AL East: Gil stands out among Cole replacement options

New York Yankees

The injury to Gerrit Cole, covered in more detail in PT Today and The Big Hurt, has created a vacancy in New York’s pitching staff and as of now, there is little resolution on who will fill the team’s final rotation spot. While the possibility exists that New York could add externally, for now, it appears that one of several internal candidates will open the season in the role. In a press availability on Saturday, GM Brian Cashman mentioned five candidates: Luis Gil, Will Warren, Clayton Beeter, Luke Weaver, and Cody Poteet.

The biggest wild card in the fifth starter competition is Gil, who entered camp with significant uncertainty surrounding his role after missing most of the 2022 and 2023 seasons following Tommy John surgery in May 2022. Gil was optioned to minor league camp on March 3rd but has pitched three times in majors since and impressed, reopening the possibility that he could break camp with the big league club. Since the announcement of Cole’s injury, Gil has had back-to-back shutout outings, adding to his impressive stat line for the entire spring (11.2 IP, 3 ER, 5 H, 18 K, 4 BB). Given the fact that he is coming off of such a long layoff, Gil is likely to be subject to some kind of monitoring of his workload. Still, it may be beneficial for the Yankees for those innings to come at the major league level rather than in AAA.

Warren and Beeter, two prospects without major league experience, have also impressed in spring thus far. In four appearances, Warren, the Yankees’ 11th-ranked prospect in our 2024 Org Report, has held his own (10.1 IP, 5 ER, 15 H, 13 K, 3 BB). According to Newsday Sports’ Erik Boland, Warren also “has his supporters inside the organization who will push for him” to fill the fifth starter role. Unlike the other four rotation options, though, Warren is not on the 40-man roster, which could potentially impact the team’s decision. Beeter, the Yankees’ 12th-ranked prospect in our 2024 Org Report, has also pitched fairly well in the spring, amassing a solid stat line (13 IP, 5 ER, 12 H, 13 K, 4 BB) in four appearances.

Weaver and Poteet, two veterans who were competing for a long-relief role before Cole’s injury could also provide a short-term, stopgap solution to the vacated rotation spot depending on the team’s plans for Gil, Warren, and Beeter. After latching on with the Yankees last September, Weaver signed a one-year contract for a swingman role. Weaver is coming off of a dismal season last year (123 IP, 6.44 ERA, 5.02 xERA) and his spring results have lagged behind the team’s other options (5.1 IP, 4 ER, 7 H, 3 K, 1 BB). Notably, Weaver also was scratched from last Tuesday’s start with a stiff neck and could be behind in terms of workload. Poteet, meanwhile, was signed by New York in the offseason after sitting out the 2023 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery in August 2022. In Poteet’s most recent major league action, he pitched fairly well in a swingman role for Miami in 2022 (28 IP, 3.86 ERA, 4.11 xERA). Poteet has reportedly been working with the Yankees’ coaching staff to rework his arsenal and has pitched well in spring thus far (5.2 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 7 K, 1 BB). Notably, pitching coach Matt Blake mentioned Poteet to NJ Advance Media as a candidate to fill a role akin to the one filled by Randy Vásquez and Jhony Brito in 2023 as a swingman while also praising his pitch arsenal and makeup on the mound.


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Tampa Bay Rays

Early on in camp, Tampa Bay announced that Shane Baz would have a delayed start to the season which seemed to all but cement the team’s rotation, with Taj Bradley, who had previously been believed to competing with Baz for the final spot, slotting in. However, Bradley sustained a right pec strain while warming up for a scheduled start last Tuesday and is now expected to begin the year on the IL.

As has often been the case in the past, Tampa may turn to its bullpen to fill its vacated rotation spot. Before Bradley’s injury, it was believed that the Rays would enter the season carrying two bulk relievers on its active roster, with Chris Devenski considered a lock for one spot and the duo of Tyler Alexander and non-roster invitee Jacob Waguespack competing for the final spot. Notably, Waguespack, who pitched predominantly as a reliever in Japan last year, was added to the team’s 40-man roster on Friday, indicating that he is at least in consideration for the team’s plans. In terms of workload, all three pitchers should be able to provide some sort of bulk innings as reports indicated that the team was planning on having Devenski and Alexander stretched out to three innings by mid-March and Waguespack threw 3.2 innings in his most recent spring outing on Friday. Conceivably, Tampa Bay could opt to carry all three of Devenski, Alexander, and Waguespack to open the year and either opt for one to stretch out as a traditional starter or mix and match bulk outings between the three depending on matchups and game context.

At the time of Bradley’s injury, Jacob Lopez looked to be one of several candidates to take the vacated rotation spot. Lopez, however, was optioned to AAA several days later, likely removing him as a candidate. Thus, If Tampa were to opt to carry a traditional starter, it would likely have to go outside of its 40-man roster because Lopez is likely not in consideration.

Despite spring struggles (9.2 IP, 14 ER, 15 H, 9 K, 8 BB) Naoyuki Uwasawa seems to be at least part of the team’s consideration. In his most recent outing, Uwasawa impressed (4 IP, 1 ER, 4 H, 3 K, 1 BB) and stated he is feeling more like himself on the mound after having trouble adjusting to MLB’s pitch clock in his first several outings. Still, considering that Uwasawa is not on the 40-man roster and may need more time for adjustment to MLB rules, it may make more sense for the team to opt to start him in AAA with a chance to earn a promotion.

Tampa Bay also added a familiar face to the rotation mix, signing Jake Odorizzi to a minor league deal. Odorizzi, who missed all of the 2023 season after April shoulder surgery, had reportedly been holding out for a major league contract but eventually settled for a minor league deal with Tampa Bay after Bradley’s injury opened up a rotation spot. According to reports, Odorizzi is aiming to be ready by Opening Day, but it seems reasonable for Tampa Bay to opt to start him out in AAA to get a clearer evaluation as he builds up his pitch count.

 

Boston Red Sox 

Last month, we examined Boston’s outfield competition in this space, identifying Ceddanne Rafaela as a key player to watch this spring. Coming into camp, Rafaela was seen as an elite defender but there were significant question marks about his ability to handle major league pitching. Thus far in spring, Rafaela’s offense has held up as he’s hit .250/.325/.583 with 3 HR in 40 PA. With less than two weeks until Opening Day, Rafaela’s offensive performance and recent developments may force the team’s hand to include him on the major league roster.

Throughout camp, Boston has consistently stated that Rafaela will work exclusively at center field and begin the year playing there regularly, either in the majors or in AAA. However, the team recently changed their tune as Alex Cora stated on Friday that Rafaela will get some work at second base and shortstop in the coming week. The reps at second base are particularly noteworthy since Boston is expected to be without starting second baseman Vaughn Grissom to open the season. Currently, Enmanuel Valdez appears to be the leader to see the bulk of time at second base, but Boston’s newfound willingness to use Rafaela in the infield could change the situation.

Even if Boston opts to not use Rafaela in the infield, there is still a plausible path to at-bats in the outfield. Tyler O'Neill, who has amassed a combined 183 IL days in the last three seasons, has dealt with calf issues throughout camp. Most recently, O’Neill was scratched from Friday’s lineup with calf tightness just three days after returning from missing several days for the same issue. Even if O’Neill returns to the lineup before the end of spring, it is conceivable that Boston could limit his workload given his extensive injury history. Wilyer Abreu, Rafaela’s main competition for a regular role, has also struggled during the spring, amassing a slash line of .125/.300/.281.

 

Baltimore Orioles

Last month, we looked at Baltimore’s two infield vacancies, noting that Jackson Holliday and Jordan Westburg were the leading candidates for regular roles at second base and third base. While the team has yet to officially announce anything regarding either player’s roster status, both Holliday and Westburg have done little this spring to show that they do not belong in the Opening Day lineup. Holliday (.294/.314/.559) has hit well in his spring at-bats while also earning rave reviews for his defense at second base. Westburg has also impressed offensively (.258/.281/.581) while displaying plus defense at third base, second base, and shortstop.

Despite the building momentum for both Holliday and Westburg to break camp with Baltimore, the team’s veteran incumbents have also had impressive springs. Ramón Urías has swung a hot bat (.304/.370/.696) which likely has strengthened his hold on a spot on Baltimore’s bench in a utility role. Jorge Mateo, meanwhile, has also impressed offensively (.280/.357/.560) and could fill a super-utility role, with his versatility to play center field potentially forcing Ryan McKenna off the roster. Though neither Urías nor Mateo appears likely to begin the year with a regular role, each looks to have a firm hold on a bench spot with spot starts (particularly against left-handed starters) and a chance to be the next man up should either player struggle or suffer an injury.

Two of Baltimore’s other infield prospects have also flashed this spring, proving that they may at the very least be strong candidates for a midseason call-up. Coby Mayo has been an offensive force (.313/.436/.563) while earning positive reviews for his improved defensive ability at third base. While he has an uphill battle to open the year on the active roster, Mayo also has several other paths to playing time, most notably including the first base/designated hitter mix, and could force an early season promotion. After a late start due to a side issue, Connor Norby has also hit well (.500/.571/.667) in 14 PA. Norby has only played at second base and designated hitter in spring so far, but has had some time in the corner outfield in the past.

Further down the depth chart, Kolten Wong (.176/.263/.235) and Nick Maton (.000/.211/.000), who were brought in as competition for Holliday as a left-handed hitter who can play second base, have struggled in spring. Given the logjam in Baltimore’s infield and the hot springs of several depth options, neither player appears likely to begin the year on the team’s active roster at this time.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

Early on in camp, manager John Schneider stated that divvying up playing time at second base and third base would be “a cool puzzle to solve,” singling out Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Cavan Biggio, and Santiago Espinal as candidates for the positions. By our projections, Kiner-Falefa (.260/.313/.321), Biggio (.225/.325/.347), and Espinal (.259/.310/.323) are all poor offensive options, so it is questionable just how “cool” it is to figure out their playing time. Given spring usage, it appears that Kiner-Falefa (at third base) and Biggio (at second base) both are roster locks with at least a semi-regular hold on playing time. Espinal, though, has a minor league option remaining and is facing competition for one of the two remaining spots on Toronto’s bench.

By our projections, the most viable option for Toronto at second base or third base is Davis Schneider, who we are currently projecting for a .229/.324/.456 triple slash with 17 HR in 374 PA. Last year, Schneider enjoyed a breakout season in the minors (.275/.416/.553, 21 HR in 392 PA for AAA-Buffalo) and hit well in a brief major league stint (.276/.404/.603, 8 HR in 141 PA). Schneider has exclusively played at second base and left field during spring and, assuming he makes the roster, would at least have regular at-bats against left-handed pitching, starting in place of either Biggio at second base or one of Kevin Kiermaier or Daulton Varsho in the outfield. Against right-handed pitching, though, his role looks to be less secure, especially considering both Biggio and Kiner-Falefa have slotted in over him in recent lineups that resemble Toronto’s “regular” configuration with the team’s cemented starters. Still, given projected skills, the path certainly exists for Schneider to carve out more at-bats against righties.

Ernie Clement has also had an impressive spring (.423/.444/.731 with no strikeouts in 27 PA), which may have put him ahead of Espinal in the pecking order for a role as a versatile, contact-hitting utilityman. Last season, Clement hit .380/.385/.500 in 52 PA for Toronto after hitting .348/.401/.544 in 320 PA for AAA-Buffalo. Notably, Clement is also out of options which could play a role in a potential decision to keep him and send Espinal to AAA.

Veteran Eduardo Escobar also remains in camp vying for a spot on Toronto’s bench. However, Escobar is coming off of a dismal offensive season in 2023 (.229/.276/.353) and has struggled for most of the spring (.103/.133/.310).

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