The (All-Surprise) Inning: August 16, 2017

The Inning

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

 

Three Up…The All Surprise Team

 

  1. Infield + Catcher

 

C: Logan Moore, Philadelphia. With due respect to Hank Conger, Jed McKinley and Cam Gallagher, Moore has to be the pick. Moore would lead all catchers in average, if he had enough at-bats; he’s hitting .309/.389/.448, with six homers and 31 RBI. Not bad for a 26-year-old rookie who hit just .143 in a cup of coffee last year, and was considered a Quad-A player at best. I’m not sure if this is sustainable long-term. But he’s having the season of his life on the biggest stage possible. The Phillies surely hope that he’s the answer to all of their catching questions.

Others considered: Hank Conger, MIL (.329/.407/.540)…Conger broke out into stardom behind the plate, after being a journeyman for a few years; Jed McKinely, COL (.296-19-60)…McKinley never played sustained ball above A-ball before this season; he’s proven to be the definition of late-bloomer, as the 26-year-old is firmly in the NL ROTY race; Cam Gallagher, NYY (.279-26-81)…he was underwhelming last season (.232/.268/.464), but has found his power, and become a star in New York.

 

1B: Josh VItters, KC/MIL. Vitters played well in two partial stops in Chicago and Kansas City back in 2013 and 2014; however, he fell hard in 2015, hitting just .227/.271/.339 between KC and Boston. He rediscovered his power last year, hitting 24 homers…but hit .242/.278/.423. The Red Sox waived him, and KC picked him back up. Vitters rewarded them for their faith, enjoying his best season as a pro (.314/.351/.509, 19 HR, 67 RBI), and earning his first All-Star nomination. He was traded to the Brewers, where he’s scuffled (.227/.222/.432). But that doesn’t take away from the performance he’s had overall.

Others considered: Kyle Roller, NYY (.317/.379/.476). Roller hit well enough in 2015, going for .295/.361/.423. But he’s had an uptick in his power, hitting 33 doubles already this year, along with ten homers. He’s also upped each of his slashes, including bumping his batting average by forty points.

 

2B: Brandon Phillips, Toronto. Phillips has, at 36, had his best season as a professional. It’s not even close, actually. Going into Wednesday, he’s hitting .280/.310/.444. All of those are career highs. The 14 homers and 61 RBI are the most he’s had since 2014, when he was a member of the Padres. He’s still offering top-flight defense. And his WAR, which sits at 3.0, is the highest of his career. The past two years, he was below replacement level. He’s a big reason why the Blue Jays find themselves tied for the AL East lead as of Wednesday morning.

Others considered: Kolten Wong, DET (.280/.366.428, 14 HR, 47 RBI). Wong was an afterthought in the Dustin Pedroia trade a year ago, tossed in to give the Tigers cover at second base. He’s parlayed that life experience into his first All-Star bid at 26. His fourteen homers are a career high, exceeding his 2014 mark of .279/13/63. It is also worth mentioning Michael Antonio of Baltimore here; he’s hitting .294/.330/.511, with 21 homers and 68 RBI. If he were a full-time shortstop, he’d have the highest OPS at the position in the AL. But he’s registered more time at second.

 

3B: Garin Cecchini, Seattle. Cecchini was a regular last season, hitting .254/.334/.368. His defense made up the bulk of his 2.8 WAR. This year’s version of Cecchini still has the great defense, but he’s upped his marks to .280/.354/.441, resulting in a .795 OPS. That’s easily the best he’s had as a major leaguer, and the best he’s posted since a 56-game stint in AA in 2015. His consistency—outside of a .240 June, he’s hit at least .271 in each month this season—has been a boon to a Seattle offense that has turned over at seemingly every other position on the field.

Others considered: Alex Castellanos, LA Dodgers. Truth be told, there are rather slim pickins here. But Castellanos is hitting .287/.351/.559 in 223 PA, accumulating a WAR (2.3) equal to his last two seasons as a regular (2.4 over 2015-16). He’s hit 14 homers and driven in 37 in part-time work, bolstering a Dodger bench that needed bolstering. Sure, you could say Miguel Sano, based on consistency and an average that’s much higher than expected. But the power was always there. And he’s on pace to strike out 180 times. So, Castellanos gets my vote.

 

SS: Miguel Leon, Chicago White Sox. Success was tabbed for the 24-year-old for some time; he was, after all, the #2 prospect in the game in 2015. But injuries and a lack of production made people think he’d go the Felicio Roxa route. Thankfully for Sox fans, Leon has been a bright spot this year, earning his first All-Star bid, en route to a current .287/.340/.472. He’s got 13 homers and 20 doubles. He still strikes out, but everyone does. His WAR is double last year’s mark, at 3.2. He’s rather large for a shortstop, at 6’4, 235, but has great agility and grace around the bag. He may be the game’s best shortstop before too long.

Others considered: Rafael Luna, Baltimore. Luna, who hit for a .714 OPS in his third straight season of Single-A ball in 2016, went all the way to the parent club and increased his OPS by 25 points. He’s hitting .294/.341/.399, and has only struck out 20 times in 418 PA. He’s on pace for a 4.2 WAR season, with his plate awareness and defense a big reason why he’s contributing to a less and less-surprising contender.

 

  1. Outfield

 

LF: John Schultz, SD/CHW. There are a few candidates to choose from here. But I’m going with a personal favorite. Schultz was a 27-year-old rookie last year, pressed into time because the Padres weren’t good and had little options. He didn’t fare too great, playing at barely replacement level for 107 PA. This year, he became the catalyst for the Pads’ Just Enough attack, hitting .268/.356/.388, and playing to a 2.3 WAR. I felt he was deserving of a sentimental All-Star bid. The Padres parlayed that performance into the Prince Fielder trade. That has seemingly worked out for both teams. With the ChiSox, Schultz is hitting .287/.395/.406. He won’t ever hit for power, but he walks as much as he strikes out, and will get on base at a reasonable clip. For a 28-year-old on his last legs going into this year, Schultz has had the season he needed to have.

Others considered: My goodness…well, Joc Pederson for starters. He hit well last year, but to increase his slugging from .433 to .524, mashing 25 homers (sure, 17 before June 1, but who cares?), while continuing to hit for average (.296)…he’s shown he belongs this year…Steve Winter has put it all together in Chicago, hitting .306/.410/.453 this year. He’s always had the potential—he was the #6 overall pick in 2013—but bouts of inconsistency had always plagued him. Not this year…he’s been the embodiment of the Cubs’ NL-leading offense…I thought about including Jose Gonzalez of Milwaukee here, but will go with Cincinnati favorite Nobuhisa Koyama instead. He did hit to a .871 OPS in 356 PA in AAA last year. In this, his rookie season with the Reds, he’s managed to improve. His OPS sits at .854, but he has 22 homers, 66 runs scored, and a 2.7 WAR. He should be more selective when stealing—he’s been caught in 11 of 19 attempts—but he’s been very fun to watch. Also, Rich Dixon of Arizona is hitting .269-21-64, a year after posting .231/.295/.433 in 146 PA. He’s established himself as a power threat in Arizona. And James Baldwin, the rookie in Baltimore, has had a more successful campaign than perhaps anyone envisioned, hitting .293/.330/.515, with 23 homers and 12 steals.

 

CF: Aaron Altherr, Cincinnati. Altherr had his 2016 cut down by injury, which came after a surprising breakout rookie campaign. Amazingly, he’s mostly built upon that 2015 season, in which he hit .276-19-68. This year, he’s batting .278-26-74, being a major cog in Cincinnati’s All-or-Else Offense. Sure, he’s still only walked NINE times. But he’s on pace for 35 homers and 100 RBI.

Others considered: Ryan Nash, San Diego. This is probably unfair; Nash was a former #1 overall pick. But he was considered to be…an afterthought, perhaps?…when he was traded to San Diego for Ivan Chavez in 2015. And that was after performing reasonably well in 93 PA right with the parent club, right after being drafted. San Diego sent him back to AA, and he resurfaced last year. This year, he’s been a solid offensive player, hitting .282/.370/.369 (he has no power), with 23 steals (granted, in forty attempts). His bat projects as having batting title aspirations. The 23-year-old certainly looks the part so far.

 

RF: Anthony Hale, Baltimore. He performed great in AAA last year, and showed he was ready. But to be a catalyst in one of the more underrated offenses in the league, at age 22 (turning it in April), without any prior exposure to the big league level, is astounding. Hale is hitting .298/.347/.507, with 17 homers and 60 RBI. He’s only now just started to slump a bit, hitting .250 in August. OF course, he’s also got four homers. Out of all the calculated risks in Baltimore this year that have paid off, perhaps none have been more fun to watch than Hale.

Others considered: Jordan Akins, Texas. Akins has had an interesting past couple of seasons. He reached the bigs in 2015, after hitting .316-23-76 at AAA Round Rock. But he hit just .200 in 42 PA with the Rangers, so he spent the majority of last year back at Round Rock. This time, he hit .346-30-92 in 96 games. This time, after hitting just .221-1-8 in 123 PA, the Rangers gave him the job almost immediately this year. He hasn’t disappointed, hitting .287/.336/.453, with 13 homers and 53 RBI. Add in 15 steals (21 attempts), and you have a 2.4 WAR player.

 

  1. Pitchers

 

SP: Chris Sale, Cincinnati. Do I need to say more about what he’s done? He’s 15-3, with a 1.92 ERA. He’s leading the NL in strikeouts, with 170. His FIP is even a league-leading 2.58, and he’s holding hitters to a ridiculous .209 mark. His WHIP sits at 1.01. He’s the face of this Reds’ juggernaut, a guy who never put it together before this year. There were glimpses last year, notably giving up just 171 hits in 189 innings. But his control, always an issue until this year, got in the way (81 walks). This year, he’s walked just 42, while giving up 119 hits in 159 innings. He’s on pace for a career-low 57 walks in a career-high 215 innings, while striking out 230. I’m still really unsure as to whether he’s arrived. But he’s also on pace for just eight homers allowed, which would be a career low by far.

 

SP: Tadakuni Fujita, Toronto. Last year, Fujita went 16-9…but it was with a 4.07 ERA, a 1.41 WHIP, and a .344 BABIP. He was the product of a great offense. But you can’t say he was actually solid, especially coming off a 2015 in which he led the league in WHIP (0.93). That’s why this season has been such a surprise. He’s 15-5, but with a 2.62 ERA, and a WHIP that sits at exactly 1.00. He’s giving up a .262 BABIP, which is the product of a much better defense. But his control (on pace for just 44 walks) and his changeup, which is inducing a lot of weak contact, has been a big reason why he’s been so good this year. Nobody could have foresaw this out of the 37-year-old.

 

SP: Matt Harvey, NY Mets. Never mind Harvey’s last start, in which he gave up seven runs in 2.1 innings to the Yankees on Monday. He’s been consistently the best pitcher the Mets have had this year, going 13-4 with a 2.52 ERA, and a 1.14 WHIP. He’s given up 112 hits in 139 innings, while striking out 113…and giving up just seven homers. He’s been the stopper the Mets have needed, as they try to navigate the tricky NL East.

 

SP: Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh. It isn’t that anyone doubted Cole’s talent. It’s that nobody was sure he’d put it all together, after last year’s disastrous 6-15, 5.09, 1.37 season. After a rough start to this year, one that included a 1-3, 5.06 mark in May, many wondered if he’d be traded. He has since acquitted himself nicely, and now sits at 11-11, 3.58…but with a 1.12 WHIP, and 155 strikeouts in 155 innings. His slider and changeup have become the dominant pitches many thought he’d have solidified a year ago.

 

SP: Paul Clemens, Detroit. With apologies to virtually everyone in Baltimore and San Diego’s Jake Odorizzi, Clemens is my favorite story this year. Just when it seemed like he’d have a decent career as a reliever, the Tigers put him into the rotation this season. He’s pitched masterfully, not striking out a lot of guys (98 in 130 IP), but getting grounders (just nine homers this year), and wins. He’s 12-5, 3.52, and 1.16 this season. He’s kept the Tigers in contention, as other starters have faltered along the way.

 

RP: Kenneth McDowall, Minnesota. He was a disaster last year, giving up a 3.92 WHIP in four innings across seven games! That’s what makes this year’s 23-save, 1.88, 0.99 year even more amazing. He’s given up just 46 hits in 62 innings, and has yielded just three home runs. He isn’t overpowering (tops out at 92), but his circle-change, a forgotten pitch nowadays, continues to induce inside-out weak contact.