(*) PT TOMORROW: AL Central - Mercado surprises

Cleveland Guardians

So, after what seems like years of shortcomings, the Guardians have finally found a stable corner outfielder. He was in their system the entire time, bubbling under the surface, and his consistent playing time over through the season’s first 11 games says the team believes in him, too. 

No, no, we’re not talking about Steven Kwan (though we might be the only ones). We’re referring to the other corner, Óscar Mercado (OF, CLE). Through Wednesday’s action, Mercado has surprisingly started 9 of CLE’s first 11 games, logged 39 plate appearances, and is second on the team in both HR (3) and RBI (11). Full disclosure, he’s struck out 11 times and not yet drawn a walk, and his GB/LD/FB figures are a wacky 36/4/61.

But his small-sample Statcast metrics are encouraging, and along with the FB% increase (40% FB% for his career), point to someone who could be in the midst of a swing change: through 28 batted ball events, his average exit velocity, Brl% and launch angle were career highs. 

We’re still skeptical it will hold, but color us interested at the very least. Perhaps most encouraging in the short-term was that Mercado has continued to join Kwan and Myles Straw (OF, CLE) as the de facto starting outfield, even in the games since Josh Naylor (OF, CLE) came off the injured list. Naylor has manned first base in three of the four games he’s appeared in since his activation, indicating that Bobby Bradley (1B, CLE), rather than Mercado, appear to hold the short side of the playing-time stick. Stay tuned.


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Detroit Tigers

It’s been a rough week on the young-Detroit-starter injury front. And though the details on the health and prognosis of both Casey Mize (RHP, DET) and Matt Manning (RHP, DET) are sketchy, we do know that in the short-term at least, manager A.J. Hinch will have to run some sort of starter out there; Michael Pineda (RHP, DET) took the ball on Thursday. What are the Tigers’ realistic options at Triple-A Toledo? 

Chase Anderson (RHP, DET) has the most MLB experience, most recently with Philadelphia and Toronto, and his role is just this—providing Triple-A depth in case of injury. Unfortunately, his soft-tossing, change-up heavy ways have not aged well, and he’s been hit around a bit in three GS to far (6 ER in 11.1 IP; with 10 K/6 BB). He’s still the overwhelming favorite to be called into action should then need a starter beyond Pineda.

Joey Wentz (LHP, DET), formerly of ATL, is just 24 and ranks #13 in our DET Organization Report. Has been hit hard early, also (6 ER in 6.1 IP). As a three-pitch guy with a high-spin curve, Wentz has more stuff than Anderson, but a history of poor control (41 walks in 72 IP in 2021; 3 walks in those 6.1 innings so far).

Beau Brieske (RHP, DET) is also 24, has OK numbers in two starts (5 ER in 10 IP), but is seen as a #5/swingman role player at this point who needs seasoning, as this is his first exposure to Triple-A. 

With two Mondays off between now and May 2, the Tigers have some flexibility in the short-term. But getting one of Manning or Mize back by then would be a plus for sure. 

 

Kansas City Royals

One of the big stories of spring training for the Royals camp was what appeared to be the MLB-readiness of their Big Three position prospects. While Bobby Witt, Jr. (3B, KC) has struggled in plain view of the MLB spotlight (.128/.150/.231 through 39 AB), his brethren have similarly come up short through the first weeks at Triple-A Omaha.

The hand-wringing over how MJ Melendez (C, KC) would fit into the Royals MLB plans has stalled for now. After a scorching .412/.474/.647 spring training, Melendez has stumbled to a .125/.250/.271 line in his first 13 games (56 plate appearances) at Omaha. He does have two home runs, but early on the swing-and-miss woes have come back (14 strikeouts). He’s also playing almost exclusively behind the dish—he’s had one OF start—which is worth noting given the presence of Salvador Perez (C, KC). 

Nick Pratto (1B, KC) has performed a bit better, but also nothing along the lines of his .333/.546/.667 spring training line. At least Pratto is hitting for power—three HR in 56 plate appearances so far—but the slash line is a similarly-disappointing .196/.268/.431 to this point, and Pratt’s plate discipline numbers are alarming (20 K/4 BB). Interestingly, Pratto’s defensive position splits are 8G at 1B, 1 at DH, and 4 in the OF—something to watch from here on. 

There’s been no indication that Witt will be joining Melendez and Pratto soon, and certainly it’s worth noting how early it still is in the season. But these two big-name prospects don’t seem like they are quite as ready as they showed in Arizona in late March.  (Hershey)

 

Minnesota Twins

We're nearly two full weeks into the 2022 season and the Twins have the worst team batting average in the American League at .199, and are 11th in OPS at .621. The best hitter so far in terms of BA has been Luis Arraez (2B/3B/OF, MIN) (.313 BA, .858 OPS), and the team has been experimenting with ways to get him in the lineup. Earlier this week, Arraez got the start at first base. He's limited defensively, so a spot as DH would be ideal, but his hitter profile doesn't scream DH (nor does it scream prototypical 1B) as he only has seven career HR in 898 AB. For fantasy purposes, that doesn't matter much, as he qualifies in a much better spot -- MI. Look for MIN to continue to get him AB in a variety of ways, especially against righties, where he is a career .333 hitter and has a career .824 OPS.

Jose Miranda (3B, MIN) could provide a boost for a team needing it as well. In 2021, he slashed .344/.401/.572 with 30 HR and 92 RBI in Triple-A. This year in St. Paul, Miranda has gotten off to a 13-for-53 start at the plate with a homer and eight RBI. With Gio Urshela (3B, MIN) hitting .257 with one HR and Miguel Sanó (1B, MIN) ice-cold at .091 with 11 K in 33 AB, Miranda could inject some life to the lineup. An injury to one of MIN's corners could bring Miranda, who is the team's fifth-ranked prospect with an 8C rating, up to the bigs. 

Another minor leaguer to watch is Royce Lewis (SS, MIN), the team's top prospect with a 9C rating in the Twins Organization Report. Lewis is off to a great start in Triple-A, hitting .333 in 45 AB to go with 12 runs scored, a home run and three SB. While he's blocked by Carlos Correa (SS, MIN), the Twins could deploy Lewis as their Swiss Army Knife later in the season to get his bat into the lineup.  (Rick Green)

 

Chicago White Sox

Chicago has been one of the worst run-scoring teams in the American League at the start of 2022, so it's put additional pressure on the bullpen to finish close games. So far, three of the team's six wins have been one-run contests, so there's been plenty of opportunity to mine the roster for holds. 

Newcomer Kendall Graveman (RHP, CHW) has been outstanding in his role, allowing only two of the 18 batters he's faced to reach base and he's picked up four holds in his five appearances. He also would be the pitcher the team would turn to in the ninth if closer Liam Hendriks were unavailable or injured. Graveman also has had an early impact in the clubhouse, mentoring the other relievers. 

One of those has been Aaron Bummer (LHP, CHW), who has 10 strikeouts in his 4.1 IP, but he also has given up seven hits and allowed a ton of baserunners. His ugly ERA/WHIP numbers are likely to drop as he gains more innings; he already has three holds. Assuming he reverts to form, Bummer and Graveman make a formidable duo before teams get to face Hendriks. 

But don't ignore two other relievers that have looked strong at the outset. José Ruiz (RHP, CHW) has picked up three holds in his five appearances. He's struck out eight in 4.1 IP and has posted a 284 BPV in that small sample. And add Bennett Sousa (RHP, CHW)—two holds in his six appearances—to your watch list. Ruiz/Sosa filled in for Bummer/Graveman to get to Hendriks in a win over the Rays last week. Both should continue to have high-leverage impact in the pen.  (Green)

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