2024 Prospect Week Chat


Grichuk Plugs Arizona’s Last Hole

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick wants many things. Mostly, hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money with which to renovate his team’s aging and leaky home ballpark, but also, incidentally, a World Series. The D-backs came close last year, and even though they fell at the final hurdle, the outlook of the ballclub is optimistic. Their entire core is back, and young stars like Corbin Carroll and Gabriel Moreno should only improve with time. This offseason, Arizona has traded for third baseman Eugenio Suárez and signed lefty starter Eduardo Rodriguez to improve its rotation. Brandon Pfaadt should have a stronger sophomore season, and global top-10 prospect Jordan Lawlar should break into the lineup at some point this season.

Finally, the Diamondbacks have upgraded their designated hitter spot, which was a bit of a wild card last October. The most recent addition came this weekend, when they signed Randal Grichuk to a one-year deal worth $2 million in guaranteed money. Read the rest of this entry »


The Rays Got Amed Rosario for a Song. What Does It All Mean?

Reggie Hildred-USA TODAY Sports

This winter has been one of the weakest markets for middle infielders in recent memory. You remember the shortstop glut of recent years? Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Francisco Lindor, Trevor Story, Xander Bogaerts… the list of players who either reached free agency or signed extensions to take them off the market went on and on. But this year, the pickings were slim. Depending on personal preference, the best second baseman or shortstop available was… Whit Merrifield? Isiah Kiner-Falefa? I would have said Amed Rosario, only the market clearly disagrees:

That’s a shockingly light deal for Rosario, at least in my head. I had him at the tail end of my Top 50 free agent rankings, and the crowd and I both penciled him in for a two-year deal worth $8 million per year. Instead, he’s getting less than a fifth of that AAV, and for only a year at that. This merits some investigation, both into why his market didn’t develop and why the Rays came calling in the end. Read the rest of this entry »


Trying on Some Fits for Michael A. Taylor

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

I’m biased when it comes to Michael A. Taylor. I know that. I’ve watched him hit too many big homers and unleash too many rockets from deep center not to root for him. For a long time, that meant rooting for him to figure it out at the plate. A Taylor who could just lay off a few more balls, who could just whiff a bit less – OK, a lot less — would have been an incredible weapon. But Taylor is entering his age 33 season, and those dreams died long ago, one flailing strikeout at a time. These days, rooting for Taylor doesn’t mean wishing for him to develop new skills; it means hoping that he finds a nice comfortable place to demonstrate the ones he actually has.

In 2021, Taylor took home a Gold Glove and rated as the best defender in all of baseball according to multiple defensive metrics. Over the past two seasons, he still rated as a plus defender (except according to DRP, which rated him as a net negative defensively 2023). Taylor is also coming off the second-best offensive season of his career; he put up a 96 wRC+, balancing out a strikeout rate that jumped all the way to a calamitous 33.5% by launching 21 homers in just 388 plate appearances. There’s no telling whether this approach will stick, but it certainly makes sense for Taylor. Who better to sell out for power than someone who’s not going to make enough contact no matter what he tries? Taylor boasts one other important skill: health. According to Baseball Prospectus, when Taylor missed 15 days with a hamstring strain last season, it marked the longest absence of his entire big league career.

In all, Taylor has spent 10 years in the big leagues, and despite his 82 wRC+, he’s averaged 1.6 WAR per 150 games. If you want to be generous, you could discount the -0.1 WAR Taylor totaled in his 2014 cup of coffee and 2015 rookie season, leaving you with 1.9 per 150 games. Over the past three seasons, that number is nearly 2.0 on the dot. Surely, there’s a team out there that could use no. 34 on our Top 50 Free Agents list, a league-average center fielder who doesn’t get on base but has a great glove and some pop. Read the rest of this entry »


Effectively Wild Episode 2127: Right Down the Dickson

EWFI
Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley banter about recent headline-generating comments by Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, a Padres position change, and the possibility of another Ronald Acuña Jr. extension. Then (34:11) they bring on Patreon supporter Sean Saxe and answer listener emails (40:13) about the best substitute for Babe Ruth in a remake of The Sandlot, the expression “right down the dick,” elevated decibel levels at games, F1-style advance free-agent commitments for MLB players, and a leaguewide conspiracy to inflate one player’s performance, and then Stat Blast (1:17:14) about baseball teams in Midwestern cities, Corey Kluber and Opening Day starts in a pitcher’s final season, and whether switch-hitters and players who bat and throw from opposite sides age better than others.

Audio intro: Alex Glossman and Ali Breneman, “Effectively Wild Theme
Audio outro: Ian Phillips, “Effectively Wild Theme

Link to Trout comments
Link to MLBTR on Trout
Link to Rendon comments
Link to previous Rendon pod
Link to Padres switch
Link to Merrill position article
Link to Acuña article
Link to FG on Sal Perez extension
Link to article on Austin loyalties
Link to Dickson definition
Link to Google Trends data
Link to NYT on loudness
Link to more on loudness
Link to Clair on walk-up songs
Link to Lewis Hamilton news
Link to listener emails database
Link to Middle West survey 1
Link to Middle West survey 2
Link to WSJ article
Link to Midwest map graphic
Link to Tex’s GitHub
Link to Tex’s Google Sheet
Link to article on Midwest Colorado
Link to Nevada pronunciation article
Link to article on Kluber’s start
Link to Opening Day starts data
Link to Ryan Nelson’s Twitter
Link to 2018 Ohtani article
Link to Stroman workout article
Link to Judge on aging curves
Link to Judge on Twitter
Link to aging curve 1
Link to aging curve 2

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Daniel Vogelbach Deal Continues Toronto’s Tepid Offseason

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Jays signed a lefty-swinging first baseman/designated hitter whose name begins with a V and an O, but it wasn’t Joey Votto. As position players report to camps, the longtime Red and all-time leader in games played by a Canadian-born major leaguer remains a free agent. Instead, the Blue Jays added Daniel Vogelbach on a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. At his best, the well-traveled 31-year-old can help the Blue Jays, but in context, his limitations provide yet another reminder of the team’s underwhelming offseason.

Vogelbach’s deal calls for him to make $2 million if he’s in the majors, according to the New York Post’s Jon Heyman. This is actually his second go-round with the Blue Jays, but you’re forgiven if you need your memory jogged. He spent 10 days with the team during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, between being purchased from the Mariners and lost on waivers to the Brewers; within that span, he played two games, going 0-for-4 with a walk and two strikeouts. After spending all of 2021 with the Brewers, he split ’22 between the Pirates and Mets, with an effective stretch-run stint for the latter, and then spent last year in Queens as well.

Despite a productive opening month to his 2023 season, Vogelbach hit just .213/.326/.348 (92 wRC+) through the end of June, a span that included an eight-day benching for the purposes of a mental break. He was much better from July onward, batting .258/.355/.475 (131 wRC+) with eight homers in 138 plate appearances, but even so, he was an afterthought in September. He made just five starts that month, none in the Mets’ final 16 games, with just three of his 24 plate appearances for September coming in that span. Unsurprisingly, he was nontendered in November.

Even in a down season, Vogelbach again showed an excellent batting eye, chasing just 24.1% of pitches outside the strike zone and walking 13.2% of the time; that said, his strikeout rate crept to 25.4%, his highest since 2019. He didn’t get enough playing time to qualify for Statcast’s percentile cutoffs, but his 91.7 mph average exit velo and 50% hard-hit rate would have landed at the 86th and 93rd percentiles, respectively.

Vogelbach is a player with obvious limitations. He didn’t play a single game in the field during his Mets tenure, had just five for the Pirates before being dealt in July 2022, and owns DH-caliber metrics at first base for his seven-year career (1,059.2 innings, -8 RAA, -15 DRS). He went 0-for-15 with a walk and eight strikeouts against lefties in 2023, and has been utterly helpless against them for his career (.129/.248/.215, 35 wRC+ in 323 PA). He’s never even attempted a stolen base in the majors, a wise choice given his 2nd-percentile sprint speed. That’s not the easiest player to fit onto a roster, and if Vogelbach does stick with the Blue Jays, he’s not likely to get a ton of playing time unless things go wrong elsewhere. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the incumbent first baseman, and Toronto signed the righty-swinging Justin Turner to a one-year, $13 million deal to serve as its primary DH while spotting all around the infield, as he did last year with the Red Sox. Turner hit for just a 105 wRC+ against righties (.273/.335/.430 in 462 PA) in 2023, but that may have been an aberration given his 132 wRC+ against them over the previous three seasons. He doesn’t need a platoon partner.

Given the size of the role in question, it’s not tremendously hard to understand why the Blue Jays signed Vogelbach instead of the 40-year-old Votto, who became a free agent after 17 seasons with the Reds and who scuffled in 2023. Coming off of August 2022 surgery to repair tears in his left rotator cuff and biceps, Votto didn’t make his season debut until June 19, and while he homered off Austin Gomber in his second plate appearance, he hit just .202/.314/.433 (98 wRC+) with 14 homers in 208 PA. Save for his slugging percentage and barrel rate, neither that slash line nor his underlying Statcast numbers were as good as those of Vogelbach.

Joey Votto vs. Daniel Vogelbach, 2023
Player Events EV Barrel% HardHit% AVG xBA SLG xSLG wOBA xwOBA
Joey Votto 146 89.3 11.0% 39.7% .202 .190 .433 .376 .326 .304
Daniel Vogelbach 194 91.7 9.3% 49.5% .233 .225 .404 .397 .327 .323

The Blue Jays showed interest in Votto early in the offseason, with general manager Ross Atkins saying, “Incredible reputation, really dynamic personality, really bright (person) that I know our team would embrace… But I think that’s the case for probably 15 teams.” Based on Votto’s background, he added a potential for “massive impact in the community if he were to be a Toronto Blue Jay.”

Despite the obvious appeal, nothing ever materialized, and in the wake of the Turner signing, we can infer that the Blue Jays may not have been willing to offer Votto — whose 2022 production was underwhelming amid his shoulder woes — enough playing time. To date, it doesn’t appear that any team has offered the right mix of opportunity and money. On January 11, USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale reported that three teams were interested in Votto, and in his Sunday notebook a few days later mentioned the Blue Jays and Brewers as potential fits. The last report of a team’s interest in him came on January 24, when Heyman connected Votto to the Angels. That same day, Reds GM Nick Krall told season ticket holders he had no plans to bring back the franchise icon. Since those flickers of interest, the Blue Jays added Turner and the Brewers signed Rhys Hoskins. Meanwhile, the future Hall of Fame first baseman has popped up at the NHL All-Star Game in the company of Gritty and other mascots and quoted Dylan Thomas on Instagram, but otherwise, he’s been quiet on social media.

The Blue Jays/Votto connection has always been more speculative than substantial, but, like the Vogelbach signing, it’s at least interesting enough to underscore just how unremarkable Toronto’s offseason has been. Coming off an 89-win season in which it claimed the third AL Wild Card spot but made a quick two-and-through exit, the team hasn’t made anything that could be characterized as an impact move, even after showing signs of grand ambitions.

For a brief time, it appeared that the Blue Jays had won the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes, but alas that rumor proved untrue. With the possible exception of signing Yoshinobu Yamamoto, with whom they met before he chose the Dodgers as well, nothing else they could have done would have been as impactful. But they at least seemed to be thinking big by showing enough interest in Cody Bellinger to be considered co-favorites (along with the Cubs) to sign him as Christmas approached, and he remains a free agent as of this writing. Instead, in late December, the Blue Jays re-signed Kevin Kiermaier — a spectacular fielder but a league-average hitter who turns 34 in April — to a one-year, $10.5 million deal, presumably to be their regular center fielder between Daulton Varsho in left and George Springer in right.

And then there’s Toronto’s approach to its third base situation. Matt Chapman hit free agency after an uneven season that included a .255/.346/.449 (121 wRC+) line through August 12, when he sprained his right middle finger in a weight room mishap, and a .163/.250/.302 (54 wRC+) line the rest of the way; he initially missed three games after suffering the injury, then 15 more after trying to play through it. The Blue Jays, who reportedly offered Chapman an extension north of $100 million over four or five years before he reached free agency, extended him a $20.325 million qualifying offer, which he declined. Like Bellinger, he remains a free agent while the Blue Jays have moved on. Just after inking Kiermaier, they signed light-hitting Isiah Kiner-Falefa to a two-year, $15 million deal, then added Turner. Though he makes more sense fitting into the utility slot vacated by Whit Merrifield, who recently signed with the Phillies, Kiner-Falefa is currently projected to receive the most plate appearances of any Toronto player at third base (231), with Turner, Santiago Espinal, Cavan Biggio, and Eduardo Escobar also in the mix. The 35-year-old Escobar, who began last season as Vogelbach’s teammate on the Mets before being traded to the Angels, signed a minor league deal with a nonroster invitation last week; he’s looking to rebound from a dismal .226/.269/.344 (66 wRC+) performance in 309 PA.

Between Kiermaier, Kiner-Falefa, and Turner, that’s a not-so-grand total of $38.5 million committed to free agent position players this winter, short of enough money to cover the present-day value of one season of Ohtani. Their other major league deal was for Cuban righthander Yariel Rodriguez — who spent 2020–22 with NPB’s Chunichi Dragons, mainly as a reliever — whom they signed to a five-year, $32 million contract. After pitching for Cuba in the World Baseball Classic last year, Rodriguez sat out the regular season while establishing residency in the Dominican Republic so he could become a major league free agent. The Blue Jays intend to build him up as a starter, but he might wind up in Triple-A or in a multi-inning bullpen role as he begins his major league career. Meanwhile, the team will roll with a starting five of Kevin Gausman, José Berríos, Chris Bassitt, Yusei Kikuchi, and Alek Manoah, the last of those coming off a dreadful season after a top-three finish in the AL Cy Young voting in 2022. Lefty Ricky Tiedemann, no. 28 on our new Top 100 Prospects List, could help later in the year, but has just 36 innings above A-ball to his name, while righty Bowden Francis is being stretched out to provide more immediate depth. While they’ve been “quietly monitoring” the ongoing Blake Snell market, per Nightengale, the Blue Jays have never appeared likely to spend big on starting pitching this winter; instead, they have focused on improving their lineup.

Last week, Atkins said, “At this point, additions that would be of significance would mean some level of subtraction,” which didn’t sound like he was leaving the light on for either Bellinger or Chapman. If this is more or less the Blue Jays’ roster, according to Roster Resource, their payroll sits at $235.7 million in terms of actual salaries, up from $214.5 million last year, and $248.7 million for Competitive Balance Tax purposes, a hair ahead of last year’s $246.1 million and somewhere between the first and second tax thresholds ($237 million and $257 million, respectively). That’s the game’s sixth- or seventh-highest payroll, depending on which figure you’re using to rank them, so it’s not as though the Blue Jays are going cheap.

Nor do they project to be bad. We have them forecast for 83.5 wins, fourth in the AL East but part of a tight group with the Yankees, Rays, and Orioles; only 4.6 projected wins separates Toronto from New York, the projected first-place finisher. The thing is, the Blue Jays are right at the point where adding extra wins could increase their odds above their 14.2% chance at winning the division title and 47.7% chance to make the playoffs. While their AL East competition has added marquee players like Juan Soto and Corbin Burnes, the end result of the Blue Jays’ grand offseason just feels like a series of half measures.


National League Teams Are Still Figuring Out This Whole DH Thing

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The introduction (and then reintroduction) of the designated hitter to the National League wasn’t the smoothest of rollouts. It was first brought about as a safety measure in the chaos of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, designed to relieve unnecessary stress on pitchers who were already dealing with a disrupted preseason. Despite the best efforts of the Players Association, the DH was removed from the NL for 2021, as the league declined to implement it without getting something in return (in this case, a delayed and potentially shortened season). A year later, and more than two months into the lockout, as the league and the union battled through negotiations over the new collective bargaining agreement, it was announced that the universal DH would return for the upcoming season, this time indefinitely.

It was a difficult task for NL teams to prepare one way for one season and another for the next. Of course, any hitter can slot into the DH spot on any given night, but not every team comes with a player who can provide real value with his bat alone, and it takes time either to acquire or develop a player like that, or to build enough depth to overcome not having one. With the universal DH, NL clubs would need to get another 700 or so productive plate appearances from their rosters — that’s no small feat. Understanding this, let’s consider the state of the DH in the National League.
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Ben Clemens FanGraphs Chat – 2/20/24

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Hendriks, Woodruff Set Stage for 2025 Returns

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Worried that civilization is going to come to an end this year? Fear not. The Red Sox and Brewers have both made big bets that life will go on in 2025. Boston has signed reliever Liam Hendriks to a two-year, $10 million contract with a mutual option for 2026. In Milwaukee, Brewers ace Brandon Woodruff, who was non-tendered in November, will remain a Brewers ace for the time being; Jon Heyman reported Monday morning that Woodruff and the team were in agreement on their own two-year contract, the terms of which are as yet undisclosed.

Based on their performance over the past several seasons, both Hendriks and Woodruff would probably be in line to make way more money on much longer-term deals if either one were expected to pitch in 2024. Woodruff made only 11 starts in 2023 and underwent shoulder surgery in October. Hendriks underwent treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma last offseason; cancer defeated, he returned to the field in May. His comeback was as short-lived as it was widely celebrated, though; less than two weeks after his first outing of 2023, Hendriks’ elbow started barking. The dreaded forearm strain turned into the even-more-dreaded torn UCL, and the avuncular Australian had Tommy John surgery in early August. Read the rest of this entry »


Red Sox Prospect Kyle Teel on Developing as a Catcher

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Teel is well positioned as Boston’s catcher of the future. Drafted 14th overall by the Red Sox out of the University of Virginia last summer, the backstop, who turned 22 last week, enters his first full professional season as the fifth-ranked prospect in Boston’s farm system and no. 80 on our Top 100. According to our lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen, Teel “presents a well-rounded overall profile” that includes “a fabulous offensive résumé.”

His 2023 numbers were certainly exemplary. Teel slashed .407/.475/.655 with 13 home runs in his junior year at UVA, helping earn him first-team All-American accolades and rocketing him up draft boards. Upon reaching pro ball, his left-handed stroke produced a .363/.483/.495 slash line and a 173 wRC+ in 114 plate appearances across three minor league levels, his last stop being Double-A Portland.

Defense is, of course, a major responsibility for catchers. Last month, when Teel was at Fenway Park for Boston’s rookie development program, I spoke with him about his preparation and setup behind the plate, his throwing, and his offensive profile.

———

David Laurila: Catching is a science as well as an art. With that in mind, what role does data play in what you do defensively?

Kyle Teel: “I really like data when it comes to how pitchers’ stuff moves, and heat maps on what to throw to certain guys at certain times. That’s obviously beneficial, but there is also nothing like the feel of the game. You need to be using your eyes and seeing what you can take in, in the moment. But the data is definitely important. Before every game, I look at what pitchers like to throw, their tendencies in certain counts, and things like that. That’s both as a catcher and when I’m hitting.”

Laurila: Do you think like a catcher when you’re in the batter’s box?

Teel: “I kind of do. There are benefits to doing that, just knowing how pitchers work and what guys tend to throw in certain counts. Overall, I would say that having a good feel at the plate and calling pitches is very similar.”

Laurila: How do you balance data and instincts? Read the rest of this entry »