B/R MLB Mailbag: Is Mike Trout Still No. 1 and More Hot Takes, Burning Questions
The Bleacher Report MLB mailbag is here!
There is never a shortage of opinions on the B/R app, so it's time to put your thoughts to work with what we hope will become a weekly staple.
In the weeks to come, we'll narrow the focus of the mailbag to more specific themes and topics, but to kick things off we simply asked: "What's on your mind two weeks into the 2021 MLB season?"
The responses ranged from hot takes about early breakout candidates and small-sample-size showings from World Series hopefuls to questions about curses and Rookie of the Year front-runners.
There was a lot to unpack, so let's get to it.
If you'd like to have your question or hot take included in a future mailbag article, be on the lookout each Tuesday afternoon for the crowdsourcing thread on the MLB stream in the B/R app.
Rapid-Fire Player Hot Takes!
J.T. Realmuto will be the Phillies' best player. (@PhillyDilly52)
I actually think Realmuto is already the best player on the Phillies roster, and he has been since the moment he arrived with the team. Bryce Harper is a force offensively and Aaron Nola is an ace, but the value Realmuto provides with his two-way ability at the catcher position separates him from the rest of the roster.
Zach McKinstry winning NL Rookie of the Year (@jantrod007)
No one expected Devin Williams to win NL Rookie of the Year honors a year ago, so stranger things have happened. McKinstry hit .300/.366/.516 with 24 doubles, 19 home runs and 78 RBI in 121 games between Double-A and Triple-A in 2019, so he can definitely hit. The big question is whether he'll see enough playing time to make his mark once everyone is healthy. Injuries to Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts have opened the door for an expanded role in the early going.
For now, I'm sticking with Sixto Sanchez as my pick. He's at the Marlins' alternate site to start the season, but that's by design to limit his innings. He can win the award with 20 starts.
Akil Baddoo is a top-10 MVP candidate. (@nottannergroves)
If the season ended today, sure. But it's probably wise to temper expectations for a player who ranks near the bottom of the league in average exit velocity (15th percentile) and whiff rate (11th percentile). The 22-year-old has been a great story, and he's capable of being a useful piece for the rebuilding Tigers, but we'll leave it at that for now.
Cedric Mullins will finish as the AL MVP. (@CARvns12)
BOLD! I like Mullins a lot. I think he can be the long-term answer in center field for the Orioles. But it's impossible to ignore a wildly unsustainable .563 BABIP that is propping up his hot start. Making the AL All-Star team might be a more realistic bold prediction for Mullins.
Rapid-Fire Team Hot Takes!!
The Cubs' historic hitting slump to start the season will push into the summer, forcing the Cubs to sell off every piece imaginable. (@bobbyburkee)
Entering play Wednesday, the Cubs ranked dead last in the majors in team batting average (.167) and OPS (.579), and 28th in runs scored (32). Despite those struggles, they still managed a 5-6 record, and it's hard to see how things could get any worse at the plate.
I think the front office still has some hope of re-signing Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo, so my guess for now is that they'll hold on to their pieces and make it rain qualifying offers at the start of the offseason.
The Angels are better than many people think, and their pitching is good enough for the playoffs. (@HunterBonney)
Considering the way Griffin Canning (1 GS, 6.75 ERA), Andrew Heaney (2 GS, 7.00 ERA) and Jose Quintana (2 GS, 16.20 ERA) have pitched to start the year, I'm still not even close to sold on the Angels having enough starting pitching to be legitimate contenders. The bullpen is better and the lineup is going to pile up runs, but they are once again at the mercy of a middling rotation.
The Mets once again were given too much preseason hype and will miss the playoffs. (@willc_33)
A healthy Marcus Stroman and newcomer Taijuan Walker have both pitched well behind ace Jacob deGrom, and it's only a matter of time before Carlos Carrasco and Noah Syndergaard join them in the rotation. That stacked rotation is going to take a lot of pressure off the offense, and the trio of Francisco Lindor (.174 BA), Jeff McNeil (.150 BA) and Michael Conforto (.130 BA) is going to start swinging it at some point.
They haven't come close to playing up to their potential yet, and they're still 4-3, which is good for second in the NL East.
Michael Kopech's Role
As good as Michael Kopech has been, does it earn him a spot in the starting five for the White Sox this season, or do you think it will have to come due to injury or a Cease/Rodon regression? Or do they just wait until next season? (@chuckcb)
In 6.1 scoreless innings of relief work spanning three appearances, flame-thrower Michael Kopech has allowed just one hit and two walks while racking up 11 strikeouts.
All things equal, that could be a springboard to joining the starting rotation.
However, the 24-year-old is still building his arm back up after missing the 2019 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery and then opting out of the 2020 season. The White Sox have made it clear from the jump that he will be brought along slowly and kept to an innings limit.
"Right now, there's no plan of that because we have five guys that we are really happy with," White Sox pitching coach Ethan Katz told reporters of a possible move to the starting rotation. "He's also on an innings limit, too."
The goal is to keep him healthy and fresh through the duration of the regular season and into October. He could make a spot start here and there, but don't expect to see him as a fixture in the rotation until 2022 at the soonest.
Is There a Light at the End of the Tunnel for the Colorado Rockies?
Rockies fan here. Is there hope for a winning season in the next five years? (@Mitch)
It's almost impossible to believe that the Colorado Rockies were a playoff team in 2017 and 2018.
Saddled with a disinterested owner and an inept front office, the team has plummeted to the bottom of the NL West standings and it's hard to find much reason for optimism.
Nolan Arenado is gone, traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for pennies on the dollar. Trevor Story will almost certainly abandon the sinking ship in free agency this coming offseason if he's not traded first. Jon Gray is also set to hit free agency and quickly pitching his way into being a valuable trade chip.
The present is a mess, but what about the future?
In my most recent farm system rankings, the Rockies checked in at No. 29, ahead of only the Washington Nationals. There's a headliner in the pipeline in 2020 first-round pick Zac Veen and some intriguing low-level talent, but a glaring lack of young pitching beyond Ryan Rolison, coupled with the team's inability to attract top free-agent arms, is alarming.
Unless Dick Monfort decides to sell the team, I fully expect things to go from bad to worse.
Jacob deGrom Might Be Cursed
Is the offensive support Jacob deGrom has received during his starts the past 3-4 years becoming a historic, almost curse-worthy event for an elite pitcher? (@tmack2256)
At this point, a curse on Jacob deGrom does seem like the most logical explanation for the glaring lack of run support he continues to receive.
Here's a look at his run support per nine innings (RS/9) the last four seasons compared to the New York Mets' average runs scored per game during that same span:
- 2018: 1.99 RS/9, 4.17 runs per game overall
- 2019: 2.60 RS/9, 4.88 runs per game overall
- 2020: 2.78 RS/9, 4.77 runs per game overall
- 2021: 0.64 RS/9, 3.43 runs per game overall
The two-time NL Cy Young winner has allowed just eight hits and one earned run in 14 innings over his first two starts this season, and he has a loss and a no-decision. The Mets have just 13 hits in his two starts, and three of them have come off the bat of deGrom himself.
In his two Cy Young seasons, he went 10-9 and 11-8, despite making 64 starts and posting a 2.05 ERA during that span.
And that, folks, is why you don't judge a pitcher by his win-loss record.
Miguel Cabrera Is Chasing History
Will Miguel Cabrera reach 3,000 hits this season? He needs 131 when he gets back in the lineup. (@keeppounding88)
I was buying a bounce-back year from Miguel Cabrera when the season started.
The 37-year-old quietly ranked among the MLB leaders in exit velocity (97th percentile) and hard-hit rate (91st percentile) during the 2020 season, and he's still a tough out even if he's no longer a feared power hitter.
However, he entered the year needing 134 hits to reach 3,000 for his career, and after a 3-for-24 start, he landed on the injured list with a left biceps strain, an issue he's dealt with in the past.
During the 2019 season, Cabrera played in 136 games and batted .282/.346/.398 with 139 hits in 549 plate appearances, and a similar year is not out of the question if he can return in short order from the biceps injury and avoid further issues.
My guess is he falls just short and reaches the milestone sometime in the first two months of the 2022 season.
Are the Philadelphia Phillies the Real Deal?
The Phillies are off to a solid start once again. Do you think this is different than before? (@Randomguy2)
It's understandably difficult to get too excited about a hot start from the Philadelphia Phillies.
In 2018, they opened the year with a 14-7 record before finishing two games below .500 and missing the playoffs.
In 2019, they sprinted out to a 7-2 start only to again miss the playoffs with an 81-81 record.
Last year, the Phillies were four games over .500 and just two back in the NL East standings on Sept. 4, but they settled for a third-place finish in the division and another October sitting at home.
A 5-1 start to this season was followed by a 1-4 stretch, so what's to be made of this year's Phillies team as it pushes for a winning record for the first time since 2011?
The offense is going to score plenty of runs, the bullpen is vastly improved with a 4.04 ERA that is down from a 7.06 ERA a year ago, and the trio of Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Zach Elfin has a chance to be one of the best in baseball.
However, they are still chasing the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets as far as their postseason outlook is concerned. I expect them to hang around in the wild-card picture all year, and the playoffs are well within reach if they can keep pitching the way they have in the early going.
Who Is the AL Rookie of the Year Front-Runner?
If the season were to end right now, who would you take as AL Rookie of the Year? Yermin or Akil? (@striplingwarrior)
Tampa Bay Rays postseason hero Randy Arozarena entered the year as the heavy favorite for AL Rookie of the Year honors, but it is two unheralded rookies who have stolen the headlines early in the award race.
Chicago White Sox designated hitter Yermin Mercedes and Detroit Tigers outfielder Akil Baddoo have been the cream of the rookie crop in the American League thus far.
The 28-year-old Mercedes has raked throughout his time in the minors, but his defensive profile limited his opportunities. The 22-year-old Baddoo was plucked from the Minnesota Twins system in the Rule 5 draft, and he played his way onto the MLB roster with a strong spring.
Let's take a look at their side-by-side comparison:
- Mercedes: 37 PA, .485/.541/.748, 5 XBH (2 HR), 7 RBI, 0.8 WAR
- Baddoo: 25 PA, .391/.400/1.043, 6 XBH (4 HR), 10 RBI, 0.5 WAR
Baddoo has provided the more memorable moments with a walk-off hit and a grand slam, but there's simply no ignoring the offensive numbers Mercedes has posted thus far for a White Sox team that has been slow out of the gate at the plate.
Mercedes gets my vote right now.
Where Can the Yankees Turn for Starting Pitching Help?
What can the Yankees do to upgrade their rotation? Any targets that we can realistically get given our weak farm? (@okletsgo)
At surface level, the New York Yankees have performed well on the mound so far this year.
They rank eighth in the majors with a 3.15 ERA as a team, but that is largely thanks to a standout bullpen that has posted a 1.84 ERA and ranks third in the majors with 49 innings pitched through 11 games.
On the other hand, the starting rotation ranks 19th in the majors with a 4.41 ERA, and in the eight games not started by Gerrit Cole, the starting pitcher has made it through six innings just once.
Offseason additions Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon have pitched a combined 14.2 innings through four starts and struggled to a 6.75 ERA, while Domingo German has been optioned to the minors.
It's often difficult to swing an early-season trade when everyone is technically still a contender and even rebuilding teams value their veteran arms as a means of chewing up innings.
That said, one pitcher worth keeping an eye on is Texas Rangers right-hander Kyle Gibson.
The 33-year-old was knocked around on Opening Day, but he threw six shutout innings in his second start and allowed four hits and two runs (one earned) in seven innings against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday.
The Rangers are in full-blown rebuilding mode after trading Lance Lynn and Elvis Andrus during the offseason, and they will almost certainly be willing to flip Gibson. It won't take more than a mid-level prospect or two to land him, as offloading his $7.7 million salary would be motivation enough.
Is Mike Trout Still the Best Player on the Planet?
Will anyone supplant Mike Trout as the game's best player, or will he carry that honor for another season? (@keeppounding88)
The sport is in good hands with Ronald Acuna Jr., Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr. headlining the next wave of superstar talent, but Mike Trout is still the best player on the planet.
The 29-year-old is hitting .368/.510/.763 with three doubles and four home runs, making his presence felt offensively despite pitchers continuing to pitch around him with 11 walks in 49 plate appearances.
His performance has already been worth 1.0 WAR through 11 games, putting him on pace for a 14.7-WAR season, and the Angels are off to a nice start sitting atop the AL West standings.
A big piece of the greatness puzzle is sustained excellence. For now, the rest of the baseball world is still chasing Trout and Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts for the best player in baseball throne, though it's only a matter of time before the torch is passed.