Archive for August, 2018

Contending Brewers Trade for Often Good Pitcher

The National League Wild Card race is nuts. Here’s the currently field of clubs competing for it, through Thursday’s games, with our playoff odds.

National League Wild Card Race
Team W L GB Proj W Proj L ROS W% Win Division Win Wild Card Make Playoffs
Cardinals 75 59 0.5 88.8 73.2 .494 4.1% 63.0% 67.3%
Brewers 75 60 0 88.7 73.3 .508 4.5% 61.8% 66.4%
Rockies 72 61 2 86.2 75.8 .491 14.6% 14.7% 29.4%
Dodgers 72 62 2.5 89.2 72.8 .616 56.4% 17.4% 73.8%
Phillies 71 62 3 86.2 75.8 .525 35.3% 6.2% 41.6%

That’s just nuts! In the American League, the next closest Wild Card team, the Seattle Mariners, is 4.5 games out of a playoff spot. The next closest team behind them is the eight-games-out Rays. The next closest NL team, as you might notice, is significantly closer than that. The NL has eight teams whose odds of making the playoffs are over 25%; the AL, meanwhile, has just five such teams.

And so, with the NL’s relative nuttiness in mind, the Brewers traded this afternoon for left-handed pitcher Gio Gonzalez to bolster a rotation that is still in search of reinforcements after losing Jimmy Nelson to a shoulder injury before the season started and Brent Suter to Tommy John surgery in July. In return, the Nationals will reportedly receive two minor leaguers, though at the time of publication, those players’ identities are still unknown. As such, we’ll evaluate this trade in terms of Gonazalez’s merits for the Brewers and what the trade signals for the Nationals’ late-season tear-down. We should also note that the trade, famously a disruptive event, was remarkably convenient for Gonzalez, who — as a result of the two teams playing one another today — simply had to walk across the field to the Brewers’ dugout.

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Effectively Wild Episode 1264: Schrödinger’s Bunt Attempt

EWFI
Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about Matt Chapman’s misleading error total, Tyler White and “cheap” home runs, Danny Hultzen, Aaron Nola, and the concept of “safe” players, the latest on Shohei Ohtani and Willians Astudillo, Jacob deGrom and the NL MVP race, a conditional trade followup, Magneuris Sierra and the woeful Marlins, Mike Foltynewicz’s spit balk, Michael Lorenzen’s confusing foul ball, the Andrew McCutchen trade to the Yankees and the state of the Giants, belief in Kyle Freeland, a road-trip addendum, and a Yusmeiro Petit quote.

Audio intro: Slothrust, "Trial & Error"
Audio outro: Death Cab for Cutie, "We Looked Like Giants"

Link to Tyler White’s walk-off
Link to video of spit balk
Link to Sam’s article about balks
Link to Jeff’s Lorenzen post
Link to Ben’s Freeland article
Link to Jeff’s Freeland post
Link to Petit article

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Which Pitchers Are Doubling Up to Start an At-Bat?

This is Nate Freiman’s fourth post as part of his August residency. Nate is a former MLB first baseman. He also played for Team Israel in the 2017 World Baseball Classic and spent time in the Atlantic and Mexican Leagues. He can be found on Twitter @natefreiman. His wife Amanda routinely beats him at golf. To read work by earlier residents, click here.

On June 7, 2013, I got the start against Chris Sale in Chicago. Roughly 22,000 people were there to see us beat the White Sox 4-3 on a Josh Donaldson sixth-inning grand slam.

I was on deck when Donaldson homered, and consequently faced a very angry Sale. He started me off with a slider. The pitch appeared to start more or less in the first-base dugout before catching the better part of the outside corner. Then he threw a changeup. I was geared up for 97. I buckled and took a second called strike. I was down 0-2 and still hadn’t seen the fastball. If you’re concerned about catching up to the fastball, the key is to slow down and think, “Be on time.” Hopefully that doesn’t translate to start a little early. That’s when you chase the back-foot slider.

Sale’s next pitch was 97 mph at the top of the zone. It looked even harder because I hadn’t seen the fastball. Strike three swinging. I got soft-soft-harded.

In my last post, I mentioned that at-bats are “path dependent,” meaning that each pitch is going to depend on the previous pitch. It’s nice to know what percentage of fastballs a guy throws. It’s really nice to have it broken down by count. Luckily there’s a really cool graphic for that on Baseball Savant. Here’s what it looks like for Blake Snell:

The chart shows that Snell throws 45.4% fastballs in 0-1 counts. In those counts, sometimes he got ahead with a fastball and sometimes he got ahead with offspeed. Do the pitches that came before it matter? Because soft-soft-hard is merely one example of a three-pitch sequence. I was curious whether MLB pitchers have measurable pitch-sequencing tendencies in other counts, too.

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The Return of Shohei Ohtani, Pitcher

Shohei Ohtani is coming back. Not Ohtani the hitter, who has thrived in his capacity as a designated hitter and pinch-hitter since his return on July 3 from a Grade 2 sprain of his ulnar collateral ligament. No, it’s Ohtani the pitcher, the one who we were afraid we might not see again this year — and maybe not even next year — will start Sunday night’s game against the Astros, announced Angels manager Mike Scioscia on Thursday. It will be the first time the 24-year-old two-way phenom taken the ball in that capacity since June 6.

If you’re not awaiting this start — and the return of this incredible athlete’s filthy stuff — with bated breath, consult your doctor.

Ohtani left his June 6 start — his ninth of the season — against the Royals after just four innings due to a recurrence of a blister. While getting the blister drained, he complained of soreness in his elbow, and a subsequent MRI revealed the sprain. With the Angels optimistic that he could avoid Tommy John surgery, he underwent both platelet-rich plasma and stem-cell injections and was placed on the disabled list. He was cleared to begin taking swings again three days later, returned to action without even going on a rehab assignment, and, despite some ups and downs, has more or less equaled the impact of his early-season work, if not exactly replicating its shape:

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The Best Deadline Trade of the American League

When the New York Yankees grew concerned about their rotation for the rest of the season, they made a pretty big move to get J.A. Happ from the Blue Jays. In Brandon Drury, they traded a young player with success at the major-league level. Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel ranked Drury the fifth-best minor leaguer traded at the deadline. The club also gave up Billy McKinney, who ended up 19th on the same list. It wasn’t an inconsequential deal.

Happ has been everything the team could’ve hoped for. He’s recorded a 3.95 FIP and 2.37 ERA since joining the Yankees. He’s been worthy roughly half a win. He looks like he’ll be an asset for a team that’s bound for some kind of postseason play. He’s also not even the top-performing pitcher his own club acquired at the deadline.

Rather it’s Lance Lynn who has put up the best park-adjusted FIP of any pitcher acquired at the trade deadline — including Cole Hamels — as the following table indicates.

Notable Starter Trade-Deadline Acquisitions
Name Team IP WAR K% BB% ERA- FIP-
Lance Lynn Yankees 31.2 1.2 27.7 % 6.6 % 92 47
Cole Hamels Cubs 39.0 1.4 25.7 % 7.4 % 17 55
Kevin Gausman Braves 32.0 0.8 18.0 % 5.7 % 42 72
J.A. Happ Yankees 24.1 0.6 30.3 % 7.1 % 60 81
Nathan Eovaldi Red Sox 25.0 0.6 13.7 % 3.4 % 114 82
Chris Archer Pirates 22.1 0.2 22.4 % 8.4 % 162 116
Numbers as of August 30.

Cole Hamels has been fantastic, but when you factor in both Yankee Stadium and the American League, he’s produced the better fielding-independent numbers. (With his edge in innings, Hamels’ has recorded a higher WAR.) Nor is it just against trade acquisitions that Lynn fares well. Here are the top pitchers by WAR this month.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 8/31/18

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: And welcome to what is almost a long holiday weekend!

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: Thank you for already mentally checking out from work so that you can participate in this exchange

9:08

Ozzie Ozzie Albies Free: What do you think? Was it a foul ball or a foul bunt?

9:08

Jeff Sullivan: I lean pretty strongly toward foul ball. I do not believe that Lorenzen had intent to bunt that pitch

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If Not Aaron Judge, Then Andrew McCutchen for Yankees

When Aaron Judge went down with a wrist injury at the end of July, the Yankees didn’t appear to be a club in dire straits. While there would be no replacing the American League’s 2017 WAR leader, the team would still be in decent shape, having entered the season with three talented outfielders beyond Judge in Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, and Giancarlo Stanton.

Things haven’t quite worked out as expected, though. Stanton has played mostly designated hitter, while Gardner has struggled offensively. The result: a possible weakness in the lineup where one wasn’t anticipated. With the Yankees’ acquisition of Andrew McCutchen, however — a deal first reported by Buster Olney — the lineup should benefit considerably.

Joel Sherman has reported that two prospects would go back to the Giants if and when the deal is confirmed, including infielder Abiatal Avelino. The 23-year-old reached Double-A in 2016, spent some time in three levels last year, and moved back and forth between the two highest minor-league levels while destroying Double-A pitching and struggling in Triple-A.

Update: Jim Bowden is reporting the other player in the deal Juan De Paula, currently a starter in Low-A, and Jon Heyman reports that the Giants and Yankees are splitting the roughly $2.5 million remaining on McCutchen’s deal. 

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The Particular Skill of Kyle Freeland

As I write this, there are 115 different pitchers this year who have thrown at least 100 innings. Among them, Kyle Freeland ranks tied for seventh in ERA-, at 62. The pitcher with whom he’s even: one Clayton Kershaw. The next pitcher down the list: one Justin Verlander. Now, we’re a site that loves its peripherals, and, indeed, if you sort by, say, FIP-, Freeland doesn’t look quite so good. But he still looks strong. According to a peripheral-based version of WAR, Freeland has been a plus. According to a runs-based version of WAR, Freeland is a viable candidate for the NL Cy Young.

I don’t hesitate to say that Freeland has been overlooked. He doesn’t get the attention of rotation-mate Jon Gray, because Gray throws that sexy power stuff, and he gets those sexy strikeouts. Freeland doesn’t do as much of the basic stuff that analysts look for, so he’s flown for this long under the radar. But if you’ll allow me some freedom here, I’d like to invoke a couple all-timer names. The images might be able to speak for themselves.

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Daily Prospect Notes Finale: Arizona Fall League Roster Edition

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Note from Eric: Hey you, this is the last one of these for the year, as the minor-league regular season comes to a close. Thanks for reading. I’ll be taking some time off next week, charging the batteries for the offseason duties that lie ahead for Kiley and me.

D.J. Peters, CF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Level: Double-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: 7   FV: 45+
Line: 4-for-7, 2 HR, 2B (double header)

Notes
A comparison of DJ Peters’ 2017 season in the Cal League and his 2018 season at Double-A gives us a good idea of what happens to on-paper production when a hitter is facing better pitching and defenses in a more stable offensive environment.

D.J. Peters’ Production
Year AVG OBP SLG K% BB% BABIP wRC+
2017 .276 .372 .514 32.2% 10.9% .385 137
2018 .228 .314 .451 34.0% 8.1% .305 107

Reports of Peters’ physical abilities haven’t changed, nor is his batted-ball profile different in such a way that one would expect a downtick in production. The 2018 line is, I think, a more accurate distillation of Peters’ abilities. He belongs in a talent bucket with swing-and-miss outfielders like Franchy Cordero, Randal Grichuk, Michael A. Taylor, Bradley Zimmer, etc. These are slugging center fielders whose contact skills aren’t particularly great. Players like this are historically volatile from one season to the next but dominant if/when things click. They’re often ~1.5 WAR players who have some years in the three-win range. Sometimes they also turn into George Springer.

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What Christian Yelich Has Changed

You couldn’t blame Eric Hosmer or Christian Yelich if they got sick of hearing about Statcast. Anyone who’s ever played with the basic tools has been able to discover two things: (1) historically, Hosmer and Yelich have hit the ball hard, and (2) historically, Hosmer and Yelich have hit the ball on the ground. It became easy to wonder what might happen if Hosmer and Yelich set their sights on the skies. It just so happened that, last offseason, both of those players changed teams. Might they have also been willing to change their swings? It’s not that it wasn’t interesting. It just started to grow a little tired.

Hosmer hasn’t changed. That much I can tell you. Through five months of baseball, he’s got a below-average batting line and a below-replacement WAR. He has the highest ground-ball rate he’s ever posted. But then, Yelich is currently sitting on a career-high wRC+. He’s sitting on a career-high slugging percentage. He’s also technically sitting on a career-low ground-ball rate.

Don’t get the wrong idea, though. Yelich’s average launch angle hasn’t budged from last season to this one. He remains a ground-ball and line-drive hitter. In part, he’s just benefiting from playing in Milwaukee instead of playing in Miami. And in part, he’s benefiting from another change. It’s not one that has to do with his swing. Rather, it’s one that has to do with his approach.

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What Do You See?

As far as the ordinary rules are concerned, the strikeout on a foul bunt is unusual. Unlike a swing and miss, a foul bunt involves contact, and unlike a foul tip into the glove, a foul bunt isn’t caught. Plus, as players are constantly reminding us these days, bunting is hard, far harder than people think. But baseball is unquestionably better for having this rule in place. Without it, in theory, an at-bat could stretch on forever. In theory, any at-bat could already stretch on forever, but there would be nothing stopping a player from perfecting the skill of the two-strike foul bunt. Plate appearances might go 15, 20, 25, 70 pitches. Or strikeouts would be put off until everyone walked. Without the two-strike foul-bunt rule, baseball could very well collapse. At the very least, it would totally suck to watch.

I know about the two-strike foul-bunt rule. You know about the two-strike foul-bunt rule. It’s one of those rules baseball fans know before they turn 12. The question is, what does a two-strike foul bunt look like? That seems like a weird thing to ask, but after Wednesday’s game between the Brewers and Reds, this is suddenly in the news, and I want to know what all of you think.

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Eric Longenhagen Chat: 8/30/2018

2:00
Eric A Longenhagen: Hey there, let’s chat. Last Daily Prospect Notes of the year will be out later today and I’ll have Fall League roster stuff at some point, too. They’re exciting this year, as always.

2:00
Rosie: who’s the biggest sleeper in the AZL that could become a big spec one day?

2:02
Eric A Longenhagen: Depends on what kind of perspective you have. Reivaj Garcia isn’t a sleeper down here but he might be to you. I’ll say Wilbis Santiago. Old for AZL but really loose, quick hands.

2:03
Joe: Best prospect from this group? Neidert, Palumbo, Duran, Thorpe, Widener, Santillan, and poche

2:03
Eric A Longenhagen: One of those guys is a 50 FV on The Board, the rest are not (yet)

2:03
regular: DeShawn Knowles has comparable slash to Wander (albeit weaker ratios). What kind of upside are we looking at? Shane Victorino a decent comp?

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Learning and Developing a Pitch: Kyle Barraclough, Andrew Miller, and Dan Straily on Their Sliders

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Kyle Barraclough, Andrew Miller, and Dan Straily — on how they learned and/or developed their sliders.

———

Kyle Barraclough, Miami Marlins

“I’ve thrown it since my sophomore year of high school. One day my coach grabbed me and said, ‘Hey, you want to throw a slider?’ He showed me a grip and was like, ‘Throw it like a fastball, and at the very end kind of just focus on staying down through your middle finger.’

“I couldn’t really throw a curveball, to be honest with you. I didn’t know much about pitching at that point — I played multiple sports until my senior year — and it just never came naturally to me. The slider kind of popped up out of nowhere. It was basically, ‘Let the grip do what it’s going to do,’ and that worked for me.

“When I got to college — I don’t know if it was from trying to be too fine with it, or from not being as aggressive through the ball — but it kind of got a little loopier. Then I got to pro ball and it kind of stayed that way.

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Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 8/30/18

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David Wright, the Mets, and the Cost of Goodwill

Update: Less than an hour after this was published, the Mets announced that Wright would join the team for this weekend’s series in San Francisco “to continue his rehab under the watch of our training staff” and adding that he “will remain on the DL [disabled list].” Via the New York Post, “Sources said the Mets most likely would not activate Wright on the current road trip but would be more likely to do so Friday [September 7], when they return home.”

In the latest demonstration of their 80-grade ability to transform good news into bad, the Mets have turned David Wright’s promising rehab assignment into another illustration of the club’s parsimony and clumsy relationship both with players and fans. Even while promoting the 35-year-old third baseman and team captain from their High-A affiliate to their Triple-A one on Tuesday, the team — which has gone 48-73 since April 13, just half a game better than the NL-worst Padres — indicated that it’s unlikely to promote Wright to the major leagues this year, even for a September cameo, because of the insurance implications.

A seven-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glove winner and career .296/.376/.491 hitter, Wright hasn’t played in the majors since May 27, 2016 and has played just 75 big-league games since the start of 2015 due to chronic spinal stenosis (a narrowing of his spinal column) and problems with his right (throwing) shoulder. He has undergone three surgeries since his last MLB appearance, one to alleviate a herniated disc in his neck (June 2016), one to repair his right rotator cuff (September 2017), and one to alleviate pressure on a nerve in his back (October 2017). In August 2017, before the shoulder and back surgeries, he attempted a rehab stint, but it lasted just three games before he was shut down again.

In the wake of that operating table double whammy, Wright wasn’t cleared to resume baseball activity until June, and had to re-learn the mechanics of throwing. His pregame exercises to prepare his neck, back, and shoulder start at 1:30 pm for a night game, and he deals with pain on a daily basis. As The Athletic’s Marc Carig described it in his recent profile of Wright:

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Mike Shildt and the Cardinals’ 180

The Cardinals fired longtime manager Mike Matheny one game before the All-Star break this year, with the team at 47-46 for the season. The organization promoted Mike Shildt to replace Matheny, and the club has gone [27-12] with Shildt in charge, winning their last nine series matchups, including six against teams with winning records. This is how the Cardinals’ playoff odds have changed during Shildt’s brief tenure as manager.

Things didn’t improve immediately. After a collection of games against the Cubs, Reds, and Rockies, St. Louis’s chances of reaching the postseason had actually deteriorated a bit by the end of July. As they entered August, the Cardinals had just a 7% probability of qualifying for the playoffs.

With a 20-6 record in August, however, Cardinals’ odds have improved almost tenfold. Coinciding with that improvement in the standings, the Cardinals took the interim tag off Shildt’s title and extended his contract through 2020. Some considered the timing a bit odd.

Here’s Ken Rosenthal:

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FanGraphs Audio: An Hour of the Lead Prospect Analyst

Episode 832
Eric Longenhagen is the lead prospect analyst for FanGraphs dot com. In this episode, he speaks for a period of time either (a) equivalent to or (b) very much resembling one hour. Topics considered: the 18-year-old right-hander in Cleveland’s system who’s better than any prep pitcher eligible for the 2019 draft, the challenge of evaluating Matt Chapman as a prospect, and why a 20 present-value hit grade for a prep prospect make sense.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 1 hr 4 min play time.)

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Welcome Back, Hector Neris

A little less than four weeks ago, I wrote about Phillies rookie Victor Arano. Originally expected to play only a minimal role (if any role at all) with the club this season, Arano has paired with Seranthony Dominguez to lead a Philadelphia bullpen that has aided the club’s surprising pursuit of a division title. Arano’s opportunity to provide meaningful innings would not have been possible had certain other relievers for the Phillies not fallen by the wayside. Tommy Hunter (0.5 WAR) and Pat Neshek (0.6 WAR) have certainly been serviceable, but they’ve fallen a little short of expectations. As for projected closer Hector Neris, he’s fallen well short of them, putting up a 6.90 ERA, 6.39 FIP, and -0.7 WAR through the end of June before earning a demotion to Triple-A.

Neris was recalled to Philadelphia on August 14th and has looked like an entirely different pitcher since his return. In the smallest of samples, Neris has struck out 16 batters, walked one, and allowed three hits in 26 batters faced. This performance — one of the best two-week stretches by a reliever this season — would have been entirely unexpected given his first half. His return comes at a time when the rest of the Phillies’ bullpen performance has been flagging, and his continued excellence will be a necessity if the team wants to emerge from a crowded Wild Card field.

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Michael Kopech Can’t Stop Throwing Strikes

Many would argue it takes a lifetime to become an adult. According to Dustin Garneau, catcher with Triple-A Charlotte, Michael Kopech did it in a day.

It was on July 5 at home against Durham, when Kopech exited after walking four and allowing four earned runs in three innings. Kopech’s reaction to the home-plate umpire on that night and the situation overall was not a positive one in Garneau’s mind.

“[Kopech] showed a lot of immaturity that game,” said Garneau, who joined the White Sox this weekend from Charlotte with Kevan Smith going on the paternity list. “The ump did squeeze him a lot. That didn’t help.

“But the way [Kopech] reacted to it, I told him that can’t work. After that game, he really learned maturity and now he is pitching.”

On the one hand, I can’t help but laugh at the idea of someone “learning maturity” after having a single conversation. People are a lot more complicated than that; personalities and instincts run a lot deeper than that. Personal change takes years of hard work, and it tends to come in fits and starts. No one just goes to therapy once. Not anyone who wants to get anything out of it.

On the other hand, there’s Michael Kopech. Now, I’m not saying it was all ever about his maturity level. Maybe Kopech just used to run into trouble because he was like any other imperfect pitcher, with imperfect mechanics. But with Kopech in 2018, there really does appear to be a moment where the switch just flipped. Into early July, Kopech was a big-stuff pitcher who couldn’t get out of his own way. Since the middle of that month, he’s dramatically changed his pitching identity.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 8/29/2018

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Cal Stevenson, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
Level: Advanced Rookie   Age: 21   Org Rank: NR   FV: 35
Line: 3-for-4, 2B, 4 SB

Notes
College seniors are expected to dominate short-season leagues after signing but what Cal Stevenson has done merits some discussion, in part because he played through a hand injury this spring that may have clouded his actual skill. Stevenson has a .513 OBP at Bluefield because he has walked nearly three times more often than he’s struck out. He’s also stolen 21 bags in 22 attempts since signing. These numbers corroborate scouting reports which compliment Stevenson’s plus speed and bat-to-ball skills before noting his likely corner-outfield defensive projection and lack of characteristic power for the position. But let’s keep an eye on this guy because Toronto has a track record of making swing adjustments to bat-first college players that have helped those players become more viable prospects.

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