Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

news

MLB News

The toughest player to strike out on every team

MLB.com @williamfleitch

With the increase in velocity by starting pitchers -- and perhaps more importantly, relievers -- as well as the fading stigma of a swing and a miss, strikeouts are as central to baseball as they have ever been. One can argue about whether that's a positive thing or a negative thing, but the facts are undeniable.

That places an increased value on players who can do the most basic of baseball activities: Put the bat on the ball. In 1941, Ted Williams had fewer strikeouts than homers. You won't be seeing that anytime soon. But these are the toughest players to strike out on each team, a topic that seems fitting in light of a record-setting 21-pitch at-bat on Sunday.

With the increase in velocity by starting pitchers -- and perhaps more importantly, relievers -- as well as the fading stigma of a swing and a miss, strikeouts are as central to baseball as they have ever been. One can argue about whether that's a positive thing or a negative thing, but the facts are undeniable.

That places an increased value on players who can do the most basic of baseball activities: Put the bat on the ball. In 1941, Ted Williams had fewer strikeouts than homers. You won't be seeing that anytime soon. But these are the toughest players to strike out on each team, a topic that seems fitting in light of a record-setting 21-pitch at-bat on Sunday.

They might not all be huge power hitters, or even close to stars, but they have a skill that's rarer and rarer every month -- and thus, they are more valuable than ever.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

EAST

Orioles: Manny Machado
The O's, always a strikeout-happy franchise, lead the American League in strikeouts this year, and they're a good bet to hang onto that spot. All those K's have masked an big improvement from Machado this year. Two years ago, he K'd 120 times to go with 48 walks for a 5:2 K/BB ratio. This year: only 15 K's with 12 walks. Everyone else on the Orioles is struggling, but he sure isn't.

Red Sox: Mookie Betts
It's a little unfair for a guy of Betts' talents to have such an excellent batted-ball profile, but he has had progressively better K/BB ratios each year of his career. He had two fewer walks than strikeouts in 2017; he may cross the threshold this year.

Yankees: Didi Gregorius
Remember when Gregorius was just supposed to be the slap-hitting defensive-minded Derek Jeter replacement? Even when he was hitting six homers a year he didn't strike out much, but to hold onto that skill while hitting 25 homers a year might be his greatest asset.

Video: MIA@NYY: Gregorius powers Yanks with two home runs

Rays: Mallex Smith
Considering Smith has little to no power -- he's still stuck on five career homers -- it's a good thing he puts the ball in play. Smith is a very '80s player, actually: He steals bases, he hits a ton of triples and he just hits it on the ground and runs.

Blue Jays: Yangervis Solarte
The poor Padres sat around for years waiting for Solarte to become the star they were hoping for, and now that he's in Toronto, he's becoming that guy. Now that he's added power to his contact game, look out. Some guys just finally figure it out in their 30s.

Video: TOR@NYY: Solarte crushes a solo homer to right-center

CENTRAL

White Sox: Jose Abreu
Abreu certainly seems like the type of player who strikes out a lot, but he really doesn't, at least not relative to the rest of baseball. His AB/K ratio has gone up every year of his career. But the fact that he is the pick for the White Sox is also a sign that the Sox might strike out too much.

Indians: Jose Ramirez
For all the discussion of the Tribe's fantastic rotation over the past few years, having a player like Ramirez -- who was a .219 hitter with little power as recently as 2015 -- blossom into what he has become has been just as pivotal. His batting average has gone down this year, but he's hitting into a lot of bad luck. Expect a turnaround soon.

Tigers: Victor Martinez
We might be nearing the sunset of Martinez's fascinating career, though his April bounceback has reminded us what we once had. The key to his success, this year and any other, is his ability to put the bat on the ball. He led the AL in AB/BB ratio as recently as 2013 and '14, and he still has that skill today.

Royals: Alcides Escobar
Not much has gone well for the Royals so far, but they do have the third-fewest strikeouts in baseball, even though it's not helping them score any more runs. Much like Escobar, who has always been a contact hitter; the issue is that even though he can hit the ball, he can't hit it hard.

Twins: Max Kepler
Kepler is among the team leaders in homers and walks, which makes his low strikeout total -- the lowest AB/K on the team by far -- all the more impressive for player who is still only 25.

Video: MIN@TB: Kepler crushes a go-ahead solo homer in 9th

WEST

Astros: Alex Bregman
Bregman was thought to be on the verge of busting out, and don't let his relatively slow start fool you: He's walking more than he strikes out, and he has the lowest K-rate on the team, even lower than Jose Altuve's. He's about to come around, and then, look out.

Angels: Andrelton Simmons
Mike Trout famously nearly made it all the way through Spring Training without striking out, but he's been racking them up since the season started. It's Simmons, long one of baseball's best contact men, who continues to set the contact pace.

Video: LAA@TEX: Simmons picks up his first homer of 2018

A's: Jonathan Lucroy
The power he once had -- he hit 24 homers just two years ago -- seems to be gone, but Lucroy has been all the A's could have hoped for when they snapped him up for cheap in the offseason.

Mariners: Ichiro Suzuki
Of course it's Ichiro: He has averaged more than 10 at-bats per strikeout six times in his career. He's not quite there this year, but he's closer than anyone else on his team.

Rangers: Adrian Beltre
Elvis Andrus is actually off to an extreme contact start -- just two strikeouts in 61 plate appearances -- but he's on the DL for the first time in his career with a fractured elbow. Thus, the call goes to Beltre, who, because he's a future Hall of Famer who is good at everything, is good at putting the bat on the ball as well. He strikes out once every six at-bats, which is below his career average ... but still the best on the Rangers.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

EAST

Braves: Kurt Suzuki
You want bat control? Suzuki has struck out twice in 56 plate appearances. He'll lose his job when Tyler Flowers comes back, but right now, he's leading the Braves in OPS.

Video: ATL@WSH: Suzuki launches home run off foul pole

Marlins: Miguel Rojas
Rojas likes to keep the fielders busy; he hardly walks or strikes out or homers. He's a No True Outcomes sort of guy.

Mets: Adrian Gonzalez
Gonzalez once struck out more than 100 times in a season for seven straight years, but as he has become Old Adrian Gonzalez, he has become a contact guy; he has the second-best AB/K ratio on the Mets, one of the primary reasons he has been such a positive contributor so far.

Phillies: Maikel Franco
The Phils strike out a ton by design. Franco has clearly focused on putting the ball in play more this year … not that it's helping him get on base much more.

Nationals: Anthony Rendon
Rendon has elevated himself to near-superstar status over the past couple of seasons, and it's not a coincidence his K rate has dropped each of the past four years.

Video: NYM@WSH: Rendon hits an RBI double to left field

CENTRAL

Cubs: Ben Zobrist
There was a stretch in the middle of his career where Zobrist struck out a lot, but he has curtailed it with the Cubs as he has gotten older.

Reds: Joey Votto
The correct answer to any question about the Reds is always Joey Votto.

Brewers: Hernan Perez
The Brewers are as much of a grip-it-and-rip-it team as any in baseball, so it's not much of a surprise their players -- even their stars -- strike out a lot.

Pirates: Corey Dickerson
So far this season, Dickerson is doing everything right. Maybe he should get released right before the season starts every year.

Video: PIT@MIA: Dickerson scorches an RBI single to center

Cardinals: Jose Martinez
Martinez has always been a contact hitter, but now that he has added exit velocity and launch angle, he has essentially become a monster. Martinez is now as key as anyone to the 2018 Cards.

WEST

D-backs: Jarrod Dyson
Much like Smith, when you run like Dyson does, you just slap the ball and then run, run, run.

Video: SF@ARI: Dyson rops RBI triple off center-field wall

Rockies: DJ LeMahieu
The LeMahieu Plan has always been to offset his relative lack of power by hitting line drives and trying to avoid the strikeout. It continues to work for him at Coors Field, even if it might not work anywhere else.

Dodgers: Joc Pederson
So here's a surprise for you. Pederson was renowned for his strikeouts his whole career, even into last October. But here are his AB/K ratios every year of his career:

2014: 2.5
2015: 2.8
2016: 3.1
2017: 4.0
2018: 10.7

That's a massive jump. Either it's too early and too fluky, or someone got Pederson a bigger bat or something.

Padres: Carlos Asuaje
With all the young players the Padres have, a bunch of strikeouts is invevitable. Asuaje has the best strikeout rate on the team, if not much else.

Giants: Joe Panik
Perhaps this should be Brandon Belt, after his record-setting 21-pitch at-bat on Sunday, but he has a strikeout rate of almost 25 percent for his career. Panik, meanwhile, is below 10 percent since entering the league in 2014. If you're going to be a second-base exclusive left-handed hitter without much power, you better not strike out much. Panik doesn't. He's quietly off to the best start of his career.

Will Leitch is a columnist for MLB.com.

Here is the best game every day this week

2016 World Series rematch, Ohtani's start vs. champs and more highlight slate
MLB.com @RichardJustice

If you couldn't get enough of the 2016 World Series, this is your week. While it may not be the exact same dynamic, it's going to make for some must-watch television for baseball fans.

If you like history, there could be be a significant milestone.

If you couldn't get enough of the 2016 World Series, this is your week. While it may not be the exact same dynamic, it's going to make for some must-watch television for baseball fans.

If you like history, there could be be a significant milestone.

Finally, if you've got those Shohei Ohtani mound appearances circled on your calendar, you'll want to catch the action Tuesday at Minute Maid Park.

Overall, it'll be a week when a little more of the story of 2018 unfolds, a season that so far features surprise contenders making some of the division races way more interesting than they were projected to be.

Let's look at some of the week's best games day by day:

MONDAY: Nationals at Giants (10:15 p.m. ET, MLB Network, MLB.TV)

This one features two of the most interesting teams in the game, both hit hard by injuries, both still attempting to hit their stride. This first month has been a showcase for Bryce Harper, who has never been better. The Giants have two of their three injured starting pitchers, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, back, and they will now find out what kind of run they're capable of making.

TUESDAY: Angels at Astros (8:10 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)

Ohtani's fourth start on the mound will come against one of baseball's deepest and best lineups. He lasted just two innings because of a blister on his right middle finger in his start last Tuesday vs. the Red Sox. He'll be opposed by one of the Astros' aces, in this case Charlie Morton, the No. 5 starter with a 0.72 ERA. As Albert Pujols closes in on joining the 3,000-hit club, Minute Maid Park, his favorite visiting park, would be an appropriate place to make history. In 133 games in Houston, Pujols has 30 homers and a .275 average.

Video: BOS@LAA: Ohtani exits after two innings with blister

WEDNESDAY: Cubs at Indians (7:10 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)

It may not have the same feel as the 2016 Fall Classic, when these two clubs delivered one of the great postseason series ever played. Eighteen months later, both teams appear to be headed back toward the postseason, and if nothing else, this two-game set should be a good litmus test for both.

THURSDAY: Mets at Cardinals (1:15 p.m. ET, MLB.TV) and Red Sox at Blue Jays (7:07 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)

Why settle for one? Here's a day-night doubleheader. The Mets opened the season by winning two of three from the Cardinals at Citi Field as part of an 11-1 start. The Cards have won eight of nine since a slow start to make this a fascinating matchup. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays will attempt to slow down baseball's hottest team.

Video: STL@NYM: Cespedes rips a solo homer to left

FRIDAY: Braves at Phillies (7:05 p.m. ET MLB.TV)

Two young teams that are changing the balance of power in the National League East, if not the entire NL, go at it in Philadelphia. Both these teams play with energy and aggressiveness that is absolutely captivating to watch. Both have a chance to get better as the young players get more comfortable.

SATURDAY: Dodgers at Giants (DH) (4:05 p.m. ET, MLB.TV)

That both these teams begin the week still trying to get above .500 only makes a series that's always entertaining even better. There'll be some urgency to things, and with the Giants' rotation almost whole again, this is their chance to make a statement about where they fit into the NL West race. The Dodgers are a long way from being whole again, and they no longer seem like the NL West slam dunk they appeared to be on Opening Day.

SUNDAY: Yankees at Angels (8:07 p.m. ET, ESPN)

This will be a showcase for baseball's newest generation, from Aaron Judge, Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres for the Yankees to Ohtani for the Angels. Both these teams appear to be good enough to make the postseason, but there's still plenty of season to go.

Video: TOR@NYY: Torres receives ovation before first at-bat

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

Johnny Cueto's ERA is now a ridiculous 0.35

Righty takes no-hit bid into sixth; Belt homers for fourth straight game
Special to MLB.com

ANAHEIM -- It took three-plus weeks, a determined outing from Johnny Cueto and an epic day from Brandon Belt, but the Giants finally won their first series this season.

Belt's historic 21-pitch at-bat in the first inning Sunday was the conversation piece, but his fifth-inning home run helped fuel a 4-2 victory over the Angels.

View Full Game Coverage

ANAHEIM -- It took three-plus weeks, a determined outing from Johnny Cueto and an epic day from Brandon Belt, but the Giants finally won their first series this season.

Belt's historic 21-pitch at-bat in the first inning Sunday was the conversation piece, but his fifth-inning home run helped fuel a 4-2 victory over the Angels.

View Full Game Coverage

Cueto contributed his fair share as well, holding the Angels to no runs on two hits after carrying a no-hitter into the sixth inning. He lowered his ERA to 0.35 after four starts.

"It's great to get a series," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "You hate to wait this long to get one, but on the road against a club that has really been playing well this year, Johnny came through for us. What a great effort he gave us and we hung on."

The Giants won two of the three games at Anaheim, in a rematch of the thrilling 2002 World Series won by the Angels.

Cueto, who missed a recent start with an ankle sprain, pitched through some discomfort, even getting a visit from the trainer at one point. He did not give up a base hit until Ian Kinsler singled to lead off the sixth inning.

He closed the sixth by loading the bases but getting Luis Valbuena to hit into a 3-6-1 double play to end the threat. Cueto did a spin and made a fist pump after recording the out at first base, which ended up being the final out of his outing.

"Based on the situation I had to celebrate it," Cueto said.

A day after striking out 17 times against the Angels, the Giants tagged 77 pitches on Angels starter Jaime Barria in two-plus innings, with 49 of those pitches coming in the first inning alone. Barria gave up two runs on five hits with a walk in his second career appearance.

Belt's 21-pitch at-bat, as the second batter of the game, took about 13 minutes and included 16 foul balls. It ended with him hitting a fly ball to right field. He saw 17 combined pitches in his next two at-bats, and he finished those with a single and his home run, respectively

Video: Must C Classic: Barria, Belt duel in 21-pitch at-bat

Belt ended the day with three hits and saw 40 pitches in his five plate appearances.

"I don't really remember [specifics], I just knew I was getting tired and I wanted to do something right there," Belt said. "I didn't want to give in. I put too much effort into that at-bat already. I wanted to get something to handle and he just kept making good pitches."

Buster Posey, who returned to the lineup after missing Saturday's game with back tightness, brought home the first Giants run in the third inning when he grounded into a double play. Evan Longoria added a two-run home run in the third, his fourth of the season.

Video: SF@LAA: Longoria launches two-run jack to left-center

Belt's towering home run in the fifth easily cleared the wall in right field and gave him four home runs in the past four games he has played. He did not play in Friday's game at Anaheim, which was also his 30th birthday.

Video: SF@LAA: Belt lifts a solo long ball to right field

The Angels closed the gap to 4-2 in the eighth inning on Mike Trout's third home in three games. Trout took over sole possession of the Major League lead in homers with nine.

Hunter Strickland gave up two hits, but pitched a scoreless ninth inning for his third save.

Video: SF@LAA: Strickland induces fly out, records the save

"It was a hard-fought game, but no question it's good to head home with a series under our belt," Bochy said.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Cueto spun around like a top in celebration after working his way out of a bases-loaded situation in the sixth inning. After loading the bases with one out, Cueto got Valbuena to hit a ground ball to Belt at first base. Belt started a nifty 3-6-1 double play, with Cueto combining a spin with a pump of his fist following the last out of his outing.

Video: SF@LAA: Cueto induces an around-the-horn double play

SOUND SMART
Cueto's 0.35 ERA is the lowest for a Giants pitcher after four starts since Ray Sadecki had a 0.25 mark in 1968. Cueto has given up one run over 26 innings so far this season, firing scoreless outings at the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and now the Angels.

HE SAID IT
"You have to give it to him. He kept on throwing strikes and didn't really hang anything except maybe a couple of pitches, but it was enough to throw me off and not get the barrel to the ball. It was a tough at-bat, but I was just trying to have a good at-bat up there, honestly." -- Belt, on facing Barria in their 21-pitch duel in the first inning 

UP NEXT
The Giants will try to carry some momentum into the upcoming homestand, facing the Nationals on Monday. Chris Stratton (1-1, 2.22 ERA) will take the mound with some momentum of his own as the Giants have gone 3-1 in his starts this season. The Nationals will counter with left-hander Gio Gonzalez (2-1, 2.49) in the 7:15 p.m. PT start.

Doug Padilla is a contributor to MLB.com.

San Francisco Giants

HR leader Trout's 'Space Jam'-inspired secret

Mike Trout smacked a Major League-leading ninth home run on Sunday in the bottom of the eighth against the Giants. The two-run shot was a line drive to right field and we were reminded, once again, that his bat is one of the best in the game. We know his resume is filled to the brim with accomplishments including two American League MVP's and six All-Star selections -- to name a few. And now we know he has some Space Jam-inspired juice that's perhaps been carrying him this whole time.

The most interesting rookie you need to know more about

Padres' Cordero runs like Gordon, hits as hard as Gallo
MLB.com @mike_petriello

"I haven't seen a ball [hit] like that," said Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer after San Diego beat Arizona, 4-1, on Friday. If you weren't watching the game, you couldn't possibly have imagined who he'd been talking about.

Remember, Hosmer spent years in Kansas City with powerful hitters like Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez. He's shared a division with Miguel Cabrera and Jose Abreu, and a league with Mike Trout and Nelson Cruz. And Hosmer is teammates now with Wil Myers, and Paul Goldschmidt was in the D-backs' lineup that night. Hosmer has seen his share of sluggers who can crush baseballs.

"I haven't seen a ball [hit] like that," said Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer after San Diego beat Arizona, 4-1, on Friday. If you weren't watching the game, you couldn't possibly have imagined who he'd been talking about.

Remember, Hosmer spent years in Kansas City with powerful hitters like Mike Moustakas and Salvador Perez. He's shared a division with Miguel Cabrera and Jose Abreu, and a league with Mike Trout and Nelson Cruz. And Hosmer is teammates now with Wil Myers, and Paul Goldschmidt was in the D-backs' lineup that night. Hosmer has seen his share of sluggers who can crush baseballs.

The veteran first baseman wasn't talking about any of them. He was talking about relatively unknown rookie -- San Diego outfielder Franchy Cordero -- who in his 39th career game had crushed a 489-foot blast, the longest home run tracked by Statcast™ in 2018, and the ninth longest since the system came online in '15. For those who follow such things, it was the latest exhibition of Cordero's elite tools in his brief career. For everyone else, let's introduce you to the most interesting player you don't know enough about.

Video: SD@ARI: Cordero hits a 489-foot homer off scoreboard

There's a difference between being exciting and being good, of course, and for the moment, Cordero is more the former than the latter. In 139 career plate appearances, his line of .233/.277/.450 outlines serious issues in getting on base. Cordero has struck out in 41 percent of his plate appearances, and in the history of baseball, there's never been a hitter to have a season of at least 400 plate appearances while striking out that much. Even in the strikeout-happy world of 2018, there's such a thing as too many strikeouts.

But we'll get back to that part, because Cordero is only 23, and 139 career plate appearances is only a handful more than guys like Trout and George Springer have piled up in the first few weeks of this season alone. Let's focus on the tools. The tools are loud.

Almost no one hits the ball harder

Hitting the ball hard is a skill. We've always known that, but it's a lot easier to quantify it now. When Cordero hit his monster home run vs. Arizona, it left the bat at 116.3 mph, making it the hardest-hit ball by a Padre since Statcast™ came online in 2015. He also has the second-hardest (115.5 mph) and fourth-hardest (115.1 mph) hits on that list, all in the past two weeks. Remember, Cordero has had 139 career plate appearances, and he's failed to make contact at all in nearly half of them -- yet he already owns the top of San Diego's leaderboard.

Now, maybe that says more about the Padres than it does Cordero. Let's expand. Nearly 900 hitters have stepped to the plate in 2018. Only 16, or just over one percent, have hit a ball 115 mph. Only four have done it at least three times, and the other three hitters are probably exactly the three you would have guessed: Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo. Cordero's there, too. You can't fake this.

We got a taste of this last year.In only 99 plate appearances. Cordero had 49 tracked balls in play, and five of them were hit at least 110 mph. That's as many as Kris Bryant had in 665 times to the plate. It's more than Cody Bellinger (three in 548 plate appearances), Corey Seager (two in 613 plate appearances) or Joey Votto (one in 707 plate appearances). It's not something Billy Hamilton has done even once in over 1,600 plate appearances since 2015.

There's more to life than exit velocity, of course. But there's a leaderboard with Stanton, Cordero, Judge and Gallo. This is a skill, and Cordero has it.

Elite speed with the best in the game

The other names on that exit velocity lists are good athletes, of course, but none of them are known for their speed. Cordero, meanwhile, had the most triples of anyone in the Minors in 2016, with 16, and the most triples of anyone in the Minors in 2017, with 18. (He'd add three more with the Padres.) Throw in six seasons of double-digit steals, and you figure he can move.

Video: SD@ARI: Cordero hammers a triple to right field

He can, of course, and this is another thing that we can do a better job of explaining now. We measure speed with a metric called "Sprint Speed," which is expressed in feet per second on a player's competitive runs. (Read more about how it works here.) The Major League average is 27 feet per second, and the truly elite players can get over 30 feet per second.

Last year, there were 548 qualified players. Cordero's Sprint Speed was 29.8 feet per second, making him easily the fastest player on the Padres and placing him 15th overall -- or in the top three percent. This year, he's in the top 10 of 324 qualifiers, or, again, in the top three percent. That's elite, game-changing speed. The triples say it, the eye test says it, and the data does, too.

Quality defense despite inexperience

There was a time where Cordero was among the worst defenders in the Minors. Signed as an infielder, he made 44 errors in 56 games at shortstop in 2012; two years later, he made 51 miscues in 56 games. The next year, Cordero began his transition to left field, and he first became a full-time center fielder in '16.

That means that when Cordero made his Major League debut last year, he had barely more than a year of center-field experience under his belt. In a relatively small sample size… he was spectacular.

The way we explain that is relatively simple; by looking at the difficulty of every batted ball hit to an outfielder, we can see how many chances an average outfielder would have been expected to make, and how many the fielder in question actually converted. By looking at the difference between the two numbers, we can get to value added… or not.

In 2017, there were 180 outfielders with at least 40 catchable opportunities. Guess who added the most value.

Catch percentage added, 2017
+11 points, Cordero (84 percent expected catches, 95 percent made)
+7 points, Byron Buxton (87 / 94)
+7 points, Adam Engel (86, 83)
+6 points, Kevin Kiermaier (89, 95)
+6 points, Zack Granite (87, 93)
+6 points, Leonys Martin (88, 94)

Buxton and Kiermaier are almost universally considered the two best defensive outfielders in the sport, so that's a nice list to be on -- with the obvious caveat that Cordero didn't play anywhere near as often as they did.

Still, that kind of speed makes tracking down balls a little easier, and we saw what he could do when he turned this 39 percent Catch Probability play off the bat of Jose Peraza into an out:

Video: CIN@SD: Cordero charges in to make a sliding grab

… as well as 97 feet to make this nice running play to rob Travis Shaw.

Video: SD@MIL: Cordero runs 97 feet to make four-star catch

Of course, his misplay in the same Arizona game may have cost Tyson Ross a chance at a no-hitter.

Ultimately, we don't know what Cordero will turn out to be. It's worth noting we had a lot of the same conversations after 2016 about Milwaukee's Keon Broxton -- strong defense, great exit velocity and a concern about strikeouts -- and after a disappointing '17, he's back in the Minors. On the other hand, Judge came up and struck out 44 percent of the time in a partial season in '16, before breaking out last year.

Cordero is at least showing small signs of improving his plate discipline, cutting his swing rate as time goes on.

He's still striking out too much -- 32.5 percent of the time in 2018. But in today's game, all you really need to do is get below 30 percent, if you have enough other tools, and Cordero surely has that. (His lopsided .243/.282/.514 line is above average, thanks to that power.)

It's possible that like Broxton, Cordero might never make enough contact to let everything else shine. He might be nothing but unrealized potential. He's not a star -- not now, maybe not ever. He's exciting, however. He's interesting. He's got all the physical talent you could want, and he's only 23, capable of playing a strong center field, showing elite speed and next-level power. On a rebuilding Padres team with plenty of young talent on the way, Cordero might be the most fascinating name of all.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.

San Diego Padres, Franchy Cordero

Early reports on Joey Bats are positive

Third baseman to join Triple-A Gwinnett, could be with Braves within the week
MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- Jose Bautista has made a strong impression since signing a Minor League deal with the Braves last week. The right-handed slugger will join Triple-A Gwinnett on Monday and could possibly join Atlanta's lineup at some point within the week.

"The reports are really good -- defensively, offensively, how he's playing the game, the shape he's in," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "I think that's what blows everybody away, the shape that he is in. He's in good baseball shape. It's just a matter of timing and getting him to Triple-A to see a little better pitching."

View Full Game Coverage

ATLANTA -- Jose Bautista has made a strong impression since signing a Minor League deal with the Braves last week. The right-handed slugger will join Triple-A Gwinnett on Monday and could possibly join Atlanta's lineup at some point within the week.

"The reports are really good -- defensively, offensively, how he's playing the game, the shape he's in," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "I think that's what blows everybody away, the shape that he is in. He's in good baseball shape. It's just a matter of timing and getting him to Triple-A to see a little better pitching."

View Full Game Coverage

Bautista spent the past two days playing for Class A Advanced Florida. He'll be promoted in time to play both ends of Triple-A Gwinnett's doubleheader against Rochester on Monday at Frontier Field. From there, the Braves will assess his progress and get a better feel of when he might be ready to spend some time as Atlanta's third baseman.

Tweet from @FireFrogsBB: Another day. Another @JoeyBats19 hit. 🤷��������� pic.twitter.com/7x35OY9pF1

Though he was forced to make his own preparations as he went through the entire offseason unsigned, Bautista reported to the Braves' Spring Training facility last week and provided clear indications he had not just been sitting around waiting for an opportunity.

Bautista has not regularly played third base over the past decade, but Braves infield instructor Adam Everett has been encouraged by what he has seen thus far. The two-time American League Hank Aaron Award winner went 1-for-3 for Florida on Saturday and then went 1-for-4 with a double in Sunday's game.

Bautista's arrival could further diminish opportunities for Johan Camargo to be in the starting lineup. Camargo was lined up to be Atlanta's starting third baseman before he strained his right oblique muscle two weeks before the start of the regular season. Since returning from the disabled list on Thursday, Camargo has been primarily used off the bench. He made the most of his only start on Saturday, when he delivered a game-tying ninth-inning triple and then scored moments later on Ender Inciarte's game-ending bunt single.

Video: NYM@ATL: Camargo rips a game-tying RBI triple in 9th

Ryan Flaherty has significantly exceeded expectations as he has produced a strong .362 batting average through the season's first three weeks. But he may soon be sharing the third-base position with Bautista.

Camargo hit .299 and produced a .783 OPS over 82 games with Atlanta last year. But the Braves have seemingly made it clear they believe he would be best utilized as a versatile offensive and defensive bench piece.

"I'm not playing a lot, but when I play, I just want to contribute to the team," Camargo said. "When they give me the opportunity, I'm going to enjoy it."

Living and learning
A.J. Minter has certainly continued to be a valuable bullpen piece as he has allowed just one run through his first 10 1/3 innings of the season. But his strikeout and walk rates are not as impressive as those he produced after getting his first call to the Majors last year.

Minter recorded 26 strikeouts and issued just two walks over 15 innings this past season. Through this year's first 10 1/3 innings, he has notched nine strikeouts and issued seven walks. Three of those strikeouts were recorded during the perfect eighth inning he completed against the Nationals on April 11.

Video: ATL@WSH: Minter whiffs Harper to end 8th

"It's honestly just me trying to do too much," Minter said. "I'm trying to strike everybody out. That will come. I'm just going back to what I did best and that is just to throw it over the plate."

Earth Day
As Major League Baseball celebrated Earth Day on Sunday, the Braves were proud of the initiatives they have taken to help protect the environment.

SunTrust Park is one of six big league ballparks that has been given a LEED certification. These certifications are given to buildings that meet strict guidelines for environmental responsibility by using less water and energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Braves are also one of 18 clubs that will use LED lighting by the end of this season. In addition to providing better lighting for fans, these light fixtures are more energy efficient and have a lifespan of 30 years.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001. Listen to his podcast.

Atlanta Braves, Johan Camargo

Brandon Belt just set the record; here's who's next

Belt's 21-pitch battle with Barria takes over top spot
MLB.com

Giants first baseman Brandon Belt made history Sunday, working a 21-pitch at-bat during San Francisco's 4-2 win over the Angels in Anaheim. Belt hit 16 foul balls in the first-inning at-bat against Jaime Barria that ended in a fly ball to right field.

Belt's 21-pitch at-bat is now the longest on record since 1988, as far back as the data is available. Below is a look at the other at-bats near the top of the list:

Giants first baseman Brandon Belt made history Sunday, working a 21-pitch at-bat during San Francisco's 4-2 win over the Angels in Anaheim. Belt hit 16 foul balls in the first-inning at-bat against Jaime Barria that ended in a fly ball to right field.

Belt's 21-pitch at-bat is now the longest on record since 1988, as far back as the data is available. Below is a look at the other at-bats near the top of the list:

1. Brandon Belt, 1B SF vs. Jaime Barria, RHP, LAA
April 22, 2018: 21 pitches, flyout

2. Ricky Gutierrez, SS, HOU vs. Bartolo Colon, RHP, CLE
June 26, 1998: 20 pitches, strikeout swinging
Gutierrez and Colon combined for the previous record in a marathon at-bat to lead off the top of the eighth. Colon won, getting Gutierrez to strike out swinging, and then retired the Astros in order to complete his eight-inning outing in the Tribe's 4-2 win.

Video: HOU@CLE: Colon K's Gutierrez in 20-pitch at-bat

3. Kevin Bass, RF, HOU vs. Steve Bedrosian, RHP, PHI
July 23, 1988: 19 pitches, flyout
Bedrosian blew a two-run lead in his eighth-inning relief appearance, but ended the Astros' rally by retiring Bass after a 19-pitch battle. The Astros went on to win in walk-off fashion on a wild pitch.

4-T. Brian Downing, DH, CAL vs. Ken Patterson, LHP, CWS
Sept. 1, 1990: 18 pitches, lineout
Downing led off the bottom of the ninth inning as his California Angels looked to overcome a four-run deficit against the White Sox. Downing put up a valiant effort, working an 18-pitch at-bat against Patterson, but lined out in the 9-5 defeat.

4-T. Bip Roberts, LF, KC vs. Felipe Lira, RHP, DET
May 18, 1997: 18 pitches, groundout
Roberts ran up Lira's pitch count early with 18 pitches in his first-inning at-bat. At 14 pitches, his teammate Tom Goodwin stole second base, giving the Royals a runner in scoring position.

4-T. Alex Cora, 2B, LAD vs. Matt Clement, RHP, CHC
May 12, 2004: 18 pitches, home run
Cora punctuated an 18-pitch battle with Clement with a two-run homer in the Dodgers' bullpen that stretched the Dodgers' lead to 4-0 in the victory over the Cubs. The 18 pitches in that at-bat were more than Clement had thrown in any inning but the third.

Video: CHC@LAD: Alex Cora wins 18-pitch battle with a homer

4-T. Adam Kennedy, 2B, ANA vs. Luis Vizcaino, RHP, MIL
June 10, 2004: 18 pitches, walk
Kennedy worked an 18-pitch walk to load the bases against Vizcaino, who had just entered the game with runners at second and third. Vizcaino retired his next two batters to escape the jam, but the Anaheim Angels held on to win, 5-4.

4-T. Marcus Semien, SS, OAK vs. Doug Fister, RHP, HOU
June 3, 2016: 18 pitches, groundout
Semien ran up Fister's pitch count with an 18-pitch groundout in the second inning. He also drew a walk in the fifth and launched a leadoff homer in the seventh for the A's first run in the 12-2 loss to the Astros.

Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.

Almora Jr. makes 3 unreal catches for Cubs

Albert Almora Jr. has put on a defensive clinic this weekend during the Cubs' series against the Rockies at Coors Field. On Saturday, he covered 87 feet en route to a basket catch on a drive by DJ LeMahieu, but that was just a warm-up for Sunday.

Don't worry, Yankees fans: Stanton will be fine

MLB.com @MikeLupica

There was a moment in Spring Training, a month ago in Tampa, Fla., almost exactly, when Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees newbie, was telling the media that he was ready for the scrutiny he would face when he came north with his new team.

"The good times will be magnified, and so will the bad," Stanton said. "The fans expect a lot. I expect a lot, too."

There was a moment in Spring Training, a month ago in Tampa, Fla., almost exactly, when Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees newbie, was telling the media that he was ready for the scrutiny he would face when he came north with his new team.

"The good times will be magnified, and so will the bad," Stanton said. "The fans expect a lot. I expect a lot, too."

It was another way of saying that he felt as if he were prepared for New York and Yankee Stadium and Yankees fans, the whole thing. He was telling the truth, and he sounded quite reasonable.

Only he wasn't prepared. Hardly anybody ever is. They don't know what it's like until they are here. It always reminds me of an old line from Ernie Accorsi, former New York Giants general manager, about what it's like for players who've never played in the Super Bowl to run out of the tunnel to actually play the game.

"It's like they've just landed on a different planet," Accorsi said.

Not everybody struggles. Some struggle for reasons that have nothing to do with baseball. So many of Reggie Jackson's problems in his first year with the Yankees, one that ended with him hitting three home runs against the Dodgers on the night when the Yanks won the 1977 World Series, were self-inflicted because of the "straw that stirs the drink" article about him in Sport magazine, one that got him sideways right away -- to say the least -- with Thurman Munson. And Reggie was a much bigger baseball star by the time he got to New York than Stanton ever was in Miami.

So it's quite prophetic that Reggie said this to my friend Pete Caldera of the Bergen Record one day in Clearwater, Fla., this past spring, speaking of Stanton:

"It'll be fun in Spring Training. It'll be work the first month."

Video: Must C Classic: Stanton hits two HRs in Yanks debut

It has turned out to be work for Stanton this first month -- oh boy, has it ever. The guy who hit 59 home runs for the Marlins last season and chased 60 all the way to his last at-bat in a Miami uniform -- and who broke in on Opening Day with two home runs against the Blue Jays -- is hitting .185 in 81 at-bats. He has struck out 32 times. He went 0-for-4 against the Blue Jays on Sunday. His OPS is .678. He started slowly for the Marlins last season, but not like this.

The other night, Stanton got an infield hit against the Blue Jays and a walk and worked the count a few times, and this was treated like some kind of triumph at the Stadium. It had come to that. And having told you that, and given you the numbers, I still believe Stanton is going to have a big year. He absolutely has started slowly before. He has had brutal slumps in the past, when it seemed as if he struck out for a whole month.

Maybe he won't hit 60 homers. Maybe he and Aaron Judge won't combine for 100. But Stanton will power through this -- in all ways -- the way Reggie did and Alex Rodriguez did when he got to New York, even though it wasn't nearly as bad for A-Rod as it's been for Stanton. In his first April in New York, in 2004, A-Rod hit .268, with four home runs and seven RBIs, numbers that seem Ruthian right now compared to Stanton's. He ended up with 36 home runs that year. The next year, he hit 48 for the Yankees, and two years after that, he hit 54. It is also always worth remembering that Rodriguez was hitting in the old Stadium, not the new one, where balls fly out of the place like Titleists flying off the face of one of those new space-age drivers.

But again, nobody, especially nobody in New York, should be shocked at this kind of start for Stanton. It was probably inevitable that he would start this way, just because so many new Yankees have started pretty much the same way. It is a familiar Yankees version of "The Out-of-Towners." You think you know what to expect. You don't.

Tino Martinez, who turned out to be a big Yankee on a Yankees team as great as they have ever had, which means Joe Torre's Yankees, was a hot mess when he first joined the team in 1996. Not only was he new, he was replacing Donald Arthur Mattingly at first base, and everybody knows the last memory of Mattingly that had been burned into the hearts of Yankees fans: He had hit .417 against the Mariners in one of the great and rousing first-round series, against Seattle in 1995.

Tino showed up in town and was hitting under .100 at one point in April. He had three hits in his first 34 at-bats. He looked even more helpless at the Stadium at the beginning than he did on the road, so he was the one who heard it from Yankees fans the way Stanton has, including getting booed at the Yankees' home opener on a day when he struck out five times. But by the end of the 1996 season, Tino had 25 homers,117 RBIs and a .292 batting average, and the Yankees had won their first World Series since 1978.

Video: TB@NYY: Rays pitchers strike out Stanton five times

Didi Gregorius, who was as dangerous a hitter as Judge last October, struggled mightily after running out to shortstop to replace Captain Jeter in April 2015. He struggled at the plate and in the field and on the bases and maybe even driving to work on the Major Deegan Expressway. He came out of it, of course. He was too talented not to. So was Tino. So, mightily, is Stanton. What he is experiencing so far is like pledging the most famous baseball fraternity in this world. Soon, maybe by the end of this week, the big launch angler from South Florida will be likely launch-angling like crazy.

Just not yet.

Something else worth remembering: Stanton has frankly never faced this kind of scrutiny before, even hitting 59 homers in a season. He has never had this kind of stage, this kind of attention, this kind of noise, never faced this kind of pressure in a baseball life that hasn't yet seen a single postseason game. That is just the fact of things. It was nice in South Florida. It was warm. It was relatively quiet. It's different here. Others have discovered that. Now he has.

Big city. Different planet. Again.

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com. He also writes for the New York Daily News.

New York Yankees, Giancarlo Stanton

Bryant hit in helmet, no signs of concussion

Special to MLB.com

DENVER -- The series finale in Colorado started on a scary note, as Kris Bryant took a pitch to the helmet in the first inning of Sunday's 9-7 win over the Rockies and had to leave the game.

Bryant was examined upon exiting the game and passed all tests. He has a small laceration above his left eye from his sunglasses, but he shows no signs of a concussion. He was still being evaluated after the game and will be monitored carefully as he travels with the team to Cleveland.

View Full Game Coverage

DENVER -- The series finale in Colorado started on a scary note, as Kris Bryant took a pitch to the helmet in the first inning of Sunday's 9-7 win over the Rockies and had to leave the game.

Bryant was examined upon exiting the game and passed all tests. He has a small laceration above his left eye from his sunglasses, but he shows no signs of a concussion. He was still being evaluated after the game and will be monitored carefully as he travels with the team to Cleveland.

View Full Game Coverage

"Apparently, he's fine, as good as could be expected," manager Joe Maddon said after the game. "I've not heard anything awful, but they're still watching him. I have not heard the word concussion yet, so hopefully very good."

Carl Edwards Jr. also reported talking to Bryant during the game, who told Edwards, "I feel fine."

After retiring the first two batters and getting a 1-2 count on Bryant, Rockies starter German Marquez threw a 96.3-mph fastball high and inside that hit Bryant in the front of the helmet. He walked away from the plate toward the dugout and was immediately met by manager Joe Maddon, who embraced him in part to ensure he was OK. Bryant stayed on his feet while talking to Maddon and both team trainers and was helped off the field by the two.

"That's just a bad moment. I didn't know where K.B. was at when I got there, but I just knew he needed to be held onto," Maddon said. "You get hit in the head, you get wobbly. I wanted to make sure to steady him. He steadied up and we walked him off and I said, 'You're out. Go sit down.'"

Video: CHC@COL: Maddon optimistic about Bryant, more to come

David Bote, who had been recalled the day before and started at third base Saturday, pinch-ran for Bryant and took third in the bottom of the inning. He scored on the first of four consecutive two-out singles from Anthony Rizzo, Tommy La Stella, Kyle Schwarber and Victor Caratini as the Cubs erupted for three runs.

Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis and assistant hitting coach Andy Haines were both ejected after delivering heated remarks to home-plate umpire Cory Blaser.

"I didn't even know that was going on," Maddon said. "I was concerned about Kris, holding on to him, and all of a sudden, 'You're out, you're done,' whatever. My argument was, 'Stay out of my dugout.' It was an emotional moment, a lot of stuff going on. Don't look for stuff. I had no chance to go back in and settle the dugout. My argument to the umpires was just that: It was an emotional moment, stay out of my dugout."

Tensions escalated in the eighth inning when Rizzo was hit in the arm by Rockies reliever Jake McGee, but Rizzo stayed in the game, and no further incidents followed.

Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com based in Denver.

Chicago Cubs, Kris Bryant

Bullpen of the Week: Brewers

Hader converts pair of multi-inning saves during win streak
MLB.com

After stumbling in Monday's opener against the Reds -- reliever Oliver Drake gave up six runs in the sixth inning -- the Brewers' pitching staff rebounded to help Milwaukee wrap the week with six consecutive wins against Cincinnati and Miami, including three shutouts.

The Brewers' relief unit was a major part of that success, yielding just one unearned run during the winning streak and cementing its status as MLB Bullpen of the Week presented by The Hartford.

After stumbling in Monday's opener against the Reds -- reliever Oliver Drake gave up six runs in the sixth inning -- the Brewers' pitching staff rebounded to help Milwaukee wrap the week with six consecutive wins against Cincinnati and Miami, including three shutouts.

The Brewers' relief unit was a major part of that success, yielding just one unearned run during the winning streak and cementing its status as MLB Bullpen of the Week presented by The Hartford.

As part of the Hartford Prevailing Moments program, each Monday throughout the 2018 season, MLB.com is honoring the "Bullpen of the Week presented by The Hartford." An industry-wide panel of MLB experts, including legendary stats guru Bill James, constructed a metric based on James' widely renowned game-score formula, to provide a weekly measurement of team-bullpen performance.

Here's how the Bullpen Rating System is compiled for each week. For reference, a weekly score of 100 is considered outstanding:

• Add 1.5 points for each out recorded
• Add 1.5 points for each strikeout
• Add 5 points for a save
• Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed
• Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed
• Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed
• Subtract 1 point for each walk
• Subtract 5 points for a blown save

Milwaukee won the week with 103.5 points, totaling 74 outs, 29 strikeouts, 14 hits, eight runs (seven earned), eight walks and three saves. Seven of the eight runs allowed came in Monday's defeat vs. the Reds.

Although he was in the mix for a rotation spot, Josh Hader, who entered last season as the Brewers' top pitching prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, has excelled in his relief role. He tossed five innings over the last week, converting two multi-inning saves and allowing just one unearned run. He struck out seven batters against one walk.

Video: CIN@MIL: Hader retires Peraza for two-inning save

The unexpected: The Brewers fell into an early deficit against the Marlins on Saturday as starter Brent Suter gave up a season-high five runs -- including a three-run homer by Miami's Lewis Brinson -- in five innings of work. They trailed, 5-4, when Jacob Barnes took over in the sixth inning.

How they prevailed: After the Marlins notched eight hits and a walk against Suter, the Brewers' bullpen shut down Miami's momentum as Barnes, Hader, Matt Albers and Jeremy Jeffress combined to pitch four scoreless frames. The quartet yielded just one hit and struck out four batters.

"It was really effective work by the bullpen," Suter said. "They're just continuing to be a unit out there. Those are guys who pitch for each other. There's a lot of love out there in the bullpen. What a great win to be a part of."

Milwaukee won the week by a 17-point margin over the Yankees (86.5) in the Bullpen Rating System. The Phillies weren't far behind with 84 points.

Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.

Milwaukee Brewers

Buehler set to make first big league start

Dodgers' No. 1 prospect to face Marlins in series opener
MLB.com @kengurnick

LOS ANGELES -- Twenty games into the 2017 season, the Dodgers called up Cody Bellinger as a temporary injury replacement, and the rest is history.

On Monday, 20 games into the 2018 season, they will call up Walker Buehler to make his first Major League start, replacing the injured Rich Hill. Buehler, the Dodgers' top prospect, will probably also start in Saturday's doubleheader against the Giants before being returned to Triple-A Oklahoma City. At least that's manager Dave Roberts' story and he was sticking to it on Sunday.

View Full Game Coverage

LOS ANGELES -- Twenty games into the 2017 season, the Dodgers called up Cody Bellinger as a temporary injury replacement, and the rest is history.

On Monday, 20 games into the 2018 season, they will call up Walker Buehler to make his first Major League start, replacing the injured Rich Hill. Buehler, the Dodgers' top prospect, will probably also start in Saturday's doubleheader against the Giants before being returned to Triple-A Oklahoma City. At least that's manager Dave Roberts' story and he was sticking to it on Sunday.

View Full Game Coverage

"Correct," Roberts said when asked whether that was the plan.

The 23-year-old Buehler is baseball's No. 12 prospect and the No. 4 right-handed prospect, per MLB Pipeline. He pitched briefly for the Dodgers out of the bullpen in a September callup last year.

"We had a couple of in-house options, but to get him a start, he's pitching well, we just felt it was a good decision," said Roberts. "I would say he's six [innings] and 90 [pitches], that would totally be fair."

Buehler struggled in his September debut with the Dodgers, recording a 7.71 ERA over eight appearances. Buehler reported to Spring Training in February with back soreness that limited his Cactus League action to two games, but he struck out seven with one walk one over four scoreless innings once he was healthy.

In three starts this year for OKC, Buehler is 1-0 with a 2.10 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 16 strikeouts and four walks in 13 innings. He needed 80 pitches to get through four innings on Monday in his most recent start.

"It's exciting. It's the big leagues and it's time to go now," said Buehler, who arrived in time to play catch before Sunday's game.

Buehler said the timing of this callup was more surprising than last September's, but the fact that he's back as a starter makes this one "a little more settling," because "I'm doing what I've been doing my whole career."

"The hitters are good, you know that," he said. "You don't realize how good they are until you see them in person. But, most of us here are pretty good too and you try to remember that."

Management has been determined to thread the needle between stretching out his innings (he threw only 98 innings last year) and keeping him fresh enough to be a rotation factor down the stretch in 2018. The Dodgers haven't confirmed a speculated target of between 135 to 150 innings this year.

Roberts said the overall success of the current starting rotation allows management to continue deferring Buehler's permanent recall until later in the season.

"When he's in the Minors, you can manage his innings and usage a lot better than here," Roberts said. "He can go four or five innings there, and that's not the goal here. Each potential start he would make here chips away at the overall usage we want him to throw in a season. It's best to save him for when he does get here and stays."

The last-place Marlins would appear to be a soft spot for Buehler's return to the Major Leagues.

While in the Dodgers' bullpen last September, Buehler showed glimpses of future greatness with his electric arm, but also the wildness that often plagues young, hard throwers (eight walks in 9 1/3 innings). Still, he struck out 12, finishing the season with 137 strikeouts in 98 innings.

Roberts said he has "high hopes, high hopes" for Buehler's unveiling.

"September, obviously it was moving pretty quick for him," Roberts said. "It was a learning process. But I think Spring Training he showed really well. I love his four-pitch mix and I think he's going to come here and pitch well."

Buehler was credited with his first Major League victory on Sept. 21 at Philadelphia with a scoreless inning of relief and two strikeouts. He was selected as the Dodgers Branch Rickey Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2017.

Despite requiring Tommy John surgery after his selection in the first round of the 2015 Draft, the slender Buehler has regained his triple-digit velocity with a high-spin rate. He also has a sharp curveball and slider.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2001.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Walker Buehler