Archive for Royals

Five Players Who Ought to Be Traded (But Probably Won’t Be)

A Michael Fulmer deal could help the Tigers rebuild their system.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

While the result isn’t always a poor one, the decision to wait for an exact perfect trade is a dangerous game for a rebuilding/retooling team. Greed can sometimes be good, yes, but a player’s trade value can also dissipate with a simple twinge in the forearm.

For every Rich Hill who lands at a new home in exchange for an impressive haul, there’s a Zach Britton or Zack Cozart or Todd Frazier or Tyson Ross whose value declines dramatically — sometimes so dramatically that they become effectively untradable. Even when waiting doesn’t lead to disaster, such as with Sonny Gray and Jose Quintana, teams frequently don’t do that much better by waiting for the most beautiful opportunity for baseball-related extortion. Regression to the mean is real. For a player at the top of his game, there’s a lot more room for bad news than good; chaos may be a ladder, but it’s not a bell curve.

With that in mind, I’ve identified five players who might be most valuable to their clubs right now as a trade piece. None of them are likely to be dealt before the deadline. Nevertheless, their respective clubs might also never have a better opportunity to secure a return on these particular assets.

Kevin Gausman, RHP, Baltimore Orioles (Profile)

There seems to be a sense almost that, if the Orioles are able to trade Manny Machado for a great package, get an interesting deal for Zach Britton, and procure some token return for Adam Jones, then it’ll be time to fly the ol’ Mission Accomplished banner. In reality, though, that would simply mark the beginning of the Orioles’ chance to build a consistent winner. After D-Day, the allies didn’t call it wrap, shake some hands, and head home to work on the hot rod. (Confession: I don’t actually know what 18-year-olds did for fun in 1944.)

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Getting the Orioles and Royals to 120 Losses

Great teams may dream of winning 116 games in a season, but for losers, whether of the lovable or non-lovable stripe, 120 is the number at which they gaze, gimlet-eyed. The 1962 Mets, with their inaugural band of cast-offs, left behind a legacy of being great at being not-so-great, losing 120 games and planting their flag in the Mt. Everest of Terrible.

Yes, 120 losses isn’t actually the MLB record, that feat being accomplished by the 1899 Cleveland Spiders, who lost 134 of their 154 depressing games. But it took a bit of chicanery to reach that sum. Frank and Stanley Robison owned both the Cleveland Spiders and St. Louis Perfectos and transferred most of the good 1898 Spiders over to St. Louis in an attempt to build one superteam and one comedy legend. Cleveland was doomed by design, though the Perfectos failed to be a superteam.

Incidentally, the Brooklyn Superbas pulled this off more successfully, looting the Baltimore Orioles to put together a 101-win roster (though I’d have penalized them a few wins for the confusing team name, which was swiped from an acrobatic act of the time and awkwardly made into a plural noun).

The 1962 Mets earned their infamy on the square and now serve as the gold standard for seasonal ineptitude. But as we head towards the trade deadline, we have two teams trying to make it interesting, the 25-66 Baltimore Orioles and the 25-65 Kansas City Royals.

Both teams stand slightly behind the Mets’ fierce pace, with winning percentages that round to 45-117, tantalizingly close to bleak greatness, but not quite there. Like when a batter tries to hit .400 over the course of the season, you want to have a cushion over the mark, since the natural course of regression will stamp down on the extremes.

But there’s at least a chance, which is really all that matters. What fun is a record if it’s likely to be surmounted? And it gives an additional layer of excitement to losing seasons when you need a break from wondering in what wacky way the Baltimore Orioles will mess up a Manny Machado trade or being astounded that the Royals actually advertise that it took them years to spare the roster from even a single game of Alcides Escobar’s services.

Powering up the ZiPS SuperComputer (it’s really just a regular computer), I cranked up the old simulations to get the latest probabilities that either the Royals or Orioles pull off the 120-loss feat.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 7/10

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

Maverik Buffo, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays (Profile)
Level: Hi-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: NR   FV: 30
Line: 8 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 0 R, 5 K

Notes
Buffo, who has a tailing upper-80s fastball and average slider, is probably an upper-level depth arm. He throws strikes and has great makeup, so he’s nice to have in an organization. Sometimes those guys shove and make the Daily Notes, and sometimes they’re also named Maverik Buffo.

Carlos Hernandez, RHP, Kansas City Royals (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 21   Org Rank: 24   FV: 40
Line: 7 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 1 R, 12 K

Notes
Hernandez has a golden arm that produces plus-plus velocity and riding life, but he also has several traits that will likely push him to the bullpen. His secondaries are inconsistent, as is his fastball command, and Hernandez is a relatively stiff short-strider. It’s possible that some of these things improve, just probably not enough for Hernandez to be an efficient starter. Not much has to improve for him to be a bullpen piece, though — and potentially a very good one.

Victor Santos, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies (Profile)
Level: Complex (GCL)   Age: 17   Org Rank: NR   FV: 35+
Line: 6 IP, 5 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 9 K

Notes
Santos is a strong-bodied teenage righty with a bit of a longer arm action and presently average stuff for which he has advanced feel. He sits 90-93 with arm-side run and he locates it to his glove side, often running it back onto that corner of the plate. Santos doesn’t have much room on his frame, but at just 17, he’s still likely to get stronger as he matures, and there may be more stuff in here anyway.

Tristen Lutz, OF, Milwaukee Brewers (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 19   Org Rank: 3   FV: 50
Line: 2-for-3, 2B, HR, 3 BB

Notes
Lutz had a putrid April that he followed with two months of pedestrian .250/.320/.420 ball, but he’s been hot of late and has been a .280/.350/.500 hitter since mid-May. Lutz is striking out more than is ideal and has a maxed-out frame, but he already possesses all the power he needs to play every day as long as a viable on-base/contact combination develops.

Notes from the Field
AZL games were rained out last night, so nothing today.


The Royals Should Trade Whit Merrifield

What does Whit Merrifield see in the gauzy mists of his future?
(Photo: Minda Haas Kuhlmann)

Whit Merrifield is a pretty good baseball player. Despite not debuting in the majors until his age-27 campaign and recording 1,700 roughly average plate appearances in Double-A and Triple-A before that, Merrifield has now produced two seasons’ worth of above-average offense at the major-league level. His 5.3 WAR ranks seventh among all second baseman since the start of last season. The 120 wRC+ he’s recorded this year is surpassed only by the marks produced by Jose Altuve and Jed Lowrie among AL second baseman. And while that’s his primary position, he has also played first base, center field, and right field this year and does have some experience at third base and left field, as well.

That combination of offensive skill and defensive flexibility makes Merrifield the sort of player who can fit on a number of clubs. It’s also what makes him appealing as a possible trade-deadline target for contenders. The Royals have a piece from which other clubs should benefit. They should make every effort to find a deal that makes sense.

Merrifield’s appeal isn’t limited to his performance. Because of his late start as a major leaguer, he won’t even be eligible for arbitration until 2020 and won’t be a free agent until after the 2022 season. Those extra years typically add considerable weight to trade value, allowing clubs to avoid wading out into the expensive free-agent waters.

Also due to Merrifield’s late start, however, the prospect of his cost-controlled years is a bit different than for other, similarly experienced (or inexperienced) players. While his league-minimum salaries for this year and next are appealing, Merrifield is likely to have entered his decline phase for the last three of his cost-controlled seasons. Cost-controlled seasons can be a great benefit to a team, but most of that theoretical benefit is based on a player still in his prime and potentially even improving. Players can get better in their early 30s — Jeff Kent and Daniel Murphy come to mind as prominent examples of second basemen alone — but age-related decline is the rule not the exception.

To get a sense of how Merrifield might age, I looked for second baseman since 1995 at 28 and 29 years old with a WAR between 5.0 and 8.0 and age-29 WAR between 2.5 and 5.0. Note that this analysis doesn’t account for the fact that Merrifield was a mostly mediocre minor leaguer, but instead focuses on his good run over the last two years.

At age 30, the 12 players who fit the above criteria averaged a solid 107 wRC+ and 2.8 WAR. At age 31, they experienced a typical move downward, to a 103 wRC+ and 2.2 WAR. By age 32, only half the players recorded more than 2.0 WAR and, at age 33, the only players to surpassed the 1.5 WAR threshold were Kent, Ray Durham, and Eric Young.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 7/9

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

Victor Robles, CF, Washington Nationals (Profile)
Level: Rehab   Age: 21   Org Rank: 1   FV: 65
Line: 0-for-1, BB

Notes
Robles has begun to make rehab appearances on his way back from a hyperextended left elbow that he suffered in early April. He’s gotten two plate appearances in the GCL each of the last two days. The Nationals’ big-league outfield situation should enable Robles to have a slow, careful rehab process that takes a few weeks. He is one of baseball’s best prospects.

Adam Haseley, CF, Philadelphia Phillies (Profile)
Level: Hi-A Age: 22   Org Rank: 7   FV: 45
Line: 2-for-5, HR

Notes
The homer was Haseley’s fifth of the year and his slash line now stands at .301/.344/.417. He’s undergone several swing tweaks this year, starting with a vanilla, up-and-down leg kick last year; a closed, Giancarlo Stanton-like stance early this season; and now an open stance with more pronounced leg kick that loads more toward his rear hip. All that would seem to be part of an effort to get Haseley hitting for more power, his skillset’s most glaring weakness. But Haseley’s swing plane is so flat that such a change may not, alone, be meaningful as far as home-run production is concerned, though perhaps there will be more extra-base hits.

The way Haseley’s peripherals have trended since college gives us a glimpse of how a relative lack of power alters those variables in pro ball. His strikeout and walk rates at UVA were 11% and 12% respectively, an incredible 7% and 16% as a junior. In pro ball, they’ve inverted, and have been 15% and 5% in about 600 pro PAs.

Akil Baddoo, OF, Minnesota Twins (Profile)
Level: Low-A Age: 19   Org Rank: 12   FV: 45
Line: 3-for-5, 2B, SB

Notes
Baddoo is scorching, on an 11-game hit streak during which he has amassed 20 hits, nine for extra-bases. He crushes fastballs and can identify balls and strikes, but Baddoo’s strikeout rate has doubled this year as he’s seen more decent breaking balls, with which he has struggled. Considering how raw Baddoo was coming out of high school, however, his performance, especially as far as the plate discipline is concerned, has been encouraging. He’s a potential everyday player with power and speed.

Jesus Tinoco, RHP, Colorado Rockies (Profile)
Level: Double-A Age: 23   Org Rank: NR   FV: 40
Line: 6 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 1 R, 7 K

Notes
Tinoco didn’t make the Rockies’ offseason list, as I thought he had an outside shot to be a reliever but little more. His strikeout rate is way up. He still projects in the bullpen, sitting 93-95 with extreme fastball plane that also adds artificial depth to an otherwise fringe curveball. He’ll probably throw harder than that in the Futures Game.

Travis MacGregor, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Profile)
Level: Low-A Age: 20   Org Rank: 21   FV: 40
Line: 5 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 2 R, 6 K

Notes
MacGregor is a projection arm who is performing thanks to his ability to throw his fastball for strikes, though not always where he wants. His delivery has a bit of a crossfire action but is otherwise on the default setting and well composed, with only the release point varying. It’s pretty good, considering many pitchers with MacGregor’s size are still reigning in control of their extremities. MacGregor’s secondaries don’t always have great movement but should be at least average at peak. He projects toward the back of a rotation.

Austin Cox, LHP, Kansas City Royals (Profile)
Level: Short Season Age: 21   Org Rank: HM   FV: 35
Line: 5 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 1 R, 10 K

Notes
Cox, Kansas City’s fourth-rounder out of Mercer, has a 23:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11.2 pro innings. He put up goofy strikeout numbers at Mercer, too, but struggles with fastball command. He’s a high-slot lefty who creates tough angle on a low-90s fastball, and his curveball has powerful, vertical shape. It’s likely Cox will be limited to relief work due to fastball command, but he could be very good there, especially if the fastball ticks up in shorter outings.

Notes from the Field
Just some pitcher notes from the weekend here. I saw Rangers RHP Kyle Cody rehabbing in Scottsdale. He was 94-96 for two innings and flashed a plus curveball. Joe Palumbo rehabbed again in the AZL and looked the same as he did last week.

Cleveland has another arm of note in the AZL, 6-foot-1, 18-year-old Dominican righty Ignacio Feliz. He’s one of the best on-mound athletes I’ve seen in the AZL and his arm works well. He sits only 88-92 but that should tick up as he matures physically. His fastball has natural cut, and at times, he throws what looks like a true cutter in the 84-87 range. He also has a 12-to-6 curveball that flashes plus.

Feliz could develop in a number of different ways. Cleveland could make a concerted effort to alter his release so Feliz is more behind the ball, which would probably play better with his curveballs. Alternatively, they might nurture his natural proclivity for cut and see what happens. Either way, this is an exciting athlete with workable stuff who doesn’t turn 19 until the end of October.

Between 15 and 18 scouts were on hand for Saturday night’s Dodgers and Diamondbacks AZL game. That’s much more than is typical for an AZL game, even at this time of year, and is hard to explain away by saying these scouts were on usual coverage. D-backs OF Kristian Robinson (whom we have ranked No. 2 in the system) was a late, precautionary scratch after being hit with a ball the day before, so he probably wasn’t their collective target. Instead, I suspect it was Dodgers 19-year-old Mexican righty Gerardo Carrillo, who was 91-96 with a plus curveball. I saw Carrillo pitch in relief of Yadier Alvarez on the AZL’s opening night, during which he was 94-97. He’s small, and my knee-jerk reaction was to bucket him as a reliever, but there’s enough athleticism to try things out in a rotation and see if it sticks.


Daily Prospect Notes: 7/5

Monday through Wednesday notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

7/2

Brewer Hicklen, OF, Kansas City Royals (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: HM   FV: 35+
Line: 4-for-6, 2B, HR

Notes
Hicklen has some statistical red flags if you’re unaware of the context with which you should be viewing his performance. He’s a 22-year-old college hitter with a 30% strikeout rate at Low-A. But Hicklen hasn’t been committed to playing baseball for very long, as he sought, late in high school and throughout college, to have a football career. He went to UAB as a baseball walk-on and eventually earned a football scholarship as the school’s defunct program was to be reborn. But Hicklen’s physical tools stood out as he continued to play baseball (plus speed and raw power), so he was drafted and compelled to sign. He hasn’t been focusing on baseball, alone, for very long and has a .300/.350/.525 line in his first full pro season. He’s a toolsy long shot, but so far so good.

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We Can’t Not Talk About the Royals

The Royals lost on Monday, 9-3. No big deal — the Royals lose a lot, plus, the opposing starter was Corey Kluber. You’re going to lose most of the time to Corey Kluber. Earlier, the Royals lost on Sunday, 1-0. Also no big deal — they’re still the Royals, plus, the opposing starter was James Paxton. You’re going to lose most of the time to James Paxton. As the calendar has flipped from June to July, the Royals have been given an impossible task, and there’s little shame in defeat. You could forgive the Royals for what they’ve most recently done.

But there’s recent-recent, and then there’s just regular-recent. “Recent” is a subjective word, absent any cutoff. As far as early July is concerned, with the Royals, there’s nothing to talk about. It’s when you fold in June that the situation starts to look embarrassing. Over the past several weeks, at the plate in particular, the Royals have been historically bad. I’m not using “historically” to get your attention. I’m using it because the Royals’ struggles have been historic.

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Scouting the Royals Return for Kelvin Herrera

On Monday, Washington sent a three-player package of middling talents back to Kansas City in exchange for reliever Kelvin Herrera. Those prospects are 3B Kelvin Gutierrez, CF Blake Perkins and RHP Yohanse Morel.

Perkins and Gutierrez were each on our Nationals team write-up as 40 FVs. Gutierrez has a strong contact/defense profile. (He was bad at third base in my extended look at him last Fall and received some playing time at first in anticipation of Ryan Zimmerman’s continued health problems.) He lacks corner-worthy power, however. Perkins is a glove-first center-field prospect with premium strike-zone awareness (he has a 12% career walk rate) and very little power.

We have each of them evaluated as big-league role players. Gutierrez is probably a low-end regular or bench/platoon option at third base and, down the line, a couple other positions. If he alters his approach in a way that coaxes out more of his average raw power in games, he could be more than that. Perkins has a bit more variability because he hasn’t been switch-hitting for very long (he only started in 2016) and might yet grow into some competency as a left-handed hitter, but his lack of in-game power might also undercut his walk rate at upper levels of the minors — and in the big leagues, too — because pitchers are going to attack him without fear that he’ll do any real damage on his own. He also might become such a great defensive center fielder that he plays every day despite providing little offensive value.

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Royals Hastily Trade Kelvin Herrera to Nationals

For the past week or so, I’ve been kicking around the idea of writing about Justin Miller. Miller is a 31-year-old reliever, and, by the way, he’s pitching for the Nationals. Though he’s allowed runs in each of his last two appearances, he’s faced 43 batters so far, and he’s struck out 22 of them, without one single walk. Miller, last year, was bad in Triple-A for the Angels. Now he looks like he could be one of the more dominant relievers around. It’s too early to go quite that far, but, well, you know how relievers are. They can emerge or decline in the blink of an eye.

It’s possible that, in Miller, the Nationals have found something. He might turn out to be one of the keys to their season. But Mike Rizzo is also no stranger to making midseason bullpen upgrades, and you don’t want to end up counting on Miller to keep up the miracle. And so, Monday, Rizzo has moved to beef up the depth in front of Sean Doolittle. In the current era of baseball, it’s almost impossible to have too many good relievers. The Nationals got a new one from the Royals.

Nationals get:

Royals get:

I’m not sure there’s anything stunning here. Herrera was very obviously going to be available, as a contract-year closer on a terrible team. The Nationals are in the hunt, and the bullpen in front of Doolittle has sometimes been shaky. The prospect package seems to be light, but rentals generally don’t fetch a blockbuster. Herrera’s strikeout rate is only 23%. What surprises me more than anything is that this happened on June 18. It doesn’t surprise me that the Nationals would want Herrera for five or six extra weeks. It surprises me that, on so early a date, the Royals would settle.

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Sunday Notes: Jeimer Candelario is Palm Up, Gap-to-Gap, a Talented Tiger

Jeimer Candelario is establishing himself as one of the best young players on a young Detroit Tigers team. Playing in his first full big-league season, the 24-year-old third baseman is slashing a solid .251/.346/.476 with 10 home runs. His 2.0 WAR leads all Tigers.

Acquired along with Isaac Paredes in the deal that sent Alex Avila and Justin Wilson to the Cubs at last summer’s trade deadline, “Candy” is a switch-hitter with pop. His M.O. is gap-to-gap, and the orientation of his top hand is a focal point of his swing.

“I want to hit the ball with palm up,” explained Candelario. “If you’re palm up and you hit the ball, you finish up. I try to be connected. My back side, my hands, my hips, and my legs come in the same moment. That way, when I hit the ball I hit the ball with power, with palm up.”

Candelario credits Cubs assistant hitting coach Andy Haines — at the time the club’s hitting coordinator — for helping him develop his stroke. Now that he’s in Motown, he’s heeding the advice of Lloyd McClendon, who is emphasizing “How to load and then follow through, which helps me have some doubles and homers. If I just concentrate on hitting line drives, the ball will carry.”

McClendon is bullish on the young infielder’s future. Ditto his here and now. Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Sean Newcomb Has Sneaky Hop

Sean Newcomb has turned a corner. On the heels of an erratic rookie campaign that saw him go 4-9, 4.32 in 100 innings for the Atlanta Braves last year, the 24-year-old former Angels prospect is rapidly establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in the National League. A dozen starts into his second big-league season, Newcomb is 7-1 with a 2.49 ERA and he’s held hitters to a paltry .198 average and just three home runs.

Improved command and confidence have buoyed the young southpaw’s ability to flummox the opposition. His 4.3 walk rate (down from 5.1 last year) remains less than ideal, but he’s no longer the raw, strike-zone-challenged kid that Atlanta acquired from Anaheim in the November 2015 Andrelton Simmons deal. He’s making the transition from thrower to pitcher, and the results speak for themselves.

“I feel more comfortable now,” Newcomb told me prior to a late-May start at Fenway Park. “I had last year’s experience to take into the season, so I’ve felt more settled in. My fastball has also been working well, and I’ve been able to go from there.”

The fastball in question is by no means run-of-the-mill. It’s very good, and not for reasons that jump out at you — at least not in terms of numbers. Newcomb’s velocity (93.3) is right around league-average. His four-seam spin rate is actually lower than average (2,173 versus 2,263), as is his extension (5.6) versus 6.1). Read the rest of this entry »


Scouting the Royals’ Return for Jon Jay

Just a few quick notes on the prospects Kansas City received from Arizona today, in exchange for CF Jon Jay. Those minor leaguers are RHP Elvis Luciano and LHP Gabe Speier.

Signed: J2 2016 from Dominican Republic
Age 18 Height 6’2 Weight 184 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command
45/55 50/55 40/50 35/45

Luciano is a live-armed 18-year-old Dominican righty who spent most of 2017 in the DSL, then came to the U.S. in August for a month of Rookie-level ball, then instructional league. I saw him during instructs when he was 90-94 with an average curveball, below-average changeup, and below command, especially later in his outing as he tired. He was an honorable-mention prospect on the D-backs list.

His velocity has mostly remained in that range this spring, topping out at 96. Luciano’s delivery has been changed to alter his glove’s location as he lifts his leg, probably to help him clear his front side a little better. He’s still had strike-throwing issues and might be a reliever, but he has a live arm and can spin a breaking ball. Though 18, Luciano’s frame doesn’t have much projection, so while he might grow into some velocity as he matures, it probably won’t be a lot. He’s an interesting, long-term flier who reasonably projects as a back-end starter.

As for Speier, he’s repeating Double-A. He’s a sinker/slider guy, up to 95 with an average slide piece. He projects as a bullpen’s second lefty and should be viable in that type of role soon.


Sunday Notes: Phillies First-Rounder Adam Haseley is Getting Off the Ground

Adam Haseley was drafted eighth overall last year, so his potential goes without saying. That doesn’t mean there aren’t question marks in his profile. When Eric Longenhagen blurbed the 21-year-old University of Virginia product in our Philadelphia Phillies Top Prospects list, he cautioned that “Some scouts have concerns about his bat path.”

I asked the left-handed-hitting Haseley why that might be.

“My interpretation would be that I was wanting be more direct to the ball,” responded Haseley, who put up a .761 OPS last year between short-season and low-A. “Something I’d started doing at UVA was trying to create more launch angle — I wanted to hit balls in the air with true backspin — but coming into pro ball there was more velocity than I’d ever seen in college. I had to adjust to that, and my way of adjusting was to get more direct, which resulted in a flatter angle. Now I’m trying to find that happy medium between the two.”

His quest for middle ground remains a work in progress. Two months into his first full professional season, Haseley has a 48.4 GB% and just three home runs in 217 plate appearances with high-A Clearwater. Compare that to his final collegiate campaign, where as a Cavalier he went deep 14 times in a comparable number of chances. Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Richard Bleier’s Brilliance is Unique (and Under the Radar)

Since the beginning of the 2016 season, four pitchers who have thrown 100-or-more innings have an ERA under 2.00. Three of them — Zach Britton (1.38), Andrew Miller (1.72), Kenley Jansen (1.75) — rank among the most-accomplished bullpen arms in the game. The other name on the list might surprise you.

Since making his big-league debut on May 30, 2016, Baltimore Orioles left-hander Richard Bleier has boasted a 1.84 ERA in 112-and-two-thirds innings.

Bleier’s under-the-radar effectiveness has come over the course of 103 relief appearances, the first 23 of which came with the New York Yankees. His efforts went unappreciated in the Bronx. Despite a solid showing — five earned runs allowed in 23 frames — the Bombers unceremoniously swapped Bleier to Baltimore for a PTBNL or cash considerations in February of last year.

The 31-year-old southpaw attributes an August 2016 addition to his repertoire for his late-bloomer breakthrough. Read the rest of this entry »


The Manager’s Perspective: Ned Yost on Managerial Turnover

Ned Yost took over as the manager of the Kansas City Royals on May 13, 2010. The fact that he still holds the position puts him in select company. Of the 30 current MLB managers, only five were skippering their current club at the start of the 2011 season, and only Mike Scioscia (1999) and Bruce Bochy (2006) can boast a longer tenure than can Yost.

Managerial turnover has been especially prevalent in recent years. A full third of the 30 weren’t in their current role at the start of last season, and half weren’t there on Opening Day 2016. This season alone has seen seven new faces at the helm.

In the first installment of a series — we’ll hear from a different manager each week, generally focusing on a specific subject — Yost shares his opinion on the recent influx of managerial turnover.

———

Ned Yost: “Oh man, you know… I think there are a lot of reasons for it. One, you have to have a great relationship with your owner and your GM. I think that helps. We have a phenomenal relationship in Kansas City with Mr. Glass and with Dayton [Moore]. There probably could have been three or four times where Dayton could have fired me. But I think Dayton understands that’s not going to solve a problem. And a lot of times it can make the problem worse.

“I got fired in Milwaukee in [September] 2008. At that point we were [16] games over .500. In 2009, they were under .500 with a different manager. I’m not saying… it’s just different. It tends to disrupt the flow that goes on.

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Sunday Notes: Brad Keller, Almost Once a Royal, is Thriving as a Rule 5 Royal

Brad Keller is having an impressive rookie season with the Kansas City Royals. Pumping fastballs with a bulldog mentality, the 22-year-old right-hander has appeared in 18 games and has a 1.96 ERA. He’s not afraid to challenge big-league hitters. Substantiating KC skipper Ned Yost’s assertion that he’s “been able to come in and bang strikes on the attack,” Keller has issued just five free passes in 18-and-a-third innings of work.

His path to the Kansas City bullpen was roundabout. In retrospect, it was also only a matter of time before he got there.

Drafted out of a Flowery Beach, Georgia high school by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2013, Keller changed addresses twice in a 15-minute stretch during December’s Rule 5 draft.

“My agent called to say, ‘Hey, the Reds picked you up in the Rule 5,’” explained Keller. “I hung up the phone, called my parents, called my brother, and as soon as I hung up my agent called again. ‘Hey, you just got traded to the Royals.’ Then I had to pick up the phone and call everybody back.”

Keller’s next conversation was with the D-Backs — “they told me everything that was going down” — and soon thereafter Royals assistant GM Scott Sharp called to welcome him to his new organization. A similar call almost came four years earlier. Read the rest of this entry »


Jorge Soler Is Erasing 2017 by Mashing in 2018

When the Royals traded away Wade Davis in a one-for-one swap for Jorge Soler in December of 2016, the trade looked like a win-win. The Cubs needed a closer and had an extra young, cheap outfielder. The Royals had Kelvin Herrera presumably ready to step in at closer but needed some offense to make one last run with their core.

For the Cubs, the deal worked out as expected. In 2017, Davis had a very good year for a very good club. For the Royals, however, the trade went less well. Herrera struggled — and, even though Scott Alexander and Mike Minor exceeded expectations, the team probably missed Davis to some extent. Soler, meanwhile, played poorly, ultimately passing much of the season at Triple-A. The Royals ended up finishing just five games out of the Wild Card. If they had gone 11-8 against the Twins instead of 8-11, they might have had one last chance at October.

Soler is now off to a great start in 2018, and the Royals control him at a low cost for the next four seasons, although there is a reasonable argument to be made that winning the trade is impossible at this juncture. The Davis trade diminished the the Royals’ chances of winning a division title, prevented the club from receiving a compensatory draft pick, and led the team to trade away Esteury Ruiz, Matt Strahm, Travis Wood, and cash for Ryan Buchter, Trevor Cahill, and Brandon Maurer. Cahill didn’t work out with the Royals, Maurer is off the 40-man roster, Buchter was sent to the A’s with Brandon Moss for Jesse Hahn — currently on the 60-day disabled list — and Heath Fillmyer. That’s the road the Royals traveled down last year, it did not work, and now they are terrible and likely several years away from contending.

Concluding that the Davis-Soler trade is already a loss for Kansas City requires some hindsight analysis. Davis was hurt in 2016, and his performance in 2017 was far from a guarantee. There is an alternate, even reasonable, scenario where Herrera pitches well in 2017, Soler provides solid production in an outfield corner, and the money saved on Davis’s salary that went to (which went to Moss and Wood) produces two more contributors to a potentially contending team. Davis didn’t get hurt, Herrera wasn’t great, Wood didn’t pitch well, and Soler and Moss combined for -1.4 WAR on the season. The plan didn’t work out, but it was at least defensible in terms of competing in 2017 with the added benefit of acquiring a future asset in Soler.

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Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 7

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 the seventh installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Jakob Junis, Kyle Ryan, and Chase Whitley — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Jakob Junis (Royals) on His Slider

“It’s technically a slider, although sometimes it has more of a curveball break because of the way I release it. I’ve always looked at it as a slider, because I also throw a curveball — a traditional type of curveball — with a different grip. The grip I came up with for my slider is fairly new.

“I started throwing a slider in Double-A, and it really wasn’t a very good one. It was with a standard, trying-to-learn grip. That offseason I went home and said, ‘This isn’t going to work.’ I knew that I needed a new grip to get more shape and to throw it a little firmer.

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KC’s Scott Barlow on His MLB Debut

Scott Barlow made his big-league debut on Monday. Pitching for the Kansas City Royals against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, the 25-year-old right-hander went three effective innings in a 10-6 loss. With family watching from the stands, he allowed just one run while working the sixth, seventh, and eighth frames. Needless to say, it was a night the former Los Angeles Dodgers farmhand — a 2011 sixth-round pick out of a Santa Clarita, California high school — won’t soon forget.

Barlow, who signed a free-agent deal with the Royals over the winter, took us through his once-in-a-lifetime experience the following afternoon.

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Scott Barlow: “Around the fifth inning, [bullpen coach] Vance Wilson told me, ‘Make sure you’re staying loose,’ so I started stretching and kind of getting my energy going. This is my first time ever at Fenway, so I was also soaking up the scenery a little bit. Tim Hill started warming up, and they called down to have me warm up with him.

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You Can’t Blame Tanking for the Lack of Competitive Teams

Tanking is a problem. Professional sports like baseball are built on the assumption that both sides are trying to win. Organizations putting forth less than their best efforts hurts the integrity of the sport and provides fans with little reason to engage. That said, the perception of tanking might have overtaken the reality of late. Competitive imbalance is not the same as tanking. Sometimes teams are just bad, even if they are trying not to be.

Tanking concerns are not new. Two years ago, just after the Astros and Cubs had turned their teams around, the Phillies were attempting to dismantle their roster by trading Cole Hamels. The Braves had traded multiple players away from a team that had been competitive. The Brewers, who traded away Carlos Gomez, would soon do the same with Jonathan Lucroy after he rebuilt his trade value.

The Braves, Brewers, and Phillies all sold off whatever assets they could. Two years later, though, those clubs aren’t mired in last place. Rather, they’re a combined 54-37 and projected to win around 80 games each this season in what figures to be a competitive year for each. While the Braves and Phillies could and/or should have done more this offseason to improve their rosters, neither resorted to an extreme level of failure, and the teams are better today than they would have been had they not rebuilt. While accusations of tanking dogged each, none of those clubs descended as far as either the Astros or Cubs. None came close to the NBA-style tank jobs many feared.

One might suspect that I’ve cherry-picked the three clubs mentioned above, purposely selecting teams with surprising early-season success to prop up a point about the relatively innocuous effects of tanking. That’s not what I’ve done, though. Rather, I’ve highlighted the three teams Buster Olney cited by name two years ago — and which Dave Cameron also addressed — in a piece on tanking.

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