What if Luis Arraez Struggles in 2020?

Calling a rough second season a “sophomore slump” has been ubiquitous in the game of baseball at least for as long as I’ve been watching it.

In traditional analysis, it’s been used to temper expectations after a player sets fire to the game in their first season — sometimes not even rooted in facts but rather just a reckoning to people having seen it time and again.

But the reality is that the game is a cruel mistress. Opponents adjust. Hitting and pitching at the game’s highest level is hard.

Sometimes players have a hot stretch buoyed by luck or some such fortunate sequencing, resulting in their first season being the best of their career.

Examples include:

  • Pat Listach – The 1993 Rookie of the Year was worth 4.5 bWAR in his rookie season with the Milwaukee Brewers. His bWAR at the end of his career? 4.4. Yikes.
  • Bob Hamelin – The 1994 Rookie of the Year who hit .282/.388/.599 in 101 games, then hit .168/.278/.313 the next season and was out of baseball within four years.
  • Angel Berroa – The 2003 Rookie of the Year who hit .287/.338/.451 in 158 games, then went on to hit just .249/.291/.353.

There’ve even been some notorious post-rookie dropoffs for the Minnesota Twins, as well. Perhaps the most notable recent one was Danny Santana, who revived his career in 2019 with the Texas Rangers.

Santana, who turns 30 in November, hit .319/.353/.472 for the Twins in 2014. He followed that up with a .215/.241/.291 line in 91 games the next season, and by 2017 found himself on a one-way train to Atlanta.

Santana isn’t so much a cautionary tale as he is proof that a career doesn’t have to be defined by a rookie year, a cliff dive after it or anything in the interim. Sure, he benefitted from the juiced ball in 2019, but a 111 wRC+ is nearly double the mark he put up in a 15-game cup of coffee with the Braves in 2018 (58).

So what does this have to do with the Twins?

Let’s talk about Luis Arraez.

Arraez wasn’t even supposed to be in the big leagues in 2019.

He missed almost all of 2017 with a torn ACL, then came back to Fort Myers and hit .320/.373/.421 in 60 games in 2018 before making the jump to Double-A (.298/.345/.365). Arraez opened 2019 with Pensacola and raked to the tune of a .342/.415/.397 line before jumping to Rochester to hit .348/.397/.409 in 16 games.

Then, it was time for the big show.

To say he wasn’t supposed to be in the big leagues last year isn’t meant to be any sort of dig. He’d only played 48 games above High-A. The Twins had signed Jonathan Schoop to keep the keystone warm for someone — maybe Arraez, Nick Gordon, Royce Lewis or even Jorge Polanco.

It wasn’t exactly a Wally Pipp situation, but Arraez took the job and ran with it. Arraez’s OPS didn’t spend consecutive days under 1.000 until his 26th and 27 MLB games, and it took 42 games for it to dip under .900.

Where that’s truly impressive is that it was largely batting-average driven. It wasn’t until his 63rd MLB game that his average dropped under .340. Then it jumped back up over .350 for games 83 and 84 before settling at .334.

All of this has generated chatter about if Arraez could possibly hit .400 in an abbreviated season. A lot of it. The St. Paul Pioneer Press mentioned it here. MLB.com did as well here.

After 60 MLB games, Arraez was hitting .346. Incidentally, that was the best 60-game stretch of his entire season — and he was still 50-plus points away from immortality.

But in a short season, who really knows?

But that cuts both ways. What if Arraez struggles? Is that possible?

Let’s look at a few ways it is.

First of all, Arraez doesn’t hit the ball very hard. There were 225 hitters in MLB last year with at least 250 batted-ball events (BBE). Arraez ranked 183rd among those with a average exit velocity of 86.9 mph. That was the lowest of any Twin meeting that threshold.

By hard-hit rate — balls measured 95 mph or higher — Arraez ranked 217th with just 22.1 percent meeting that level. The next-lowest Twin was Polanco at 33.0 percent (179th).

Then, we move onto barrels. Barrels signify a certain hit type that leads to at least a .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage in the Statcast era. It’s a bit of mumbo-jumbo, but here’s a primer on it.

The short answer is this: hitters like Nelson Cruz (first in Barrels per BBE percent) and Josh Donaldson (seventh) are near the top of this list because they barrel up the ball frequently.

Cruz’s rate per batted-ball event was 19.9 percent, and per plate appearance was 12.5 percent. For Donaldson, 15.7 and 9.4 percent, respectively.

Arraez, on the other hand, ranked 204th in Barrels per BBE at 2.7 percent, and 202nd in Barrels per PA at 2.2 percent.

In other words, this is more data suggesting Arraez doesn’t exactly crush the baseball. Fangraphs paints a slightly rosier picture with Arraez 211th out of 273 hitters last season (min. 300 PA) with a hard-contact percentage of 34.7 percent.

Again, it’s still not a rosy picture.

A hitter cut from Arraez’s mold typically does well to keep the ball out of the air — at least in terms of fly balls — based on exit velocity, and he makes that trade off well. The MLB average fly-ball rate for a hitter last year was 35.7 percent, while Arraez was at 29.1 percent while funneling most of it to line drives (29.4 percent vs. a league-average mark of 21.4 percent).

So when he hit it hard it was frequently a line drive, which is a good combination — obviously.

But a .355 BABIP? That’s awfully hard to sustain, isn’t it? Well…not necessarily. Arraez has been in that .350-.375 range throughout his minor-league career. Nine qualified hitters posted a BABIP over .350 last year — one of which was Santana and another was Cruz.

It can be done, but it usually takes a lot of luck or in the case of Christian Yelich (.355) pretty much just being a monster with the bat.

Players typically fall within a range of .290-.310 — some people prefer .280-.320 — but the MLB average last season was .298. Now it’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition because there are different strokes for different folks.


A player who sprays line drives is naturally going to have a higher BABIP than others.

xBABIP accounts for all of this and puts it into a tidy package. It takes a player’s batted-ball mix and computes what his BABIP should have normalized to. As noted before, Arraez posted a BABIP of .355 against an xBABIP of…..just .314.

Only one player with at least 200 plate appearances had a wider negative margin last season — San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr. (-.069).

The primary culprit for Arraez? Ground balls.

The MLB-average BABIP on grounders last year was .238 — while Arraez checked in at .312.

And that’s where it’s kind of difficult to forecast where to go from here. Switching up a batted-ball mix to hitting more balls in the air is, in general, the way to go for more extra-base hits, but as noted before Arraez doesn’t hit the ball particularly hard in general. He ranked 144th on the Statcast leaderboard (out of 225) in terms of average groundball exit velocity, and 205th in line drive/fly ball velocity.

He ran up his luck hitting the ball on the ground — not particularly forcefully, either — but when he hit the ball in the air, things really went even worse.

That lines up when comparing his fly-ball BABIP (.055) with the MLB average (.096) as well.

None of this is to say it’s a smoking gun that Arraez won’t continue to work his mojo on opposing pitchers but that the picture maybe isn’t as rosy as some have laid it out to be. His .104 isolated power was his highest since Low-A ball in 2016, too.

Any sort of regression to that would also, of course, hamper his overall line.

As a result, projection systems are a bit tepid on Arraez. He slashed .334/.399/.439 last season for a 125 wRC+ and .360 wOBA. Every projection system housed at Fangraphs has him pegged for a .420 slugging percentage or lower despite each of them having him hitting within three points one way or the other from a .310 batting average.

Oh, and speaking of wOBA — Arraez’s xwOBA was .336 last season, again suggesting he outperformed that mark by nearly 25 points.

That xBABIP of .314 keeps bringing me back to his first 48 games at Double-A back in 2018. That year, he had a BABIP of .315 and slashed .298/.345/.365. He walked a little less (6.7 percent) and struck out a little more (8.2 percent) than he did in the big leagues last season (9.8 percent and 7.9 percent, respectively), but that came out to a 103 wRC+.

Now, that was a .325 wOBA, so we could adjust up a bit. But if he hits something like that again, are fans going to be happy with it?

All I’m saying is it’s a really difficult tightrope to walk if a player has to hit .300 in order to be at least league average offensively. Again, at Double-A the first time around he hit .298 with a 103 wRC+. That, with questionable defense at second base, is not going to hold off the organization’s top prospect very long.

But even if Arraez struggles in 2020, it is after all just 60 games. When I started my wheels turning on this idea, it was back in the spring when 162 games were still on the table. And not only that, but a full minor-league season too.

So even if Arraez struggles, it’s not as though the prospects behind him will have had that time to creep up on him.

But if the Twins do deem Lewis ready to take over some position in the infield full-time in the next year or so, what does that mean for Arraez?

The Twins did try him a bit at third base (17 games) and left field (21) last season, with UZR/150 giving him fairly positive grades in obviously small samples. Could he reprise a quasi-Marwin Gonzalez role?

Keep in mind that both Marwin and Ehire Adrianza are eligible for free agency after 2020.

Maybe Luis as a super utility type in the future isn’t such a bad idea after all.

Thanks to Jeremy Frank and Baseball Savant for research assistance.

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Attempting to Power Rank the NL Teams

In something like two-and-a-half weeks, we should be seeing big-league baseball. That is, as long as the COVID-19 pandemic is considered well enough under control between the 30 MLB teams to proceed with a truncated 60-game season.

I’m not optimistic.

But if we see this thing get off the ground and go the distance, there’s pretty much a guarantee that things will be topsy-turvy.

Last time out, I took a stab at power ranking the American League teams. This time around, we’re taking a look at the National League.

In case you missed them, here are the AL Power Rankings

National League

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

There’s an incredible amount of star power between the two L.A. clubs. Even without David Price, their rotation looks solid with Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood, Julio Urias and some combination of Ross Stripling/Dustin May/Brusdar Graterol and others. Their bullpen is sturdy and the offense is absolutely loaded.

Last year’s team hit .257/.338/.472 and added Mookie Betts, a perennial MVP candidate. Losing Alex Verdugo might sting a little bit, but it’s an outfield with Betts, Cody Bellinger, Joc Pederson, Chris Taylor, A.J. Pollock and Enrique Hernandez all vying for time.

If they could stomach a positional loss anywhere, it was in the outfield. Taylor and Hernandez are also vying for playing time on the dirt as well, meaning that on any given night, two MLB-caliber starters will be available off the bench for Dave Roberts’ crew.

I don’t know if there’s a more talented team in baseball. In fact, I’m pretty sure not.

2. Atlanta Braves

Not being able to retain Josh Donaldson hurts, but Austin Riley showed some potential last season and moving him in from the outfield doesn’t hurt as much with Nick Markakis, Ender Inciarte, Marcell Ozuna and of course, Ronald Acuna Jr. out there.

I’m still a Sean Newcomb guy so their rotation of Mike Soroka, Max Fried, Cole Hamels, Mike Foltynewicz and the Duke is, at least for me, on track to be one of the better ones in the NL.

I’m still a Dansby Swanson backer as well, so I think their double play combination is terrific, and I’m hoping just like everyone else that Freddie Freeman comes out of his COVID situation as healthy as possible.

That’s honestly really all we can hope for at this point.

3. Washington Nationals

I think maybe the Dodgers are the only team to not have felt some form of a significant loss on their roster from the past offseason. While they were bringing in Betts, the Braves lost Donaldson and the Nats lost Anthony Rendon to the Los Angeles Angels.

But if the Nationals were able to weather the storm of losing Bryce Harper and still in the World Series, who’s to say they can’t do it again in a shortened season?

They’ll give Carter Kieboom — a consensus top-25 prospect across the board — the first crack at reps at third base, and they have some depth at the corners with Asdrubal Cabrera and Howie Kendrick in the mix even with Ryan Zimmerman opting out of what’ll likely be his final MLB season.

Their outfield is as good as just about any other if Victor Robles reaches his full potential, and he just turned 23 a little over a month ago.

Don’t sleep on a repeat.

4. St. Louis Cardinals

This is where things get squirrely for me. I think you can make a case for Nos. 4-11 in any order in a normal regular season. In a 60-game sprint? Forget it.

If St. Louis can keep its rotation healthy, I think it has just enough to be there at the end when the dust settles in the NL Central. Everything I just said about team Nos. 4-11? That’s doubly true for the Central as I think you could pick the Cardinals, Cubs, Brewers and Reds out of a hat and have a better chance getting the correct order at the end of the season.

The Cardinals don’t have a ton of star power behind Jack Flaherty. Kolten Wong and Paul Goldschmidt are both terrific players, but Wong is underrated and Goldy took a bit of a step back last year. He’s still entering only his age-32 season, so a bounce-back year isn’t out of the question.

Yadier Molina and Matt Carpenter took steps back as they head into their late- and mid-30s, respectively. Ozuna left for Atlanta. Harrison Bader had a tough year offensively. Paul DeJong fell off a bit. Dexter Fowler rebounded but was still pretty much average.

But what I see here is a bunch of guys who are going to be hungry — hungry to prove they have something left or that last year was an aberration.

And I just can’t bet against the Cardinals. They have that same devil magic the Rays do in the AL.

5. New York Mets

I like this roster a lot. Adding the DH should give either Yoenis Cespedes or Dominic Smith a chance to actually get to play, and the rest of the lineup is so, so good.

I think Amed Rosario is ready to break out as a potential superstar, and while Robinson Cano is headed into his age-37 season, he’s still just one year removed from a 136 OPS+ with the Mariners.

Their rotation is amazing at the top (Jacob DeGrom), intriguing in the middle (Marcus Stroman and Steven Matz) and I don’t know….kinda durable on the back end? Calling Michael Wacha durable is probably not wise, but Rick Porcello is the definition of the word. Obviously the loss of Noah Syndergaard hurts, but their bullpen has the chance to be really, really good if Edwin Diaz rebounds and/or Dellin Betances proves healthy.

If both are true, it might be the best bullpen in the NL — and still maybe not the best in the entire city.

6. San Diego Padres

I think this is the year for the Padres. You could easily make the case for them at No. 4, but I just need to see all of their young talent together to see just how good they can be. Adding Tommy Pham is a great move, but they still have some weird spots on the roster too.

How good can Eric Hosmer, Wil Myers and Jurickson Profar be? If you told someone a half-decade ago that these guys would all be on the same team, someone would have told you it was probably the Yankees.

Instead, they’re the three biggest wild cards on a team teeming with young talent, surrounded by a superstar in Manny Machado. It’ll be on Machado to prove last year was an aberration, but his last three years by wRC+ are 102, 140 and 108.

Where does he settle in a short season?

The pitching staff might be the most fascinating in baseball. Chris Paddack fronting the rotation and Kirby Yates backing the ‘pen are two of the best in the business at what they do, and the rest of the group is just obscenely interesting. Can Dinelson Lamet and Garrett Richards stay healthy?

If any team is coming out of nowhere this year, this is the team.

7. Cincinnati Reds

I think it’s fair to say I’m the high man on the Reds. For me it starts with the rotation, where Luis Castillo-Sonny Gray-Trevor Bauer can definitely win in October. It’d be hard to find many teams with a better 4-5 combo than Anthony DeSclafani and Wade Miley, too.

The bullpen is stout, too, with Raisel Iglesias, Amir Garrett, Michael Lorenzen and Robert Stephenson welcoming Pedro Strop into the fold. Strop struggled a bit with the Cubs last year but is just a year removed from posting 2.0 bWAR in the Chicago ‘pen.

Offensively, they have the potential to be really, really solid. Shogo Akiyama and Joey Votto will get on base to set up Eugenio Suarez, who was second in MLB with 49 home runs last season. Mike Moustakas and Nicholas Castellanos will provide plenty of thunder behind Suarez, and Jesse Winker looks primed to take a leap forward as another guy who’ll be on base constantly.

The Reds went from one good defensive shortstop with some pop (Jose Iglesias) to another (Freddy Galvis), and Tucker Barnhart is steady, if unspectacular, behind the plate.

One thing to note is that it doesn’t appear like Aristides Aquino (19 homers in just 56 games last season) or Phil Ervin (.271/.331/.466 in 94 games) are guaranteed any sort of playing time, thanks in large part to uber-prospect Nick Senzel being penciled in for reps at DH.

That’s some significant offensive talent on the outside looking in to start the 2020 sprint.

8. Arizona Diamondbacks

I’m also the high man on the Diamondbacks and I’m OK with that. They’re a really, really good defensive team and I think they’ll hit better than last year.

Roster Resource has Carson Kelly hitting ninth — and he hit .245/.348/.478 as a catcher last season. That’s pretty good.

Their bench is going to have some veteran leadership (Stephen Vogt/Jon Jay), thump (Kevin Cron) and speed (Tim Locastro).

But what I’m really, really excited about is a full season of Zac Gallen starting, along with the potential of the long-awaited Robbie Ray breakout. Mike Leake opting out almost guarantees Gallen a rotation spot, and Madison Bumgarner and Merrill Kelly will be the gray beards on a rotation that’ll also include impressive youngster Luke Weaver.

Will they get outs late in games? That I’m not as sure of. They were about middle of the pack in fWAR as a bullpen last year, and outside of Archie Bradley it’s a bit of a mixed bag out in the bullpen.

9. Chicago Cubs

There’s still a lot of talent here, but I feel like it’s a tinder box waiting to explode. The front of their rotation is solid in Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks, but Jon Lester and Jose Quintana are coming off good, but perhaps maybe slightly disappointing seasons. Quintana’s was more in 2018, for what it’s worth, but I think it’s fair to say at least fans would have hoped for more from both last season.

Their bullpen wasn’t very good last year — too many walks — and that was with Craig Kimbrel pitching terribly and before Brandon Kintzler, Steve Cishek and Brad Brach left.

It’s possible that they’ll have one of the worst bullpens in the NL this year with a rookie manager left to sort it out.

Offensively the Cubs should be fairly solid, but they’ll feel a lot better if Ian Happ can stretch his 58-game production from last year (127 wRC+) through this season to help cushion the loss of Castellanos (154 wRC+).

The core five of Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber is about as good as anyone else can boast, and maybe it’s a cause of some fatigue in the industry because they’ve just been together doing their thing for so long.

Still, the Cubs have big, big question marks at second base (Jason Kipnis) and center field (Albert Almora Jr.) and not much of a bullpen to speak of. They can contend for the NL Central crown for sure, but it’s going to take all hands on deck.

10. Philadelphia Phillies

Maybe I’ll get some grief for this, maybe I won’t. The Phillies aren’t particularly young, and outside of a blistering middle of the order definitely have some question marks.

Andrew McCutchen hitting leadoff shouldn’t be a problem if he can stay healthy, but he’s coming off playing just 59 games last season after having ACL surgery. Jean Segura batting second has potential to be decent, but Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins and JT Realmuto are going to mess people up from 3-4-5.

But after that, it’s Jay Bruce, Didi Gregorius, Josh Harrison and Adam Haseley. Bruce and Gregorious had sub-.280 OBP marks last year, Harrison (.175/.218/.263) washed out after fewer than 40 games with the Tigers and Haseley was merely decent in his 67-game cup of coffee last season (88 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR).

Getting Scott Kingery back healthy as soon as possible will matter a lot, as it’s clear the Phillies don’t have a ton of depth in their lineup without him. He too had just a .315 OBP last year.

After Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, I don’t particularly like their rotation — and Wheeler expects to miss some time due to the birth of his child around the start of the season.

The bullpen could get a little messy, though. Hector Neris is on the COVID injured list, and behind him are Anthony Swarzak and Tommy Hunter. Swarzak is coming off a brutal season and Hunter missed almost all of 2019 with flexor tendon surgery.

11. Milwaukee Brewers

This, to me, is the bottom of the teams I truly expect to content.

I just have no idea what to do with Milwaukee’s rotation. Brandon Woodruff will probably start on Opening Day, but he threw 121.2 innings last year and has barely thrown 200 in the big leagues. After that, it’s Adrian Houser (127 MLB innings), Brett Anderson (4.6 K/9), Josh Lindblom (returning from two-year stint in Korea) and Eric Lauer (4.45 ERA/4.23 FIP in 149.2 innings with Padres).

In the interest of honesty, that’s the glass-half-empty view of each pitcher. Woodruff and Houser both have terrific stuff, Anderson gets grounders in bunches, Lindblom was terrific in the KBO and Lauer posted a 2.3 fWAR with the Padres in 2019 — not bad for a fifth starter.

If they can get leads to Josh Hader, he should be able to hold them. The home run problem last year appeared to mostly just be a product of the league-wide environment, but he was still nasty as ever otherwise. Corey Knebel missed 2019, but if he can even get back to 2018 (1.0 fWAR) if not 2017 (2.8), that would be a huge boost.

Otherwise, this’ll be a group that massively misses Drew Pomeranz, Jeremy Jeffress, Junior Guerra and others.

Offensively, the Crew should be pretty good. Christian Yelich is, of course, a monster. Keston Hiura is one of the most intriguing young offensive players in all of baseball. After that, there’s plenty of room for value but it might not come from obvious places.

Ryan Braun is still in the picture. Justin Smoak should be fairly productive. Omar Narvaez is one of the more underrated hitting catchers in the game today. Avisail Garcia is still one of the more toolsy players in the game. Eric Sogard is coming off a really strong 2020, but if he can’t repeat they still have Orlando Arcia. Arcia is still only heading into his age-25 season — and for what it’s worth was absolutely mauling Cactus League pitching (.296/.310/.926).

It’ll take a lot of meshing from a lot of moving pieces over a very short period of time for the Crew to contend this season. I wouldn’t bet on it, but this is — in my opinion — the floor of teams who could feasibly contend in 2020.

12. Colorado Rockies

I like the Rockies more than I expected to. I think the top of their rotation could be sneaky good — especially if Kyle Freeland can split the difference between his 2019 (0.1 fWAR) and 2018 (4.1) campaigns. His 2017 (2.0) pretty much suggests he can.

I’m bearish on Wade Davis, but I really like Scott Oberg and Jairo Diaz — both of whom are expected to set him up this season. Diaz had a 4.53 ERA last season, but from July 25 on it was 3.07 with 32 strikeouts, eight walks and a .600 OPS against in 29.1 innings.

Offensively, the Rockies should be able to do things — regardless of altitude. Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story are among the absolute elite at their positions, and Charlie Blackmon (125 wRC+) and David Dahl (110) aren’t too bad, either.

There are some questions on offense, though. They’ll have to replace Ian Desmond, who has opted out, which isn’t as easy as just saying “he had an 86 wRC+ last year.” That’s still nearly 500 plate appearances that have to replicate just that to keep everything else afloat. Some of those could come via Raimel Tapia improving. He hit .275/.309/.415 last season (73) but is long on talent. Does Daniel Murphy (86 wRC+ as well) have anything left? How about Garrett Hampson (63 wRC+), who was everyone’s breakout candidate in fantasy leagues last year?

Brendan Rodgers has to be considered as well. He sputtered in his cup of coffee last year, but he’s a five-time top-100 prospect no matter where one looks. He’s been ranked every season since before 2016.

That’s pretty remarkable.

13. San Francisco Giants

There just isn’t much here. They hit .239/.302/.392 and didn’t do much in the way of adding significantly on offense. Mike Yastrzemski and Alex Dickerson are the only returning regulars who were significantly above average offensively last season, and they played a combined 163 games.

Buster Posey hit just .257/.320/.368. Brandon Belt hit just .234/.339/.403. Brandon Crawford hit a meager .228/.304/.350. In a year where the ball absolutely soared out of the park, San Francisco’s key players each took a step backward.

Bringing back Hunter Pence will be a fun bit of nostalgia and Mauricio Dubon could be fun to watch, but this is still an offense that will probably start Billy Hamilton every night in center.

It’s going to be a long short season in San Francisco.

14. Miami Marlins

I vacillated between the Marlins and Pirates for this spot, and I went with one of my old adages:

“If you can’t be good, at least be interesting.”

I’m not convinced the Pirates can do that. Meanwhile, the Marlins should be plenty fun in the rotation — I’m higher on Caleb Smith than most and really, really like Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez and Jordan Yamamoto — and the bullpen will be a hodge-podge of whatever they can find out there.

Offensively, Jonathan Villar will probably get the chance to steal like 30 bags — in a 60-game season, remember — and it’s not hard to squint and see Isan Diaz regain his prospect mojo in the big leagues. He hit .305/.395/.578 in New Orleans last year as a 23 year old. It was the PCL, but it’s still a good sign.

Brian Anderson is one of the most underrated players in baseball, Corey Dickerson can really hit when he’s healthy and Jesus Aguilar is one year removed from popping 35 homers for the Brewers.

They might go 22-38 but they’re going to be interesting — and again, that’s all you can ask for.

15. Pittsburgh Pirates

So much of what made this team interesting has been stripped away in recent seasons. Gone are McCutchen, Starling Marte, Gerrit Cole, Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows. Even Chris Archer and Jameson Taillon — arm surgery, both — are out as well.

Josh Bell may as well be one foot out the door after hitting 37 home runs in 143 games last season. Beyond him, Bryan Reynolds (131 wRC+ in 134 games) and Kevin Newman (110) show promise, and maybe Jose Osuna and Adam Frazier (97, both) could get there, but it’s pretty bleak.

Gregory Polanco only played in 42 games and hit just .242/.301/.425 after a big 2018 season. If he can show any sort of rebound this year, he could be a prime trade candidate in a wacky season where teams won’t want to take on much risk financially. Polanco will only be 29 in September and is owed a minimum of just $4 million past this year (with a maximum of $26 million with 2022-23 options).

Jose Musgrove is really, really interesting atop the rotation but it gets dicey quickly after that. Mitch Keller (12.2 K/9) was interesting (7.13 ERA/3.19 FIP) in 48.0 innings, but Steven Brault (5.16 ERA) and Trevor Williams (5.38) weren’t particularly good, either.

That’s the projected 1-4 in the rotation, with Derek Holland (6.08 ERA/6.10 FIP) penciled in as the No. 5 starter.

No returning reliever was worth even a half-win via fWAR last year, though part of that was because Keone Kela only pitched 29.2 innings. Still, beyond him it’s Kyle Crick, Richard Rodriguez, Michael Feliz and Nick Burdi, whose seasons ranged from really bad to barely got off the ground due to injury.

Derek Shelton has his work cut out for him.

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Would You Opt Out if You Were an MLB Player?

Four players — Ryan Zimmerman, Mike Leake, Ian Desmond and Joe Ross have decided to opt out of the abbreviated 2020 MLB season.

So I thought it might be interesting to ask — would you opt out? I’d have to think about it. I have a three-year-old daughter and an immunocompromised brother.

Let me know what you think:

Would You Opt Out if You Were an MLB Player?
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Attempting to Power Rank the AL Teams

So it feels like we sort of, kind of, maybe might be a little bit closer to baseball starting?

That’s about as optimistic as I can allow myself to be right now, but with that shred of optimism I thought I’d take a stab at power ranking both leagues.

We don’t even know if the leagues as we know them would exist in 2020 — in fact, I’d suspect not — but we have a pretty good idea there’ll be a universal DH and hopefully somewhere in the vicinity of 65 games.

Here are the NL Power Rankings

Anyway, here’s what I think we’re looking at in terms of how the teams stack up at present:

American League

1. New York Yankees

For as much ballyhoo as the Gerrit Cole signing deservedly gets, the rotation behind him is only pretty good. James Paxton appears to be fully healthy and is good when that’s true, but he and Masahiro Tanaka — while very solid — won’t make anyone forget about Justin Verlander, Cole and Zack Greinke last season.

But it’s still a very good trio with J.A. Happ, Jordan Montgomery and maybe eventually Domingo German in the mix as well — and a dang good bullpen behind that.

They’ll score runs in bunches, prevent them just as well and that’s before seeing what Aaron Hicks and Miguel Andujar can provide.

These guys are really good.

2. Houston Astros

I’m still not sure what to do with the Astros in light of everything that went on this winter, but they’re the defending AL Champions and still star-studded at pretty much every level.

I have a question or two about the back end of their rotation, but you could easily make a case for Astros-Yankees at Nos. 1-2 in that order and I wouldn’t fight.

3. Minnesota Twins

One thing going for the Twins is their depth. With everyone healthy, Homer Bailey is probably on the outside looking in on a rotation spot — and he was pretty good last year.

Their fifth and sixth bullpen arms are Tyler Clippard and Zack Littell, the former a veteran of 816 big-league innings with a 3.14 ERA and the latter is coming off allowing one earned run from Aug. 1 on (0.48 ERA in 18.2 IP).

On offense, they’re coming off hitting the most home runs in the history of baseball, with a player like Marwin Gonzalez not even guaranteed an every-day role. He anchors a bench that features a versatile everyman in Ehire Adrianza, a grizzled veteran OBP machine and clubhouse delight in Alex Avila behind the plate and Jake Cave, who through about a full season-worth of games has hit .262/.329/.466 and done pretty much all that’s asked of him.

Add in Josh Donaldson to last year’s nuttiness on offense and this is another very, very serious pennant contender.

4. Oakland Athletics

You could easily make a case for Oakland at No. 3. What they lack in the upside of the Twins offensively, they more than make up for with high-octane arms in both the rotation and bullpen.

Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk are all extremely intriguing from the rotation, and Liam Hendriks fronts a sizzling bullpen that not only brings the heat but has veteran guile in Yusmeiro Petit and Joakim Soria.

Offensively, they’ll piece it together around Matt Olson, Marcus Semien and Matt Chapman behind Ramon Laureano, with nary a black hole in the lineup to speak of.

5. Tampa Bay Rays

I call them Oakland East and the A’s vice-versa, but the reality is they do a lot of the same things together on a pretty limited budget. Blake Snell-Tyler Glasnow-Charlie Morton is right up there among the best rotation trios in the game, and the Rays are long on youthful excitement (Willy Adames, Austin Meadows and Brandon Lowe) as well as other hitters who are intriguing in their own right (Jose Martinez, Hunter Renfroe, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo and Yandy Diaz).

I’d say there’s a very clear divide between the top-five teams in the AL and the next three or four.

6. Los Angeles Angels

They added a superstar in Anthony Rendon to join the best player in the game, and keep in mind they still will be welcoming one of the best prospects in baseball to the bigs in the near-ish future in Jo Adell as well as hopefully getting even more production out of Shohei Ohtani. Andrelton Simmons is one of the most underrated players in baseball and an absolute wizard defensively.

Not many teams have this much high-end talent.

There are certainly some warts, sure. I like their chances of getting outs late in games if Keynan Middleton can come all the way back, but the rotation is going to be a real struggle. Tommy La Stella has to show he’s more than a flash in the pan. Albert Pujols has to ward off Father Time for another season.

But I like what they did bringing in Jason Castro to prop up their rotation, and I think they have a chance to be as good as Oakland or Houston since it’ll be a truncated season, but over the long haul I think they’re a half-step or so behind those two — but still a damn good team.

7. Cleveland Indians

I really struggled with Nos. 6-8. Cleveland will absolutely steamroll opponents at the top of their rotation, but it’s markedly weaker with Trevor Bauer in Cincinnati. It’ll be hard to know for sure how much Carlos Carrasco is willing to risk his health to play this season if he’s a higher-risk candidate for contracting COVID-19. Right now it’s just hard to say.

The bullpen for the Indians is merely fine, and the offense has enough chain-movers to keep them relevant in the AL Central. But I think they’re just a bit lacking across the board to where they can’t quite get the boost above the Angels, who have more top-end talent if not as much depth.

8. Boston Red Sox

It’s not really a bad team, and maybe one that would have won like 84-85 games in a full season, but they have some serious questions.

Like…how to prevent runs if Martin Perez is the No. 3 starter. The bullpen is short on proven commodities as well.

The offense will score some runs, but it’s not the Sox of yore, either. Jose Peraza is going to get some run at second base. Mitch Moreland and Jackie Bradley Jr. are no guarantees to be much more than average.

There’s not as much star power here as the Angels — though J.D. Martinez, Rafael Devers, Andrew Benintendi and Xander Bogaerts is a terrific core — and there isn’t as much pitching as Cleveland.

9. Chicago White Sox

As I’m writing this I’m honestly toying with putting Chicago over Boston. I won’t — for now — but I’m having serious trepidation here.

My conviction the whole winter is that no team has more room for variance in their 2020 potential. I think the White Sox have a fairly decent bullpen and rotation, and I really like what their offense is capable of.

But I do have some questions.

  • How will the learning curve be for guys like Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal?
  • Who is going to get on base?
  • What happens if Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez pitch more like Nos. 4-5 starters instead of 2-3s?
  • Do they have enough late-inning oomph in their bullpen?

They addressed some of these this offseason, and I really like Yasmani Grandal is going to be the best signing of the winter, but I still don’t think they’re quite ready for prime time — yet.

10. Texas Rangers

Honestly I just low-key like their rotation. Corey Kluber, Mike Minor and Lance Lynn is a surprisingly good power trio, and Kyle Gibson should fare better in front of the Texas infield than he did last year in Minnesota. Jordan Lyles is plenty interesting, too.

The bullpen isn’t terribly exciting past Jose Leclerc, and the offense has a lot of guys who could or should be good behind Joey Gallo. But it’s still way too many questions marks on offense. Can Rougned Odor become even Eddie Rosario at the plate? How will guys like Nick Solak and Willie Calhoun fare early in their careers? Can Danny Santana come close to his 2019 production?

In a full season, I’d probably have them winning like 83 games. Good, but probably not in the thick of it come October — or even September, I think.

11. Toronto Blue Jays

I love the Hyun-Jin Ryu signing but I still have too many question marks about their pitching staff behind him and Ken Giles. The offense is going to absolutely mash now and for a very long time, but it’s an unbalanced team for sure.

I’d guess like 79 wins in a full season.

12. Kansas City Royals

Here again is a very clear divide between team No. 11 and 12. I think the rotation could be interesting for the Royals — I like Jakob Junis and Brad Keller more than most — and they seem to have enough quirky guys in the bullpen to make it kind of interesting late.

Beyond that, I think they have just enough hitting to be the best of the bottom tier.

13. Detroit Tigers

I like Matthew Boyd and I’m higher on Spencer Turnbull and Daniel Norris than most, but the rest of the roster is a weird amalgamation of spare parts. Ivan Nova should be a No. 5 starter on a fringe contender, but outside of that it’s a bunch of low-OBP guys — some of whom can hit the ball a long way.

14. Seattle Mariners

The Mariners should absolutely be better than the Tigers, but if they aren’t it’s because they’re just. so. young. They have exciting young potential at just about every position, and if Yusei Kikuchi can have a better sophomore campaign they have some intrigue at the top of their rotation as well.

But they also have Matt Magill closing, and he’s like a year removed from the Twins DFA’ing him.

15. Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles have a few nice pieces in place, but just not nearly enough of them right now. Rebuilds are painful. They’re in the thick of one right now.

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The 25 People I’ve Most Enjoyed Talking to in Baseball (Nos. 20-16)

In the absence of current MLB #content, I’ve decided to rank the 25 people I’ve most enjoyed talking to in my time covering baseball.

As a disclaimer: there are people I’ll have missed in the process. And just because a player, scout, coach or executive isn’t mentioned doesn’t mean I didn’t have a generally positive experience.

In fact, I can count my negative experiences on one hand — maybe even one or two fingers — and honestly those were my fault.

Late last week I dropped Nos. 25-21. Here are Nos. 20-16.

ICYMI: Nos. 25-21 on the list

20. Sergio Romo, current reliever

It says a ton about Romo that he’s been a member of the Twins for two months of actual baseball being played, and yet he’s still been one of the most enjoyable interviews of my entire time covering the team.

It’s difficult to explain, but he manages to pull off warm, passionate, engaging and quirky all at the same time.

Here is his personality on display in a really good interview with La Vida Baseball:

Also: he literally held someone’s baby at TwinsFest:

19. Zack Littell, current starting pitcher

I’m not totally sure why I gravitate toward Littell, but I think it’s because he’s an open book and because I was there for his debut and demotion — both of which happened in the span of like a couple of hours in Milwaukee in 2018.

And seeing him react after he was sent back down showed me even more how these guys are simply humans just trying to do a job.

Littell is also super smart when it comes to pitching. He absolutely filled up my notebook on pitching last season in a piece I wound up writing in early April.

Bonus reading: No Littell Feat: How a Rookie Righty Earned the Trust of a Rookie Manager

18. Mitch Garver, current starting catcher

First, an excerpt from a story I wrote elsewhere:

I opened my eyes on March 10 in Fort Myers, Fla. I showered, ate and departed my hotel, which was eerily reminiscent of the one from the television show “Schitt’s Creek” — except it was two levels instead of one.

It was my second full day in Florida, but that Sunday was the first time I’d ever set eyes or feet on the property at 14100 6 Mile Cypress Parkway. You know it better as Hammond Stadium, the home of the Fort Myers Miracle and for about six weeks every spring, the Minnesota Twins.

I entered the home clubhouse and began to go about my business. Even though it was my first day at the park, it was far from that for me when it came to engaging most of the guys in that room. My task for the day? Asking a few of the holdovers what it was like to not have Joe Mauer holding down the corner locker stall like he had for as long as anyone could remember.

Some features are like pulling teeth; this one was going to be like easing into a hot tub.

One of the first guys I chatted up was Mitch Garver. Garver is extremely likable from both a fan and media member’s perspective. He’s not afraid to say exactly what’s on his mind, which is a reporter’s delight.

After exchanging pleasantries and a few Mauer anecdotes, I shut off the recorder and made small talk for a minute.

“Mitch, I think you guys are going to surprise some people this year,” I said. I wasn’t kidding. I may be a fool, but Garver doesn’t suffer those and I could have just as easily walked away rather than heap meaningless platitudes upon him.

“For sure,” he said with intensity in his eyes. In fact, he pretty much always looks like that.

“I actually think you guys are going to win the division,” I clarified once I realized we were generally on the same page.

“Oh definitely,” he said, again not cracking a smile but with dead certainty.

After the Twins beat the Detroit Tigers Wednesday night to whittle their magic number to one — about 90 minutes in advance of the Chicago White Sox taking them the rest of the way to the AL Central crown with a win over Cleveland — I made the decision that I didn’t think Garver would mind if I used his quotes even though I didn’t record them.

Sorry Mitch.

That kind of encapsulates talking to Garver. He can be intense and I think his humor is pretty dry, but he’s intelligent and willing to answer difficult questions with really, really good — and not cookie-cutter — answers.

17. Nelson Cruz, current designated hitter

A player of Cruz’s stature could be a lot of things when it comes to dealing with the media. Reclusive, aloof or a combination of both would be possible. But he’s available, accommodating and really, really good to discuss a lot of things with.

I feel like a lot of times he’s out of breath because he’s just been working out or hitting, but honestly, he’s just a true joy to talk to — with or without the recorder on. Not only that, but when he walks past, he’ll ask how you’re doing.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m old fashioned. But I really do like that human to human interaction. Players don’t owe that to anyone, but it’s nice. Kind of like when an NFL player scores a touchdown and runs into a cameraman, and stops to help them back up before celebrating.

16. Kohl Stewart, former starting pitcher

My career doing stuff with/for the Twins dovetails nicely with Stewart’s, as he’s now a member of the Baltimore Orioles and I’m on the outside looking in for what I hope will be my next opportunity.

My first year covering the team on a regular basis was 2013 — the year he was drafted. The Twins brought Stewart and Stephen Gonsalves in for the usual media how-do that year, so even from a distance, it was cool to see how much those guys had changed from fresh-faced 18-year-old guys to when they both debuted within the span of a little over a week in August 2018.

Stewart was never anything but good to me, but I felt like TwinsFest 2019 was when he really opened up about everything he was learning from the team as far as the important aspects of pitching he didn’t know before. Stuff like using Trackman data, tunneling and all the notable pitching concepts that have been popularized in recent years and implemented by the team’s new brain trust in recent seasons.

Maybe that’s a really weird, nerdy way to find kinship with a subject you’re covering — but it happened. *shrug*

As a human I was sad to see him go, but it also felt pretty clear that change of scenery was going to be best for both sides. Here’s to hoping for good things for Stewart in Baltimore — if baseball ever comes back.

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The 25 People I’ve Most Enjoyed Talking to in Baseball (Nos. 25-21)

I covered my first big-league game on Oct. 1, 2010. The Toronto Blue Jays were in town for Cito Gaston’s final series as an MLB manager, and the Minnesota Twins were well on their way to winning the American League Central in Target Field’s inaugural season.

My objective that night was to get a few quotes for a story I was going to file at Baseball Prospectus on how the Twins were adjusting to Target Field at the end of the first season as compared to the nearly 30 years they spent at the Metrodome.

I stood in the dugout. I watched batting practice from closer than I ever had — I had season tickets from 2006 through that season — and I watched Orlando Hudson hold court with some of his former Blue Jays teammates during batting practice with everyone yukking it up.

READ: Nos. 20-16 on this list

It was then that I realized that this was what I wanted to do for a long, long time.

Then it was time to talk to the manager.

“Wait until all the regulars get their questions in before you jump in,” someone told me about how to handle my first scrum. About five minutes in, I croaked out a question that Ron Gardenhire answered, and when he was done is when I think I actually finally let out my breath.

The column wasn’t any good, but I’ve written probably 1,500 of them since. I haven’t written one from a ballpark since the New York Yankees ended the 2019 season last October, and the reality is that I might never again.

But rather than be a fatalist about the future of digital media, I’d rather have some fun here.

I didn’t cover the team on a regular basis until the 2013 season — in which I attended all 81 home games — but by then, the magic of the 2010 season had faded, badly. 

But between then and now I’d wager I’ve covered something like 500 big-league games at a handful of venues — including on the road — and along the way, I’ve forged some relationships that I value greatly.

Being there day in and day out matters, even if it’s just home games. Not only does it give you a chance to see the players and build recognition with them, but it also brings a great amount of accountability.

The first time I realized that was in 2013 when I wrote a column for 1500 ESPN on why it might be a good time to trade Justin Morneau. The next day I dutifully showed up early — the one place in life where I’m always early — to what was mostly an empty clubhouse.

The only other soul in sight? I’m sure you know.

But even if he didn’t read the story, and I’m sure he didn’t, it was a good reminder of how to handle myself in that situation. If you say it and believe it, you have nothing to hide from.

The late, great Gerry Fraley once told me why he respected Patrick Reusse so much. “He’ll rip you, but he’ll do it right to your face,” Fraley said. “People respect that.”

Certainly, I’ve made mistakes and rubbed people the wrong way — unintentionally, but such is life — but in all honesty, it’s been a great experience that I hope I get to keep doing for a long, long time.

I’m going to keep writing until it happens.

So I’ve created a list of the 25 people I’ve most enjoyed talking to in the game. It’s a huge list, and the honorable mentions — which will get their own post at the end — is as long as the original list.

And it’s a guarantee that I’ve missed people. And if someone isn’t listed, it surely doesn’t mean I had a bad experience with them. I’ve maybe had a couple of those ever — and they were my fault.

But as I sit here now in June 2020, here’s the list:

25. Jeremy Hefner, former advanced video scout and assistant pitching coach

There’s something so pure about a guy who’ll tell you he made it to the big leagues without having the best stuff. There’s also something to be said about someone who battles through two Tommy John surgeries — only to never get back to the big leagues.

Hefner is extremely approachable and incredibly knowledgeable. There’s really no other way to describe his ascent from right-handed pitcher sitting around 90 mph, to advance video scout, to assistant pitching coach to now the pitching coach for the New York Mets.

He’s now on his second manager with the Mets despite having coached a total of zero (0) big-league games for them, but that’s a story for another day. But if you ask Hef, I’m sure he’d probably tell you about it.

Bonus reading: The Tommy John Files: RHP-Turned-Advance-Scout Jeremy Hefner

24. Ryan LaMarre, former outfielder

I’d heard you could get LaMarre going if you talked about Michigan football — his alma mater — but I’ve always been really cautious about how I approach players for the first time.

I don’t want them to think that I think we’re friends, if that makes sense.

For one, this guy doesn’t know me. Secondly, I’m here to do a job. Thirdly, there’s a very real chance he just wants me to get away from him.

Anything beyond that is just cool human interaction.

But what was cool about LaMarre was that he actually walked over to me with his phone out. He’d been called out on a check-swing third strike the night before, and he was still a bit incredulous when he pulled up the video and showed it to me on his iPhone.

And that’s how I met Ryan LaMarre. It was cool to see him come back for a short spell in 2019 when the team needed a spare outfielder with Byron Buxton out.

23. Hector Santiago, former pitcher

I actually met Santiago at a game I attended as a fan, oddly enough. Not long after Santiago came over in the trade for Ricky Nolasco and Alex Meyer, Eduardo Escobar — you better believe he’s on this list — hosted an event called “I Love Venezuela” where proceeds from the tickets sold that day went to his charitable efforts in his home country.

The event was held on the Budweiser Roof Deck and promised that Escobar would appear after the game and sign some autographs and take pictures.

Since I was not covering the game that day, I took my wife up there — I’d never seen a game on the Roof Deck anyway, so why not? — and after the game, Escobar came up for a little meet and greet.

It was much better than promised though, as a handful of Twins and Royals players came up, including Byron Buxton, Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar, Kurt Suzuki and Santiago.

I routinely got to chat with the other guys and no fans were near Santiago, so I walked over and just chatted him up. Oddly enough, Santiago had received assurance from his general manager that he wasn’t being traded at the deadline in 2016. So on an off day right around then, he decided to go scuba diving.

He went down a member of the Angels and came up a member of the Twins.

Beyond that, Santiago was always just really chill about everything. He’s an avid memorabilia collector, and weirdly enough he professed to me his intense love for Dot’s Pretzels.

And honestly, who doesn’t love those? So when the Chicago White Sox faced the Twins at the end of the 2018 season at Target Field, I made a quick visit over with a bag of pretzels just for the fun of it, and we had a good laugh.

22. Logan Morrison, former first baseman/designated hitter

I’ll be honest I’m still a little intimidated by Morrison. I’ve met his wife and daughter — lovely people, by the way — while on my second MLB road trip in Milwaukee, but it took a while before I felt totally comfortable asking LoMo to talk.

But one thing people love in this business is players who’ll fill up a notebook. Maybe Morrison doesn’t do exactly that, but he’ll tell you exactly what he’s thinking pretty much always.

It hasn’t always been popular. In fact, it’s probably been far more unpopular. But there’s just something I respect about a person who is that real with everything they say. Someone who talks the talk but also walks the walk when people call them on it.

I don’t know. Maybe that’s weird. I just have a lot of respect for Morrison.

Bonus reading: Pressly, Morrison United by Similarities from Fathers

21. Derek Falvey, current president of baseball operations

Accessibility can be a funny thing with people in MLB power positions. Some teams used to marvel about how accessible former Twins general manager Terry Ryan was, to the point where he’d sit at a dinner table with the media prior to every single game during his second tenure in the position.

On multiple occasions, I’d hear reporters express just how rare that was. I think even though I knew that, I didn’t really appreciate it until afterward.

Falvey isn’t quite at that level, but he’s extremely accessible. If reporters need to chat with him, he’s usually available pretty quickly at Target Field. He’s responsive to messages, and in-person he’s gracious and kind in addition to being good at his job.

The Twins media corps has been blessed with executives who make their jobs easier in recent years — and Falvey fits that bill for sure.

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What Twins Prospects are Most Affected by a Canceled 2020 Season

Let me first preface this by saying I’m not breaking any news here. I don’t have any inside intel and it’s not widely reported one way or the other.

But honestly, a minor-league season in 2020? It ain’t happenin’.

The MLB Draft starts up on Wednesday evening and it’s hard to imagine a worse time to be drafted. At least not in terms of forces within the game creating an unwelcoming environment.

The short answer is that there will be five rounds of selections and then teams can sign an unlimited cache of amateurs for $20,000 apiece — and not a penny more.

It’s not hard to see why that’s a crappy thing for the players. Slot value for the last pick in Round 10 (!) last year was $142,000 and change.

It won’t just screw players this year, either. There’ll be a backlog of capable players going back to college — like how Brent Rooker was selected in the 38th round by the Twins, only to go a year later in the first round — which will be good for the NCAA game but screw a number of other things up.

Draft-eligible juniors will be especially hurt, since they’ll go back to college if unselected and unmoved by the thought of a $20,000 bonus — only to be a potential senior-sign next year where that might be the same offered bonus even if they manage to go inside the top-10 rounds.

Remember Brian Dozier? He was a senior-sign in the eighth round in 2009 and got only $30,000.  The player before him? He got $150,000. The player after? How about $105,000.

Ever heard of Brandt Walker and Ryan Buch?

All of this is an apt precursor to the fact that the players won’t really be treated as actual entities until they make the major leagues. If we’ve learned anything from this labor strife going on, it’s that owners will stop at nothing to count their pennies. Literal pennies as it pertains to minor-league payments.

These guys aren’t even minor leaguers yet. Yeesh.

So it’s hard out here to be a draft prospect — at least those who won’t go in the first couple rounds. But it’s kind of like the old NCAA saying. “I went pro in something other than (insert sport here).” A lot more of these guys are going to have to scratch and claw to get by — only to have to do it again if and when they finally make a minor-league roster.

But let’s take a look at the existing minor-league situation for the Twins. There’s virtually no chance there’ll be a season. Some guys might end up on what amounts to a taxi squad — if and when MLB actually gets it together for a 2020 season — which won’t be an entire year lost of development, but also probably not far off.

Will guys like Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach be on that taxi squad? Since they aren’t on the 40-man roster, one would ostensibly imagine not. But at the same time, would the Twins have to weigh having them around as part-time players — with or without whatever the 40-man implications would be — versus having them basically take a redshirt season.

That’s not ideal for Larnach, who was a college player when he was drafted and would be 24 before he plays in any meaningful games again. It’s also not ideal for Kirilloff, who’ll only be 23 in November but, don’t forget, has already missed an entire season due to Tommy John surgery.

Certainly it’s not ideal for any prospect to miss an entire season. For both of those guys, it would be sub-optimal. In fact, most of the Twins’ higher-end prospect depth is close-ish to the major leagues — possibly cushioning the blow when it comes to lost years of development.

But as far as the prospects who’d be most affected, that’s a totally different list.

Let’s dig in:

Keoni Cavaco — SS — GCL Twins (Rookie) — No. 7 on MLB.com’s Top-3o List

Cavaco is one of the babies of the system, as he just turned 19 a week ago. He was one of the youngest players drafted last year, and by definition he’s going to be hurt by missing an entire minor-league season due to his age and proximity to the big leagues.

But that isn’t all.

Cavaco struggled mightily in the GCL. Like, he slashed .172/.217/.253 in 25 games. An 18-year-old Royce Lewis hit .271/.390/.414 in the GCL as an 18-year-old and was bumped up to Cedar Rapids in 2017. Kirilloff — probably a more fair comp in terms of pick spot — went straight to Elizabethton and slashed .306/.341/.454.

It’s only 25 games, to be sure, so it’s not like this is a future indicator of much of anything necessarily. But if you go through the years backward at that level, here’s what some other guys have done:

  • Luis Arraez (18) in 2015 hit .309/.377/.391 in 57 games
  • Byron Buxton (18) in 2012 hit .216/.324/.466 in 27 games
  • Jorge Polanco (17) in 2011 hit .250/.319/.349 in 51 games, the year before he hit .223/.299/.301 in 34 games
  • Eddie Rosario (18) in 2010 hit .294/.343/.438 in 51 games
  • Miguel Sano (17) in 2010 hit .291/.338/.466 in 41 games

There was one player in 2010 who hit poorly and became a pretty good MLB regular — Niko Goodrum. In 2010 as an 18-year-old, Goodrum hit just .161/.219/.195 in 36 games.

The difference was that Goodrum was coming out of Fayetteville, Ga. — not exactly a hotbed of high-school talent. At least not compared to Cavaco, who is from Chula Vista, Calif. and played at Adrian Gonzalez’s alma mater.

It’s entirely possible that it means absolutely nothing — but add to it a year off and it’s far from ideal, anyhow. Again, it’s helpful that he’s young for the level.

Wander Javier — SS — Cedar Rapids (Low-A) — No. 8 on MLB.com’s Top-3o List

Javier is still only 21 — and just barely so — but he’s been through a lot to this point. He missed the entire 2018 season with shoulder surgery, and his return to Cedar Rapids last year left a little to be desired.

Well, more like a lot. He hit just .177/.278/.323 in 80 games. He was unprotected and unselected in the Rule 5 draft, and that’s not a problem that’s going away. The Twins will again be tasked with the decision to protect him or not — and they almost certainly will not — and again teams will be given the chance to select him (also, probably not).

But missing two of the last three years and posting an OPS of just .601 in the one played is a pretty rough three-year patch.

But it isn’t impossible. Again, he’s only 21. Lewis Thorpe missed all of 2015 and ’16 — his age-19 and -20 seasons — and still made it to the big leagues at 23 last year.

Akil Baddoo — OF — Fort Myers (High-A) — No. 13 on MLB.com’s Top-3o List

He’s not nearly as highly regarded, but when I see Baddoo’s stat line from 2018 at Cedar Rapids I’m reminded a little of Aaron Hicks. Baddoo hit .243/.351/.419 with 124 strikeouts and 74 walks in 113 games.

At Low-A Beloit in 2010, Hicks hit .279/.401/.428 with 112 strikeouts and 88 walks. A year later with the Miracle, he hit .242/.354/.368 with 110 strikeouts and 78 walks. In 2012 at Double-A New Britain, he hit .286/.384/.460 with 116 strikeouts and 79 walks.

In other words, I think it’s rare to see minor-league hitters with tools for days who also command the strike zone this way. Baddoo didn’t just walk, either; he had 44 extra-base hits in those 113 games as well.

He only hit .214/.290/.393 in High-A Fort Myers last year in 29 games — but that’s burying the lede a little bit. He had Tommy John surgery and missed the rest of the season. Based on his last game played — May 11 — it would seem likely he’d have been ready sometime early this season, if not right away.

I didn’t shoot a message out to any minor-league contacts in the organization — they’ve got some things going on this week — but it feels fairly safe to say he’d have gotten a chance to get back on the horse fairly quickly in 2020.

Then there’s the other added wrinkle — he’s Rule 5 eligible this winter. Now, he hasn’t played in over a year at this point and it’ll be 19 months when the Winter Meetings come around for the draft…but it only takes one. There’s a reason why people still talked about if some team like the Tigers might take Javier in last year’s Rule 5 draft.

Plus Baddoo only turns 22 in August. Teams will gamble on youth, especially with an extra bench spot on a 26-man roster. Someone might do the Wily Mo Pena thing and stash him for a year before having him go back to the minors in subsequent years.

But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. He’s already going to miss most of this year and last — don’t make it another one.

Yunior Severino – SS – Cedar Rapids (Low-A) — No. 24 on MLB.com’s Top-3o List

Severino’s path has been especially messed up since the Braves were hit for illegal tactics when it came to signing international free agents a couple of years ago. He landed with the Twins for his age-18 season and hit .263/.321/.424 in 49 games at Elizabethton — more than respectable for someone more than two years under the league’s average age.

A broken thumb waylaid his 2019 season, as he hit just .240/.287/.370 between the GCL and Cedar Rapids. By not playing in 2020, Severino will have played just 77 games over the span of three seasons at a very crucial time in his development.

And since he signed in July of 2016, Roster Resource has him listed as Rule 5 eligible this winter. It’s basically Javier 2.0 — assuming their info is correct. It usually is.

Brent Rooker — OF — Rochester (Triple-A) — No. 12 on MLB.com’s Top-3o List

The list has been younger players to this point, but Rooker is an unusual case. He’d seem likely to be on the taxi squad/expanded roster — but it’s impossible to say since he’s not on the 40-man roster. Maybe there’ll be some sort of exemption for that.

But it cuts both ways. He could play all of 2020 blocked by Nelson Cruz in the big leagues but still getting plate appearances in Rochester in an ideal year. Being on the taxi squad but blocked not only by Cruz, but Miguel Sano at first base and a crowded outfield means not playing in the big leagues much, if at all, but also not getting much-needed plate time in Triple-A.

Rooker only played in 67 games last season and will be 26 in November.

There’s still a fair chance he’s the heir apparent for the Twins at DH, or maybe at first base with Sano DH’ing frequently. But his future probably isn’t in the outfield — at least not in this organization — and he won’t have any chance of getting it sorted out in a lost 2020 either way.

A lost 2020 season truly bites for Brent Rooker — hard.

Misael Urbina/Emmanuel Rodriguez — OF — DSL Twins (Rookie) — Nos. 21 and 26, respectively, on MLB.com’s Top-3o List

Really the main thing here is that they’re the two top-30 prospects who are the youngest in the system. Missing time hurts them the most because early development is crucial for players as raw as Urbina and Rodriguez — July 2 signings in each of the last two seasons.

Urbina just turned 18 in April. Rodriguez turned 17 in February. Between them, they’ve played a total of 50 pro games — all on Urbina’s slate.

This missed development time may not be a huge hurdle over the long-term, but in the short-term, again, it really bites.

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Recent MLB Ownership Proposals Have Missed the Mark Completely

On July 31, the NBA will return for a brief eight-game sprint to the finish line at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla. After all the dust settles, there’ll be playoffs and a champion crowned.

That’s a day normally reserved for the MLB Trade Deadline, though the potential remains for another league to give baseball a nudge further down the food chain as it springs into action to fill the void felt by baseball fans.

The NHL expects to return with a 24-team melee to determine a Stanley Cup Champion, and there’s little doubt the NFL — where cash is king — will figure out something, be it with or without fans.

But it’s again MLB flagging behind with more bad news than good in recent days and weeks.

On Saturday, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic wrote ($) that a July 4 target date to begin an abbreviated MLB season was all but off the table based on time needed to get camps up and running again and roughly three weeks needed to knock off three months worth of rust.

In the story, he suggests a 50-game season as “carrying little credibility” but it’s been clear since Jeff Passan of ESPN went on Sportscenter last week that owners are angling for a 50- to 60-game season.

But here’s where the owners show themselves to be painfully unaware of the game that helps them be rich beyond any of our wildest dreams:

Baseball is built on the day-to-day over the long haul. You can argue whether 162 games are necessary rather than something like 144 or even the 154 they used to play, but it takes a ton of time to weed out the haves from the have nots. Then, when playoff time comes, it’s playing a multi-game series rather than a one-and-done.

The COVID-19 pandemic shoots a big hole into that. There’s no denying it. But instead of making the best of a bad situation with as many games as possible, that’s proven to be one of — if not the — biggest points of contention as things currently stand.

As far as players are concerned, a 50-game season would prove very little. Players have slumps that last half of that, or more. Starting pitchers would spend three weeks ramping up — and even that might not be enough — to make 10 starts, at most?

And as Rosenthal noted in his piece, the 2019 Washington Nationals won just 19 of their first 50 games last season. No matter how expanded the playoff system proposed would be, the Nationals wouldn’t have been anywhere near it.

Hell, they needed a lot of help to even win the National League Wild Card game last fall.

Of course, players have ulterior motives for wanting to play as many games as possible. It means more money in their pockets. Who wouldn’t want that?

But former Minnesota Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe made a really, really interesting point on Twitter. Check the date on the timestamp, too:

That’s over a week-and-a-half ago.

And why do the owners want that number?

It’s pretty simple, really.

Sixty games means the owners don’t have to pay the players for 114 games, or 81, or 75 or whatever number found floating in the ether might suggest. It means likely paying a salary that’s likely less than a prorated one-third of what players were owed in 2020.

Again, this is keeping in mind the idea of trying to make the best of a bad situation.

It also means the owners will still reap the public relations benefits of getting the game back on the field as fans grow more and more agitated about the game’s state of flux — something that, to be fair, does cut both ways when it comes to benefit.

But the reason the owners want it that way is simple — it also means they’d retain the upper hand in the upcoming negotiations for the collective bargaining agreement, which is set to expire after next season.

So to recap, if MLB comes back with 60 games as the owners want — something commissioner Rob Manfred can mandate in his role, as selected by team owners — here again are the benefits:

  • PR boost for getting the game going again
  • Paying the players less money for fewer games
  • Upper hand in future negotiations
  • Minimal financial downside, all things considered, and all of that can be amortized into justifying yet another depressed free-agent market

So there’s not really any downside here for the owners. But as we’ve seen with ownership groups willing to nickel and dime minor leaguers for every last penny in recent days, they will stop at nothing to minimize even the slightest downside while retaining all the upside.

The difference between paying players for 60 games or 80 is fairly minute in the grand scheme of things — and that 80, or 81 if a half-season is desired, is a good compromise for both sides — but at this point there’s no indication the owners are willing to budge.

Here’s to hoping for labor harmony and peace. There’s too much money — and future good will — at stake for it not to happen.

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Revisiting Tyler Jay

Tyler Jay was released by the Cincinnati Reds sometime in the last few days. I saw it on Baseball America on Wednesday, as some teams have — during a transaction freeze, mind you — scurried to release minor leaguers by the bucketload in recent days and weeks.

And mostly I was just….sad. Not sad in the way the world makes us feel lately, but in a way where someone’s lofty hopes and dreams don’t pan out. Like watching a movie that ends with the hero not actually getting the girl.

And certainly, the door isn’t shut on Jay making the big leagues someday. He’s only 26, and he was quite a bit better at Double-A Chattanooga than he was at that same place a year ago — albeit in a different organization after the Minnesota Twins moved their affiliate to Pensacola.

But the problem is more that he was 25 and still pitching in Double-A. That’s not an unreasonable thing at all, but he was drafted in 2015. He went straight to Fort Myers and pitched 18.1 reasonably good innings (3.93 ERA, 10.8 K/9, 1.42 WHIP).

But a year later, Jay had spent all but 14 of his innings in Fort Myers again, and those he spent in Chattanooga were just fine. He had a 5.79 ERA — which, to be fair, isn’t a great indicator in such a small sampling — and batters hit .245/.310/.377 against him.

That’s not terrible, but mind you, this was the guy the Twins took sixth overall with the idea of fast-tracking him to the big leagues as either a power reliever or a pretty good starter. And a year-and-a-half after he’d been drafted, he’d still thrown less than two full games worth of innings above High-A.

Maybe the Twins weren’t hoping for Chris Sale, but they didn’t even get Brandon Finnegan, either.

Jay barely pitched in 2017. He suffered neck issues late the year before and was on multiple occasions evaluated for the potential of needing thoracic outlet surgery — something that has put the kibosh on numerous pitching careers, and is now what Pittsburgh ace Chris Archer is facing — and even before then, the Twins had moved him to relief on a full-time basis.

Jay pitched poorly in Chattanooga in 2018, and repeated the level — this time in Pensacola — and was worse before the Twins flipped him to the Reds for cash last June. He even went unselected in the Rule 5 draft when the Twins opted not to protect him.

In 32.2 innings after the trade, Jay had a 3.03 ERA with good strikeout rates, but he was again plagued by so-so control — 3.3 BB/9, career rate of 3.4 — and his WHIP was still 1.41. I think of WHIP like a pitcher’s blood pressure. Even if things are going good, there’s something else to worry about brewing underneath. With Jay, the WHIP has been on the shaky side pretty much his entire pro career (1.45 in 236 IP).

So the Reds dumped him. Now it’s possible we don’t know something about his health, but for whatever reason, the Reds decided not to keep him around.

And it’s easy to see why people will call this a failed pick for the Twins. These people are not wrong.

Anyone with an internet connection can pull up the first round of the 2015 draft and list off players taken behind Jay who might have proven to be better choices. In fact, Jay is the only one of the top-nine players taken who hasn’t played in the major leagues.

The pick right after him was Andrew Benintendi.

And while there are others who would have helped the Twins more than Jay wound up doing — Ian Happ comes to mind, or get this, Walker Buehler and Mike Soroka, who went 24th and 28th overall, respectively — the revisionist history is a bit absurd.

There’s a widespread desire to re-litigate the Jay pick as something that was widely panned at the time — and that’s not really true.

In a mock published on June 8, 2015, John Manuel of Baseball America — now of the Minnesota Twins, oddly enough — had Jay going sixth overall to the Twins.

Neither Jim Callis nor Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com have Jay slipping past sixth overall:

Respected draft analyst Kiley McDaniel — who has not only worked in MLB scouting roles but also was a colleague at Fangraphs — had Jay going third to the Colorado Rockies in his mock dated May 28. In it, he promises a mock 3.0 — this is 2.0 — but I can find neither hide nor hair of it on the information superhighway.

He has the Twins taking UC Santa Barbara righty Dillon Tate, but admits they “are a little tough to read at this point.” He heard the Twins would love to see Alex Bregman slide that far. He also lists Daz Cameron (who was oddly tweeted as the Twins pick by someone in the industry before the pick was made, incorrectly of course) and Kyle Tucker as options with Walker Buehler, Ian Happ and Kolby Allard in the mix, too.

MyMLBDraft had Jay going third to the Rockies as well, with the Twins landing Allard — a lefty who made his MLB debut in 2018 with the Braves and was traded to the Rangers last summer in the Chris Martin deal:

Over at Baseball Prospectus — a place I’ve written and edited and respect greatly — Christopher Crawford had the Rockies nabbing Jay as well. Crawford is really good at these sorts of things, too.

You aren’t going to want to hear this — but his mock had the Twins taking Buehler.

The prestige of citing Sports Illustrated has taken a hit in recent seasons, but they also had the Twins taking Jay. (writer’s note: I have no idea why their format is all jacked up)

And I can imagine some reservations to me posting only mocks. That’s fine. I think it encapsulates how Jay was viewed at the time leading up to the draft.

But how about some post-draft analysis?

Eric Longenhagen — a terrific prospect analyst who I worked with at Fangraphs — wrote the following at ESPN the night of the 2015 draft:

So you can look at this two ways — both with how Longenhagen writes the pick up and how Law had him as his No. 9 player in the pool. The link to Law’s top-100 list no longer is active, but here’s who his top 10 were:

  1. Brendan Rodgers
  2. Kevin Newman
  3. Dansby Swanson
  4. Alex Bregman
  5. Dillon Tate
  6. Kolby Allard
  7. Ian Happ
  8. Kyle Tucker
  9. Tyler Jay
  10. Trenton Clark (now Grisham)

Ultimately, it’s pretty obvious that it takes some bogus revisionist history to suggest that the Jay selection was “widely panned” at the time. It didn’t work out. Lots of top-10 picks don’t.

Now the hope is that there isn’t an article like this about Nick Gordon a year down the road.

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Dad….Can I have Fruit Snacks?

Monday was my first day as a stay-at-home dad. It’s temporary — what isn’t — but as I wrote Sunday night, it’s an experience I’m really trying to soak in with the likelihood that it’ll only last a month or so with the potential for sports to return in July.

My wife and I are the parents of an intelligent, caring and loquacious three-year-old who keeps us on our toes constantly with the things she says. When she was maybe 18 months old, she told her mom if she kept behaving a certain way, there was “going to be consequences.”

Four syllables at 18 months? Not bad.

So when she was sitting on my office chair after her nap on Monday, she had a thoughtful look and asked me a question I wasn’t entirely blindsided by.

We had talked earlier in the day on the swings about how when I was young, I was in a bad accident and how uncle Cody and I had gotten hurt really bad and how our step-daddy went to live with Jesus.

Like all three-year-olds, she had a million follow-ups but seemed to understand.

Flash forward to about three hours later.

“Dad, why I haven’t I met your daddy?” I felt a small lump in my throat sort of like the one from earlier, and I assured her that she’d met my father but to remember that my stepdad had, again, gone to live with Jesus.

She frowned. “That makes me sad.”

“Me too, sweetie.”

“And dad?”

I prepared for a question I wasn’t sure how to answer, whatever it was. She was really pulling at my heartstrings.


“Can I have some fruit snacks?”

Three-year-olds, people. They don’t give you a manual for three-year-olds.

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