PT TOMORROW: AL East — Urshela, Andujar set to do battle for 3B in NYY

New York Yankees

Barring a trade, perhaps the most interesting playing time battle shaping up in New York is at third base.

Manager Aaron Boone has indicated that Gio Urshela (3B, NYY) will enter the preseason with a “leg up” at the position, after Urshela stunningly busted out to the tune of a .314 BA and 21 HR in 442 AB. Urshela did end what was otherwise a monster second half on something of a down note, however (13-for-60, 3 HR over the final month). 

Given the degree to which that performance came out of nowhere, however, it is hardly surprising that the Yankees are also expressing at least some reluctance to listen to overtures to deal 2018’s starter, Miguel Andujar (3B, NYY), who missed nearly all of 2019 with a shoulder injury.

In 2018, Andujar showed strong contact skills that should provide a solid batting average floor, though his power output may have been a bit over his head (21 xHR).

Though the Yankees are insisting Andujar will continue to work as a third baseman, he has been a bit of an adventure defensively, and speculation is rampant that Andujar could begin to work with an eye towards moving across the diamond to first base.

That would put a crimp in what otherwise seems to be an unimpeded path to playing time for Luke Voit (1B, NYY), now that the logjam in the Yankees’ infield has been cleared with the departure of Didi Gregorius (SS, PHI) and expected departure of Edwin Encarnacion (1B, FA).

Whether Voit’s lackluster contact rate will allow him to retain his newfound job security remains to be seen. In addition to Andujar, Mike Ford (1B, NYY) showed enough, particularly in the second half, to be a worthy challenger should Voit stumble.

 

Baltimore Orioles

There’s been more subtraction than addition thus far for Baltimore this offseason, with Jonathan Villar (SS, MIA) placed on waivers and ultimately traded to Miami, and Dylan Bundy (RHP, LAA) shipped to the Angels.

While there is plenty of time for the Orioles to add to their roster before the start of the season, at a minimum, the departures may set the stage for some spring competition, though how much interest fantasy owners should have in any of the contenders remains to be seen.

Nowhere is that more clear than in the middle infield. Press reports indicate that Baltimore intends to add at least one more veteran to the mix before the season starts, but for now, Richie Martin (SS, BAL) is at the top of the depth chart at shortstop. As noted in the Baseball Forecaster, Martin weak Eye and HctX combo was unmatched among hitters who received as much playing time as he did in 2019. 

While the former Rule 5 pick would otherwise be a candidate for demotion, for the moment Martin tops the depth chart and would be on pace to meet or exceed his 309 plate appearances.

That’s because his main competition for the moment is Pat Valaika (2B, BAL), he of the career .256 on-base percentage and 57% contact rate last season.

Look for another body to be added to this mix, as the Orioles understandably want 24-year-old prospect Mason McCoy (SS, BAL) to get more minor league experience. McCoy parlayed a hot start at High-A Frederick into a promotion to AA-Bowie, where he posed a .669 OPS in 105 games.

The Orioles have a similar void behind John Means (LHP, BAL), Alex Cobb (RHP, BAL) and Asher Wojciechowski (RHP, BAL) in the rotation but may have picked up a couple of contenders for those spots in the Rule 5 draft.

Brandon Bailey (RHP, BAL) posted a 3.30 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 103/41 K/BB in 92.2 IP innings at AA-Corpus Christi in the Astros organization. Given those numbers, he may be a slightly better bet to emerge than Michael Rucker (RHP, BAL), who pitched all but four of his 79.2 innings at AA-Tennessee, amassing a 4.18 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 93/25 K/BB.

Other candidates include Keegan Akin (LHP, BAL) and Dean Kremer (RHP, BAL), each of whom Baltimore shielded from the Rule 5 draft. 

The 24-year-old Akin posted a 4.73 ERA and 1.52 WHIP with a 131/61 K/BB over 112.1 IP at AAA-Norfolk in 2019, while Kremer excelled in 15 starts at AA-Norfolk (2.98 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 87/29 K/BB in 84.2 IP) but got “kremed” in four Triple-A starts (19 ER in 19.1 IP, albeit with a 21/4 K/BB).
 

Boston Red Sox

As Matt Dodge explained in Playing Time Today, it is not yet clear what role the Red Sox have in mind for Jose Peraza (2B, BOS), but it could have an impact on another position Boston has yet to address by trade or free agency: first base.

If Peraza is going to be more of a super-utility player, like the player he essentially replaced on the Boston roster, Brock Holt (FA, BOS), Michael Chavis (2B, BOS) could log more of his time at the keystone this season after essentially splitting his time between first and second base last year.

But if Peraza is going to start at second, it could free Chavis up to be the team’s primary first baseman… or not. As noted in the Baseball Forecaster, Chavis contact struggles and lack of hard contact are profound enough problems that starting the year in Triple-A cannot be ruled out.

If not Chavis at first, then who?

A free agent or trade acquisition could certainly be the answer, but the in-house possibilities are led by Bobby Dalbec (3B, BOS), who hit 27 HR in 135 games split between Double-A and Triple-A in 2019. His combined slash line was .239/.356/.460, which was built with the help of a strong 13% walk rate.

Another candidate is Josh Ockimey (1B, BOS), who can hit home runs in bunches and also can talk a walk (18% bb%) but who finished a full season at AAA-Pawtucket with a .204/.353/.459 line and 25 HR in 377 AB.

Sam Travis (1B, BOS) is still around as well, but he has yet to show much in his first 278 plate appearances in the majors. Time may be running out for Travis to fend off more intriguing younger options, if it hasn’t already. 

 

Tampa Bay Rays

Might the organization that pioneered the use of the “opener” abandon the strategy in 2020?

Manager Kevin Cash said he is not ruling out that possibility, which is a tribute to the strong work of Yonny Chirinos (RHP, TAM) and Ryan Yarbrough (LHP, TAM), who each made a fair number of starts in 2019 while also coming in behind openers frequently as well.

As noted in the Baseball Forecaster, Chirinos’ control prowess is likely to continue to make him a relatively safe proposition, though there may not be a ton of strikeout upside to chase.

There may be slightly more intrigue with Yarbrough, who was used as traditional starter over the final two months of 2019, though these are fairly similar skills profiles, down to SwK and ground ball rate.

If Chirinos and Yarbrough are used as traditional starters, it could help both establish new career bests in innings pitched and perhaps add a win or two to their totals as well.

Also hanging around as a potential “next man up” in the Tampa rotation is Brendan McKay (LHP, TAM), though it sounds like the Rays want McKay to at least start the season in the minors in an effort to get the potential two-way player’s bat going.

McKay was dominant on the mound in the high minors but struggled mightily at the plate at AA-Montgomery before posting an .839 OPS in 78 PA at AAA-Durham.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

In addition to clarifying the Blue Jays’ situation at first base, the signing of Travis Shaw (1B, TOR) could also help define how Toronto views its outfield, at least heading into Spring Training.

While Shaw’s signing was not great news for Rowdy Tellez (DH, TOR), Tellez could also be in the lead to open the season as the team’s designated hitter. 

As noted in the Baseball Forecaster, Tellez returned to the majors late in the second half and demonstrated newfound patience, and he also launched 6 HR in September.

Tellez assuming the DH role would free up Teoscar Hernandez (OF, TOR) to play center field, which seems to be Plan A at the moment. That may not be ideal defensively, but Hernandez showed enough in the second half of 2019 that the Blue Jays figured to want to find a spot in their lineup for Hernandez one way or the other, though given his continued contact struggles, Hernandez could be one prolonged funk from finding the bench.

Strikeout issues and all, Hernandez is at least more intriguing than the player he is bumping from the lineup, Derek Fisher (OF, TOR), who has all of Hernandez’s contract challenges but not nearly as much power and maybe a little more speed. 

Toronto has other center field options as well, which general manager Ross Atkins said could include giving Cavan Biggio (2B, TOR) a look at the position, which could free up some second base at-bats for Brandon Drury (3B, TOR), among others. But it sounds for now like Hernandez will get the first shot.

 


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