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Strike Zone

Notes: Rating the Rays' Replacements

by Matthew Pouliot
Updated On: June 23, 2022, 2:03 am ET

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The Rays lost two more regulars to the IL on Tuesday, with Manuel Margot (knee) and Kevin Kiermaier (hip) joining Brandon Lowe (back), Wander Franco (quad) and Mike Zunino (shoulder) on the shelf, but what does that matter when one has Isaac Paredes ready to step in and hit three homers? Of course, we should expect nothing less from a team that can win a bullpen game against the streaking Yankees with, arguably, its four best relievers on the IL.

Paredes now has eight homers in just 95 plate appearances this season. He totaled two in 193 plate appearances for the Tigers the previous two years before being acquired for Austin Meadows just prior to Opening Day. Statcast doesn’t see Paredes as having taken such a step forward. He’s not hitting the ball much harder than usual, but he’s definitely putting his flyballs in the right place; all eight of his homers have been pulled to left and five have gone right down the line. It’s a good strategy, especially now that the balls are flying better than they were a couple of months ago, so he’d seem to be worth a pickup.

The Rays also brought up Jonathan Aranda, who could turn into quite a factor against right-handers if he’s not simply sent down when Franco comes off the IL this weekend. Aranda was hitting .310/.386/.512 in Triple-A and can play every infield position besides shortstop. It seems like he deserves a real shot, and he’ll be one to keep an eye on if he gets it. The Rays could send down Taylor Walls, who has been perhaps the game’s worse hitter these last two months, or Vidal Bruján, who has finally started hitting a little better but has yet to really justify regular playing time. Since Brujan can help in the outfield, he should stay at least until Kiermaier returns.

Even before losing Margot and Kiermaier, the Rays decided to give Josh Lowe another shot on Monday. Lowe was striking out 31% of the time in Triple-A, but he had been better there of late; he was hitting .344/.447/.578 with 16 strikeouts in 76 plate appearances over his final 17 games for Durham. Lowe’s power and speed combination remains very interesting from a fantasy perspective. Batting average will be a problem, but I think he’s worth rostering while playing regularly and he’d seem to be due a long look with Margot unlikely to return anytime soon.


American League notes


- I was kicking myself for not writing about Riley Greene in last week’s column, since it was pretty clear his callup was imminent then. He was promoted Saturday, and he’s already reached base 10 times with five hits and five walks in four games. Greene should turn into a fantasy star down the line; he projects as a 30-homer guy in his prime and he’ll likely hit for average despite always being rather strikeout prone. For the short-term, though, I’m not nearly as optimistic. Part of it is the disaster of a lineup around him, even if the Tigers do figure to be at least a little better from here on in. Greene’s also not fully developed as a power hitter yet, and Comerica has been an especially tough place for left-handed power of late. He’ll probably steal a handful of bases and be solid enough overall to amass a little value, but for now, I think he’s probably a fringe guy in 10- and 12-team leagues.


- It’s just three games, but Alex Kirilloff has been quite impressive since rejoining the Twins, delivering six hard-hit balls already. His average exit velocity on his nine balls in play has been 97 mph. He’ll probably sit against lefties unless he goes on a real tear here, but he’s worth a try in shallow leagues anyway.


- Even a diminished Anthony Rendon was an important piece for the Angels, and his absence following season-ending wrist surgery has left them with certainly the ugliest infield present on a contender. Matt Duffy should be adequate when healthy, but he’s both swinging and missing more than usual and making weaker contact when he hits the ball, which is a scary combination. If the Angels are going to stay in the race, they’re probably going to need to pick up two infielders.


- Justin Upton hit just .200/.288/.378 in 12 games in Triple-A, but the Mariners decided to give him a shot as a regular anyway. I don’t expect it to work out, and while Upton can probably hit lefties well enough to contribute there, most teams aren’t going to be willing to save a bench spot for a guy with no real defensive value who can only help on the short side of a platoon. Upton probably has until the All-Star break to carve out a role. Hopefully, at least one of Mitch Haniger (ankle) or Kyle Lewis (concussion) will be ready to return at that point. Jarred Kelenic might also prove worthy of another shot, but after a really nice two-week run for Triple-A Tacoma, he’s slowed of late.


- Returning from a finger injury that derailed his spring comeback from Tommy John, Ken Giles made his season debut on Tuesday, throwing a scoreless inning against the A’s. He averaged 95.0 mph with his fastball, which is down 2-3 mph from his days with the Astros and Blue Jays. Perhaps in part because of that, two-thirds of his 15 pitches were sliders. Maybe he can make that work and turn into a closing candidate for the Mariners, but with the diminished stuff, there’s probably no need to roster him right away.


- Jeter Downs is making his major league debut for the Red Sox on Wednesday, but there isn’t much excitement surrounding his arrival, given that the former top prospect was hitting just .180/.297/.397 in his second year in Triple-A. He’s fanned 200 times total in 627 plate appearances the last two seasons. At 23, he isn’t exactly hopeless, but getting the strikeout rate down is a must for him. He’ll head back to Triple-A if the Red Sox get Enrique Hernandez (hip) and Christian Arroyo back this weekend as hoped.


- The more interesting topic for Boston is whether Jarren Duran will stick once Hernandez is activated. The Red Sox are a little weaker defensively in the outfield with him out there, but he can make things happen in the leadoff spot and the Red Sox have put him there regularly with Hernandez out. My guess is that they’ll send him back down, but I’d rather be wrong.


- A.J. Puk should be the favorite for saves in Oakland with Dany Jiménez (shoulder) on the injured list. Zach Jackson is another possibility, but he’s a flyball pitcher sporting an 18% walk rate and I don’t trust him at all. It’d be nice if Puk were missing a few more bats, but he’s been solid throughout.

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National League notes


- It was a few days later than expected, but the Pirates finally brought up Oneil Cruz on Monday, at which point he immediately proved to be their most exciting player. He might be their best player, too, but time will tell on that. Even if he struggles some in the average and OBP departments as a rookie, he should do enough to be of use in mixed leagues.


- Joining Cruz in the majors Monday was outfielder Bligh Madris, making his major league debut at age 26. A left-handed hitter like Jack Suwinski and Cal Mitchell, it seems he’s up to overtake Mitchell in right, at least until fellow left-handed-hitting outfielder Ben Gamel returns. The Pirates could keep Madris and send down Mitchell at that point, since Mitchell is just 23 and needs to play regularly. Madris wasn’t looked at as much of a prospect coming into this year, but he’s making harder contact than ever before and he doesn’t strike out overly much. He might be a nice surprise for the Pirates, though probably not to the extent of having fantasy value in mixed leagues.


- Suwinski’s three-homer game against the Giants had everyone talking about him for a day, and his 11 homers total in 171 plate appearances is plenty impressive. Still, he’s striking out 30% of the time, and playing for the Pirates is a drag on his fantasy value; he’s totaled just 19 RBI even with all of the homers. Maybe he’ll have some lasting value if he decides to run more; he has the speed to do so, though he wasn’t all that successful there in the minors (he was 11-for-19 stealing bases last year and just 2-for-3 in 116 games in 2019). I think mixed leaguers can probably do better.


- On the one hand, it seems like time to be seriously concerned about Justin Turner, given that he’s hitting just .214/.285/.345, the Dodgers have dropped him in the order and he’s been spending more time at DH, with Max Muncy often getting the nod at third base. Statcast, though, doesn’t believe Turner’s decline is nearly as significant as his line suggests; it has him with an expected average of .250 and slugging of .433. Still, what complicates the matter is that top prospect Miguel Vargas is hitting .278/.376/.475 with a nice 48/37 K/BB ratio and eight steals in nine tries for Triple-A Oklahoma City. The Dodgers will eventually have to give Vargas a look if he keeps this up. It seems like Turner should bounce back, but if it doesn’t happen soon, he might find himself on the bench.


- The Cardinals’ Dylan Carlson just couldn’t hit anything hard in April, but he’s shown steady improvement since; his xSLG went from .250 in 84 PA the first month to.486 in 74 PA in May before landing on the IL with a hamstring strain and now to .531 in 40 plate appearances since he returned June 10. I don’t think he’s going to suddenly start crushing homers regularly, but his batting average should keep coming up and he’s going to drive in more runs. He’s back looking like a legitimate mixed-league option.


- It looks like Manny Machado will avoid a long absence due to his ankle injury, so C.J. Abrams’ stay in San Diego could be a short one. Abrams impressed by hitting .314/.364/.507 in 30 games following his demotion to Triple-A, and I’d say he’s a better bet than Ha-Seong Kim offensively at this point. Still, Kim’s defensive edge at shortstop will likely keep him in the lineup after Machado returns (the team is playing Abrams at short and Kim at third for the moment, but that’s because Abrams has never played third before). Abrams’ best hope of fantasy value this year might be as an outfielder after the All-Star break. His speed will likely give him significant value if the Padres commit to him.


- The Reds lost their most effective reliever and perhaps their best closing option when Alexis Diaz went on the IL with biceps tendinitis. I’d say Jeff Hoffman deserves a chance at this point, though he’s not one of the six Reds relievers with saves this year. He’s still not a bad choice to have stashed.


- Tyrone Taylor has center field all to himself in Milwaukee now after Lorenzo Cain was designated for assignment. He’s interesting, since he offers solid pop without a ton of swing and miss to his game. He’s also a guy who should benefit from the bouncier baseball of the last month, as he hits a lot of flies without possessing elite power. I don’t like him as much for fantasy purposes as other outfielders I’ve mentioned here (I’d definitely take Lowe and Kiriloff first), but there’s the chance he’ll be of some use.


- With Kris Bryant due back from his back strain this weekend, it sure seems like Randal Grichuk is in line to lose the most playing time in the Colorado outfield. Yonathan Daza has already shoved him to a corner, and he’s hitting just .258/.299/.388 in 224 plate appearances. The Rockies won’t totally bury him, but there isn’t much to recommend him at the moment.


- Seeing Juan Soto left on deck as the No. 3 hitter as César Hernández made the final out in the first game of last Friday’s doubleheader caused Davey Martinez to do the right thing and return Soto to the second spot in the lineup. Better yet, that switch elevated Josh Bell from fifth to third ahead of Nelson Cruz. I remain quite the Bell fan for the rest of the season. And now Luis Garcia is hitting fifth, so he looks like a legit mixed-league option, too.


- July rankings next week.