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All taxonomy terms: Colorado Rockies, National League, NL West, MLB, News
Path: /mlb/colorado-rockies-2015-preview-and-prediction
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The Rockies endured their fourth straight losing season. Their 96 defeats were eight more than in 2013 and two shy of the franchise record. A regime change resulted. General manager Dan O’Dowd turned down a contract extension and resigned. So did assistant general manager Bill Geivett when he found out he wasn’t going to be O’Dowd’s replacement. Instead, Jeff Bridich was promoted to GM after three years as player development director and 10 seasons in the organization.

 

The only NL West club never to win the division, the Rockies were two games out of first place and six games above .500 on May 20. A slew of injuries followed, and they lost 76 of their final 116 games. Worse, their historic troubles on the road turned into epic failure last season. The Rockies’ 21–60 road record was the worst in franchise history. They lost 39 of their final 45 road games, including 30 of 35 after the All-Star break.

 

Offensively, the Rockies should be fine, if they can stay reasonably healthy. That wasn’t the case last year when core players Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Nolan Arenado and Michael Cuddyer, who departed as a free agent, missed substantial time.

 

Pitching is another matter. The Rockies were last in the majors with a 4.84 ERA. And the ERAs of their starters (4.89) and relievers (4.79) were the highest in the NL. Improving the rotation and the bullpen became the offseason priority.

 

Rotation

Four of the five projected starters last season were sidelined for lengthy stretches with injuries — Tyler Chatwood, Jhoulys Chacin, Brett Anderson and Jordan Lyles. The Rockies dipped into the minors, used a host of retreads and ended up tying a club record by having 15 pitchers start at least one game. Jorge De La Rosa thrives at Coors Field, where he’s 45–14 with a 3.98 ERA in 81 games (76 starts) but is ordinary on the road. Chacin made just 11 starts, the last on June 28. He was diagnosed with a strained right rotator cuff but avoided surgery. Chacin, who can be a free agent after this season, could provide a huge boost if he can give the rotation a second dependable starter at the front end. Lyles was able to develop an effective changeup during his two-month absence, brought on by a broken bone in his left (non-pitching) hand. His command can be erratic, but he has room for growth. Lefthander Tyler Matzek made his major league debut on June 11 and ended up giving the Rockies 19 starts and 117.2 innings. Prospects Eddie Butler, Jon Gray and lefthander Tyler Anderson are close to the majors. The Rockies need one of them to contribute this season at the big-league level.

 

Bullpen

Closer LaTroy Hawkins, 42, consistently throws strikes, doesn’t rattle and can hold down the ninth inning. Lefthander Rex Brothers entered 2014 as the Rockies’ closer of the future but regressed badly, posting an 8.31 ERA in 28 games after the All-Star break. Getting Brothers back to his 2013 form — when he had a 1.74 ERA in 72 games — is a priority. Veteran lefthander Boone Logan signed a three-year, $16.5 million contract as a free agent in December 2013, the largest deal the Rockies have ever given a reliever, despite the fact that he was coming off arthroscopic elbow surgery. A healthy and effective Logan would take some of the burden off Brothers. Adam Ottavino throws hard and throws. He has become a dependable setup man and could close if Hawkins falters.  Colorado also added to its supply of relief arms with a January trade for David Hale and Gus Schlosser from Atlanta and signing former closer Rafael Betancourt and John Axford to minor-league deals. If anything, these additions could help create competition during spring training.

 

Middle Infield

Tulowitzki can impact the game on both offense and defense. But staying on the field has been a problem. He played just 91 games last year before undergoing labrum repair surgery on his left hip but still hit 21 home runs and finished with a .340 average and a 1.035 OPS. In eight full seasons in the majors, Tulowitzki has played 150 or more games only twice, and in the past three seasons, he has played in just 264 games. Second baseman DJ LeMahieu won his first Gold Glove last season and along with Tulowitzki gives the Rockies solid defense up the middle. LeMahieu, who typically bats eighth, has little power but makes steady contact. 

 

Corners

Arenado, one of the game’s top defensive third basemen, can make spectacular plays in any direction. Last year, he became the fifth player to win a Gold Glove in each of his first two seasons in the majors. He missed 37 games starting in late May due to a fracture in his left finger and missed the final two weeks of the season due to pneumonia. In between, he set a franchise record with a 28-game hitting streak. First baseman Justin Morneau revived his career last season, hitting .319 to win the National League batting title and adding 17 homers and a team-leading 82 RBIs. He catches what he can reach, made just four errors and saved his fellow infielders countless miscues by picking low throws out of the dirt. Signed to a two-year, $12.5 million contract as a free agent after the 2013 season, Morneau offers veteran presence and professionalism.

 

Outfield

Left fielder Corey Dickerson, an improved but below-average defender, has a live bat and plays with notable hustle and energy. He hit .312 with 76 RBIs and led the team last year in homers (24) and extra-base hits (57). Center fielder Charlie Blackmon, who can play all three outfield positions, hit .288 with 82 runs scored, 19 homers and 72 RBIs. He set a franchise record with five leadoff homers and led all big-league hitters with 69 RBIs from the leadoff spot. Gonzalez, a very gifted two-way player when healthy, was slowed by knee and finger injuries and finished with a career-low 70 games played, just 15 in the second half.

 

Catching

Nick Hundley will be a much-needed defensive upgrade over Wilin Rosario for the Rockies, whose pitchers will benefit from Hundley’s pitch-framing, receiving and game-calling skills. He won’t be counted on for offense but will benefit from playing at Coors Field. At hitter-friendly Camden Yards last year, Hundley hit .278 with three homers and 14 RBIs in 25 games.

 

Bench

Signing free agent Daniel Descalso to a two-year, $3.6 million contract was an under-the-radar move that will pay significant dividends. He’s a left-handed hitter who can play shortstop, second base and third base  — positions where the regulars bat right-handed — and he brings a winning pedigree from the Cardinals. Catcher Michael McKenry is a capable backup who works well with pitchers and is an adept receiver. Infielder Charlie Culberson is a reliable defender who adds little on offense. Outfielder Drew Stubbs strikes out more than once every three at-bats but has power (15 homers in 388 at-bats) and speed (20-for-23 in stolen bases) and is reliable in center field. Outfielder Brandon Barnes led the majors in pinch hits last year, going 17-for-61 (.279) in that role.

 

Management

Bridich resisted any urge to move quickly and revamp the roster, holding to the belief that the Rockies were a good team early last season when healthy. That said, Bridich will listen to offers for often-injured stars Tulowitzki and Gonzalez. The latter is owed $53 million over the next three seasons, while Tulowitzki has $118 million guaranteed in a contract that runs through 2020 with a buyout the following year. Manager Walt Weiss has a bigger voice in personnel decisions than he did under O’Dowd and Geivett.

 

Final Analysis

To have any chance to contend, the Rockies must hold their own and play close to .500 on the road and dominate at Coors Field, winning at least 50 games at home. If this pattern is going to unfold in 2015, the Rockies are going to have to pitch much better than they did last season. It will take a handful of career years and/or significant contributions from young pitchers for the Rockies to make the leap to contender status.

 

2015 Prediction: 5th in NL West

 

Projected Lineup

CF       Charlie Blackmon (L)         His 28 stolen bases were the most by a Rockie since Matt Holliday (28) and Willy Taveras (68) in 2008.

3B       Nolan Arenado (R)  His club-record 28-game hitting streak was longest in the majors last year.

RF       Carlos Gonzalez (L)            Had surgery to remove benign tumor from left index finger June 10 and to repair left knee patella tear Aug. 18.

SS       Troy Tulowitzki (R)   Tied for NL lead in home runs (21) at All-Star break and led in average (.345) and OPS (1.048).

1B       Justin Morneau (L)  Hit .327 with .363 OBP and .515 slugging percentage at Coors Field and .309/.364/.475 on the road.

LF       Corey Dickerson (L)            In 200 career games, has 80 extra-base hits — 40 doubles, 11 triples and 29 homers — in 630 at-bats.

C         Nick Hundley (R)     Newcomer is very familiar with NL West after spending most of the past seven seasons with the Padres.

2B       DJ LeMahieu (R)     Led all NL second basemen in total chances (5.16), assists per nine innings (3.15) and double plays (99).

 

Bench

INF      Daniel Descalso (L)           Has fared better against LHP — .262 career average and .364 last year — than righthanders (.238/.211).

C         Michael McKenry (R)           Pitchers had 4.19 ERA in 406 innings with McKenry and 5.18 ERA in 824 innings with Wilin Rosario.

OF       Drew Stubbs (R)      Set career highs in batting (.289), on-base percentage (.339), slugging percentage (.482) and OPS (.821).

OF       Brandon Barnes (R)           Had 100 strikeouts in 292 at-bats and hit just .182 (12-for-66) with runners in scoring position.

INF      Charlie Culberson (R)        Made just one error at both shortstop, where he played 135.2 innings, and second base (129).

 

Rotation

LH       Jorge De La Rosa   Went 10–2 with 3.08 in 15 starts at hitter-friendly Coors Field, holding opponents to .228 average.

RH      Jhoulys Chacin        Rotator cuff strain limited him to 63.1 innings in 11 starts, the last on June 28.

LH       Tyler Matzek  Fourth Rockies rookie pitcher to throw a complete game shutout and first since 2001.

RH      Jordan Lyles Missed 54 games after suffering broken bone in left hand on June 4 in a tag play while covering home plate.

RH      Eddie Butler  Went 1–1 with 6.75 ERA in three starts for the Rockies; lefthanders batted .423 (11-for-26) with 1.310 OPS.

 

Bullpen

RH      LaTroy Hawkins (Closer)   Went 23 for 26 in save situations, pitched in 57 games and ranks 16th all-time with 1,000 appearances.

RH      Adam Ottavino          Held right-handed hitters to .238 average and .645 OPS in 172 AB, but lefties hit .347 with .943 OPS in 75 AB.

LH       Boone Logan           Was on disabled list four times, three with elbow soreness that led to Sept. 11 surgery.

LH       Rex Brothers            Left-handed batters hit .309 with four home runs and a .908 OPS against him in 97 at-bats.

RH      Jairo Diaz      Averaged 11.8 Ks and 2.8 walks per nine innings in 56 games combined at High-A and Double-A.

RH      Brooks Brown          Former first-round pick limited first batters he faced to an average of .115.

RH      Tommy Kahnle        Averaged 4.1 walks per nine innings but averaged 8.3 Ks per nine and held opposing batters to .206 average.

 

Beyond the Box Score

Non-Coors factor The Rockies scored a franchise-worst 255 runs on the road, the fewest in the majors, and batted .228. Only the 2010 Rockies had a lower average (.226) on the road.

Home cooking Jorge De La Rosa went 10–2 with a 3.08 ERA in 15 starts last year at Coors Field, giving him a 45–14 (.763) record at home in 79 games, 75 starts, since joining the Rockies’ rotation in 2008. The 45 wins and .763 winning percentage are franchise bests, and De La Rosa’s home winning percentage since 2008 is second in the majors only to Zack Greinke’s .782 percentage (61–17).

Going the distance Rookie Tyler Matzek threw the Rockies’ only complete game last season, a three-hit shutout against the Padres in his 16th career start on Aug. 30. It was the 12th complete game shutout in Denver and first since Jhoulys Chacin on April 15, 2011, against the Cubs.

April reign Outfielder Charlie Blackmon hit .374 (37-for-99) through the end of April with a 1.034 OPS and an average of one strikeout every 14 plate appearances. From May 1 through the end of the season, Blackmon hit .271 (134-for-494) with a .723 OPS and averaged one strikeout every 6.1 plate appearances.

Perfection Blackmon went 5-for-5 or better three times last season. Blackmon is the fifth player in the major leagues since 1900 to record three games of 5-for-5 or better, joining Hall of Famers Ty Cobb (1922), Tris Speaker (1923), Stan Musial (1948) and Tony Gwynn (1993) as well Ichiro Suzuki (2004).

June swoon While appearing in a team-leading and career-high 75 games, Adam Ottavino had a 3.60 ERA. In 13 games in June, he allowed 14 earned runs in 11.2 innings and had a 10.80 ERA. He yielded 12 earned runs in a combined 53.1 innings in 62 games in the other five months for a 2.03 ERA.

Making contact First baseman Justin Morneau, who won the National League batting title with a .319 average in his first season in Colorado, was one of the most difficult players in the league to strike out. He tied for fourth in the NL with 9.2 plate appearance per strikeout.

 

2014 Top Draft Pick

Kyle Freeland, LHP

Born and raised in Denver and drafted eighth overall out of the University of Evansville, Freeland went 1–0 with a 1.56 ERA in five starts for Rookie-level Grand Junction and 2–0 with a 0.83 ERA in five starts for Low-A Asheville. He has two well above-average pitches — a fastball that he commands to both sides of the plate, and a wipeout slider. His fastball ranges from 90-97 mph and sits at 92-93 mph, and he comes inside fearlessly to get outs, not just for intent. In instructional league, Freeland’s priority was his changeup, a pitch he didn’t throw often in college. He has the potential to be a front-of-the-rotation starter and likely will get to Double-A New Britain at some point in 2015 and the big leagues possibly in 2016.

 

Top 10 Prospects

1. Jon Gray, RHP (23) Power pitcher taken third overall in 2013 out of Oklahoma. Went 10–5 with a 3.91 ERA at Double-A Tulsa last year. Will vie for rotation spot in spring training.

2. Eddie Butler, RHP (24) Winter strength program will enable him to hold his delivery better. Has power stuff and will contend for rotation spot.

3. David Dahl, OF (21) 10th overall pick in the 2012 draft rebounded from a lost 2013 season to hit .309 in 90 games at Low-A Asheville and .267 after promotion to High-A Modesto.

4. Kyle Freeland, LHP (21) 2014 first-round draft pick should move up the system and compete for a spot in the rotation in the near future.

5. Ryan McMahon, 3B (20) Hit .282 at Low-A Asheville last year with 46 doubles, 18 homers and 102 RBIs. Has impressive power to all fields for such a young hitter.

6. Raimel Tapia, OF (21) Hit .326 with 93 runs, nine homers and 72 RBIs at Low-A Asheville. Exceptional hand-eye coordination and plus bat speed.

7. Tom Murphy, C (24) Fully recovered from shoulder injury that limited him to 94 at-bats last year at Double-A, where he hit .213 with five homers and 15 RBIs. Arm strength, accuracy and receiving skills are all above average.

8. Antonio Senzatela, RHP (20) Went 15–2 with a 3.11 ERA last year at Low-A Asheville. Added a slider to above-average fastball and plus changeup.

9. Forrest Wall, 2B, (19) Pure hitter with loose hands who batted .318 with three homers, 24 RBIs and .416 OBP at Rookie-level Grand Junction.

10.  Tyler Anderson, LHP (25) First-round pick in 2011 went 7–4 with a 1.98 ERA last year at Double-A Tulsa. If healthy, he could pitch in majors in 2015.

Teaser:
Colorado Rockies 2015 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, March 13, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Chicago Bulls, NBA
Path: /nba/things-look-be-ending-between-tom-thibodeau-and-chicago-bulls
Body:

Breakups are hard, and they’re said to happen for all sorts of reasons. Different goals, different principles, sudden realizations about your partner’s hygiene — love is hard when it fails, and that failure often rears its thorny head through the peskiest, most seemingly forgettable details. Right?

 

There’s long been no love lost between Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau and his front office, though — and the reasons for their enmity are not exactly subtle, or secret. Despite being one of the winningest coaches in NBA history through five seasons in Chicago (compiling a .648 regular-season record) the Bulls seem to be headed for a split with their hard-charging man.

 

Once seen as a revolutionary mind who changed the nature of NBA defense, Thibs is now frequently criticized for operating with false concepts. His blue-collar, win-at-all-costs program has been linked to repetitive major injuries to key players Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Today, Rose, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson are all out of the lineup as we approach the playoffs, and Noah is still playing on a problematic knee.

 

The blame for these hurts should be sourced to a number of things. While Thibodeau’s approach certainly doesn’t help to nurture any human’s body, there are also large factors of luck, science and timing to be accounted for with the Bulls’ health.

 

But the reported issue between the Bulls’ coach and team management — led by John Paxson and Gar Forman — is Thibodeau’s management of his players’ minutes. Virtually every major NBA reporter has confirmed this tension.

 

The smoke over the fire between these two sides, though, seems misrepresented by such a small grapple. Breakups don’t happen when you don’t like your partner’s new tattoo, and they don’t arise over “minutes”; they come from a more fundamental place. 

 

The combative Thibodeau was likely never meant to last with the sensitive Paxson and Forman, who recently asked for a public apology from Thibs’ friend and Bulls critic Jeff Van Gundy. These people just don’t like each other, and it should surprise no one if they finally call it quits this summer over something deeper than what the hands of a clock say.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, March 13, 2015 - 10:37
Path: /mlb/arizona-diamondbacks-2015-preview-and-prediction
Body:

The Diamondbacks are rebooting, and it is hard to blame them. The wall-to-wall changes began with the hiring of Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa as chief baseball officer last May, and also include new GM Dave Stewart, new director of baseball operations De Jon Watson and new manager Chip Hale. While it remains to be seen if the overhaul from a 98-loss season will pay immediate dividends in a division that has produced the World Series winner in three of the last five years, at least the D-backs should be healthier after the 100-year flood of injuries to key contributors in 2014.

 

Rotation

Stewart, a four-time 20-game winner, knows pitching, and he made several moves to rework the starting rotation in his first offseason. At least three of the D-backs’ starters will be new after the trades that brought righthanders Rubby De La Rose and Allen Webster from Boston and Jeremy Hellickson from Tampa Bay. Steady righthander Josh Collmenter is penciled is as the No. 1 starter, while lefthander Vidal Nuno and righties Chase Anderson and Trevor Cahill are among the candidates for the final spot. Collmenter is intriguing. He has a severe overhand delivery that he attributes to his hatchet-throwing days as a kid in the Michigan woods. His fastball tops out at 87 mph, but he throws strikes, commands his secondary pitches and gets outs. De La Rosa has hit 100 mph in a career that was disrupted by Tommy John surgery in 2012, and he has the kind of power arm not seen around here since the Randy Johnson/Curt Schilling days. He is 8–15 with a 4.34 ERA in 44 major league appearances while averaging 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Hellickson was the AL Rookie of the Year in 2012, the first of three straight seasons of double-digit victories, before surgery to remove bone chips compromised his 2014 season. Stewart was not fazed — his best seasons came after he had bone chips removed. Webster has a three-pitch mix with a fastball that can touch the mid-90s. Nuno, obtained in a July trade for Brandon McCarthy last season, throws a handful of pitches at a variety of speeds. His inclusion would give the D-backs a lefty in the rotation. Anderson’s nine victories tied Mets righthander Jacob deGrom for the most among NL rookies last season. All-Star Patrick Corbin is expected back from Tommy John surgery in June. In January, the Diamondbacks signed 21-year-old Cuban righthander Yoan Lopez for $8.25 million. Where Lopez will start the season remains to be seen, but Arizona hopes its investment will pay dividends in the majors sooner than later.

 

Bullpen

Righthander Addison Reed returns as the closer after recording 32 saves in a hit-or-miss first season in the National League. Reed averaged 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings and had a 4.6:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but he was susceptible to the long ball, giving up 11 home runs in 59.1 innings. No other closer gave up as many. Sidearming setup man Brad Ziegler again was effective in keeping the ball on the ground, inducing nine double-play ground balls in 67 innings before missing most of September with microfracture knee surgery. He may be delayed at the start of spring training but is not expected to miss much if any of the regular season. Righthander Evan Marshall and lefthander Oliver Perez are strike-throwing setup men who can be used from the sixth inning on. Marshall had a 3.18:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio as a rookie in 2014, and Perez was at 3.17:1 as the primary lefthander out of the pen, although he is more than a situational lefty. Randall Delgado gained velocity into the mid-90s when he moved to the bullpen after struggling as a starter last April. Daniel Hudson returned in September after his second Tommy John surgery and threw well. Righthander Matt Stites has a fastball that touches 97-98 mph, but command was an issue his rookie year.

 

Middle Infield

After missing two months with a shoulder injury, Chris Owings spent the final month of the 2014 season at second base and showed well. He had 27 extra-base hits (15 doubles) and 26 RBIs in 91 games in 2014, above-average pop for a middle infielder. Rookie Nick Ahmed, obtained in the Justin Upton deal with Atlanta before the 2013 season, is considered to be the same type of plus-plus defender as departed Didi Gregorius, who was traded to the Yankees in the offseason.

 

Corners

The D-backs opened the wallet for Cuban league bopper Yasmany Tomas, committing $68.5 million over six years. Tomas will receive a $14 million signing bonus and a total of $36 million over the first four years, after which he can opt out and become a free agent. Scouts love his power; he fits best on the D-backs roster at third base, where he will be given every chance. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt has become one of the top power hitters in the game, and the D-backs’ season-ending plummet last season coincided with the fractured right hand he suffered when he was hit by a pitch Aug. 1.

 

Outfield

A.J. Pollock was emerging as a rising star before he missed three months with a broken hand after being hit by a pitch on May 31. He has speed, gap power and the range of Steve Finley and should be the starter in center field for years to come. Mark Trumbo will move from left field to right field, which should be a better fit, and his bat is a constant. Even if his home run rate was slightly down last season in his first season in the NL, Trumbo had 61 RBIs in 88 games, right on his career average. Success story David Peralta, who was playing independent ball as late as June 2013, will play left field. 

 

Catching

Tuffy Gosewisch inherits the position, which opened when Miguel Montero — and the remaining $40 million on his contract — was traded to the Cubs. Gosewisch played eight minor league seasons before making the majors in late 2013, and this will be his first shot at even semi-regular playing time. He has not shown the Montero bat, but he is a strong catch-and-throw guy and a good handler of the staff. Gosewisch has thrown out 40 percent of potential base-stealers in his short career.

 

Bench

Ender Inciarte was a valuable piece at all three outfield spots and in the leadoff position last season after injuries to regulars Trumbo and Pollock. Outfielder Cody Ross is going on two years removed from a devastating hip injury, and he offers solid production against left-handed pitchers. Catcher Oscar Hernandez was the first pick of the Rule 5 Draft from Tampa Bay and is major league-ready as a defender. Aaron Hill had 10 homers and 60 RBIs last season, when he played mostly third base the final month. Cliff Pennington is a valuable defender at three infield positions.

 

Management

La Russa was interviewed for sitting general manager Kevin Towers’ position last May before the D-backs created a new position for him, and he jumped in head-first. La Russa made the rounds of the D-backs’ minor league affiliates to familiarize himself with the personnel before hiring Stewart and Watson in late September. This is a new job for La Russa, but it is hard (read: impossible) to argue with his previous success.

 

Final Analysis

President/CEO Derrick Hall and managing general partner Ken Kendrick remain aggressive in seeking ways to compete in a large market that is one of the smallest in TV/radio reach and revenue. The D-backs wooed Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka before losing him to the Yankees, and this time landed their top international free agent target in Tomas. La Russa, Stewart and Watson provide a strong triumvirate, although it remains to be seen if the D-backs have enough pitching to compete this season. They will hit.

 

2015 Prediction: 4th in NL West

 

Projected Lineup

CF       A.J. Pollock (R)         Breakout 2014 season curtailed by broken hand; hit .324 with 14 extra-base hits in 17 games at leadoff.

2B       Chris Owings (R)    Adjusted to second base effortlessly; his 1.8 WAR (fangraphs.com) was fourth among NL rookies last year.

1B       Paul Goldschmidt (R)         Second player in franchise history with consecutive .300 seasons.

LF       David Peralta (L)      Led NL rookies (min. 325 at-bats) in slugging percentage, triples and OPS; added six outfield assists. 

RF       Mark Trumbo (R)     Finished strong with six homers and 22 RBIs in September; one RBI per 5.38 at-bats a career best.

3B       Yasmany Tomas (R)          Veteran major league talent evaluator: “The guy has potential game-changing power.”

C         Tuffy Gosewisch (R)           After eight-year minor league apprenticeship, defense-first Gosewisch gets call to replace Miguel Montero.

SS       Nick Ahmed (R)       Hit .312 with 14 stolen bases in the Pacific Coast League; Baseball America’s best defensive shortstop. 

 

Bench

OF       Ender Inciarte (L)     Hit .308 the final two months, and he was successful on 19 of 22 stolen base attempts for the season.

OF       Cody Ross (R)         Ross should be more like his old self after a full offseason of training.

INF      Aaron Hill (R)            One of six second basemen with 20-plus doubles in the last six seasons; also could see time at third.

INF      Cliff Pennington (S) Versatile sparkplug is well above average at all three infield spots and is comfortable in either batter’s box.

C         Oscar Hernandez (R)         Rule 5 pick has thrown out 42 percent of potential base-stealers in five minor league seasons.

 

Rotation

RH      Josh Collmenter      Set career highs in victories, starts, strikeouts and innings pitched after early-season move to the rotation.

RH      Rubby De La Rosa A four-game winner in 18 starts with Boston in 2014, his first extended time in a rotation.

RH      Jeremy Hellickson  Averaged 12 victories and 180 innings in Tampa Bay in 2011-13 before bone chip surgery disrupted 2014.  

RH      Allen Webster           Had five victories for Boston while yo-yoing between the Red Sox and Pawtucket a year ago.

LH       Vidal Nuno    Tied for the major league lead with seven “wins lost,” games he left with a lead that the bullpen did not hold.

 

Bullpen

RH      Addison Reed (Closer)      One of 10 closers with at least 30 saves in the last two seasons, the only to do it in each league.

RH      Evan Marshall          Stranded 24 of 29 inherited runners while recording a team rookie-record 19 holds after early May recall.

RH      Brad Ziegler  Second in franchise history with 246 appearances; will pass Jose Valverde with his eighth outing this season.

LH       Oliver Perez One of three lefties in MLB with 60 appearances and 70 Ks in each of the last two seasons.

RH      Daniel Hudson        Made three September appearances in his first major league games since two Tommy John surgeries.

RH      Randall Delgado     Averaged 11.45 strikeouts per nine innings after an April move to the bullpen, when his velocity ticked up.

RH      Matt Stites     Held lefties to a .189 average following mid-June promotion after 15 saves at two minor league stops.

 

Beyond the Box Score

Career change Rookie David Peralta’s helium-laced rise to the major leagues was as captivating as it was successful. Signed as a pitcher with St. Louis in the mid-2000s, Peralta was released in 2011 because of repeated left shoulder issues. He returned to his native Venezuela and took up hitting, working his way to independent league outposts in Amarillo and Harlingen, Texas, before D-backs scout Chris Carminucci found him. The rest is, well, history. Peralta hit .346 at Class A Visalia in 2013 and was tied with Kris Bryant for the Southern League RBI lead last season before being promoted to the parent D-backs on June 1. It took. “I was going to make it,” Peralta says. “I was going to fight for it.”

Not such a g’day The D-backs opened the 2014 major league season in Sydney, Australia, with two games in 24 hours against the Los Angeles Dodgers in late March. The D-backs lost both games a week after losing No. 1 starter Patrick Corbin for the season due to Tommy John surgery, and it never got much better. The D-backs logged about 15,500 miles and 30 hours of plane time on the trip.

Kid-friendly First baseman Paul Goldschmidt and his wife Amy are registered volunteers at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, meaning they can visit on a regular basis. Goldschmidt has helped raise more than $200,000 for the hospital the last two years, first with proceeds from a limited edition print and last year with a “Goldschmidt Bleacher Creature” keepsake toy.

Giving back Reliever Brad Ziegler is active in support of military families with his Pastime for Patriots Foundation and was one of six finalists for the 2014 Bob Feller Act of Valor Award, given annually to the major leaguer who best fits the criteria of baseball accomplishments, integrity and character, service to the country and community involvement. Ziegler’s foundation provides education-based financial assistance and tickets to major league games for military families. Last May, Ziegler dedicated the latest of the D-backs’ youth baseball fields in Prescott, Ariz., as a tribute to the memory of the 19 Granite Mountain Hot Shots who perished in the Yarnell Hill wild fire in 2013. Ziegler proposed the idea to the D-backs and attended the dedication. “I cried my whole speech,” he says.

 

2014 Top Draft Pick

Touki Toussaint, RHP

The D-backs were pleasantly surprised to find the hard-throwing righthander available with the 16th pick, and with starting pitching a stated priority, they snapped him up. Toussaint hit the low 90-mph range with his fastball at Coral Springs (Fla.) Academy last spring and struck out 86 while giving up 17 hits in 45 innings. Toussaint, who had committed to play at Vanderbilt, has an eclectic background. His father was a senator and presidential candidate in Haiti, but Toussaint and his mother moved to Florida when he was 6. His first sport of choice was soccer. He tried baseball at age 10 but quit when he struck out “22 times in 24 at-bats,” he said. He returned to the game for good at 12. His immersion in pro ball was a learning experience — 8.48 ERA in 12 games — but the D-backs believe they have seen the tip of the iceberg.

 

Top 10 Prospects

1. Archie Bradley, RHP (22) Bradley may have pushed too hard to make the major league rotation in 2014, suffering a strained right flexor tendon.

2. Yasmany Tomas, 3B (24) Most recent Cuban season produced a .290/.346/.450 line with six HRs, 21 walks, 46 strikeouts in 257 plate appearances.

3. Yoan Lopez, RHP (21) Diamondbacks signed highly touted Cuban arm for $8.25 million.

4. Jake Lamb, 3B (24) Lamb cannot do much more in the minor leagues after slashing .318/.399/.551 with 35 doubles, 14 homers and 79 RBIs in 103 games at Class AA Mobile last season.

5. Touki Toussaint, RHP (18) First-round pick in 2014 is an outstanding athlete who consistently throws in the low 90s.

6. Aaron Blair, RHP (22) A big-bodied bulldog type, Blair leads with a heavy fastball and adds a good secondary mix. He averaged 10 strikeouts per nine innings in 2014, finishing at Class AA Mobile.

7. Braden Shipley, RHP (23) The D-backs’ first-round pick in the 2013 draft, Shipley is a converted shortstop with an abundance of athleticism and a fastball that has touched the high-90 mph range.

8. Peter O’Brien, C (24) Has shown prodigious power in three minor league seasons, hitting 34 homers last season in little more than four months.

9. Robbie Ray, LHP (23) The D-backs’ return in the three-team trade that sent Didi Gregorius to the Yankees, Ray had a strong 2013.

10. Brandon Drury, 3B (22) Drury followed his minor league-leading 51 doubles in 2013 with his best year — 42 doubles, 23 homers, 95 RBIs — at two levels last year.

Teaser:
Arizona Diamondbacks 2015 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, March 13, 2015 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: Hideki Matsuyama, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-19-hideki-matsuyama
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 19: Hideki Matsuyama

 

Born: Feb. 25, 1992, Matsuyama, Ehime, Japan | Career PGA Tour Wins: 1 (6 on Japanese Tour) | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $2,837,477 (27th) World Ranking: 15

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Matsuyama was the best iron player on Tour in 2014. He was only 116th in greens in regulation, but from every distance — from 50 yards to over 250 yards — he was in the top 30 in proximity to the hole, the consistency of which put him above great ball-strikers like Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose. At 23 years of age he has won some of the biggest events in the game, such as the Memorial and the Dunlap Phoenix, with the latter being a great predictor of success for so many of its champions. Names like Johnny Miller, Seve Ballesteros Tom Watson, Ernie Els, Tiger Woods and Luke Donald used this late-season win in Japan to launch them to great follow-up years. Matsuyama has already shown an ability to contend in majors, and this early success combined with his power and precision give him the best chance to become Japan’s first major winner.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 5
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - Cut
U.S. Open - T35
British Open - T39
PGA Championship - T35

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T27 (2011)
U.S. Open - T10 (2013)
British Open - T6 (2013)
PGA Championship - T19 (2013)
Top-10 Finishes: 2
Top-25 Finishes: 3
Missed Cuts: 1

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, March 13, 2015 - 10:27
Path: /college-football/big-tens-pre-spring-top-15-player-rankings-2015
Body:

The national perception of the Big Ten shifted at the end of the 2014 season thanks to Ohio State’s national championship and Michigan’s hire of Jim Harbaugh as the program’s new coach. While the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry is only going to increase in intensity with Harbaugh going up against Urban Meyer, don’t forget about Michigan State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. The Spartans return some of the league’s top talent with quarterback Connor Cook and defensive end Shilique Calhoun in 2015. 

 

With spring practice underway, it’s never too early to look ahead at 2015. Here’s a quick (and very early) primer on the Big Ten’s top 15 players for 2015. This list takes into account production so far in career, as well as a slight projection for the upcoming year. Of course, this list is all subject to change later this summer as depth charts and personnel shift during spring practice.

 

Big Ten’s Pre-Spring Top 15 Players for 2015

 

1. Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

2014 Stats: 55 tackles, 21 TFL, 13.5 sacks, 4 FF

 

Bosa was a disruptive force for Ohio State’s defense last season, leading the Big Ten with 13.5 sacks and 21 tackles for a loss. He should be one of college football’s top defenders in 2015. 

 

2. Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior

2014 Stats: 3,214 yards, 24 TDs, 8 INTs

 

Cook will have to find a new go-to receiver with Tony Lippett out of eligibility, but the senior enters 2015 as the top quarterback in the Big Ten. Cook has guided Michigan State to 24 wins (including two huge bowl victories) over the last two years.

 

3. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

2014 Stats: 1,878 yards, 18 TDs, 28 catches, 220 yards

 

Elliott closed out the 2014 season on a tear, rushing for at least 220 yards in each of the final three games to help Ohio State win the national championship. The Missouri native is one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman in 2015.

 

4. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

2014 Stats: 2,977 yards, 12 TDs, 15 INTs

 

Sure, Penn State’s offense struggled in 2014, but let’s not forget Hackenberg threw for 2,955 yards and 20 scores as a true freshman in 2013. With a little more help from his offensive line, Hackenberg – one of the top NFL prospects in the 2016 draft (if he wants to come out early) – should rebound in 2015.

 

5. Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior

2014 Stats: 39 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 8 sacks, 1 FF

 

Calhoun turned down the NFL for one more season in East Lansing. Over his three-year career with the Spartans, the New Jersey native has accumulated 16.5 sacks and 29 tackles for a loss.

 

6. Anthony Zettel, DT, Penn State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior

2014 Stats: 42 tackles, 17 TFL, 8 sacks, 1 FF

 

Zettel was quietly one of the nation’s most productive defensive linemen last season. He recorded 42 tackles (17 for a loss) and eight sacks in 13 games. Zettel earned Athlon Sports All-America honors after the 2014 campaign.

 

7. Jack Conklin, OT Michigan State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

 

Conklin is a former walk-on that has emerged as one of the nation’s top offensive linemen over the last two years. The Michigan native has started 26 games for the Spartans and earned fourth-team All-American honors by Athlon Sports in 2014.

 

8. Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore

2014 Stats: 81 tackles, 16.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 2 INT, 3 PBU

 

Lee is one of the nation’s top rising stars on the defensive side of the ball. He recorded 81 tackles last season in his debut, including a standout performance (7 tackles, 2 sacks) in the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama.

 

9. Ohio State Quarterbacks

All three Ohio State quarterbacks could individually rank in this space. But for now, let’s just slide a placeholder into the rankings and update prior to fall practice.

 

10. Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior

 

Decker was the lone returning starter on Ohio State’s offensive line and anchored a group that showed steady improvement over the course of 2014. The Ohio native has started 29 consecutive games entering the 2015 season.

 

11. Jack Allen, C, Michigan State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior

 

Allen and teammate Jack Conklin helped anchor a Michigan State offensive line that allowed only 11 sacks last season and paved the way for rushers to average 5.2 yards per carry. Allen enters 2015 with 35 career starts.

 

12. Vonn Bell, S, Ohio State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

2014 Stats: 92 tackles, 2 TFL, 6 INT, 6 PBU

 

Bell turned in a breakout season in his first full year as a starter, finishing second on Ohio State’s defense with 92 tackles. His six interceptions tied for first in the Big Ten, which included three picks over the final four games.

 

13. Briean Boddy-Calhoun, CB, Minnesota

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior

2014 Stats: 51 tackles, 2 TFL, 5 INT, 9 PBU, 2 FF

 

Boddy-Calhoun was one of the leaders for a stingy Minnesota secondary last season. The Delaware native led the Golden Gophers by picking off five passes and his 14 defended passes ranked second in the Big Ten.

 

14. Maliek Collins, DT, Nebraska

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

2014 Stats: 45 tackles, 14 TFL, 4.5 sacks

 

Collins isn’t a household name yet, but the Missouri native is poised for a breakout year as the anchor for Nebraska’s defense. In his first full season as a starter in 2014, Collins recorded 45 tackles (14 for a loss) and 4.5 sacks. He has the talent to push for All-American honors in 2015.

 

15. William Likely, CB, Maryland

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

2014 Stats: 83 tackles, 4 TFL, 6 INT, 9 PBU

 

Likely was a first-team All-Big Ten selection after a standout 2014 campaign, which featured a big-play effort on defense (six interceptions) and on special teams (two return touchdowns.

 

Other Players to Watch in Spring Practice

 

Ja’Whaun Bentley, LB, Purdue

Bentley emerged as one of Purdue’s defensive leaders as a true freshman, ranking second on the team with 76 tackles.

 

Vince Biegel, LB, Wisconsin

Biegel was on the cusp of making the top 15. He was one of the Badgers’ top defenders in 2014 after recording 16.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks.

 

Leonte Carroo, WR, Rutgers

Carroo just missed the top 15 player rankings. How will the senior perform with a new quarterback and play-caller in 2015?

 

Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin

Melvin Gordon will be missed, but Wisconsin is in good shape in the backfield with Clement returning for his junior season. Over the last two years, Clement has rushed for 1,496 yards and 16 scores. He should easily eclipse the 1,000-yard mark with more carries in 2015.

 

Imani Cross, RB, Nebraska

Will Cross replace Ameer Abdullah? Or will the Cornhuskers turn to Adam Taylor or Terrell Newby?

 

Jordan Howard, RB, Indiana

UAB transfer should be a solid replacement for Tevin Coleman.

 

Wes Lunt, QB, Illinois

Has the talent to be one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten. Can he stay healthy?

 

Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State

Primed for a bigger role on Michigan State’s defense after recording 15 tackles and 1.5 sacks as a true freshman in 2014.

 

Drew Ott, DE, Iowa

Earned second-team All-Big Ten honors by the league media in 2014 and will be the leader for a defensive line that must replace both starting tackles this offseason.

 

Paris Palmer, OT, Penn State

Junior college recruit is a key piece in Penn State’s hopes of improving the offensive line in 2015.

 

Jabrill Peppers, CB, Michigan

Five-star recruit was forced to redshirt due to injury after three games in 2013. Should be an impact defender for new coach Jim Harbaugh in 2015.

 

Anthony Walker, LB, Northwestern

Florida native started seven games as a redshirt freshman and impressed by recording 51 tackles and a team-high nine for a loss.

Teaser:
Big Ten's Pre-Spring Top 15 Player Rankings for 2015
Post date: Friday, March 13, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketballs-best-players-every-height
Body:

College basketball, especially this time of year, is all about mismatches.

 

In general, that means a power forward with quickness or a big guy who can step out to take a 3.

 

With 351 teams in college basketball, the sample size leads to size mismatches between a 5-foot-8 guard and a 7-6 center. And we’re not kidding. This is a matchup that actually happened a year ago.

 

That leads us to the Tall-America team, a collection of the best players at every height from a 5-7 point guard to a 7-6 center.

 

For sake of consistency, we used only the heights provided on school rosters for this season. We’re not ignorant to schools adding an inch or two to each player, but we also don’t have exact heights from the NBA Draft.

 

5-7 

Christopher Anderson, San Diego

Anderson does what you’d hope for a 5-7, 150-pound point guard. He dished out 197 assists and grabbed 58 steals. Anderson finished his career 9.2 points, 5.9 assists and 2.0 steals per game.

 

5-8

Saah Nimley, Charleston Southern

Nimley — whose Twitter handle is @CantGuardNims — had a career year as a senior, averaging 21.2 points per game to lead the Big South.

 

5-9

Nic Moore, SMU

The Mustangs have had their personnel issues this season, but Moore, the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, has held it together. The Illinois State transfer averaged 14.4 points and 5.3 assists per game.

 

5-10

Stefan Moody, Ole Miss

Moody transferred from FAU to junior college to Ole Miss, where he’s become a clutch performer for a Rebels team en route to the NCAA Tournament. Moody averaged 18.8 points per game in conference play and shot better than 90 percent from the free throw line.

 

5-11

Phil Forte, Oklahoma State

One of the Cowboys’ Big Two, Forte rounded out his game from just a 3-point jump shooter. He’s still hitting nearly 40 percent for his 3s, but he’s doubled his production from inside the arc to average 15.5 points per game.

 

6-0

Yogi Ferrell, Indiana

Ferrell played as a freshman for the 2012-13 team that spent much of that season ranked No. 1. His last two teams haven’t had the record of his rookie season, but Ferrell has stood out through some difficult times. He was seventh in the Big Ten in scoring (16 ppg) and fourth in assists (five per game).

 

6-1

Tyus Jones, Duke

Jones took over the point guard spot manned by senior Quinn Cook and met all expectations for a national championship-contending Duke team. Jones is in the top 40 nationally in offensive rating, and his clutch play in the second half led Duke to a come-from-behind win over North Carolina on Feb. 18.

 

6-2

Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga

Pangos is averaging a career-low 11.6 points per game, but he’s having one of his best years. Credit that to the best supporting cast he’s had at Gonzaga. The senior is sixth nationally in offensive rating and a career-high five assists per game.

 

6-3

Kris Dunn, Providence

Dunn is arguably the nation’s must underrated player. He’s overshadowed by teammate LaDontae Henton’s 20 points per game, and he doesn’t play on a glamour team in a glamour league. Dunn averages 15.5 points of his own and leads the nation in assist rate at nearly 50 percent and ranks fifth in steal rate.

 

6-4

Buddy Hield, Oklahoma

Hield is leading the Big 12 at 17.4 points per game, winning the first Big 12 Player of the Year award for the Sooners since Blake Griffin in 2009. Hield topped 20 points in a Big 12 game eight times.

 

6-5 

Jerian Grant, Notre Dame

The representatives for 6-foot-5 may be the most loaded group in the country. Utah’s Delon Wright, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell and BYU’s Tyler Haws were all considered here. The nod, though, goes to Notre Dame’s high-scoring guard who averages 16.9 points per game and leads the ACC in assists (6.6).

 

6-6 

Justin Anderson, Virginia

Anderson returned from an eight-game absence in the ACC tournament against Florida State, going scoreless in 12 minutes. When healthy, Anderson has been the MVP of the 29-2 Cavaliers, averaging 12.8 points per game and ranking in the top 50 nationally in offensive rating.

 

6-7 

Stanley Johnson, Arizona

Johnson has had his trouble finishing around the basket at times this season (a 3-for-19 performance against Utah), but he still leads the Pac-12 champion in scoring at 14.1 points per game while averaging 6.6 rebounds.

 

6-8 

Montrezl Harrell, Louisville

This is another loaded height with Iowa State’s Georges Niang, LSU’s Jordan Mickey and Northern Iowa’s Seth Tuttle all representing for 6-foot-8. Harrell, though, can’t be dismissed as the pick. Harrell has an imposing offensive game that’s only getting more dangerous as he’s able to stretch the floor. Harrell is averaging 15.7 points per game and 9.5 rebounds.

 

6-9 

Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse

Christmas is one of the most improved players in the country. After failing to average double figures in his first three seasons, the former role player is averaging 17.5 points and nine rebounds for the Orange this season.

 

6-10

Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga

The most offensively productive Kentucky player is one who had to transfer to find playing time. Wiltjer’s game has been a perfect fit for Gonzaga as the junior has averaged 17.1 points per game, buoyed by 61 3-pointers by the forward.

 

6-11 

Jahlil Okafor, Duke

Okafor has been exactly what was promised for the post presence who could be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. Okafor is second in the ACC at 17.4 points per game, sixth nationally in effective field goal rate and eighth in offensive rebound rate. He’s neck and neck with our seven-footer for National Player of the Year.

 

7-0

Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein is also listed at 7-foot, but we have to go for Frank the Tank. Kaminsky burst onto the scene last season and has been even better in 2014-15, averaging 18.4 points per game and 8.1 rebounds. He’s always been a effective 3-point shooter, but he’s improved his jumper to 41 percent from long range.

 

7-1 

Ben Lawson, Western Kentucky

The Brit is a defensive specialist for the Hilltoppers, averaging 3.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots in 18.8 minutes per game.

 

7-2 

Isaac Haas, Purdue

The freshman Haas may have lit a fire under 7-foot center A.J. Hammons, who had a career year for the Boilers. Haas wasn’t so bad himself, averaging 7.9 points and 4.2 rebounds.

 

7-3 

Boris Bojanovsky, Florida State

The Slovak is averaging 5.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game for the Seminoles.

 

7-6

Mamadou N’Diaye, UC Irvine

The tallest player in college basketball for two seasons averaged 11.1 points and five rebounds per game in an injury-shortened season.

 

Christopher Anderson image courtest of Brock Scott. Mamdou N'Diaye image courtesy of UC Irvine.

Teaser:
College Basketball's Best Players at Every Height
Post date: Friday, March 13, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/secs-bubble-has-popped-let-murray-state-take-its-place
Body:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Let’s get weird, NCAA selection committee.

 

In one day, the SEC lost probably one and perhaps two teams in consideration for the NCAA Tournament. Texas A&M lost 66-59 to an Auburn team that won four SEC games all year. Ole Miss lost 60-58 to a South Carolina team that won six league games.

 

If the Aggies and Rebels are a representative sample of the bubble, send the lot of them to the NIT.

 

This is not picking on Texas A&M and Ole Miss in particular, but let’s entertain that they’re typical of the bubble. These two just happened to lose in one place in one day and in sloppy and spectacular fashion.

 

Texas A&M won’t go to the NCAA Tournament. Ole Miss, by virtue of beating Arkansas and Oregon on the road this year, might.

 

Every year we do the same thing. We identify a dozen or so halfway decent teams, call it the bubble, and those that don’t fall all over themselves against an Auburn or South Carolina in a conference tournament claim the last bids in the NCAA Tournament.

 

The selection committee needs to shake things up.

 

Every precedent says Murray State won’t be in the field. The Racers played one RPI top 50 team and lost to that team by 27. That’s the only NCAA Tournament they’ve faced all year.

 

No one on Selection Sunday will be surprised if Murray’s name isn’t called. When Murray doesn’t go to the tournament, selection committee chair Scott Barnes won’t have to go on TV and explain why.

 

No one will pity Murray State because those are the breaks.

 

In the last two weeks, I’ve watched Murray State in the Ohio Valley tournament, and I’ve watched Texas A&M and Ole Miss in the SEC tournament in the last two weeks.

 

I’d rather see more of Murray State.

 

Instead of rewarding Murray State’s 25-game win streak that came to an end on a 3-pointer with 3.2 seconds left in an Ohio Valley final, the committee will pick among flawed major conference bubble teams.

 

Even if Texas A&M and Ole Miss are out of the field, there are still plenty of teams like Texas A&M and Ole Miss still playing — Indiana, Purdue, UCLA and Georgia for starters.

 

And some unnamed school that makes South Carolina coach Frank Martin ill to see in the field.

 

“I’m not going to use school names because it makes me sick to my stomach,” Martin said. “Texas A&M gets beat today with a leading scorer in the conference (Danuel House) not playing. And all of the sudden they’re no longer an NCAA tournament team? Yet there’s a team that everyone has in from a different conference and they got beat last game of the season by a lot of points. Yet’s OK for them, but it’s not OK for our guys?”

 

We could take guesses at the team making Martin sick. Maybe it’s St. John’s, who lost 105-68 to Villanova in its last regular conference game. Or Ohio State, which lost 72-48 to Wisconsin. Maybe it was some lopsided conference tournament score.

 

The team he’s referring to doesn’t really matter.

 

We’re talking about a Texas A&M that turned the ball over 19 times and trailed by double figures in the second half to Auburn.

 

Or we’re talking about an Ole Miss team that turned the ball over 21 times and shot 30 percent from the field in a game it absolutely could not lose.

 

“We have had a hard time handling the pressure of games when things went bad for us,” A&M coach Billy Kennedy said.

 

Said Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy: “The inability to make a play has cost us.”

 

Sure, they both lost Saturday, but those aren’t trends I want Tournament coaches to admit.

 

Even in its last game, a loss, Murray State hit 11 3-pointers, scored 88 points and shot 33-of-68 from the floor. Let’s see more of that.

 

Teams like Ole Miss and Texas A&M have shown us enough. Perhaps Georgia has as well. The Bulldogs’ best two wins of the year are over Ole Miss. At least by drawing South Carolina, Georgia can show us it can beat the No. 11 seed in its own league, something the Bulldogs didn’t do during the regular season.

 

“How do you know the middle of the pack SEC is good? How do you know the middle of the pack Big Ten is good?” Prohm said after the Ohio Valley tournament. “Everybody just starts with an RPI number. That’s not fair. Watch the teams play. A team wins 25 in a row, there’s no question that team belongs in the Tournament. It shouldn’t even be up for debate. I’m not saying it’s a 10 seed (we deserve), but if it’s a 12 seed, a 12-seed play-in game, we definitely are deserving.”

 

And it’s not just Georgia or Ole Miss taking up valuable space in the NCAA Tournament.

 

Iowa lost to Penn State in the Big Ten tournament and will likely stay in the field despite doing nothing of note since early February. The Hawkeyes beat North Carolina in December, swept an OK Ohio State team and beat Maryland in early February. Since then, Iowa has lost to Northwestern, Minnesota and Penn State.

 

St. John’s lost to Providence by 17 and may still be in the field. 

 

And Murray State isn’t the only low-major that should find its way into the field,  regardless of the conference tournament. 

 

If Stephen F. Austin loses in the Southland tournament, the Lumberjacks are out, too. They’ve lost once since Nov. 24. They won their league by two games and neat VCU last year in the tournament.

 

North Carolina Central is 16-0 in the MEAC, won its league by four games and outscored league opponents by more than 15 points per game.

 

On the CBS Sports Eye on College Basketball Podcast, Gary Parrish suggested a tweak to the system.

 

Teams from traditional one-bid leagues win their regular season in dominant fashion get into the 64-team bracket, regardless of their conference tournament results. The conference tournament champion, in the case of the OVC, play in the first four.

 

The selection committee doesn’t even need to go that far.

 

Just take Murray State as an at-large. Or Stephen F. Austin or North Carolina Central if need be. Other arms of the NCAA ignore precedent all the time, why not tournament selection committee?

 

Don’t think of it as breaking the rules, just making new ones.

 

Photo courtesy of Tab Brockman, Murray State Athletics

Teaser:
The SEC's Bubble has Popped: Let Murray State Take its Place
Post date: Friday, March 13, 2015 - 08:30
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/nba-salary-cap-confirmed-take-big-jump
Body:

The NBA’s giant new TV deal, worth a reported $24 billion and penned this past fall, gave way to an inevitable trend: more money for players.

 

A big jump in the salary cap was confirmed this week, by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. Windhorst’s sources estimate that the cap, currently at about $63 million, will jump closer to the $88-$92 million range this summer. Such a development will surely be a boon for the upcoming free agent class.

 

LeBron James anticipated this event when he signed his most recent deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers, giving himself an opt-out clause after one year so he may renegotiate.

 

News of the jump in the cap comes after the players’ union declined a cap “smoothing” proposition, which would continue to pay players 51 percent of basketball-related revenue. The “smoothing” would mean a steady increase in the cap, but would ultimately net the players less than they’re capable of negotiating for.

 

Windhorst estimates that James, for instance, could be making as much as $30 million per year on a new deal, up from his current rate of $22 million.

 

The bigger picture here is a little clearer now, and it tells us that a future lockout is looking more likely. With aggressive, principled new leader Michele Roberts at the helm of the NBAPA, the players aren’t backing down from the owners, and the fight for a bigger share of the pot is on.

 

While the cap jump is a concession of sorts by the owners, they’re still likely to toe a hard line in 2017, when both sides have an opt-out clause from the current collective bargaining agreement. An era of increased transparency — in which we regularly learn unsavory things about ownership groups — has given players greater clout in Adam Silver’s NBA, and they appear quite ready to utilize it.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 12, 2015 - 17:47
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /68-funny-ncaa-tournament-march-madness-bracket-team-names-2015
Body:

The NCAA Tournament is almost here. Selection Sunday is around the corner. Only one person will win your office bracket pick ‘em pool. But everyone can have a funny March Madness bracket team name. Here are 68 names that should get a laugh, from the First Four to the Final Four.

 

 

Final Fourgasm

 

Cinderella Story

 

Boom Shaka Shaka

 

When I Think About You I Touch Bill Self

 

Not In Kansas Anymore

 

Shock It To Me

 

Shock and Awe

 

Stallings Will F’n Kill You

 

Court Stormers

 

Fear the Flash Mob

 

Hot Sauce

 

Bill Walton Smells Colors

 

7-10 Splits

 

Bubblicious

 

Full Metal Bracket

 

 

Game, Blouses

 

Prince Jersey Chaser

 

March Mad Men

 

Fast Breaking Bad

 

Ball So Hard University

 

Definitely In My Izzone

 

Sparty Party

 

Horace Grant’s Nephew

 

Bruce Pearl’s BBQ

 

Tokoto Drift

 

Tark the Left Shark

 

Tark the Shark Week

 

Bo Knows

 

Bo’s Badgers

 

F--- ‘Em Bucky

 

Bo Knows Loose Balls

 

Mudiay’s Semester Abroad

 

 

Headbands Make Her Dance

 

Anthony Benedetto’s Wahoos

 

I Left My Heart in Charlottesville

 

Big Dancin’ For Money

 

One Shining Moment

 

And1 Shining Moment

 

Nebrasketballers

 

Church of Bracketology

 

Amoeba Defense

 

Stretch Final Fours

 

Back Door Man

 

Air Ballers

 

TV Teddy

 

Two Ferns, One POTUS

 

One Man Wolf Pack

 

POTUS > Clark Kellogg

 

Pitino’s 15-Second Drill

 

Italian Sausage Stuffed Snapper

 

 

Ospreys Cray

 

One Time at Band Camp

 

Band-Aides

 

I Still Hate Laettner

 

Coach 1K

 

50 Shades of Grayson Allen

 

Cameron Crazies

 

Jay Bilas Follows Me

 

Duke’s No-Look Policy

 

SuperNova

 

Carmelo Anthony Davis

 

Air Rysheed Jordan

 

Calipari’s Recruiting Budget

 

Ashley’s Judds

 

Big Bluegrass Nation

 

One and Won

 

Undefeated

 

40–0

 

Teaser:
These funny March Madness bracket names will make your office pool laugh
Post date: Thursday, March 12, 2015 - 15:44
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-12-2015
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 12:

 

• In honor of the fast-approaching baseball season, here are MLB's hottest WAGs.

 

Whenever Jags fans try something like this, it just comes off as sad and desperate.

 

A high schooler executed an insane behind-the-back alley-oop from halfcourt

 

Enjoy these mesmerizing GIFs of things being destroyed by a golf ball.

 

• I was unaware of the existence of this footage: Michael Jordan shatters a backboard in high school.

 

• Just when you lose hope for humanity, you read something like this, and things don't seem so bad.

 

The Colts are clearly making a Super Bowl play. As are Chip Kelly and the Eagles. What an offseason.

 

• This is cool: Virtual reality technology is becoming a tool in football preparation.

 

An elderly security guard got trampled by a court storm.

 

There's a prehistoric beast loose on a Florida golf course.

 

• This slo-mo Vine of a lady getting hit in the face by a ball has a can't-look-away car-crash quality to it.

 

-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 12, 2015 - 11:24
Path: /college-football/secs-pre-spring-top-15-player-rankings-2015
Body:

The SEC hasn’t won a national title in the last two seasons, but this conference is still the best in the nation. And the two-year drought certainly won’t last much longer with the talent flowing to the 14 teams over the last few years on the recruiting trail.

 

With spring practice underway, it’s never too early to look ahead at 2015. Here’s a quick (and very early) primer on the SEC’s top 15 players for 2015. This list takes into account production so far in career, as well as a slight projection for the upcoming year. Of course, this list is all subject to change later this summer as depth charts and personnel shift during spring practice.

 

SEC's Pre-Spring Top 15 Players for 2015

 

1. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior

2014 Stats: 3,449 yards, 27 TDs, 11 INTs, 986 rush yards, 14 TDs

 

Prescott earned first-team All-SEC honors and guided Mississippi State to one of the best seasons in school history last year. He also led the SEC by averaging 341.2 total yards per game.

 

2. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

2014 Stats: 50 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 INT, 13 PBU

 

Hargreaves III has earned back-to-back first-team All-SEC honors and is one of the nation’s top lockdown cornerbacks.

 

3. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore

2014 Stats: 1,547 yards, 14 TDs, 18 catches, 213 yards, 2 TDs

 

Todd Gurley’s suspension and ACL tear didn’t derail Georgia’s offense, as Chubb emerged as one of the nation’s top running backs in the second half of 2014. Chubb averaged 165.4 rushing yards over the last eight games.

 

4. A’Shawn Robinson, DL, Alabama

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

2014 Stats: 49 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 FF

 

Robinson won’t record monster stats on Alabama’s defensive line, but he’s excellent at the point of attack and a critical piece in the rush defense.

 

5. Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

2014 Stats: 35 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks

 

Nkemdiche has been a steady force on Ole Miss’ defense over the last two years. However, entering his junior campaign, Nkemdiche appears primed for his best season in Oxford.

 

6. Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore

2014 Stats: 72 tackles, 20.5 TFL, 10 sacks

 

Barnett was one of the nation’s top freshmen in 2014 and led all SEC defenders with 18 tackles for loss in conference games. Here’s the scary part for the rest of the SEC: He’s only going to get better in 2015.

 

7. Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

 

Tunsil is recovering from a significant leg injury suffered in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. The Florida native has earned All-SEC accolades in back-to-back seasons, including first-team honors in 2014.

 

8. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

2014 Stats: 48 receptions, 632 yards, 5 TDs

 

Treadwell’s 2014 campaign was cut short by a significant leg injury. However, all signs point to the junior returning to full strength by the fall. He should be the SEC’s No. 1 receiver next year.

 

9. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore

2014 Stats: 1,034 rushing yards, 10 TDs, 7 catches, 127 yards

 

Fournette is primed for a monster sophomore season. After rushing for 1,034 yards as a freshman and splitting time with Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, Fournette should see over 200 carries in 2015. 

 

10. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore

2014 Stats: 53 tackles, 14 TFL, 11.5 sacks

 

Garrett ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the 247Sports Composite last season and certainly didn’t disappoint in his debut. In 12 games, Garrett led all Texas A&M defenders with 11.5 sacks and 14 tackles for a loss.

 

11. Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore

 

Robinson started all 14 games as a true freshman at left tackle last season. He should push for All-America honors in 2015.

 

12. Pharoh Cooper, WR, South Carolina

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

2014 Stats: 69 catches, 1,136 yards, 9 TDs

 

Cooper is one of the nation’s top all-around players. In addition to his 69 receptions last season, Cooper rushed for 200 yards, passed for 78 yards and was South Carolina’s leading punt returner (75 yards on 15 attempts).

 

13. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

2014 Stats: 990 yards, 11 TDs, 5 catches, 133 yards, 2 TDs

 

With T.J. Yeldon off to the NFL, Henry is now the No. 1 back for the Alabama offense. Expect Henry to rush for 1,000 yards for the first time in his career this season.

 

14. Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior

2014 Stats: 95 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FF

 

Ragland is Alabama’s top returning tackler (95) and is one of the leaders for a defense that should have one of the nation’s best front sevens in 2015.

 

15. Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

2014 Stats: 436 passing yards, 3 TDs, 0 INT

 

Yes, this is a projection based on the 2015 season. Johnson should thrive in coach Gus Malzahn’s offensive scheme and will be one of the top breakout players in the nation.

 

Players to Watch in Spring Practice

 

Otaro Alaka, LB, Texas A&M

Alaka registered 33 tackles in 12 games last season. The sophomore should play an even bigger role in Texas A&M’s defense in 2015.

 

Lorenzo Carter, LB, Georgia

Carter is a rising star as an outside linebacker in Georgia’s 3-4 scheme, recording 41 tackles and 4.5 sacks as a true freshman in 2014.

 

Alex Collins/Jonathan Williams, RB, Arkansas

Collins and Williams just missed the top 15 rankings. This duo will once again rank as of the top running back combinations in college football next year. 

 

C.J. Hampton, S, Ole Miss

Emergence of Hampton should help the Rebels replace standout safety Cody Prewitt and cornerback Senquez Golson.

 

Jason Hatcher, DE, Kentucky

Hatcher is a key piece in Kentucky’s rebuilding efforts on the defensive line in 2015. With Za’Darius Smith and Bud Dupree departing, Hatcher will be tasked with getting after the quarterback more next year.

 

Jerald Hawkins, OT, LSU

Hawkins is slated to move from right tackle to the left side to replace La’el Collins in 2015.

 

Hootie Jones, S, Alabama

Who steps up to replace Landon Collins? Jones – the No. 50 prospect in the 247Sports Composite – should be primed for a bigger role in the secondary.

 

Denver Kirkland, OT, Arkansas

Kirkland is set to move from guard to left tackle in 2015. The junior will anchor the Arkansas offensive line with right tackle Dan Skipper.

 

Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn

Lawson missed all of 2014 due to a torn ACL. Expect the sophomore to thrive under new coordinator Will Muschamp after recording four sacks and 7.5 tackles for a loss in 2013.

 

Marcus Loud/Charles Harris, DE, Missouri

Are Loud and Harris Missouri’s next standouts at defensive end?

 

Cam Sutton, CB, Tennessee

Sutton and teammate Curt Maggitt could easily make the top 15 of this list by the end of 2015.

 

Ralph Webb, RB, Vanderbilt

Despite a struggling passing offense, Webb managed to nearly record 1,000 yards in his Vanderbilt debut. Should be more involved with the offense in 2015.

 

De’Runnya Wilson, WR, Mississippi State

Wilson is Dak Prescott’s go-to target after catching 47 passes for 680 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014. He’s also an emerging star in the SEC.

 

David Williams, RB, South Carolina

With Mike Davis off to the NFL, Williams could assume the No. 1 role in South Carolina’s backfield. He averaged 5.7 yards per rush in limited opportunities in 2014. 

Teaser:
SEC's Pre-Spring Top 15 Player Rankings for 2015
Post date: Thursday, March 12, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Los Angeles Lakers, Steve Nash, NBA
Path: /nba/steve-nash-still-getting-paid-lakers
Body:

Maybe you forgot that Steve Nash is on the Los Angeles Lakers — we couldn’t blame you. He’s played just 65 games for L.A. over three seasons, including only 15 last year, and none this season.

 

But the 41-year-old is, in fact, still being paid $9.7 million by the team this year, despite being eliminated from the action before the action even began. An injury caused by lifting his bags was a sure omen that Nash should retire, but he hasn’t made that official yet.

 

You can’t blame him for waiting out his contract, and wanting to cash in on the last year’s worth of money on it — any one of us would likely do the same, in his shoes — but Nash’s involvement in any off-court Lakers duties has reached a level that’s straight-up comic. He didn’t even participate in a recent team photo:

 

Nash has been working a bit with rookie point guard Jordan Clarkson (one of the few bright spots on a sunken franchise), but has otherwise seemed totally absent from team affairs. Jeremy Lin said his invite for Nash boot camp was lost in the mail.

 

 

With Nash’s minimal input into Lakerland, it’s easy to imagine that he’s exacting a sort of revenge on the team that repeatedly thwarted him during his multiple-MVP-winning prime with the Phoenix Suns. While Nash is probably not doing that, his circumstances today are still funny and surreal when viewed through the lens of yesteryear — his poetically strange end with a broken Lakers team goes to show the weird ways in which fate and karma can work in the NBA.

 

Let’s try to remember the good times we had with Steve, though. He was once an innovative, electric player who turned every game he played into event viewing. And, of course, he also took part in one of the most memorable fan-athlete moments of our times, when he completed this epic highway beer handoff:

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 12, 2015 - 10:09
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/2015-fantasy-baseball-rankings-outfielders
Body:

Opening Day of the 2015 MLB season is less than a month away, which means fantasy baseball is just around the corner. For some leagues, drafts have already begun or will soon begin and Athlon Sports is here to help.

 

Besides providing our comprehensive Fantasy Baseball Big Board, we also have our positional rankings, courtesy of Bruce Herman. These are pulled straight from this year’s 2015 MLB Preview magazine, which is available at newsstands everywhere and for purchase online.

 

Rankings Key

A: FRANCHISE PLAYER — You need one to compete, two to win, three to dominate.

B: CAREER YEAR — Veteran with a strong possibility of delivering his best season.

C: SLEEPER — Could be a great acquisition at a price or draft slot below his true value.

D: ROADBLOCKED — Rank has been lowered because there is no current opportunity to play regularly.

E: DECLINER — Expect moderately to significantly worse stats than in 2014.

F: INJURY RISK — Has had a recent injury that could affect performance.

G: INVESTOR’S SPECIAL — Top prospect whose immediate impact may be minimal.

 

Batting stats are expressed AVG-HR-RBI-R-SB. Positional eligibility for specific players may vary depending on league, as well as other Web sites and resources.

 

2015 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Outfielders

 

TIER 1

1. Mike Trout, Angels (A)

Trout’s recent proclivities to muscle up at the dish and gear down on the bases dent his overall fantasy yield. His AVG fell .036, his SBs from 33 to 16, and his line drive percentage from 23.0 to 18.9. Yet, even after the “worst” of his three seasons, he’s cavernously better than anyone else.

2. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins (A,B)

Pujols and A-Rod are the only active players to have hit 150 roundtrippers at a younger age than Stanton, and with the roto-value of a home run greater than at any point since 1992, he’s a monumental property. Furthermore, he’s settled contractually and will be playing on his best team yet.

3. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates (A)

He’s not what could be termed “elite” in any category, but Cutch is close enough in all of them to comprise a package that can serve as a the hub of a roster. The only squishy spots are that he’s yet to drive in 100 runs, and he’s at an age when SBs are going to be a lesser component of his game.

 

TIER 2

4. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers (B)

He may be a flake at times, but not a fluke. Although Puig didn’t take a major stride forward as a sophomore, he held his own as pitchers made adjustments. This could be the year the stats — not just the flashes of ability — cascade out of him.

5. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies (F)

Gonzalez would be an easy Tier 1 if not for the knee surgery and generalized fragility that threatens to age him before his time. No more 20-SB seasons, but if he can approach his .311-27-91-91 average from 2010-13, he’s still in rarefied air.

6. Michael Brantley, Indians

Brantley renovated solid numbers in five categories into superlative ones. He hit .050 above his career average, doubled his HR high to 20, and added personal bests of 97 RBIs and 23 SBs. Because improvement has come in steps, it’s apt to be sustainable.

7. Adam Jones, Orioles

Fellow center fielder McCutchen gets more run but, since 2011, Jones has held the edge in HRs by 19 and RBIs by 17. The divergences are in steals and AVG, but at least he’s kept the latter predictably between .277 and .287 six straight times.

8. Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox (F)

Because he’s sat out between 34 and 98 games in three of the last four years, Ramirez’s bidders typically do so while squinting, making strange sounds and mumbling disclaimers. A healthy Hanley in Fenway rivals McCutchen as a five-category force.

9. Carlos Gomez, Brewers

Gomez’s 66 HRs the last three years are more than twice as many as any other player who’s also stolen 100 bases. He’s hit exactly .284 with 73 RBIs two years in a row and, as an all-or-nothing type, those are about his upper limits.

10. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays

With 187, Bautista is the game’s home run king of the past five seasons despite missing 135 games. He was relatively healthy in three of those — each 100-run/100-RBI blockbusters. Medical memoir and middlin’ batting averages keep him out of Tier 1.

11. Hunter Pence, Giants

Pence is a baseball-playing machine. You can throw a rosin bag over his seven full, unerringly productive seasons. The metric of the 162-game average — .280-24-89-88-13 — is extra-meaningful in his case because he’s played at least 154 in all seven. A broken forearm in his first spring training game will limit his numbers this season, as he likely won’t make his debut until the middle of May.

12. Christian Yelich, Marlins

The only 2014 player in a 22-or-younger season with more hits or runs scored than Yelich was Trout, and the Marlins rookie stole more bags (21). A batting title contender-in-the-making, he never seems to slump.

13. Justin Upton, Padres (E)

Once enigmatic, Upton has finally clarified that he is a “star” without the “super.” Which is just fine, since he averages .279-24-80-90-16 since 2009. He’s been unfazed by Petco’s dimensions — a .900 career OPS there.

14. Ryan Braun, Brewers (F)

Whether it was his lack of “vitamins,” an obstinate thumb injury or just the normal ebbs and flows of the game, Braun was a shadow of the masher who led the NL in TBs and runs between 2007 and 2012. That said, he’s capable of a “Nelson Cruz.”

15. Yoenis Cespedes, Tigers (B)

Playing at a park far more suited to right-handed power than his last two, Cespedes has his best opportunity to finally unleash his purported promise. His failure to make adjustments compromises his upside, but this could be his first 30-HR season.

16. Jacoby Ellsbury, Yankees

Ellsbury is caught in a vortex between being a power player and a speed player. Joe Girardi couldn’t decide either, starting him 49 times at leadoff and 93 times in the three-hole. His 16-HR/39-SB campaign split the difference and probably best represents who he is.

17. Bryce Harper, Nationals (B)

It wouldn’t take much for Harper to crack Tier 1, but until he finds a way out of this star-crossed loop he’s in, he’s tough to trust. He saved 2014 from being a washout with power spurts in August and October.

18. Starling Marte, Pirates

If a 2013-14 output of 25 HRs, 71 SBs and a .286 AVG doesn’t dazzle you, take note that Marte is the only player in the game to have done it. His power is still embryonic, and his AVG must be viewed through the lens of an MLB-high .373 mark on balls in play.

 

TIER 3

19. Jason Heyward, Cardinals

Heyward is a short cab ride from Bustville, and now he’ll have to regroup in a park where he’s batted .234. Addressing his 2014 OPS of .477 against lefties would be a good place to start. He’s just 25, so there’s still a pulse to his promise.

20. Jay Bruce, Reds

Bruce called 2014 “the most embarrassing year of my life.” To which scores of fantasy players who squandered a premium pick on his .217-18-66-71-12 responded: “Tell me about it.” This isn’t a very accommodating era for extreme-strikeout, extreme-pull power hitters.

21. Ben Revere, Phillies

Revere takes a lot of grief for power that extends to the edge of the outfield grass, but as a two-category role player on an otherwise well-appointed fantasy team, he can be the exclamation point. He’s doinked .301 since 2012, averaging 46 SBs per 150 games.

22. J.D. Martinez, Tigers

What do Alex Presley, Jesus Guzman, Robbie Grossman and L.J. Hoes have in common? They were outfielders the Astros chose to keep ahead of Martinez last spring. Starting in Detroit by June, he outstripped his career AVG by 64 points (.315) and, with 23, nearly doubled his HR/AB % to 5.2.

23. Billy Hamilton, Reds

Still a rudimentary hitter (.195 AVG when infield hits are discounted), but he’s not entirely without punch (39 XBHs, solid line drive rate of 21.1%). Though his 70.9% success rate was in the bottom 10 of 50-SB men over the past 25 years, he has historic thievery aptitude.

24. Matt Kemp, Padres (E,F)

Kemp is a Tier 1 talent with a Tier 5 skeletalature moving to a park where good hitters go to commit statistical suicide. His past glories and fast finish (MLB-high .606 second-half slugging) are not to be slighted, but there’s a lot of push-back to his comeback.

25. Lorenzo Cain, Royals (B)

Because his rep is “glove first” and he doesn’t clear fences, Cain has been a soft fantasy play. We tagged him as a “C” last year, and he added .050 to his AVG (.301) and doubled his SBs (28). There’s still some evolution left, and we’re projecting .310-70-10-60-35.

26. Leonys Martin, Rangers

Martin is precisely where Cain was two years ago, comparably styled and with a similar ceiling. He’s a more aggressive thief, though — one of only eight players with 30-plus steals each of the last two years.

27. Gregory Polanco, Pirates

There are only two questions with Polanco: “How good can he be?” and “How fast can he get there?” A young Vladimir Guerrero comes to mind. Reluctantly promoted by the Bucs last summer due to need, he interspersed wows and warts.

28. Alex Gordon, Royals (F)

Gordon has severely underperformed and overperformed at times in his career, but his last two seasons have been identically positioned in the upper (but not close to elite) strata of outfielders. Underwent wrist surgery on Dec. 30.

29. Jayson Werth, Nationals (E)

Werth, Cabrera, Trout, Beltre, McCutchen, V-Mart and Cano are the only players with a triple crown line of at least .304-41-164 the last two years. He’s at the bottom end of that array, though, and he turns 36 in May.

30. Mark Trumbo, Diamondbacks

Revere turned inside-out — a two-trick pony (HRs, RBIs) best-suited for a roster than can absorb 450 empty outs. Homered only once in his first 55 games back from a foot injury last year, but had five in the final eight days.

31. Marcell Ozuna, Marlins

Homered his age (23), but he’s at the crossroads where many young power hitters need to decide whether they’re going to round out their craft or just sell out for the longball.

32. Denard Span, Nationals (E)

Had the year we’ve long waited for, three-category-wise: .302 AVG, 94 runs, 31 SBs. We’d advise banking only on his more established levels of .285, 70 and 20. Unexpected muscle core surgery also will delay his arrival to the end of April or early May.

33. Charlie Blackmon, Rockies

Surviving a mad scrum for a Rox outfield post last spring, a late-developing Blackmon put a death grip on it with a .288-19-72-82-28 shocker. He was ordinary the last two months, though, so stay wary.

34. Rusney Castillo, Red Sox (C)

Castillo is a wild card, but he passed every test after signing in August. Comparables? We searched for players who hit .285-.300 with 10-to-15 HRs and 20-to-30 SBs, and came up with such names as Dustin Pedroia, Shane Victorino — and some guy named Jackie Robinson.

35. Brandon Moss, Indians (F)

Since Moss stopped pinballing around the “4-A” landscape at age 28 in 2012, he’s concocted one of the 10 highest percentages of HRs/100 ABs (6.28) in the game. AVGs are plunging in inverse proportion to his prodigious strikeout totals.

 

36. Melky Cabrera, White Sox (F)

37. Corey Dickerson, Rockies (E)

38. Brett Gardner, Yankees (E)

39. Adam Eaton, White Sox (E)

40. Carl Crawford, Dodgers

41. Kole Calhoun, Angels

42. Matt Holliday, Cardinals (E)

43. George Springer, Astros (F)

 

TIER 4

44. A.J. Pollock, Diamondbacks

45. Alex Rios, Royals

46. Joc Pederson, Dodgers (C)

47. Shin-Soo Choo, Rangers (F)

48. Dexter Fowler, Cubs

49. Steven Souza, Rays (C)

50. Khris Davis, Brewers

51. Josh Hamilton, Angels (F)

52. Austin Jackson, Mariners

53. Nick Markakis, Braves (F)

54. Angel Pagan, Giants (F)

55. Michael Cuddyer, Mets (E)

56. Desmond Jennings, Rays

57. Wil Myers, Padres (F)

58. Jorge Soler, Cubs (C)

59. Dustin Ackley, Mariners (B,C)

60. Oswaldo Arcia, Twins

61. Michael Saunders, Blue Jays (C)

62. Mookie Betts, Red Sox (C)

63. Avisail Garcia, White Sox (C)

64. Evan Gattis, Astros

 

TIER 5

65. Danny Santana, Twins

66. David Peralta, Diamondbacks

67. Allen Craig, Red Sox (F)

68. Drew Stubbs, Rockies (D)

69. Jon Jay, Cardinals

70. Michael Bourn, Indians

71. Nori Aoki, Giants

72. Chris Coghlan, Cubs

73. Curtis Granderson, Mets

74. Josh Reddick, A’s

75. Arismendy Alcantara, Cubs

76. Torii Hunter, Twins (E)

77. Marlon Byrd, Reds (E)

78. Shane Victorino, Red Sox (F)

79. Juan Lagares, Mets

80. Kevin Kiermaier, Rays

Teaser:
2015 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Third Basemen
Post date: Thursday, March 12, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Zach Johnson, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-20-zach-johnson
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 20: Zach Johnson

 

Born: Feb. 24, 1976, Cedar Rapids, Iowa | Career PGA Tour Wins: 11 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $3,353,417 (19th) World Ranking: 26

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Johnson has won 11 times on tour, with four of those wins coming in Texas, three in Georgia, and two in Hawaii. It is clear that under the right conditions and on the right courses, he is formidable. The right conditions are when the fairways are fast and hard to hit, such as on the typical winding bermuda layouts common to the South, which allow him to make up for his lack of length and take advantage of his laser straight drives. One would think his game would serve him well in the U.S. Open, but those firm fast greens have never been receptive to his low ball flight. But if it rains at Chambers Bay this year and gets windy the way it did at Augusta National when he won in 2007 with a record high score, he would be tough to beat, as he will be at Whistling Straits for the PGA Championship where he finished third in 2010.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 39
Wins: 1

2014 Performance:
Masters - Cut
U.S. Open - T40
British Open - T47
PGA Championship - T69

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 1 (2007)
U.S. Open - T30 (2011)
British Open - T6 (2013)
PGA Championship - T3 (2010)
Top-10 Finishes: 6
Top-25 Finishes: 10
Missed Cuts: 15

 

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the Golf Channel. Be sure to follow him @ChambleeBrandel on Twitter.

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 12, 2015 - 09:59
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-expert-poll-how-can-game-be-fixed
Body:

College basketball seems to be in a state of crisis.

 

The sport is fading into a niche market with only March Madness able to capture widespread national attention.

 

The reasons are many: The sport lacks the stars power it did when players stayed in school for four years. Defenses have free reign, deflating scoring totals and slowing the game. Timeouts at the end of the game grind momentum to a halt in the final minutes.

 

All of these are popular topics to improve the game. But which is the No. 1 thing our panel would fix?

 

Athlon Sports College Basketball Expert Survey

 

Question 4: What is the No. 1 thing that could be done to improve college basketball?

 

VotesChange
8Reduce the number of timeouts
5Implement baseball-style draft rules
3Require players to stay two seasons rather than one
2Shorten the shot clock
2Enforce no-contact rules for the defense
1Limit official reviews by time
1Start the regular season later
1Reform NCAA investigation process
1Ban timeouts during play
1"Teach guys how to shoot"
1Make officiating a full-time job under NCAA
1Widen the lane
1Eliminate one-and-done

 

• If you’re keeping track of the trends: nine of the responses had to do with timeouts, nine had to do with reforming the NBA draft rules and six had to do with the flow of the game.

 

• A note on “baseball-style draft rules:” This refers to the rules in college baseball where a player can go pro out of high school, but if he enrolls in college, he can’t enter the draft again until after his junior season.

 

• Our panelists expanded on this more than anything else we asked. Here are their responses:

 

• “Streamline the last few minutes. That would include fewer timeouts for a team per game, and eliminating the 60-second period after someone fouls out, which is just adding more timeouts.”

 

• “I would definitely get rid of one-and-done and try to implement the baseball rule. That would be ideal. If not, at least require two years of college ... And time outs should be cut back to four total but no more than two in the last two minutes.”

 

• "Limit officials to two minutes for a video review with an actual timer. Can't figure it out by then? Stick with the original call. Reviews take far too long and kill any momentum.”

 

• I'd like to see one-and-done become two-and-done. It would change the nature of recruiting in a good way and enhance the relevance of the academic side of things. In concert, I'd like to see the NBA draft opened up to players who want to turn pro out of high school. Let the NBA figure out what to do with those kids. No one should have to go to college. No one does now, but there isn't a compelling enough alternative.”

 

• I love the idea of baseball-style draft rules but I think the most realistic thing to improve the game is fewer timeouts. I’d like to see coaches have just three timeouts in the second half.”

 

• Change one-and-done to two-and-done. Great players staying even one more season would have a trickle-down effect on the quality of the game, because great players make those around them better. My close runner-up would be for USA Basketball to get more involved in skills clinics, which it has already begun to do. Nothing against legitimate AAU coaches and tournaments, but less summer games and more skills development camps, with an emphasis on ball handling, passing, blocking out, setting good screens and shooting mechanics, would improve the game as much as anything could.”

 

• “The college game is being watered down by lack of talent. I'd change the NBA one-and-done rule to the baseball rule where players can either declare out of high school or stay three years in college.”

 

• “Hire a bunch of former FBI guys to be NCAA investigators.”

 

• The best thing for college basketball would be de-emphasizing AAU, but that won't happen. So I'd say reducing number of timeouts.”

 

• “If the NBAPA would cooperate, sign me up for baseball-style draft rules. Including the no-declaration. If you’re a high school senior or college junior, NBA is free to draft you, but there’s no guarantee you sign.”

 

• “Get the NBA to eliminate age-limit rule. Let high school stars go directly to the NBA. College basketball was at its best when the game trended toward upperclassmen, not one-and-dones. Sure, the best ones will leave. But there's more overall talent in amateur basketball today than ever. College hoops would thrive with upperclassman-oriented teams.”

 

• “The baseball-style NBA draft rule. Would help the game locally and nationally. Lack of stars hurts it nationally. And fans of the passionate programs are robbed of the chance to watch guys grow up in their programs. You no longer see guys climb up the scoring lists.”

 

• “Coordinate all officials under the same umbrella, pay them more and make sure they work less.”

 

• “Enforce no-contact rules. Defense has too much power.”

 

• “Fix the timeout rules. Take at least one away (I'd remove two), and eliminate live-ball timeouts (especially called from the bench when the defense has the offensive team stuck. That's insane.)”

 


More than two dozen college basketball experts from throughout college basketball media participated in the Athlon Sports survey conducted in late February and early March this year.

 

All were notified their individual responses to our six questions would not be revealed on AthlonSports.com, but they were free to post their responses to their own sites, on their broadcasts or to their social media outlets.

 

The panel was comprised of:

 

Rick Bozich, WDRB Louisville

Mike DeCourcy, Sporting News

Chris Dortch, Blue Ribbon

Wes Durham, ACC Network/Fox Sports Network

Ryan Fagan, Sporting News

John Feinstein, Washington Post/NBC Sports

Pat Forde, Yahoo! Sports

John Gasaway, ESPN

Scott Gleeson, USA Today

Jeff Goodman, ESPN

Seth Greenberg, ESPN

Steve Greenberg, Chicago Sun-Times

Raphielle Johnson, College Basketball Talk

Blair Kerkhoff, Kansas City Star

Will Leitch, Sports on Earth

Mike Lopresti, NCAA.com

Troy Machir, Sporting News

Matt Norlander, CBSSports.com

Jerry Palm, CBSSports.com

Brendan Prunty, SI.com

Joe Rexrode, Detroit Free Press

Lindsay Schnell, SI.com

David Teel, Virginia Daily Press

Jerry Tipton, Lexington (Ky.) Herald Leader

Dick “Hoops” Weiss, Blue Star Media

Luke Winn, SI.com

Teaser:
College Basketball Expert Poll: How Can The Game Be Fixed?
Post date: Thursday, March 12, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Philadelphia Eages, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/just-shut-chip-kelly-knows-what-hes-doing
Body:

Chip Kelly isn’t the nicest or most humble guy in the room but he’s probably the smartest.

 

Just ask him.

 

After all, you don’t go from New Hampshire’s offensive coordinator to NFL head coach and general manager in eights years by being stupid.

 

Kelly took over as general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles in early January. His first few months on the job have been anything but quiet. A flurry of personnel moves have drawn the ire of just about everyone around the sport.

 

What’s that guy doing in Phily?

 

Here’s the thing. Kelly knows exactly what he’s doing.

 

After just four seasons as a head coach at any level, he took a 4-12 Eagles team to back-to-back 10-6 seasons and the playoffs with one of the least-talented starting quarterbacks in the league.

 

NFL free agency kicked off this week with a whir of personnel movement that would make a Kelly offense look slow. But Kelly’s plan was being implemented well before the start of the new league year Tuesday afternoon, as the Eagles have made weekly headlines, leaving most fans and experts scratching their heads.

 

Related: Early Winners and Losers as NFL Starts New League Year, Free Agency

 

Relax, Kelly knows what he is doing.

 

He traded fan favorite LeSean McCoy to the Bills who proceeded to sign the seven-year veteran to a long-term (and very expensive) new contract. He shipped Nick Foles — who was 14-4 as a starter under Kelly and 1-5 under Andy Reid — to St. Louis for Sam Bradford. He let Jeremy Maclin walk in free agency to Kansas City.

 

This, just one season after punting DeSean Jackson, Michael Vick and Jason Avant off the roster as well.

 

How could anyone get rid of so much proven offensive talent?

 

His plan isn’t nearly as complicated as people think. He is investing in defense and the offensive line while devaluing positions he thinks he can fill with his system — also known as the offensive skill positions.

 

Why pay a running back who is 5-foot-10, doesn’t like to practice, has touched the ball 706 times over the last two years and has constantly dealt with injuries when he can draft a starting tailback in the third round for a fraction of the cost?

 

Instead, he’s bolstered a linebacking corps that was a liability last year with a rising All-Pro who will cost less than a $1 million per season and is just 24 years old.

 

His plan seems pretty clear. Kelly’s first personnel move as GM was to re-sign linebacker Brandon Hepburn. Then he signed linebacker Brad Jones from Green Bay. Then he agreed to terms with linebacker Brandon Graham. Then he traded for Kiko Alonso. Then he signed defensive backs Byron Maxwell and Walter Thurmond to revamp the secondary.

 

Last offseason, he re-signed left tackle Jason Peters to a massive five-year extension and center Jason Kelce to a seven-year deal while four of his six offseason acquisitions came on defense. The year before that he drafted offensive tackle Lane Johnson with the fourth overall pick. In two drafts, 10 of his 15 picks have come on defense.

 

The blueprint is obvious in Philadelphia. Invest heavily in the defense and the offensive line and then allow Kelly to work his magic with the guys who actually touch the football and score the points.

 

Trade a fifth-round pick for Darren Sproles. Acquire two former first-round picks at quarterbacks on the cheap in Mark Sanchez and Bradford. Draft future stars in Zach Ertz and Jordan Matthews in the second round. Kelly even found a world-class kicker in a preseason trade last year when he shipped running back David Fluellen to Indianapolis for Cody Parkey. Parkey was third in the NFL with 32 made field goals and second with 54 extra points. (For the record, Fluellen has never played a down in the NFL.)

 

Are there kinks to work out on defense? Certainly. But his offensive system is a proven commodity and the fans need to let his strategy play itself out.

 

There is a reason that only the Denver Broncos have scored more points (1,088) and gained more yards (13,763) than the Eagles (916 and 13,024) over the last two seasons.

 

The Patriots (912) and Packers (903) are third and fourth on the scoring list. What is it that those other three teams have in common that the Eagles are clearly lacking? That’s right, Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Kelly is working minor miracles in the City of Brotherly Love so let’s all just let it play out before judging the plan.

 

Clearly, Kelly knows what he’s doing. 

Teaser:
Just Shut Up, Chip Kelly Knows What He's Doing
Post date: Wednesday, March 11, 2015 - 13:30
Path: /mlb/st-louis-cardinals-2015-preview-and-prediction
Body:

Ten days after the Cardinals’ postseason run ended just shy of their intended destination, a tragedy stunned the organization and sent its future in an unplanned direction. The prospect the Cardinals intended to unleash in right field and one who could partially answer their offensive needs, Oscar Taveras, was killed with his girlfriend in a single-vehicle crash in the Dominican Republic. Taveras was 22. Within a month the Cardinals had moved swiftly to reshape the lineup, even at the expense of a valued starter. In a four-player trade, the Cardinals acquired Jason Heyward from Atlanta to play right field. At 25, Heyward is entering the final year of his contract, but the Cardinals believe he’ll star and then stay as the club’s next cornerstone.

 

Adding a jolt to the offense was essential after the Cardinals averaged a run less per game in 2014. The division-champ Cardinals’ wheezing bats burdened the pitching staff, as 47 of their 90 wins came by a margin of two runs or fewer.

 

While the front office reshaped the roster in the weeks after Taveras’ death, manager Mike Matheny became a unifying force for the club. He felt the Cardinals would find “strength in being a family.” The Cardinals may have a new look, a new face and, they hope, a renewed lineup, but they are still defined by familiar October aspirations.

 

Rotation

Two trades cost the Cardinals two young members of their 2014 Opening Day rotation, Shelby Miller and Joe Kelly. Filling those spots is the least of the Cardinals’ pitching questions. Pillars of the rotation, ace Adam Wainwright and upstart Michael Wacha, are returning from ailments. Wainwright had an elbow cleanup after his second career 20-win season and expects to be at full strength for spring, something he rarely was last season despite success in the second half. Wacha missed several months with a stress reaction in his right shoulder — an unusual injury that has the Cardinals altering his workouts and budgeting his innings. Budding No. 2 Lance Lynn and veteran John Lackey offer required stability. Carlos Martinez and rookie Marco Gonzales will audition for the rotation’s vacancy, though the club has openly shown its eagerness to see how Martinez’s fastball allows him to sizzle as a starter.

 

Bullpen

The trade for Heyward also brought an arm that will add to the late-inning heat index. Righthander Jordan Walden, who signed a two-year extension, brings a hefty fastball and closing experience to the setup role. He, groundball guru Seth Maness and possibly Gonzales or a healthy Kevin Siegrist will build the bridge to closer Trevor Rosenthal and give Matheny the bullpen blueprint to maintain success like last year’s. Rosenthal overcame a heavy workload to fall just shy of being the Cardinals’ first 50-save closer. Adding multitasking veteran Matt Belisle to the bullpen frees up lefty Randy Choate for a specialist role and gives Matheny more flexibility to utilize Gonzales.

 

Middle Infield

For eight consecutive seasons, a new Cardinals shortstop arrived like tax day, every April. Jhonny Peralta brought an end to the turnstile position as he emerged as the NL’s best all-around shortstop in 2014. The veteran topped the team with 21 home runs and led all big-league shortstops with a .779 OPS and a .443 slugging percentage to go with dependable defense. He was the club’s isolated power early last season, though he’ll get added support this season from his sidekick at second, Kolten Wong. The Hawaiian finished third in NL Rookie of the Year voting, punctuating his season with a superb October. A jubilant player, Wong is set to emerge at second with what Peralta provided at shortstop — only for years to come.

 

Corners

A third baseman for most of his life, Matt Carpenter was an All-Star in 2013, his first year as a second baseman. Asked whether he’d prefer to be an All-Star at second or an everyday player at his natural position, Carpenter grinned: “Why not an All-Star at third?” The move back to third in 2014 didn’t slow his ascent as a top leadoff hitter or keep him from a second All-Star invite. His next move could be in the order. Carpenter, who hit three homers in the NLDS, could see swings at No. 2 or 3. The thunder to hit behind Carpenter should come from first baseman Matt Adams. In 231 more at-bats in 2014, Adams hit two fewer home runs than in 2013. Vexed by defensive shifts, Adams seems to favor hitting for average over hitting for damage. He’s got the strength to hit over the shifts and will get the at-bats for a defining season.

 

Outfield

A rut in the Cardinals’ offense was right field, where the club had a .326 slugging percentage (30th in the majors) and a .609 OPS (also 30th). At a traditional power position, the Cardinals got the equivalent of an average middle infielder. Enter Heyward. The left-handed-hitting outfielder says he altered his approach to be the leadoff hitter Atlanta required. The Cardinals will use him elsewhere in the lineup to ignite his offense. He averaged 20 homers in his first three seasons and a .447 slugging percentage — the boost the Cardinals crave. Matt Holliday, a fixture hitting No. 3, had a career-low slugging percentage. He’ll elevate the offense with health and an early start to his annual second-half surge. Jon Jay was the only regular to hit better than .300, and he returns as the stated starter in center for the first time in his career. Peter Bourjos, a defensively gifted speedster, had hip surgery that should increase his comfort at the plate and allow him to run away with some additional at-bats.

 

Catching

The soul of the team and the shepherd of its rotation, Yadier Molina is entering the phase of his career where the Cardinals intend to be more proactive with time off. Molina, 32, remains a force behind the plate and strives to lead the majors in innings caught, a feat that knee soreness has interrupted in recent seasons. To keep him fresh and productive at the plate, the Cardinals want to script rest, preserving his strength for a late-season push. Tony Cruz remains the valued backup who models his game-calling after Molina’s.

 

Bench

Corner infielder Mark Reynolds is the right-handed complement at first base and brings seven consecutive seasons with at least 20 homers to a part-time role. His reputation and Randal Grichuk’s budding talent give the Cardinals pinch-hit pop that’s been lacking. Pete Kozma or newcomers Dean Anna and Ty Kelly offer the versatility required of infielders by Matheny.

 

Management

A nurturing defender of his players and gifted motivator, Matheny acknowledges that having never managed at any level means some of his learning is coming while contending. The club sees the questions of October adding to his answers going forward. A general manager who treasured the team’s young pitching depth has dipped into it twice for short-term and necessary moves. The Cardinals have “payroll muscle” they can flex in coming seasons, and John Mozeliak has used talent and financial wherewithal to stay ahead of the market. He calls it “pre-emptive.” It comes with a trace of urgency because the “sustained success” ownership seeks implies winning now and later.

 

Final Analysis

The Cardinals reached the NLCS for a fourth consecutive year but ended their season with a three-game losing streak for the third consecutive year. A 12th World Series title has eluded them, as an aging core and pitching depth thinned by trades now put the Cardinals at a pivot in this era, one of the most successful in franchise history. Changes may be afoot — forced upon them by tragedy or invited by them to address flaws — but one thing in St. Louis remains the same: championship expectations.

 

2015 Prediction: 1st in NL Central

 

Projected Lineup

3B       Matt Carpenter (L)    Since he moved to No. 1, no leadoff hitter in the NL has a higher on-base percentage than Carpenter’s .384.

RF       Jason Heyward (L)  Credited with 32 runs saved by Baseball Info Solutions, among the highest at any position.

LF       Matt Holliday (R)      Second-half surges the past three seasons have seen his SLG spike from .451 before the break to .509 after.

1B       Matt Adams (L)         Averaged a homer every 17.4 at-bats in 2013. At that pace as the starter in 2014, Adams would have hit 30.

SS       Jhonny Peralta (R)  Sure-handed fielder warmed to NL with 75 RBIs, the most by a Cards SS since Edgar Renteria’s 100 in 2003.

C         Yadier Molina (R)     Injury kept him from catching 1,000 innings for seventh straight year. Pitchers had a 3.38 ERA in his innings.

CF       Jon Jay (L)    A .295 hitter, Jay enters 2015 designated — for the first time in his career — as the planned starter in center.

2B       Kolten Wong (L)       First Cardinal in a decade with at least 10 homers and 20 stolen bases.

 

Bench

CF       Peter Bourjos (R)     Hip surgery should correct issue that slowed the speedster and had him unsteady at the plate.

INF      Mark Reynolds (R)   Will get chance to be right-handed-hitting complement at first and a power implement off the bench.

OF       Randal Grichuk (R) Athletic outfielder hinted at his potent power with two homers in October as he seized starting job.

INF      Pete Kozma (R)        Two years removed from his turn as everyday shortstop, Kozma either makes team or must clear waivers.

C         Tony Cruz (R)           Entering his fourth season as Molina’s trusted backup and scouting voice.

 

Rotation

RH      Adam Wainwright    Cardinals ace has finished second or third in Cy Young Award voting four times in the past six seasons.

RH      Lance Lynn   His 48 wins since joining the rotation in 2012 trail only four other pitchers, including Wainwright.

RH      John Lackey Had 2,202.2 innings in the AL before throwing his first pitch in the NL after trade to Cardinals.

RH      Michael Wacha        In 33 starts in two seasons (including playoffs), intriguing dynamo has 3.11 ERA, 13 wins in 202.2 IP.

RH      Carlos Martinez        Opportunity to start will give electric, lithe righty the role he wants and a stage to flaunt his 96 mph sinker.

 

Bullpen

RH      Trevor Rosenthal (Closer)  No closer threw as many pitches (1,263) or innings (70.1) as Rosenthal did on his way to 45 saves.

RH      Jordan Walden         Power righty Walden signed a two-year, $6.6-million extension to be setup man for Cardinals.

RH      Seth Maness            Sinkerballer will take a strong second half (2.76 ERA) into larger late-inning role.

RH      Matt Belisle   Cardinals targeted the versatile veteran reliever to fill several roles to free others for specialized jobs.

LH       Randy Choate          Held lefties to a .093 average with 28 strikeouts and seven hits allowed.

LH       Kevin Siegrist           Power lefty must show recovery from muscle tears in his left hand to reclaim shutdown reputation.

LH       Marco Gonzales       Polished prospect will be ticketed for prominence in bullpen if he’s not in the rotation.

 

Beyond the Box Score

Remembering Oscar While the Cardinals considered ways to memorialize Oscar Taveras after his death in October, his boyhood friend and closest teammate Carlos Martinez already had one. He wanted to wear Taveras’ No. 18 and approached the Cardinals with his idea. The process is more intricate than simple approval because of jersey merchandising. Martinez received permission, and a friend said he was “really moved” by the chance to wear 18 in 2015.

Curious clause John Lackey made a promise to the Cardinals when they traded for him in July that he hadn’t made in Boston: He would honor his 2015 contract, as odd as it is. Lackey, a 12-year veteran, will play this season for the minimum salary, $507,500. Lackey’s alternative was to retire. The reason for the unusual salary is an option on his five-year, $82.5-million contract with the Red Sox that triggered when he missed a year to injury.

Gold standard Although he missed a month with a thumb injury, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina still won his seventh consecutive Gold Glove. Among catchers, only Ivan Rodriguez (13) and Johnny Bench (10) have more than Molina’s seven career Gold Gloves. They are the brightest ornaments on a career that Bench suggests could lead to Cooperstown. “If he stays healthy,” the Hall of Famer says, “call me in 10 years.”

Hitter homecoming St. Louis-area native Bill Mueller had never put on the hometown jersey until this spring. Displeased with his situation in Chicago, Mueller resigned as Cubs hitting coach and later accepted an assistant hitting coach role with the Cardinals. The former batting champ says he found the situation he wanted, and it was closer to his home. “It’s familiar, St. Louis,” Mueller says. “You can turn any corner and run into a friend.”

Going international The Cardinals expanded their international interests in 2014, signing a Cuban infielder and bidding on a Korean shortstop. GM John Mozeliak wanted the club to start acting on years of scouting and be more active in “emerging markets.” In March the Cardinals signed infielder Aledmys Diaz, but they failed in December to have the highest bid for Jung-Ho Kang. Diaz would be a top prospect if not for injuries interrupting his 2014.

 

2014 Top Draft Pick

Luke Weaver, RHP

The Cardinals revisited a familiar well with the 27th overall pick in the draft, selecting a refined starting pitcher from a major Division I college program. Less likely to zoom to the majors than Michael Wacha and Marco Gonzales before him, Weaver has some similar traits: an athletic delivery, potential velocity sizzle, and a strong changeup. As Florida State’s ace last spring, Weaver worked with an 88-92 mph fastball that scouts saw tickle 96 mph. Weaver has a wiry 6'2" frame that should add strength as he matures. He had a humbling start to his pro career — eight earned runs in 3.1 innings at High-A — but that’s barely a hiccup in his development. The Cardinals wanted to control his innings and will continue to do so in 2015 as they look for him to start in a Class A rotation and see where his stuff takes him.

 

Top 10 Prospects

1. Marco Gonzales, LHP (23) Former Gonzaga standout has poise and a wily changeup. Future is in the rotation, but his present assignment will be a multitasking and late-inning reliever in the majors.

2. Stephen Piscotty, OF (24) A high-average batter who sports a strong arm from right field. His tools should get him to the majors this summer.

4. Alexander Reyes, RHP (20) Has blossomed as a power pitcher who has used 98 mph fastball to record 205 strikeouts in 167.1 pro innings.

4. Randal Grichuk, OF (23) Known as the player the Angels drafted before Mike Trout; made a name for himself with slick fielding and a livewire bat.

5. Rob Kaminsky, LHP (20) Kaminsky flips a biting curve, and with a plus fastball, scouts believes he has burgeoning combo that will excel in relief.

6. Jack Flaherty, RHP (19) Flaherty’s $2 million bonus was the Cardinals’ second largest in 12 years. Young, strapping righty has four quality pitches, including a popping fastball.

7. Luke Weaver, RHP (21) The Cards’ top pick in the 2014 draft boasts a fastball that sits in the low 90s and an effective changeup.

8. Tim Cooney, LHP (24) Closest Cardinals pitching prospect to the majors who hasn’t already thrown a pitch there. Has a safecracker’s feel for his fastball, a good changeup and elite command.

9. Sam Tuivailala, RHP (22) Former infielder hits 100 mph on his fastball and has more strikeouts (170) than walks and hits (151) in the minors.

10. Charlie Tilson, OF (22) A strong 2014 allowed the high-energy center fielder to regain pace as a prospect after losing a season to injury.

Teaser:
St. Louis Cardinals 2015 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Wednesday, March 11, 2015 - 13:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL, News
Path: /nfl/early-winners-and-losers-nfl-starts-new-league-year-free-agency
Body:

The NFL’s new league year isn’t even a day old but you wouldn’t think so based on all the moves that have already transpired. Not only has free agency gotten off to a furious start, but last week’s LeSean McCoy trade ended up being the appetizer to Tuesday’s swapfest.

 

The end result? Numerous All-Pros have switched teams, the AFC East suddenly got a lot more interesting, defensive players are getting paid, running backs aren’t and everyone is trying to figure out what Chip Kelly is doing. Even though it’s still early in free agency and there are probably more trades to come, it’s never too early to identify some winners and losers in the aftermath of all of these transactions. One thing is pretty clear; the biggest winner thus far has been NFL fans.

 

WINNERS

Ndadmukong Suh & Darrelle Revis

Suh got $114 million, including $60 million guaranteed, from the Dolphins to make him the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history. Revis got his Super Bowl ring with New England, saw his $20 million team option declined by the Patriots and still winds up with a $70 million deal ($39 million guaranteed) to go back to the Jets. These are two of the best players in the league period, and they certainly cashed in on their status as such.

 

Related: Dolphins Still Have A Lot of Work to Do, Even After Landing Ndamukong Suh

 

Other Defensive Players

Ndamukong Suh and Darrelle Revis aren’t the only defenders who capitalized on being a free agent this offseason either. While Revis left for the Jets, the Patriots did retain safety Devin McCourty, signing him to a five-year, $47.5 million contract ($28.5 million guaranteed). Cornerback Byron Maxwell is leaving Seattle after inking a six-year, $63 million deal from the extremely active Eagles.

 

Even All-Pro linebacker Justin Houston, who didn’t make it to free agency after Kansas City applied the franchise tag, is looking at a nice paycheck. Houston is set to make $13.2 million in 2015, assuming he and the Chiefs don’t come to agreement on a long-term deal before he has to sign his one-year tender. And that’s just the big names, as guys like Davon House, Buster Skrine, Pernell McPhee, Brooks Reed, Dan Skuta and Stephen Paea also fared pretty well contract-wise.

 

Julius Thomas & Owen Daniels

Thomas got the big bucks he was seeking from Jacksonville to the tune of $46 million over four years ($24 million guaranteed). However, Thomas’ departure from Denver turned out to be Daniels’ gain. He signed a three-year, $12 million deal to reunite with Gary Kubiak, his head coach in Houston and offensive coordinator last season in Baltimore, to join the Broncos and become Peyton Manning’s new favorite tight end.

 

Russell Wilson

The heart-breaking Super Bowl loss to the Patriots probably still stings, but you know Wilson was smiling from ear to ear when he found out Jimmy Graham was coming to Seattle. Not only does Wilson now have his new favorite target, he also has a big payday coming his way, as this is the last year of his rookie contract.

 

Detroit Lions

Yes, the Lions lost Ndamukong Suh, but Detroit rebounded nicely in acquiring Haloti Ngata from Baltimore. Ngata is just three years older than Suh and he is established in his own right as a two-time, first-team All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowler who won a Super Bowl with the Ravens.

 

But perhaps the most important thing is that Ngata comes a lot cheaper, as he’s set to make $8.5 million in the final year of his contract, while the Dolphins will pay Suh $60 million through 2017 alone. The Lions still have work to do along its defensive line with several other free agents, but Ngata is a good piece to start off the post-Suh era with.

 

Todd Bowles

The Jets’ rookie head coach has been on the job less than three months and he’s already seen his general manager trade for wide receiver Brandon Marshall and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to beef up the offense. On defense, Darrelle Revis returns with a new running mate, former Brown Buster Skrine, along with veteran linebacker and team leader David Harris. And the team still has enough cap space to make a few more moves. If the Jets figure out their quarterback situation, Bowles’ debut season could turn out to be quite successful.

 

Anyone Who Covers the Eagles

Whether or not Chip Kelly’s wheeling and dealing pays off on the field remains to be seen, but he’s certainly provided plenty of subject matter for anyone who covers his team. Between trading the franchise’s all-time leading rusher to swapping quarterbacks with the Rams, Kelly has guaranteed that the Eagles will remain in the spotlight from now up through the draft, and probably beyond.

 

Related: Just Shut Up, Chip Kelly Knows What He's Doing

 

LOSERS

Running Backs Not Named LeSean McCoy

McCoy got traded from Philadelphia to Buffalo, where he got a new contract. As for the rest of his peers? Well, not much has happened, as the market is still sorting itself out. But it’s clear how teams are approaching their backfields has changed when you look at the fact that DeMarco Murray, the reigning rushing champion, not only is still waiting to sign, he also hasn’t exactly been actively pursued by his old team. And it’s not like there’ s a lack of options on the market, as Reggie Bush, Steven Jackson, Pierre Thomas and DeAngelo Williams are available after being cut by their former teams, as is Justin Forsett, Ryan Mathews, C.J. Spiller and a host of others.

 

Those that have already found new teams, aren’t exactly breaking the bank. Mark Ingram re-signed with New Orleans for $16 million over four years, less than half of that guaranteed, while Frank Gore is headed to Indianapolis for a modest $12 million ($6.5 million guaranteed) over three years. No wonder Jackson has started his “Save the Running Back” movement (check out savetherunningback.org), as ball carriers are quickly being thrust down the NFL food chain.

 

Drew Brees

Everyone knew New Orleans had cap issues, but few if any thought those woes would result in the trade of Jimmy Graham to Seattle. Not only did Brees lose his favorite target in Graham, the Saints also cut running back Pierre Thomas and linebacker Curtis Lofton because of their salary cap crunch. Running back Mark Ingram was re-signed, and New Orleans did bolster its offensive line by acquiring center Max Unger from the Seahawks along with their first-round draft pick. But Unger can’t catch passes and the Saints still have cap issues. These were probably not the changes Brees was expecting following a disappointing 7-9 showing last season.

 

New England Patriots

The Patriots have their ring, but the champs are finding out just how heavy is the head that wears the crown. Before free agency even started, the team cut ties with Vince Wilfork, the anchor of their defensive line, and declined options on both starting cornerbacks (Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner).

 

New England used its franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski and retained safety Devin McCourty, but Revis bolted for the big money the Jets offered and Browner seems likely to sign with a new team as well. To make matters worse, the division seems to be getting tougher with Miami adding Ndamukong Suh, Rex Ryan transforming the Bills by trading for LeSean McCoy and the Jets adding Revis and acquiring wide receiver Brandon Marshall from the Bears. The Patriots are the class of the AFC East until someone else beats them, but their streak of six straight division titles could be in jeopardy this season.

 

Related: What Now for the New England Patriots Without Darrelle Revis?

 

San Francisco 49ers

It has been an offseason to forget for the 49ers. First they lose Jim Harbaugh to Michigan because of an apparent internal power struggle. The end result is defensive line coach Jim Tomsula gets promoted to the top job while pretty much the rest of Harbaugh’s staff is sent packing.

 

Personnel-wise, not only has San Francisco already watched running back Gore and offensive lineman Mike Iupati sign elsewhere, All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis announced his retirement. Yes, the 49ers signed wide receiver Torrey Smith to bolster the offense, but this team still has a dozen pending free agents meaning there are plenty of holes to fill. And there also are the reports that fans are already looking to bail on their season ticket commitments just one season into the tenure of Levi’s Stadium. With every other team in the NFC West making moves to get better, 2015 could turn out to be a rough season for Tomsula and the 49ers.

 

Oakland Raiders & Cleveland Browns

Entering free agency, the only team with more cap space at its disposal than Oakland and Cleveland was Jacksonville. While the Jaguars made a splash by singing tight end Julius Thomas (and is DeMarco Murray next?), the Raiders and Browns have not been as successful in their efforts. The Raiders have been rebuffed by several of their big targets and while they have been busy, their additions to this point (Malcolm Smith, Rodney Hudson, Roy Helu, Curtis Lofton, Dan Williams) don’t exactly grab your attention.

 

The Browns have even less to show for their efforts, adding only quarterback Josh McCown and wide receiver Brian Hartline, who were each cut by their respective teams. It’s still early, but it’s safe to stay that each of these teams, and especially their fan bases, were hoping for more.

 

College Basketball

It’s Championship Week on the college hardwood with Selection Sunday for the NCAA Tournament just days away. What’s that, you weren’t aware because the NFL has been dominating the news cycles, Twitter and basically any other medium you can think of? Don’t worry, March Madness will still get its due, but not until the NFL cedes the spotlight.

Teaser:
Early Winners and Losers as NFL Starts New League Year, Free Agency
Post date: Wednesday, March 11, 2015 - 12:45
Path: /mlb/pittsburgh-pirates-2015-preview-and-prediction
Body:

It is almost hard to believe the Pittsburgh Pirates were the laughingstocks of baseball not long ago. They had 20 consecutive losing seasons from 1993-2012, the longest such streak of futility in major North American professional sports history.

 

However, the Pirates have put that in the past by winning the first NL wild card in each of the last two seasons. The expectations of the organization far exceed finishing .500 now, as the goal has become to reach the World Series for the first time since 1979. The Pirates are in position to contend again this season, and also for many years to come, as they have a talented core group of players in the major leagues — led by superstar center fielder Andrew McCutchen — and a solid farm system.

 

“Somewhere along the way I was asked if we were content not being one-year wonders,” says general manager Neal Huntington, who enters his eighth full season on the job. “Our goal is to not be two-year wonders. We’ve set the goal from the day we got in here, the day we arrived in Pittsburgh, our goal was to be a consistent championship-caliber organization.”

 

Rotation

Hard-throwing righthander Gerrit Cole is eventually going to be the ace of the staff and has already shown he can win big games. However, he is still just 24, and the Pirates have surrounded him at the top of the rotation with a pair of veterans in lefthander Francisco Liriano and righthander A.J. Burnett to ease some of the transition into being a No. 1 starter. Liriano was re-signed to a three-year, $39 million contract as a free agent in December after going 23–18 with a 3.20 ERA in 55 starts in his first two seasons with the Pirates. Burnett returned on a cut-rate deal, signing for one year and $8.5 million after spending last season with the Philadelphia Phillies, where he led the MLB in losses while going 8–18 with a 4.59 ERA in 34 starts. However, the 38-year-old wanted to pitch one final season before retiring and do so with the Pirates after going a combined 26–21 with a 3.41 ERA in 61 starts with the team in 2012-13. Righthander Charlie Morton will likely begin the season on the disabled list after undergoing hip surgery in late September but could be back sometime in May. Lefthander Jeff Locke, two years removed from being an All-Star, likely will begin the season in the rotation, and Vance Worley has the edge over fellow righty Brandon Cumpton and veteran lefthander Clayton Richard for the final spot. Worley was a revelation last season, going 8–4 with a 2.85 ERA in 18 games.

 

Bullpen

Huntington has consistently built first-rate relief corps on a tight budget. Closer Mark Melancon will anchor the bullpen again. In his two seasons with the Pirates, the righthander has compiled a 1.65 ERA in 144 games while allowing just 1.2 walks and 0.2 home runs per nine innings. Lefthander Tony Watson is an outstanding setup man and was selected to play in his first All-Star Game last season. He has a 2.63 ERA in his four-year career. Towering righthander John Holdzkom came out of nowhere — he was signed off the Amarillo roster in the independent American Association in June — to pitch high-leverage innings late last season. The Pirates are hopeful he can be their top setup reliever from the right side with his 100-plus fastball. Righthander Jared Hughes has compiled a 2.95 ERA in his first four seasons in the major leagues. Lefthander Antonio Bastardo was acquired from the Phillies in a trade for lefty pitching prospect Joely Rodriguez at the winter meetings after holding opponents to a .201 batting average in his six seasons in Philadelphia. Stolmy Pimentel has pitched just 42 major league innings but will almost certainly make the team out of spring training as a long reliever. He is out of minor league options and would be subjected to waivers if the Pirates tried to send him to Triple-A. The Pirates were so impressed by how well Radhames Liz pitched in winter ball in his native Dominican Republic that they signed him to a major league contract, even though the one-time top prospect is 31 and hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2009 with the Baltimore Orioles.

 

Middle Infield

The Pirates’ biggest offseason splash came when they signed 27-year-old Korean shortstop Jung-Ho Kang to a four-year, $11 million deal plus $5 million posting fee. Kang put together a monster season in the Korean league in 2014, hitting .356 with 40 home runs and 117 RBIs, but it remains to be seen how this will carry over to much stiffer competition in the U.S. Kang’s no lock for significant playing time, as he will need to unseat Jordy Mercer at shortstop. Seemingly an afterthought in the Pirates’ farm system for many years, Mercer spent his first full season as a starting shortstop in the major leagues last year and did well after an awful start. He ended up hitting .255 with 12 home runs in 149 games, but the biggest surprise was his above average defense. Switch-hitting second baseman Neil Walker is a dependable player and a hometown hero — he grew up in the northern suburb of Gibsonia, Pa. The six-year veteran belted a career-high 23 home runs last season while hitting .271 in 137 games.

 

Corners

Pedro Alvarez will make the move across the diamond from third base to first base in spring training after he developed a problem making routine throws last season that led to him leading the major leagues with 25 errors. He also hit just 18 home runs in 122 games, half of his NL-leading total of 36 in 2013. Josh Harrison will begin the year as the everyday third baseman after being one of the best stories in baseball last season. Harrison barely made the team in spring training and wound up playing in the All-Star Game as he hit .315 with 18 stolen bases in 143 games while, at various times, filling holes at second base, third base, left field and right field.

 

Outfield

McCutchen anchors a talented and athletic outfield that includes Starling Marte in left and Gregory Polanco in right. McCutchen had a better season in 2014 than when he won the NL MVP award the year before, hitting .314 with 25 home runs and 18 stolen bases in 146 games while leading the majors with a .410 on-base percentage. Marte didn’t have the breakout season many expected as he was distracted by tragedies in his personal life. Yet he still hit .291 with 13 homers and 30 steals in 135 games. Arriving to great fanfare in June, Polanco responded with a hit in each of his first 11 games. However, the league caught up to Polanco, and he finished with a .235 batting average in 89 games, though he hit seven homers and stole 14 bases.

 

Catching

Francisco Cervelli gets his long-awaited chance to be a starter after logging seven years as a backup with the New York Yankees, who traded him to the Pirates in November for left-handed reliever Justin Wilson. Cervelli is outstanding defensively and has a .278 lifetime batting average. However, he has been hampered by injuries throughout his career, and the Pirates plan to limit him to around 100 starts in an attempt to keep him healthy.

 

Bench

The Pirates could have their most powerful bench in years, especially if Kang’s power translates to his new league. Pittsburgh also added right-handed-hitting first baseman/outfielder Corey Hart, who was signed to a one-year, $2.5-million contract as a free agent. The Pirates traded with the Tampa Bay Rays for Sean Rodriguez, who can play all four infield spots and each of the three outfield positions. He also provides some pop. Slick-fielding middle infielder Pedro Florimon was claimed off waivers after spending the last three seasons with the Minnesota Twins. Veteran Chris Stewart will be the backup catcher to Cervelli, his former Yankees teammate.

 

Management

Clint Hurdle enters his fifth season as manager and has been the perfect fit in Pittsburgh. His positive attitude and the ability to connect with people and inspire them have not only left a mark on the franchise but also the city.

 

Final Analysis

The Pirates’ goal this season is to win the NL Central and avoid the wild card. They will have their hands full in a strong division but once again have the look of contenders with a good pitching staff, solid lineup and increased depth.

 

2015 Prediction: 2nd in NL Central (Wild Card)

 

Projected Lineup

3B       Josh Harrison (R)    Earned a promotion to full-time third baseman after thriving as utility player last season.

RF       Gregory Polanco (L)            Has more raw talent than anyone in the lineup but needs polish.

CF       Andrew McCutchen (R)      Missed out on back-to-back MVPs despite having another brilliant season.

2B       Neil Walker (S)         He is a steady run producer — especially for a middle infielder.

LF       Starling Marte (R)     A burgeoning star who seems poised for a breakout after two solid seasons.

1B       Pedro Alvarez (L)     Will be interesting to see how he handles making the transition from third base to first base.

SS       Jordy Mercer (R)       Not flashy in the field, but he gets the job done and can also hit.

C         Francisco Cervelli (R)         Longtime Yankee is a solid defensive backstop who has hit well when given the opportunity.

 

Bench

C         Chris Stewart (R)     Had his best offensive season in 2014 but is in the major leagues because of his defense.

1B/OF Corey Hart (R)         Will likely start at first base against lefthanders while trying to get his career back on track.

INF      Pedro Florimon (S) Provides excellent defense at the middle infield positions, but don’t expect any offense.

UT       Sean Rodriguez (R)            Versatility is his strength, and he can also pop an occasional home run.

SS       Jung-Ho Kang (R)   Everyone waiting to see if Korean League star can handle transition to MLB.

 

Rotation

LH       Francisco Liriano     Re-signed after testing the free agent market and will be the de facto ace of a strong staff.

RH      A.J. Burnett   Returns from a one-year hiatus in Philadelphia with hopes of winning a ring in his last season.

RH      Gerrit Cole     Former top pick is the No. 1 starter in waiting — and the wait might not last much longer.

LH       Jeff Locke      Former second-round pick of the Braves is a very capable major league starter — when he throws strikes.

RH      Vance Worley           One of the Pirates’ many pitching reclamation projects, Worley won eight games in 2014.

 

Bullpen

RH      Mark Melancon (Closer)     Thanks to an unhittable cutter, he’s had a sub-1.000 WHIP each of the last two seasons.

LH       Tony Watson            One of the most talented and durable left-handed relievers in the game.

RH      John Holdzkom        Pirates found a gem when they signed him from an independent league last June.

RH      Jared Hughes           Former fourth-round pick has been excellent at escaping mid-inning jams.

LH       Antonio Bastardo     Former Phillie provides a solid lefty option in the middle innings.

RH      Stolmy Pimentel       Has yet to be given the chance to show if he can pitch in high-leverage situations.

RH      Radhames Liz          One-time Oriole looks to return to the major leagues after a three-year stint in Korea.

 

Beyond the Box Score

Destination job There was a time not long ago when free agents who signed with the Pirates felt like they were going to the end of the baseball world. However, perceptions have changed following back-to-back postseason trips that came on the heels of 20 straight losing seasons. Throw in the fact that the Pirates have one of the most scenic homes in the major leagues in PNC Park, and Pittsburgh has become a destination. “We’re in a position now where agents are calling us, versus us having to chase their guys,” general manager Neal Huntington says. The Pirates were able to sign a pair of veteran starting pitchers as free agents in the offseason, bringing lefthander Francisco Liriano back on a three-year, $39 million contract and righthander A.J. Burnett on a one-year, $8.5 million deal. Both said they turned down more lucrative offers from other clubs.

Show me Agent Scott Boras isn’t quite sold on the Pirates having staying power as a contender, though. “How you build that World Series contender year after year is that when you bring these young players here and they become great players you have to sign not one or two, but you have to keep a core of them,” he says. “That’s the question that has yet to be answered as we go forward.” Boras represents Pirates righthander Gerrit Cole and first baseman Pedro Alvarez along with top first base/outfield prospect Josh Bell.

Finally home Super utility player Sean Rodriguez, acquired from Tampa Bay in an offseason trade for pitching prospect Buddy Borden, has seemingly always been a National League player trapped in an American League uniform. Rodriguez has played every position but pitcher and catcher in the major leagues, and that versatility should play well in the NL. “Whatever they ask me to do, I’m going to do it,” Rodriguez says.

Shagging flies Left fielder Starling Marte and right fielder Gregory Polanco spent part of the winter working out together in their native Dominican Republic, concentrating on tracking fly balls. “I think if people hit it that way, they have no chance,” Marte says of a potentially outstanding defensive outfield that also includes Gold Glove center fielder Andrew McCutchen.

 

2014 Top Draft Pick

Cole Tucker, SS

While the Pirates were mulling the idea of drafting Tucker from Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix with the 24th overall pick, there were three people with ties to the organization who could vouch for him. Retired corner infielder Kevin Young coached Tucker in youth baseball. Current Pirates first baseman Pedro Alvarez has known Tucker, whose younger brother plays youth baseball with Alvarez’s brother-in-law, since 2008. Also, a son of former shortstop and hitting coach Jay Bell played with Tucker in high school. Though 6'3", Tucker has the athleticism, range and arm to stay at shortstop. He is a project offensively, however, as he is primarily a contact hitter and lacks pop, but the Pirates are confident that the 180-pounder will hit for at least some power as his body matures.

 

Top 10 Prospects

1. Tyler Glasnow, RHP (21) Fifth-round pick in 2011 has blossomed as a professional, winning the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year in each of the last two seasons.

2. Jameson Taillon, RHP (23) The second overall pick in the 2010 draft missed the season after undergoing Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery

3. Josh Bell, 1B/OF (22) His development was slowed by a knee injury in 2012. Finally healthy again last season, he was the Florida State League Player of the Year.

4. Austin Meadows, OF (19) The first of two first-round draft picks in 2013, Meadows has shown five-tool ability when healthy. However, he missed most of last season with a hamstring injury.

5. Nick Kingham, RHP (23) 2010 fourth-round pick has good command of a three-pitch mix. Could be the first starter called up from Indianapolis this season.

6. Reese McGuire, C (20) The Pirates’ second first-round pick in 2013 is considered one of the finest defensive catchers in the minor leagues.

7. Alen Hanson, 2B/SS (22) The Dominican native will likely wind up at second base because of a below-average arm. He has speed and some power.

8. Cole Tucker, SS (18) Tucker shows great maturity for his age and should be able to handle the jump to Low-A West Virginia this season.

9. Harold Ramirez, OF (20) The product of Colombia has speed and emerging power. However, his 2014 season was ruined by leg injuries.

10. Mitch Keller, RHP (19) A second-round pick in last year’s draft, he has a fastball that reaches 95 mph and a curveball that is developing into a weapon.

Teaser:
Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Wednesday, March 11, 2015 - 12:30
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/8-slumping-teams-avoid-your-2015-ncaa-tournament-bracket
Body:

Earlier, Athlon Sports looked at the teams that are surging into the NCAA Tournament.

 

This is the flip side. These are teams that are limping their way into the field, provided some of them making at all.

 

For whatever reason — cold shooting, injury — these teams will be in the field but perhaps in name only. The teams you may have liked at one point of the season are giving off clear warning signs.

 

Pick them in your bracket at your own risk.

 

Indiana

Given the roller coaster of Indiana basketball this season, maybe a great postseason is in the works for the Hoosiers. Indiana was 15-4 on Jan. 22 and has gone 4-8 since. The defense in the last three games, in particular, has been dreadful, allowing 1.16 points per possession against Northwestern, Iowa and Michigan State.

 

Kansas

The Jayhawks expect Perry Ellis back for the NCAA Tournament. Make no mistake: That’s huge for their prospects. The junior forward has been carrying KU for the latter portion of the conference schedule. Even with Ellis, though, Kansas flashed some warning signs in losses to Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Kansas State, plus sluggish games against TCU and Texas. Kansas won its 11th consecutive Big 12 title and will be seeded well, but unless the Jayhawks do something great in the conference tournament, stay away.

 

Oklahoma State

At one point in February, Oklahoma State had defeated Baylor twice and Kansas once. Since Feb. 14, the Cowboys are 1-5 including two losses to West Virginia and losses to TCU and Texas Tech. Oklahoma State doesn’t have a ton of scoring depth and one of those options (Phil Forte) is prone to awful days from 3-point range.

 

Ole Miss

The Rebels are sliding off the bubble and may well find their way into the NIT if they can’t win a game or two in the SEC tournament. Since Feb. 25, Ole Miss lost at home to fellow bubble team Georgia and a Vanderbilt team that’s not going to get an at-large bid. The Rebels also lost by 10 on the road to LSU. Stefan Moody has been great at getting to the free throw line and converting when he’s there (35-of-37) in the last four games, but he’s shot 6-of-31 from long range during the same span. Live by the 3, die by the 3.

 

Texas

The Longhorns closed the regular season with victories over Baylor and Kansas State in what were essentially must-win games. Before that, Texas had underachieved all year with two four-game losing streaks contributing to a 6-10 Big 12 record at one point. Is Texas finally delivering on its potential or still a team to avoid?

 

Texas A&M

Like Ole Miss, Texas A&M is flirting with disaster if it can’t win in the SEC tournament. Unlike the Rebels, the Aggies don’t have as many quality wins — A&M swept the series against LSU whereas Ole Miss beat Arkansas and Oregon on the road and Arkansas on a neutral court. Texas A&M went from reasonably safe to losing nailbiters to Florida and Alabama.

 

Utah

The Utes were one of the best turnaround stories in the sport, and when Utah was 21-4, it was easy to get overly optimistic. The last three weeks of the season may have brought things down to Earth. Arizona completed a season sweep of Utah, and the Utes let a lead slip away in a 77-68 loss to a Washington team that won only five Pac-12 games all year. After Utah finished 2-3 in the Pac-12, watch the Utes carefully.

 

VCU

You’ll be tempted to pick VCU on name recognition and the Rams’ NCAA Tournament seed. Beware! The Rams lost the linchpin of the havoc defense, Briante Weber, on Jan. 31 and finished on a 5-6 slide. VCU had defeated only one KenPom top 100 team without Weber.

Teaser:
8 Teams Slumping Their Way Into March Madness
Post date: Wednesday, March 11, 2015 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/little-girl-devastated-jimmy-graham-trade-seattle
Body:

Yes, New Orleans Saints fans were shocked and sad when news broke that their star tight end Jimmy Graham had been traded to the Seattle Seahawks. But perhaps no one was as upset as this 7-year-old girl, who sadly explains the devastation this has brought upon her world. 

 

 

 
Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 11, 2015 - 11:53
Path: /mlb/milwaukee-brewers-2015-preview-and-prediction
Body:

Who, exactly, are the Milwaukee Brewers? Are they the team that led the NL Central for 150 days last season? Or are they the team that collapsed down the stretch? After an in-depth review of all aspects of baseball operations, general manager Doug Melvin is betting on the former, as picked up Aramis Ramirez’ option and traded for first baseman Adam Lind. However, a maxed out payroll led to one big change, trading ace Yovani Gallardo to Texas for three players. There’s still lots of proven talent returning, although much will be riding on the balky right thumb of right fielder Ryan Braun. But if he’s even close to his former MVP self and the pitching is again solid, Melvin’s gamble might well pay off.

 

Rotation

In Matt Garza, Kyle Lohse and budding ace Wily Peralta, the Brewers have a nice 1-2-3 punch atop their rotation. Peralta, a burly Dominican righty, won a career-high 17 games utilizing a fastball that ranked third in the majors in average velocity at 95.8 mph and a nasty slider that induced lots of ground-ball outs. Entering his second season in Milwaukee, Garza battled injury and inconsistency but showed flashes of his former dominance. Lohse remains a reliable workhorse, pitching right around 200 innings for each of the past four seasons. The Brewers are hoping the No. 4 spot in the rotation will be solidified by yet another righty, Mike Fiers, who came out of nowhere to go 6–4 with a 2.09 ERA in 10 late-season starts after a nondescript stint earlier in the season as a long man. Fiers was nothing short of incredible, posting a 14-strikeout game in his second turn in place of an injured Garza and then bouncing back mentally following his scary September beaning of Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton. The  Gallardo trade also opens up the final spot in the rotation for young, hard-throwing Jimmy Nelson.

 

Bullpen

Milwaukee was set to lean on veteran Jonathan Broxton, acquired from the Reds in a late-August trade, as its closer, that was until Francisco Rodriguez was brought back at the start of spring training. K-Rod signed a two-year deal to reclaim his closing duties, something he was quite effective at (44 of 49 opportunities) last season. His return and Broxton’s move back to a setup role gives the Brewers two veteran options to pair with its collection of ascending, but relatively unproven, arms. Lefty Will Smith and righty Jeremy Jeffress both figure to serve as the bridge between the starter and the finishers. Smith was a revelation early on with his devastating slider befuddling left-handed hitters, but he faded badly after being overused. Still, with 86 strikeouts in 65.2 innings, he certainly has stuff befitting a late-inning reliever. Jeffress, with a fastball that routinely touches the high 90s, does as well, and he went 1–1 with a 1.88 ERA in 29 appearances after the Brewers — the team that drafted him back in 2006 — rescued him off the scrap heap. The longest-tenured reliever is righty Brandon Kintzler, who scuffled his way to a 3–3 record and 3.24 ERA after a dynamite 2013. He had a lingering knee injury repaired in the offseason, and the hope is he’ll return to his old form. Melvin found himself in the hunt for another lefty when Zach Duke signed with the White Sox, which is why veteran Neal Cotts was signed in late January. Righties Jim Henderson and Tyler Thornburg are coming off shoulder and elbow injuries, respectively.

 

Middle Infield

There are major questions here. Most center around shortstop Jean Segura, who slumped badly in 2014 after turning down a $38 million extension from the Brewers in spring training and then having his newborn son unexpectedly pass away just before the All-Star break. The free-swinging Segura did himself no favors by continuing to swing at pitches out of the zone, giving opposing pitchers no reason to throw him strikes. He was expected to employ some changes at the plate while playing winter ball in the Dominican in the offseason, and if he can regain some consistency it would help solidify the bottom of the Brewers’ lineup. At second base, budding star Scooter Gennett finally gets a chance to be the full-time starter. He hit .289 with nine homers and 54 RBIs in a platoon in 2014, but the question remains: Can he hit left-handed pitching? He comes into 2015 having hit just .128 against lefties in 78 career at-bats.

 

Corners

Melvin hopes he solved the offensive black hole at first base by trading for Lind, whose left-handed bat should be a perfect fit in the middle of the lineup. And the belief is he can at least be an adequate defender. Lind has battled nagging injuries in recent years, but when healthy he murders right-handed pitching — a major plus in a division that features a lot of it. Jonathan Lucroy will likely be called upon in place of Lind with a lefty on the mound. At third base, Ramirez is coming off an All-Star season, but one in which he posted his worst offensive numbers since becoming a full-time player. He turns 37 in late June and announced at the start of spring training that this would be his last season. Ramirez has battled numerous leg issues since becoming a Brewer, but the hope is he can turn in one more respectable campaign.

 

Outfield

Braun’s return from his Biogenesis suspension did not go according to plan. A painful nerve issue in his right hand returned and got progressively worse over the course of the season. He underwent a little-known cryotherapy treatment in the offseason in hopes of eliminating the pain. Left fielder Khris Davis acquitted himself fairly well in his first season as a starter, banging 22 homers and driving in 69 runs. But his .244 average needs to improve, as does his selectiveness at the plate. Center field remains locked down by Carlos Gomez. He became the Brewers’ full-time leadoff hitter and displayed better plate discipline.

 

Catching

The Brewers might be better positioned here than any other team in the majors with an All-Star in Lucroy and an above-average backup in Martin Maldonado. Lucroy was a doubles machine, leading the majors with 53, while also improving defensively. He’s regarded as the finest pitch-framer in the game. Catching 133 games wore him down, so playing him more at first base should help keep him fresh this year. The next step for Lucroy is to become a bigger presence on a team with plenty of veterans but precious few vocal ones.

 

Bench

Switch-hitting Luis Sardinas was acquired in the Gallardo trade and can play all over the infield. In the outfield, the Brewers have a terrific insurance policy in two-time Gold Glover Gerardo Parra, who can play all three spots as well as provide a left-handed bat on a righty-heavy team. Luis Jimenez, a waiver claim from the Angels, is expected to be a backup at the corners. Outfielder Logan Schafer, another left-handed bat, will probably round out the bench.

 

Management

Principal owner Mark Attanasio was livid after his team’s slide out of playoff contention. After cooling off, he and Melvin chose to keep manager Ron Roenicke, determining that an offensive funk was mostly to blame. New hitting coach Darnell Coles will be tasked with teaching a more consistent approach at the plate, and it will be on Roenicke to rein in a group that has continually run into some baffling outs on the bases. The Brewers’ expected payroll of $110 million signals Attanasio’s desire to win despite his team’s small-market status.

 

Final Analysis

The Brewers’ struggles against the Cardinals have been well documented. Now, with the Cubs going all-in on the strength of their active offseason, the Central becomes that much tougher. Avoiding major injury and playing more consistently will be crucial for Milwaukee, which proved last year it had all the pieces needed to contend.

 

2015 Prediction: 3rd in NL Central

 

Projected Lineup

CF       Carlos Gomez (R)    Hit five leadoff homers in 2014, providing the Brewers with a terrific mix of power and speed atop the lineup.

2B       Scooter Gennett (L)             Diminutive gamer has plenty of pop in his bat, but he needs to show more patience at the plate.

RF       Ryan Braun (R)        A healed right thumb for the former NL MVP would do wonders for a team that badly needs his punch.

1B       Adam Lind (L)           Provides much-needed pop and lineup balance from the left side of the plate. But can he stay healthy?

C         Jonathan Lucroy (R)           Backstop was the model of consistency in 2014. More time at first base might help save his legs.

3B       Aramis Ramirez (R)             Milwaukee is hoping for one more productive year out of the aging slugger.

LF       Khris Davis (R)         Must become more selective and consistent to harness his full potential.

SS       Jean Segura (R)      Got himself out far too often in 2014 by swinging at everything.

 

Bench

INF      Luis Sardinas (S)     Came over from Texas in the Yovani Gallardo trade, can play everywhere in the infield but first.

OF       Gerardo Parra (L)     By virtue of his left-handed bat and two Gold Gloves, Parra will play much more than the usual substitute.

C         Martin Maldonado (R)         Solid backup catcher who could see more time behind the plate if Lucroy plays a lot at first.

INF      Luis Jimenez (R)      Backup corner infielder who was acquired off waivers in the offseason from the Angels.

OF       Logan Schafer (L)    Left-handed bat could be an asset on a righty-heavy team, but plate production (.181 in 116 AB in 2014) must improve.

 

Rotation

RH      Kyle Lohse    Coming off a fourth consecutive 30-start season, the veteran has been a model of consistency.

RH      Matt Garza     Alternated between terrific and troubling in 2014. Can be great when he’s healthy.

RH      Wily Peralta   Budding future ace who could well be Milwaukee’s next 20-game winner.

RH      Mike Fiers      Reclamation project who will have to prove this spring that his strong finish to 2014 was no mirage.

RH      Jimmy Nelson           Yovani Gallardo trade opens up spot in rotation for young righty after going 2-8 with 4.76 ERA in 12 starts last season.

 

Bullpen

RH      Francisco Rodriguez (Closer)       Back with Brewers after saving 44 in 49 chances last season.

RH      Jonathan Broxton (Closer) K-Rod’s return pushes Broxton back to setup role, but he could get his opportunities to close too.

RH      Jeremy Jeffress        Possessing a power arm, Jeffress might well find himself in a setup role if he can hit his spots consistently.

LH       Will Smith      Nasty slider makes him ultra-tough on lefties. Could also set up or even close on occasion in 2015.

RH      Brandon Kintzler      If he’s healthy, Kintzler could reclaim a big role in the Brewers’ bullpen.

RH      Jim Henderson         Former closer hoping to return from second career shoulder surgery.

LH       Neal Cotts     Could grab last bullpen spot simply because he’s a southpaw.

 

Beyond the Box Score

Doubling down Jonathan Lucroy became the first primary catcher in modern baseball history (since 1900) to lead his league in doubles by pounding out 53. Lucroy tied his 2014 teammate, Lyle Overbay, for the franchise record, with Overbay racking up 53 in 2004. Lucroy’s 46 doubles as a catcher set a new major league record, breaking the previous mark of 45 set by Ivan Rodriguez in 1996. It was a season to remember for Lucroy, who also started in the All-Star Game in his first trip as he replaced an injured Yadier Molina. Lucroy was just the second catcher in Brewers history to start an All-Star Game, joining Ted Simmons (1983).

Go-go Gomez Center fielder Carlos Gomez furthered his reputation as one of baseball’s pre-eminent speed and power threats by finishing with 24 home runs and 34 stolen bases. That gave him his second consecutive 20-homer, 30-stolen base season after hitting 23 homers and stealing 40 bases in 2013.

On Fiers Mike Fiers joined the Brewers’ rotation on Aug. 9 and made a total of 10 starts. Over that span, the righthander ranked second in the National League in strikeouts with 71 — second only to NL MVP and Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, who had 82. Fiers also ranked 10th in the NL in ERA at 2.09 from Aug. 9 on.

Khrush Davis Since July 23, 2013, the date of his first major league homer, left fielder Khris Davis is tied for third among NL outfielders in homers with 33. The top two long-ball outfield artists? Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton with 51 and San Diego’s Justin Upton with 40. Davis also finished 2014 tied for 10th in the NL with 61 extra-base hits.

 

2014 Top Draft Pick

Kodi Medeiros, LHP

With three picks in the top 50 overall, the Brewers went for upside in the 2014 draft, selecting three high schoolers. Medeiros was the first, coming off the board 12th overall. He impressed the Brewers during a late-spring workout at Miller Park with a fastball that consistently reached the mid-90s and a slider that was considered one of the best breaking pitches among all prep pitchers. Medeiros also throws from a low arm slot, making his breaking pitches even tougher to pick up. Many believed he profiled as a reliever coming into the draft, but the Brewers are going to give him every opportunity to prove he can start. Medeiros, a product of Waiakea High School, is the highest-drafted native Hawaiian ever, a great source of pride for him. He turned down a scholarship to Pepperdine to sign with Milwaukee.

 

Top 10 Prospects

1. Tyrone Taylor, OF (21) Speedy center field prospect who was drafted by the Brewers in the second round in 2012. He reached Class AA at the end of 2014 and should start there in 2015.

2. Orlando Arcia, SS (20) Terrific defensive shortstop whose hitting has improved, albeit without much power. He could push Jean Segura. 

3. Clint Coulter, OF (21) First-round pick of the Brewers in 2012 who has moved from catcher to the outfield. Had a big year at Class A Wisconsin.

4. Monte Harrison, OF (19) Big-time athlete who turned down a football/baseball scholarship with Nebraska to sign with the Brewers as the 50th overall pick in 2014.

5. Kodi Medeiros, LHP (18) At 6'2" and 180 pounds, Medeiros has a solid frame with room to grow. He struggled with command in the Arizona Rookie League in nine appearances.

6. Jacob Gatewood, INF (19) Had maybe the most raw power potential coming out of high school in 2014, when he was picked between Medeiros and Harrison at No. 41 overall.

7. Jorge Lopez, RHP (22) Long and lanky at 6'4", 165 pounds, Lopez is a starter who has a terrific curveball and developing fastball.

8. Devin Williams, RHP (20) The Brewers’ top pick in 2013 averaged around a strikeout per inning in rookie league in his first full season as a pro.

9. Victor Roache, OF (23) Roache is the classic boom-or-bust hitter with tons of power but the strikeouts to match. Taken 28th overall in 2012.

10. Taylor Jungmann, RHP (25) It’s been a long, slow climb for Jungmann. He’s finally on the big-league radar as a back-end starter.

Teaser:
Milwaukee Brewers 2015 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Wednesday, March 11, 2015 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-11-2015
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 11:

 

Enjoy some Charlotte McKinney swimsuit outtakes.

 

Amar'e Stoudemire is ripping his new Mavericks teammates, but at least he's looking sharp while doing so. 

 

It was a wild day in the NFL. And once again, SportsPickle managed to hack into Chip Kelly's voicemails. They're revealing.

 

• Will Ferrell is turning Cactus League into his own personal fantasy camp. He plans to play all nine positions in various games.

 

Michael Jordan is the highest-paid retired athlete, but 85-year-old Arnold Palmer just had his best endorsement year ever, making $42 million. Apologies to LeBron, but Arnie's still the King.

 

Watch a little kid execute a perfect topspin lob against Roger Federer.

 

Clay Travis points out that Oklahoma is strong against racism, but weak against domestic violence.

 

John Daly says the "randomness" of PGA Tour drug testing is bull----. Get out your checkbook, John.

 

Blues defenseman Barrett Jackman scored the game-winning goal from center ice.

 

Watch a fifth grade girl dunk on a 9-foot goal. I'm pretty sure I couldn't do that.

 

• Here's Loui Eriksson's amazing goal set to "Louie, Louie."

 

 

-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 11, 2015 - 11:09
Path: /college-football/pac-12s-pre-spring-top-15-player-rankings-2015
Body:

The 2015 Pac-12 season is shaping up to be another year filled of intrigue in both division races. Oregon is the favorite in the North, but the Ducks have question marks on both sides of the ball. And the expected replacement for quarterback Marcus Mariota – Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams – won’t arrive until this summer. In the South Division, five out of the six teams have a strong case to be picked No. 1 in the league this year. Colorado is improving, but the Buffaloes are probably a year away from getting back into bowl contention.

 

With spring practice underway, it’s never too early to take a look at the top returning players in the Pac-12 for 2015.

 

Here’s a quick primer on the top 15 players in the Pac-12 for next season, as well as a few names to watch. 

 

Pac-12's Pre-Spring Top 15 Players for 2015

 

1. Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

2014 Stats: 163 tackles, 29 TFL, 14 sacks, 6 FF

 

Wright was the best defensive player in college football last season and a big reason why Arizona won the South Division and played for the Pac-12 Championship. 

 

2. Myles Jack, LB, UCLA

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

2014 Stats: 88 tackles, 8 TFL, 1 INT, 7 PBU

 

Jack didn’t see much time on offense last season – only 28 carries – but he continued to provide plenty of punch for the UCLA defense. Jack was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection and is now the leader for the linebacking corps after Eric Kendricks expired his eligibility.

 

3. Cody Kessler, QB, USC

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior

2014 Stats: 3,826 yards, 39 TDs, 5 INTs

 

Kessler loses standout receiver Nelson Agholor, but he opens spring practice as the Pac-12’s top quarterback after tossing 39 touchdowns to just five interceptions in 2014.

 

4. Su’a Cravens, LB/S, USC

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

2014 Stats: 68 tackles, 17 TFL, 5 sacks, 3 INT, 9 PBU

 

Cravens is one of the most versatile defenders in college football. The California native plays a hybrid safety/linebacker role for coordinator Justin Wilcox and has seven interceptions and 18.5 tackles for a loss in two years with the Trojans.

 

5. Max Tuerk, C, USC

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior

 

Tuerk anchors a young and improving USC offensive line entering 2015. The California native enters spring practice with 33 career starts and earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2014.

 

6. DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior

2014 Stats: 81 tackles, 13 TFL, 4 sacks, 4 PBU, 1 FF

 

Buckner turned down the NFL for one more season in Eugene. With Arik Armstead off to the next level, it’s up to Buckner to shoulder more of the workload in the trenches this year. There’s no doubt Buckner is up to the task.

 

7. Jared Goff, QB, California

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

2014 Stats: 3,973 yards, 35 TDs, 7 INTs

 

Goff is one of the nation’s rising stars at quarterback and is only going to get better with another offseason in coach Sonny Dykes’ offense. Goff led all Pac-12 quarterbacks (conference-only games) by averaging 341.1 yards per contest last year.

 

8. Kyle Murphy, OT, Stanford

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior

 

Stanford has placed a lineman on the Pac-12’s first-team unit for seven consecutive years. It’s a safe bet to pick Murphy to extend that streak to eight in 2015.

 

9. Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore

2014 Stats: 1,365 yards, 18 TDs, 16 rec., 158 yards, 1 TD

 

Freeman might not lead the Pac-12 in rushing due to a healthy Thomas Tyner as his backfield mate, but the sophomore might have the most overall talent of any running back in the conference.

 

10. Devontae Booker, RB, Utah

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior

2014 Stats: 1,512 yards, 10 TDs, 43 rec., 306 yards, 2 TDs

 

Booker might be one of the nation’s most underrated players. Despite a struggling Utah passing offense last season, Booker ranked second in the Pac-12 with 1,512 yards and 10 scores. He should be the catalyst for Utah’s offense once again this year.

 

11. Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

2014 Stats: 1,575 yards, 9 TDs, 26 rec., 201 yards, 2 TDs

 

Perkins quietly led all Pac-12 rushers with 1,575 yards last season, which included 190 against Oregon, 194 against Kansas State and 137 over Arizona. With quarterback Brett Hundley off to the NFL, Perkins may have to shoulder even more of the workload in 2015.

 

12.  Adoree’ Jackson, CB/WR, USC

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore

2014 Stats: 49 tackles, 4 TFL, 10 PBU, 10 receptions, 138 yards, 3 TDs

 

Jackson is a name that could easily climb this list by the end of the 2015 season. Coach Steve Sarkisian hopes to get him a handful of snaps on offense after catching three of his 10 passes for scores in 2015. However, Jackson will be tough to remove on defense, as he broke up 10 passes and made 49 stops in 13 games last season.

 

13. Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore

2014 Stats: 3,793 passing yards, 28 TDs, 9 INTs, 291 rush yards, 2 TDs


Solomon had his share of ups and downs in 2014 but still finished with 28 touchdowns to nine interceptions in his first year as the starter. Getting Solomon back to 100 percent after a late-season ankle injury should help the sophomore take a step forward this offseason.

 

14. Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore

2014 Stats: 1,375 yards, 16 TDs, 12 receptions, 90 yards, 1 TD

 

Wilson was the other standout freshman performer for coach Rich Rodriguez in 2014. In 13 contests, Wilson rushed for 1,375 yards and contributed 16 rushing scores. His numbers should only climb in 2015.
 

15. Nelson Spruce, WR, Colorado

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior

2014 Stats: 106 catches, 1,198 yards, 12 TDs

 

Spruce made sure Colorado’s passing game didn’t miss a beat without Paul Richardson at receiver. The California native tied Washington State’s Vince Mayle for the Pac-12 crown in receptions (106), while Spruce tied two other players for first in touchdown receptions.

 

Players to Watch

 

Ishmael Adams, DB, UCLA

Adams was on the cusp of making our pre-spring top 15 players. The first-team All-Pac-12 defensive back could crack the list with a strong 2015 season.

 

Vernon Adams, QB, Oregon

Eastern Washington transfer won’t arrive on campus until this summer. Where does Adams fall in the pecking order of Pac-12 quarterbacks?

 

Budda Baker, S, Washington

Baker was a standout freshman for coach Chris Petersen and is only going to improve with another offseason in Seattle.

 

D.J. Foster, RB/WR, Arizona State

With the emergence of Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage, Arizona State plans to shift Foster into a hybrid running back/receiver role in 2015.

 

Peter Kalambayi, LB, Stanford

Should play a bigger role in the defense after recording 9.5 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks in 2014.

 

Gabe Marks, WR, Washington State

Marks is back in the mix for Washington State after a redshirt year in 2014. He caught 74 passes in 2013 and could push for the team lead in receptions, yards and touchdowns in 2015.

 

Gionni Paul, LB, Utah

Miami transfer had his 2014 season cut short by injury. However, Paul (when healthy) is an impact defender for coach Kyle Whittingham’s defense.

 

JuJu Smith, WR, USC

Smith is the likely replacement for Nelson Agholor after catching 54 passes for 724 yards and five scores in 2014.

 

Storm Woods, RB, Oregon State

Woods closed out 2014 by rushing for 128 yards against Oregon. Will he be a bigger part of the new offense under coach Gary Andersen?

Teaser:
Pac-12's Pre-Spring Top 15 Player Rankings for 2015
Post date: Wednesday, March 11, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Darrelle Revis, NFL Free agency, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/what-now-new-england-patriots-without-darrelle-revis
Body:

Darrelle Revis is headed back to the New York Jets with a record-setting, five-year, $70 million deal with $39 million guaranteed, leaving the New England Patriots to wonder what happened to the elite secondary that helped them win their elusive fourth Super Bowl title just last month.

 

Securing Revis was thought to be the Patriots’ top priority for the offseason, but once the numbers left the Pats' ballpark they tapped out on Revis, letting him walk back to their hated rival and the team that drafted Revis in 2007. Revis might come out of it looking like a mercenary, but he sure is a rich one and no one can question Revis' ability to maximize his leverage.

 

The Patriots used Revis' rare ability to its fullest, having him shut down top opposing receivers from the regular season all the way to the Lombardi Trophy. Revis' impact for the Pats was undeniable and now, with the Pats also declining to pick up Brandon Browner's option, Bill Belichick must overhaul his outside cornerbacks for the second time in as many seasons.

 

Revis and Browner had the critical strength of playing tight man-to-man coverage, an absolute necessity in today's NFL. While Browner's return remains a possibility, the lack of size at cornerback could be a big problem.

 

The cupboard is not entirely empty. Safety Devin McCourty, the leader of the secondary, returned to the team with a five-year extension. Veteran Kyle Arrington was benched in the Super Bowl, but he's one of the best slot corners in the NFL and he effectively shut down T.Y. Hilton in the AFC Championship Game, albeit with over-the-top help from McCourty.

 

Malcolm Butler is a household name now after his Super Bowl-clinching interception, but he's still fairly unproven, though his ball skills are undeniable. With a full season under his belt, Butler could blossom into a legitimate NFL starter. There's more pressure on Butler to develop now.

 

Alfonzo Dennard showed promise in his first two seasons and is a feisty outside corner despite his lack of size, but he struggled when they tried to move him to the slot in 2014 and eventually ended up in Injured Reserve. Logan Ryan also showed promise as a rookie in 2013, but was often picked on this past season and was inconsistent at best.

 

Despite their flaws, having four experienced cornerbacks means the Pats don't have to panic. Still, the position cannot be called a strength and there must be additions for the Patriots to effectively matchup with wide receiver groups within the AFC East like the Jets' new tandem of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker.

 

There's no one exciting left on the corner market, so the Pats will have to resort to their tried and true methodology of taking a shot on undervalued veterans with a rookie draft pick or two sprinkled in. Bringing back Browner might make the most sense, otherwise names like Antonio Cromartie and Jimmy Wilson are others who might be of interest.

 

In 2014 the Pats had the perfect personnel to execute the perfect scheme in their secondary. They won't have that luxury in 2015, but with a talented front seven, an improved pass rush up front could make up the difference without Revis. Dominique Easley, last year’s first-round pick out of Florida, could be one name to add a spark to the Pats up front.

 

Despite their personnel losses over the years, Bill Belichick has never blinked from his philosophy of building a 53-man roster that is strong from the top to the bottom. For Belichick, it's about building a team, not collecting talent, but replacing an All-Pro standout like Revis might just be the biggest test of that philosophy yet.

 

— Written by Mike Dussault, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and writer/editor of PatsPropaganda.com (@PatsPropaganda), a comprehensive blog covering the New England Patriots.

Teaser:
Darrelle Revis Needs to be New England Patriots' Top Priority in Free Agency
Post date: Wednesday, March 11, 2015 - 10:45

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