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Breaking Down the 40-Man Roster Deadline

Friday’s 40-man roster/Rule 5 Draft protection deadline featured the usual flurry of transactional activity. While christening a new wave of big leaguers, the day’s moves also illuminated a secondary effect of recent farm-building trends, and indicated some shifts in the way teams are thinking about the players they do or don’t decide to protect. As I fly through each team’s additions and subtractions from Friday, I’ll flesh out these concepts where they best apply. I’ve tried to give readers a little scouting note on every player, getting into greater detail for players who aren’t yet on The Board (which is where you’ll want to go for in-depth scouting reports) or whose reports I think have meaningfully changed since they were last updated on The Board. Readers should know that when it comes to examining the reasons teams chose not to protect players on Friday, I’m using informed speculation.

Here’s a quick rundown/refresher for folks who might be new to caring about this particular aspect of roster construction. Deeper teams tend to have more good players than they can roster, and tend to lose the ones toward the bottom of their depth chart to talent-hungry clubs that consider them upgrades to the players currently on their not-so-good roster. Sometimes a team with a good big league roster will also have a large wave of quality prospects approaching the majors, and the combination of the two creates motivation to trade some of those prospects away, or else loose them for nothing via waivers or the Rule 5 Draft. The way the 60-day injured list works also impacts a lot of fringe roster movement.

There are a couple ways teams try to deal with this if they think they have more desirable players than they do roster spots. They either package several of them as part of a trade for one significant big leaguer, or deal them for very young players who are several years from needing to be added to the 40-man. Teams keep 40-man dynamics in mind with every move they make, but the period just before the 40-man/Rule 5 deadline at the end of November is almost entirely driven by them. Teams weigh adding their own prospects to the 40-man against the chances that an unprotected player might be popped in the Rule 5 Draft (and stick on their new team’s roster), as well as who they might otherwise be able to use that roster spot for. It’s a part of the baseball calendar that forces teams to make moves that help us learn about their collective behavior and individual preferences. Read the rest of this entry »

With Help From Some Unlikely Hitters, Astros Force Game 6 After 9-5 Win

“Fortune favors the brave(s).”

Matt Damon uses something like this phrase to punctuate an ill-conceived cryptocurrency commercial that has been running during the World Series, the copy for which includes more polysyllabic words (that aren’t “Domino’s” or “America”) than most ads. To this point, the commercial had provided an eerie narration of the Series itself. Atlanta had been the team improvising (Dylan Lee opening Game 4) and experimenting (Ozzie Albies hitting right-on-right), sometimes out of necessity (Game 5 starter Tucker Davidson), and it was Atlanta that entered Sunday night with a commanding 3-1 series lead before leaping out to a 4-0 lead in Game 5. But with their backs against the wall, the iron-jawed Astros withstood a first-inning grand slam and battled back to win 9-5, sending the series back to Houston.

The game began with tremendous good fortune for Atlanta. In the first, Albies was treated to a shift-aided, room service double play ball off the bat of Carlos Correa that erased a Michael Brantley walk and ushered Davidson past what was likely a jittery inning of work. In the bottom half of the frame, the topspin of a chopper off the bat of Jorge Soler made the ball’s hop shallow, allowing it to slip underneath the glove of Alex Bregman, who expected the hop to be bigger. That gave the Braves a meaningful extra out to work with, and instead of an Albies groundout ending the would-be five-pitch inning for Houston starter Framber Valdez, Austin Riley and Eddie Rosario were able to prolong the first with a single and walk before Adam Duvall delivered a huge blow in the form of a wall-scraping, opposite-field grand slam. Read the rest of this entry »

World Series Preview: Baseball Hotbeds Clash in Astros-Braves Title Bout

The Fall Classic is here, the 117th World Series, which will end with the Commissioner’s Trophy and a stage with room for just one victorious organization. Two supremely talented teams are at the end of an eight-month gauntlet — one that began with the singular, casual, quiet pop of catchers’ mitts in Florida and will end in a pressure cooker, with screaming masses and the attention of the sports world, as the AL champion Astros, in their third World Series of the last five years, will face the NL champion Braves in their first since 1999.

It’s been a mixed, inconsistent decade for Atlanta in the post-Bobby Cox era. The franchise’s 15-year reign over the NL East, which it won every year from 1991 to 2005 except for the strike-shortened ‘94 season, holds a unique place in the baseball culture. Anyone over 30 saw most of it unfold every day on cable if they wanted to — my ex-brother-in-law grew up in Pennsylvania with Andres Galarraga’s number painted in Wite-Out on his fitted cap — thanks to the club’s presence on TBS. The Braves’ 22-year World Series drought hasn’t been entirely hapless, and they have had stretches of contention, making the next six postseasons after their ’99 sweep at the hands of the Yankees, even as some of that core aged and/or moved on. Fittingly enough, the final two seasons of their division champions streak ended with postseason losses to the Astros, in both the 2004 (Carlos Beltran’s Godtober) and ’05 (Clemens, Oswalt, Pettitte) NLDS; so too did their tenure on TBS, which concluded with a 3–0 loss in Houston at the end of the 2007 regular season.

Then came, relatively speaking, a swoon. The Freddie Freeman/Brian McCann/Jason Heyward/Andrelton Simmons core drove the Braves to four consecutive 89-win or better seasons from 2010 to ’14, but that group won just two postseason games during that stretch. It was during this time period that Cox retired and a brief descent to the bottom of the division began. The arrival of the current core (Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Ronald Acuña Jr., etc.) has put them back on top of the NL East for the last four years, and they’ve slowly crept deeper and deeper into the postseason, culminating in this year’s pennant.

Those Astros postseason victories in 2004 and ’05 marked the tail end of Houston’s “Killer B’s” era, dominated by Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman, and others (Billy Wagner, Moises Alou, Octavio Dotel… these teams were absolutely stacked). Houston finished over .500 ten times in eleven years before losing the NLCS to Albert Pujols and the Cardinals in ’04 and the World Series to the White Sox in ’05 and slowly beginning a fall from grace, both on and off the field. Jeff Luhnow was hired away from the Cardinals front office to helm an intense rebuild that included three consecutive 100-loss seasons, and the draft picks from that stretch produced Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr., Kyle Tucker, and Alex Bregman … as well as the Brady Aiken controversy that would pale in comparison to what lay ahead for the franchise.

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Grandal and García Help White Sox Deny Astros ALDS Sweep, Force Game 4

Most sports fans likely would’ve guessed that the weirdest thing they would see Sunday had already occurred. Hapless NFL kickers, a bizarre ground rule double, and an unlikely walk-off home run had peppered the first two-thirds of the day. Then the Astros and White Sox combined to score fifteen runs during the first four innings of their Game 3 tilt in Chicago, with an epic and somewhat controversial crescendo packed into a wild 90 minutes at a boisterous Guaranteed Rate Field.

Dylan Cease blazed through the top of the first inning, which ended with an emphatic 100-mph fastball blown past Alex Bregman. After that moment, the game became a grinding, roller coaster affair, with several haymakers thrown over the next few innings, culminating in a five-run third and three-run fourth for the White Sox, respectively the largest and the decisive blow in their 12–6 victory to keep the season alive for a Game 4 on Monday.

Chicago chipped away immediately as part of a high-stress first inning for Astros starter Luis Garcia, who was constantly blowing into his pitching hand as if he were cold. Turns out, he was. A Tim Anderson leadoff single would eventually score via an Eloy Jiménez knock to center field, but there were signs of danger beyond that. Garcia fell behind hitters, got away with a grooved 2–0 fastball to José Abreu, and watched Yasmani Grandal crush a ball into foul territory, as all three outs he got in the first were put in play at 95 mph or above. The White Sox only got one run out of it, but the 25-pitch first inning for Garcia, lasting nearly 30 minutes, was a portent of doom for Houston.

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Logan Webb Carves Dodgers, Giants Win Game 1

It took more than a quarter century of Wild Card-era postseason baseball to give us a series between two of the National League’s most iconic franchises, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants. The chromatic contrast of both teams’ classic-looking threads, and the tone and intensity of Oracle Park, provided a rich backdrop for a Game 1 Giants victory, a 4-0 contest played with the breakneck pace of a minor league game on getaway day.

The driving force for that pace? Logan Webb, the Giants 24-year-old starter who quickly ushered Dodgers hitters back to the bench in the best start of his young career, hurling 7.2 shutout innings while surrendering just five hits, walking none, and striking out 10. Webb and the Giants have tinkered with his delivery and repertoire a few times over the last three seasons, and they’ve settled on a release point that’s added more sink to his changeup, which has become his best pitch. He threw more changeups in Game 1 than any other offering, inducing 12 of his whopping 21 whiffs on the pitch.

Webb did much of the out-getting work on his own. In addition to striking out 10, a career high, he also collected four Dodgers grounders himself, making him solely responsible for 14 of the 23 outs he induced. Beyond the tallied whiffs, the Dodgers juggernaut lineup had many uncomfortable-looking takes and partial swings against Webb.

All four Giants runs came via the home run, apt considering San Francisco led the big leagues in dingers this season. Buster Posey drew first blood, shooting a 3-0 pitch the opposite way in the first inning. It one-hopped into McCovey Cove and per the broadcast, it was the first home run Walker Buehler has surrendered on a 3-0 pitch during his major-league career (it was only the fourth time Posey has hit a home run in that count).

Both Webb and Buehler coasted through the middle innings. After surrendering a leadoff oppo single to Mookie Betts in the first (Betts went 2-for-4, hitting the single and spanking a hanging Webb slider in the eighth), Webb didn’t allow another hit until the fifth. A couple of harmless singles flecked Buehler’s middle-frames, and neither team did any damage again until the seventh. The few who reached base were quickly erased by great defense. A Webb error that allowed Corey Seager to reach in the fourth was expunged by a gorgeous 4-6-3 double play that saw La Stella and Crawford crisscross around the bag.

It was the fourth inning when Buehler first started to show real cracks. He surrendered a well-struck single to Kris Bryant, who had three hits, including a homer, and took several very comfortable swings against Buehler throughout the night, and then narrowly escaped a would-be double by Mike Yastrzemski, who hooked a cutter just foul down the right field line. With two outs in that situation, Bryant may have scored from first on a double. It took Buehler surprising Yaz with a gutsy full-count changeup, his first cambio of the night, to escape. (An aside: take a look at Buehler’s changeup usage by game this year.) The Giants couldn’t score despite two well-struck balls in play in the fifth: an Evan Longoria fly out and a Tommy La Stella single sandwiched around the pitcher’s spot. Buehler stabilized and moved quickly through the sixth and was left in to face Bryant to start the seventh.

Three-hundred-and-eighty-nine feet later, the Giants had padded their lead to three. Buehler finished having worked 6.1 innings of three-run ball, allowing seven base runners while striking out five. He managed to induce just 12 swinging strikes in 99 total pitches, and his fastball’s spin rate was down a full 200 rpm compared to his 2020 rate.

Webb’s “challenges” came later. He surrendered a two-out double to Seager in the sixth (the hardest-hit ball of the night at 111 mph), and then hung a slider to Will Smith, who also doubled, in the seventh. After each double, Webb struck out hitters until each inning ended. After seven, he had struck out 10 Dodgers on just 77 pitches.

A Brandon Crawford solo shot in eighth — Dodgers reliever Alex Vesia had blown fastballs past the previous two hitters, then left a breaking ball in Crawford’s happy zone — capped the scoring for the Giants.

Dodgers hitters were flummoxed by Webb all night, and four of them tallied multiple strikeouts in Game 1. The bottom of the Dodgers order (Matt Beaty, AJ Pollock, and Cody Bellinger, plus the pitcher’s spot) went 0-for-12, a cakewalk for Giants pitching. Pollock had been super hot, homering five times in the 10 late-September games he played after returning from a hamstring injury, while Beaty is replacing the injured Max Muncy; Bellinger has been mired in a long, concerning funk.

With the benefit of uncharitable hindsight, it might be correct to question Dave Roberts‘ decision to leave Buehler in to face Bryant for a third time. The desire to extend Buehler’s start as long as possible did preserve the Dodgers bullpen for Game 2, though, as none of Los Angeles’ relievers — Brusdar Graterol, Vesia, and Phil Bickford — threw more than 10 pitches in this one, and all should be available tomorrow.

Gabe Kapler was afforded the opportunity to get 24-year-old sidewinder Camilo Doval into his first postseason game with a sizable lead. Doval, who assumed closer duties late in the year, has seemingly “found it” after dealing with stretches of extreme wildness during his minor league career. He’s already one of baseball’s more electric relievers, eliciting ugly swings on his big-bending slider and slinging 100 mph with natural cut right past big league hitters.

Saturday’s Game 2 (9:07 ET) pits Giants righty Kevin Gausman against Dodgers lefty Julio Urías. Both teams, which feature a lot of moving parts, will likely shuffle their lineups. After the game, Roberts told reports that Bellinger will return to first base while Taylor starts in center field. On the Giants side, look for some or all of the right-handed hitting Darin Ruf, Donovan Solano, and Austin Slater to start against Urías. We’ll all watch to see if the Dodgers’ adjustments take, while wishing these two teams could play a seven-game series instead of five.

Postseason Preview: The 2021 AL Wild Card Game

There was a moment on Sunday when Randy Arozarena had just stolen second base in the eighth inning of a scoreless game. Wander Franco stood at the plate while Nelson Cruz waited in the on-deck circle; the Yankees hadn’t yet recorded an out. Meanwhile, 250 miles down I-95, the Nationals had just wrapped up a three-run fifth, pushing their lead over Boston to four runs. Making his major league debut, effectively wild youngster Joan Adon struck out Rafael Devers on perhaps his best breaking ball of the day. The Blue Jays were cruising. This was the moment when extra baseball felt most likely. Perhaps not All of the Extra Baseball, because of the Mariners’ deficit against the Angels, but some. Instead, to the annoyance of baseball hipsters everywhere, we’re left with a boring ol’ Yankees/Red Sox playoff game at Fenway Park featuring two Cy Young candidates.

This is only the second time the two franchises have met in the postseason since their heated, knuckleball-crushing, curse-breaking epic tilts of the early 2000s, with the other coming when Boston dispatched the Yankees 3-to-1 in the 2018 ALDS, a series that featured many of the same players we’ll see Tuesday, though not the ones directly involved in that series’ extracurricular activity. It feels like we see these teams play one another on national TV constantly (it’s convenient to haul equipment from Bristol, Connecticut to either Boston or New York), but they’ve only faced off six times in the last two-and-a-half months. The Yankees won all of those games, including the last two in dramatic fashion (not that that means anything). Our announced starters finished the season ranked one-two in American League pitcher WAR: Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for New York, while Boston will start 11-year veteran Nathan Eovaldi. Here are your starting pitcher scouting reports:

Gerrit Cole Scouting Report
Pitch Type Shape Usage Rate Velocity
Fastball Tail+Rise 48% 97-100, t103
Slider Short, Lateral 22% 86-91
Changeup Tailing 14% 87-92
Curveball Two-planed 16% 81-86

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A Last Pass at the Low-Hanging Fruit on the Top 100

Earlier this week, Kevin Goldstein and I took a pass at the low-hanging fruit in the 50 FV tier and above to move or add prospects we thought merited action before heading into the offseason. The new “Top 100” can be found here. There is an up or down arrow in the “trend” column next to the name of any player whose FV changed as a result of our discussions so they’re easy to identify on the list. I get into more detail — including on those players whose FVs haven’t changed but whose ordinal rankings have — below.

Shuffling the 60 FV Tier

There are no new names among this group but we did reorder them, with Bobby Witt Jr. moving into the second overall spot behind top-ranked Adley Rutschman. Witt usurps San Diego middle-infielder CJ Abrams because a) he’s been healthy while Abrams has been out since July with a fractured tibia, b) he has progressed a level beyond Abrams, and c) he has more power. Abrams has the superior feel to hit, and the gap between the two on defense — where a healthy Abrams improved while Witt sputtered — has closed. Witt’s range and hands have both regressed; he’s not a lost cause at shortstop but he does need polish.

Noelvi Marte moved ahead of Marco Luciano as they’re similar in many ways (age, level, performance at that level, hit/power combination) but Marte has a better chance to stay at shortstop. Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Prospect Notes: 9/20/21

These are notes on prospects from Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments of the Daily Prospect Notes here.

Noah Campbell, UTIL, Milwaukee Brewers
Level & Affiliate: Low-A Carolina Age: 22 Org Rank: NR FV: 30
0-for-4, BB, 1 IP, SV, played all nine positions

Campbell has played mostly 1B/3B/LF this year but also has had a handful of games at either middle infield spot; yesterday was the fourth time this season he has pitched but his first action in center field. A likely org guy more than a prospect, Campbell is wrapping up a nice first pro season, slashing .270/.388/.387 with 20 steals and one big, rare feather in his cap because of yesterday’s game.

JP Sears, LHP, New York Yankees
Level & Affiliate: Double-A Somerset Age: 25 Org Rank: NR FV: 35
6 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 1 R, 7 K

Sears was drafted by Seattle in 2017 and traded to New York later that year as part of the package (with Juan Then) for Nick Rumbelow. He began the year as a swingman, pitching multiple innings out of the Double-A bullpen and making an occasional spot start. By July, Sears grabbed hold of a rotation spot and held it amid a promotion to Triple-A, where he has a 3.05 ERA and a 51-to-9 K-to-BB ratio in 41 innings. Sears is throwing a little harder this season, averaging just a shade over 93 mph on his fastball after sitting 90-92 and topping out at 93 in 2019. He works with flat fastball angle at the top of the zone, his slider has utility as a backfoot offering to righties, and Sears’ changeup is passable. He’s a perfectly fine spot starter candidate, the sort the Yankees rarely rely on but often find a trade outlet for. Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Prospect Notes: 9/14/2021

These are notes on prospects from Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments of the Daily Prospect Notes here.

Games on 9/12

Mason Fox, RHP, San Diego Padres
Level & Affiliate: Double-A San Antonio Age: 21 Org Rank: 38 FV: 35+
1 IP, 3 K

Fox’s previously dominant fastball (he had a 0.55 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in 2019, mostly in short-season ball) wasn’t as nasty during the spring. Sitting in the low-90s, he struggled and was shut down, and was put on the Development List for most of July and August. Back for about three weeks now, his fastball velocity has more often been in the 93-95 range again, though his curveball still lacks bat-missing power and depth. Because 2021 is his roster evaluation year (either he’s put on the 40-man or subject to the Rule 5 Draft in December) and because he’s thrown so few innings so far this season, the Arizona Fall league is perhaps a logical assignment for Fox and the Padres.

Jackson Rutledge, RHP, Washington Nationals
Level & Affiliate: Low-A Fredricksburg Age: 22 Org Rank: 5 FV: 45+
4 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 1 R, 4 K

Speaking of other potential Fall League candidates (I’m drawing logical conclusions here, not reporting anything or leaking dope), Jackson Rutledge has struggled to take the ball every fifth day because of an early-season shoulder injury, and more recently, recurring blister issues. Sunday was Rutledge’s third blister-free start since his most recent activation. He’s sitting in the 94-98 range since returning, with his stuff intact coming off those dreaded shoulder issues. Obviously context is important here (it’s not as if Rutledge has gone every fifth day all year and is sitting 94-98), but that’s an encouraging sign for his health. Having amassed just 32 innings this season, Rutledge is a prime Fall League candidate. Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Prospect Notes: NL Postseason Pitching on the Way

I recently sourced scouting info and wrote about prospects (and rehabbing veterans) who contending American League teams have on the way during the season’s final stretch, players young and old who lurk beneath the big league surface and might yet make an impact on who hoists the Commissioner’s Trophy at the end of the season. Today, I examine the National League.

NL East
I have very little to pass along regarding the Braves. Their Triple-A pitchers on the 40-man (Kyle Wright, Kyle Muller, Tanner Roark) have been up and down throughout the year and they haven’t looked appreciably different since they were last up. Chris Martin and Josh Tomlin went on the injured list very recently and haven’t had a chance to rehab yet. The same goes for Jasseel De La Cruz, who had several rough starts in August before hitting the IL. Yoan López, acquired from the Diamondbacks earlier in the year, has been sitting 95-98 with Triple-A Gwinnett, but his fastball’s lack of movement means it doesn’t miss many bats. His slider is still plus when located properly, though. He’s the lone 40-man member in Gwinnett’s bullpen, though Dylan Lee (throwing strikes, up to 96, lots of in-zone fastball whiffs) has out-pitched him, and Jesse Biddle and Víctor Arano both generate more whiffs than López does. They all might be ahead of him in the pecking order for big league time in case of injury, even if it means making a 40-man move.

The Phillies have a mix of rehabbers and prospects lurking in the minors, with the prospects presenting low-impact/emergency options right now. Young Francisco Morales (who has projected as a reliever for us at FG since signing) has struggled as a starter all year at Double-A Reading, walking 59 in 70 innings pitched. He doesn’t seem to be on the fast track, even in a bullpen role. Read the rest of this entry »