Kirby Shines in MLB Debut – May 9, 2022
George Kirby (SP-SEA) impressed in his MLB debut, firing 6 shutout innings against the Rays in which he allowed 4 hits, walked none, and fanned 7. The 24 year-old righty fired 55 of his 81 pitches for strikes in the start. The #30 prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline, Kirby reached the majors directly from Double-A, where he had logged a 1.82 ERA 11.7 K/9, and 1.8 BB/9 across his first 5 starts (24.2 innings) of the season. Although he possesses a big fastball (sat at 94-97mph on Sunday) and a solid (but not spectacular) battery of secondary offerings (slider, curve, and change), Kirby’s trademark is his elite control, which was on display on Sunday, as it was throughout his minor-league career. Given his prospect pedigree and strong first start in the majors, he should be universally rostered. Kirby seems likely to make his next start on the road against the Mets next weekend.
Alek Thomas (OF-ARI) was called up to make his MLB debut and went 1-3 with a walk against the Rockies. The 22 year-old lefty was off to a solid start in Triple-A to start the new campaign, as he was hitting .277 with 4 homers, 14 RBI, 19 runs scored, and 3 stolen bases across 116 plate appearances. The #18 overall prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline, Thomas is viewed as having a very high floor thanks to his well-rounded game that includes a plus hit tool, slightly above average power, plus speed, and the ability to play CF or LF (below-average arm strength precludes RF). His 2021 season was his best overall as a professional, as he hit .283 with 10 homers, 41 RBI, 54 runs scored, and 8 steals across 329 Double-A plate appearances before batting .369 with 8 dingers, 18 RBI, 32 runs scored, and 5 steals over 166 PA. He showed solid command of the plate with a 10% walk rate and 20% strikeout rate across those levels last season, which he has improved this season to 11% walk and just 14% strikeout. Thomas profiles as a balanced big-league contributor who has a liner-oriented approach that will get him on base but yield modest homer totals.
Yasmani Grandal (C-CHW) went 2-3 with a stolen base against the Red Sox on Sunday. The 33 year-old backstop batted cleanup even though he’s started the season off slowly with a .173 average, 1 homer, and 6 RBI across 96 plate appearances. Grandal’s poor average rides on an uncharacteristically low .197 BABIP (.275 career) while he’s slashed his strikeout rate to 16% (24% career) and continued to walk at a high clip (15%). While his hard-hit rate isn’t down that much (41% per Statcast, 43% career), it’s well below last season’s otherworldly 53% while he’s relatively few liners (16% in 2022, 19% career) as his flyball rate is up a bit (44% in 2022, 39% career). The club has lost little confidence in Grandal despite the slow start – as evidenced by his batting cleanup on Sunday – and his fantasy owners should likewise stick with him and expect him to heat up as the weather does.
Chris Paddack (SP-MIN) left Sunday’s start against the Athletics with elbow inflammation. Before exiting, he allowed 3 runs on 5 hits and no walks while striking out 4 over 2.1 innings of work. He fired 41 of his 55 offerings for strikes in the outing. The injury interrupts what might be a bounce back season for Paddack, who now owns a 4.03 ERA, 8.1 K/9, and 0.8 BB/9 across 5 starts (22.1 innings) on the year with his new team. A 3.00 xFIP does point to a .357 BABIP and 64% strand rate inflating his ERA, but as usual the opposition has made plenty of loud contact (44% per Statcast) against him while his swinging-strike rate continues to sit at 11%. Despite him using his curve (20% in 2022, 11% career) more than usual, the peripherals don’t suggest much of a change for Paddack.
Trevor Story (SS-BOS) scuffled against the White Sox on Sunday as he went 0-4 with 3 punchouts. The 29 year-old has struggled in his first season in Boston, as he now owns a .194 average to go with no homers, 10 RBI, and a steal through his first 105 plate appearances of the campaign. His 33% strikeout rate is noticeably north of his 28% career clip while his hard-hit rate has plummeted to just 35% per Statcast (43% career). That has not worked well with a 50% flyball rate (45% career), which has included a career-worst 21% infield-fly rate. A career-high 15% swinging-strike rate paired with the issues making quality contact in tandem with a career-high launch angle of 23 suggests that Story may be trying to hit for power to capitalize on the cozy left-field dimensions in Fenway. Concerning is a career-worst 68% contact rate that includes a career-low 74% z-contact% while he’s not exactly been chasing a ton (32%) or being too aggressive at the dish (46% swing% in 2022, 49% career). Although there were certainly concerns about his production as Story moved away from Coors Field, his fantasy owners have little choice but to hold onto him and hope that he turns things around – unless a good trade opportunity arises.
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