PT TOMORROW: AL WEST—SEA's outfield makeover

Seattle Mariners

Following Kyle Lewis's knee injury and Jarred Kelenic's demotion, a club with MLB's worst BA and OBP continues to churn its roster in search of offensive help beyond the occasional HR. After laying waste to Triple-A West pitching for three weeks (1.139 OPS over 80 PA) following his demotion, Taylor Trammell (OF, SEA) is back and getting most of the CF time in the wake of the Lewis and Kelenic departures. Trammell departed SEA hitting .157 with a horrendous 50%-ish ct% while flashing bursts of speed and power. This obviously improved at AAA-Tacoma—essentially still a part of the hitter-friendly PCL and still playing with a livelier ball—and Trammell has been better since his SEA return (7-for-25, 2/7 BB/K). But he'll have to keep this or something near this up once Kelenic is ready for a return trip—and issues like this don't disappear overnight.

Since his return to the Mariners on May 31, left-handed-hitting Jake Fraley (OF, SEA) is getting regular AB vR in LF/DH and then some. Most of this is courtesy of an astounding 1.60 Eye that has produced a 34% bb% (yes, that's correct) through 47 PA. Fraley is batting just .233 (67% ct%) in the small sample to date. But he's also chipped in a couple of HR and SB through Tuesday June 8, and a .274 xBA along with surprising power metrics (174/141 PX/xPX), all of which suggest Fraley may be capable of more in other areas. In the meantime, his ability to get on base (.500 OBP) will keep Fraley in the lineup on most nights.

In a rebuilding season, the club is now also auditioning Donovan Walton (2B/OF, SEA) and just recently called up Dillon Thomas (OF, SEA) for some LF AB, both of whom had also been productive in Tacoma. Walton is an infield/OF bench utility type with left-handedness in his favor but little else, posting a .648 OPS through 59 AB to date. Thomas's next MLB AB will be his very first, and like Walton currently owns a bench player profile. One of them will head back for Tacoma very soon once Dylan Moore (2B/OF, SEA) has finished a recently begun Triple-A rehab stint from a strained calf. Apart from an 8/1 SB/CS and 5 HR through 119 AB, Moore is also struggling with a .168 BA (.151 vR). He now has competition in LF from Fraley—perhaps Thomas—and at 2B in newly-activated Shed Long (2B, SEA). And whomever produces from that trio is going to play over the near-term. 


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Oakland Athletics 

Ramon Laureano is now eligible to return from the IL, but a strained right hip has prevented him from continuing baseball-related activities as of yet. Following a cortisone shot this past weekend, Laureano was expected to begin running this week, but he's likely to need a short rehab at some point, which will keep him out of OAK until sometime later in June. In his absence, Tony Kemp (OF/2B, OAK) has heated up offensively and is now winning AB both in LF and at 2B. 

With Mark Canha now patrolling CF in place of Laureano, Kemp is essentially sharing these two positions with fellow utilities Jed Lowrie (2B/DH, OAK and Chad Pinder (2B/OF, OAK) and at least recently has been outhitting both of them. The primary 2B (and occasional DH) until recently, Lowrie has posted a .250 BA and 4 HR through 200 AB, with solid plate skills (11% bb%, 77 ct%), a 117 HctX and a 142 xPX that suggest more. After missing more than a month with a sprained knee, Pinder has struggled for lift-off since his May 15 return. He's just 13-for-62 (.210 BA) with 2 HR through Monday since that date, showing power metrics that suggest more, but a lofty 56% GB% that has historically always been an obstacle. A continuation of these struggles will relegate Pinder to platoon AB vL

Kemp in the meantime is doing what he often does during his intermittent stretches of regular playing time, showing outstanding plate skills and getting on base via walks, and elevated h% and LD%. Despite sub-par power and meh HctX, through Monday Kemp was sitting on a .287/.391/.457 line (3/1 SB/CS). It's a tear that may last another month or two, if his history is any indication—or it could dissipate quickly. Whomever is producing offensively when Laureano returns will get most of the remaining 2B AB; Lowrie's age and the imperfect skills of both Kemp and Pinder all point to a battle for the remainder of 2021. Given the A's limited bat-first middle infield production in the minors; 2B will be a ride-the-hot-hand thing until/unless another acquisition is made.

 

Houston Astros

How the club addresses its mediocre bullpen (4.35 ERA entering Tuesday) and rotation glut is slowly unfolding and be this way all season. This past Sunday vs. a potent TOR lineup, Luis Garcia (RHP, HOU) reminded everyone why the Astros have a tough issue on their hands, tossing 6 IP of  one run, 8/2 K/BB ball in just 79 pitches. This stellar outing gave him a 5-3 record with a 2.75 ERA and 1.00 WHIP through 59 IP for the season, backed up by a 3.6 Cmd, 13.6 SwK, and a rapidly improving cutter. He's had some good fortune in the form of a 25% H%, but this is clearly 24-year-old on a growth trajectory. But Garcia's rotation efforts are likely to be limited over the near-term for several reasons.

For one, the sore shoulder that landed Lance McCullers (RHP, HOU) on the IL (retroactively to May 23) is still described as being minor. Mgr Dusty Baker expects McCullers—owner of a 2.96 ERA through 52 IP as well as a new $85M, five-year extension signed this past March—back in the rotation at some point during "the middle of June". For another, the precocious Garcia has yet to throw more than 108 IP in a season, this total coming in 2019 between A/A+ before his leap to HOU in 2020. The club will need to get this version of Garcia into October to improve their postseason chances, regardless of the role he might assume then. The pending free agencies of Zack Greinke and currently TJS-rehabbing Justin Verlander cement Garcia as a long-term rotation building block in HOU. But his current fantasy managers need to assume some interruption and rotation downtime for the remainder of 2021. Garcia's next start scheduled this weekend vs. MIN may be his last for a while.

Cristian Javier (RHP, HOU)—3.23 ERA through 56 IP to date—has already been pushed to the pen as a result of IL returns of Jake Odorizzi (RHP, HOU), Jose Urquidy, and Framber Valdez. Odorizzi's mixed performance level both historical and current (12 runs allowed in 16 IP to date) suggests that both Javier and Garcia are superior rotation options right now. But similar to McCullers, Odorizzi is in on a recently-signed two-year deal worth $23M. The club will give him every opportunity to straighten out and settle in, while at the same time managing the innings of Garcia and Javier—whose previous professional IP high is 114 IP in 2019. Along with injuries and occasionally needed downtime for all the SPs, Odorizzi looks like a primary reason why Javier and Garcia owners shouldn't completely give up on their guys yet in 2021. 

 

Los Angeles Angels

A lineup missing Mike Trout has recently come alive, averaging almost seven runs a game over the club's first seven contests in June. The contributions have been widespread, including from recent IL returnee Max Stassi (C, LAA), and from resurgent Justin Upton (OF, LAA), who is 8-for-22 with seven walks this month mostly out of the leadoff spot—and now owns 14 HR and an .812 OPS for the season. But surges are also coming from names who weren't on the club on Opening Day and may not be in July when Trout returns.

Well-traveled Phil Gosselin (3B/OF, LAA) has only been with the club since early May. But he's taken over the primary bench utility job on the strength of his defensive versatility and a 41% h% that has fueled a .292 BA (.749 OPS) through 65 AB—notably a .429 BA vL through 28 AB. Similarly Taylor Ward (OF, LAA) has posted a .739 OPS 98 AB since his May promotion, and has recently begun seeing most of the RF AB as his production has ticked up. There's little doubt as to Ward's above-average power (123/120 PX/xPX), but his plate skills (7% bb%, 69% ct%) and pitch selection have kept a lid on that .224 BA. Ward is the more likely of the two to see extended playing over the next month, as the club uses this time to see what they have before the next wave of outfielders arrives.

Which remains an open question. Jo Adell (OF, LAA) continues to lap all Triple-A hitters in the power department with 15 HR through 125 AB to date. But his 6/42 BB/K suggest little plate command, a real problem last year with the Angels when he posted very similar 7/55 BB/K over 124 AB en route to a miserable .478 OPS. June at AAA-Salt Lake has brought a glimmer of hope, in that Adell has whiffed just six times in 27 AB. But he's also yet to walk, which tells us he's still swinging at everything. Now on the minor league IL again with shoulder inflammation, Brandon Marsh (OF, LAA)—11-for-60 with just one HR—isn't even in the conversation yet. Marsh's year-to-date has been defined by physical woes and personal issues, suggesting now in June that he's less likely to be a 2021 factor until very late in the season if at all. Even with the sub-par BA, Ward's production to date (6 HR, 18 HR) and lineup context—particularly once Trout returns—and questionable LAA alternatives keep him in fantasy consideration

 

Texas Rangers

A rebuilding club has now lost 11 of its last 12 games and owns a division-worst 23-38 record through June 8. But amid a slew of March and April bullpen injuries, Ian Kennedy's (RHP, TEX) reemergence as a closer has been a club high point. Kennedy saved 30 games in 2019 for KC, but lost the job the following season in favor of a Mike Matheny committee approach. After struggling through the short 2020 and missing all of September with a calf injury, the 36-year-old Kennedy made his way to Arlington, where he currently owns 12 saves and a 2.53 ERA through 21 IP, supported by a velocity return to 2019 levels and a career-best 14.8 SwK.

But after not allowing a walk until May 5, Kennedy now has 7 BB in his last 7 1/3 IP through this past Monday, during which he's also allowed three runs. That the often HR-prone Kennedy has only given up a couple of HR to date along with an 81% S% suggests a reversal may be coming. Kennedy's age (and now an IL stint for a reportedly mild hamstring issue as this was being written) doesn't inspire confidence that he can hold down this gig exclusively for the balance of the season. And if he can't, who are his logical replacements over the longer haul? 

From a skills perspective, Josh Sborz (RHP, TEX) would be one of them, courtesy of a 32/8 K/BB, 16.1% SwK and 48% GB% through 25 IP, all of which suggest better than a 4.38 ERA (3.22 xERA). Likewise Joely Rodríguez (LHP, TEX) has struggled to align some impressive skills—63% GB%,  5.0 Cmd, 14.9 SwK, 2.90 xERA through 16 IP—with better results. Courtesy of three horrific outings over the past three weeks, Rodríguez is currently sitting on mind-boggling 7.71 ERA with a 2.89 xERA. He's clearly better than this.

Another name moving rapidly up the pecking order is recently promoted Demarcus Evans (RHP, TEX), who has posted a 10/4 K/BB while allowing just two runs in his first 7 IP as a Ranger. Evans has yet to show the top-range velocity of his plus plus moving fastball with the Rangers, and a career 385/153 K/BB (over 250 minor league IP) speak to both his dominance and control issues, the latter of which could show up at any time as he develops. But Evans has been groomed in the minors for a late-inning role, he's now in line, and should be watched.


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