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Bryce Harper
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High On Harper

by Matthew Pouliot

A .400/.489/.860 line is so ridiculous that it’s hard to take seriously, but that’s what Yordan Alvarez is doing in 176 plate appearances for the Astros’ Triple-A affiliate. Only once in history has a major leaguer ever slugged .860; Barry Bonds came in at .863 in his 73-homer season. Alvarez has hit 18 homers, and he has as many extra-base hits as strikeouts (33 of each).

What Alvarez lacks is a position, and the Astros have had him play left field 17 times, first base nine times and right field twice this season. He’s made 12 appearances at DH. For the long haul, he’ll most likely have to be a first baseman if he’s going to avoid a full-time move to the DH spot. However, until he picks up the finer points of first base – something that hasn’t been a focus thus far – he’d likely be less of a liability in the majors in left field. One wonders if the Astros will consider making a full-time first baseman out of him soon; they have plenty of outfield depth and Yuli Gurriel seems to be a weak point in their lineup.

Of course, the Astros don’t need to do anything. They could sit on their hands all summer long and cruise to another AL West title. Plus, last time they got aggressive with a top prospect, Kyle Tucker came up and hit .141 in 28 games. Still, it’ll certainly be worth giving Alvarez a try at some point. Even if Alvarez doesn’t prove capable at first base, there would still be DH at-bats available. It would make more sense to call him up sooner than later so the team can figure out whether it will need to upgrade from Gurriel prior to the July 31 deadline.

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American League notes

- The ankle injury suffered by Andrelton Simmons will be a long-term issue, so he’s droppable in mixed leagues. At least the Angels aren’t simply defaulting back to Zack Cozart with Simmons out; it looks like Luis Rengifo will get a serious look. Rengifo emerged as an interesting prospect while hitting .299/.399/.452 with 46 steals at three levels last year. He’s not likely to hit for a whole lot of power in the majors right away, but the speed makes him worth watching closely in mixed leagues; if he plays over Cozart the rest of the week, he could be worth picking up.

- The Angels are about to get Andrew Heaney (elbow) back from the IL, and he’s certainly worth grabbing in mixed leagues. He pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings and struck out 10 in his first rehab start for Triple-A Sale Lake.

- The Blue Jays have already shed Kendrys Morales and Kevin Pillar since the end of the spring. A Ken Giles trade is hardly as urgent – the Jays have their closer under control through next season – but it would be no surprise if they opted to strike while the iron is hot. Giles has been outstanding of late, pitching 11 2/3 scoreless innings with a 19/0 K/BB ratio since April 18, so his value probably won’t get any higher than it is now. It probably won’t hold the team back that there’s no quality fallback on the roster. Joe Biagini might get the first crack at the job if Giles goes.

- Even though Chad Pinder and Mark Canha have both been better hitters, the A’s have continued to treat Robbie Grossman as their primary left fielder. They should have done better three months ago and they could still look to do better now. Pinder seems like a superior overall player, and the A’s also have Skye Bolt hitting .319/.388/.586 in Triple-A. I’m not all that optimistic about Bolt – though it’s hard not to root for someone with a name like that – but there wouldn’t seem to be any harm in giving him a look. Maybe that will happen with Khris Davis getting forced to the IL with the hip problem that’s been limiting him.

- Shawn Kelley got a save for the Rangers in his return from the injured list on Tuesday, but one has to think Jose Leclerc will resume pitching the ninth in short order. Leclerc has allowed one run and one hit in nine innings this month. In his last four outings, he’s retired all 16 batters he’s faced, striking out 11 of them.

 

National League notes

- Considered the more polished of the two pitching prospects the Marlins got from the Cardinals in the Marcell Ozuna trade, Zac Gallen went into last spring with some chance of winning a rotation spot, only to get lit up in March and turn a relatively disappointing season for Triple-A New Orleans. As a result, fellow acquisition Sandy Alcantara overtook him and Gallen wasn’t given much consideration for a spot this spring. However, he’s much more than an afterthought now, having gone 5-1 with a 1.79 ERA and a 74/10 K/BB ratio in 60 1/3 innings for the Baby Cakes. He should be added to the Marlins’ rotation the first time there’s an opening, and while the team has managed to use just five starters to this point, something figures to give soon. Gallen isn’t so talented that he has to be picked up in mixed leagues while still in the minors, but he will be worth taking a chance on as soon as he’s called up.

- Bryce Harper was overrated on draft day, but I’d be willing to buy a little low on him now. He’s striking out more than ever, but he’s also seeing more pitches than ever before and both his average exit velocity and his barrel rate are the highest they’ve been at any point in the Statcast era. He’s in the best situation of his career, not only as far as the ballpark but also hitting in the Phillies lineup; even as he continues to slump, he’s still on pace for 98 runs scored and 105 RBI. I don’t know that he’ll explode and get to 40 homers, but I am sure he’ll be quite a bit better than this the rest of the way.

- Maikel Franco had an awesome first week, but he is batting .209/.248/.345 in 157 plate appearances since April 6. The Phillies also aren’t getting much of anything from Odubel Herrera in center field. There should be ample opportunity here for Scott Kingery to win a starting job now that he’s back from the IL, and he’s worth grabbing everywhere that he’s available.

- Leave it to the Rockies to start sitting Ian Desmond only after he finally starts hitting. Desmond’s change in approach to become less of an extreme groundball guy this year didn’t work out early on, but he’s hitting .289/.418/.689 with four homers in 45 at-bats since April 27. Nevertheless, the Rockies had him on the bench both Saturday and Sunday before returning him to the lineup Tuesday. I won’t go so far as to say that Desmond has truly figured it out, but he shouldn’t be unowned in mixed leagues. He’s currently available in 63% of Yahoo leagues.

- I called for the Mets to send Brandon Nimmo down a couple of weeks ago. It didn’t happen then and it couldn’t happen once Michael Conforto suffered a concussion, but it looks like Nimmo might go on the IL now because of a neck injury that originally cost him a couple of games in mid-April. He’s been a big liability in the month since returning, and it would be for the best if he goes away for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, it would be difficult for the Mets to use both Jeff McNeil and Dominic Smith in the outfield at the same time, so Carlos Gomez will probably keep getting starts until Conforto returns.

- Because he lost some velocity last year, Kevin Gausman wasn’t someone I was very high on going into the spring, and I avoided him entirely in drafts after he came down with a sore shoulder at the end of February. Gausman, though, was able to return a week into the season, and he’s looked surprisingly good. It hasn’t been reflected very well in his 4.31 ERA, but he’s struck out 50 in 48 innings and he hasn’t given up a homer in 18 innings this month. Among starting pitchers, Gausman has the fourth lowest average exit velocity in the league. He’ll be a top-50 SP when the June rankings come out next week.

- Sean Newcomb went from promising starter to failed starter to closer candidate in very short order. Because of his control troubles, the Braves sent him down after just three starts last month (even though he had a 4.38 ERA and the team won all three games). His promotion earlier this month to pitch out of the pen was supposed to be a short-term move, but he’s taken to it so well that the Braves might as well leave him there. Luke Jackson had taken over as the favorite for saves in Atlanta, but while he’s done pretty well since turning into an extreme slider thrower, his control problems could get the best of him. Newcomb is a smart pickup.

- If you picked up Christian Walker when Jake Lamb (quad) landed on the IL on April 5, then he’s hit .255/.337/.462 with five homers and 12 RBI for you in 39 games. Since April 26, he’s hit .190/.289/.329 with three RBI in 21 games. He’s still playing every day, but he likely will do a lot of sitting when Lamb returns, which could happen in a couple of weeks. It’s past time to drop him in mixed leagues.

- Cole Tucker is batting just .163/.212/.265 in 80 at-bats, so it figures that Kevin Newman is due a turn as the Pirates’ shortstop. Tucker was more interesting for fantasy purposes, only because he’s a basestealer, but it seems like he belongs in Triple-A right now.

Matthew Pouliot
Matthew Pouliot is the Executive Editor of RotoWorld.com and has been doing the site's baseball projections for the last 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @matthewpouliot.