Bird’s slam, Happ’s focus lead Yanks to sweep

Greg Bird launched a grand slam and Miguel Andujar and Didi Gregorius added RBI singles in the Yankees’ six-run first inning, en route to a sweep of the Blue Jays. They also tallied four runs in the sixth inning, including Giancarlo Stanton’s RBI single and Kyle Higashioka’s two-run single. J.A. Happ fanned eight in 5 1/3 innings against his former team, while Toronto starter Ryan Borucki was unable to finish the first inning, yielding six runs in 2/3 of an inning. Randal Grichuk and Kendys Morales went deep for the Jays.

Twins To Recall Stephen Gonsalves

The Twins announced that left-hander Stephen Gonsalves will come up from Triple-A Rochester on Monday to make his major league debut with a start against the White Sox. To make room for Gonsalves, the Twins optioned right-hander Tyler Duffey to Rochester.

Gonsalves, whom the Twins chose in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, has been among the game’s 100 best prospects in the past, including cracking Baseball America’s list after 2016 (No. 99) and ’17 (No. 97). None of BA, MLB.com or FanGraphs currently regard Gonsalves as a top-100 farmhand, though each outlet does place him among the Twins’ 10 best prospects.

In MLB.com’s free scouting report, Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo – who rank Gonsalves fifth – compliment the 6-foot-5 hurler’s “combination of pitchability and deception” and “solid-average stuff.” Gonsalves’ repertoire includes a low-90s fastball, a quality changeup and an “average” curveball, per Callis and Mayo, who could see him eventually emerging as a capable mid-rotation starter. BA’s J.J. Cooper (subscription required) is less bullish on the other hand, writing he’s “a back-of-the-rotation starter at best,” in part because of control problems. Indeed, Gonsalves has issued 4.93 walks per nine over 100 1/3 innings in his first extensive Triple-A action this season. At the same time, Gonsalves has given up a mere 65 hits and struck out 8.52 batters per nine en route to a 2.96 ERA.

With the out-of-contention Twins looking toward 2019, Gonsalves may be in position to make a case for a spot in their rotation next year. However, barring trades, the Twins already appear to have at least five serious contenders or locks for next season’s staff in Kyle Gibson, Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, Fernando Romero and Adalberto Mejia. Ervin Santana could also return to the club in 2019, but it’s uncertain whether Minnesota will pick up the soon-to-be 36-year-old’s $14MM option in light of his injury and performance issues this season.

AL Injury Notes: Didi, Trumbo, A. Garcia, Joyce

Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius exited the team’s game Sunday with a “pretty significant” heel bruise and could be headed for the disabled list, manager Aaron Boone told Lindsay Adler of The Athletic and other reporters. He’d be the third integral member of the Yankees’ offense on the DL, joining right fielder Aaron Judge and catcher Gary Sanchez, with the Bombers trying to hold off the AL West runner-up (Houston, Oakland or Seattle) for homefield advantage in this year’s wild-card round. New York has a 3 1/2-game edge on that spot and a seven-game lead on a playoff position, thanks in part to Gregorius – who has slashed .270/.333/.482 (116 wRC+) with 22 home runs and 4.0 fWAR in 507 plate appearances. Replacing Gregorius would be a difficult task, then, and second baseman Gleyber Torres stands out as the Yankees’ top in-house option if the former does hit the DL. Torres has struggled mightily in the second half of his rookie year, though, and moving him off the keystone would force the Yankees to find a different starter there – perhaps Neil Walker (who has handled right field of late), Ronald Torreyes or Tyler Wade. Of course, New York could still bolster its lineup via trade this month, which it may feel compelled to do should Gregorius require a lengthy absence.

A few more injury notes from the AL…

  • Orioles designated hitter Mark Trumbo is “likely” going to the DL on account of right knee inflammation, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com tweets. Trumbo revealed in May that he has arthritis in that knee, though it hasn’t stopped him from posting fairly typical numbers in 2018. The 32-year-old has recorded a 106 wRC+, matching his career figure, across 355 PAs. That’s not an inspiring mark, however, and combining Trumbo’s so-so production with his knee problems and remaining salary may make it all but impossible for the rebuilding Orioles to trade him. Trumbo will earn $13.5MM in 2019, the final season of a three-year, $37.5MM contract that hasn’t worked out for Baltimore thus far.
  • As with Trumbo, White Sox right fielder Avisail Garcia is battling his own right knee issues, Tom Musick of the Chicago Sun-Times explains. The plan is for Garcia to undergo arthroscopic surgery in the offseason, per Musick, but even though the White Sox are well out of contention, they don’t plan on shutting him down for 2018. This has already been an abbreviated campaign for Garcia, who missed nearly two months from April to June because of a hamstring strain. Perhaps thanks in part to his injury issues, the 27-year-old has slashed a disappointing .234/.264/.451 (90 wRC+) in 250 PAs after thriving in 2017. Garcia is slated to go through arbitration for the final time over the winter.
  • Athletics outfielder Matt Joyce, who hasn’t played since July 4 because of a back strain, will rejoin the team when rosters expand in September, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Joyce will begin a rehab assignment Tuesday, though Slusser suggests that playing time could be limited for the 34-year-old when he does return to Oakland. After offering solid production over the previous couple years, Joyce has batted just .203/.311/.359 (87 wRC+) in 226 PAs this season, and the A’s have been on a tear without him.

Yu Darvish Suffers Setback

Cubs right-hander Yu Darvish hasn’t taken a major league mound since May 20, which may prove to be his final outing of the season. Darvish, who has been on the shelf for three months because of triceps and elbow injuries, left his Single-A rehab start on Sunday after throwing just one inning, Matthew Martell of MLB.com was among those to report. Darvish came out for the second inning, but he “was seen wincing” during his warmup, Martell writes, before indicating to the dugout that he needed to exit.

While Darvish had been making progress in recent weeks, this is now the second setback the 32-year-old has suffered since June 28, when he experienced pain during a bullpen session. Darvish’s departure Sunday came as a result of the same discomfort as his previous setback, Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune tweets, adding that his next step is to go for an MRI.

Darvish is still holding out hope for a return in 2018, per Gonzales, but given the nature of his injury and the lack of time remaining in the campaign, that may not be realistic. If Darvish’s season is indeed over, it’ll go down as a disastrous year for someone who was widely regarded as the majors’ top free agent last winter. The Cubs signed the former Ranger and Dodger to a six-year, $126MM guarantee expecting him to continue serving as a front-line starter, but he has instead tossed just 40 innings in eight starts this season and posted a personal-worst ERA (4.95), FIP (4.86), xFIP (4.23) and walk rate (4.73 per nine).

Despite Darvish’s lack of contributions, the Cubs still lead the NL Central by four games over the archrival Cardinals, though it has been a less-than-ideal year in general for Chicago’s starting staff. Like Darvish, fellow established starters Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana have failed to produce great results, with ERAs ranging from 3.72 to 4.46 and a combined fWAR of 2.8 among the three of them. However, they’ve been downright ace-like compared to Tyler Chatwood, another of the Cubs’ disappointing free-agent signings from last winter.

Chatwood, whom the Cubs signed to a three-year, $38MM contract, owns a 5.22 ERA/5.56 FIP with a ghastly 8.23 walks per nine over 101 2/3 innings. The Cubs pulled him from their rotation a few weeks ago, only to start him again Saturday in what ended up as a two-inning, three-run, three-walk performance during a loss to Pittsburgh. Afterward, Patrick Mooney of The Athletic (subscription required) wrote that it’s tough to imagine Chatwood “throwing another meaningful pitch this season.” But whether that’ll be the case remains to be seen, especially considering the injuries to Darvish and effective swingman Mike Montgomery – who went to the disabled list Friday with shoulder inflammation.

For now, the saving grace of the Cubs’ rotation looks to be lefty Cole Hamels, whom they acquired in a trade with the Rangers prior to last month’s non-waiver deadline. Hamels, a longtime front-end starter, was mediocre for Texas this season, but he has been utterly brilliant as a Cub. Across four starts, the 34-year-old has logged an incredible .72 ERA with a 2.40 FIP, 8.28 K/9, 2.16 BB/9 and a 59 percent groundball rate.

Considering the shaky state of their rotation and their surmountable lead on a playoff spot, it’s possible the Cubs will look for more help on the trade market in the coming weeks. It would be difficult to make an impactful move, though, particularly with the NL playoff race being a crowded one and the Cubs behind several postseason hopefuls (including three division rivals) in the waiver pecking order.

[RELATED: How August Trades Work]

White Sox To Promote Michael Kopech

The White Sox will promote top pitching prospect Michael Kopech on Tuesday, the team announced on its official Twitter feed.  The 22-year-old right-hander will make his Major League debut in a start against the Twins.

Picked 33rd overall by the Red Sox in the 2014 draft, Kopech was already considered one of the game’s top young arms when Boston dealt him as part of the blockbuster prospect package sent to Chicago in exchange for ace southpaw Chris Sale in December 2016.  Kopech made his Double-A and Triple-A debuts in the White Sox farm system, and he has posted a 3.63 ERA, 11.9 K/9, and 2.88 K/BB rate over 141 1/3 innings at the Triple-A level.

Those numbers also include some control issues, such as a 4.3 BB/9 this season, and Kopech’s 2018 season has been marred by a few rough outings.  Kopech recently discussed his year with The Athletic’s James Fegan, which has seen him deal with some off-the-field tragedy while also working on such mechanical issues as a new grip for his changeup, and a slower delivery.  His delivery was cited as a concern in scouting reports from both MLB.com and Baseball America, with BA noting that Kopech’s delivery is a reason for “his below-average command and control.”

Still, despite these issues, both MLB.com and Baseball America ranked Kopech as the 13th-best prospect in baseball due to his massive potential.  (Fangraphs also had him 16th on their updated top-100 prospect rankings, with ESPN’s Keith Law ranking Kopech 11th and Baseball Prospectus ranking him 17th in their preseason top-100 lists.)  If Kopech is able to refine his changeup, it would be his third pitch to go along with a slider that MLB.com calls a “plus-plus offering as its best,” as well as Kopech’s signature pitch, a blazing fastball.  Kopech has cracked triple digits with his heater and regularly throws it in the 96-99mph range.

Kopech has long been considered one of the jewels of the White Sox rebuild, and the decision to promote him at this point means that he’ll get an audition towards becoming a regular rotation member in 2019.  With Kopech now reaching the big leagues, it only creates more anticipation towards the potential debut of Chicago’s top prospect, slugger Eloy Jimenez.

NL Central Links: Hamels, Schoop, Aguilar, Reds

Some items from the NL Central…

  • Cole Hamels has been nothing short of excellent since joining the Cubs, posting a microscopic 0.72 ERA over his first 25 innings with the team.  With Hamels pitching like an ace again, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News wonders if this could bode well for the Rangers, as Texas wouldn’t be on the hook for the $6MM buyout of Hamels’ $20MM option for 2019 if Chicago decided to exercise that option.  There are some complications, Grant notes, as the Cubs may not want to spend that much on a pitcher who turns 35 in December, no matter how well Hamels performs down the stretch.  The Cubs already have quite a bit of money tied up in their rotation, and keeping Hamels would put them in danger of surpassing the luxury tax threshold (MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes has written in the past about the Cubs’ strange reluctance incur a tax penalty, despite the relatively meager financial cost they’d face as “a first-time payor.”)
  • “There are rumblings that the Brewers will try to flip” Jonathan Schoop after the season, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com writes.  If a trade partner can’t be found, Milwaukee might just non-tender Schoop.  The middle infielder earned $8.5MM this season and, despite his struggles, will be due a raise in 2019 in his third and final year of arbitration eligibility.  Schoop has posted just a .384 OPS over 50 PA this joining the Brewers, and he has only started two of Milwaukee’s last five games.  Barring a turn-around, it’s hard to see Schoop generating much interest on the trade front.
  • After being designated for assignment by the Indians in the 2016-17 offseason, Jesus Aguilar told Tyler Kepner of the New York Times that he considered leaving MLB due to overseas interest.  “I even was thinking about Korea and Japan,” Aguilar said. “When they put me on waivers, my agent was talking to me: ’They got people there. They want me there, too.’ ” This career crossroads ended when Aguilar was claimed by the Brewers, and the first baseman blossomed after receiving more playing time, hitting .280/.366/.579 with 29 homers and a league-best 89 RBI over 413 plate appearances this season.
  • The Reds’ recent front office shuffle was likely due to the team’s lack of recent success at developing pitchers and finding international prospects, John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes.  While the Reds signed Aroldis Chapman and Raisel Iglesias out of Cuba, they haven’t had a real find in the Dominican or Venezuelan player markets since Johnny Cueto back in 2004, which Fay argues could stem from parting ways with scout Johnny Almaraz in 2007.  (Almarez has since gone on to become the Phillies’ director of amateur scouting.)

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