Notes: Semien, Strasburg, Swaggerty and More

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Marcus Semien’s huge doubleheader Tuesday (7-for-8, 3 HR, 2 SB) will have everyone talking like he’s back. Still, his power numbers hinge about as much on the baseball as anyone in the league. Evidence suggests that the baseball changed again in the middle of May and that the deader ball from the season’s first five weeks is no longer in use. That’d be great for Semien, as he often sneaks his homers just over the wall in left field; an extra 5-10 feet on a 370-foot flyball makes quite a difference for him.

Of course, the other big thing for Semien is that he’s been running a whole lot of late, perhaps to try to make up for what he’s lacked elsewhere. In his last 14 games, he’s swiped seven bases, which is typically a half-season output for him (he’s stolen 10 bases in a season seven times now, but he’s never gone higher than 15 or attempted more than 20). If he wants to keep that up, the weaker power numbers won’t hurt as much. And those weaker power numbers likely will stick around; Texas isn’t a very good offensive environment for right-handed power, and he was going to take a dip there this year even if he kept hitting the ball as hard as he did last year, which he hasn’t. If he gets to 20 homers this year, that’d be a win.

American League notes

- While Semien was hitting his two homers, new Rangers callup Ezequiel Duran actually had the first-, second- and fifth-highest exit velocities in the second game of the doubleheader against the Guardians. Duran also had a 402-foot homer in his second big-league game Sunday. A product of the Joey Gallo trade, Duran was hitting .317/.365/.574 with seven homers and seven steals in 200 plate appearances for Double-A Frisco prior to his callup. That came with an 18% strikeout rate, a huge improvement over his 27% mark in high-A last year. It still doesn’t seem likely that Duran should be quite ready for the majors, but he’s a fine bet for the long haul. He’s probably more of a stopgap than a true rest-of-season option in shallow leagues. The Rangers might have a good problem next year with Duran and Josh Jung both potentially ready for long runs at third base.

- The Rangers also brought up 25-year-old Steele Walker after a strong .297/.395/.486 start in Triple-A. Walker hasn’t typically showed as much power as his swing and build would seem to promise, but he was doing well there this year while also striking out just 11 times in 86 plate appearances for Round Rock. Since he doesn’t have much steal ability, he probably won’t be a big factor in fantasy leagues. Still, the Rangers might as well give him a long look in left field against right-handers.

- I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Oscar Gonzalez when the Guardians called him up as Franmil Reyes’s replacement, but with how he’s looked through 11 games, there must be a bunch of teams kicking themselves for not offering him a major league contract when he became a minor league free agent last winter. In 45 plate appearances, he’s had 20 hard-hit balls and just five strikeouts. He should be a lock to stick after Reyes returns, which means Owen Miller needs to heat back up or risk losing a bunch of playing time. Gonzalez seems like a legitimate mixed-league option for the moment.

- With 61 plate appearances and 40 batted-ball events under his belt, Adley Rutschman is still barrelless. His exit velocity numbers aren’t too bad and he’s hitting the ball in the air, but he hasn’t come all that close to hitting a homer. His farthest batted ball to date is just 354 feet. I don’t think there’s much to worry about there in the numbers, but Rutschman has a whole lot on his plate in trying to learn the Orioles pitching staff as a catcher and also maintaining two swings as a switch-hitter. He’s probably not going to be an impact fantasy catcher until 2023.

- I want the Rays to stick with Vidal Bruján, but it seems like it’s time for the team to give Jonathan Aranda a try somewhere in the infield, probably even if it’s at Brujan’s expense. The 24-year-old Aranda is batting .328/.413/.539 with nine homers in 230 plate appearances for Triple-A Durham. He can play first, second and third. I don’t know that he’d be a mixed-league guy if given the call, but he’s interesting.

- The A’s shook things up a bit by promoting Matt Davidson and demoting Sheldon Neuse on Tuesday, but it was the Stephen Vogt activation that might have the bigger fantasy impact if it frees up Christian Bethancourt to DH regularly. Jed Lowrie has the DH job right now, but unfortunately, he looks cooked; his average exit velocity is down five mph from last year. Bethancourt is batting just .228/.278/.327 in limited action, but he’s actually hit the ball hard, collecting eight barrels in 109 plate appearances. Statcast has him with an expected average of .289 and .509 slugging. That would make him Babe Ruth on a team without a single player with even a .690 OPS this year. If he starts getting more playing time -- and he absolutely should, even if he’s not nearly this good -- he’ll be interesting as a second backstop in two-catcher leagues.

- Sorry, but I’m skipping writing anything about the Royals this week. Figure it’s best for my blood pressure.

- Even though his strikeout rate is way down and he’s getting hit harder than usual, Gregory Soto still has a 1.80 ERA as the Tigers’ closer. He’s given up six barrels yet just one homer this season. He has a 3.89 FIP, a 5.25 xFIP and a 4.78 xERA. Now, it’s possible that he’ll improve, but if he can’t get the strikeout rate up and go back to getting more groundballs, that ERA will probably take a big jump at some point. Michael Fulmer was supposed to be second in line for saves and still might be, but it’s well worth keeping an eye on Alex Lange, who has a 1.54 ERA, excellent groundball numbers and a 29% strikeout rate.

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National League notes

- With Curt Casali having overtaken him as the starter, Joey Bart was sent down by the Giants on Wednesday morning. The team simultaneously acquired Austin Wynns to step in as Casali’s backup. I don’t think that was a case of the Giants believing Wynns is better than Bart, but it does make more sense to send Bart down to play regularly than to keep him as a backup right now. Bart had a great first week of the season, but the strikeouts have been out of control and nothing figured to improve there while he was playing twice per week. For the long haul, Bart’s defense is good enough and the catcher position is weak enough that he still figures to be a starter. The Giants might always want to do better, though.

- Edward Cabrera wasn’t quite as impressive Tuesday (1 ER, 4 K in 6 IP) as in his season debut last week (0 ER, 1 H, 9 K in 6 IP), but that’s only because it was such a high bar to clear. His changeup looks ridiculous right now, and when he’s ahead in the count and has both the change and curve at his disposal, there’s very little hope for hitters. Getting ahead in the count, though, has been his problem against advanced hitters; he’s sported walk rates of 13.5% in Triple-A and 14.9% in the majors. If he can just take a modest step forward there, chances are he’d remain very useful in mixed leagues. He definitely needs to be rostered at the moment.

- The reports from Stephen Strasburg’s rehab stint were better than expected as he completes his return from surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome, and he’ll make his season debut Thursday after allowing three runs in 13 2/3 innings in the minors. He’s far from a lock to offer mixed-league value this year, but I’m more optimistic than I was a couple of months ago.

- The Nationals were forced to promote Luis Garcia last week with Alcides Escobar on the IL and Dee Strange-Gordon about to go on the paternity list, but they haven’t been forced to hit him any higher than ninth, even though he was outstanding in the minors and he’s kept it going since his recall. His average exit velocity on 19 batted balls is 97 mph, which would put him right between Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge atop the major league leaderboard. His max exit velocity of 113.4 mph puts him in the top 10% of batters (and is 0.2 mph ahead of Juan Soto). His plate discipline isn’t great, but while he’s not going to hit his current .391 forever, he’s also not at all likely to revert back to where he was in 2021 (.242/.275/.411). He should have value in deeper leagues, even if he’s not really any sort of stolen base threat. It’ll help when the Nationals make him their No. 5 hitter.

- I feel really bad for Edwin Rios, who was getting his big break with the Dodgers only to suffer a torn hamstring. If the team didn’t have Max Muncy (elbow) on the way back this weekend, it might have been tempting to give Miguel Vargas a try in Rios’s place. Vargas, though, has cooled off in Triple-A these last two weeks, hitting .205/.255/.341 over his last 11 games. He’s still at .289/.385/.481 overall, and he’ll be a threat to help this year if the Dodgers ever have need of him.

- That Travis Swaggerty has started just one of the Pirates’ three games since his callup suggests that he might not stick around for long, which is fine. The 2018 first-round pick was limited to 12 games by a shoulder injury last year, and between that and the lack of a minor league season in 2020, he’s lost a whole lot of development time. Still, it was encouraging that he was playing well in Triple-A this year, hitting .280/.362/.439 in 150 plate appearances. He has a better chance than either Jack Suwinski or Cal Mitchell of becoming a long-term regular for the Pirates, but the other two young outfielders are playing well at the moment and should get longer looks. Swaggerty can go back to Triple-A after Ben Gamel (hamstring) is activated.

- It didn’t take much of a slump to result in a reduced role for Juan Yepez in St. Louis, as he’s started just two of the last five games even with two outfielders on the IL. There’s quite a bit to like about Yepez’s bat, but as a part-time player, he’s not going to be of use in shallow leagues.

- Desperation caused the Phillies to bring back Scott Kingery on Tuesday, but he should be strictly a fallback option for their bruised infield. The former top prospect was hitting only .185/.297/.296 with 22 strikeouts in 64 plate appearances in Triple-A. Maybe he’ll reemerge as a realistic major leaguer someday, but he needs to stay healthy and get regular playing time in Triple-A if that’s ever going to happen. He’s totaled 295 plate appearances since the beginning of 2020.