Archive for Rays

MLB Scores a Partial Victory in Minor League Wage Lawsuits

Eight Major League Baseball teams won an initial victory on Wednesday in two federal lawsuits contesting MLB’s minor league pay practices under the minimum wage and overtime laws. At the same time, however, the judge denied the league a potentially more sweeping victory in the cases.

The two lawsuits were filed in California last year by former minor league players who allege that they received as little as $3,300 per year, without overtime, despite routinely being required to work 50 or more hours per week during the playing season (in addition to mandatory off-season training). MLB and its thirty teams responded to the suit by challenging the plaintiffs’ claims on a variety of grounds. Wednesday’s decision considered two of these defenses in particular.

First, 11 of the MLB franchises argued that they were not subject to the California court’s jurisdiction and therefore must be dismissed from the lawsuit. Second, all 30 MLB teams argued that the case should be transferred from California to a federal court in Florida, which they argued would be a more convenient location for the trial.  In its decision on Wednesday, the court granted MLB a partial victory, agreeing to dismiss eight of the MLB defendant franchises from the suit due to a lack of personal jurisdiction, but refusing to transfer the case to Florida. Read the rest of this entry »

A Far-Too-Early 2015 MLB Mock Draft

I wrote yesterday about the uncertainty surrounding the #1 overall pick, but that doesn’t keep scouts from trying to figure out who will go in the subsequent picks. It’s way too early to have any real idea what’s going to happen beyond the top 10-15 picks, but the buzz is growing in the scouting community about how things will play out and you people are sustained by lists, predictions and mock drafts. You’re welcome.

I’d bet it’s more telling on draft day to make judgments using the buzz and all the names I mention, rather than the one name I project to be picked, but you guys already don’t read the introduction, so I’ll shut up. For reports, video and more on these players, check out my latest 2015 MLB Draft rankings, or, if your team doesn’t pick high this year, look ahead with my 2016 & 2017 MLB Draft rankings.

UPDATE 5/11/15: Notes from this weekend’s college games: Dillon Tate was solid in front of GM’s from Arizona, Houston and Colorado. Dansby Swanson was even better, in front of decision makers from all the top teams, including Houston, who may still be debating whether they’d take Swanson or Rodgers if given the choice (Rodgers’ season is over). Carson Fulmer did what he usually does and probably has a home from picks 7-17 depending on how things fall on draft day, with an evaluation similar to Marcus Stroman and Sonny Gray as previous undersized righties with stellar track records and plus stuff.

Andrew Benintendi went nuts at the plate again (I’ll see him and Fulmer this weekend). And, finally, Jon Harris was excellent, rebounding from a not-so-great start, so, at this point, I would make Harris the 9th pick to the Cubs and slide Trenton Clark down a few picks, but still comfortably in the top 20. I also updated the 2016 MLB Draft Rankings as a few top prospects came off the DL and impressed, further strengthening the top of that draft, which is far and away better than this year’s draft.

1. Diamondbacks – Dansby Swanson, SS, Vanderbilt
I wrote about this more in depth yesterday, where I wrote it’s down to CF Garrett Whitley, C Tyler Stephenson and CF Daz Cameron with some chance RHP Dillon Tate is still in the mix and SS Dansby Swanson possibly involved. After writing that, I heard that Arizona is definitely considering those prep players, but teams don’t think they’ll pull the trigger on a way-below-slot prep option and they are leaning college, with Tate and Swanson the targets and SS Alex Bregman also getting some consideration as a long shot.

I’ve heard Arizona wants a hitter here and GM Dave Stewart was in to see Vanderbilt last night. I had heard they were laying in the weeds on Swanson, so, for now, I’ll go with Swanson here. To be clear, Arizona hasn’t made any decisions yet, so this group could still grow or they could change course. One scouting director told me yesterday when asked what he thought Arizona would do that “it sounds like they are going to do something crazy.” Until a few hours before this published, I had Arizona taking Whitley, so this is still very much in flux. There’s also some thought that Tate or Swanson were the targets all along and the rumors of cut-rate high school options have just been a ploy to get the price down–you can pick your own theory at this point.

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Wil Myers is Finally Healthy

“The biggest thing is that I’m finally healthy,” said Wil Myers before a game with the Giants. After breaking his wrist in the fourth game of the year in 2014, and then following that up with another broken wrist (the other one) about six weeks later, Myers is happy to have his health. Those broken wrists did a number on his game.

After the first wrist broke, Myers played through it. “I still have a bone that sticks out,” Myers said as he points to a protrusion. “And any time I turned this wrist over, this tendon right here was very painful.” Even that first half of last year, before the second injury, Myers had below-average power (.126 Isolated Slugging, .145 is average).

It was worse when he came back from the second broken wrist after 81 days away. “I just didn’t have it,” Myers said as he shook his head. “This forearm looked like a baby’s forearm, I had no muscle.” That’s when his performance really tanked, as his .055 ISO and overall offense that was 50% worse than league average can attest.

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Richard Shaffer and Detecting Improvement

Last week, I wrote a piece looking at minor league players who saw stark decreases in the number of pitches they saw inside the strike zone. My analysis was inspired by recent research by Rob Arthur that suggested drops in Zone% can be early predictors of a breakout. Essentially, Arthur found that hitters who saw fewer pitches down the heart of the plate late in the year often outperformed their projections the following season. By his theory, a pitcher knows a good hitter when he sees one, and chooses to approach him with caution. So when pitchers change their approach, it’s often because the hitter’s gotten more talented.

One of the hitters who jumped to the top of my list was Richard Shaffer, a third baseman in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. Shaffer spent the entire 2014 season in Double-A Montgomery, where he hit an uninspiring .222/.318/.440. Although he hit for a good amount of power last year, the rest of his game left a lot to be desires. KATOH wasn’t thrilled with this lack-luster season — especially his elevated strikeout rate– and gave him just a 50% chance of even reaching the major leagues. Here’s a look at my system’s full break-down of Shaffer’s odds.

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Assessing Kevin Kiermaier’s Potential

If someone asked you to guess which right fielder provided the most value on the defensive side of the ball last year, the only logical answer is Jason Heyward. Heyward was so far above his compatriots that you almost wonder if he was simply not supposed to be a right fielder and that Fredi Gonzalez’s lineup card handwriting was somehow confusing the players and sending them to the wrong positions.

Heyward posted 32 defensive runs saved and a 24.1 ultimate zone rating in 1317 innings in right field. No one else was even in the ballgame, but if you had to guess who was second, it might be a little more difficult. Enter Kevin Kiermaier. Kiermaier’s 14 DRS and 16 UZR in right field landed him at second on a list of right fielders sorted by DEF, which is UZR and the positional adjustment.

DEF is a cumulative statistic, meaning more opportunities can lead to higher numbers. Heyward’s DEF was 17.3 and Kiermaier’s was 13.3, but Kiermaier played just 526.1 innings in right field last year. If you convert those marks to a rate statistic, say UZR/150, then Kiermaier rockets up to an insane 56.6 UZR/150 while Heyward settles just above 20. By the numbers, Kiermaier was the most dazzling defender we saw in right field last year.

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Division Preview: AL East

And now the final division preview, just in time for Opening Day. If you missed them, here are the first five:

NL West
AL West
NL Central
AL Central
NL East

Now, wrapping things up with the AL East.

The Projected Standings

Team Wins Losses Division Wild Card World Series
Red Sox 87 75 45% 18% 8%
Blue Jays 83 79 19% 17% 3%
Yankees 83 79 19% 16% 3%
Rays 80 82 11% 12% 2%
Orioles 79 83 7% 9% 1%

The only division in baseball where all five teams have a legitimate shot at winning; the projected spread between first and last place in the AL East is smaller than the gap between first and second place in the NL East. The forecasts have a favorite, but this division is wide open, and nearly any order of finish could be reasonable. On to the teams themselves.

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He’s Not the Same Pitcher Any More

We’re in that awkward time between the true offseason, when most deals are made, and the spring, when all the Best Shape of His Life news stars flowing in. Let’s call it Projection Season, because we’re all stuck ogling prospect lists while perusing the projected numbers for the major league squads.

One of the most frustrating things about projection season can be the fact that most projection systems remain agnostic about change. Many of the adjustments the players talk about in season don’t take, or take for a while and then require further adjustment to remain relevant. So projections ignore most of it and assume the player will continue to be about the same as he’s always been until certain statistical thresholds are met and the change is believable from a numbers standpoint.

But projections do worse when it comes to projecting pitching than hitting, so there’s something that pitchers do that’s different than the many adjustments a hitter will make to his mechanics or approach over the course of a season. The submission here is that pitchers change their arsenals sometimes, and that a big change in arsenal radically changes who that player is.

Look at Greg Maddux pitching for Peoria in 1985. He’s not the Greg Maddux we know and love. Watch him throw fourseamers and curveballs. It was enough to get through the minor leagues, but, at that point, he’s barely throwing the two pitches that made him a Hall of Famer eventually.

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The FanGraphs Top 200 Prospect List

Yesterday, we gave you a little bit of a tease, giving you a glimpse into the making of FanGraphs Top 200 Prospect List. This morning, however, we present the list in its entirety, including scouting grades and reports for every prospect rated as a 50 Future Value player currently in the minor leagues. As discussed in the linked introduction, some notable international players were not included on the list, but their respective statuses were discussed in yesterday’s post. If you haven’t read any of the prior prospect pieces here on the site, I’d highly encourage you to read the introduction, which explains all of the terms and grades used below.

Additionally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you towards our YouTube channel, which currently holds over 600 prospect videos, including all of the names near the top of this list. Players’ individual videos are linked in the profiles below as well.

And lastly, before we get to the list, one final reminder that a player’s placement in a specific order is less important than his placement within a Future Value tier. Numerical rankings can give a false impression of separation between players who are actually quite similar, and you shouldn’t get too worked up over the precise placement of players within each tier. The ranking provides some additional information, but players in each grouping should be seen as more or less equivalent prospects.

If you have any questions about the list, I’ll be chatting today at noon here on the site (EDIT: here’s the chat transcript), and you can find me on Twitter at @kileymcd.

Alright, that’s enough stalling. Let’s get to this.

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Everything You Need to Know About Yoan Moncada

As I reported on twitter moments ago, MLB sent a memo to clubs detailing the new process for Cuban players to go from leaving the country to signing with an MLB team. The short version is that super prospect Yoan Moncada is eligible to sign now, after a maddening long delay.

For those new to this topic or if you just want a refresher, here’s a recap of my coverage of this Moncada saga from the start:

October 3, 2014: Moncada is confirmed out of Cuba, but no one knows where he is.  We assume his whereabouts will become clear soon as he’s the most hyped prospect to leave the island in years. Here I first quote the common “teenage Puig that can play the infield and switch hit” comp and break down all the implications about who can sign him, who is likely to pony up the big bucks, game theory implications and more.

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The Rays’ Kind of Fastball

A couple weeks ago, the Rays signed Everett Teaford to a minor-league contract. Even if you noticed it, you forgot it, because people tend to forget all these minor-league acquisitions, and if you remember Teaford for anything, it’s not for being good. After being not good for the Royals, Teaford spent last year in Korea, where he had a league-average ERA. I don’t know if he changed something; I don’t know if the Rays saw something. But I know I can look at Teaford’s PITCHf/x page on Brooks Baseball, and he’s flashed something of a live heater. The vertical-movement column shows a pitch’s movement relative to a pitch thrown with no spin. The league-average four-seamer comes in just shy of 9 inches. Teaford’s been a little north of 10. That’s where you start talking about rise.

And when you talk about rising fastballs, you’re talking about something of great interest to Tampa Bay. They don’t actually rise, of course — they just don’t sink as much as normal fastballs. And while Teaford might not throw a single pitch for the Rays in the regular season, his fastball, at least, looks like it could fit in. The Rays have something going on, and while they’re not the only team with the idea, they seem like the most aggressive in the implementation.

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New Allegations of MLB Bias in MASN Dispute

The MASN dispute between the Orioles and Nationals continues to wage on in New York state court. As a review, the fight involves an arbitration decision issued last year by MLB’s Revenue Sharing Definitions Committee (the “RSDC”), awarding the Nationals roughly $60 million dollars per year in broadcast rights fees from the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. This award was nearly $30 million more per year than the team had previously been receiving, but far less than the roughly $120 million it had requested.

The Orioles, who own a majority share of the MASN network, have contested the arbitration outcome, contending that the arbitrators – the owners of the New York Mets, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Tampa Bay Rays – were biased in favor of the Nationals. MASN and the Orioles filed suit back in August, asking the court to overturn the arbitration decision. Last month, the court ordered MLB to produce documents in the case relating to commissioner-elect Rob Manfred’s involvement in the arbitration proceedings.

This week both MASN and the Orioles filed new papers with the court, further describing the alleged bias of MLB and its arbitrators.

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A’s Complete Roster Overhaul, Add Ben Zobrist

The White Sox have had an incredibly busy offseason, but the goal’s always been clear. The Padres, too, have had a busy offseason, striving for an obvious purpose. Right before the Padres took the industry by storm, it was the Dodgers who were making moves every half hour, toward, again, a clear goal of contention. The A’s have had their own busy offseason, but theirs had been more confusing. Giving three guaranteed years to Billy Butler seemed like a move for a team trying to win. Dealing away a long-term asset like Josh Donaldson seemed like the opposite. To Oakland’s credit, though, they stuck to their own message — they weren’t trying to rebuild. They don’t believe in rebuilds. And now we can see how things all come together.

When the Rays signed Asdrubal Cabrera, after having acquired Nick Franklin last summer, they were provided the flexibility to move Ben Zobrist in advance of his contract year. Zobrist, of course, appealed to just about every team in baseball, on account of his talent and flexibility. Now Zobrist has been moved, and he’s been moved to the A’s, along with Yunel Escobar, in exchange for John Jaso, Daniel Robertson, and Boog Powell. The trade’s interesting from the Tampa Bay side, just because it involves moving one of the best players on the team. And the trade’s interesting from the Oakland side, because it adds a great player at little short-term cost. Score yet another point for those who issue reminders that you shouldn’t judge offseasons until they’re complete.

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The Point of Asdrubal Cabrera

Asdrubal Cabrera‘s signing with the Rays. There was thought the free-agent middle infielder would get multiple years, given the number of teams looking for a shortstop or a second baseman, but by the reports, Cabrera is signing for one year and something in the vicinity of $8 million. Call it the A.J. Burnett contract, if you’d like. Cabrera’s an unexciting player, signing for unexciting terms.

Whenever you think about a fresh transaction, there’s a desire to find and identify that certain hidden something. That one thing about a given player that made him so appealing to his new team. I don’t think there’s a certain hidden something about Asdrubal Cabrera. He’s a fairly established entity: he’s a relatively poor defensive shortstop who used to be a better player than he is. He can play short but he fits better at second, and his overall offense is close enough to being average you can get away with calling it average. What do you have when you have an average hitter who’s roughly an average overall defender? That’s an average player. Cabrera’s close to that, and maybe a little bit worse.

This isn’t a franchise player, the Rays are signing. This isn’t a player many will remember as having been a Ray five or ten years down the line. This is just one of those small, fine deals every team has to make, and the most interesting thing about it is what it means for other players. The Rays are signing Asdrubal Cabrera, which means more and more people are talking about Ben Zobrist.

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How Many Runs Won’t Wil Myers Save in Center Field?

According to Dennis Lin of the U-T San Diego, the San Diego Padres — despite rumors to the contrary — aren’t interested in flipping the recently acquired Wil Myers to the Phillies in exchange for Philadelphia left-hander Cole Hamels.

Writes Lin:

Indications from sources within the organization… are that the Padres intend on playing all three of their newest outfielders, including Myers. The early plan is for the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year to start in center field, flanked by fellow power-hitting right-handers Justin Upton and Matt Kemp.

The bold is mine and the bold is of some interest insofar as center field, with the exception of 51 innings in 2013, isn’t a position at which Wil Myers has spent much time as a major leaguer. He played it to a greater extent in the minors, making about two-thirds as many starts there as he did in right field while still a member of the Royals organization. But one also notes that minor-league defensive assignment aren’t necessarily excellent indicators of future major-league defensive prowess. Miguel Cabrera, for example — on something more intimate than just nodding terms with inertia even as a 20-year-old rookie — nevertheless made more minor-league starts at shortstop than any other position. Michael Morse made 95% of his nearly 500 minor-league starts at shortstop leading up to his 2005 major-league debut. His physique now isn’t identical to his physique then, but he’s still the same human — and that human wasn’t a good shortstop in 2005.

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The International Bonus Pools Don’t Matter

International baseball has been in the news often lately with the ongoing saga of Yoan Moncada (he’s in America now), the signing of Yasmany Tomas and yesterday’s news that Cuba-U.S. relations could be getting much better.  In recent news, at the yearly international scouting directors’ meeting at the Winter Meetings last week, sources tell me there was no talk about the recent controversial rule change and no talk about an international draft, as expected.

So much has been happening lately that you may have temporarily forgotten about last summer, when the Yankees obliterated the international amateur spending record (and recently added another prospect). If the early rumors and innuendo are any indication, the rest of baseball isn’t going to let the Yankees have the last word.

I already mentioned the Cubs as one of multiple teams expected to spend well past their bonus pool starting on July 2nd, 2015.  I had heard rumors of other clubs planning to get in the act when I wrote that, but the group keeps growing with each call I make, so I decided to survey the industry and see where we stand.  After surveying about a dozen international sources, here are the dozen clubs that scouts either are sure, pretty sure or at least very suspicious will be spending past their bonus pool, ranked in order of likelihood:

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Burch Smith and the Problem of Holding Velocity

Right-hander Burch Smith has been traded from San Diego to Tampa Bay. “Will he start or not?” is a question a person might reasonably ask about that. What follows is an attempt to answer the question — in part, if not in whole.

At some point during during April or May of 2013, after the latter had produced some conspicuously excellent numbers with Double-A San Antonio, the present author developed a fascination with then-Padres right-hander Burch Smith — including that pitcher, for example, in multiple editions of the Fringe Five.

When Smith was finally promoted to the Padres, it was not unlike Christmas on May 11th. And even after Smith conceded six runs over a single inning in his debut, I remained curiously enamored of him.

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The Biggest Remaining Lineup Needs

The Winter Meetings revelry has passed. We’re still waiting on a few big trades to finally ‘consummate,’ but the list of free agents is less attractive by day. Before you turn down a chance at glory with the guys left waiting for a team, it’s probably a good idea to look at how badly you need them. This is not dating advice, but it sort of feels like it.

To that end, I’ve taking our depth charts and calculated a quick stat for ‘neediness.’ By averaging team WAR over 13 roster spots — the portion of the 25-man roster usually used for offense — and then looking at the difference between that average WAR and each position WAR, I’ve found a way to show where the biggest remaining lineup holes are.

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Of Course Steven Souza Is Going to the Rays

Generally speaking, in such cases as a prospect — or any player, really — possesses a combination of power and speed, said player is regarded with some interest by what is referred to broadly as the “scouting community.” While sabermetricians have (in the past, at least) cultivated a reasonable suspicion about such players — or, at least the level of enthusiasm exhibited on their behalfs — it’s also true that those players who’ve both (a) demonstrated power and speed have also generally (b) developed into above-average major leaguers.

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The Top-Five Rays Prospects by Projected WAR

Earlier today, Kiley McDaniel published his consummately researched and demonstrably authoritative prospect list for the Tampa Bay Rays. What follows is a different exercise than that, one much smaller in scope and designed to identify not Tampa Bay’s top overall prospects but rather the rookie-eligible players in the Rays system who are most ready to produce wins at the major-league level in 2015 (regardless of whether they’re likely to receive the opportunity to do so). No attempt has been made, in other words, to account for future value.

Below are the top-five prospects in the Rays system by projected WAR. To assemble this brief list, what I’ve done is to locate the Steamer 600 projections for all the prospects to whom McDaniel assessed a Future Value grade of 40 or greater. Hitters’ numbers are normalized to 550 plate appearances; starting pitchers’, to 150 innings — i.e. the playing-time thresholds at which a league-average player would produce a 2.0 WAR. Catcher projections are prorated to 415 plate appearances to account for their reduced playing time.

Note that, in many cases, defensive value has been calculated entirely by positional adjustment based on the relevant player’s minor-league defensive starts — which is to say, there has been no attempt to account for the runs a player is likely to save in the field. As a result, players with an impressive offensive profile relative to their position are sometimes perhaps overvalued — that is, in such cases where their actual defensive skills are sub-par.

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Evaluating the Prospects: Tampa Bay Rays

Evaluating the Prospects: RangersRockiesDiamondbacksTwinsAstrosRed SoxCubsWhite SoxRedsPhillies & Rays

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

The common narrative about the Rays system is that 1) it’s down from past years and 2) this is because they can’t pick good players unless they pick in the top 10.  Over the 19 years of the franchise, here’s the 7 productive big leaguers over 9 tries they’ve picked from the top 6 overall slots: David Price, Evan Longoria, Josh Hamilton, Rocco Baldelli, B.J. Upton, Jeff Niemann and Delmon Young.

In 21 first round/sandwich picks outside of the top 6 slots, they’ve produced no big leaguers of consequence and the top current prospects of the group are Justin O’Conner (#2) and Blake Snell (#5) on the list below.  There’s obviously something to these critiques, but it’s important to keep in mind that the return from draft picks is exponential: the top few picks are supposed to produce far more value than late first round picks.

Due to all the extra high-round picks and farm-stocking trades, along with an increasingly prominent international program, the Rays system is as deep as almost any other.  Because the high bonus players haven’t worked out for Tampa Bay at even a league average rate, the top of the system is much weaker than others and their #1 prospect was acquired in a recent trade, along with #4 and #8.  There’s enough young, high-upside talent for this high-end shortage to change by this time next year, but it’s impossible to forecast something like that happening.

It’s also worth noting that 8 of the 31 prospects ranked here were acquired via trade; the Rays system has to be deep given the way the organization approaches roster building.  If the system was run like a big market team perennially in the playoffs (think Detroit), where prospects are traded once they have trade value to prop up the big league team, the Rays farm system could pretty easily be the worst in baseball due to their struggles in the draft.

Two things to monitor in the system is the catching depth (which took a hit when Arizona took Oscar Hernandez #1 overall in the Rule 5 Draft last week) and the glut of infielders with prospect value that fit best in Triple-A Durham. Behind Ryan Hanigan and Curt Casali at the big league level, the Rays’ primary catchers starting in Triple-A and moving down the chain should be Luke Maile, Justin O’Conner, Hernandez (who most expect to be returned by Arizona), Nick Ciuffo, David Rodriguez and Rafelin Lorenzo, all of whom are mentioned below as prospects, which is very rare.

In the Durham glut, the Rays have SS, Hak-Ju Lee, SS Jake Hager, SS Tim Beckham, 2B/SS Nick Franklin, 2B Ryan Brett and 3B/1B Richie Shaffer, all with varying levels of prospect value.  There’s hope that one or two of these guys could play their way onto the 25-man MLB roster, but the organization is aware that, barring injuries, some players may have to play out of position or at a lower level than expected to make things work.

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