four doubles and 10 stolen bases) and his plate discipline has improved drastically this month. He had 10 walks and 30 strikeouts in April; he has seven walks and 12 strikeouts in May.
At this point, Moncada’s free agency has already been pushed back another season—he won’t be eligible until after the 2023 campaign, at the earliest. Calling him up now, or in the near future, would allow him to gain some valuable experience while possibly providing an offensive spark for a team that has probably been more competitive than many expected.
Amed Rosario, SS, New York Mets (Triple-A Las Vegas)
Asdrubal Cabrera’s torn thumb ligament could send him to the disabled list at some point, maybe even today, which could prompt Rosario’s immediate call-up. Let’s be clear, though. The 21-year-old shortstop has done everything in his power to warrant the promotion and a good argument could be made even if Cabrera was healthy.
After all, the defensive-savvy Rosario is knocking the cover off of the ball in his first Triple-A stint—.359/.401/.493 with two homers and 11 doubles—and this struggling Mets team could use all the help it can get.
Lucas Sims, SP, Atlanta Braves (Triple-A Gwinnett)
The Braves’ successful finish to the 2016 season—they won 35 of their last 62 games—had some fans thinking playoffs in 2017. Instead of taking a chance on their unproven young pitching prospects to fill out the MLB rotation, the Braves added three veteran starters over the offseason: Bartolo Colon, R.A. Dickey and Jaime Garcia. This was not a bad decision, as they didn’t break the bank for free agents Colon or Dickey and they give up elite prospects to acquire Garcia. However, things are going poorly. The Braves are 13-21 and 9.5 games behind the 1st place Nationals — and we could still see a youth movement in Atlanta before long.
Sims, the 21st overall pick in the 2012 draft, is leading the charge. The 23-year-old lowered his ERA to 2.16 after tossing two-hit ball over 6 2/3 scoreless innings with a walk and 10 strikeouts in his last start. In 50 Triple-A innings last season, he had a 7.56 ERA with 10.1 H/9, 6.7 BB/9 and 10.4 K/9. In 41 2/3 innings in 2017, the right-hander has a 5.4 H/9, 1.9 BB/9 and 9.1 K/9. That’s what’s called “making the proper adjustments”.
“Knocking Down the Door” is a weekly feature that identifies minor leaguers who are making a case for a big league promotion.
Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- The Rays made the right decision in optioning southpaw Blake Snell to Triple-A Durham on Saturday, opines Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. While a significant decline in performance since last season is behind Snell’s demotion, there are also accountability issues with the 24-year-old, according to Topkin, who writes that Snell’s postgame comments “routinely drew eye rolls from others in uniform.” Snell apparently took the news in stride, though, with teammate Alex Cobb telling Craig Forde of MLB.com: “He seemed to have a good outlook. He seemed relieved to be able to go down, without the pressure, and work on what he knows he needs to work on. That’s a positive.” One problem Snell will work on in the minors is a lack of fastball command, suggested manager Kevin Cash, who assured reporters that the Rays still believe in the second-year hurler. “For us to be the kind of team we can be, Blake has got to be in our rotation,” Cash said.
The Rays have optioned left-handed starter Blake Snell to Triple-A Durham, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. The club will recall reliever Ryne Stanek to take Snell’s roster spot, Topkin adds (on Twitter).
Tampa Bay elected to demote Snell after he turned in arguably his worst start of the year in a 6-3 loss to the Red Sox on Saturday. The 24-year-old went 5 2/3 innings, marking the seventh time in eight starts this season that he hasn’t completed at least six frames, and yielded six earned runs on six hits and three walks, with five strikeouts. In 42 innings this year, Snell has logged a bloated 4.71 ERA with a disappointing strikeout rate (7.29 per nine innings) and a horrid walk rate (5.36).
Snell also struggled with control as a rookie last season (5.16 BB/9), but the former top prospect managed to offset that to a degree with a stellar 9.91 K/9, which helped him post a quality ERA (3.54) in 89 innings. Since then, though, Snell has lost some fastball velocity and generated fewer swinging strikes, as his rate has fallen from 10.9 percent in 2016 to 8.8 percent this year. Overall, Snell has been the weak link in a Rays rotation that has otherwise been a strength in 2017, with Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Matt Andriese and Jake Odorizzi having recorded positive results.
With Snell returning to the minors, veteran swingman Erasmo Ramirez is likely to take his rotation spot, per Topkin, though he notes that the Rays might not need a fifth starter imminently. Snell’s demotion shouldn’t affect his long-term control, as he entered the season with 110 days of service time and is now closing in on the 172 necessary to accrue a full year. Thus, assuming Snell returns to the majors this season, he should still remain on track to reach free agency after the 2022 season.
- Rays catcher Wilson Ramos is making strides in his rehab from ACL surgery, as Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports. Ramos says he is “very excited” about how his surgically repaired knee is progressing, with hopes that he can begin a rehab stint before the end of May. Ramos is not only running and hitting but will soon be allowed to ramp up his work with the mask on. Tampa Bay will no doubt look forward to seeing whether Ramos can follow up on his big 2016 season, as current regular Derek Norris has struggled to a .202/.263/.303 batting line to open the year.
- The Rays will soon get a look at another important offseason acquisition, too. As Topkin tweets, righty Jose De Leon is preparing for his first start of the year at the High-A level. He’ll presumably move up to Triple-A as his rehab from flexor mass issues continues to progress. While De Leon did reach the majors last year, the timing of his return to the bigs is currently unclear. In addition to completing his development and ensuring his health, the Rays will also be looking for the best way to boost De Leon’s workload. He still has yet to throw more than 114 1/3 innings in a given season.