PT TOMORROW: AL WEST—Under the radar

Texas Rangers

A month into 2021 and just two weeks into his most recent MLB stint, the performance-to-date of Adolis García (OF, TEX) is the one nobody (including us) saw coming this spring—for good reason. Over his minor league career through 1,411 plate appearances, García showed plus power (69 HR), but it was paired with a 72% ct% and a bb% a tick under 5%. He'd gone 2-for-23 in brief call-ups with STL and TEX with a 1/11 BB/K, and had been DFA'd by both clubs. The Rangers were committed to an outfield foursome of Joey Gallo, Leody Taveras (OF, TEX), David Dahl, and Willie Calhoun—and also had to figure out what to do with newly-acquired Khris Davis (DH/OF) and 1B/DH Ronald Guzmán. Projecting a 28-year right-handed-hitting all-or-nothing slugger profile for any kind of meaningful playing time never occurred to us.

Flash forward to four injuries (Davis, Calhoun, Dahl, Guzmán) and a Leody Taveras demotion, and suddenly García has plenty of PT projection. His fast start—.250/.288/.571 line with 5 HR through 56 AB—a plus arm and the ability to share CF with Eli White has him in the lineup either there or in LF every day. García's power is legit (174/131 PX/XPX), but a 36% HR/F is certainly due for some regression, and he'll have to do better than a 38% FB% to come even close to this pace. Take away the HR, and García's warts—66% ct%, 5% bb%—still seem glaring.

But the real question here is relative to what, in terms of the Rangers' other options. Taveras was a powerless 4-for-46 (.087 BS) with 23 Ks (50% ct%) at the time of his demotion, and is due for some significant time in Triple-A, the stop that he leapfrogged in his 2020 jump to Arlington. The 33-year-old Davis (quad strain) has yet to play a game for his new club, and has played just eight games in the outfield since 2017, due to both woeful glove and his propensity for injury. OFs Dahl and White are hitting just .205 and .159, respectively, through Wednesday, April 28. In the meantime, García is second on the team in HR and third in RBI... on a team that has struggled to score runs prior to his arrival just two weeks ago. Particularly in a year where MLB BAs are plummeting and strikeouts are rising, García's plate skills may not be as big a problem as once thought. As the saying goes, "in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king"...


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Seattle Mariners

Hitting slumps have been par for the course early in 2021, but few have disappointed their fantasy managers more than Dylan Moore (2B/OF, SEA). A utility player during his first two partial MLB seasons, Moore earned the lion's share of the 2021 second base AB with an impressive power/speed combination (17 HR, 23 SB) over his first 384 MLB AB. His ct% and BA have always been suspect, but Moore bumped both up to 69% and .255 respectively in 2020, hinting at good things for 2021. But aside from a plus running game (4/0 SB/CS) to date, everything else has fallen apart for Moore, who was just 7-for-63 with a single HR year-to-date, and 1-for-his-last-24 through Tuesday, April 28. Still a small sample, but Moore's contact skills to date (60% ct%, 57 HctX) have yet to show any signs of life—though a 16% h% suggests an uptick of some sort is inevitable.

Red-hot Tyler France (DH/2B/3B, SEA)—.918 OPS through 86 AB—has moved from his most-of-the-time-DH spot to fill in at 2B occasionally for Moore. Infield/outfield utility Sam Haggerty (OF, SEA) has also won both LF and 2B AB at Moore's expense, and his 10-for-40, 2 HR, 3 SB performance to date has been better than expected. Haggerty's plus defense/versatility and running game—he's now 7/0 SB/CS over 94 career MLB AB; 113/26 in the minors—have always been his calling card. The hit tool has always been suspect, and though the switch-hitting Haggerty has begun to hint at a touch more pop than he showed in the minors, he seems unlikely to see extended playing time for too long. Still, Moore's struggles have opened the door and here he is.

After reportedly suffering another setback in his recovery from shin surgery, Shed Long (2B, SEA) has been moved to the 60-day IL, suggesting that he won't be a 2B factor anytime soon. The recent waivers acquisition of infield utility Jack Mayfield (SS/3B, SEA) may become part of the mix at some point, despite his career .165 BA through 109 MLB AB. But with Kyle Lewis now back from the IL and a Jarred Kelenic promotion seemingly on tap for May, the primary battleground for SEA AB has shifted to second base. To be continued. 

 

Oakland Athletics

Stephen Piscotty (OF, OAK) could be on the verge of losing playing time if he can't step things up. The right-handed-hitting Piscotty is coming off a dismal short season 2020, posting a .629 OPS over 159 AB, with nagging knee and wrist problems suspected as culprits for a career-worst 67% ct% and 85 PX. Piscotty is doing a little better in the early going (.702 OPS through 52 AB), and despite just 2 HR to date, his power metrics (111/147 PX/xPX) are again flashing slightly above average. But Piscotty's plate skills (7% bb%, 67% ct%) remain stagnant and a 95 HctX is currently sitting at a career low. He's now hit just .217 over his last 414 BA vR, and any continuation of such will eventually make Piscotty more of a part-timer, even in a seemingly new era of lower batting averages.  

Enter left-handed hitting rookie Seth Brown (1B/OF), who could extend his most recent MLB opportunity if he keeps hitting. Brown's early performance (.882 OPS, 3 HR through 37 AB) not only exceeds that of Piscotty, but his 10% bb% and 73% ct% rate look healthier as well. All three of his HR and a .265 BA vR makes Brown at least a candidate to take over some strong-side platoon OF AB. Not a sure bet, as suggested by Brown's 73% ct% over 2100+ AB in the minors. But thus far, he's giving Piscotty some competition.

Chad Pinder (2B/OF, OAK) has begun hitting and throwing drills, but hasn't yet started running again following a knee sprain that sent him to the IL in early April. Pinder was 3-for-10 with a HR and coming off a Cactus League performance in which he had shown far more patience than his history and projection suggest. Any kind of improved pitch selection from Pinder could translate into more fly balls and take better advantage of a perennially plus HctX—and put him in line for more OF AB when he returns in May. Watch this space.

 

Houston Astros

A club that entered the week fourth in MLB scoring and sixth in OPS isn't a surprise. Even with zero productive bench depth beyond utility player Aledmys Díaz, a stable and potent starting lineup had always been the organization's primary strength. What wasn't expected has been the early production of Yuli Gurriel (1B, HOU), currently pacing the offense with a 1.031 OPS and 4 HR through 79 AB. The free-swinging Gurriel's contact skills have always been front and center in a short but productive MLB career (.289 BA, .289 xBA, 89% ct%, 126 HctX) over 2050 AB. And he's even enjoyed occasional surges beyond his average power, similar to the current tear that includes 4 HR and 9 xBH (146 HctX) to date in April.

What's different here so far this season for the 37-year-old Gurriel is his patience and pitch selection. Advanced metrics say that Gurriel is chasing fewer pitches outside the strike zone, and it's part of the results to date. Compare Gurriel's current 18% bb%—he currently leads the club with 16 walks—with his career 5% mark, and it's hard to believe that this new trick is for real. We'll bet on some regression from here, both for the patience and early pop.

But now in his contract walk year, some of the early plate approach may be a conscious effort by Gurriel to extend his MLB life, and mitigate his extreme hacker tendencies and reputation prior to 2021. And minus an obvious first base replacement in the organization, HOU may well entertain re-signing Gurriel to a short extension—or perhaps decide to begin grooming current DH Yordan Alvarez (DH, HOU) as his replacement. 2022 may be far down the road, but Gurriel's performance and how the club begins preparing for his eventual departure should be monitored over the rest of the season.

 

Los Angeles Angels

With return of Anthony Rendon and Mike Trout from injury timeouts, the club has elected to keep bat-first Jose Rojas (3B/OF) and Scott Schebler (OF, LAA) on the roster at least for now, despite subpar results in limited playing time to date. After going 1-for-his-first-21 as an MLB rookie, Rojas's recent uptick (6-for-14 with four 2Bs and a walk) may have saved his roster spot, and he'll continue to see AB off the bench at the corner OF and infield spots if he hits. Schebler's handedness, MLB track record (47 HR between 2017-18), and (limited) ability to back up Trout in CF keeps him around.

The subtext to the immediate roster construction is a club with MLB's worst team ERA that needs to win games with a high-powered offense (seventh in MLB scoring, third in OPS through Monday, April 26). And that the club believes Rojas and Schebler are currently the best bench bats in the organization at this particular time. Both at some point would seem to be reasonable lineup insertions vR over Albert Pujols (1B/DH, LAA), currently 8-for-43 vR. But despite an overall .222 BA  through 65 AB, Pujols' 5 HR, 11 RBI and 87% ct% have been enough to keep him in the lineup on most nights.

The other subtext is that the club is sticking to its plan—for now—to make both Jo Adell (OF, LAA) and Brandon Marsh (OF, LAA) prove they can conquer Triple-A pitching before bringing them to Anaheim. Adell looked much improved in 2021 Cactus League play, but his 2020 offensive struggles (.161 BA, 3 HR over 124 AB) and in the field confirmed that he'd been rushed. Marsh is likely already LAA's best OF defender, but his next Triple-A AB will be his first. We still anticipate their MLB calls before the trading deadline, perhaps before mid-season.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.