Results tagged ‘ Cleveland Indians ’

Kevin Towers: Where the Diamondbacks Are Going

Courtesy: HalosHeaven.com

Courtesy: HalosHeaven.com

Maybe this is an overreaction, but Arizona Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers appears to be crippling the future of the team by making some strange trades. Certainly, Towers has many years of experience, holding the San Diego Padres GM position from 1995 through the 2009 season before being fired in October, then taking over in the desert in late September of 2010. As with any operational move completed by a baseball franchise, some will work and some won’t, but the last three major moves by Towers appear to be crumbling the foundation of long-term success for the Diamondbacks.

Skaggs

Angels new LHP Tyler Skaggs

When the club acquired Mark Trumbo from the Los Angeles Angels last week, they added a powerful bat, but they also added a first baseman and designated hitter who will be playing the outfield, as current first baseman, Paul Goldschmidt, was already present and had an MVP-caliber season in 2013. The Diamondbacks first had to acquire an additional arm to trade to the Angels, and they did so by dealing Adam Eaton to the Chicago White Sox for left-handed starter Hector Santiago. Towers then packaged Santiago with 22-year-old prospect Tyler Skaggs, who was rated the No.10 prospect in baseball by MLB.com prior to the 2013 season, in the deal for Trumbo, while acquiring a couple of fringy players, outfielder Brandon Jacobs and right-handed pitcher A.J. Schugel, as players who were named later in the deal. Eaton, who turned 25 in early December, was listed as the Diamondbacks’ starting centerfielder prior to the deal, and he has been supplanted by A.J. Pollock, who turned 26 in early December and appears to have a lot of Drew Stubbs to his game (solid defender, good power and speed, and a lot of swing and miss). Eaton was highly regarded by many saber-guys for his .450 career minor league on-base percentage and .951 OPS, and giving him up for Santiago, a back-end rotation starter (along with his five years of team-control), to acquire Trumbo was odd, but then Towers moved Skaggs. While Skaggs was pretty terrible in a very difficult league for pitchers in 2013 (4.59 ERA, 1.47 WHIP), he managed to strikeout 9.3 batters per nine as a 21-year-old in Triple-A. After watching Atlanta Braves right-hander Julio Teheran go from a 5.08 ERA and 1.44 WHIP as a 21-year-old in Triple-A in 2012 to 14-8 with a 3.20 ERA and 1.17 WHIP as a 22-year-old in the majors in 2013, could the Diamondbacks have just given up the arm that they appear to now covet in free agency, as they have been rumored to be interested in both Matt Garza and Masahiro Tanaka. Power may be in short supply around the league and you may never know how a prospect will turn out, but if Arizona had kept Skaggs and Eaton and signed Shin-Soo Choo, wouldn’t they be just as likely to contend?

Speaking of a powerful bat…

Upton

Braves OF Justin Upton

With power in such short supply, as Kevin Towers so boldly claimed after acquiring Trumbo, wouldn’t dealing Justin Upton and his team-friendly contract, along with third baseman Chris Johnson, to the Atlanta Braves for Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, Zeke Spruill, and minor leaguers Nick Ahmed and Brandon Drury have been considered a bad idea when using that philosophy? There were a lot of underlying issues that led to the Diamondbacks apparent “need” to deal Upton last off-season, but, considering the type of prospect that they just gave up to get a player with a career .768 OPS, shouldn’t Towers have aimed higher in dealing Upton, who has a career .830 OPS? Certainly, Martin Prado is a fine player and his versatility is very useful, but his bat doesn’t play all that well as a full-time third baseman, where he will be playing in 2014, and heading into his age-30 season, it is fair to wonder if he should have been the centerpiece in an Upton deal, especially as Upton enters his age-26 season in 2014, making him younger than even Trumbo! If power is so valuable, why would Upton not be worth a legitimate prospect and a player, considering his contract and disregarding whatever “issues” were making him so useless to Arizona?

Furthermore, the trade that sent Matt Albers, Trevor Bauer, and Bryan Shaw to the Cleveland Indians for Lars Anderson (designated for assignment on 1/24/2013), Tony Sipp (designated for assignment on 11/20/2013), and Didi Gregorius is just as questionable as the package that is highlighted by Skaggs. Bauer was rated as the No.14 prospect in baseball by Baseball America prior to the 2013 season and the Diamondbacks seemed to sour on him due to his desire to train and prepare in a way that is strange to nearly all people who have had the pleasure of viewing him, with long-tossing from foul pole to foul pole and a crow hop seed from the pitchers mound to the catcher as his first warm-up pitch being a part of his hour long pitching preparation. Still, at just 23 on Opening Day of 2014, his long-term outlook is very good and drafting Bauer 3rd overall in the 2011 MLB Draft and dealing him nearly 18 months later for a slap-hitting, defensive-minded shortstop seems very odd, even with defensive metrics and shortstop values being taken into consideration. When looking at the value that the Indians received in Shaw and Albers, along with the fact that the Diamondbacks no longer roster two players that they received in the deal, this was a steal by the Cleveland Indians…and that is all before looking at how Gregorius may lose the everyday shortstop job to a prospect who was in house when the Bauer deal happened, Chris Owings, since Aaron Hill won’t be giving up the second base job.

Diamondbacks' GM Kevin Towers - answering serious questions?

Diamondbacks’ GM Kevin Towers – answering serious questions?

It is easy to question the style that a franchise is taking and it is even easier to say that you could make better deals than your favorite team’s general manager, but when you consider the recent track record of Kevin Towers in Arizona, most fantasy baseball managers agree – they could do a better job. Is Arizona now the New York Yankees of the west, trading all of their top minor league talent to fill their major league holes? Well, the Yankees never seemed to give away their top prospects without certain, immediate help. Can the Diamondbacks catch the Dodgers? Matching power with Los Angeles doesn’t seem to be an option, as a full season of Matt Kemp (if he isn’t traded), Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez, and others will likely make the Dodgers that much more dangerous, and Arizona doesn’t have enough “grit” to overcome the L.A. payroll and talent – especially when they are trading the pieces that could get them over the top for veterans who have shown what they can do. Trumbo and Prado aren’t winning the Diamondbacks any championships, and, while they will make Arizona a bit more competitive, it is the front-line, affordable pitching that would have helped the Diamondbacks slither into contention.

Kevin Towers doesn’t seem to have a clear philosophy of where he is taking the Diamondbacks, and if the moves that he has made this season don’t work out, it is fair to wonder if he can make intelligent decisions going forward for any organization, experience be damned.

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Should MLB Teams Refuse the Mega-Contract?

Another free agency period is ahead with another Major League Baseball offseason. With so many superstars being signed to lucrative contracts with their existing clubs, players who reach free agency can make exorbitant amounts of money due to fewer players being available and television contracts that teams are using as revenue generating machines. With that being said, is a big-time contract a smart investment for a needy team this winter?

The Yankees as a Model

With Robinson Cano heading towards free agency after the 2013 season, the New York Yankees will be faced with a decision that could alter their original plan of getting under Major League Baseball’s $189 million luxury tax threshold. With $92.4 million due to six players (Alex Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia, Alfonso Soriano (the Cubs are covering $13 of the $18 million owed to him), Mark Teixiera, Vernon Wells (the Angels are covering $18.6 of the $21 million owed to him), Ichiro Suzuki, and Derek Jeter (who has an $8 million player option), the Yankees, on the surface, appear to have some wiggle room in an offer to their superstar second baseman; however, the players mentioned above are the only players with guaranteed contracts next season.

Yankees vs. MarinersAdam Warren, David Phelps, and Eduardo Nunez are all pre-arbitration, so they can have their contracts renewed at the league minimum, but the club will have to deal with David Huff, Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, Jayson Nix, Shawn Kelley, Brett Gardner, and David Robertson within arbitration, and determine whether Cano, Hiroki Kuroda, Kevin Youkilis, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, Mark Reynolds, Boone Logan, Travis Hafner, Joba Chamberlain, and/or Lyle Overbay are worthy of being tendered a qualifying offer prior to reaching free agency. With up to 19 spots available for next season, the remaining $96.6 million doesn’t appear to be going very far.

While relief could be on the way with a possible 2014 suspension for Alex Rodriguez, from which his $25 million contract would be forfeited, the long-term contracts that the Yankees have handed out like candy are now causing financial issues as the club’s attendance continues to decline (43,733 in 2012 vs. 40,002 in 2013) along with the talent of the aging players.

Consider this:

Alex Rodriguez is 37 years old and is owed $86 million over the next four years.

C.C. Sabathia is 32 years old and is owed $76 million over the next three seasons (including his 2017 buyout).

Mark Teixiera is 33 years old and is owed $67.5 million over the next three seasons.

The three have been worth a combined WAR (Fangraphs) of 2.6 in 2013 while costing the Yankees $73.5 million in salaries. For comparisons sake, San Diego third baseman Chase Headley, Atlanta third baseman Chris Johnson, San Diego outfielder Chris Denorfia, Baltimore outfielder Nate McLouth, and San Francisco shortstop Brandon Crawford have each posted a 2.6 WAR in 2013…individually. If the Yankees had all five players this season, they would have spent just under $16 million, about $6.5 million less than they spent on Teixiera alone in 2013!

Why These Contracts Don’t Make Sense

By investing large sums of money into veterans when they reach free agency in the post-steroid era, teams are taking immeasurable risks.

1) They are assuming that a high-performing player will be capable of producing into their mid-30′s, and…

2) They are assuming that the high-performing player will stay healthy enough to be worth the investment.

When a player reaches free agency, they have at least six years of major league experience. The player likely had three seasons of pre-arbitration followed by three years of arbitration prior to reaching free agency. Considering that most players make their debuts between the ages of 21 and 24, a free agent is typically between the ages of 27 and 30. The magic prime age in baseball is apparently going to happen in a player’s age-27 season, lasting roughly three to five seasons. A player has reached their physical peak at this point, which allows the player to utilize their various tools to take advantage of the opposition through the use of their experience and mental approaches gained through those experiences. When a multi-year contract is given to a player at the age of 30, say a five-year contract, and that player is then declining for nearly three-fifths of the contract, what is the value to the club? Without performance-enhancers, normal aging processes, such as shoulder fatigue for aging pitchers and chronic knee soreness for a veteran position player, become normal once again. Can teams count on a 39-year-old shortstop to play in 162 games? Ask Derek Jeter how his season went.

Unfortunate Recent Examples

Albert Pujols signed his ten-year, $240 million deal with the Angels following his age-31 season in St. Louis. To make the deal more affordable and to allow the Angels some financial flexibility, Pujols’ contract was heavily back-loaded, meaning he will be making the most money at the end of his contract when he is approaching or passing the age of 40. In fact, in Pujols’ tenth season with the Angels, he is scheduled to make $30 million, the highest annual salary within his contract. After making a combined $28 million in 2012 and 2013, Pujols’ contract will jump to $23 million in 2014 and climb $1 million each season before reaching $30 million in 2021.

VottoHowever, Pujols hasn’t really lived up to the contract based on his production over the first 11 seasons in the majors, as he has posted the lowest WAR of his career in consecutive seasons (3.7 in 2012 and 0.7 in 2013). He was shutdown on August 19 due to a partial tear of his left plantar fascia and he  should be ready to go next season; however, since he isn’t undergoing surgery, how well will this injury heal? Although the tear supposedly did what the surgery would have, one has to wonder if it can be aggravated, torn further (since it is still a partial tear), and debilitating enough to plague Pujols throughout the remainder of his massive contract.

And what about the contract that the “small-market” Cincinnati Reds gave to Joey Votto? The Reds handed Votto a ten-year, $225 million extension in April of 2012. The contract hasn’t even started yet, as the first year of the extension will be the 2014 season, Votto’s age-30 season. For ten years, the Reds will hope that Votto will produce numbers similar to his 2010 MVP season, something that he hasn’t seemed capable of reproducing over the last three seasons, despite leading the National League in on-base percentage the last three seasons, four including 2010. When you consider that the Reds are winning in 2013 and they still average just 31,479 in attendance (16th in MLB), how will the team be able to contend when Votto is making $25 million per season beginning in 2018, when he is 34 years old?

Even worse, the contract that the Philadelphia Phillies gave to first baseman Ryan Howard. Howard received his extension in April of 2010 and it didn’t go into effect until the 2012 season, a five-year, $125 million deal that would begin in Howard’s age-32 season. Since the start of the 2012 season, Howard has played in 151 games while posting a .244/.307/.445 line with 31 doubles, 25 home runs, 99 RBI, and a whopping 194 strikeouts in 609 plate appearances. The previous seven seasons, Howard had a .275/.368/.560 line with an average of 26 doubles, 41 home runs, and 123 RBI per season, and that was including his declining 2010 and 2011 seasons, in which Howard posted the lowest OPS of his career (.859 in 2010 and .835 in 2011)…that was, of course, until his dreadful 2012 season (.718 OPS).

The Problem With TV Deals

I was able to get a response from Baseball Prospectus’ Ben Lindbergh when I asked him via Twitter, “Do you think MLB teams are going to shy away from mega contract due to the Pujols/Howard/Hamilton deals in post steroid era?” His response:

The TV money, which was mentioned previously, is an interesting enhancement to the revenue stream for major league teams. With the Los Angeles Dodgers getting over $6 billion over 25 years from Time Warner in  their TV deal, which will give the club nearly $240 million per year in revenue, the already crazy expenditures of the boys in blue could become even more egregious this winter. The club seems capable of locking up left-hander Clayton Kershaw to a contract worth $30 million per season or more this winter, AND signing Robinson Cano to take over second base from Mark Ellis, who has a $5.75 million option for 2014 or a $1 million buyout. By taking on those types of contracts on top of the Carl Crawford ($20.25 million in 2014), Matt Kemp ($21 million in 2014), Adrian Gonzalez ($21 million in 2014), Zack Greinke ($26 million in 2014), and Andre Ethier ($15.5 million in 2014) deals, the Dodgers will be willingly entering the luxury tax threshold in an effort to win the World Series.

KempBut what happens when money can’t buy titles? The New York Yankees seemed to always have the highest payroll in baseball and they haven’t won the title every season. Spending doesn’t quantify wins, it is, as Lindbergh referenced, the winner’s curse. This concept is outlined in Colin Wyers 2009 Baseball Prospectus piece titled The Real Cursewhich Wyers states:

The market for baseball players seems to more closely resemble a sealed-bid auction than it does a market. Since the person who wins that sort of auction is typically the person with the largest bid, it stands to reason that the person who “wins” is in fact the person who overbids…

The curse is then being the winning bid on a contract that was probably more than what another team was willing to bid. By evaluating players and making smart investments, teams that break the curse are able to get production out of what they spend, while teams that suffer from the curse are those that fail to get production out of their investment, as in the suffering that the Cubs went through with Alfonso Soriano, the joint suffering of the Blue Jays and Angels over the Vernon Wells contract, and the Giants’ suffering through the Barry Zito contract.

When spending goes wrong, it can financially cripple a franchise, who is then responsible for allocating funds to an under-performing player while still trying to field a competitive team around that player. Teams seem more likely to take those types of risks, though. Due to the incoming revenue from the TV deals, teams like the Cleveland Indians, who celebrated the sale of the franchise owned SportsTime Ohio to Fox Sports this winter by signing Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, are more capable of making these potentially fatal bids.

Will the money continue to be there for clubs to take on these large, risky contracts?

Pete Kotz had an amazing story about the leagues finances, and while discussing television deals, he says:

With no one saying no, the networks see sports as a no-lose racket, with ESPN as its piper. The sports channel charges cable companies $5 a month per customer, by far the highest monthly fee in national television. While that may seem a pittance, it’s big money when spread over the 100 million U.S. households with pay TV. And it’s made the other big boys envious.

NBC and CBS have launched their own sports channels. Another from Fox is on the way. Even regional sports channels are starting to broach that $5 mark. Their bet is that viewers will always be willing to pay more. And more. And more.

…Today, the average TV bill rests at $86 per month, about half of which pays for sports programming. That’s more than double a decade ago. So it’s no coincidence that the cable and satellite industries have been jettisoning customers for nine years straight.

 “I can’t tell you what will be the trigger,” says Matthew Polka, president of the American Cable Association. “But I am certain that at some point in the very near future, that balloon will burst.”

As cable and satellite customers are forced to pay more and they continue to leave those companies in an effort to save money, the money will eventually not be coming in. The cable and satellite companies will likely battle with the club’s networks to get lower rates, and there could be something drastic, like CBS being taken away from major markets. Eventually, the boom in finances and long-term contracts will go away and the inevitable crash will make it harder for clubs to make large financial commitments to star players. Imagine if the housing market was responsible for financing people’s salaries and when the market for home sales crashed how disastrous that could have been…but it did and it was miserable for the entire economy.

Major League Baseball is exempt from some things due to anti-trust laws, but nothing is too big to fail.

Who Is Worth a Mega-Contract?

harper troutIt may seem easy to say that locking up players within their pre-arbitration or arbitration years to lucrative, long-term contracts seems more intelligent than waiting until free agency, as the annual salaries can slowly increase rather than starting and sitting at $25 million per year for eight straight seasons. A few examples of players who could be worth a long-term investment in this scenario:

  • Angels’ outfielder Mike Trout is earning $510,000 in 2013 and he is pre-arbitration in 2014 before being eligible for arbitration in 2015, 2016, and 2017. If Trout continues his torrid pace for the next four seasons and reaches free agency in 2018 at the age of 26, what types of maniacal offers will he be receiving at that point?
  • Nationals’ outfielder Bryce Harper signed a major league contract and will be arbitration eligible in 2016, 2017, and 2018 before reaching free agency at the age of 25 in 2019. Like Trout, he has posted absurd numbers, given his age, and, with Scott Boras as his current agent, could own half of a franchise based on what he will be offered in free agency.
  • Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, Nationals’ right-hander Stephen Strasburg, Marlins’ right-hander Jose Fernandez, Marlins’ right-fielder Giancarlo Stanton, and Mets’ right-hander Matt Harvey (upon his return in 2015 from elbow surgery…if he is just as productive and dominant) are additional players who fit this mold.

Why are these types of players worth a long-term investment? Because they are young, producing prior to their prime years, and are more likely to continue producing towards the end of a 10 to 15 year extension than a player who turns 40 or 41 in year ten of their long-term contracts, like Joey Votto and Albert Pujols.

These are the types of mega-contracts that seem more reasonable and realistic for franchises, while being less likely to provide a curse on the investing bidder. Because the player is within the grasp of the franchise already, the team has all kinds of data available to analyze, they have coaches and front office personnel who have strong relationships with the player, and the fan-base, media, and community surrounding the player are already familiar, so it could be assumed that there are fewer outside influences that could impact player performance.

SeligRegardless of the potential that these younger players possess, any long-term contract remains a risk for the franchise. If the clubs suddenly refuse to offer these types of contracts, however, the league and its owners would likely be accused of collusion. The mega-contract isn’t going away anytime soon. Despite future reluctance to meet the demands of players and agents to attain these large salaries, there will likely be enough money, or a few teams with large enough revenue streams, for at least one of these deals to be made each offseason. As fewer and fewer star players seem to reach free agency due to long-term commitments with their existing franchise (like Votto, Troy Tulowitzki, and Carlos Gonzalez), the stars that do reach free agency will likely continue to get the lucrative deals.

September Promotions to Geek Over

hamilton3With September come the expansion of rosters in Major League Baseball. Over the next several weeks, in between completing fantasy football drafts and mocking Notre Dame fans after their loss to Michigan, fans will be able to get a sneak peak at some of the top young players in baseball. While many of them won’t play a huge role in their team’s playoff hopes, several players will excite fans and their favorite organization for the 2014 season. Here are some players to monitor over the next month.

Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds, OF/Pinch-runner extraordinaire

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 22 Louisville AAA 123 547 504 75 129 18 4 6 41 75 38 102 .256 .308 .343 .651 173
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

When Billy Hamilton steps onto the baseball field, people have to take notice. On Tuesday night, he pinch-ran for Ryan Ludwick and stole his first base – with five-time Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina behind the plate for St. Louis. Considering the value of a run and a win right now in a very close NL Central and NL Wild Card chase, the ability to utilize Hamilton’s speed will be a tremendous asset for Dusty Baker in Cincinnati. However, after posting a pretty down season in 2013 in Triple-A, there, likely, aren’t  enough bases that Hamilton can steal to make the Reds not look for help in center this offseason, as Shin-Soo Choo reaches free agency and the Reds were looking for more.

Erk Johnson, Chicago White Sox, RHP

Year Age Tm Lev W L ERA G GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB IBB SO WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 23 2 Teams AA-AAA 12 3 1.96 24 24 3 1 142.0 100 35 31 7 40 0 131 0.986 6.3 2.5 8.3 3.28
2013 23 Birmingham AA 8 2 2.23 14 14 3 1 84.2 57 22 21 6 21 0 74 0.921 6.1 2.2 7.9 3.52
2013 23 Charlotte AAA 4 1 1.57 10 10 0 0 57.1 43 13 10 1 19 0 57 1.081 6.8 3.0 8.9 3.00
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

After an impressive season over two levels, Johnson could have forced the White Sox hand in their apparent rebuilding mode in providing the youngster with a rotation spot in 2013. His ability to keep the ball in the yard will be useful in the bandbox that is US Cellular Field, and while the club has Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Hector Santiago, and John Danks in the rotation right now, they are one of the only teams in baseball that could actually use some solid right-handed pitching. The Pale Hose appear to have a couple of solid options from the right side in Johnson and Andre Rienzo.

CastellanosNick Castellanos, Detroit Tigers, OF

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 21 Toledo AAA 134 595 533 81 147 37 1 18 76 4 54 100 .276 .343 .450 .793 240
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Nick Castellanos was once a lanky, beanpole-like prospect with a long swing and a lot of holes in his swing. While he could still eat a few steaks, Castellanos has done a lot to make himself useful to the Tigers, moving off of third base to become a solid outfielder, and improving his strike zone management tremendously. He has very good, still raw, power that could make him a fantastic addition to the already formidable Detroit lineup. He may not get a huge opportunity this month but the Tigers gave a lot of at-bats to Avisail Garcia late last season and Castellanos could prove to be more valuable in the lineup than Pat Kelly and Andy Dirks in left field. With the talent around him in Motown, Castellanos could become an above-average regular with clubs being more cautious with Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera.

Jose Ramirez, Cleveland Indians, INF

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 20 Akron AA 113 533 482 78 131 16 6 3 38 38 39 41 .272 .325 .349 .674 168
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

A strong middle infield prospect in the Cleveland Indians organization that isn’t named Francisco Lindor, Ramirez has established himself as a unique talent, with an excellent hit tool and solid speed. It’s possible that Ramirez steals quite a few at-bats from the struggling Lonnie Chisenhall in September, and, if he shows himself capable, he could steal his job next spring. Ramirez was moved quickly to accommodate the quick rise of Lindor, and, while he doesn’t have a lot of power, he will make enough contact to be a very good utility infielder in any worst case scenario.

JR Murphy, New York Yankees, C

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 22 2 Teams AAA-AA 108 468 413 60 111 29 0 12 46 1 47 73 .269 .347 .426 .773 176
2013 22 Trenton AA 49 211 183 34 49 10 0 6 25 1 24 32 .268 .352 .421 .773 77
2013 22 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre AAA 59 257 230 26 62 19 0 6 21 0 23 41 .270 .342 .430 .773 99
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Murphy, like Ramirez, has been pushed along by another top prospect, as the Yankees have moved the young catcher quickly due to the potential monster who is Gary Sanchez; however, Murphy isn’t a terrible player and probably shouldn’t be overlooked as an option at a weak Yankees catching position in 2014. With only Chris Stewart, Austin Romine and Francisco Cervelli ahead of him, Murphy could prove to be more than a holdover before Sanchez gets his already questionable makeup together in New York.

Michael Choice, Oakland Athletics, OF

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 23 Sacramento AAA 132 600 510 90 154 29 1 14 89 1 69 115 .302 .390 .445 .835 227
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Choice was once an all-or-nothing type of hitter who hit home runs in bunches while attending the University of Texas-Arlington. After hitting 30 home runs in 2011, with a little help from the fences of the California League, Choice has a total of 24 home runs over the last two seasons. While he may never reach the power expectations that he once had, Choice has enough plate discipline and gap power to be an asset for the always cost-conscious Oakland A’s. He could take the at-bats that Chris Young was getting in 2014, which would make him a fantasy baseball asset.

Jonathan Schoop, Baltimore Orioles, INF

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 21 3 Teams AAA-Rk-A- 81 336 309 42 86 14 0 14 52 1 20 62 .278 .330 .460 .790 142
2013 21 Orioles Rk 8 32 25 9 9 2 0 3 9 0 6 6 .360 .469 .800 1.269 20
2013 21 Aberdeen A- 3 15 14 3 8 1 0 2 9 0 1 1 .571 .600 1.071 1.671 15
2013 21 Norfolk AAA 70 289 270 30 69 11 0 9 34 1 13 55 .256 .301 .396 .697 107
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Schoop missed significant time in 2013 due to a stress fracture in his back, but upon his return, he quickly showed the Orioles the tools that have made him a solid, under-the-radar prospect. Schoop may not have a very keen eye at the dish, but he is very effective hitter, especially for a 21-year-old in the upper ranks of the minors. Schoop will, likely, have an opportunity to win the second base or third base job down the line, but not until the Orioles give Manny Machado a look at shortstop once J.J. Hardy leaves via free agency (or is moved off of short).

MartinezCarlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals, RHP

Year Age Tm Lev W L ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 21 2 Teams AAA-AA 6 3 2.49 16 16 79.2 65 25 22 4 28 72 1.167 7.3 3.2 8.1 2.57
2013 21 Springfield AA 1 0 2.31 3 3 11.2 11 3 3 1 1 9 1.029 8.5 0.8 6.9 9.00
2013 21 Memphis AAA 5 3 2.51 13 13 68.0 54 22 19 3 27 63 1.191 7.1 3.6 8.3 2.33
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Dubbed “Little Pedro” due to his size and stuff, Carlos Martinez has been up and down for the Cardinals this season, mostly pitching in relief, a role that many seem he is destined to take over due to his small (6′, 185) frame. Martinez has enough stuff to be a front-end starter, but the Cardinals pitching depth allows the club to take things slow with their young arms. By utilizing Martinez and his electric stuff out of the bullpen, much like they did with Trevor Rosenthal in 2012, the Cardinals may be able to have even more shutdown options out of the bullpen.
Michael Wacha, St. Louis Cardinals, RHP

Year Age Tm Lg Lev Aff W L ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 21 Memphis PCL AAA STL 5 3 2.65 15 15 85.0 65 26 25 9 19 73 0.988 6.9 2.0 7.7 3.84
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Michael Wacha, like Martinez, has been up and down this season. A first-round pick out of Texas A&M in 2012, Wacha flew through the minors with precise control and powerful stuff, which has carried over to the big leagues in his 39.1 innings. With injuries to Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook, the club has relied heavily on young arms, including Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, and Joe Kelly, and as those arms reach innings limits, it could be Wacha and Martinez who come to the rescue as the Cards head to another playoff round.
WalkerTaijuan Walker, Seattle Mariners, RHP

Year Age Tm Lev W L ERA G GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 20 2 Teams AA-AAA 9 10 2.93 25 25 141.1 112 56 46 11 57 160 1.196 7.1 3.6 10.2 2.81
2013 20 Jackson AA 4 7 2.46 14 14 84.0 58 31 23 6 30 96 1.048 6.2 3.2 10.3 3.20
2013 20 Tacoma AAA 5 3 3.61 11 11 57.1 54 25 23 5 27 64 1.413 8.5 4.2 10.0 2.37
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Walker is an extremely big and athletic body who is still relatively raw as far as his command and stuff goes, which speaks volumes as to why you should be excited to see him. He could be the top arm in the majors, taking on a phenomenon in Seattle that could equal that of Felix Hernandez. At 6’4″, 220 pounds and having just turned 21 in August, Walker has an immeasurable ceiling and will likely become a number one starter within the next few years. His first start (five innings, two hits, zero earned runs) was a nice introduction. He may not make more than one or two more starts before being shut down due to innings, but those are starts that are must-see TV.
James Paxton, Seattle Mariners, LHP

Year Age Tm Lev W L ERA G GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 24 Tacoma AAA 8 11 4.45 28 26 2 1 145.2 158 84 72 10 58 131 1.483 9.8 3.6 8.1 2.26
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Paxton is an interesting prospect. He is left-handed and has very good stuff, striking out 9.6 per 9/IP over his minor league career; however, Paxton also walks a lot of batters and can’t seem to miss enough bats when he isn’t completely missing them, posting a 1.45 WHIP over his last two seasons and 252 innings. At 6’4″, 220, Paxton has a strong frame, just like Walker, but he appears headed to a mid-rotation future, and he could become a very good innings-eating pitcher once he gets a grasp of his stuff and the strike zone.
Marcus Semien, Chicago White Sox, INF

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 22 2 Teams AA-AAA 137 625 518 110 147 32 6 19 66 24 98 90 .284 .401 .479 .880 248
2013 22 Birmingham AA 105 483 393 90 114 21 5 15 49 20 84 66 .290 .420 .483 .903 190
2013 22 Charlotte AAA 32 142 125 20 33 11 1 4 17 4 14 24 .264 .338 .464 .802 58
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Marcus Semien has moved quickly through the White Sox system after being taken in the 6th round of the 2011 MLB Draft. He has an intriguing skill-set for a middle infielder, possessing very good gap power, solid speed, and the ability to handle both short and second defensively. His plate discipline will be valuable to the rebuilding White Sox and if the club is ready to move on from the Gordon Beckham, Alexei Ramirez, and Conor Gillaspie trio in the infield, Semien could fill any of those positions in 2014.
Matt Davidson, Arizona Diamondbacks, 3B

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 22 Reno AAA 115 500 443 55 124 32 3 17 74 1 46 134 .280 .350 .481 .831 213
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Davidson is a powerful third base prospect who has been passed over for Eric Chavez this season. He has the ability to hit around 30 home runs playing half of his games at Chase Field, but he will need to make more consistent contact to reach those levels. Having watched Paul Goldschmidt similar strikeout numbers in the minors before reaching MVP levels in performance this season, Davidson’s stock shouldn’t be taken lightly. With that being said, the fact that they didn’t seem to want to commit to him when Chavez was hurt, instead relying on Martin Prado moving in from the outfield, the club may have questions about his long-term role. Considering how quickly they gave up on Trevor Bauer, you have to wonder what is going on in their front office at times.
Chris Owings, Arizona Diamondbacks, SS

Year Age Tm Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 21 Reno AAA 125 575 546 104 180 31 8 12 81 20 22 99 .330 .359 .482 .841 263
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/3/2013.

Owings looks to be blocked by Didi Gregorius at short but he looks like a player that could fetch a nice return if the Diamondbacks were to deal him this offseason. Solid pop, solid speed, and an atrocious approach at the plate, Owings could become a valuable Ben Zobrist-like player, capable of handling several positions to get his playing time, as he is just 22 years old Arizona could have him blocked at short (Gregorius), third (Davidson), and second (Aaron Hill is signed through 2016).

When Retaliation Goes Too Far

“The Book” says that pitchers need to protect their team, but what about when this happens.

When Ian Kennedy nearly took Zack Greinke‘s head off on Tuesday night in the Diamondbacks and Dodgers game in Los Angeles, it made me wonder the value in throwing and intentionally hitting another human being with a baseball at 90-plus miles per hour.

Brawl

It isn’t because Zack Greinke makes a lot of money. It isn’t because someone shouldn’t have felt a buzzing baseball due to the aggravation and violence in the game to that point. It all boils down to the safety of an individual player.

After watching Brandon McCarthy have his skull fractured last season and Justin Morneau and other batters struggling with concussion-like symptoms from being beaned in the head, there needs to be some type of action taken to protect the individual player, and Major League Baseball should make an example out of Arizona right-hander Ian Kennedy.

There is a time and a place for intimidation, but not when a livelihood of another person is at stake.

The funny thing about the melee in Chavez Ravine on Tuesday was not the aggressive nature of Yasiel Puig and the fear that I had for the Diamondbacks when I saw his muscles and rage explode into punches, along with Ronald Belisario, but the fact that old, retired players, like Don Mattingly, Don Baylor, Charles Nagy, Matt Williams, and Mark McGwire seemed to be the instigators to the continued rumble. Maybe it was the “gritty” nature of Gibson’s Diamondback squad or the “gritty” philosophy that the Dodgers and Mattingly are trying to develop that led to this brawl, but should the coaches be the issue in moments like this? Is that embarrassing for baseball when they are?

After seeing Aroldis Chapman intimidate Nick Swisher when the Reds faced off against the Indians in late May, isn’t that how you could make known your unhappiness?

I played baseball and I know that I hit people on purpose, mostly because I didn’t like them, but I was 13 and 14 years old, throwing about 70-75 miles per hour tops.

What Kennedy did crossed the line. Throwing at someone’s head is totally uncalled for, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is suspended for 12 to 15 games for his actions on Tuesday night. Anything less isn’t enough. It is time for pitchers who purposely throw at opposing hitters to actually feel the wrath of a suspension, not have their turn pushed back a day or two, but to really hurt the club by sitting, unused, on a 25-man roster, hurting their team by having to play a man short. When Carlos Quentin tackled Zack Greinke after being hit, breaking Greinke’s collarbone, I heard rumblings of how Quentin should have been suspended until Greinke was able to play again, something that Mattingly actually stated. What if Greinke was never able to pitch again? What if someone got hit in the face and a career was ruined, like Tony Conigliaro?

There are too many questions about what could happen to the batter when they are thrown at on purpose. It may be a part of “The Book”, but maybe it’s time for an updated volume.

2013 MLB Surprises

iglesiasWhile the season isn’t quite so young anymore with roughly 100 games remaining, the early season surprises and the small sample sizes that went along with them aren’t nearly so odd. Who is legit? Who will fall off? Who is still surprising?

Jose Iglesias, INF, Boston Red Sox

Surprise, surprise. When you look at Iglesias’ career .257/.307/.314 line in four minor league seasons, and then you look at this:

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB
2013 23 BOS 22 83 74 13 33 7 0 1 7 1 6 11 .446 .494 .581 1.075 188 43
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/10/2013.

Iglesias’ success would still qualify as a small sample, given his 83 plate appearances, but considering his struggles in the minors, especially his .202/.262/.319 line at Triple-A in 2013, his production is absolutely incredible. His likelihood to maintain this success is slim to none, unless, of course, Iglesias was just bored playing in the minor leagues. The 23-year-old appeared to be nothing more than organizational depth or a glove-based defensive replacement as recently as a month ago. Enjoy the ride while it lasts.

CuddyerMichael Cuddyer, 1B/OF, Colorado Rockies

Not many guys have their best seasons in their mid-30′s without “the cream” or “the clear”, but that is exactly what Cuddyer is doing this season:

Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 34 COL NL 45 194 174 25 59 14 1 10 37 5 16 34 .339 .397 .603 1.000 105
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/10/2013.

Cuddyer is on pace to shatter his career highs in OPS, AVG, and OBP, while posting productive numbers across the board. The Colorado lineup has been tremendous this season, leading to their current 2nd place ranking in the NL West standings. With Cuddyer’s ability to fill in for the oft-injured Todd Helton at first base and solidifying one of the most productive outfields in baseball, along with Dexter Fowler and Carlos Gonzalez, he continues to be a valuable, under-appreciated asset to fantasy teams and “real-life teams” alike.

Brown1Domonic Brown, OF, Philadelphia Phillies

What appeared to be a super-productive May has continued into June:

Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB BAbip
May 28 27 109 109 17 33 4 1 12 25 3 0 21 .303 .303 .688 .991 75 .276
June 9 9 37 33 8 13 2 1 4 11 3 4 6 .394 .459 .879 1.338 29 .391
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/10/2013.

Brown is a superstar and his early-career parallels to Braves outfielder Jason Heyward have finally reached fruition. If you take at look at his overall numbers, below, you can see how unproductive he was during the first month of the season:

Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 25 PHI NL 63 243 228 33 66 9 2 19 47 6 13 44 .289 .329 .596 .926 136
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/10/2013.

Can pitchers make adjustments to make him an afterthought again in Philadelphia? It appears highly unlikely, as Brown looks like an All-Star, who is capable of reaching 30-35 home runs this season, while pacing an aging Phillies’ lineup.

DonaldsonJosh Donaldson, 3B, Oakland Athletics

Donaldson has always had a solid, gap-power approach at the plate, posting a career minor league line of .275/.365/.470 over 2,302 plate appearances. That game has finally transitioned to the big show, as his overall line shows:

Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2013 27 OAK AL 64 270 238 33 77 18 1 9 42 2 28 45 .324 .393 .521 .914 124
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/10/2013.

With Yoenis Cespedes and Jed Lowrie, Donaldson is giving the A’s a somewhat formidable lineup to team with its young pitching, and at 38-27 and in 2nd in the AL West, Oakland will once again be a threatening team down the stretch.

Corbin1Patrick Corbin, LHP, Arizona Diamondbacks

At no point during his time in the minor leagues did Corbin appear to be on the same track as Tyler Skaggs or Trevor Bauer for Arizona, a top-tier starting pitcher. Corbin seemed to have back-end stuff after posting a career 3.78 ERA and 1.27 WHIP over 430.2 innings. Then, the 2013 season happened:

Year Age Tm Lg W L ERA GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO ERA+ WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 23 ARI NL 9 0 1.98 12 1 0 81.2 63 19 18 4 22 65 200 1.041 6.9 2.4 7.2 2.95
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/10/2013.

Corbin has dominated in several starts this season and remains unbeaten after 12 starts. While he doesn’t possess shutdown, strikeout stuff, Corbin keeps the opposition off-balance and looks like the 2013 version of Wade Miley, the Diamondbacks lefty who has struggled mightily this season, but posted a 16-11 record and 3.33 ERA in his rookie season in 2012. He’ll eventually lose a game, but Corbin should continue to solidify himself as, at least, a mid-rotation starter, capable of becoming a Tom Glavine-like winner if he maintains his success, something that could be very challenging when he is pitching half of his games in the thin, desert air in Arizona.

LockeJeff Locke, LHP, Pittsburgh Pirates

Something clicked for Locke when he reached Triple-A Indianapolis within the Pirates organization. After posting a career 3.92 ERA over 629 innings prior to reaching Indianapolis, Locke posted a 2.44 ERA over 170 innings there before struggling in brief auditions in Pittsburgh in both 2011 and 2012. The 2013 season has been quite different, though:

Year Age Tm Lg W L ERA GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 25 PIT NL 5 1 2.39 13 0 0 75.1 56 21 20 5 35 55 1.208 6.7 4.2 6.6 1.57
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/10/2013.

Locke, like Corbin, doesn’t have overwhelming stuff, and, unlike Corbin, he flirts with disaster, at times, due to command. While Locke still does a solid job of keeping runners off of the base paths when he is throwing strikes, it isn’t wrong to wonder if he could succumb to another Pittsburgh flop, as the team remains without a winning record since 1992. It would be nice for the organization to have a veteran arm to rely on once Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon are ready for Pittsburgh, and with A.J. Burnett dominating and potentially becoming trade fodder, Locke could be that guy. If he doesn’t improve either his walk rate or strikeout rates, though, he could be heading towards a drastic decline over the rest of the 2013 season.

Wood1Travis Wood, LHP, Chicago Cubs

A tremendous athlete, Wood is finally showing the skills that made him such a highly regarded young player when he came up with the Cincinnati Reds in 2010 and thrived. Things hadn’t gone so well the last couple of seasons, but things are back on track in 2013:

Year Age Tm Lg W L ERA GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2013 26 CHC NL 5 4 2.65 12 0 0 78.0 53 24 23 5 26 56 1.013 6.1 3.0 6.5 2.15
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/10/2013.

Not only has he been effective on the mound, but Wood could be one of the Cubs’ best hitters, having posted a .910 OPS with two home runs and seven RBI in just 26 at-bats – they should pinch-hit for the struggling Starlin Castro with him! With Wood and Jeff Samardzija around in the rotation, the Cubs have a couple of solid arms to build around…if they could just figure out a way to get rid of that now awful Edwin Jackson contract. Like Locke, Wood has spurts of control issues, but he is leading the NL in hits per nine and could well be on his way to establishing himself, along with Samardzija, as a dominant arm on the constantly rebuilding Cubs squad.

Didi Gre-glorious?

Gregorius2Didi Gregorius. A 23-year-old shortstop for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Didi Gregorius. A career .267/.319/.375 hitter in over 2,080 plate appearances in the minor leagues. Didi Gregorius. Currently hitting .324/.385/.541 with 8 doubles, 2 triples, and 4 home runs.

Can he keep this pace up?

Gregorius’ highest OPS in an overall minor league season was in 2011, when he posted a .753 OPS between High-A and Double-A within the Cincinnati Reds system. Those numbers were a tad inflated due to his time in Bakersfield, a club within the California League, where he posted a .791 OPS over 203 plate appearances. He was always pushed by the Cincinnati organization, as you can see below, only spending one season with the same club, which was his first season in the Gulf Coast League, and even moving from the Pioneer League to High-A for 22 games at the age of 19.

Year Age Tm Lg Aff G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2008 18 Reds GULF CIN 31 109 97 6 15 0 0 0 9 2 10 10 .155 .241 .155 .395 15
2009 19 2 Teams 2 Lgs CIN 72 299 275 36 82 14 1 1 18 8 13 36 .298 .341 .367 .708 101
2009 19 Billings PION CIN 50 225 204 28 64 10 1 1 16 8 12 27 .314 .363 .387 .750 79
2009 19 Sarasota FLOR CIN 22 74 71 8 18 4 0 0 2 0 1 9 .254 .274 .310 .584 22
2010 20 3 Teams 3 Lgs CIN 163 717 653 84 167 21 13 6 50 20 45 81 .256 .311 .355 .666 232
2010 20 Dayton MIDW CIN 120 548 501 65 137 16 11 5 41 16 33 62 .273 .327 .379 .706 190
2010 20 Lynchburg CARL CIN 7 29 25 4 6 0 0 0 0 0 2 6 .240 .321 .240 .561 6
2010 20 Canberra AUBL 36 140 127 15 24 5 2 1 9 4 10 13 .189 .248 .283 .532 36
2011 21 2 Teams 2 Lgs CIN 84 363 336 48 97 18 4 7 44 11 19 50 .289 .324 .429 .753 144
2011 21 Bakersfield CALL CIN 46 203 188 30 57 12 1 5 28 8 10 25 .303 .333 .457 .791 86
2011 21 Carolina SOUL CIN 38 160 148 18 40 6 3 2 16 3 9 25 .270 .312 .392 .704 58
2012 22 2 Teams 2 Lgs CIN 129 561 501 70 133 21 11 7 54 3 41 80 .265 .324 .393 .717 197
2012 22 Pensacola SOUL CIN 81 359 316 45 88 11 8 1 31 3 29 49 .278 .344 .373 .717 118
2012 22 Louisville IL CIN 48 202 185 25 45 10 3 6 23 0 12 31 .243 .288 .427 .715 79
2013 23 Reno PCL ARI 7 33 31 7 12 2 0 2 2 1 2 1 .387 .424 .645 1.069 20
6 Seasons 486 2082 1893 251 506 76 29 23 177 45 130 258 .267 .319 .375 .694 709
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/29/2013.

Gregorius3Moving quickly may have lead to some skewed statistics, as Gregorius always seemed to be adjusting to new levels of the minor leagues, but what do you call his 2013 outburst?

Gregorius has a .926 OPS, as I write this, and, after 124 plate appearances with Arizona, we should wonder now why he CAN’T keep this up. The young shortstop has several statistics playing in his favor:

  1. A .364 BABIP: While 45 stolen bases over six seasons leaves a lot to be desired in the speed category, Gregorius clearly has solid gap power and an ability to put the ball where fielders aren’t. The friendly-confines of Chase Field should be taken into consideration for his ability to continue to drive the ball, as well.
  2. A 9.5 percent HR/FB rate: Considering the top five HR/FB rate in MLB are Pedro Alvarez (29.4), Bryce Harper (29.3), Chris Davis (28.8), Justin Upton (28.0), and Adam Dunn (26.1), Gregorius and his 9.5 percent HR/FB are right in line with “league average”, so he could very well continue to put together numbers like he has to this point.
  3. A 31.3 O-Swing percentage: Gregorius is a smart hitter, working counts (3.94 pitches per at-bat) and swinging at strikes (O-Swing is percentage of pitches swung at outside of the strike zone).
  4. A 22.0 line drive percentage: Gregorius would rank right around 67th (with Andrelton Simmons and Gerardo Parra) with his current line drive rate. While that isn’t the upper echelon of hard hitters, it is right around the 20 percent league average (according to FanGraphs)

Gregorius is still highly underrated in fantasy leagues, ranking 21st among shortstops in ESPN’s Player Rater. He is no Troy Tulowitzki but he does have a similar career line as Jean Segura (without the speed), whose .969 OPS through 210 plate appearances was legit enough for ESPN to rank him as the No.1 shortstop.

Gregorius1The time may be now to buy into Gregorius. While he has a small sample size showing what he has, there may not be much more time to get him cheap, and the Cleveland Indians and Arizona Diamondbacks sure seemed to find a lot of value in him this offseason when the three team deal with Cincinnati involving Trevor Bauer and Shin-Soo Choo was consummated.

 

Sizzling Future Stars: Minor League Report, 5/4

With the season underway and some fans already looking forward to next year, even this early, it is a good time to look down on the farms for some names that you should get to know. Everyone knows who Wil MyersDylan Bundy, and Oscar Taveras are at this point, so these are players performing at elite levels who may not be household names…yet.

Salazar

Danny Salazar, RHP, Cleveland Indians

Year Age Lg Lev W L ERA GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 SO/BB
2007 17 DOSL FRk 5 3 1.96 14 64.1 52 25 14 1 12 49 0.995 7.3 4.08
2008 18 GULF Rk 4 2 2.87 11 53.1 46 19 17 5 13 43 1.106 7.8 3.31
2009 19 SALL A 5 7 4.44 20 107.1 114 60 53 10 40 65 1.435 9.6 1.63
2010 20 MIDW A 1 1 4.45 7 32.1 34 16 16 7 13 23 1.454 9.5 1.77
2011 21 2 Lgs A-Rk 0 2 3.07 8 14.2 14 7 5 1 4 18 1.227 8.6 4.50
2011 21 ARIZ Rk 0 0 2.70 5 6.2 6 3 2 1 2 11 1.200 8.1 5.50
2011 21 MIDW A 0 2 3.38 3 8.0 8 4 3 0 2 7 1.250 9.0 3.50
2012 22 2 Lgs A+-AA 5 2 2.36 22 87.2 71 25 23 4 27 76 1.118 7.3 2.81
2012 22 CARL A+ 1 2 2.68 16 53.2 46 17 16 3 19 53 1.211 7.7 2.79
2012 22 EL AA 4 0 1.85 6 34.0 25 8 7 1 8 23 0.971 6.6 2.88
2013 23 EL AA 2 3 2.83 6 28.2 22 9 9 1 9 43 1.081 6.9 4.78
7 Seasons 22 20 3.18 88 388.1 353 161 137 29 118 317 1.213 8.2 2.69
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/4/2013.

Salazar had Tommy John surgery and missed nearly two full seasons of development, but since returning for good in 2012, he has a 2.48 ERA over 116.1 innings, a 1.11 WHIP, and a 119:36 K:BB (3.31 K:BB). The Indians, who seemed to have a lot of depth at starting pitcher during the spring, are in need of some talent at the major league roster. Justin Masterson and Zach McAllister have pitched well, but injuries and inconsistency, especially from Ubaldo Jimenez, brings a need of some sort of stability. The Indians could use a little youth and homegrown talent in their rotation, and if Salazar continues pitching this well, he’ll be on his way to Cleveland sooner than later. A 43:9 K:BB in 28.2 innings is downright dominant.

Gibson

Kyle Gibson, RHP, Minnesota Twins

Year Age Tm Lev W L ERA GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 SO/BB
2010 22 3 Teams AA-A+-AAA 11 6 2.96 26 152.0 136 55 50 7 39 126 1.151 8.1 3.23
2010 22 Fort Myers A+ 4 1 1.87 7 43.1 33 11 9 2 12 40 1.038 6.9 3.33
2010 22 New Britain AA 7 5 3.68 16 93.0 91 39 38 5 22 77 1.215 8.8 3.50
2010 22 Rochester AAA 0 0 1.72 3 15.2 12 5 3 0 5 9 1.085 6.9 1.80
2011 23 Rochester AAA 3 8 4.81 18 95.1 109 57 51 11 27 91 1.427 10.3 3.37
2012 24 3 Teams Rk-A+-AAA 0 2 4.13 11 28.1 26 13 13 3 6 33 1.129 8.3 5.50
2012 24 Twins Rk 0 0 2.45 7 14.2 9 4 4 1 4 16 0.886 5.5 4.00
2012 24 Fort Myers A+ 0 0 2.57 2 7.0 6 2 2 1 1 7 1.000 7.7 7.00
2012 24 Rochester AAA 0 2 9.45 2 6.2 11 7 7 1 1 10 1.800 14.8 10.00
2013 25 Rochester AAA 1 4 4.26 6 31.2 32 15 15 2 9 27 1.295 9.1 3.00
4 Seasons 15 20 3.78 61 307.1 303 140 129 23 81 277 1.249 8.9 3.42
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/4/2013.

Gibson was an elite talent when he was drafted 22nd overall in the 2009 MLB draft out of the University of Missouri. His stock had fallen a bit due to a stress fracture in his elbow. He proved that he was healthy in 2010 before needing Tommy John surgery in 2011. After rehab, he returned in 2012 with some mediocre numbers, and while his statistics don’t look fantastic this year in Rochester, he has had a couple of short, rough outing out of the six that he has made, allowing five earned runs twice in a little over four innings in two different starts. If you ignore those two starts, Gibson has a 1.99 ERA, a 0.93 WHIP, and 20:8 K:BB over 22.2 innings. The Twins will look for a little more consistency from Gibson before giving him a call, but he would immediately become one of the top two pitchers in their rotation, if not the best.

Stolmy Pimentel, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates

Year Age Tm Lev W L ERA GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 SO/BB
2007 17 Red Sox FRk 3 1 2.90 13 62.0 44 20 20 2 22 60 1.065 6.4 2.73
2008 18 Lowell A- 5 2 3.14 11 63.0 51 25 22 7 17 61 1.079 7.3 3.59
2009 19 Greenville A 10 7 3.82 23 117.2 135 62 50 12 29 103 1.394 10.3 3.55
2010 20 Salem A+ 9 11 4.06 26 128.2 120 65 58 11 42 102 1.259 8.4 2.43
2011 21 2 Teams A+-AA 6 13 6.79 25 102.0 125 86 77 16 39 65 1.608 11.0 1.67
2011 21 Salem A+ 6 4 4.53 10 51.2 50 29 26 8 16 35 1.277 8.7 2.19
2011 21 Portland AA 0 9 9.12 15 50.1 75 57 51 8 23 30 1.947 13.4 1.30
2012 22 Portland AA 6 7 4.59 22 115.2 115 66 59 9 42 86 1.357 8.9 2.05
2013 23 Altoona AA 2 0 0.30 5 30.1 19 1 1 0 14 28 1.088 5.6 2.00
7 Seasons 41 41 4.17 125 619.1 609 325 287 57 205 505 1.314 8.8 2.46
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/4/2013.

Pimentel doesn’t have a tremendous track record, but when you have a 0.30 ERA after five starts, you’re going to start getting noticed. Acquired from the Boston Red Sox as part of the Joel Hanrahan trade, Pimentel isn’t going to get the hype that Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon garnish, but he appears to have enough stuff to be a decent back-end of the rotation arm. He certainly needed to thrive after not really doing much good since the 2010 season. Since this is his third season in Double-A, maybe expectations should be tempered, even after a tremendous start, but if it continues, he’ll continue to peak interest.

Josmil Pinto, C, Minnesota Twins

Year Age Tm Lev G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2006 17 Twins/Blue Jays FRk 53 195 25 49 7 1 3 30 3 25 27 .251 .336 .344 .680 67
2007 18 Twins FRk 54 171 18 33 8 1 1 23 3 29 23 .193 .327 .269 .596 46
2008 19 Twins Rk 24 85 14 28 9 3 1 14 1 9 14 .329 .394 .541 .935 46
2009 20 Elizabethton Rk 53 205 34 68 14 2 13 55 0 19 39 .332 .387 .610 .997 125
2010 21 Beloit A 100 347 60 78 21 1 10 54 2 32 67 .225 .295 .378 .672 131
2011 22 2 Teams A+-A 73 253 25 66 14 1 6 41 1 14 46 .261 .301 .395 .697 100
2011 22 Beloit A 9 32 4 8 3 0 1 9 0 2 10 .250 .278 .438 .715 14
2011 22 Fort Myers A+ 64 221 21 58 11 1 5 32 1 12 36 .262 .305 .389 .694 86
2012 23 2 Teams A+-AA 105 396 53 117 26 3 14 60 0 43 73 .295 .362 .482 .844 191
2012 23 Fort Myers A+ 93 349 45 103 22 2 12 51 0 39 63 .295 .361 .473 .834 165
2012 23 New Britain AA 12 47 8 14 4 1 2 9 0 4 10 .298 .365 .553 .919 26
2013 24 New Britain AA 27 107 21 35 5 1 5 24 0 13 21 .327 .405 .533 .938 57
8 Seasons 489 1759 250 474 104 13 53 301 10 184 310 .269 .341 .434 .775 763
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/4/2013.

The Minnesota Twins are notoriously slow in their development of players. While they have Joe Mauer locked up for the next century with a seemingly unmovable contract (don’t tell Boston that after last season’s mega-deal), he could move to first base if or when Justin Morneau leaves via free agency for Pinto. At 24, he’s a little on the old side for Double-A, and his numbers overall haven’t been spectular throughout his development, things took a nice turn last year. His plate discipline and gap power seemed to increase, and he has carried that over nicely this season, with 11 extra-base hits and a .938 OPS for New Britain. Ryan Doumit is the “other catcher” on the Twins roster, so if Pinto continues to hit, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him become a useful piece  to the Twins roster.

johnson

Erik Johnson, RHP, Chicago White Sox

Year Age Tm Lev W L ERA GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 SO/BB
2011 21 Great Falls Rk 0 0 4.50 0 2.0 4 1 1 0 1 2 2.500 18.0 2.00
2012 22 2 Teams A+-A 6 5 2.53 17 92.1 82 34 26 3 29 87 1.202 8.0 3.00
2012 22 Kannapolis A 2 2 2.30 9 43.0 39 15 11 3 19 39 1.349 8.2 2.05
2012 22 Winston-Salem A+ 4 3 2.74 8 49.1 43 19 15 0 10 48 1.074 7.8 4.80
2013 23 Birmingham AA 2 1 1.44 5 31.1 18 6 5 1 9 32 0.862 5.2 3.56
3 Seasons 8 6 2.29 22 125.2 104 41 32 4 39 121 1.138 7.4 3.10
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/4/2013.

Johnson may not post dominant strikeout numbers, but his ability to keep runners from scoring is impressive. As he has moved up, his tits per nine has dropped at each level and he is not a little over a strikeout per inning, as well. Now in Double-A, the White Sox No.3 prospect, according to MLB.com, appears to be taking another step towards Chicago. While the club mourns the loss of Gavin Floyd to Tommy John surgery, Johnson could become an option later in the 2013 season, especially if he continues to dominate the opposition. The 2011 2nd round pick out of the University of California is certainly worth tracking.

Dietrich

Derek Dietrich, 2B, Miami Marlins

Year Age Tm Lev G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2010 20 Hudson Valley A- 45 179 33 50 12 2 3 20 2 11 42 .279 .340 .419 .759 75
2011 21 Bowling Green A 127 480 73 133 34 4 22 81 5 38 128 .277 .346 .502 .848 241
2012 22 2 Teams A+-AA 132 505 71 141 28 10 14 75 4 32 114 .279 .338 .457 .796 231
2012 22 Charlotte A+ 98 372 49 105 21 9 10 58 4 25 78 .282 .343 .468 .811 174
2012 22 Montgomery AA 34 133 22 36 7 1 4 17 0 7 36 .271 .324 .429 .753 57
2013 23 Jacksonville AA 26 94 16 27 7 2 3 14 2 15 21 .287 .417 .500 .917 47
4 Seasons 330 1258 193 351 81 18 42 190 13 96 305 .279 .348 .472 .820 594
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/4/2013.

A smart acquisition by the Marlins this offseason in the Yunel Escobar deal, Dietrich is an under-the-radar prospect who seems to do nothing but hit, while playing a premium middle infield position. He was the Marlins No.8 prospect coming into the season (MLB.com), and he is currently 5th in the Southern League in total bases. He appears to have taken a drastically improved approach at the plate, as well, having taken 15 walks already after walking 32 times all season in 2012. With Donovan Solano ahead of him in Miami and a very weak group of talent there, especially with Giancarlo Stanton hurt, Dietrich could make an impact later this season, especially if he continues to rake the way that he has to this point in 2013.

Smith

Burch Smith, RHP, San Diego Padres

Year Age Tm Lev W L W-L% ERA GS IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP H/9 SO/BB
2011 21 Padres Rk 0 0 4.50 0 2.0 3 2 1 0 1 4 2.000 13.5 4.00
2012 22 Lake Elsinore A+ 9 6 .600 3.85 26 128.2 127 62 55 11 27 137 1.197 8.9 5.07
2013 23 San Antonio AA 1 2 .333 1.15 6 31.1 16 8 4 1 6 37 0.702 4.6 6.17
3 Seasons 10 8 .556 3.33 32 162.0 146 72 60 12 34 178 1.111 8.1 5.24
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/4/2013.

How can you be the 20th ranked prospect (MLB.com) in a pretty weak system, when you’re fastball sits 93-95 while touching 97 and you post numbers as absurd as Smith has? The guy has a 174:33 K:BB over his last 160 innings, and while his 3.85 ERA looks inflated from 2012, he was pitching in the hitter’s paradise California League. Sure, his secondary stuff may be lagging, but Tony Cingrani has looked pretty solid in the majors and throughout his minor league career using a fastball at alarmingly high rates. The fact that dynasty league fantasy baseball players may not be familiar with him is also surprising, considering he will be pitching half of his games in San Diego. Smith has dominated this season, and for a 14th round selection out of Oklahoma, the 6’4″ right-hander has been a smart investment by the Padres.


//

Is This Real Life? The Rangers and Their Bad Contract

Andrus1Since this was announced on Monday, which was April 1st (aka April Fool’s Day), it feels like this isn’t happening; however, after it was made official, giving a career .275/.342/.353 line an eight-year, $120 million seems like a nightmare, especially after the club was unwilling to give Josh Hamilton an extension or make the first offer when he hit free agency this winter. After allowing a player who has averaged a .305/.363/.549 line to leave for their biggest rival, they gave Andrus $15 million per season on an extension, all while Jurickson Profar waits for a position to open up in Texas.

Andrus is a fine player. Since arriving in 2009, he has posted a 13.0 WAR, which is sixth among shortstops during that time. He leads shortstops in stolen bases (123), he is second to Derek Jeter in runs scores (341), and he is 21st among shortstops in OPS (.695). TWENTY-FIRST.

Andrus provides a solid batting eye (8.4 percent walk rate vs. 13.2 percent strikeout rate) to go along with his solid speed, which allows him to utilize his skills on the base paths to score runs in a very potent offense. While he can get on base and score runs, his defense is where his true value develops.

Andrus’ UZR/150 rating is 7.8, fourth among shortstops since 2009 behind Brendan Ryan, J.J. Hardy, and Alexei Ramirez. His .971 fielding percentage is 15th among shortstops since 2009. Of the three players above Andrus in zone fielding who have higher fielding percentages than Andrus, only Alexei Ramirez has a higher OPS. If Ramirez can field better and post better numbers at short, is he worth $15 million or more per season?Andrus2

Ramirez is 31 and doesn’t have the favorable upside that Andrus possesses, but we’ve seen speed become useless several times before. In 2004, Cesar Izturis had his best season at the age of 24:

Year Age Tm Lg G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2004 24 LAD NL 159 728 670 90 193 32 9 4 62 25 43 70 .288 .330 .381 .710 255
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/4/2013.

While he didn’t post numbers close to what Andrus did prior to his age-24 season, he displayed solid gap power, speed, and, of course, impressive defensive skills. He won his first and only Gold Glove in 2004, posting a .985 fielding percentage and a 3.8 WAR.

Compare that production to Andrus’ career stats:

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2009 20 TEX 145 541 480 72 128 17 8 6 40 33 40 77 .267 .329 .373 .702 179
2010 21 TEX 148 674 588 88 156 15 3 0 35 32 64 96 .265 .342 .301 .643 177
2011 22 TEX 150 665 587 96 164 27 3 5 60 37 56 74 .279 .347 .361 .708 212
2012 23 TEX 158 711 629 85 180 31 9 3 62 21 57 96 .286 .349 .378 .727 238
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/4/2013.

Is there a whole lot of difference in the abilities of these players, outside of the fact that Andrus’ had four seasons completed prior to his age-24 season, which will be the 2013 season? Certainly, Andrus is better than Izturis, but would anyone have paid Izturis $15 million per season if every one of his seasons had been as solid as his 2004 season?

Luis Castillo was an excellent second baseman early in his career for the, then, Florida Marlins. Sure, he wasn’t a shortstop, but he had the same type of skill-set, possibly better, with more speed and on-base skills, while Andrus seems to have more gap power. Once Castillo hurt his feet, though, his 50+ steals potential was also hurt, and he became a 20 stolen base, empty .300-hitting middle infielder. If Andrus gets hurt or loses speed, where is his value? He can’t cover as much ground defensively and his ability to create runs with his legs is gone, as well.

Shortstop is a very tough position, but the value of defensive metrics have taken over the player’s ability to help the club in other ways, specifically with their bat. Cal Ripken, Jr., Barry Larkin, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, and Miguel Tejada did a dirty, dirty thing to the position, allowing solid contribution across the board to become a reasonable expectation. Today, only Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Reyes seem like those types of dynamic, offensive-minded shortstops, and for that reason, they appear to be worth exorbitant contracts.

The Rangers aren’t the only team that feels that defense is very important, though. When the Cincinnati Reds turned Didi Gregorius and Drew Stubbs into Shin-Soo Choo and Jason Donald in their trade with the Cleveland Indians this offseason, that was one thing, as Choo is a free agent after the 2013 season, but when the Indians flipped Gregorius to the Arizona Diamondbacks with Lars Anderson and Tony Sipp for Matt Albers, Bryan Shaw, and, potential ace, Trevor Bauer, the new value of shortstops in baseball was apparent. Slap-hitting, defensively skilled middle infielders now have quite a bit of value.

So, if Gregorius, a career .265/.317/.370 hitter in the minor leagues, had that sort of value, then what is Xander Bogaerts worth? Bogaerts, a Boston Red Sox farm hand, hit .307/.373/.523 with a 4.13 range factor and .959 fielding percentage as a 19-year-old over High-A and Double-A in 2012. Gregorius had a range factor of 3.96 and a .964 fielding percentage as a 22-year-old over Double-A and Triple-A in 2012.

TuloFurthermore, if Elvis Andrus is worth an eight-year, $120 million contract, then shouldn’t Troy Tulowitzki fire his agent? His extension for the 2015 to 2020 seasons gives him roughly $19.67 million per season, which isn’t nearly enough considering Andrus can’t carry his compression shorts with cup, since jock straps aren’t used anymore.

The good news for Andrus is that he has an opt-out clause after the 2018 season, allowing him to reach free agency during his prime, potentially earning more money if he reaches higher levels of production; however, if he under-performs or gets hurt, the Rangers don’t have an opt-out clause. The question now is: Was this a good contract for the Texas Rangers?

Kinsler1With Ian Kinsler signed through 2017 (with a 2018 team option) and Andrus locked up, where does Jurickson Profar go? What if Kinsler has another poor season, as his .749 OPS in 2012 was the worst of his career? Can they trade him?  There have been leaks of Kinsler getting moved to left field or first base, but what happen to Mike Olt, another Rangers prospect, who is blocked through 2015 at third (possibly 2016, since Beltre has a vesting option)? Can Kinsler hit enough to play left? Do the Rangers trade Olt? Does Profar move to center even though Leonys Martin is hoping to prove himself there in 2013? Should they trade Profar?

The Rangers have committed to defense by signing Andrus and they have committed to spending a lot of money on mediocre offense. After letting Josh Hamilton walk, not addressing their No.5 starter situation this winter, and building excellent talent that they seem to be unwilling to commit to from their minor league system, the Rangers, who have made three straight playoff appearances, seem to have no clear direction to their roster makeup going forward.

2013 Predictions and Useless Guesses

I did this last year and it was interesting, as they were mostly useless guesses as opposed to valuable predictions. However, with days until real games begin, I figured that I would join in the fun of putting this out there so that we can all look back and see just how wrong I was when October rolls around. Let the incorrectness begin!

AL East Champion

Jays

Toronto Blue Jays

I’m buying the upgrades to the Jays roster. A great improvement to the pitching staff, and just in time to pounce on an AL East division where the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox don’t look like major factors. While the Rays and Orioles look to maintain success without a huge payroll increase, the Jays will utilize their awesome blend of speed, power, and rotation depth to take the crown in the East.

AL Central Champion

Tigers

Detroit Tigers

Like the Jays, the Tigers will impress with their strong rotation, and while the club plays scetchy, at best, defense, the presence of Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera is enough to make them strong contenders in a weak, yet improving, AL Central. The signing of Torii Hunter and the return of Victor Martinez will only improve the offense, while the club will hope that Austin Jackson continues his tremendous improvement and that Andy Dirks can hold down left until Nick Castellanos or Avisail Garcia prove themselves ready. The bullpen issues are something to be concerned about, but someone out of Bruce Rondon, Phil Coke, and Joaquin Benoit will step up.

AL West Champion

Angels

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

How do you improve a lineup that had Albert Pujols and Mike Trout in it a season ago? Well, by signing Josh Hamilton, of course! The Angels could be the best offensive team in baseball, but they’ll need to be, after seemingly taking the “we-will-outscore-your-team-because-we-don’t-have-pitching” way of building a roster. After losing out of Zack Greinke, the club traded for Tommy “my shoulder is gonna rip off of my body at any moment” Hanson, signing Joe Blanton, and trading for Jason Vargas, who could benefit from continuing his career in another pitcher-friendly ballpark. The Halos have enough offense to overcome their pitching shortcomings, though, and could easily manage to score about 6-8 runs per game.

AL Wild Cards

Rangers Rays

Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays

The Rangers may have lost Josh Hamilton, but they still have a dynamic offense, led by Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre. While it is highly unlikely that Lance Berkman can truly fill the shoes of Hamilton, he is just a season removed from revitalizing his career in St. Louis. Can he do it again? Well, if he can’t, the club will need more from their rotation, which is solid, but not nearly a lock to be great as others in the AL. Yu Darvish is the anchor, but with Matt Harrison‘s low strikeout rates, one has to wonder if he can maintain the 32 wins and 3.34 ERA that he has put up the last two seasons. Derek Holland needs to bounce back, as well, if Texas is to be taken seriously. If they don’t get the right breaks, this could easily be the Oakland Athletics, once again.

The Rays gambled on cashing in two seasons of James Shields for more young talent, acquiring a great haul from the Royals. While the rotation will miss the strength and innings that Shields brought, David Price, Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson, and Alex Cobb will be solid, while Roberto Hernandez and Jeff Niemann fight over the No.5 spot. The Rays have to get some production from Desmond Jennings and Yunel Escobar up the middle, while hoping that Evan Longoria stays healthy until Wil Myers can get called up. They need power in the lineup and on Opening Day, Longoria and Ben Zobrist seem like their only hope. Pitching and defense has worked for the last several years, and it will again in 2013.

AL MVP

jose-bautista-toronto-blue-jays-mlb

Jose Bautista, OF, Toronto Blue Jays

While everyone will focus on the huge trades that brought the club Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, R.A. Dickey, and others, Bautista will be the spark plug to the offense due to his tremendous power and ability to get on base. With his wrist fully recovered and a dynamic lineup around him, opposing clubs will be forced to pitch to the slugger, which will result is a season that should resemble his 2010 and 2011 seasons, with overwhelming power and run producing statistics.

AL Cy Young

Courtesy: dcobb1621.blogspot.com

Courtesy: dcobb1621.blogspot.com

Justin Verlander, RHP, Detroit Tigers

To say that Verlander is the best pitcher in baseball would be an understatement. He turned 30 years old in February and since 2008, he has gone 89-48 with a 3.28 ERA over 1,154.2 innings, and while those numbers have been outmatched by only CC Sabathia in the American League (91-39 with a 3.11 ERA), Verlander seems to have a pretty tight grip on the best pitcher in MLB title for the moment. While Yu Darvish and David Price begin to catch up to him, Verlander will hold control it for another season, with another 20-win season and an ERA under 3.00 for the Tigers.

AL Manager of the Year

Francona

Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians

While he actually has very little to do with the drastic changes that the Indians have undergone this offseason (that honor belongs to GM Chris Antonetti), Terry Francona will get a lot of credit for the Indians posting their first winning season since their 2007 ALCS  appearance. Manny Acta never seemed capable of keeping successful starts going over the 162-game season, but Francona’s resume proves that he is capable of that, regardless of the 2011 Boston Red Sox collapse. While the Tribe won’t make the playoffs, they will be very competitive and, possibly, be a nuisance to the Tigers in the AL Central for most of the season. For that, Francona will deserve the honor for making a Cleveland sports franchise matter again.

AL Rookie of the Year

myers

Wil Myers, OF, Tampa Bay Rays

He won’t start the season with the major league club, but Myers will be up in June, once the Rays can guarantee that he won’t gain Super Two arbitration eligibility, taking over the left field job from Matt Joyce, while manning right field when Ben Zobrist goes to second or short. Myers exploded in the minors last season, hitting an absurd .314/.387/.600 with 37 home runs between the Royals’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates. While he could work on his contact rate (he struck out 140 times in 522 at-bats), Myers is a much needed offensive force for the Rays, who need someone besides Evan Longoria and Zobrist to produce consistently. Expect a .260/.320/.460 line with nearly 20 home runs if Myers gets the call in June, which should be good enough to win the AL ROY with Jurickson Profar waiting for a shot in Triple-A for the Rangers and so few players getting an opportunity early in the 2013 season.

NL East Champion

Nationals

Washington Nationals

Bryce Harper will be better than he was in 2012 and Stephen Strasburg won’t have an innings limit. Really, this is all that you need to know, but with the addition of a leadoff hitter in Denard Span and another fantastic arm in Rafael Soriano to add to Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, the Nationals are about as good as it gets in MLB for a lock to go to the playoffs. Add in Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman, Ryan Zimmerman, and Adam LaRoche, and you have a team capable of winning 95-100 games. Yes…they’re that good.

NL Central Champion

Reds

Cincinnati Reds

What do you get when you take an outstanding team without a leadoff hitter and you add a guy with a lifetime .386 on-base percentage in that spot? You get a team with a very bad defensive outfield that plays in a hitters paradise and the 2013 version of the Cincinnati Reds. Shin-Soo Choo could be a liability in center, but his offensive skills fit perfectly into the Reds lineup. Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto will need some help from Choo and Ryan Ludwick, but with a very good starting rotation and great depth in the bullpen with the move of Aroldis Chapman back to closer, the Reds will battle the Nationals for the best record in MLB in 2013.

NL West Champion

Dodgers

Los Angeles Dodgers

Like the Dodgers, I’m buying. The addition of Zack Greinke was huge, but the trade with the Boston Red Sox that brought Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez, along with their massive contracts, to the Dodgers will begin paying dividends this season. While the Hanley Ramirez thumb injury is a slight issue to start the season, Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw are the right kind of awesome to overcome any issues like that. The Dodgers have great pitching depth, unless they make a trade in the next few days, to overcome any further arm issues for Chad Billingsley, and their bullpen is lights out, with flame-thrower Kenley Jansen sharing end-game duties with Brandon League…until Don Mattingley sees what everyone else does and puts Jansen there full-time. This team is dangerous if they stay healthy. The pitching is deep, but an injury to Crawford, Kemp, or Andre Ethier will cost them the division to the San Francisco Giants.

NL Wild Cards

Braves

cardinals

Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals

The Atlanta Braves have an incredible roster. If Chipper Jones had hung around one more season, they may have had a chance at another World Series title for the old man. Unfortunately, Jones finally retired and third could be the clubs only weak spot, as Juan Francisco and Chris Johnson will share the job in 2013. The addition of B.J. Upton and Justin Upton will make the offense even more dangerous, as Jason Heyward continues to become one of the best players in baseball. Freddie Freeman got his eye issues worked out, so he will also improve in 2013, while the club will rely on a deep rotation, that will only get better when Brandon Beachy returns in June or July. By then, the Braves could have a very difficult choice, especially after seeing Julio Teheran thrive this spring, as someone will have to be removed from the rotation if the club is healthy. As far as the bullpen goes, one name is all you need: Craig Kimbrel.

The Cardinals continue to stick around and be contenders, even after losing Albert Pujols a season ago and, potentially, losing Chris Carpenter for the entire 2013 season. Adam Wainwright should re-establish himself as an ace this season, while Allen Craig will show that he is an MVP-caliber player if he would just stay healthy. Speaking of health, could fantasy baseball nerds be any more excited for the first of Carlos Beltran‘s injuries in 2013? If you don’t know why, you need to look up super-prospect Oscar Taveras. The Cards seem to have an endless supply of young arms, as well, as Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Michael Wacha, and Carlos Martinez arrive and establish themselves in the majors.

NL MVP

votto

Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds

Votto will do one of two things: 1) Post an on-base percentage approaching .500 (.474 in 2012) while never seeing a pitch worth hitting, or 2) Post numbers close to his 2010 MVP season (.324/.424/.600, 37 home runs) while earning his 2nd MVP. The Reds are going to have Votto hitting No.3 again, and with Shin-Soo Choo and Brandon Phillips hitting in front of him, Votto will easily exceed his career-high 113 RBI this season. With his knee healthy and a tremendous lineup and hitter’s paradise as a home ballpark, Joey Votto will win the NL MVP in 2013.

NL Cy Young

bumgarner

Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants

You can take Stephen Strasburg and Clayton Kershaw, while I go off the board (or rocker) to choose Madison Bumgarner for NL Cy Young. After tiring at the end of the 2012 season, Bumgarner knows that he has a lot to prove. Add on the fact that his WHIP fell from 1.21 in 2011 to 1.11 in 2012, and you can see that the 23-year-old left-hander can not only miss bats (191 K’s in each of the last two seasons), but he isn’t allowing many hits or walks. With a pitcher-friendly ballpark and loads of expectations on him due to his fall-off late last season, Bumgarner will show that he shouldn’t be overlooked due to Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum being on the same roster.

NL Manager of the Year

black

Bud Black, San Diego Padres

There isn’t a whole lot to like about the Padres roster. They don’t have a superstar on the front of a video game, they don’t have a player that shows up to the MLB Fan Cave with an infamous twitter account, but they have an interesting team and a better manager. Bud Black can get a lot out of the club that he has. While the team will continue to struggle to score runs, at times, Chase Headley could provide enough power to get runs in bunches, and Yonder Alonso could thrive with the fences being moved in at Petco. Solid speed and gap power throughout the lineup will make the Padres a surprise team in 2013, and while the rotation is more patchwork than well thought out, the bullpen is tremendous, as it always seems to be. If the Friars can get anything out of Andrew Cashner, Clayton Richard, and Eric Stults, they’ll be a team capable of 82-85 wins, which isn’t playoff worthy, but worth giving Bud Black an award for.

NL Rookie of the Year

Courtesy: stlouiscardinalsbaseball.com

Courtesy: stlouiscardinalsbaseball.com

Oscar Taveras, OF, St. Louis Cardinals

You don’t get called a left-handed version of Vladimir Guerrero and get overlooked, and Taveras is that special of a talent. Like I mentioned above, once Carlos Beltran gets hurt (as in it IS going to happen), Taveras would, more than likely, get the call. Not only a Beltran injury, but an under performing Jon Jay could even be replaced by the super-prospect, as Taveras played 93 games in center for the Cards Double-A affiliate in 2012. Taveras will get enough at-bats to be valuable and he could do that as a fourth outfielder once June rolls around, but once he is in St. Louis, he won’t be leaving town for several years. A pure hitter in every sense of the label.

World Series Prediction

Washington Nationals defeat Los Angeles Angels, 4-2

Random, Bold Predictions

There is no rhyme or reason here, just as the title says:

  1. Bryce Harper will hit over 30 home runs in 2013, while posting an OPS near .940.
  2. Mike Trout won’t hit 30 home runs again, but he will steal 50 bases.
  3. Jose Reyes will stay healthy, even while playing on turf, and terrorize the AL East while stealing over 50 bases.
  4. Ike Davis will hit over 40 home runs after hitting 32 in 2012 while hitting just .227.
  5. Mat Latos will become the ace of the Cincinnati Reds, posting better overall numbers than Johnny Cueto and winning 20 games in 2013.
  6. Mike Minor proves that his second half from 2012 (6-4, 2.16 ERA, 0.87 WHIP over 87.1 IP) wasn’ a fluke, as he becomes the Braves best starting pitcher in 2013.
  7. Jordan Zimmerman has a more impressive 2013 season than Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez and he will no longer be overlooked in a fantastic Washington rotation.
  8. Brandon Belt continues hitting like he has all spring, ripping 25 home runs after having a power outage in the earlier stages of his career (16 in 598 at-bats).
  9. Troy Tulowitzki stays healthy and benefits from Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler having All Star seasons to hit 40 home runs, making all of those fantasy baseball players that took him in the first round feel like the smartest men alive.
  10. Allen Craig becomes an All Star and hits over .300 with 30+ home runs and 100+ RBI.
  11. Carlos Santana hits 30+ home runs and will have the kind of hype that Buster Posey has right now during the 2013-2014 offseason.
  12. Jason Heyward finishes 2nd in NL MVP voting to Joey Votto, posting his first 30 HR/30 SB season for Atlanta.
  13. Domonic Brown keeps the Phillies left field job all season and posts a .270/.380/.450 line with solid production across the board. Philly fans hit Ruben Amaro, Jr. with batteries for not trusting in him sooner.
  14. Zack Greinke can’t handle the Los Angeles pressure and spotlight and misses time due to his anxiety disorder.
  15. Chris Sale pitches 200 innings and proves doubters about his bony frame and drastic innings increase in 2012 wrong.
  16. Drew Stubbs (remember him?) hits 20 home runs and steals 50 bases, revitalizing his career.
  17. Rick Porcello wins 17 games with a 3.20 ERA while striking out 180 batters…all because he began using his four-seam fastball for the first time in his career.

Breakout Stars

These guys are about to go bonkers in 2013. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…(obvious names not listed, i.e. Harper, Brown, Braun, Ike Davis)

Alex Cobb, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays

Matt Moore, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays

Brett Anderson, LHP, Oakland Athletics

Andrelton Simmons, SS, Atlanta Braves

Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Oakland Athletics

Greg Holland, RHP, Kansas City Royals

Salvador Perez, C, Kansas City Royals

Chris Parmelee, OF, Minnesota Twins

Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs

Dayan Viciedo, OF, Chicago White Sox

Dan Straily, RHP, Oakland Athletics (Bartolo Colon won’t last forever)

Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals

Michael Saunders, OF, Seattle Mariners

Prospects to Watch

This has nothing to do with the Top 100 Prospects that I put out in December, but you will find some familiar names and others that will be players to keep an eye on, especially if they’re on your favorite team or if you’re in a keeper fantasy baseball league.

Jonathan Schoop, INF, Baltimore Orioles

Dorssys Paulino, INF, Cleveland Indians

J.R. Graham, RHP, Atlanta Braves

Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals

Chris Archer, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays

Bubba Starling, OF, Kansas City Royals

Yasel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers

Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks

Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros

Xander Bogaerts, INF, Boston Red Sox

Austin Hedges, C, San Diego Padres

Joey Gallo, INF, Texas Rangers

Why Kyle Lohse?

Lohse1Kyle Lohse has been nothing short of awesome over the last two seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals, posting a 30-11 record, 3.11 ERA, and 1.13 WHIP over 399.1 innings. He was even pretty solid when he went 15-6 with a 3.78 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 2008 for the Cardinals. However, the rest of Lohse’s career isn’t very good.

Lohse has 12 seasons under his belt and outside of the three strong seasons in St. Louis, Lohse is a career 73-92 with a 4.93 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 1,373.2 innings. In fact, when he was with the Twins from 2001 to 2006, he posted a .472 winning percentage (51-57 in 172 games (152 starts) with a 4.88 ERA), while the Twins were a .556 team during those years (540-431) during that time. Perhaps, you could say that Lohse was the weakest link for those clubs.

So, with Lohse still sitting in free agency, which is more to blame on draft pick compensation than Scott Boras (for once), is he worth a large investment?

Lohse2While Lohse is the only true marquee name left in free agency, his supposed asking price seems a bit outrageous, especially considering his track record. Rotoworld reported that Lohse is still looking for a three-year deal with a “big” annual salary.

Considering that the Indians gave Brett Myers a one-year, $7 million deal with an option for 2014, is it unrealistic that Lohse could only get a one-year, $11 million deal like Edwin Jackson did with the Washington Nationals in 2012, or even settle for less money, like $8 million, for one-year of service?

After Texas Rangers left-hander Martin Perez had his left forearm broken by a line drive on March 3, they have continued to pop up as the most likely targets.; however, the St. Louis Cardinals have lost Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia still has shoulder concerns, and they have several solid prospects to fill in, but considering Lohse was on the club last year and they could be filling 60% of their rotation, wouldn’t his addition make sense? The Cleveland Indians could be another suitor, if they can come up with the payroll, as their rotation is very weak and the team has made several solid additions this winter offensively, including Mark Reynolds, Nick Swisher, and Michael Bourn.

Personally, I can’t remember a time when draft pick compensation was so highly evaluated over the addition of a player. The New York Mets lost Bourn to the Indians after taking too much time to make a firm offer, while waiting for MLB to decide if their 1st round pick was protected, so will another club sneak in under the radar and add Lohse?

Lohse3Even if they did add Lohse, why would they? At the age of 34, how much does he have left, considering he didn’t have a lot to offer for so much of his career?

Kyle Lohse isn’t an ace, as his career numbers certainly suggest. Kyle Lohse isn’t an innings-eater, as he has tossed 200 innings just three times in his career and 180 innings or more in seven of his 12 seasons. Kyle Lohse isn’t worth “big” annual salaries because he hasn’t provided a “big” enough reason to invest in him.

Who will make a huge mistake and make that choice, though?

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