Devers Dishes Dingers

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We’ve completed three-fifths of the season and sluggers have deposited 3,484 baseballs in the homer bank. That raises the seasonal pace to 5,804 home runs. Counting on continued acceleration through August, we should fall just shy of the 6,000-homer plateau this season. It’s increasingly likely the 2021 campaign will conclude with the third-highest home run total in history. The current third-best total of 5,693 was set way back in 2000. The 2016 through 2019 seasons account for the other top-five totals. Partly, that’s a reflection of the gradual expansion of the sport. Mostly, it’s a symptom of teams and players solving optimization formulas – with an assist from juicy baseballs. Soon, five of the six most homertastic campaigns will also be the five most-recent full seasons. There’s no end in sight for the trend.

Let’s jump straight into the action.

Top Performances of the Week

Rafael Devers, 4 HR
Pete Alonso, 4 HR
23 Others, 3 HR

Devers has a specific, desirable trait we don’t often discuss. His 26 doubles match his 26 home runs. It’s indicative of a sustainable sort of power that doesn’t always have to manifest as a home run. Some others who evince the same ability are Marcus Semien, Matt Olson, Jared Walsh, Rhys Hoskins, J.D. Martinez, Nolan Arenado, and Nick Castellanos. With these players, there’s upside for an adjustment or fluky season to yield an elite home run total. We’ve seen such performances from Olson, Hoskins, Martinez, and Arenado.

Alonso belongs to the other common power profile – one we can think of as homer-or-bust. For his career, he has 90 home runs compared to 50 doubles plus triples. This isn’t a knock against him. It reflects a combination of traits that ensures his well-struck balls leave the yard more often than not. These sorts of sluggers, like Shohei Ohtani, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Kyle Schwarber, aren’t to be cheated. Over a full season, they’ll more consistently approach 40-or-more home runs. They’re also streaky. Schwarber, for instance, hit 16 of his 25 home runs in his most-recent 88 plate appearances.

Of the 23 hitters to pop three dingers in the last week, most are standard top performers like Juan Soto, Matt Olson, Adam Duvall, Randy Arozarena, Paul Goldschmidt, Jose Altuve, Kyle Tucker, and Franmil Reyes. The White Sox had three players pull off the feat – Jose Abreu, Tim Anderson, and Yoan Moncada. Not to be outdone, four Dodgers – Will Smith, Justin Turner, Chris Taylor, and Max Muncy – went yard thrice.

Of the remaining eight, Robbie Grossman, Enrique Hernandez, and Josh Bell are compilers who occasionally have these sorts of weeks. Gleyber Torres deserves a nod and kudos for escaping a season-long power slump. He doubled his total to a mere six home runs. Look for an outburst in the coming weeks. The same goes for Michael Conforto who also doubled his season total. Luis Torrens has continued his power surge. Since returning from injury in mid-June, he’s blasted 10 home runs in 95 plate appearances to go with a .277/.368/.675 batting line. Utilitymen Jack Mayfield and Pat Valaika round out the list. Valaika in particular is building on a surprising 2020 season. He’s of value against ground ball pitchers.

My Top 10 Projected Home Run Leaders

Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels, 34 HR, 52 projected
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays, 32 HR, 47 proj
Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres, 29 HR, 46 proj
Matt Olson, Oakland Athletics, 26 HR, 43 proj
Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers, 24 HR, 43 proj
Aaron Judge, New York Yankees, 21 HR, 39 proj
Jared Walsh, Los Angeles Angels, 22 HR, 39 proj
Rafael Devers, Boston Red Sox, 26 HR, 38 proj
Pete Alonso, New York Mets, 21 HR, 38 proj
Nelson Cruz, Minnesota Twins, 20 HR, 37 proj

Last week, I noted the lack of separation between the 11th through 20th-projected batters. Included in that cohort were both Devers and Alonso. It should come as no surprise to see them leap into the Top 10, nudging J.D. Martinez and Marcus Semien down to 11th and 14th this week. Freddie Freeman, Mitch Haniger, and Jose Ramirez are also right in the thick of things.

Injured Sluggers

New

Nick Castellanos, Cincinnati Reds, hand, mid-August
Jazz Chisholm, Miami Marlins, shoulder, unknown
Garrett Cooper, Miami Marlins, sprained elbow, unknown
Alex Kirilloff, Minnesota Twins, wrist surgery, out for season
Brandon Crawford, San Francisco Giants, oblique, early-August

Kirilloff has been playing through a nagging wrist injury. With the Twins in full seller’s mode, he’s opted to cease playing through the pain. Castellanos has a micro-fracture which could also require corrective surgery over the winter. For now, the plan is to sit him down for another week and get him back in games. Chisholm’s shoulder injury won’t keep him out long. He’s already on the cusp of a rehab assignment. It could limit his base thievery. Crawford, one of the early Power Spotlights of this season, has an uncertain timeline. Oblique strains occasionally resist treatment, leading to a lengthier-than-expected absence.

Max Muncy and Mitch Garver are currently on paternity leave. It’s possible Mookie Betts will require a break on the Injured List. Gary Sanchez is dealing with back spasms.

Existing

Ronald Acuna, Atlanta Braves, knee, out for season
Aaron Judge, New York Yankees, COVID, soon
Miguel Andujar, New York Yankees, hand, August
Yasmani Grandal, Chicago White Sox, calf strain, late-August
Eddie Rosario, Cleveland Guardians, abdominal strain, late-July
Anthony Rendon, Los Angeles Angels, hamstring, early-August
Ketel Marte, Arizona Diamondbacks, hamstring, mid-August
Emmanuel Rivera, Kansas City Royals, broken hamate, August
Colin Moran, Pittsburgh Pirates, fractured wrist, August
Willie Calhoun, Texas Rangers, fractured forearm, September
Kyle Schwarber, Washington Nationals, hamstring strain, August
Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants, knee inflammation, early-August
Carson Kelly, Arizona Diamondbacks, broken wrist, September
Daniel Vogelbach, Milwaukee Brewers, hamstring, mid-August
Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins, fractured hand, unknown
Alex Bregman, Houston Astros, quad, early-August
Evan Longoria, San Francisco Giants, shoulder, late-July
Kyle Garlick, Minnesota Twins, hernia, status unknown
Mitch Garver, Minnesota Twins, groin, mid-July
Travis Shaw, Milwaukee Brewers, separated shoulder, August
Kyle Lewis, Seattle Mariners, knee, out for season?
Marcell Ozuna, Atlanta Braves, domestic violence, out for season?
Aaron Hicks, New York Yankees, wrist strain, out for season

Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, calf, late-July
Mike Moustakas, Cincinnati Reds, heel soreness, August
Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers, broken hand, late-July
Nick Senzel, Cincinnati Reds, knee surgery, August
Luis Robert, Chicago White Sox, hip, August
Sam Huff, Texas Rangers, knee surgery, July as DH-only
Ronald Guzman, Texas Rangers, knee surgery, season-ending
Eloy Jimenez, Chicago White Sox, torn pectoral, late-July

The Yankees anticipate activating Judge, Gio Urshela, and Kyle Higashioka from the COVID-list in the next couple days. Reading between the lines, I get the sense New York will use a rehab assignment as an excuse to give Andujar more time in Triple-A.

We finally got updates on Belt and Schwarber, both of whom are on track to return next month. There were rumors Seager would be activated last Wednesday. However, he remains on the IL and has yet to begin a rehab assignment. Buxton trade rumors are beginning to swirl even as his recovery plans remain largely unknown. His “boxer’s fracture” isn’t especially common in baseball and often takes six to 12 weeks to heal in boxers. He’s right around the five-week mark.

Returned to Action

Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants, thumb
Justin Upton, Los Angeles Angels, sore back

Upton was originally supposed to miss just a few games. He wound up sitting for a full month. Posey basically missed the minimum with the All-Star Break serving as a little bonus buffer. His thumb will likely bother him for the remainder of the season. He’s shown no ill-effects in five games since returning.

For more injury updates, check out our MLB Injury Report.

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Power Spotlight

This week, the spotlight is on freshly-minted designated hitter who has a chance to capture a regular role – at least until Willie Calhoun returns in September. The player in question is Rangers first baseman Curtis Terry. The 24-year-old is one of those pseudo-prospects who lacks the physical traits and skills scouts crave. He continued to climb the minor league ladder by pure unrelenting production. This season, he hit .294/.375/.583 in 269 Triple-A plate appearances, backed by 17 home runs, 15 doubles, and a triple.

A plodding runner with an aggressive plate approach, the pressure will be on Terry to make enough consistently hard contact to fuel healthy power and run production. It’s even possible he’ll hit for a decent average. The absolute best example of this plate discipline profile in action is Rafael Devers. However, where Devers rates as solidly above average in hit tool and power, Terry checks in at merely average. In scouting parlance, he has 50-grade hit and 50-grade raw power. Devers is 60-hit, 70-raw. He also has an especially discerning eye for pitches in the strike zone.

Throughout Terry’s minor league tenure, he’s managed to get to his power in-game via a healthy fly ball rate. Overall, he hits roughly as many flies as grounders. A couple players who have seen recent success with a similar batted ball profile are Randal Grichuk and Dansby Swanson. The latter name seems like a reasonable aspirational target when acquiring Terry. You’re hoping opposing pitchers take awhile discovering his weaknesses, fueling enough early production for him to earn a regular lineup role.

Of course, it’s always possible Terry reveals himself to be a Quad-A slugger. Many scouting reports, dating back half a decade, have suggested as much. Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs concluded his most-recent report on Terry by saying “basically I think he’ll be squeezed out and end up playing in Asia.” This is Terry’s best (and possibly only) chance to avoid that squeeze.