- We’re over ten months away from the opening of the next international signing period on July 2, 2020, though Baseball America’s Ben Badler (subscription required) looks ahead by profiling ten of the most notable prospects in the upcoming class. Dominican outfielder Pedro Pineda could potentially claim the highest bonus of the bunch, as he has been connected to the Athletics for a bonus that could approach $5MM. The Cubs, Rays, Tigers, Dodgers, Marlins, Nationals, Angels, Blue Jays, and Twins are all unofficially linked to the other nine names on Badler’s list, with several other players also reportedly in line for multi-million dollar bonuses. Of course, the entire signing process as we know it could become moot should Major League Baseball adopt an international talent draft for next year, though nothing has yet been confirmed on that front.
- The Phillies are exactly in the middle of the pack in Defensive Runs Saved, as the Phils’ +12 DRS ranking 15th among all teams. This modest number, however, represents a gigantic upgrade for their glovework, as The Athletic’s Mark Simon (subscription required) explores in a look at the most improved defensive teams in baseball. Philadelphia’s minus-146 DRS was by far the worst in baseball in 2018, yet the team has shored up their defense due to a number of factors, such as the additions of J.T. Realmuto and Bryce Harper, and moving Rhys Hoskins back to first base after he supremely struggled as a left field last year. The other big gainers were the Blue Jays, who went from minus-100 DRS in 2018 (29th among all teams) to minus-1 DRS and 18th place this season, and the Dodgers, who have gone from being very good to a potentially record-setting defensive unit. Los Angeles finished eighth in the league with +47 DRS in 2018, and now lead all of baseball with a +125 score, giving them a shot at breaking the Diamondbacks’ record-setting mark of +157 from a year ago. The eight teams on Simon’s list share at least one of two commonalities — either the teams are shifting more frequently, or else they are simply using better personnel, whether those are new players joining the team or players who have personally improved their glovework since last season.
Blue Jays Rumors
- After the Giants designated him for assignment, Rule 5 selection Travis Bergen has cleared waivers and will return to his former organization, the Blue Jays. He’s been assigned to Triple-A Buffalo as he makes his return to the team that drafted him in 2015. Bergen, a left-handed reliever, got into 21 games for the Giants this year and compiled a 5.49 ERA in his first taste of the big leagues. Between two levels of the minors in 2018, he posted a 0.95 ERA while striking out 74 batters in 56 2/3 innings.
Blue Jays rookie third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. could be back in the Toronto lineup in short order, as Jon Morosi of MLB Network relays that the 20-year-old Canada native could return for this week’s tilt with the Dodgers (link). The team has apparently indicated that Vlad Jr.’s status is more “day-to-day than week-to-week”.
After tweaking his knee while fielding a groundball, Guerrero Jr. went for MRI testing–testing that ultimately showed only minor inflammation. After Padres rookie Fernando Tatis Jr. was shut down for the season following a back injury, there was trepidation that even a moderate issue would similarly spell the end of Vladito’s rookie campaign. About that rookie campaign, it’s fair to say that on-field results have been mixed–though ultimately very encouraging for a player of his age.
Across a sizable sample of 386 at-bats, Guerrero Jr. has slashed .274/.345/.464, while wRC+ indicates that he has been 13 percent better than a league-average hitter. When not inside the batter’s box, however, the infielder has shown some warts that the Jays surely hope will iron out as he matures, including a -4.4 BSR measurement on the bases and generally subpar defense as evidenced in part by his -4 DRS mark. The Blue Jays enter play in Los Angeles today with a 52-75 record.
We’ll kick off this Sunday by taking a look at some injuries and minor-league news around the Junior Circuit.
- Athletics center fielder Ramón Laureano is making slow but steady progress from a stress reaction in his shin, he tells Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (via Twitter). Laureano plans to begin running next week in an effort to mount a late-season comeback. His July 31 injury was always expected to shelve him for at least a month, and there’s little indication his early-September target date to return has changed. The 25 year-old has quietly emerged as one of baseball’s better young players. In 595 MLB plate appearances since debuting last August, Laureano has coupled well above-average offense (a .285/.341/.506 slash, good for a 122 wRC+) with a flair for the dramatic on defense, even if he’s not always the most consistent at tracking down fly balls, per Statcast. His return would be welcome news to a club just a half game out of the league’s final postseason spot.
- Laureano might not be the A’s only end-of-season reinforcement. Matt Harvey, whom the club brought aboard on a minor-league deal this week, acquitted himself well in his first action with his new employer, notes Melissa Lockard of the Athletic (via Twitter). Harvey tossed four scoreless Triple-A innings in the hitters’ haven that is Las Vegas, striking out five without issuing a walk along the way. He’ll obviously need more than one encouraging outing to erase the memories of his woeful past few seasons, but as MLBTR’s Connor Byrne noted Wednesday, it’s not hard to imagine Harvey factoring into the club’s uncertain pitching mix down the stretch.
- Harvey isn’t the only minor-league pitcher who could impact his team’s playoff push in the coming weeks. As Do-Hyung Park of MLB.com pointed out, the Twins have pushed pitching prospects Brusdar Graterol and Jorge Alcala up to the minors’ highest level, where both will work out of the bullpen. The promotion of Graterol, a husky 20 year-old righty from Venezuela, will generate the most attention. A top 100 prospect at Fangraphs, Baseball America and MLB Pipleline, Graterol pitched well in 11 games with Double-A Pensacola. The organization surely hopes he can emerge as an above-average starter long-term, but it isn’t hard to imagine him contributing in the bigs in short stints imminently thanks to his plus three-pitch arsenal. Alcala, too, might factor into the Twins’ end-of-season bullpen, where command issues always figured to push him anyways. The 24 year-old Dominican righty was acquired from Houston in the Ryan Pressly trade last summer and boasts mid-high 90’s gas, but he’s long issued too many walks to be an elite prospect and has an ERA pushing 6.00 in Pensacola. Both hurlers have to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason to avoid selection in the Rule V draft, so the Twins could expedite their promotions a few months given their tenuous hold on the AL Central.
- In non-playoff news, young Blue Jay Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. will get more clarity on a return date from a left quad strain after an MRI today, tweets Shi Davidi of Sportsnet. The 25 year-old has been out since August 9 and hopes to return by the end of the month. Gurriel’s yet to settle in defensively- he’s now playing left field after breaking in as a subpar infielder- and doesn’t sport great plate discipline, but he’s emerged as a solid right-handed power bat in 2019. Over 321 plate appearances, Gurriel’s hitting .279/.331/.548 (127 wRC+).
Sunday: Fortunately, Guerrero won’t need an IL stint, manager Charlie Montoyo tells Mitchell (via Twitter). Guerrero’s MRI showed inflammation, but, in the words of the rookie, “nothing major.” He’ll miss only a few days and hopes to return to the lineup “very soon,” Mitchell adds.
Saturday: Heralded Blue Jays rookie Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was removed from today’s contest with the Mariners due to what the team has called “left knee discomfort”. “Vladito” exited the game after making a diving grab on a ground ball at third base in the top of the second inning, and it appears the move may have been more than precautionary–manager Charlie Montoyo informed TSN’s Scott Mitchell that Guerrero Jr. will undergo an MRI on Sunday (link).
Receiving an MRI is hardly a surefire sign that a player is going to miss significant time, but it also stands to figure that the revelation of even a minor knee issue could spell the end of the 2019 season for the talented third sacker. The Jays currently sit in development and evaluation mode as they play out the string in what will most likely be their second consecutive losing season. Guerrero Jr.–perhaps the team’s most prized prospect of the century, if not ever–would not be an asset to treat with anything less than the utmost caution.
If Guerrero Jr. does indeed make it back to action in the coming days, he will look to build on a more-than-respectable rookie campaign. His .275/.345/.465 batting line corresponds with a 114 wRC+–a mark that ties him with veterans Nolan Arenado and Eduardo Escobar for 18th among third basemen with 250-plus at-bats this year. Of course, that he was hurt on a defensive play should add some extra concern to the situation for Toronto moving forward. Listed at 6’1, 200-lb measurements of questionable veracity, there has long been speculation that Vlad Jr.’s stocky-yet-powerful frame would welcome an eventual move to DH or first base. Regardless of his long-term role with the org, Jays fans will likely wait with bated breath for news of tomorrow’s MRI results.
- Blue Jays outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is hoping to return from the IL at the end of the month, Scott Mitchell of TSN reports. Gurriel went down Aug. 8 with a strained left quadriceps, cutting off a breakout campaign for the 25-year-old. With a .279/.331/.548 line and 19 home runs in 321 plate appearances, Gurriel has been one of several young Toronto hitters who look as if they’ll be long-term building blocks for the club.
The Blue Jays have claimed catcher Beau Taylor off waivers from the Athletics, per a club announcement. He’ll begin his tenure with the Toronto organization at Triple-A.
Taylor was likely targeted to bolster the Jays’ catching depth. The team seems likely to continue utilizing Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire at the major-league level for the duration of the present season, barring injury.
Though it’s possible Taylor could end up losing his 40-man roster spot at some point, he may also be retained and given a shot to compete in spring camp next year. The 29-year-old can still be optioned and has produced big offensive numbers this year at Triple-A, with a .257/.408/.461 batting line in 240 plate appearances.
A day after suggesting that Rowdy Tellez was in line to receive more playing time down than Justin Smoak down the stretch, Blue Jays skipper Charlie Montoyo has walked that assertion back a bit. “Maybe it came out like he’s going to play more than Smoak, but it’s still the same way,” Montoyo told reporters, including Shi Davidi of Sportsnet. “Smoak will DH, play first. I don’t see that much of a difference.” Smoak himself was caught off guard by Montoyo’s initial comments, but the first baseman said Montoyo took him aside in an effort to sort things out. It seems that Smoak and Tellez will share first base/designated hitter duties down the stretch, though Montoyo has no shortage of other players he’ll need to try to work into the mix at DH. Davidi adds that the Blue Jays “seem to have no intention” of placing Smoak on outright waivers in the manner they did with Freddy Galvis, who was claimed by the Reds earlier this week.
More out of Toronto…
- The Blue Jays didn’t find much in the way of trade interest for Galvis prior to the trade deadline, writes The Toronto Sun’s Ryan Wolstat, but the arrival (and immediate success) of Bo Bichette prompted the club to give the veteran Galvis an opportunity to be claimed by a club that’d play him every day at his natural position. General manager Ross Atkins said the club and Galvis were open and honest with each other leading up to the move. Montoyo effused praise for Galvis’ professionalism and leadership, and teammates such as Lourdes Gurriel Jr. expressed some sadness in seeing Galvis depart. “He taught me a lot, not just to me, to the rest of the guys and I will always carry that with me,” said Gurriel of Galvis. “Freddy’s a huge mentor for any player.” The Reds will now have the ability to exercise Galvis’ $5.5MM club option for the 2020 season, though they’ll also be on the hook for the $1MM buyout should they not decide to bring him back.
- While Danny Jansen is still the favorite to serve as the Jays’ primary catcher in 2020, TSN’s Scott Mitchell writes that Reese McGuire will be given an opportunity to show he can be a significant piece of the catching puzzle in the season’s final six weeks. Both Jansen and McGuire drew heaps of praise for their defensive prowess from catching coordinator John Schneider, and Jansen indeed ranks among the game’s best backstops in terms of pitch framing, pitch blocking, Defensive Runs Saved and Baseball Prospectus’ fielding runs above average. Jansen has also salvaged what was shaping up to be a miserable season at the plate, hitting .252/.316/.484 dating back to June 1. As Mitchell points out, the Jays have a number of other catching options coming up through the system, giving them some potential trade commodities to address other holes on the club if the Jansen/McGuire pairing is indeed determined to be the long-term catching tandem.
- The Blue Jays recalled first baseman Rowdy Tellez from Triple-A Buffalo on Tuesday. The 24-year-old forced his way back by mauling pitchers at the Triple-A level, where he slashed .366/.450/.688 with seven home runs in 109 plate appearances. Tellez wasn’t nearly that good this year in the majors before a mid-July demotion, as he hit .227/.280/.436 with 14 HRs over 286 PA. However, considering they’re looking toward the future, the rebuilding Blue Jays want to see if Tellez can continue his minor league brilliance in their uniform. His promotion could spell bad news for veteran first baseman Justin Smoak, who’s likely to lose playing time to Tellez, manager Charlie Montoyo said Tuesday (via Scott Mitchell of TSN). That doesn’t seem to bode well for the Toronto future of Smoak, a pending free agent.
The Blue Jays announced that righty David Paulino has cleared release waivers, making him a free agent. He had been designated for assignment recently.
Once a major prospect, the 25-year-old hurler has not developed as hoped. There have been quite a few hiccups along the way, most notably arm injuries and a PED suspension.
Paulino now seems likelier to end up in a big-league relief unit, but he had been functioning as a starter this year at Triple-A. In seven outings this season, he worked to a 3.45 ERA with 8.5 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 over 28 2/3 innings.
Unfortunately, Paulino has missed the bulk of the campaign with an as-yet-unreported health issue. While no organization was willing to utilize a 40-man spot to add him — notably, he won’t be optionable in 2020 — it stands to reason that one will be glad to take a chance on a minors deal.