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Strike Zone

Notes: Going In On Gleyber

by Matthew Pouliot
Updated On: June 24, 2021, 4:11 am ET

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The only thing missing from Wander Franco’s debut was a Rays victory. Alas, the Red Sox prevailed in 11 innings, but Franco hit a three-run homer, doubled and walked in his first major league appearance Tuesday. He did so as a third baseman and No. 2 hitter, two assignments that would seem to be good news for his fantasy value. I’m not expecting immediate fantasy stardom here, but he should certainly be useful in all formats, and some extra position eligibility will help.

That Taylor Walls remained in the lineup in Franco’s first game with the Rays is noteworthy. While his numbers don’t stand out, Walls had been excellent 26 games since replacing the traded Willy Adames. His .237 average came with a .356 OBP, and his defense at shortstop was terrific. Power has been a question mark for Walls, but he’s shown pretty good exit velocity, and the total package would seem to be there to make him a long-term starting shortstop in the majors. It just won’t be with the Rays.

Since Walls is sticking around for now, the Rays figure to do even more mixing and matching that usual. Franco and Walls will share time at short. Franco figures to play third the rest of the time -- he hadn’t played any second base recently in Triple-A -- so Joey Wendle will be treated as more of a utilityman. Brandon Lowe should start logging more outfield time. It doesn’t leave any room at the moment for Vidal Brujan, who will probably need someone to get hurt in order to get a shot. Brujan had slowed down in Triple-A anyway, though he did homer in back-to-back games over the weekend.


American League notes


- Gleyber Torres slugged .480 in 123 games at age 21 and .535 in 144 games at age 22. He’s slugged .342 in 105 games at ages 23 and 24. He has six homers the last two years after hitting 38 in 2019. I’ve been lower than most than Torres since his huge sophomore campaign, but I never expected anything like this, particularly since his approach at the plate has improved since he debuted. I think better days are ahead, even if the power doesn’t return this year. Torres is swinging at the right pitches, and while his groundball rate has gone up some, he doesn’t have a major problem there. He’s not striking out overly much. He’s not popping up overly much. Even with his exit velocity down some, he should still be able to hit some homers to left in Yankee Stadium. Plus, I expect that the Yankees as a team will turn the corner offensively at some point. I like Torres as a buy-low guy, even though I don’t expect him to revert to 2019 form, at least not this year.


- Of all the things the Royals do that I don’t understand, letting Brady Singer pitch through a shoulder problem has the potential to be the most damaging. He admitted to an issue after his June 11 outing and then was pulled with the old “abundance of caution” after throwing 50 pitches five days later. On Tuesday, he was allowed to throw 96 pitches in 3 2/3 innings against the Yankees. He walked five and gave up five runs. Singer is awfully promising with his fastball-slider combination, though he’s going to need to gain some confidence in his changeup in order to fulfill his potential. Maybe the shoulder problem will prove to be as minor as the Royals hope it is, but why risk it, especially after a 2020 season in which he threw 64 innings?


- Also, the Royals are bringing Danny Duffy (forearm) back after a six-week absence without him having made a rehab appearance. He was great before getting hurt, but I wouldn’t want to bet on him in the near future. He’ll face the Yankees and Red Sox in his first two outings.


- I don’t have much faith in Myles Straw’s bat, but he’s playing regularly for baseball’s best offensive team and he’s come in at .302/.370/.444 with two homers and three steals in June. He’s rostered in just 16% of Yahoo leagues, but he seems worth grabbing for teams in need of speed.


- The Rangers recalled Andy Ibanez prior to Monday’s game, and from the sound of things, he’ll get a lengthy look in the infield. He played second and first in his first two days with the club, but obviously the bigger opening on the Rangers is at third, where Brock Holt and Charlie Culberson have split time. Those two should lose at-bats, whether it’s Ibanez or Nick Solak playing third. Ibanez is capable of hitting for a solid average and decent power. It’s not a package that’s likely to make him a mixed-league guy, but he should have some value in deeper formats.


- Ian Kennedy seems like a great bet to be traded next month, opening up the closer’s role in Texas. Joely Rodriguez might be the favorite to seize the role, but even though his peripherals are pretty good, he currently has a 6.20 ERA in 20 1/3 innings. It’s worth keeping an eye on Spencer Patton, who hasn’t allowed a run in 12 innings in Triple-A or 6 1/3 innings in the majors this year. Patton returned from a four-year stint in Japan with a little extra velocity on his fastball and a decent splitter that rates as his third pitch behind his slider. He’ll eventually give up a few runs, but he could be a sneaky bet for saves in August and September.


- I understand not wanting to rush Jo Adell back to the majors after his disastrous stint last season, but I didn’t see the Angels turning to Luis Rengifo in right field before giving Adell another shot. Adell is hitting .316/.360/.646 for Triple-A Salt Lake in June. He has 16 homers and a .271/.319/.627 line for the year. Rengifo was hitting well in Triple-A, too, and he has some fantasy potential because of his speed. Unfortunately, it hasn’t made him a very good basestealer; he’s 5-for-11 there in 150 games as a major leaguer. In Triple-A, he’s gone 16-for-29 in 103 games since 2018.


- It’d be great for the Mariners if Shed Long Jr. could build on this hot streak and establish himself as a key piece going into 2022, but it’s interesting to see that, with both Long and Dylan Moore in the lineup, the team has been using Long in left field and Moore at second base. If Long has a future as a regular, it’ll probably need to be at second base. I’m not very optimistic; Long has struggled to hit for average ever since reaching Double-A and his power is fairly limited. He’s hit two huge homers for the Mariners this week, but Statcast thinks he should be slugging .355, rather than his current .500, right now.

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National League notes


- With everyone watching to see how top starters react to the sticky-stuff enforcement, Zack Wheeler had his worst outing of the season Tuesday against the Nationals. However, unlike his counterpart Max Scherzer and some other aces that have worked this week, he didn’t lose anything in the spin rate department last night. He’s still one of the best bets out there right now.


- The Cardinals decided to give Lars Nootbaar a try Tuesday after the 2018 eighth-round pick hit .329/.430/.557 in 93 plate appearances in Triple-A. He wasn’t viewed as much of a prospect previously, but a big step forward in the power department helped his cause. In his debut, he made contact all four times up and his exit velocity topped out at 108 mph, which is quite promising. Since he’s not a stolen base guy, he’s not worth an immediate pickup in mixed leagues. He could prove to be a nice surprise offensively, though.


- Obviously, Ian Happ has been quite a disappointment, but it’s been frustrating to see him on the bench against righties the last two days while Jason Heyward has continued to start for the Cubs. After all, Happ has been the better hitter this year, Happ was the better hitter in both 2019 and 2020 and Happ is the better defender at this point. I wouldn’t blame anyone for dropping Happ in a mixed league, but I still think he’ll bounce back.


- While his season ERA is a fine 2.89, Yimi Garcia has four losses and two blown saves in his last nine appearances for the Marlins. His two primary setup men, Dylan Floro and Anthony Bass, have struggled some this month, too. It would definitely seem like Anthony Bender would be the right choice to step into the closer’s role if the Marlins wanted to take Garcia out of the ninth. The 26-year-old Bender still hasn’t allowed an earned run in 19 1/3 innings since his callup, and he’s getting both strikeouts and groundballs in abundance. He’d be nice to have stashed away. Even if Garcia does get it together, he’ll be a trade candidate next month.


- Michael Conforto is coming off the IL after a five-week absence due to a strained hamstring, and it looks like the Mets could also activate Brandon Nimmo (hand) in a few days, putting the team’s Opening Day outfield back on the field. That probably would have been bad news for Dominic Smith had it happened a few weeks ago, but Smith has hit .250/.358/.485 in his past 22 games. If he can keep performing like that, playing time shouldn’t be an issue.


- Daniel Vogelbach’s unfortunate leg injury could force the Brewers to give Keston Hiura another shot at first base. Expectations would be low this time, but Hiura has cut back on the strikeouts some in Triple-A, hitting .375/.490/.575 with a 13/9 K/BB in 51 plate appearances since his latest demotion. He crushed the ball in his first Triple-A stint, but he struck out over one-third of the time then. In the majors this year, he’s sported a 39% K rate. Hiura probably won’t be grabbed in fantasy leagues right away this time around, but he’s worth watching. After all, we’re talking about someone with 33 homers and 13 steals in 716 plate appearances as a major leaguer.


- It might not amount to much, but the Pirates are going to need to give Anthony Alford another look soon if he keeps producing like this in Triple-A. Alford, who was dropped from the major league roster after going 2-for-29 to open the season, is batting .302/.455/.531 with six homers and seven steals in 32 games for Indianapolis. He’s still striking out 34% of the time, so the .302 average isn’t going to translate. However, with Ka’ai Tom scarcely resembling a major league outfielder, the Pirates have nothing to lose by giving him another shot.


- Daulton Varsho’s .146 average in 52 plate appearances this year leaves him at .174 in 58 games since he debuted last year, but I still wouldn’t mind using him at catcher in mixed leagues while Carson Kelly is out. Batting average is going to remain a big problem for him until he does something to alter his swing, but he will hit some homers and the occasional stolen base adds a great deal to his value.


- I’ll have the July rankings up next Wednesday.