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Strike Zone

Notes: Cruz, Adell, Diaz and More

by Matthew Pouliot
Updated On: September 22, 2022, 3:48 pm ET

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Yes, the columns are getting shorter, but if you're still reading along in mid-September, it's much appreciated. I'll have one more shortish notes column next week before launching into the season review content and, later, the annual Top 111 Free Agents column.

 

National League notes

 

- Oneil Cruz is hitting .272/.330/.630 with seven homers over his last 20 games, which is fairly encouraging for his future and something of a bummer for me in my hopes of snagging him in the middle of drafts next year. There would have been a better shot of pulling that off if he had finished his rookie season in the neighborhood of the Mendoza Line.

 

Cruz's surge hasn't been entirely positive; he's still fanned 36 times in 88 plate appearances over those 20 games, a slight increase on his 38.8% rate for the year. I fully expect him to take a step forward there next year, but probably not to the point that will allow him to hit much better than .240-.250. He'll also continue to be held back by his teammates in Pittsburgh. He's managed to drive in 51 runs in 75 games this year because he's been far better with runners on (.628 SLG) than with the bases empty (.355 SLG), but that isn't something one should expect to continue. Even if he hits 30 homers next year, as seems likely, he'll probably fall short of the century mark in both runs and RBI. On the plus side, he can certainly steal 15-20 bases if he wants to, or maybe even more if stolen base numbers jump as much next year as some think they will.

 

I had Cruz ranked 129th overall when I did my “mostly for fun” 2023 rankings at the All-Star break. I think now that there's a good chance I'll place him in the top 100, assuming that the Pirates keep Bryan Reynolds around and make some modest attempts at upgrading their lineup.

 

- It wasn't showing up in the numbers yet, but things seemed to be looking up for Nick Senzel of late; four of his five hardest-hit balls on the year (ranging from 105.6 to 109.5 mph) had come in September. In all, he had 21 hard-hit balls in 44 events and 52 at-bats this month, though he had settled for only eight hits. From a Statcast standpoint, it was his best stretch of the season. Alas, it's over now after he suffered a broken toe running into the wall in center on Tuesday. Senzel, one of my favorite picks this year, needed a nice finish to ensure that he'd go into 2023 as a regular. Now he'll likely be groomed for a utility role, or the Reds could just trade him and move on entirely. I think that'd be a mistake, but there's simply no denying that Senzel's year was discouraging. His hard-hit rate was just 32.4%, down from his already disappointing 37.2% rate for his career. His strikeout rate, while still quite good at 18%, was up from last year's 36-game stint, and his excellent speed again failed to make him a quality basestealer, as he was caught on five of his 13 attempts.

 

I still don't doubt that a fully healthy Senzel could turn into a heck of a fantasy outfielder. He's never going to be an elite exit-velocity guy, but Cincinnati is such a great home run park that he doesn't need to be (see TJ Friedl having collected seven homers over the last month while never having hit a ball more than 395 feet). Unfortunately, he's a worse player now than when he entered the league, and even if he does put it together, it doesn't seem like the durability issues are going away.

 

- So much for the Braves getting to stick Vaughn Grissom in left field. He'll remain needed at second base with Ozzie Albies suffering a fractured pinkie in his very first game back from a broken foot. There's the chance Albies will be ready to return by the NLCS, which could turn into a really difficult call if the Braves advance. Albies is a two-time All-Star, but he wasn't particularly good before suffering the broken foot this year and there's not going to be any sort of rehab assignment available for him in October. Reintroducing him to the lineup at anything less than 100 percent could hurt the team.

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American League notes

 

- I made the mistake of thinking Jo Adell was heating up and writing about it last month, but aside from a two-homer game on Aug. 26, he hasn't done much of anything since and he's found himself benched against right-handers lately. A good example of how little interim manager Phil Nevin thinks of him occurred last night when he pulled Adell for a pinch-runner after a sixth-inning RBI single. Adell has 98th percentile sprint speed, according to Statcast, but he's so bad fundamentally that not only did Nevin want to yank him for defense with a 5-2 lead, he didn't even want to let him run the bases first.

 

I really have no idea if Adell is fixable at this point. I think part of the blame for his lack of progress falls on the Angels and that he would have stood a better chance of turning into a quality big leaguer in another quality organization. Still, I'm sort of skeptical it would have materialized anyway. Fortunately, he's just 23. For as bad as he often looks in the field, he's athletic enough that he's posted decent numbers defensively anyway. The power potential is still there (he's hit 36 homers in 519 plate appearances in Triple-A the last two years). I hope he gets a change of scenery this winter.

 

- It seems the A's want everyone to give everyone a cup of coffee, so they called up Jordan Díaz on Sunday and Conner Capel on Tuesday, sending down the only recently added Cody Thomas in the process. Diaz just turned 22 last month and spent most of the year in Double-A, so I didn't think we'd see him this month. Still, he made a compelling case by hitting .348/.383/.545 in 26 games in Triple-A. Diaz did more DHing than anything else in the minors this year, but he played first base 44 times, third base 10 times and second base three times. The A's actually put him at second base in his second big-league game Tuesday. That'd seem to stand little chance of working out. The bat, though, is promising; he consistently makes solid contact and rarely strikes out. A nice finish here will give an edge on a spot at first base or DH next year. Still, since he's in Oakland, his short-term fantasy potential is minimal.

 

I wrote about Capel, a waiver claim from the Cardinals, last week. I'm a fan, but, again, Oakland is just a terrible situation for a hitter. He'll also likely sit against lefties.

 

- Harrison Bader made his Yankees debut on Tuesday, going 2-for-4 with three RBI against the Pirates. He'll probably get frequent rest for his bad foot over the final two weeks here, but the Yankees are clearly hoping he can start regularly in the postseason and render Aaron Hicks essentially irrelevant in October.

 

- I was going to be critical of the Royals sending down Nick Pratto last week when the minor league season was almost over and they still had Ryan O'Hearn on the roster, but, really, Pratto had been bad enough to justify it. He was 4-for-39 with one extra-base hit and 18 strikeouts this month. For the season, he was batting .184/.271/.386 and had twice as many strikeouts (66) as hard-hit balls (34). Combine that with his .239 average and 31% strikeout rate in Triple-A and it looks like a highly discouraging campaign for the 23-year-old. Still, the middle of the year was pretty good; he just started badly and finished worse. The Royals shouldn't pencil him in as a 2023 regular, but with any luck, he'll be ready for another opportunity come May or June.