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Strike Zone

Strike Zone Notes

by Matthew Pouliot
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

This is going to be an abbreviated notes column, on account of me not having watched as much baseball as usual these last few days (sorry, but there was a birthday to celebrate). Instead of going team-by-team, I’ll just divide the notes up by league today.


American League Notes


- Even those not reading anything into Lance McCullers Jr.’s Lancaster-inflated 5.47 ERA last year thought he’d probably end up as a reliever. McCullers, though, started this year on an incredible surge, posting a 0.62 ERA and a 43/11 K/BB ratio in 29 innings in Double-A, and now he’s been called up by the Astros to make his major league debut as a starter Monday. McCullers throws in the mid-90s and has an excellent sweeping curve, but he’s also walked 128 batters in 257 innings as a minor leaguer and his changeup is below average, which is why some have looked at him as a closer. That still seems to be the most likely scenario, but it will be interesting to see what he can do as a starter first. If he can get ahead of hitters, he’ll certainly be able to put them away. I don’t think he’s a good enough bet to warrant an immediate pickup in mixed leagues.


- On the surface, the Twins’ demotion of Kennys Vargas on Sunday was baffling; the hulking DH had turned it around nicely after a rough start to the point that he was hitting .357 with two homers in 42 at-bats in April. But the Twins have Monday off, followed by two games in Pittsburgh, followed by another day off. So, maybe it makes more sense to send him back to the minors for 10 days than it does to give him nothing to do these next four. It still doesn’t look very good, though. And, unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any chance of Oswaldo Arcia (hip) coming off the DL on Friday. That’ll mean more Eddie Rosario and Eduardo Escobar in the outfield while Torii Hunter DHs against the White Sox and Red Sox.


- Neftali Feliz has seemingly lost his closer’s gig in Texas, even though he looks better now than he did last year. His velocity has been more consistent. He’s striking out more batters (15 in 16 1/3 IP). His walk rate isn’t bad, once you factor in that two of the seven BBs he’s issued have been intentional. His groundball rate has improved. None of this is to say he’s pitching particularly well. Basically, he looks like an average reliever, one who just happens to be getting dinged for more singles than usual. I doubt the Rangers are ready to go to Keone Kela in the closer’s role, so Shawn Tolleson is probably the favorite for saves for now. They’ll want Feliz to win back the role, so don’t go dropping him in AL-only leagues.


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- According to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, the Rangers are weighing calling up 2013 first-round pick Chi Chi Gonzalez to replace the injured Ross Detwiler (shoulder) in the rotation. It seems like something of a reach, given that Gonzalez has a poor 22/16 K/BB ratio in 37 1/3 innings for Triple-A Round Rock. His 4.10 ERA and 1.473 WHIP aren’t exactly encouraging, either. Gonzalez has been better in the past and he’s a perfectly legitimate prospect with his fastball-slider combination, but he seems like a long shot to help the Rangers or fantasy teams right now. It’s possible the Rangers will just go back to Anthony Ranaudo instead.


- Josh Hamilton could return from the disabled list sometime this week, which could result in Carlos Peguero losing his gig. The alternative would be Kyle Blanks, but Blanks would be an everyday player if I had any say in it. It’s too bad the Rangers probably can’t just flip Mitch Moreland for a pitching prospect. Hamilton has gone 8-for-24 with a couple of doubles and six strikeouts in 24 minor league at-bats. He’s yet to homer, and his lone walk was intentional. He won’t be an option in mixed leagues until next week at the earliest.


-Baltimore’s Mike Wright has been an underrated prospect for a while now, partly because everyone has been especially interested in seeing what Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy can do. Wright, though, was outstanding in his debut Sunday against the Angels, pitching 7 1/3 scoreless innings with no walks and six strikeouts. He throws in the mid-90s and mixes in a nice changeup. Neither his slider nor curve is particularly strong, which held down his strikeout rate in the minors last year. If one were clearly better than the other, he could focus on that one and ditch the loser. There isn’t a winner right now, though. Maybe major league coaching will help one shine through. First, he has to find a way to stick in the rotation. The Orioles will probably go right back to Bud Norris and return Wright to Triple-A, but if they make the switch, Wright would be one to consider in deeper mixed leagues.


- I wish the Red Sox would have kept Steven Wright in their pen to cover for the high number of short starts they get and tried one of their youngsters in Justin Masterson’s place for the next few weeks. Brian Johnson bounced back from his bad outing two weeks ago to allow two earned runs over 12 2/3 innings in his last two starts for Triple-A Pawtucket. Eduardo Rodriguez has a 2.86 ERA and a 34/5 K/BB ratio over 34 2/3 innings in his six starts. I wouldn’t mind Wright as a starter if there weren’t such intriguing options behind him, but the Red Sox need to try one of the guys with upside before they get forced into any trades.


- Activating Nick Franklin gives the Rays quite a crowd at second base. Franklin hit .318/.423/.500 over eight games during his rehab assignment and then went 2-for-5 in his first game with the Rays on Sunday, so it looks like he’ll be playing quite a bit. The slumping Tim Beckham figures to be the primary casualty when it comes to playing time, and Logan Forsythe will do more DHing, at least until John Jaso (wrist) comes off the disabled list. Asdrubal Cabrera has finally started to heat up some of late, so it doesn’t look like he’ll be taking a seat.


- The Rays say they’ll mix and match in the closer’s role following Jake McGee’s return, which should result in both McGee and Brad Boxberger retaining a fair amount of fantasy value. I think McGee will win out in the pen, but we’ll see. McGee has pitched six scoreless innings in his rehab assignment, so he should be thrown into close games right away.


- The A’s will go with Max Muncy and Mark Canha at first base for the next couple of weeks while Ike Davis’s strained quad heals. It probably won’t be a straight platoon, since Canha is the righty and Muncy isn’t very good.


- Sean Doolittle (shoulder) could be activated this weekend, but it wouldn’t be to close out games right away. He can be left reserved in fantasy leagues.


- Mixed leaguers will probably want to sit Alex Rodriguez this week, as the Yankees will play just three games with the designated hitter (and five overall).


National League Notes


- It’s entirely possible that the Marlins’ early struggles weren’t Mike Redmond’s fault and that Redmond wasn’t a very good manager. At least, I subscribe to both theories. I don’t think there’s much a new manager is going to do to shake things up. Steve Cishek has already been taken out of the closer’s role, with A.J. Ramos becoming the new favorite for saves. Tom Koehler was just replaced in the rotation by the returning Henderson Alvarez, so there aren’t any moves to make there.


About the biggest move a new manager could make would be to begin platooning the left-handed-hitting Justin Bour with Michael Morse at first base. I’d be in favor of that, though I don’t think it’d make a big difference. Bour, who came off the bench and broke up Shelby Miller’s no-hitter in the ninth inning Sunday, might be worth the flier in NL-only leagues.


- So, Billy Hamilton goes 2-for-5 with a homer on Saturday and then the Reds drop him out of the leadoff spot for the first time all season Sunday. I don’t want to endorse the way Hamilton is playing; he entered Sunday with a .212 average and a .264 OBP. Yet, he’s so good on the basepaths that he had scored 22 runs in 33 games anyway. That’s two runs every three games. Last year, there were seven players in the entirety of the majors to score runs at that rate (four if you limit it to batting-title qualifiers). Of course, it’d be nice if Hamilton were hitting better. But the Reds can’t bench him, not when he’s so good defensively and the alternatives are so obviously not. And if he can’t be benched, he might as well be left in the leadoff spot, especially since he’s probably not even really this bad.


- Stephen Strasburg is still a top-10 fantasy starter in my book. He’s definitely made things harder on himself than need be this year, but he isn’t far away from where he needs to be. He’s actually getting more soft contact than ever before, says Fangraphs’s numbers. If the buy low possibility is there, go for it.


- After allowing two runs in six innings and striking out in a Double-A start, Jaime Garcia (shoulder) will come off the disabled list and start Thursday against the Mets. Marco Gonzales struggled again Thursday in his second rehab start, so he’s not yet an option (he’s allowed 11 earned runs in 6 1/3 innings in his two Triple-A starts since coming back from a pectoral strain). It’s anyone’s guess how long Garcia will stay healthy, but he should have some mixed-league value while in the rotation. That’s not to say I’d activate him right away this week, but probably next week if he looks decent his first time out.


- Noah Syndergaard took a step towards earning a full-time rotation spot by limiting the Brewers to one run in six innings with a 5/1 K/BB ratio on Sunday. He's still assured just one more start, but if this week's outing is more like Sunday's than the one he turned in during his major league debut, it's going to be awfully difficult for the Mets to send him back down.


- After waiting just long enough to push back his free agency by a year, the Phillies promoted Maikel Franco on Friday. Franco was up last September, which delayed his 2015 arrival some, since the Phillies didn’t want him to be eligible for free agency following the 2020 season. I like Franco plenty for the long haul, but I’m skeptical he’ll accrue much in the way of mixed-league fantasy value this year. Franco still chases a lot of pitches he shouldn’t, so a strong average isn’t likely, and while he has excellent power potential, he’s a 15-20 homer guy (over a full season) right now. Also important is that he has a crummy lineup around him.


- The Braves have already done a lot of juggling this year, and the latest move is to have Williams Perez replace Eric Stults in the rotation. I’m not very optimistic about Perez. He has bottom-of-the-rotation stuff and Triple-A command, which doesn’t seem like a very good combination. I doubt the Braves will have much patience with him, and the guess here is that either Matt Wisler or Manny Banuelos takes over that spot early next month. Wisler is the more interesting fantasy option, though I don’t suspect that he’ll have mixed-league value right away.


- Things must be going pretty well when you can demote a guy with a 39/10 K/BB ratio in 37 innings to the bullpen. That’s what the Cubs did with Travis Wood last week. It seems like quite the overreaction, given that Wood ended April with a 3.04 ERA before struggling in three straight starts to open May. On the other hand, it’s just Travis Wood, and if no one better comes along, he can simply rejoin the rotation in a few weeks. Tsuyoshi Wada is set to take the spot for now, making him a nice option in NL-only leagues.


- It was quite the bummer to see Justin Morneau go down with concussion symptoms, especially given his history. The hope is that it’s a short-term absence, but in the meantime, Wilin Rosario becomes a great play in mixed leagues. The Rockies have eight games at home this week, and Rosario will probably start most of them at first base.


- The Padres are hoping to have Wil Myers (wrist) back in the lineup Tuesday, so he should be active in mixed leagues.

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.