Astros 2021: Areas for improvement

The 2020 regular season was a downer for the Astros, but due to an expanded playoff, they were able to sneak into the postseason and make some noise. But even with that, it is impossible not to stare back at those 60 game regular stats and say there are some areas where the 2021 Astros better improve.

Flash Better Slash. Offense was down in general in 2020. The American League average slash line went from ,253 BA/ .323 OBP/ .762 OPS in 2019 to .243 BA/ .319 OBP/ .733 OPS in 2020. The Astros, however, took a much more precipitous drop than the average AL team from a league-leading .274 BA/ .352 OBP/ .848 OPS in 2019 to a slightly below average .240 BA/.312 BA/.720 OPS.

It will be a challenge to do this when they are likely losing two of their best slashers in George Springer (.265 BA/ .359 OBP/ .899 OPS) and Michael Brantley (.300 BA/ .364 OBP/ .840 OPS). Losing Josh Reddick (.245 BA/ .316 OBP/ .693 OPS) should allow them some opportunity for better production from that “other” outfield spot.

The keys will be getting a healthy and stroking Yordan Alvarez back in the lineup and frankly getting improved production from the underachieving quartet of Jose Altuve (.219 BA/.286 OBP/ .629 OPS in 2020), Alex Bregman (.242/.350/.801), Carlos Correa (.264/.326/.709) and Yuli Gurriel (.232/.274/.658). If these four guys could just get back to their average numbers for their previous three seasons, it would be a huge shot in the arm for this offense. It also would help if they could re-sign Brantley or bring in an above-average outfielder through free agency or trade.

Cut the Freebies. In 2019, the Astros bullpen gave up a reasonable 3.2 walks per 9 innings pitched. In 2020 with a bunch of innings picked up by newbies and youngsters this rose to an unacceptable 5 walks per 9 innings pitched. The bullpen worked around this in most cases, but it certainly added to the overall stress on the ‘pen and led to some easy runs at times by the opposition. This needs to get throttled back in 2020.

Focus on Close and Late. The 2020 Astros were only 10-14 in one-run games and a pitiful 2-7 in extra-inning games. They never seemed to adjust to the new extra-inning rule with a runner starting off at 2nd base and stranded way too many runners.

This was a team that had been a solid 67-52 in one-run games over the previous three seasons and a 19-14 in extra innings in those three years. Some of this was due to a very young relief core and perhaps some of it due to a lack of mojo for a team that was coming off an off-season facing the cheating scandal. Either way, top clubs get it done close and late, and the Astros need to show the mental toughness to do this again.

Return of the Road Warriors. The Astros were pristine on the road previous to 2020, going 53-28 (65%) in 2017, 57-24 (70%) in 2018 and 47-34 (58%) in 2019. One of the biggest reasons this team fell below .500 in 2020 was a terrible 9-23 (28%) on the road in 2020.

This points again to a bit of a weakness in character, mojo, concentration or maybe too much being asked of young players. Last season was one where a team on the road had a problem being a team as they were mostly isolated in their hotel rooms during the long hours before and after the games. The Astros did not adjust well to these difficulties. They need to turn that around in 2021.

Where do you want this team to improve in 2021?

55 comments on “Astros 2021: Areas for improvement

    • Mentioned many times here myself.
      I even figured 6 months ago JA Rivera would be *the* most difficult decision. Actually in 2019 when he was at QC and caught my eye, pitched 75 IP with 95 K’s.

      Wrote the same of Yohan Ramirez (and Jon Arauz a year before it happened).

      Both of these pitchers throw upper 90’s, but lack command. It’s a great sign the Astros can walk away from 100 mph, and can still be choosy.

      I’d say Tanielu available is just as interesting though. I’m quite perplexed why he hasn’t been selected sooner, but I suppose it’s easier to find an avg, aged UTIL player, than it is a fireballer brought up in Astros system.

      I’m still going to guess we lose another 3 this year, though. Which considering every team has had more $ to spend, and better drafts for the last 4 years, more evidence this team is loaded and development 2nd to none.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I can’t take individual failures of the 2020 exhibition season overly seriously. Going back a bit, we came home on October 27th, 2019 up 3 games to 2 in The World Series giddy with the knowledge we were going to win the trophy a night later. Instead we got humiliated, outscored 13 to 4 over two winnable games. If that didn’t result in a hangover, nothing would. Then we really got humiliated, caught cheating in the most sophomoric of ways, becoming the scourge of all baseball. If that was not enough, we came back to play summer league and were decimated with injuries to the point where the next one did not even surprise us. Still we had to play the game, even with several guys pretty much mailing it in, one deciding to stay home altogether. And yet ultimately, our demoralized, underperforming veterans were somehow awakened by a batch of kids and scrubs just wanting a chance to play ball.

    Yeah, we’re losing some guys. But there will be a surprise or two added. And a couple more youngsters will show up too. Forget 2020. We’re going to have a very good squad in 2021.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Dan, almost in defiance, we gathered as a family for Thanksgiving the last two days. Using proper preparation, including testing we celebrated our nation’s special day of thanks.
    Have been checking in periodically, but will be back to normal tomorrow. Thank you for the blog. And thank you to all of the wonderful friends here.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This gives a few more ideas of what some are thinking to trade for Correa. Not sure if I like any of the packages, but local pitcher (NYM) Josh Wolf would luv to have him next to Whitley for the next 6 years. Or Edward Cabrera from MIA– they have so many incredible young arms, they may see an opening.

    If Mets got Springer w/ JD Davis, kept Jake and got Correa wow! I don’t like that NYM package though because it always includes Ahmed Rosario (not the Twins Rosario.)

    It says CLE isn’t spending, I’d disagree there (they won’t just give up), and it says CHI with Baez but if they dont re-sign Bryant, Baez will move around. Two other landing spots perhaps?

    Anyway, it makes perfect sense to me to load up our team in support of Hunter Brown, and Jeremy Pena in 2022! Of Alvarez and Korey Lee, of Tucker and maybe Zach Daniels the Outfield “freak” or Collin Barber, of Tyler Ivey and Jairo Solis. Go get us a young phenom bat… we will be fine without Correa because we’re losing him anyway.

    We shift so much on LHB and Altuve has a weak arm. Just shift Diaz into short RF and let Bregs play SS. We can rotate Diaz even Straw, or obtain a “decent” replacement for a year worst case scenario. We don’t seem worried about depth if we let Mayfield go. What about Toro 3B, Bregs SS? Offer Simmons a 1-yr/$8.5M, team option 2nd yr (and don’t extend it). He had a down ’20, and nobody will pay 10.

    We’d save $4m in ’21 payroll by not arbitrating Correa (and risk ticking him off), and get many millions in prospect value. Who knows with any luck Simmons could find his 2019 offensive form, which made him one of the toughest outs in baseball. Spend the money on pitching and we don’t need Correa’s rocket arm relay when they strikeout.

    https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2919731-top-landing-spots-and-trade-packages-for-astros-ss-carlos-correa-amid-rumors

    Honestly, we’ll probably just keep him and like Astronut said, offer QO and get the #75-ish pick. That’s just too borish Winter Talk for me HaHa

    Maybe we’re both wrong and drafting JC Correa was a portend, but I’m gonna say it’s Mets and they’ll hire Luhnow too. Here’s an excerpt from recent AP/USA Today article about Mets owner btw.

    “Cohen controlled SAC Capital Advisors, which in 2013 pleaded guilty to criminal fraud charges. SAC agreed to pay a $900 million fine and forfeit another $900 million to the federal government, though $616 million that SAC companies had already agreed to pay to settle parallel actions by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission was to be deducted from the $1.8 billion.” -Mets GM Van Wagenen, others out as Cohen takes over team

    Somehow the Cano thing [fraud] doesn’t surprise me…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Go, if you are suggesting that some of the MLB owners “might” be dirty, you will have to go to the Bopert doghouse. Every MLB owner sings in the church choir just like Dan, and we are pretty sure that maybe, we hope, Dan is clean. To be determined later though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I will guarantee that being in the Church choir (which we are disbanded due to COVID) does not guarantee any type of piety. But I will also tell you I’ve not seen any club owners singing with us tenors on Sunday for whatever that means.

        Like

  4. Interesting read on MLB Non-Tender candidates.
    https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2020/11/2020-non-tender-candidates.html

    The one that caught my eye was Gary Sanchez. Remember when he was solving all the Yankees Cather problems for years to come, so they got to trade (dump) Brian McCann to the lowly Astros. Baseball is so fickle at the major league level. The Yankees picked up two valuable prospects that through 2020 still have a negative career WAR.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. The Astros finished in the bottom half of MLB teams in most offensive categories. To rebound to a winning record, their team batting stats have to move up into the top 10 in offensive statistics.

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  6. The Astros need to get their pitchers to throw more strikes and fewer balls. It’s not all about walks but also pitch limits and going an extra inning for the starters and giving the batters less pitches to look at. Make the batters hit a pitcher’s pitch rather than pitching from behind.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. The Astros were 25th in the league in Batting Average Balls In Play (BABIP).
    I attribute this to a ton of hitting into the shift. Combine that BABIP with a much lower home run rate and a low RISP batting average and you have a team that has a losing record and lucks into an expanded playoff format by finishing second in a division with only one winning team.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Even with all this – it is bizarre to think that Correa, who just turned 26 is the career team SS leader in doubles – 128 (2nd Craig Reynolds – 112), HRs – 107 (2nd Adam Everett – 35), RBIs – 397 (2nd Reynolds – 300), OBP – .353 (2nd Ricky Gutierrez – .337) and OPS – .833 (2nd Miguel Tejada – .762). Which is probably as much a commentary on our traditionally weak hitting shortstops as anything else….
      The injuries have been the story to this point. I’m guessing that heading into his FA year that he will not have any bizarre injuries along the way, this may be one of those 150 game seasons for Carlos.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Let’s take a step back and remember that mlbtraderumors is a fan blog that garnered mainstream success and now has a huge following. Unfortunately, that brings all sorts of different “fans” to the table. I don’t think you’ll find any quality discussion in the comment section there.

      But in regards to the three, you’re crazy if you believe that there are fewer than 25 GMs in baseball who would not take Correa over both of the other two. What would be interesting to know is if other teams actually approach Click with offers and whether they think they can squeeze a discount through. Based on expected arbitration numbers the Astros are still (my opinion) better off keeping Correa for the entirety of the season and giving him the QO next November.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Jon Heyman talks about 6 different teams having interest in James McCann, which means that six different teams have leaked their interest to Heyman, or one player agency has. Or both.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’d forego McCann money at this point for 2-yrs of Starling Marte, or Michael Brantley.

    Stick with 102 games Maldonado, 60 games of Garrett Stubbs plan.

    Relievers to target: Rosenthal, Hand, Shane Greene. Liam Hendricks would be a dream considering his mastery of the division, and I always wanted to see what Strom could do with Treinen.

    Garrett Richards on the cheap, since Minor was signed?

    It feels like we’ll hear something on Joe Smith soon, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re looking to packagae a few fringe prospects where we have lots of depth, to free up more space!

    Bargain bin
    Three intriguing Rule 5’s I was looking at Marlins who I thought wouldn’t get roster’d and did not, in fact:

    SP Luis Palacios;
    Power Hitter Lazaro Alonso;
    SP Remey Reed coming off TJ.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Place your bets alright here we go!

    Of these sets of 3, name the player who will fetch more innings pitched, or innings played for HOU in 2021.

    1.) Whitley, Garcia, Bielak

    2.) Toro, Straw, Jones

    3.) Solis, Solomon, Ivey

    4.) Greinke, McCullers, Urquidy

    5.) Abreu, Raley, Taylor

    Anyone interested in listening to Strom talk about some of the things he’s been through the last year, and his thoughts on the young arms (Sparks Ford interview). Beginning 5:45 and following..

    https://art19.com/shows/houston-astros-podcast/episodes/5447e774-09ee-4362-aee4-125c29ec28e9

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll take a shot:
      1) Whitley (more hope than knowledge)
      2) Straw (though if he does not play better than 2020 this may be all early). If Correa gets traded this would be Toro in my mind
      3) Man- three guys I’ve never seen pitch….I’ll say Ivey based on his AA results back in 2019
      4) Greinke – he doesn’t miss time

      Like

    • You tell me who is on 40 man, and I will……. Nevermind. 1. Bielak – provided he is a starter….Nevermind. 2. Straw – provideded… Nevermind. 3. Ivey because his last name starts with a different letter. 4. Greinke – he is good for 200. LMJ highest is 128. 5. Abreu – hard to go with Raley with a lifetime negative WAR and 33 years old. (If I choose to accept this assignment, I hope this tape self-destructs before September 2021)

      Liked by 1 person

    • Put me in coach, I’m a contact hitter.

      1. I’ll say Bielak, the Grinder most polished with the lesser stuff. Garcia has the body for durability though, and since they’re all roster’d, HOU has no reason to withhold them unless others simply beat them out. Whitley has the potential to blow them all out of the water, updated from Pete Putila.

      2. Straw will get the majority of starts, as is, like Dan says. Watching Starling Marte highlights last night. He’s a solid CF. If we had Tucker Straw and Marte, they can all play CF! I’d like to see Toro shifted to short RF on those long throws to 1B, in the event Correa is traded. Everyone here knows about Toro’s arm! Jones is one Yuli injury away… knock on wood.

      3. Ivey would likeliest getting to HOU first, but the other two have had surgery and re-hab. I’d put Solis on higher upside. This is a tough one and if any can get 40 IP, they’d probably take the prize.

      4. Urquidy. Listening to Strom though, I think they will push McCullers hard this year. And why not, if he & Boras will walk after the season?!

      5. Bold pick is Abreu in a big comeback year. Strom comments on his VERY high hopes that Bryan will be a Starter long-term. That might be why HOU just pushed him back down to Corpus last year so quickly, to get him to forget small sample of relief and bad command (weight issues), toward starter profile in ’21. Blake Taylor is another who would like to be a multi-inning reliever, as the Mets AAA tried to stretch him out before trading to us.

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    • 1. I want it to be Whitley, but I’m going to take Garcia.
      2. Honest Abe, but that’s assuming he starts to hit.
      3. Ivey
      4. Tough one. This is the year Lance needs to go 150. Urquidy will be in that range. Greinke should gice us 180, but I’m going to call it a three way tie.
      5. Abreu. I sure like him.

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    • Things I like about Ivey

      1. He didn’t sit around with MiLB uncertainty & no pay check, but started a business with a buddy in the offseason, N Dallas area (contractors).
      2. He cut his teeth in JUCO after pitching at A&M. All those kids have an Earn It mentality.
      3. He fills up the strike zone and works quickly.
      Really like Ivey Torres Conine Javier and Paredes body language. Extremely confident.

      Like

  11. Things I’m curious about:
    * Will the Astros partner with the Midwest League or the Sally League for their low A farm team? The Midwest league seems isolated now, with the Astros owning Fayetteville as their high A team. Seems like you would have easier movement from team to team with a Sally League affiliate.
    What it might come down to is the ability to purchase a team and make it your own Low A team.
    * What MLB players will be available tomorrow, that aren’t available today, that the Astros could have interest in?
    * Could the Forrest Whitley saga get any weirder than it has been? How does a top prospect basically not pitch for five years without a major injury? Maybe they need to attach Whitley to Correa’s No BS Christmas Sleigh for the year.
    * Look at Jose Altuve’s 2020 season up through the first playoff series and then look at what he did to Oakland in the ALDS and Tampa in the ALCS. What the heck?
    * Neither participant in the 2019 WS had a winning record in 2020? What?
    *Did you ever think Chris Archer would be a free agent in 2021 and you wouldn’t hear his name mentioned? Crazy

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    • Maybe the Astros can sign Chris Archer to one of those “personal services” contracts. Then have him, along with Orbit, take the place in the stands of two cardboard cutouts. That could be the between innings feature at home.

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    • 1. Good question, I know that Fay’ville venue has been an awesome place to play for us. A/AA are going to have some incredible pitching in ’21.

      I didn’t pay for Baseball America if anyone else has?
      There’s a MLB Draft League now.
      The Pioneer League is still the Pioneer League, but different.
      And 23 former MiLB affiliates now have new leagues/roles for 2021.
      https://www.baseballamerica.com/stories/explaining-the-new-mlb-draft-pioneer-leagues-for-2021/

      3. On a tweet Kaplan informed me that had Forrest been healthy, Astros would have started his service time late-Summer. I guess I’ll believe him, but given we know what he has, and we didn’t know about Sanabria Castellano and Nivaldo who had to be culled before R5, there was at least a dual purpose holding him back. Even if it’s true, the least wear and tear. We didn’t need Whitley in 2019, even to pitch in AAA Championship. Our coaches have said they don’t place a lot of emphasis on minor league hardware, and they projected ahead to AZFL instead. We didn’t need FW in 2020 to move the dial ever so slightly that he may have, so why even start the clock — that’s the way I’ve approached it. He’s being groomed. You are probably right that he will get more innings this year, and surprise a lot of people who have been calling him a Bust.

      5. Archer, yes. Any hope I had in him always slight, always dashed. Pirates trade away Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow and Shane Baz — Oh, the pain!

      The rumors always seem to start this time of year… Like this tweet: “Archer could be an excellent addition to the rotation w/Strommy coaching him. Oh… And anger management classes.”

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      • Quad Cities was Luhnow’s dream, because of his link to them with the Cards.
        But Quad Cities was a disaster for the Astros in 2019 with the stadium being an island in the middle of the Mississippi. Also, RF fence is way too close and LF is way too far. While they have a chance, I think the Astros might rethink their low A options.

        Like

    • Regarding Whitley, consider that he could have gone to Florida State rather than sign with Houston. He would have then been drafted (again) last year and probably played at high A with possibly a cup of coffee in AA in 2019. This year would have still been lost. Instead, the Astros got to develop him and absorb the pain of his bad decisions along the way. Excepting 12 rough innings at Round Rock he has been able to miss bats. His control in 2019 wasn’t good though – clearly he was working on something. The biggest positive, however, is that his arm doesn’t have a ton of miles on it. Look at what’s happened to so many college pitchers over the last decade.

      Regarding Kaplan, I’d give him the benefit of the doubt in that the Astros had every reason to say they planned to use him late in the summer. With September rules having changed it would have made sense to get your look in August.

      Like

      • Yes, Forrest has been in Luhnow’s terms for Corbin Martin’s quick call up and subsequent arm blowout, “put in a trial by fire” when you consider he was 5 and half yrs younger than AAA. He’s undergone a lot more pressure than he would have in D1, especially considering the kid liked to drink a little Bud Lite with the boys, like any red blooded american at 19 haHa. In college, he could have risked getting kicked out of school by partying too much, but his dad tells the stories of taking him to Select. Anybody who developed as Forrest, it tells a big story about dedicated parents. So, while his “head isn’t screwed on” a lot they say, I just mention that there never was any rush. He’s finally on the roster, and thus begins what everyone else expected too soon.

        Goes to show there really aren’t many Jack Flaherty, Mike Soroka or Max Fried’s. There are more Luzardo, Glasnow, and Giolito’s who take a few years to get their stride. Why push Forrest, as yesteryear needing a Jordan Lyles to compete, now we just dip into Corpus to jettison more readily than when McCullers was a rarity.

        Leads me to one that I will gladly eat a Crow Taco vs 1oldpro. He’s already one-up picking Andre Scrubb as a pitcher of interest in ’20 Spring.

        Yes, sir, Jayson Schroeder they say is picking it up, from Instructionals. I will adjust my thinking now, but still say that he gets no farther than Chad Donato. At 21 Donato had a 1.1 WHIP at West Virginia, then 2 years later tore up QC. He’ll be 26 this year, and in Corpus if we decide to keep him. I don’t think either will pitch a significant inning in MLB.

        This is what my buddy Ralph wrote Nov 2018 in his splendid coverage of our farm for Prospects Live in his ranks #18 wedged between Bailey and Armenteros btw. Incidentally, I wouldn’t have agreed with Bailey, or Schroeder in that range then, as now.

        18. Jayson Schroeder, RHP
        Age: 19
        Highest Level: Rk

        18 IP, 1.50 ERA, 3.16 FIP, 9.0 K/9, 4.5 Bb/9, .213 BAA

        One of the highest drafted players ever selected from the Washington Prep ranks, Schroeder brings a pro-ready body with a four-pitch repertoire. There were concerns with his delivery pre-draft, but the Astros have worked with Schroeder to address those. Personally I didn’t see a ton of issues mechanically. His release point was inconsistent, but his extension wasn’t bad, and he didn’t have a ton of moving parts. If anything, I felt his release point was easy to pickup, but the heavy sink on his fastball in the low-mid-90s is tough to square up for quality contact. He has two breaking balls, a curveball with 11-5 shape, and a sweepy slider. He’s working on a changeup, but I haven’t seen much of it on video.

        A player with a lot of possible outcomes at this point. I’m comfortable labeling mid-rotation upside, but we’ll learn a lot more in the next two years once Schroeder touches full season leagues. ETA: 2022

        https://www.prospectslive.com/lists/2018/11/12/houston-astros-top-30-prospects

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  12. I will give Schroeder until the end of 2022 to prove me correct that he will pitch for the Astros. At that time he was 19 years old. In 2022, he’ll be 23.
    I think he ran into the same thing Whitley did: 5 different pitches with 5 different deliveries that no high schooler could hit, but professional hitters would study and pick up the differences and pounce.
    Arm angles and tunneling. The art of pitching to the absolute best batters in the world and succeeding. Sometimes, high school studs take forever to be taught how to pitch, because they are convinced they already know how to pitch.
    Tyler Glasnow was drafted in 2011. Will someone please remind me when he became a good pitcher.

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  13. Good stuff today, thanks for the spirited discussion!

    I know it’s short sample only 4 games, but look what Bryan De la Cruz is doing in Dominican 7 ab’s no K’s BA .750/SLG .714!

    Jeremy Pena, Correa’s replacement in 2022 has a 10-game hit streak.
    McCormick started hot, and has cooled a little.

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    • And we expect our three arb-eligible players – Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr and Aledmys Diaz to all be tendered contracts – assuming they have not come to an out of arb agreement.

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    • Reddick said on Instagram, “Well Wooston I waited long enough but what a ride it was..” I have to admit, to start 2020 I thought Reddick would retire next season, but I do believe he earned a $3m /4th OF deal somewhere maybe close to Georgia?

      Twins didn’t tender Eddie Rosario as predicted since they have Larnach and Kirilloff. I keep reading 50/50 assessments on him from their fans. Most say his OBP and fielding are sub-par, arm and hit tool plus, while it looks like he’ll cost in the 7-10m range. Personally, I’d give him 1 yr and 7m in HOU in ’21. I can think of a few that would outbid, like Mets or CWS.

      Having said that, I finished prospect graduations and new ranks. Bryan De la Cruz cracks the Top 30!

      https://www.crawfishboxes.com/2020/12/1/21914681/story-of-astros-farm-get-in-where-you-fit-in

      Liked by 1 person

      • Signing Josh Reddick to a four year deal was one of Luhnow’s better moves IMO. His performance fell off in the last three, but I’m not sure we win in 2017 without him and McCann.

        I’m not against the idea of signing Rosario. I’d be surprised if he gets less than $10M annual despite having stats that would make Bill James puke. The problem is Click already has a LFH DH, so you’re going to have to count on Rosario in LF for the majority of the games. On paper that’s fine, but for budgetary reasons I’m not sure how well it fits. Does anyone know if Correa is tight with Rosario?

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      • Good points on salary, Devin. Mine was wishful thinking.

        I don’t recall anything particular standing out on WBC Puerto Rican team with CC and Rosario. It’s a good question.

        I’m leaning back toward Hunter Renfroe for the price & Click’s insider knowledge. Unless we splurge and get Marte on my Christmas list. My main sense is not committing too much because we have 5m Int’l money, cheap labor and solid prospects by ’22.

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  14. Thanks for the heads up. Must say I never read anyone as high on him as me..

    I’ll never forget the caller in to the radio station at 4 am in Alabama, yelling he saw a man in a truck trying to run his son over on the way to school. It was Nick’s father pushing him.

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    • Too late, you already picked Ivey over Solomon (wink!)

      Seriously though, Peter Solomon flashed some of the best stuff our org has seen in 2018. Here are some of his advanced grades back then.

      Like

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