At last, nearly four months after originally planned, the Opening Day of the 2020 season is upon us. It begins this evening at 7 pm ET in Washington, DC, with an impressive pitching matchup that reprises last year’s World Series opener, albeit with one of the principals having changed teams. At Nationals Park — where, in acknowledgement of his leadership during the coronavirus pandemic that caused the delay, Dr. Anthony Fauci will throw out the ceremonial first pitch — three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer will take the ball for the defending champion Nationals while Gerrit Cole will inaugurate his record-setting $324 million contract with his first regular season start as a Yankee. The night’s other contest, beginning at 10 pm ET, calls upon one of the sport’s top rivalries, pitting the Dodgers — albeit with Dustin May as a last-minute substitute for Clayton Kershaw, who was placed on the injured list due to back stiffness on Thursday afternoon — against the Giants and Johnny Cueto.
This will be Scherzer’s fifth Opening Day start, and third in a row, all with Washington; a fractured knuckle in his right ring finger forced him to yield to Stephen Strasburg in 2017. Cole has just one previous Opening Day start, in 2017 for the Pirates. Both pitchers lost at least a couple such starts to Justin Verlander, Scherzer’s teammate in Detroit from 2010-14 and Cole’s teammate since late ’17; Scherzer didn’t even get the nod when he was fresh off his 2013 AL Cy Young award. Verlander, who will take the ball in the Astros’ opener against the Mariners on Friday, will move into the active lead in Opening Day starts with his 12th. Kershaw would have taken sole possession of third with nine:
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Below is another installment of my series discussing each team’s 60-man player pool with a focus on prospects. If you missed the first piece, you’re going to want to take a peek at its four-paragraph intro for some background, then hop back here once you’ve been briefed. Let’s talk about the National League East.
Prospect List / Depth Chart
The Braves have pooled the most catchers in baseball with seven (eight if you count Peter O’Brien and the faint memory of his knee-savers), several of whom are prospects. I think Travis d’Arnaud’s injury history and the implementation of the universal DH makes it more likely that Alex Jackson opens the season on the active roster. I don’t think this would save Atlanta an option year on Jackson since they optioned him in mid-March, and Atlanta’s bench projects to be very right-handed, so he might be competing with Yonder Alonso for a spot.
We’re probably an Ender Inciarte injury away from seeing Cristian Pache play in the big leagues every day. Aside from him, I doubt we see any of the recently-drafted position players (Drew Waters, Braden Shewmake, Shea Langeliers) playing in the bigs this year, and if William Contreras debuts it’s likely because a couple guys ahead of him have gotten hurt. Read the rest of this entry »
The universal designated hitter will be a reality in 2020, assuming that the Major League Baseball Players Association agrees to the health and safety protocols connected to the March 26 agreement, which is to say, that it will be part of the revised rules for this weird, short season. But because the league and the union were unable to agree to any of the subsequent proposals that have been batted back and forth in recent weeks, the status of the universal DH for 2021 and beyond — with the expectation that it would slip smoothly into the 2022 Collective Bargaining Agreement — is not a done deal, after all. Rather, it’s something that will have to be revisited within discussions over rules changes for next year, which typically begin at the November owners’ meetings.
Even so, as it’s the rare point upon which both sides agreed amid the otherwise rancorous negotiations, I think I’m still on solid ground in discussing the longer-term changes that could come with such a move. On Friday, I discussed the apparent end of pitchers’ often-pathetic attempts at hitting, and last month, Craig Edwards took an initial stab at how NL teams might handle their DH slots given their roster construction, with special consideration given to the Mets’ situation. This time around, I’d like to consider which players might stand to benefit in the longer run.
For starters, it’s worth noting that the demise of the DH has been somewhat exaggerated. Several years back, the AL saw a notable decrease in the number of players reaching significant thresholds of plate appearances at the spot, but those totals have largely rebounded:
The cruelty of high expectations is having to meet them. When Stephen Strasburg made his debut on June 8, 2010, it was with the weight of a franchise and the eyes of the baseball world on him, and the belief that he’d be an ace from the first pitch. How could he not be? College superstar, Olympian, No. 1 pick, top prospect; The next inevitable step was transforming into the second coming of Roger Clemens, except without all the bad stuff.
The clamor for Strasburg was loud and endless: His Double-A debut in 2010 was nationally broadcast and featured as many media members as your average World Series game. It was only a matter of time before he came up, even despite the fact that he was just 21 at season’s start, and in early June, the Nationals finally gave in. His first assignment: a wretched Pirates team. But the opponent mattered far less than the fact that he was coming at all.
A decade, a Tommy John surgery, and a World Series ring later, Strasburg — like every other major leaguer — sits at home right now, waiting for the season to start. But in an attempt to tide over the baseball fans crawling through withdrawal right now, MLB Network aired his debut (along with those of some other current stars) on Thursday night. I vividly remember watching it live when it happened, kicking back with a six-pack of Miller High Life and giggling constantly as he carved apart a Pittsburgh lineup unfortunate enough to be there. So given the chance to experience it again, how could I resist? Read the rest of this entry »
Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller banter about Twins reliever Zack Littell’s powerful affinity for cruise ships and bidding for baseballs from a baseball movie, then preview the 2020 Washington Nationals (12:39) with the Washington Post’s Sam Fortier, and the 2020 Kansas City Royals (40:26) with The Athletic’s Alec Lewis.
Audio intro: Frankie Ford, "Sea Cruise"
Audio interstitial 1: Yo La Tengo, "Season of the Shark"
Audio interstitial 2: Cold War Kids, "Royal Blue"
Audio outro: John Cale, "Ski Patrol"
Link to Littell story
Link to first Knives Out auction
Link to second Knives Out auction
Link to Ben on champions standing pat
Link to Fortier on Kieboom
Link to story on Parra
Link to Lewis on John Sherman
Link to Lewis on Matheny
Link to Lewis on Keller
Link to Lewis on Staumont
Link to order The MVP Machine
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On Friday, MLB.com reporter Sarah Langs wrote an article entitled, “Juan Soto is even better than you think he is.” Soto is already good. Like, really good. And he’s only 21 years old. Langs took Soto’s 2020 ZiPS projections and envisioned the continued growth he could see this upcoming season. If the projections hold up, we could be seeing a historic season from the young Dominican, as Langs explained:
“The only players to have multiple qualified seasons with a 140 or higher wRC+ before their age-22 seasons are Mel Ott (3), [Mike] Trout, Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams. Each of those players’ outstanding starts to their young careers resulted in a Cooperstown plaque, except for Trout, who’s still active but by all measures seems headed there, too.”
ZiPS projects a 5.5 WAR season for Soto with a 149 wRC+, a seven point increase over his 2019 mark. Only six other players are projected to accumulate more WAR and just three are projected to post a higher wRC+ than Soto. After placing second in Rookie of the Year balloting and a year after placing ninth in the NL MVP voting, Soto has a strong case to be one of the early frontrunners in the NL MVP race heading into this season:
Editor’s Note: Sources have indicated to FanGraphs that Fernando Romero has been awarded an additional option year. This post originally stated that Romero was out of options, and has been updated.
The need to define a scope, to create a boundary of coverage, creates a hole in prospect writing. Most public-facing prospect publications, FanGraphs included, analyze and rank players who are still rookie-eligible because, contrary to what you might think after seeing the length of my lists, you just have to stop somewhere, if only for the sake of your own sanity. Because of this, every year there are players who fall through the cracks between the boundaries of prospect coverage and big league analysis. These are often players who came up, played enough to exhaust their rookie eligibility, and then got hurt and had a long-term rehab in the minors. Some are victims of the clogged major league rosters ahead of them; others are weird corner cases like Adalberto Mondesi.
Regardless, prospect writers are arguably in the best position to comment on these players because they fall under the minor league umbrella, but simply adding them to prospect lists would open a can of worms — what do you do with other young big leaguers? So every year, I examine a subset of the players caught in this limbo to give curious readers an update on where once-heralded prospects stand now. Read the rest of this entry »
After having typically appeared in the hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have now been released at FanGraphs for eight years. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Washington Nationals.
At this point, Juan Soto getting an MVP-region projection should probably have been expected. Soto didn’t quite meet his 2019 projection — yes, the OPS was close, but offense went up league-wide — but he was still a superstar, and with the departures of Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon in consecutive winters, he’s now undoubtedly the centerpiece of the offense. Mike Trout’s finally gotten old enough that Soto, along with Ronald Acuña Jr., has passed him in rest-of-career projections. Soto’s so terrific that he even managed to play in the majors five days before his debut. Okay, okay, it was a suspended game, but I like to imagine he caused a Star Trek-esque time paradox. Read the rest of this entry »
Julio Rodriquez has what it takes to become the face of a franchise. Nineteen years old and seemingly on a fast track to Seattle, the top prospect in the Mariners system possesses more than upper-echelon talent. He’s also blessed with a healthy dose of character and charisma. More on that in a moment.
Rodriguez currently sits 44th on The Board, and there’s a decent chance he’ll climb significantly from that slot in the not-too-distant future. MLB Pipeline has him at No. 18, while Baseball America is even more bullish on the tools Dominican-born outfielder. BA ranks Rodriquez as the eighth-best prospect in the game.
The numbers he put up last year between low-A West Virginia and high-A Modesto are eye-opening. In 367 plate appearances, Rodriguez slashed .326/.390/.540, with a dozen home runs. Keep in mind that he did this as an 18-year-old in his first season stateside. A year earlier, he was a precocious 17 and punishing pitchers in the Dominican Summer League.
Rodriguez is listed at 6’ 4”, 225, and Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto expects his right-handed stroke to propel plenty of baseballs over fences in years to come. Just as importantly, Dipoto sees a well-rounded skill set that is augmented by drive and desire.
“I don’t think he’s even scratched the surface of what he’s capable of from a power perspective,” opined Dipoto. “And he’s committed to improving in the areas you can really control, like defense and base running — the small nuances of the game.”
And then there is the aforementioned character and charisma. Read the rest of this entry »
Sam Mondry-Cohen was between his junior and senior years at the University of Pennsylvania when he first began working with the Washington Nationals. He’s come a long way since then. An unpaid intern for six week in the summer of 2009, Mondry-Cohen now holds the title of Assistant General Manager, Baseball Research & Development.
His initial front office experience was the epitome of humble. The Nationals didn’t even have an actual internship program at the time. As Mondry-Cohen explained it, “They were basically there to babysit me. I don’t know that anyone was really looking for any work product.”
What they got was a second sabermetric voice at a time when analytics had yet to become mainstream. Mondry-Cohen may have been majoring in English at Penn — African-American literature was his main focus — but he was an avaricious reader of FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus. He’d devoured The Book. In short, he was a nerd-in-training.
“I had the vocabulary, and a way of looking at the game, that wasn’t common back then,” recalled Mondry-Cohen. “The Nationals didn’t have an analytics department or an R&D department. They didn’t have any data analysts. Adam Cromie, who went on to become the assistant GM, was the Assistant Director of Baseball Operations. He was the one who appreciated my world view of baseball, and he did assign me a few projects.” Read the rest of this entry »