Depth Chart Review: Lance McCullers Jr., Alek Manoah, & Bruján/Franco Watch Party
In many leagues, Sunday brought us the Alek Manoah sweepstakes as one of the more electric pitching prospects. Unfortunately, I missed out in all leagues where Manoah was available. In this week’s Depth Chart Review, we have some Astros pitchers and hitters news, big-time players returning from the injured list (yay), and minor leaguers to keep an eye on for redraft leagues. And maybe, just maybe, Brendan Rodgers will heat up with a full week of home games. As always, feel free to hit me up on Twitter. That said, let’s dive into this week’s depth chart review.
Depth Chart Review for 10-12 Team Leagues
Lance McCullers Jr. (SP – HOU)
The Astros placed Lance McCullers Jr. on the 10-day injured list due to right shoulder soreness. Unfortunate news for McCullers after pitching well in 51.2 innings in 2021 with a 2.96 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 27.6% strikeout rate, and 12.1% walk rate. McCullers has five quality starts in nine games started. Part of his success is due to lowering the sinker usage by about 7% and adding the slider usage at 23.4% of the time. Meanwhile, McCuller’s curveball is still nasty with a 17.3% swinging-strike rate and 42.3% O-Swing%.
McCuller’s slider elicits a 10.9% swinging-strike rate with a .258 wOBA allowed. Per Baseball Savant, McCuller’s slider has 7.1 more inches of horizontal movement than the average slider. Typically, we want vertical movement on the slider for more whiffs, but another weapon in McCuller’s arsenal is a positive trend, even if it’s not resulting in whiffs quite yet. Hopefully, this shoulder injury doesn’t keep him out for too long.
Update: Dusty Baker noted that McCullers Jr. hopes to return in mid-June.
Ryan Pressly (RP – HOU)
Astros closer Ryan Pressly didn’t pitch on Wednesday with neck stiffness. Hopefully, this doesn’t linger or bother Pressly too much. However, Bryan Abreu earned the save against the Dodgers with three other blown save chances. If Pressly misses time, then look at Ryne Stanek, who has a 3.52 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 31% strikeout rate, and 16% walk rate. Stanek’s velocity is up with his four-seamer at 97.2 mph, up from 95.9 mph in 2020. Meanwhile, the swinging-strike rate (12%) and whiff rate (29.1%) increased with the added velocity.
Update: Pressly blew his first save of the season on May 29th after he allowed three earned runs with one walk, two hits, and two strikeouts. Good to see him back pitching though we don’t like the blown save.
Jake Odorizzi (SP – HOU) & Luis Garcia (SP – HOU)
With Jake Odorizzi pitching on Saturday, the Astros will move Cristian Javier to the bullpen. That said, Luis Garcia will hold down his starting rotation spot with José Urquidy on the injured list. It’s difficult to make any conclusions from Odorizzi’s 2021 performance with a 6.75 ERA in 13.1 innings across four starts. One area to pay attention to involves Odorizzi’s velocity on his four-seamer that dropped one mph compared to 2019.
Update: Odorizzi returned on May 29th for a start against the Padres. He went 5.1 innings with three hits, one earned run, and one walk with four strikeouts. Odorizzi’s four-seamer averaged 91.9 mph, and the splitter elicited a 50% whiff rate.
For Luis Garcia, it’s good news that he’s pitching well and holds one of the Astros starting pitcher spots. In 46 innings, Garcia has a 2.93 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 29% strikeout rate, and 8.6% walk rate. The ratios will likely regress a bit since Garcia has a .219 BABIP allowed and 87.6% LOB%. In Garcia’s most recent start against the Dodgers, he threw a quality start with zero earned run (one unearned), two hits, one walk, and seven strikeouts in six innings.
However, we notice a slight pitch mix change with increased usage of the cutter and slider with a drop in changeup usage compared to 2020. Keep in mind that 2020 involved a small sample of 12.1 innings. Garcia’s cutter elicits a 26.2% swinging-strike rate and 41.3% O-Swing%. That’s pretty filthy. Meanwhile, both the slider (14%) and changeup (16.5%) have solid swinging-strike rates. We also notice improved horizontal movement on Garcia’s cutter and slider, which can translate into weaker contact from hitters. Overall, it’s a sneaky good arsenal even though the ERA and WHIP may regress a bit.
Cristian Javier (SP – HOU) to the Bullpen
Interestingly, the Astros announced that Cristian Javier would head to the bullpen with Jake Odorizzi returning. However, we’ll note the specific words “over the weekend,” meaning it’s possibly temporary.
Cristian Javier has been moved to the bullpen over the weekend, Baker said.
— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) May 26, 2021
I say interestingly because Javier holds a 3.08 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 29.5% strikeout rate, and 11% walk rate in 52.2 innings. Similar to Luis Garcia, Javier’s ratios may regress with a .202 BABIP allowed and 85.2% LOB%. However, from a real-life perspective, this is a good problem to have for the Astros since they’ll have depth with José Urquidy and Lance McCullers Jr. returning. Hang onto Javier in all leagues since he could receive more starts throughout the season. Often these situations end up working themselves out.
Both Yordan Alvarez and Yuli Gurriel missed several games in a row with different injuries. Alvarez wasn’t available on Monday, which made it five straight games missed. Meanwhile, Gurriel didn’t start on Monday, but Dusty Baker noted that Gurriel is close to returning and could return during the four-game series against the Red Sox. We’re a bit more concerned with Alvarez, as it makes for difficult decisions in weekly lineup leagues.
Other Notable Transactions for 10-12 Team Leagues
Noah Syndergaard (SP – NYM)
Bad news for Noah Syndergaard and the Mets since he won’t throw for six weeks after some elbow inflammation. Given this setback, Syndergaard is droppable and not worth stashing at this point.
Zach Plesac (SP – CLE) Won’t Need Surgery
Whenever we think baseball players have the weirdest injuries, well, they keep on coming. In the FantasyPros Slack channel, I typed “Noooo!” while tagging fellow Plesac enthusiast Mike Maher.
Zach Plesac will not need surgery. He'll be re-evaluated every 7-10 days. They'll take the next 3 weeks for him to begin a throwing progression. After that is still TBD.
— Mandy Bell (@MandyBell02) May 26, 2021
A few weeks ago, I dug into Zach Plesac to see what’s going on in a weekly buy or sell article. I noticed Plesac was throwing his pitches in the zone a bunch, allowing more contact, and not eliciting the same rate of swings and misses. Since that published in late April, Plesac had a 2.78 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, a 15.9% strikeout rate, and a 7.1% walk rate.
From April 3rd to April 26th, Plesac made five starts with an 86.9% Z-Contact%, 47.8% Zone%, and 11.4% swinging-strike rate. From May 2nd to May 23rd, he made another five starts with a 79.9% Z-Contact%, 43.8% Zone%, and 11.9% swinging-strike rate. Although those aren’t drastic changes, I believe Plesac will turn it around and could benefit from throwing pitches outside the zone even if that means the walk rate increases while the strikeout rate should also increase in theory.
Marcell Ozuna (OF – ATL) Will Miss 6+ Weeks
After sliding back to the base, Marcell Ozuna suffered a finger injury that was later reported as a dislocation to his middle and ring fingers. Unfortunately, Ozuna expects to be on the injured list for at least six weeks. Before the injury, many touted Ozuna as a buy low with a .213 batting average partly due to his .244 BABIP, which is lower than his career .315 BABIP.
Update: Initially, I recommended holding onto Ozuna. However, after news over the weekend about Ozuna, the arrest, and the assault situation, I would consider him droppable in most leagues with the injury plus the legal situation.
Starling Marte (OF – MIA) Returns From the Injured List
Over the weekend, the Marlins activated Starling Marte from the injured list after a non-displaced rib fracture in the middle of April. Marte started on Friday and batted second in the Marlins lineup. In two games since returning, Marte has two doubles in eight plate appearances. Plug Marte back into lineups immediately.
Cody Bellinger (1B/OF – LAD)
Just like Starling Marte, Cody Bellinger returned to the Dodgers lineup over the weekend. Great news as one of the rare power/speed first basemen.
Mike Soroka (SP – ATL)
After initial reports that Mike Soroka expected to miss the rest of the season, it sounds like the team will re-evaluate Soroka in two weeks. Soroka underwent another procedure on his Achilles tendon in the middle of May, which set him back. Regardless, it sounds like if Soroka does indeed return, it won’t happen until September at the earliest. In redraft leagues, he’s droppable in all formats unless there are unlimited injured list spots.
Depth Chart Review for Deep Leagues (15+ Teams)
Luke Voit (1B – NYY)
Yay, Luke Voit made his 2021 debut in early May. Unfortunately, that was short-lived as he landed on the injured list with a Grade 2 oblique strain. Initially, Lindsey Adler of The Athletic reported that Voit will miss the weekend series since his wife was due to give birth. Then news broke that Voit suffered an oblique strain, which is worrisome for hitters. In 50 plate appearances in 2021, Voit had one home run, four runs, and three RBI with a .182 batting average and .530 OPS. Not much to take away from Voit’s early struggles other than we have current and future injury concerns. Hold onto Voit in 15-team leagues for now.
Corey Kluber (SP – NYY)
After Corey Kluber’s no-hitter against the Rangers on May 19th, Kluber left the next start after three innings with a shoulder injury. Kluber’s eventual diagnosis is a subscapularis strain in his right shoulder, which is quite unfortunate since he won’t throw for at least four weeks. That puts his early timeline close to the end of July for a potential return date.
After early struggles of a 4.15 ERA and 1.71 WHIP in April, Kluber turned it around in May with a 2.27 ERA and 0.85 WHIP. Meanwhile, Kluber’s 18.8% strikeout rate and 12.9% walk rate in April improved to a 30.3% strikeout rate and 8.4% walk rate in May. I faded Kluber heading into draft season, but my thoughts have changed based on the data. That said, I’d hold onto Kluber if you could, but would also consider adding a streamer to hold down that spot depending on the league standings and team context.
Alek Manoah (SP – TOR)
I swear colleague Brad Camara plays in my home league with daily moves because just as Brad noted, Alek Manoah is receiving the call – someone added Manoah in that league within seconds. All kidding aside, Manoah dominated in Triple-A so far after only pitching 17 innings in Low-A back in 2019. Through 18 innings at Triple-A, Manoah had a 40.9% strikeout rate and 4.5% walk rate with a 0.50 ERA and 0.56 WHIP.
Then on Thursday, Manoah pitched six scoreless innings with two hits, two walks, and seven strikeouts. He relied on a four-pitch mix with a 31% whiff rate and a 35% CSW% overall. Manoah’s four-seamer performed well with a 43% whiff rate and 40% CSW%. The results were great, but one minor note includes the Yankees depleted lineup. Manoah faced DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, and Gleyber Torres, but without Luke Voit and Giancarlo Stanton. Regardless, it’s a solid MLB debut for Manoah. Pick him up in all leagues.
Nico Hoerner (2B – CHC) Injures Hamstring
Cubs infielder Nico Hoerner hits the injured list once again, but this time it’s a hamstring strain with a forearm strain the first time. Hoerner is hitting well with a .338 batting average and .837 OPS with nine runs, zero home runs, nine RBI, and three steals. With the league-wide batting average at .236, Hoerner’s high batting average is helpful in deeper leagues. Sure, it’s boosted by his .397 BABIP, but his 25.8% line drive rate and average hit tool showed up with quality batting averages in the minors.
Brendan Rodgers (2B – COL)
This is the year! Or at least we hope for Brendan Rodgers after battling injuries throughout his career with a recent shoulder injury. Rodgers recorded a hit in three out of the eight games played so far this season for a .192 batting average and .468 OPS in 29 plate appearances. Hopefully, with a full slate of home games this week, Rodgers will heat up. Regardless, Rodgers expects to play every day, and that holds value in 15-team leagues.
Depth Chart Review for Minor Leaguers
Taylor Walls (SS – TB)
Since the call-up, Taylor Walls started in six out of eight games with a hit in four of them. Walls has a .227 batting average with two doubles, five runs, and two RBI. Although Walls doesn’t wow us in any category, he graded as having an average to above-average hit tool. In 15-team leagues, he’s worth scooping up as a bench bat to swap in a middle infield spot if needed for batting average help.
Vidal Bruján (2B/OF – TB) & Wander Franco (SS – TB)
Each week feels like a Vidal Bruján and Wander Franco watch party. For Bruján, he keeps producing at Triple-A with seven home runs and nine steals with a .315 batting average and .992 OPS. One quick note that we’ll keep mentioning – Bruján is on the Rays 40-man roster while Franco isn’t at this time. However, the Rays could waive a Mike Brosseau or Brett Phillips to make room on their roster.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) May 26, 2021
Meanwhile, Franco is performing well at Triple-A too, but it just isn’t at the level of Bruján’s production. Franco has four home runs and three steals with a .272 batting average and .851 OPS. It seems likely that both should make their way up to the majors sometime in 2021. The question remains when.
Jackson Kowar (P – KC)
The Royals don’t seem to care about manipulating service time for their young players, and pitcher Jackson Kowar is someone to monitor in deeper leagues. At Triple-A, Kowar has a 1.01 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 34.6% strikeout rate, and 8.7% walk rate in 26.2 innings. Sure, it’s a small sample, but Kowar is raising eyebrows with that high strikeout rate compared to a previous high of 25.2% in 2019 at Double-A.
One of my favorite things about Jackson Kowar is that he’s not going to have too many issues against LHH. His changeup is a great equalizer.
He doesn’t even throw it here against one of Cleveland’s best prospects, Nolan Jones. Curveball looks fantastic. Using his fastball well. pic.twitter.com/encnih65S2
— Royals Farm Report (@RoyalsFarm) May 15, 2021
According to Prospects Live, Kowar grades as having a plus fastball and changeup with an average curveball. However, Kowar has 50-grade control and 45-grade command, which isn’t terrible, but the Prospects Live evaluators note that Kowar will need to improve in these areas. The Royals may not have a spot if/when Danny Duffy returns, but Kowar could fill in for Ervin Santana if he receives the call. Not a must-add by any means, but someone to put on the watch list.
Matt Manning (SP – DET) & MacKenzie Gore (SP – SD)
On the flip side, we have Matt Manning and MacKenzie Gore both struggling early in the Triple-A season. Manning has a 7.94 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, a 22.8% strikeout rate, and a 7.9% walk rate in 22.2 innings. He dealt with a forearm strain in the summer of 2020 that led to him missing time when the Tigers shut him down.
For MacKenzie Gore, he’s struggling as well with a 5.94 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, 20.3% strikeout rate, and 12.7% walk rate in 16.2 innings. Over the weekend, Gore missed a start with a blister issue but isn’t expected to land on the injured list. Unfortunately, both Manning and Gore likely won’t receive a call-up soon, given their struggles. However, in dynasty leagues, both pitchers seem like buy lows at this point.
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