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Path: /mlb/al-wests-top-storylines-watch-2015
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The American League West is chalked full of A-list characters that make the cast of "Birdmanlook like a B-movie. King Felix’s kingdom in Seattle, MVP Mike Trout in Southern Cal, Billy Beane wheeling and dealing in the Bay Area, Prince, Yu and Choo revamping for a revolution in Texas, and a group of hard-swinging youngsters in Houston that are poised for takeoff make the AL West a must-watch division this summer.

 

Here are the top storylines to watch in the American League West in 2015.

 

 

Angels' Time Running Out?

Is it possible that a team can win its division by 10 games, have this generation’s best player, own the best record in baseball and be considered a disappointment? With a payroll that exceeded $154 million and a roster built for October, the 2014 Angels were absolutely disappointing. Expectations will only continue to grow in 2015 as high-priced players like Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson grow in age and fail to deliver consistently.

 

The Angels are on the hook for $189 million over the next seven years for Pujols, who just turned 35, and is coming off a “rebound year” in which he hit 45 points below his career batting average. Hamilton, impending suspension aside, hasn’t been worth the $25 million he’s due in 2015, hitting just .255/.316/.426 with 31 homers and an OPS of .741 since moving to Anaheim in '13. Wilson made $16 million in 2014 and is due another $18 million this season, has an ERA close to 3.90 and WHIP of 1.374. In his lone start in the AL Division Series against the Royals last October, Wilson didn’t make it out of the first frame, giving up three runs in just two-thirds of an inning.

 

The Halos will be looking for a bounce back at the plate from third baseman and former All-Star David Freese, who has yet to live up to his 2011 World Series heroics in California. Kole Calhoun put together a solid year in 2014, hitting 17 homers and 31 doubles batting mostly leadoff and newcomer Matt Joyce has the ability to add much-needed depth to Scioscia’s lineup in the DH spot.

 

The biggest riddle will be the re-vamped bullpen that features many new young arms and veteran closer Huston Street. The rotation should be a bright spot for Anaheim, especially if Wilson can keep it together for an entire summer and as well as the postseason. Being without budding ace Garret Richards until late April seems to be a minor hiccup for this staff that also includes veteran All-Star Jered Weaver, and up-and-coming righty Matt Shoemaker.

 

The biggest question for this Angels team is — how much longer does GM Jerry Dipoto have until it's time to move major contracts in order to replenish a fledging farm system and plan for the future? 2015 could be the last great opportunity Anaheim has before the World Series window is no more.

 

 

Seattle Reign

After an impressive 2014 that saw a 16-game swing from 2013, the Seattle Mariners are the team to watch in the AL West in 2015. Championship teams are built on superior pitching, reliable defense, and timely hitting. The Mariners have all three.

 

Pitching has been and will be the M’s trademark in 2015. Any rotation that features Felix Hernandez is going to be good, but throw in Hisashi Iwakuma as the number two, with a mix of young, live arms waiting in the wings like Taijuan Walker and James Paxton and that rotation becomes deadly. If lefty J.A. Happ can find his 2009 form that almost won him NL Rookie of the Year honors with the Phillies, this Mariners rotation could be untouchable.

 

The only thing more dangerous in the AL West than the M’s starting rotation could be their bullpen. The majority of the relief corps that allowed just 157 runs in 500 innings and had a combined ERA of 2.59 last season is back for 2015. Fernando Rodney, with his bow and arrow, crooked hat, and 48 saves from are back, along with even more young arms, including last year’s rookie studs Dominic Leone and Carson Smith, each of whom could be thrown in the mix as the season progresses.

 

The Mariners struggled last season at the plate, finishing 2014 ranked 27th in doubles, 22nd in total bases, 19th in RBIs, and 15th in homers. Signing Nelson Cruz, last season's home run leader, to a four-year deal surely will help remedy that issue. Asking Cruz to hit another 40 dingers in Safeco is a tall order, but adding his big bat will surely allow for better pitches for Robinson Cano and budding star third baseman Kyle Seager. Seager, a first time All-Star and Gold Glove winner in 2014, hit 27 doubles and 25 homers last season and was rewarded with a seven-year deal worth approximately $100 million.

 

The addition of Cruz and locking up Seager long term will definitely be helpful for the M’s in 2015, but several questions still linger for a team looking to take the next step. First baseman Logan Morrison finished 2014 on a nice pace, but in large part has been a shell of the player he was becoming in Miami.

 

Since his breakout 2009 season (25 2B, 23 HR, 72 RBI), Morrison hasn’t topped 20 doubles, 11 homers, or 38 RBIs, as injuries have been a nuisance throughout his career. Waiting in the wings in case Morrison’s struggles continue is last year’s minor league RBI champion, D.J. Peterson, who is expected to make the move to first this spring.

 

Seth Smith, who was acquired from the Padres, and Justin Ruggiano are expected to platoon in right field, as outfielders Dustin Ackley and Austin Jackson are aiming to rebound from lackluster 2014 showings.

 

If the outfield can’t produce to GM Jack Zduriencik’s liking, he has plenty of young pitchers to use as trade bait to find the needed help at the plate. Keep your eye on the Emerald City this summer as this could be the year the Mariners snap their 14-year postseason skid and march into October as favorites.

 

 

Houston’s Big Leap?

The Houston Astros might be the most entertaining team to watch in 2015. Yeah, they are going to swing and miss — a lot, but they are also going to hit a ton of home runs. Last season, the ‘Stros were truly feast or famine, ranking fourth in homers and second in strikeouts. Developing superstars Chris Carter, Jon Singleton, and George Springer combined for 430 strikeouts in 2014 — but they also combined for 158 homers with Springer and Singleton playing roughly half their seasons in The Show.

 

The Astros are looking to new manager A. J. Hinch to be a vital influence for their young sluggers, hoping he can teach patience at the plate. In addition to a new skipper, the Houston front office made moves to bring in several veteran lineup pieces, including Evan Gattis and Colby Rasmus in the outfield and Luis Valbuena at third. Rasmus, Valbuena and Gattis have big pop capabilities, but are also rather strikeout-prone. All three should add a welcomed veteran presence in the clubhouse and on the lineup card for Hinch.

 

The Houston lineup wasn’t the only thing that received a minor facelift this offseason, as veteran hurlers Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson were signed to bolster a bullpen that ranked dead last in ERA during 2014 (4.80). Neshek and Gregerson were nice pick ups, but the Astros still lack a true closer after missing out on David Robertson this past winter.

 

The rotation for the Astros could prove to be formidable with last season’s surprises in Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh. Keuchel and McHugh both posted sub-3.00 ERAs in 2014, as McHugh struck out 157 batters in 154.2 innings of work, and Keuchel developed into the Astros' most reliable starter, throwing 200 innings. While the long-term jury is still deliberating on Keuchel and McHugh, the Astros are still without a true ace. But that ace could be within the Astros organization already in 2013 No. 1 overall pick, Mark Appel. Appel was inconsistent in his first full minor league season, but has reportedly already been turning heads at Astros camp.

 

Make no doubt about it, the future is bright in Houston, especially with pieces like reigning AL batting champion Jose Altuve manning second base long term, and a cabinet full of hard-swinging youngsters whose upside is almost infinite. The Astros are ready to start winning, and winning soon. While a postseason run this summer is a bit too ambitious, certainly a .500 record is well within reach.

 

- by Jake Rose

Teaser:
American League's Top Storylines to Watch for 2015
Post date: Tuesday, March 3, 2015 - 12:00
Path: /college-football/sec-west-2015-spring-preview-and-power-rankings
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Spring practice is already underway for a handful of college football teams, and the offseason workouts and scrimmages provide the first glimpse of how all 128 teams will look in 2015.

 

The SEC West is college football’s toughest division and the going isn’t expected to get any easier in 2015. Alabama and Auburn appear to be the early favorites, but any of the seven teams have a case to be picked at the top this preseason. This spring, quarterback battles will be under the spotlight at Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU, while defense is the focus at Auburn and Texas A&M.

 

What are the key questions and storylines shaping all seven teams in the SEC West and outlook for 2015? Let’s take a quick look at the 7 teams and the priority list for each coach. 

 

SEC West Spring Preview and Storylines to Watch

 

(Teams listed by pre-spring power rank)

 

1. Alabama

2014 Record: 12-2 (7-1 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense – 2, Defense – 7

 

Key Coaching Changes:

Tosh Lupoi (LBs coach)
Mel Tucker (DBs coach)


Alabama’s Spring Priorities

 

1. Jake Coker’s Offense
After transferring in from Florida State last offseason, high expectations surrounded Jake Coker in the quarterback battle. However, Blake Sims edged Coker for the starting job. This spring is Coker’s chance at claiming the job once again, but he will be pushed by David Cornwell, Blake Barnett and Cooper Bateman. This is Coker’s job to lose.

2. New Targets at WR
Amari Cooper was the best receiver in college football last season, catching 124 passes for 1,727 yards and 16 scores. And Alabama isn’t just replacing Cooper, as DeAndrew White and Christion Jones are also out of eligibility. Which players will emerge this spring at receiver?

3. Secondary Issues
Alabama’s defensive backs allowed 19 plays of 30 yards or more last season, which ranked near the bottom of the SEC. This unit has room to improve in 2015, but safeties Landon Collins and Nick Perry must be replaced. At cornerback, will Cyrus Jones, Tony Brown, Eddie Jackson and Marlon Humphrey provide the secondary with more consistency to eliminate the big plays?

 

2. Auburn

2014 Record: 8-5 (4-4 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 7

 

Key Coaching Changes:

Will Muschamp (defensive coordinator)
Travaris Robinson (DBs coach)
Lance Thompson (LBs coach)


Auburn’s Spring Priorities

 

1. Will Muschamp Takes Over the Defense
After giving up 32.8 points per game in SEC contests last season, coach Gus Malzahn decided to make big changes to his defensive staff. Three new coaches join Auburn for 2015, including former Florida coach Will Muschamp as the team’s new coordinator. Muschamp should make a big difference with this unit, and there’s a solid core of talent in place with seven starters returning. This spring is Muschamp’s first opportunity to put his system in place.

2. Carl Lawson’s Return at DE
In addition to Muschamp’s arrival, one of the biggest reasons for optimism for Auburn's defense is the return of end Carl Lawson from injury. Lawson missed all of 2014 due to a torn ACL but is expected to participate in spring practice. Even though the sophomore won’t take a full load of snaps in the spring, getting Lawson back in the mix and knocking off the rust will be beneficial for the fall.

3. Reloading on Offense
Auburn returns only five starters on offense, but there’s not much concern about how this unit will perform in 2015. Quarterback Jeremy Johnson is a breakout candidate, the backfield is loaded with talent - including junior college recruit Jovon Robinson - and there’s enough of a core in place on the offensive line to withstand the departure of center Reese Dismukes. 

 

3. LSU

2014 Record: 8-5 (4-4 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 6

 

Key Coaching Changes:

Kevin Steele (Defensive Coordinator)
Ed Orgeron (DL coach)
Tony Ball (WRs coach)


LSU’s Spring Priorities

 

1. Improvement in the Passing Game
Total yardage isn’t necessarily the best way to judge an offense’s effectiveness, but LSU averaged only 140.6 passing yards per game in SEC contests. Both quarterbacks – Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris – struggled to consistently move the offense through the air. Jennings will open spring ball as the starter, but can he show improvement after completing only 48.9 percent of his passes in 2014?

2. Reloading at DE
LSU has been a factory for talent at defensive end in recent years. However, the pass rush has dipped over the last two seasons, and the Tigers finished 2014 with just 19 sacks. Ends Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter have departed Baton Rouge, leaving new coordinator Kevin Steele and line coach Ed Orgeron with a few holes to fill at end. Who steps up here this spring?

3. Depth at RB/WR
There’s no doubt running back Leonard Fournette will be one of the nation’s leading rushers in 2015. But with the departure of Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee, coordinator Cam Cameron needs to restock the depth behind Fournette this spring. At receiver, Travin Dural produced plenty of big plays in 2014. Can the Tigers find a consistent No. 2 and No. 3 option? This is a big spring for Trey Quinn, Malachi Dupre and John Diarse at receiver.

 

4. Ole Miss

2014 Record: 9-4 (5-3 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense – 9, Defense – 7

 

Key Coaching Changes:

Corey Batoon (Sp. Teams/Safeties)

 

Ole Miss’ Spring Priorities

 

1. Quarterback Battle
With Bo Wallace expiring his eligibility, the Rebels open spring with a three-way battle for the starting quarterback spot. Junior college recruit Chad Kelly will have a shot to unseat DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan, but none of the three players have a career start. Will coach Hugh Freeze find an answer at quarterback this spring?

2. Shuffling the OL
The offensive line was a concern for the Rebels heading into 2014, and this unit had its share of struggles, giving up 31 sacks and clearing the way for rushers to average only 3.9 yards per carry. Improving this unit is critical for Ole Miss’ chances at moving up in the West Division pecking order, but injuries are a factor. Tackle Laremy Tunsil and guard Aaron Morris are recovering from significant leg injuries. Major improvement this spring with Morris and Tunsil sidelined is unlikely, but it’s critical for Freeze to get a look at his options.

3. Filling the Voids in the Secondary
The Rebels return seven starters on defense and should once again be among the best in the SEC. But if there’s one concern for coordinator Dave Wommack, it has to be in the secondary after the departures of cornerback Senquez Golson and safety Cody Prewitt. The cupboard isn’t bare though, as C.J. Hampton and Tony Conner are back at safety, and cornerback could be addressed with the return of Tee Shepard from injury. Junior college recruit Tony Bridges will also provide help at cornerback.

 

5. Arkansas

2014 Record: 7-6 (2-6 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense – 9 , Defense – 5

 

Key Coaching Changes:

Dan Enos (Offensive Coordinator)
Vernon Hargreaves (LBs coach)
Jemal Singleton (RBs coach)


Arkansas’ Spring Priorities

 

1. Continued Improvement in the Passing Game
New coordinator Dan Enos shouldn’t have to change the formula for success for the Razorbacks. Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams form one of the nation’s top duos at running back, and the line is one of the best in the SEC. But for Arkansas to take the next step in the West, the passing game has to take another step forward. Quarterback Brandon Allen returns, and top targets Keon Hatcher (WR) and Hunter Henry (TE) are also back. Can the Razorbacks find a couple more options to help the passing game grow in 2015?

2. Reloading on the DL
Not only is Arkansas losing its best pass rusher (Trey Flowers), but its best defensive tackle (Darius Philon) bolted early to the NFL. Coordinator Robb Smith has to restock the trenches this spring and will be looking for development from players like JaMichael Winston (DE), Taiwan Johnson (DT) and Bijhon Jackson (DT).

3. Replacing Martrell Spaight
Spaight may have been one of the SEC’s most underrated players in 2014. In 13 games, Spaight recorded 128 tackles (10.5 for a loss) and forced two fumbles. Brooks Ellis (72 tackles) is the top returner at linebacker, but this will be an area of focus as Smith and new linebacker coach Vernon Hargreaves look to replace Spaight in 2015.

 

6. Texas A&M

2014 Record: 8-5 (3-5 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 6

 

Key Coaching Changes:

John Chavis (Defensive Coordinator)
Aaron Moorehead (WRs coach)
Dave Christensen (OL/Run Game Coordinator)


Texas A&M’s Spring Priorities

 

1. Getting Defensive
It’s no secret the defense has been Texas A&M’s biggest problem since joining the SEC. However, coach Kevin Sumlin took a big step in fixing the defense by hiring John Chavis away from LSU. Chavis is one of the best defensive signal-callers in the nation and inherits a unit with some promising young talent. How far can Chavis get this defense to improve in the spring?


2. Kyle Allen’s Time to Shine
Allen ranked as the No. 10 prospect in the 2014 247Sports Composite and didn’t disappoint in his first season in College Station. He started the final five games of 2014 and finished the year with 1,322 passing yards and 16 scores. Allen is entrenched as the starter this spring, but touted freshman Kyler Murray arrives this summer. Can Allen solidify his place at the top of the depth chart?

3. Revamped OL
New line coach Dave Christensen inherits a unit that returns three starters but must replace standout tackle Cedric Ogbuehi. The Aggies allowed 26 sacks last season and need to shuffle the starting five with Ogbuehi, Garrett Gramling and Jarvis Harrison leaving College Station. Center Mike Matthews is a good building block, but how will Christensen build the starting five? This spring is his first opportunity to work with this group. 

 

7. Mississippi State

2014 Record: 10-3 (6-2 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 3

 

Key Coaching Changes:

Manny Diaz (Defensive Coordinator)


Mississippi State’s Spring Priorities

 

1. New Faces on the OL
The Bulldogs return only four starters on offense in 2015, but quarterback Dak Prescott turned down the NFL for one more season in Starkville. Prescott’s return is huge for Mississippi State’s hopes of another 10-win season, and the focus of spring should be revamping the line to protect their senior quarterback. Three key linemen departed from the 2014 team, including standout center Dillon Day and guard Ben Beckwith. Junior college recruit Martinas Rankin should help replace left tackle Blaine Clausell.

2. Replacing Josh Robinson
Josh Robinson left Starkville for the NFL after a successful 2014 season. Robinson rushed for 1,203 yards and 11 scores last year, while Prescott was the team’s second-leading rusher with 986 yards. The battle to replace Robinson begins this spring, as Brandon Holloway, Ashton Shumpert and Aeris Williams will compete for carries.

3. Manny Diaz Returns to Coordinate the Defense
Geoff Collins left to become the co-defensive coordinator at Florida this offseason, and coach Dan Mullen turned to a familiar face to lead Mississippi State’s defense. Manny Diaz is back after leaving for Texas in 2011. Diaz will be a busy man this offseason, as the Bulldogs return only three starters and suffered significant losses at each level of the defense. This spring will be his first opportunity to find replacements for big names like end Preston Smith and linebacker Benardrick McKinney.

Teaser:
SEC West 2015 Spring Preview and Power Rankings
Post date: Tuesday, March 3, 2015 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/oregon-state-new-helmet-2015-spring-practice
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Oregon State is slated to open spring practice on Tuesday, March 3, and there’s plenty of optimism surrounding the team with the hire of new coach Gary Andersen.

In addition to the new era of Oregon State football, the Beavers plan to unveil a new helmet for spring practice.

The Twitter account of Oregon State equipment’s team tweeted out this picture on Monday night of the helmets: 

Who knows how much Oregon State will wear these helmets in the regular season, but this variation (with a tip of the cap to the past) is a pretty solid look for the program.

Teaser:
Oregon State Unveils New Helmet for 2015 Spring Practice
Post date: Tuesday, March 3, 2015 - 10:34
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/2015-fantasy-baseball-rankings-catchers
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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 , we also have our positional rankings, courtesy of Bruce Herman. These are pulled straight from this year’s , 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: Catchers

 

TIER 1

1. Buster Posey, Giants (A)

Posey has had two torrid Junes and frosty Julys in a row, with the latter separating him from the MVP form we saw in 2012. He’s one slumpbuster pill away from being that guy again (.336-24-103-78-1) instead of the still-formidable .303-18-80-66-1 of the last two years.

2. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers

Lucroy’s incremental progression into the catching gentry has been in lockstep with his full-season SO/BB ratios: 3.4, 2.0, 1.4, 1.1. His 2014 OPS of .837 may have been short of Posey’s, but no other qualifying backstop was within 52 points of it — hence the abbreviated Tier 1.

 

TIER 2

3. Salvador Perez, Royals

Perez’s AVG was .298 on June 30, but just .230 afterwards (including playoffs). He wore down from catching 91% of KC’s games, saw his swing compromised (MLB-high 17.3 infield pop-up rate) and flailed at anything with seams. Homers are on pace to settle in the 20s.

4. Devin Mesoraco, Reds

Dusty Baker jacked him around, but Bryan Price trusted Mesoraco, whose response was to enact the largest OPS increase in the National League (min. 300 PAs), from .649 to .893. Led all catchers with 25 HRs, but the .273 AVG is at the upper end of his capability.

5. Yan Gomes, Indians

We pointed out that Gomes would be a Tier 2er if Carlos Santana changed positions. That came to pass, and Yan’s year was a dead ringer for Perez’s. His lack of judgment is equally as dicey, but then again, Brazilians love this dish called feijoada that contains pigs’ ears.

6. Yadier Molina, Cardinals

Molina wasn’t quite the usual automaton in 2014, as he dipped to his lowest OPS since 2010. His career highs of a .319 AVG, 22 HRs and 80 RBIs will likely remain so in perpetuity, but he’s a safe option at a position with few.

 

TIER 3

7. Russell Martin, Blue Jays

The .290 AVG — up from .234 the previous five seasons — was a quirk, but a move to Rogers Centre and better health should inch the homers back into the high teens. John Gibbons has him penciled in as a No. 2 hitter, though, which would menace his RBI chances.

8. Matt Wieters, Orioles (F)

Wieters was swatting 53 points above his career AVG when he was derailed by an elbow injury and eventually Tommy Johned. He’ll be lucky to hit .260 over a full season, but 20 homers and 70 RBIs are even bets, recognizing that his workload may be reduced.

9. Wilson Ramos, Nationals (B, F)

In Ramos’ case, the term “full season” is as meaningful as it was to “Osbournes Reloaded.” He’s been sidetracked by everything from gossamer hamstrings to being kidnapped. Based on his three-year numbers, a 500-AB season would look like this: .268-21-82-51-0.

10. Jason Castro, Astros

The position’s next great offensive hope fell into a quagmire of strikeouts (one every 3.4 PAs), precipitating a 54-point AVG fall to .222. Homers in the teens, RBIs in the 50s are plausible.

11. Travis d’Arnaud, Mets (B, F)

Quietly but dramatically pulled out of a halting career launch to go .271-7-22 in his final 54 games. Had bone chips removed from his elbow in October.

12. Brian McCann, Yankees

McCann is fortunate to be playing in one of the few ballparks that keeps him roto-relevant; 19 of his 23 homers were at Yankee Stadium. Acute pull proclivities beat down his AVG to a shift-stymied .232.

13. Miguel Montero, Cubs

Made a considerable regression from his first three 400-AB seasons (.287-16-78-64-1, on average) to .237-12-57-42-0 in 2013-14. Moves to Wrigley, where’s he’s done well.

14. Wilin Rosario, Rockies (F)

Like many catchers, Rosario can only tell a ball from a strike while wearing a mask. That, the burden of his defensive struggles, and the seeming inevitability of his departure from Coors threaten to eat into the lofty power ceiling he erected with 49 homers in 2012-13.

15. Mike Zunino, Mariners

First player in history to bat below .200 with at least 150 SOs and fewer than 20 BBs while hitting more than 20 HRs. The hooks on which to hang a fantasy hat are that last stat and his perceived potential.

 

TIER 4

18. John Jaso, Rays (F)

17. Derek Norris, Padres

16. Stephen Vogt, A’s (F)

19. Francisco Cervelli, Pirates (B)

20. Yasmani Grandal, Dodgers

21. Alex Avila, Tigers (F)

22. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Marlins

23. Tyler Flowers, White Sox

24. Nick Hundley, Rockies

25. Rene Rivera, Rays

 

TIER 5

26. Kurt Suzuki, Twins (E)

27. Josmil Pinto, Twins (C)

28. Chris Iannetta, Angels

29. Robinson Chirinos, Rangers

30. Christian Bethancourt, Braves

31. Blake Swihart, Red Sox (G)

32. Welington Castillo, Cubs (D)

33. Brayan Pena, Reds

34. Ryan Hanigan, Red Sox

35. A.J. Pierzynski, Braves

36. Carlos Ruiz, Phillies

37. Hank Conger, Astros (D)

38. Peter O’Brien, Diamondbacks (G)

39. Christian Vazquez, Red Sox

40. A.J. Ellis, Dodgers (E)

Teaser:
2015 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Catcher
Post date: Tuesday, March 3, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/2015-fantasy-baseball-rankings-designated-hitters
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 , we also have our positional rankings, courtesy of Bruce Herman. These are pulled straight from this year’s , 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: Designated Hitters

 

1. Victor Martinez, Tigers (A)

Martinez had an astonishing season for a two-tool player, striking out 40 fewer times than any other 30-HR hitter and becoming the third-oldest first-time member of the 30-HR/100-RBI club. Lightning won’t strike twice, but he’s still the class of the DHs. Also be wary of a slow start, as Martinez underwent surgery in early February to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.

 

2. Nelson Cruz, Mariners (E)

The reliable gravity of baseball will work against another 40-HR/108-RBI bombshell by Cruz. Or maybe pitchers will just figure out that his OPS on non-fastballs was .720. More realistic is his 2009-13 average of 27/81.

 

3. David Ortiz, Red Sox (E)

Ortiz pulled off the rare feat of hitting 35 jacks and driving in 100 runs after his 35th birthday. Papi is more of an all-or-nothing sort now, since shifts are throwing up obstacles.

 

4. Adam LaRoche, White Sox

LaRoche, underappreciated from a power standpoint, has come up with 20-plus HRs in all nine of his 120-game seasons. A five-year AVG of .252 takes the edge off, though.

 

5. Billy Butler, Athletics

The A’s 21st century version of Billy Ball (general manager Beane and designated hitter Butler) will be measured at least in part on how this provocative signing works out. Career OPS in KC: .849; in Oakland: .759.

 

6. Chris Carter, Astros

They don’t come more entertaining than Carter, who (a) led the majors in HRs/AB (.073) and was fourth in percentage of batted balls that were infield pops (16.0); (b) had stretches of 15 HRs in 31 games, as well as none in 18 and one in 19; and (c) set a record for fewest career RBIs with 85 or more HRs.

 

7. Kendrys Morales, Royals

Kauffman Stadium doesn’t seem like the best place to resurrect the career of a 32-year-old, high-flyball/high-strikeout power hitter, but Kendrys will give it a go.

 

8. Kennys Vargas, Twins

The current game’s largest human, Vargas was, in 2014, the most recent player with at least 43 hits and 31 RBIs in his first 32 major league contests. The previous two were Albert Pujols and Joe DiMaggio. (We’ll wait while you go clean out your ears with a Q-tip.)

 

9. Mitch Moreland, Rangers (F)

A .250-ish hitter whose 20-HR possibilities (if his surgically repaired ankle is OK) have some value in AL-only leagues.

 

10. Nick Swisher, Indians (F)

Bad year, worse knees. If he can snap back from the August surgeries on both, Swisher might salvage a 10th 20-HR season, but without many trimmings.

Teaser:
2015 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Designated Hitters
Post date: Tuesday, March 3, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/most-glaring-weaknesses-college-basketballs-top-national-title-contenders
Body:

Every team has a weakness. Even Kentucky.

 

Winning and losing in the NCAA Tournament is almost always about the matchups. A bad draw or a little bad luck in the first weekend of the Tournament can turn a potential championship season into a disappointment. The key for upset-hungry teams in March will be their ability to pounce when the time is right.

 

The teams that will be among the favorites to advance to Final Four have earned that status by being balanced, sound teams on both side of the court. Only one of them can be a champion, though.

 

Here’s how things could unravel for some of the nation’s top teams.

 

Kentucky

Fatal flaw: A backcourt collapse

The nation’s only undefeated team and undisputed No. 1 has so few flaws, it’s tough to pick out the weak spots that could doom a run to the Final Four. An opponent getting ridiculously hot from 3 would seem to be a must to beat Kentucky, but how could the Wildcats beat themselves? The guards might do it. Point guard Andrew Harrison has had his lapses at times, though’s also had his share of standout games this season. The offense has run better for stretches this season with Tyler Ulis at the point, but will Calipari put his team into the hands of a 5-9 freshman in the Tournament? Kentucky’s 3-point shooting (160th nationally at 34.3 percent) and free throw shooting (100th at 71 percent) is also the only other non-elite part of the Wildcats’ game.

 

Virginia

Fatal flaw: Closing out wins

For the time being, the Cavaliers have overcome this flaw, preserving wins over Pittsburgh, Florida State, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech with ease. But there was a stretch in late January and early February where lopsided games early in the second half became more dramatic in the final seconds. This is how Virginia lost its only game of the season to Duke on Jan. 31, but even Wake Forest in Charlottesville and Virginia Tech in Blacksburg made the Cavs work to preserve a lead.

 

Duke

Fatal flaw: Defending attacking guards

The diminished depth is a major concern, though it will be less so when benches shrink in the NCAA Tournament. Instead, the biggest problem for Duke has to be problems defending guards. Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant shredded Duke’s guards earlier this season. So did Miami’s duo of Angel Rodriguez and Manu Lecomte. Virginia Tech took Duke to overtime a week ago thanks to its guards getting to the rim. Duke was a bad defensive team a year ago and got burned by Mercer in the Tournament. Could history repeat itself?

 

Villanova

Fatal flaw: Rebounding

Villanova isn’t necessarily an undersized team — particularly by Villanova standards — but the Wildcats aren’t a big team, either. The 6-foot-11 Daniel Ochefu is the only regular taller than 6-7. He averages 8.3 boards per game. Every regular is 6-2 or taller and top guard Darrun Hilliard is 6-6. Yet Villanova ranks 115th in offensive rebound rate and 160th in defensive rebound rate on KenPom.com.

 

Arizona

Fatal flaw: Scoring from its stars

Arizona won’t play many games tougher than the Wildcats’ win in Salt Lake City on Saturday night. Utah’s a great defensive team, but Arizona should still wonder if it can score enough to make it to the Final Four. Freshman Stanley Johnson went 3-of-19 from the field, which would be a footnote if not for Arizona’s struggles a week ago against UCLA. In that game, Gabe York and Dusan Ristic came off the bench to bail out the starters in a 57-47 win over the Bruins. 

 

Wisconsin

Fatal flaw: Frontcourt depth

Good thing Frank Kaminsky never gets into foul trouble. Wisconsin has proven that it can keep winning even without its starting point guard, but surviving any absence of Kaminsky would seem to be slim. Kaminsky is the only player on the roster taller than 6-9. That said, Kaminsky foul trouble is a true rarity. He hasn’t played with more than three fouls in a game all season.

 

Gonzaga

Fatal flaw: Free throw shooting

Gonzaga has one of the most balanced and efficient offenses in the country, making it all that more baffling that the Bulldogs can’t hit free throws. Gonzaga is converting only 69.8 percent of free throws this season, raking 150th nationally. 

Teaser:
Fatal Flaws for College Basketball National Title Contenders
Post date: Tuesday, March 3, 2015 - 08:30
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR, Overtime, News
Path: /nascar/seriously-spongebob-your-newest-nascar-title-sponsor
Body:

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?

 

The next sponsor of a NASCAR Sprint Cup race, that’s who.

 

Brace yourself. This is not a joke. The NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway on May 9 will be dubbed the SpongeBob SquarePants 400 as part of Nickelodeon’s sponsorship.

 

It’s true. .

 

The race, to be broadcast on Fox Sports 1, will feature “a weekend of Bikini-Bottom-themed activities and un for the entire family.”

 

Wonder if they’ll serve Krabby Patties.

 

Also worth noting the president of Kansas Speedway is named Patrick. Again, no joke.

 

“I’m excited to partner with Nickelodeon for the SpongeBob SquarePants 400 on May 9,” said Patrick Warren, Kansas Speedway President. “This is a great opportunity for us to engage SpongeBob fans of all ages to racing with a great partner.”

 

 

Teaser:
Seriously, SpongeBob is your Newest NASCAR Title Sponsor
Post date: Monday, March 2, 2015 - 17:26
All taxonomy terms: Luke Donald, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-27-luke-donald
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 ’s Brandel Chamblee.

No. 27:

Born: Dec. 7, 1977, Hemel Hempstead, England | Career PGA Tour Wins: 5 (7 on European Tour) | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $1,451,440 (72nd) World Ranking: 44

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Donald was once the number one player in the world and in 2011 was the first player to lead both the PGA and the European Tour money lists, but in spite of all the success he had and money he won, he met criticism for never having a chance to win a major late on Sunday. Perhaps it was that criticism, or maybe it was his desire to get longer off the tee, but Luke jettisoned his long-time teacher Pat Goss for Jason Dufner’s teacher Chuck Cook, but the changes never took, so Luke is back working on familiar ideas and as such should return to his winning ways. At his best he possesses one of the top three deadliest combinations of wedge play and putting of this era to go with an elegant golf swing that will make him a winner once again in 2015.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 41
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - Cut
U.S. Open - Cut
British Open - T64
PGA Championship - T40

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T3 (2005)
U.S. Open - T8 (2013)
British Open - T5 (2009, 2012)
PGA Championship - T3 (2006)
Top-10 Finishes: 8
Top-25 Finishes: 15
Missed Cuts: 16

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the . Be sure to follow him  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. .

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 2, 2015 - 17:11
All taxonomy terms: Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Golf
Path: /golf/tiger-and-phil-end-era
Body:

Is this the end?

 

There are many pressing questions facing golf in 2015 — Can Rory complete the career Grand Slam? Is Michelle Wie for real? Will Ian Poulter’s next Ferrari be red or white? — but the biggest unknown by far is whether the Tiger and Phil era is, in fact, over. Last season marked the first time in nearly two decades that neither Woods nor Mickelson won a professional tournament. Tiger will be 40 in December, and his body has broken under the strain of his obsessive workout routine and a lifetime of grinding on the range. (In fact, he’s been at it for so long his age should probably be measured in dog years.)

 

Woods will arrive at Augusta (we presume) nearly seven calendar years removed from his last major championship victory, a drought that has extended through what should have been the prime of his career. He will be attempting to become the first player ever to win a Masters with four different swings. Tiger ended 2014 at 32nd in the World Ranking, but such is his cult of personality that CBS analyst David Feherty recently said: ”It would surprise me if, by the end of this season, he’s not No. 1 in the world again. The only mistakes I’ve ever made with Tiger Woods are underestimating him. If you think he can’t do that, well, he kind of thinks he can.”

 

Mickelson is an arthritic 44-year-old who looked strangely disinterested for most of the 2014 season. He found a little inspiration at the PGA Championship and could have salvaged his year with a victory, but he looked drained coming down the stretch, bogeying the 70th hole to open the door for McIlroy. Yet Mickelson, like Woods, has towered over the game for so long that we can’t quit him, either. Phil spent the offseason dropping 20 pounds and has rejiggered his early-season schedule to be fresher for Augusta and his continued, quixotic quest to win a U.S. Open. According to Mickelson’s wife, Amy, Phil has not lost the belief that has sustained him through some of the most heart-wrenching defeats of the modern era. “He’s the most positive person in the world,” she says. “He’ll be working on some part of his body that’s been injured, and I can tell he’s uncomfortable, but he’ll say, ’I’m fine. I feel great — best shape of my life.’ The thing is, he tells himself that so much he really believes it.”

 

Do either or both of these proud champions have one last run in them to put an exclamation point on their Hall of Fame careers? The mind says no but the heart can’t resist hoping for a yes.

 

• • •

 

Tiger and Phil grew up in middle-class Southern California suburbia, separated by 100 miles but linked by their talent — both were prodigies from the earliest age. Older by five and a half years, Mickelson loomed over Woods’ early golfing life. “Phil was an icon to us,” says one of Tiger’s friends from junior golf, Chris Riley, who would also go on to a career on the PGA Tour.

 

Woods’s late father Earl always received most of the credit for his son’s competitive spirit, but it was mom Tida who sharpened Tiger’s killer instinct. With her, it was personal. Any player who was as accomplished as the young Tiger was considered not just a competitor but a threat. So as Woods chased Mickelson’s numerous junior records, he was imbued with a certain disdain for a flashy counterpart he barely knew.

Tiger is still Tiger. And Phil is still Phil. Is that enough any more? We'll find out for sure this year.

All these years later Tiger and Phil are still measuring themselves against each other. Woods’s career achievements — 14 major championships and 79 PGA Tour victories — are untouchable, but Tiger is keenly aware that since his last major win (2008 U.S. Open) Phil has nabbed a Masters and a British Open. What hurts just as much is that Mickelson has repeatedly outplayed him in head-to-head matchups, notably the 64-75 thrashing on Sunday at the 2012 AT&T Pebble Beach, which was Mickelson’s 40th career victory. A decade ago, Mickelson had a question he loved to trot out in press conferences: “If Tiger is the best player of all time and I start beating him regularly, what does that make me?” Woods has many motivations to keep pushing for a return to glory, but surely he doesn’t want to be eclipsed by his old rival in the last act of his career.

 

Meanwhile, Mickelson remains motivated by the pursuit of the one thing he seemingly can’t have. His entire 2014 season was reduced to a single tournament: the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, where 15 years earlier he had begun his ritualistic heartbreak at the national championship. This year’s venue is Chambers Bay, a quirky neo-links in Tacoma, Wash. Since it’s never hosted a professional tournament, it’s hard to say for sure what kind of player Chambers favors, but it’s a big, rollicking ballpark that will be more generous off the tee than most Open venues and will demand more creativity around the greens. Sounds about right for Mickelson, no?

 

The highlight of the summer will be a return to St. Andrews, where Woods has won two of his three British Opens, in 2000 and ’05. This famous auld sod used to be his private playground, but Tiger long ago stopped being a sure thing there, or anywhere else. Last year he hit rock-bottom, with a serious back injury and related maladies limiting him to seven tournaments, only two of which he lasted for the full 72 holes. In an attempt to regain his old mojo, he has gone back to the future, hiring someone named Chris Como as swing “consultant” to help him refashion his swing into something close to what it was in the halcyon days of his youth. (Woods’ goal has always been to “own” his swing, and thus he prefers the verbiage of the business world — consultant — as opposed to “coach,” which would imply that he actually has something to learn.) At the World Challenge in December 2014, Woods gave the golf world a sneak peek at his action, and the reviews were guardedly optimistic, as he seemed to be swinging with more freedom and conviction.

 

Of course, the story of that week was his shocking chip-yips. Woods chalked up his struggles around the greens to rust, but by all reports he was wedging it beautifully in the practice rounds. The stunning yippiness continued during early-season starts at Phoenix and Torrey Pines, and it was baffling and more than a little sad to watch Woods duff, blade, chunk, skull and chili-dip chip after chip. Woods withdrew midway through the second round at Torrey, citing "deactivated" glutes. This became the butt of endless jokes, which masked a larger problem: Tiger had quit again. Shortly thereafter he announced he was taking a sabbatical to work on his game — and, presumably, his mind — without millions of fans and critics passing judgment. For Woods to cry uncle and flee tournament golf was the most graphic evidence yet that for all the questions about his body, his biggest problems are metaphysical.

 

During his heyday, Woods could hit any shot and he putted better than anybody ever has, but what separated him from everyone else came from his heart and his head. His belief in himself was absolute, and unshakeable. Under pressure he was the clearest thinker and the most resilient. Success begat success. But Woods is a different person now. His sense of self was destroyed after suffering through the most public humiliation of the Internet age. Being between the ropes used to be his sanctuary, but suddenly he was all alone out there, on display for the masses to pass judgment. The bulletproof confidence has been blasted away by repeated defeats large and small.

 

Meanwhile, a new generation has risen, minus the scar tissue that came with the repeated beatings Woods dished out around the turn of the century. Rory McIlroy, a once-in-a-lifetime talent on par with Woods and Mickelson, attacks and overwhelms golf courses with an insouciance that is utterly foreign to his aging rivals. Despite the pyrotechnics of a myth-making victory at the 1997 Masters, Woods always favored precision over power. His game plans became more conservative in the post-hydrant era, as he seemed increasingly afraid of the big miss with his driver. In 2014 his average clubhead speed with the big stick was 115.63 miles per hour. If he had recorded enough attempts to officially qualify for the stat, Woods would have ranked 55th on Tour — right above Mickelson, who was at 115.62. Woods’ diminished power is part of a larger decline in a game that is no longer as well suited for the major championships, with their more exacting conditions. The trajectory of his irons became significantly lower in the Sean Foley years, just as he became shakier over short putts.

 

Woods will never again be the player he was. Even if he can find some form close to that impossible standard, the competition is much stronger than when he was vacuuming up major championship victories. Mickelson used to be the only player who was even close to Woods, talent-wise. Now, the 25-year-old McIlroy is already four-fifths of the way towards Phil’s career total of majors, and he’s only getting better and more confident. Tiger forged his legend at The Masters, winning three of his first six as a pro, but in the last decade he’s won only one more while Mickelson snagged three. And yet neither can still be considered the current King of Augusta — that honorific title goes to Bubba Watson, who has won two of the last three with an unbeatable combination of power and finesse.

 

In 2013, as defending champ, Watson was asked if he was the favorite to win the Green Jacket. He shook his head no and anointed a figure from the past. “He’s still Tiger Woods,” Watson said. And Phil Mickelson is still Phil Mickelson. Is that enough anymore? The 2014 season hinted at an answer. We’ll find out for sure this year.

 

This article appears in the 2015 edition of Athlon Sports Golf annual, on sale now. .

 

 

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 2, 2015 - 16:41
Path: /nba/james-harden-kicks-lebron%E2%80%99s-groin-mvp-statement-game
Body:

March, the month when football’s fully asleep and baseball is still reaching for the alarm clock, is when the NBA really starts to take off.

 

James Harden seemed to understand that yesterday, delivering a sizziing, MVP-caliber performance as his Houston Rockets beat LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, 105-103, in a Texas overtime thriller on national television.

 

Through The Beard’s 35-point performance — including eight assists, five rebounds, three steals and two blocks — there was a lot of his usual hypnotic power games in the half-court. But Harden, as he has all season, showed an extra amount of swagger in this game, like when he did this to LeBron:

 

And, oh yeah — he also made a little wine when he (accidentally?) kicked James in his grapes:

 

LeBron, for his part, was no scrub. He dropped 37 points and tallied eight of his own assists, to go with three blocks and three steals. But Houston got the win, and the glory, for the day. They also probably got a little ahead of themselves in the P.R. department, and celebrated the victory with this doozy of a tweet:

 

While both players are strong MVP candidates, Harden might have earned himself a lead over Steph Curry, and the rest of the pack with this iconic showing. While LeBron is still the best player in the game, no one has done as much for a contending team as Harden has for the Rockets this year. at 41-18, they’re the league’s fourth-best team despite missing about half the season to injury.

 

A lot of that has to do with a much-improved defense, featuring versatile wing athletes like Corey Brewer, Trevor Ariza and Josh Smith. But the Houston offense would be lost without Harden, their superstar, who has been the engine for virtually every possession he’s on the floor. 

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 2, 2015 - 14:22
All taxonomy terms: AL East, American League, Tampa Bay Rays, MLB, News
Path: /mlb/tampa-bay-rays-2015-preview-and-prediction
Body:

Just like that, they were gone — David Price, Andrew Friedman, Joe Maddon and Wil Myers, a fab four who, seems like yesterday, were considered the pillars of the franchise. The ace, the architect, the skipper, the hotshot — all departed in five months’ time as the Rays reeled from their first substandard season since 2007. And the upheaval didn’t stop there, as the double-play combo of Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar were shipped to Oakland in January.

 

GM Friedman’s departure to the Dodgers in October, followed by Maddon’s stunning contractual opt-out as manager 10 days later, altered the trajectory of the financially stressed franchise. Its fate now lies chiefly in the hands of former team president Matt Silverman and one-time Tampa Bay catcher Kevin Cash. Silverman, as GM/president of baseball operations, says he’s simply assuming the controls of a “well-oiled machine.” Tasked with sparking an on-field mechanism that sputtered and stalled last season is Cash, the majors’ youngest manager at 37. Lacking both impact bats and the speed to manufacture runs, he must find a way to slam it back into gear with one of the game’s five best rotations, a passable bullpen and an expectation that the defensive pendulum will swing back from dreadful to decent.

 

Rotation

The Rays have used only 23 different starting pitchers since 2008 (10 fewer than any other AL team), and they’re well positioned to sustain that stability. Even with the ace (Price) dealt off the top of the deck, there’s talent in spades. Last spring’s Tommy John surgery for Matt Moore (who was being groomed to replace Price), plus the regression and subsequent trade of Jeremy Hellickson, further thinned the herd, but the vacuum has been filled. Alex Cobb is the new, and deserved, rotation-topper. Flinging “The Thing” — his splitter-changeup hybrid — he’s posted two sub-3.00 ERAs in a row. With more run support and without two extended trips to the DL, he’d be a household name by now. Quirky Chris Archer has the best stuff and highest ceiling on the staff. “I’m not even close to my potential,” is his accurate self-assessment despite a fine 3.32 ERA in 59 career starts. The Rays found themselves a ringer in the Price trade, landing Drew Smyly, who was the better pitcher after the deal — 3–1, 1.70 ERA to Price’s 4–4, 3.59. Jake Odorizzi ran hot and cold as rookie, though he reinforced expectations of a bright future. He’s a flyball pitcher who thrived at commodious Tropicana Field (2.62 ERA there, 6.32 on the road). Moore is expected back in June, by which time the club hopes that either Nate Karns or Alex Colome will have established himself firmly enough to pose a positive dilemma.


Bullpen

There was a shocking development in December, when it was revealed that closer Jake McGee had undergone surgery to remove loose bodies from his elbow. There are a lot of bodies on the loose trying to replace him. The favorite is Brad Boxberger, who mixes a 93 mph fastball with a hard cutter and a 13 mph-slower change-up. Doing masterful bridge work in 2014, he would have set the AL record (min. 50 IP) for strikeouts per nine innings at 14.47 had not Andrew Miller averaged 0.4 more. McGee’s return circa May will give the Rays the lone reliever last year to have thrown 1,000 pitches at 95 mph-plus. The rest of the pen is a jumble to be sorted out in March. Aspirants include deposed closer Grant Balfour, three former Angels (Kevin Jepsen, Ernesto Frieri and Steve Geltz), two young hopefuls (Kirby Yates and Burch Smith), the loser of the No. 5 starter derby and a pair of LOOGYs (Jeff Beliveau and C.J. Riefenhauser).

 

Middle Infield

The Rays were in full see-what-sticks-to-the-wall mode after signing Asdrubal Cabrera just before New Year’s and then trading Zobrist and Escobar to the A’s a few weeks later. Cabrera now is tasked with filling the big shoes of the steady and reliable Zobrist, whose multi-positional versatility also will be missed. A two-time All-Star, Tampa Bay is hoping there’s some more juice left in Cabrera’s bat, although his numbers over the past few seasons say otherwise. At shortstop, while being a high-maintenance guy who sometimes has motivational issues, Escobar provided good defense. Now the Rays will turn to a committee that includes Nick Franklin, jack-of-all-trades Logan Forysthe and star-crossed former No. 1 overall draft pick Tim Beckham as Escobar’s replacement. Clearly, there’s housekeeping to be done.

 

Corners

Third baseman Evan Longoria and first sacker James Loney are the team’s two best hitters and among the cream of their craft defensively. Although Longo is coming off his sketchiest season, he looks positively Ruthian in a lineup that includes no other player who hit more than 10 home runs last year. Loney is well defined as a reliable wellspring of hard-hit balls, few of which threaten fences. He was the only major league qualifier in 2014 who didn’t have a hitless streak of more than 10 at-bats.

 

Outfield

Two years ago, Myers was supposed to be the missing mid-order thumper. He was found deficient in both thump and makeup, and moved in an 11-player blockbuster that yielded Steven Souza — he of the ridiculous diving catch for the final out of Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter. The late-to-blossom 25-year-old tore through four minor league levels the last two years, showing an array of average-to-plus tools — a potential 20-20 man if he makes enough contact. Souza and Kevin Kiermaier will most often staff the corners. The latter has few peers with the glove but batted only .224 in his last 39 games. Desmond Jennings starts in center for a fourth season, still showing no signs of being anything more than serviceable.

 

Catching

The Rays bit on Rene Rivera’s career year, getting him in the Myers deal after he compiled a .751 OPS (230 points above his previous career level) as a 30-year-old in San Diego. He’s excellent defensively, and whatever he hits will amount to more than the embarrassing black hole of 2014 co-starters Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan. Tampa Bay also acquired John Jaso in the Zobrist-Escobar deal with Oakland to not only provide a left-handed option behind the plate and insurance in case Rivera’s 2014 offensive showing was a fluke, but also to see plenty of time at DH.

 

DH/Bench

The Rays’ DH options include Jaso, who is more than capable of getting on base (career OBP of .359), as well as excess corner outfielders David DeJesus and Brandon Guyer). DeJesus is more “pro” than productive, while Guyer is a tweener who does most things fairly well, but nothing well enough to play every day. The rest of the depth chart can be deciphered only after the expected trade or two, though it wouldn’t be a Rays bench without a cache of interchangeable parts.

 

Management

A once-archetypal administration drifted away from its formula in recent years, misevaluating prospects, misappropriating salary by overpaying replacement-level vets and wasting a windfall of high draft picks. When the ship began taking on water in 2014, nine-year partners Friedman and Maddon bailed, replaced by Silverman and Cash, respectively. There will be no seismic shift in the team’s small-market business plan, but the Rays have lost ground. In the face of abysmal attendance and a freshly eviscerated payroll, it will be an intricate challenge for the young button-pushers to reclaim relevance and refurbish the farm system.

 

Final Analysis

A roster with a lot of moving parts is usually an objective for the versatility-obsessed Rays, but the term took on a different meaning this past offseason as the team scrambled to fill holes without digging even more. The frenetic winter smelled like an effort to reposition the organization for the future while hoping for no worse than a zero-sum impact on the field. The offensive outage went unrectified, and the bullpen had been thinned by injury and inexperience. A last-place finish in the AL East would be less surprising than a first, but no other team has exactly cornered the division. Such parity could find Tampa Bay orbiting the .500 mark.

 

2015 Prediction: 5th in AL East

 

Projected Lineup

CF       Desmond Jennings (R)     One of two players in 2014 to toil 1,000 or more defensive innings without committing an error.

DH/C  John Jaso (L)           Only major-leaguer acquired in the Zobrist-Escobar deal with Oakland, carries a career OBP of .359.

3B       Evan Longoria (R)   Tied for the major league lead in OPS against curveballs at 1.135.

1B       James Loney (L)     Ranked third in the American League with a 26.6 line drive percentage.

LF       Steven Souza (R)     20th player to be named International League MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same season.

RF       Kevin Kiermaier (L) Set a club record for most extra-base hits (12) in a player’s first 21 major league contests.     

C         Rene Rivera (R)       In only 89 defensive games at catcher, threw out the second-most runners (33) in the NL with the Padres.

2B       Asdrubal Cabrera (S)         Leads active second basemen (200+ games) with a .994 fielding percentage.

SS       Nick Franklin (S)      Homered 12 times in his first 279 major league at-bats, but only once in 171 trips since.

 

Bench

OF       David DeJesus (L)  Owns career stolen base percentage of 51.2 — easily the lowest among active players with 100 attempts.

INF      Logan Forsythe (R) Only player in 2014 to start at five positions and in all nine spots of the batting order.

OF       Brandon Guyer (R)  Despite just 259 at-bats, got down a team-leading seven of the Rays’ 20 bunt singles in 2014.

INF      Tim Beckham (R)    No. 1 overall pick in 2008 has eight career major-league plate appearances on his resume.

 

Rotation

RH      Alex Cobb      Made 12 straight starts of two or fewer runs, matching the third-longest AL streak of the past century.

RH      Chris Archer Allowed fewest HRs per 9 IP (0.55) ever by a qualifying Rays pitcher.

LH       Drew Smyly   Owns 6–0 ledger with 1.47 ERA in 20 career games versus other teams in the AL East.

RH      Jake Odorizzi            Led major league qualifiers with 4.21 pitches thrown per plate appearance and 18.0 per inning.

RH      Nate Karns   Tied for the strikeout lead (153) among all Triple-A pitchers in 2014.

 

Bullpen

RH      Brad Boxberger (Closer)    Established Tampa Bay record with 104 relief strikeouts last year.

RH      Kevin Jepsen           Finished second in the American League with 65 scoreless appearances in 2014.

RH      Grant Balfour            Has appeared in more games (448) than any other AL hurler since 2008.

RH      Alex Colome Owns Rays-record 1.30 ERA in his first six major league starts (2013-14).

RH      Ernesto Frieri           Ranked 10th in the majors with 71 saves between May 23, 2012, and June 9, 2014.

LH       Jeff Beliveau Limited left-handed hitters to six hits in 41 at-bats for a .146 average.

 

Beyond the Box Score

Cash is money New skipper Kevin Cash is no stranger to the World Series — at lower levels. He played in the College World Series for Florida State and as Tampa Northside’s second baseman in the Little League World Series. “It was like riding this gigantic wave,” he recalls of the latter. “You wish it lasted forever.”

Bad medicine Rays fans will miss Joe Maddon’s shenanigans — such as when he summoned a medicine man to expel the evil spirits from Tropicana Field last June. With the team having sunk to the worst record in baseball, Maddon brought in Bobby Henry — a Seminole Tribal elder known as The Rainmaker — to reverse the voodoo. “I don’t think it’s real bad,” was the 77-year-old’s verdict after patrolling the premises. But in fact, it got worse; the team dropped its next two games to make it 14 defeats in 15 tries. Maddon kept an open mind. “If it rains in the Trop I’ll be really impressed,” he told the Tampa Tribune. “That will be his best moment ever.”

Wrong number Desperate for runs in July, Maddon tried another gambit. Playing in Detroit on the third, the eccentric skipper fielded his “Tommy Tutone” lineup, ordering his batters by their defensive positions: 867-5309. Tampa Bay managed two hits in an 8–1 loss.

Roc star The Rays could have been much different over the past decade had Rocco Baldelli’s immensely promising career not been undermined by a disease that caused rapid-onset, severe fatigue. After two seasons of looking like a five-tool, potential 30-30 guy, the “Woonsocket Rocket” spent six more years mustering aborted comebacks. In 2015, after four years of serving the organization in various capacities, he will be — at 33 — the team’s first base coach.

Gag order There’s an ongoing debate among baseball’s number-crunchers as to whether “clutch” hitting really exists. Real or random, it did not exist in Tampa Bay last year. The Rays led the majors with 1,193 runners left on base, 13 of whom were stranded in scoring position as the potential tying/winning run in the ninth inning of home games. They scored a runner from third base with less than two outs less than half the time, and hit the fewest home runs (eight) in “close-and-late” situations by any team in 22 years.

 

2014 Top Draft Pick

Casey Gillaspie, 1B

The Rays attempted to halt a long string of draft whiffs by selecting a presumably safe college bat in Gillaspie at 20th overall. The brother of Conor Gillaspie, he’s a different animal than the contact-focused White Sox third baseman. Far more oriented toward the home run and the walk, he ranked fifth in the NCAA with 15 of the former and led with 58 of the latter for Wichita State in 2014. “He’s made the way you want a big-leaguer to be made,” says scouting director R.J. Harrison. Gillaspie made a sound first impression at short-season Hudson Valley with seven homers and 42 walks in 71 games, but his .262 batting average and 65 strikeouts illumined the holes in his swing. The switch-hitter is expected to be stationed at an A-ball outpost this season.

 

Top 10 Prospects

1. Daniel Robertson, SS (21) The key piece in the Ben Zobirst-Yunel Escobar trade with Oakland, Robertson immediately becomes Rays’ No. 1 prospect. At Class A Stockton last season, he hit .310 with 15 homers and 60 RBIs.

2. Willy Adames, SS (19) By the time the Rays got him in the David Price trade, Adames had surfaced as an elite prospect. “The capability to play in an All-Star Game,” said Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski.

3. Steven Souza, OF (25) Shredded Triple-A pitching with an 1.022 OPS last year while stealing 26 bases and playing plus defense.

4. Adrian Rondon, SS (16) The most highly ranked (No. 1 in 2014 by some accounts) and most expensive international prospect club has ever signed. His ceiling: Hanley Ramirez with a better glove.

5. Justin O’Conner, C (23) Might have the best arm strength/pop time parlay in the minors. Bat caught up last year (35 doubles in 399 ABs), but there’s too much swing-and-miss to hit for average.

6. Brent Honeywell, RHP (20) Drafted 72nd out of a junior college in 2014. Used a mid-90s fastball, a screwball, deception and a head for his trade to flummox rookie league hitters.

7. Alex Colome, RHP (26) Stuff plays at the upper end of the system, but has yet to prove he has the fastball command and durability to start every fifth day. May make the staff as a reliever.

8. Casey Gillaspie, 1B (22) One of only three college hitters the club coveted with its No. 1 pick last summer. Has plus power; would have led the NCAA Division I in OBP if HBPs didn’t count.

9. Andrew Velazquez, 2B (20) Set minor league record by reaching base in 74 straight games before arriving from Arizona in the Jeremy Hellickson deal.

10. Ryan Brett, 2B (23) Pedroia-like size and bat-to-ball skills, and is faster, but with nowhere near the strike zone discrimination or hands. 

Teaser:
Tampa Bay Rays 2015 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Monday, March 2, 2015 - 13:00
Path: /mlb/toronto-blue-jays-2015-preview-and-prediction
Body:

When the Kansas City Royals reached the playoffs last season after a 29-year absence, it put Toronto on the clock. The Jays’ postseason drought, at 21 years, is now the longest in the four major North American sports leagues. The Jays acted aggressively to stop it two years ago, without success, but this winter they doubled down on their core, adding to it with a five-year deal for catcher Russell Martin and an inspired trade for All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson. There’s no excuse for the Blue Jays to miss the party again. 

 

Rotation

The Blue Jays’ rotation was expected to be a weakness last season, but it turned out to be a source of stability. They do not have a true ace, but they had five starters who earned at least 11 victories apiece, and by trading J.A. Happ to Seattle in December, they opened a spot for top prospect Aaron Sanchez. In Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison and Sanchez, they seem to have found long-term building blocks, with Daniel Norris coming up right behind. The Blue Jays valued their young pitchers so highly that they passed on the chance to trade them for more obvious veteran upgrades at the trading deadline. As it turns out, they need those pitchers now, to slot in behind — or eventually, perhaps, in front of — veterans R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle. Dickey is the majors’ reigning knuckleball master, and while he’s unlikely ever to repeat his 2012 Cy Young Award season with the Mets, he’s still durable at 40, and nobody likes to face him. Buehrle, 36, is the epitome of consistency; he started fast last season, but by the end, his stats wound up where they always do.


Bullpen

Toronto had one of the worst bullpens in the majors last season, with a 4.09 ERA that ranked 25th in the major leagues. The left side, though, is fairly settled, with Aaron Loup and former All-Star Brett Cecil, who averaged 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings last season. The right side is less settled, with Todd Redmond and Marco Estrada capable of giving length, although Estrada is prone to surrendering the long ball. Manager John Gibbons said in December that righty Steve Delabar, like Cecil a 2013 All-Star, remained in the mix despite spending much of last season back in the minors. Chad Jenkins pitches to contact, a risky approach, but managed a 2.56 ERA in 21 games last season.

 

Middle Infield

Jose Reyes returns for his third season with the Jays, and while he’ll never be as electric as he was for the Mets, he remains, at 31, one of the game’s best shortstops. Reyes had a .726 OPS last season, the highest of all qualifying AL shortstops. Ryan Goins is in position to take over at second base, but his lackluster 2014 major league performance (.188 average) gives an opportunity to Devon Travis, 24, who came over from the Tigers. The Blue Jays think highly of Travis, who had an .817 OPS at Class AA Erie. Veteran Maicer Izturis, coming off knee surgery, also has a shot.

 

Corners

It’s no coincidence that Toronto’s season turned when Edwin Encarnacion hurt his right quadriceps on July 5. The Blue Jays were just a half-game out of first then, and when Encarnacion returned on Aug. 15, they were seven-and-a-half back. Encarnacion is perhaps the majors’ most obscure elite hitter, a monster power threat who also finds a way to put the bat on the ball consistently in an era of high strikeouts. He split his time last season between DH and first base, where he started 78 games. With Adam Lind gone now, Encarnacion will share time with Justin Smoak, the former Seattle first baseman who gets another chance to harness the power that never really broke out with the Mariners. Across the diamond is Donaldson, a skilled defender with power who replaces the talented but injury-prone Brett Lawrie in a trade with the A’s. The Jays have four years of contractual control over Donaldson, who is 29 and blossomed as a hitter with the A’s after studying film of the Jays’ Jose Bautista. Donaldson’s WAR has ranked second only to Mike Trout over the last two seasons.

 

Outfield

The Blue Jays swallowed hard in February 2011 when they committed $64 million through 2015 (plus a 2016 option) to Bautista, who had failed to distinguish himself with four other teams and had enjoyed just one strong season. Now, the deal looks like a steal, because Bautista has become a consistent offensive machine, with the combination of power and plate discipline that every team craves. His modest (for a superstar) salary has also made it easier for the Blue Jays to add around him, although mostly in areas other than the outfield. Toronto plans to try the untested Dalton Pompey in center. Pompey, who rocketed from Class A to the big leagues last season, will be expected to show excellent range in center field. Pompey was expected to complement Michael Saunders, who was acquired in a left trade from Seattle. But Saunders tore cartilage in his knee after stepping on a sprinkler head shagging fly balls in spring training and is expected to miss at the first few weeks of the season, at minimum. Following Saunders' injury, the Blue Jays signed Dayan Viciedo, who hit 21 home runs with the White Sox last season, as insurance.

 

Catching

The Blue Jays struck early in free agency, elbowing out the Dodgers and the Cubs for the services of Martin, who agreed to a five-year, $82 million contract to play in his home country. The Blue Jays’ marketing department loves the fact that Martin is Canadian, but for the baseball operations folks, the move was all about the player. The Jays targeted Martin for his skills behind the plate — framing borderline pitches, blocking balls in the dirt — but also for his leadership, which will be pivotal. The Jays believe Martin has gotten back to the hitter he was in his early years with the Dodgers, with a swing that sprays balls to all fields and refined plate discipline that led to a .402 on-base percentage last season. Josh Thole is a backup with the important asset of familiarity with Dickey’s knuckleball.

 

DH/Bench

Dioner Navarro, displaced at catcher, could fit as the primary DH as a switch-hitter who batted .274 last season and had a .365 OBP for the Cubs in 2012. The Blue Jays could also use Smoak, after claiming him on waivers, non-tendering him but then quickly re-signing him for $1 million. Izturis, who can play second, short and third, was limited to 11 games in 2014 due to injury. Kevin Pillar, who hit .323 in the minors last year, could be the fourth outfielder.

 

Management

General manager Alex Anthopoulos enters his sixth season with the Blue Jays, and fans can’t question his desire to build a winner. Anthopoulos has used a solid farm system to build a team that is relevant again, but he kept an eye on the future last summer by holding onto his best prospects. The signing of Martin shows that Anthopoulos still believes in this core, and the trade for Donaldson was another go-for-it move that could help the Jays this year and beyond. Gibbons, a popular players’ manager, returns for the third season of his second dugout tour with the team. Gibbons has always had a close bond with Anthopoulos, but without a contract for 2016, it would be good for his job security to guide an improved roster to the playoffs.

 

Final Analysis

With most teams struggling to score these days, the Blue Jays’ deep and powerful offense should set them apart from the pack. They improved it over the winter while managing to strengthen their shaky defense in several spots. The Jays’ staff lacks many in-their-prime performers, but the rotation has some pitchers with youthful promise. If one or two break out as stars, and the bullpen does its job, it’s reasonable to expect the Blue Jays’ first AL East championship since 1993.

 

2015 Prediction: 2nd in AL East (Wild Card)

 

Projected Lineup

SS       Jose Reyes (S)        Led big-league shortstops in hits (175) and times on base (214).

C         Russell Martin (R)   Blue Jays love his leadership, pitch-framing and all-fields swing.

RF       Jose Bautista (R)    Only one active player, Alex Rios, has more career games without a postseason appearance.

1B       Edwin Encarnacion (R)      Only player to hit 30 homers while striking out fewer than 85 times in each of last two seasons.

3B       Josh Donaldson (R)           Top 10 in MVP voting two years in a row; he brings power and defense to Jays.

DH      Justin Smoak (L)     For a player with one tool, power, his slugging percentage was a meager .339 for Seattle in 2014.

LF       Michael Saunders (L)         Prone to injury, but hit 19 homers with 21 steals as recently as 2012.

2B       Ryan Goins (L)        Just one error in 241 chances last season, but didn’t hit at all.

CF       Dalton Pompey (S) Jays hope to ease in the speedy Ontario native in the No. 9 spot in the order.

 

Bench

C         Dioner Navarro (S) Hit .301 in DH role for Jays last season; will see time there if not traded.

C         Josh Thole (L)          Adept at catching R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball, and he hit a solid .248.

2B       Devon Travis (R)      Turns 24 in spring, so time is right to bring power/speed combo to majors.

INF      Maicer Izturis (S)      Missed nearly all season after surgery to repair torn ligament in left knee.

OF       Kevin Pillar (R)         May compete with Pompey for the job in center, though he’s spent most of his big-league time in left.

 

Rotation

RH      R.A. Dickey    Veteran knuckleballer went 6.0 innings or more in 19 of last 20 starts.

LH       Mark Buehrle            Durable southpaw is the fastest-working pitcher in MLB at 17.3 seconds between pitches.

RH      Marcus Stroman      Allowed a 53.8 percent ground ball rate and just six home runs in 20 starts.

RH      Drew Hutchison       Only American League pitcher to beat division-champ Orioles three times.

RH      Aaron Sanchez         Will get a chance to start, but Jays know he can be an asset in pen, too.

 

Bullpen

LH       Brett Cecil (Closer)             Ended season with longest scoreless streak of any AL pitcher (19.2 IP).

LH       Aaron Loup   Led the major leagues in inherited runners, with 66, and stranded 51.

RH      Steve Delabar          The 2013 All-Star struggled with control and split season between Class AAA and majors.

RH      Todd Redmond       His 75 innings led all Jays who pitched only in relief last season.

RH      Chad Jenkins           Fractured his right hand during batting practice in September.

RH      Marco Estrada          Prone to the home run ball; profiles as long man/spot starter/trade bait.

 

Beyond the Box Score

Wins, but no playoffs If you think it’s rare for a non-playoff team to have five pitchers with double-digit victories, you’re correct. The 2014 Blue Jays became the first team with that dubious distinction since the 2006 Chicago White Sox. The sting couldn’t have felt quite so bad for that Sox team, because it had won the World Series the year before.

Oh, Canada! The Blue Jays announced their signing of Russell Martin with a press release written in English and French. Martin, of course, went to high school in Montreal and will have broad national appeal to Blue Jays fans. And he’s not alone — Michael Saunders was acquired to play left field, and Dalton Pompey has a chance to win the job in center this year, which would give the Jays by far their most Canadian-flavored lineup ever. Other Canadians who have played for the team include Matt Stairs, Paul Quantrill, Corey Koskie, Rob Ducey and the departed Brett Lawrie.

The shortstop of steel Jose Reyes wears a cutoff Superman T-shirt under his uniform most games, and he showed up last season with a more permanent salute to his favorite superhero: a Superman logo tattooed high up on his chest, right at the base of his neck. The tattoo is in full color — red S, yellow background, red border. Reyes has also been known to wear Batman and Spider-Man gear if the mood strikes.

Buehrle and Cy Mark Buehrle is known for consistency, durability and control. He’s never won a Cy Young Award (in fact, he’s received votes in only one season, 2005), but he has a streak that is almost unmatched in baseball history. Buehrle has gone 14 seasons in a row with more than 200 innings and 61 walks or fewer. The only other pitcher in history with a streak that comes close to those criteria is Cy Young himself, who did it from 1897-1909.

New hitting coach After losing Kevin Seitzer to the Braves, the Blue Jays hired another 1980s third baseman, Brook Jacoby, to be their hitting coach. Jacoby, who made two All-Star teams for Cleveland, was the Reds’ hitting coach from 2007-13 and a minor league instructor for the Rangers in 2014. He is the Jays’ fourth hitting coach in four years and says, “I’m not going to try to make a big splash in the water. Just let the guys know that I’m here for them.”

 

2014 Top Draft Pick

Jeff Hoffman, RHP

Hoffman’s career at East Carolina ended last spring when he needed Tommy John surgery, but his confidence remained intact. “Whatever team takes the so-called risk and drafts me is going to get the best player in the draft,” he told the New York Times, a few days before Toronto scooped up him up with the ninth overall pick. A 6’4” righthander, he has a drop-and-drive delivery and profiles as a top-of-the-rotation starter. Hoffman’s fastball has touched 98, and he adds a heavy sinker, a decent slider and improving changeup. The surgery kept him out last summer, but he was throwing off flat ground in the fall and should be back in action by midseason. Hoffman would seem to be on track to make an impact in Toronto in 2016.

 

Top 10 Prospects

1. Daniel Norris, LHP (21) He had a 5.40 career ERA before a breakout 2014 that ended in Toronto. In the minors, he struck out nearly 12 per nine innings with mid-90s fastball and sharp slider.

2. Aaron Sanchez, RHP (22) Offered tantalizing glimpse of the future with strong bullpen cameo for Jays (1.09 ERA in 33 innings), but he’s a starter for the long term.

3. Dalton Pompey, OF (22) Has made a dramatic improvement in recent seasons and will have a chance to play every day in 2015.

4. Roberto Osuna, RHP (20) Returned to action last summer after Tommy John surgery; Jays hope he regains mid-90s fastball and feel for changeup.

5. Jeff Hoffman, RHP (22) Dominated in the Cape Cod League before his junior season at East Carolina. Still went No. 9 overall after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

6. Max Pentecost, C (22) Drafted two slots behind Hoffman in the first round in 2014; hit over .300 in two minor league stops but needed labrum surgery in October.

7. Franklin Barreto, SS (19) Jays gave him a $1.45 million bonus out of Venezuela in 2012, and he hit .311 with 29 steals at short-season Vancouver last year.

8. Devon Travis, 2B (24) Acquired from Detroit for Anthony Gose, he’s a good contact hitter with some power and speed who could easily win starting job at second base.

9. Richard Urena, SS (19) Toolsy athlete and lefty bat who hit .318 for rookie-level Bluefield last season.

10. Miguel Castro, RHP (20) Generates strikeouts and groundballs consistently, and will work on secondary pitches at High-A this season.

Teaser:
Toronto Blue Jays 2015 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Monday, March 2, 2015 - 12:30
Path: /college-football/south-carolina-coach-steve-spurrier-joins-twitter-internet-rejoices
Body:

College football coaches use Twitter accounts for various reasons, and some are better follows than others.

However, the Internet rejoiced on Monday, as South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier joined Twitter. Who knows how Spurrier will use this account, but he’s one of the best quotes in college football and perhaps this will produce a few gems along the way.

 

The Ol’ Ball Coach can be followed at

Here’s proof of Spurrier’s account:

And of course, Spurrier's Twitter account generated some fun conversation:

Teaser:
South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier Joins Twitter, Internet Rejoices
Post date: Monday, March 2, 2015 - 12:12
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/five-american-league-players-new-teams-watch-2015
Body:

Fear not baseball fans — Sunshine and warmer weather are on their way, and spring training is knocking on Old Man Winter’s door. Thankfully, it is almost time for baseball, as camps are in full gear in Arizona and Florida.

 

Many players are getting acclimated to new spring training surroundings, as these past few months proved to be busy for general managers, agents and players alike. Between blockbuster trades and free agents signing robust contracts with new teams, there has been no lack of player movement this offseason.

 

Lucky for you, Athlon Sports has kept a close watch on the MLB Hot Stove while you’ve been shoveling snow. So get your pencils and scorebooks ready as we list the Five American League Players on New Teams to Watch in 2015.

 

Related:

 

Hanley Ramirez, OF, Boston Red Sox

Yes, you read that correctly — Hanley Ramirez, outfielder. Fenway Park’s Green Monster in left field is now Ramirez’s responsibility, which is somewhat perplexing since Hanley has never played outfield — ever. The Boston Globe reports that Hanley has bulked up to 240 pounds, which seems excessive for his slender 6’2 frame, but whatever keeps Ramirez in the lineup will certainly be welcomed by the Red Sox.

 

Ramirez has struggled to stay healthy in recent years, playing in over 150 games just once in the past four seasons. When Ramirez has been healthy, he’s been outstanding. In just 86 games in 2013, Ramirez hit .345/.402/.638 with 20 homers and 25 doubles. With the Marlins in 2009, Hanley was second in MVP voting as he led the NL in batting, posting a robust .342/.410/.543 slash line, hitting 24 homers, 42 doubles, with 106 RBIs.

 

The Red Sox have made Ramirez a key ingredient in their rebuild after their 2014 first-to-worst slide, signing the Dominican native to a four-year, $88 million contract. Ramirez is just one the fresh faces in Boston that also includes new additions Pablo Sandoval, Wade Miley and Rick Porcello. The Sox hope that with Ramirez’s new, fine-tuned figure, he’s able to return to the player he was for the Marlins, a three-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger, MVP candidate, and 2006 NL Rookie of the Year.

 

If HanRam can remain fit for duty, look for him to park a few long balls over the Monster in left field — and then have no clue how to play the giant green wall on defense.

 

Nelson Cruz, DH/OF, Seattle Mariners

Cruz was the steal of last winter when he signed a one-year deal with the Orioles for $8 million. Cruz went on to have a career year, hitting 40 homers, 32 doubles, and knocking in 108, as the O’s clinched their first AL East title since 1997.

 

Cruz was seen to be a risky signing in 2014 as he was coming off his suspension for his connection with the Biogenesis scandal. Since the suspension, Cruz has shown contrition and done well for himself, signing a four-year, $57 million dollar free-agent contract with the Mariners this winter. The M’s desperately needed a bat in a lineup that ranked 27th in doubles, 19th in runs scored, 19th in RBIs, and 15th in home runs in 2014.

 

Cruz spent a lot of his time in Texas (2006-13) splitting time between corner outfield spots and DH. Similar to his time in Baltimore, Cruz won’t be playing in the field. Cruz’ job will be simple, drive in runs and hit the ball out of Safeco Field — no easy task.

 

The Mariners know what they are getting in Cruz, as his career numbers have been generally consistent over his 10-year career. The question is how will the rest of Seattle’s lineup develop around Cruz’ big bat? The addition of Cruz could very easily help All-Star third baseman Kyle Seager reach yet another level and lead to more pitches for Robinson Cano to crush into the short porch in right field. Our eyes will be locked on the Emerald City this summer as the Mariners push for their first AL West crown since 2001.

 

Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Detroit Tigers

The last nine months have been a wild ride for Cespedes.

 

Last July, Cespedes won his second straight Home Run Derby crown and was becoming a household name for his cannon throws from left field, gunning down runners at the plate from the depths of Coliseum. On the July 31 trade deadline, A’s GM Billy Beane shocked the baseball world by trading the Cuban outfielder to the Red Sox for Jon Lester — typical Beane.

 

Cespedes put up marginal numbers in Boston, including a .240/.296/.423 slash line and only five homers and 33 RBIs in 51 games, making him expendable during the Red Sox' facelift this past winter. On Dec. 11, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington pulled the trigger on a trade with the Tigers, landing starting pitcher Rick Porcello and sending Cespedes to Motown.

 

Cespedes is now part of a Tigers lineup that features aging stars Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera, both of whom are recovering from offseason surgery, a starting rotation that lost Max Scherzer and Porcello, and also is banking on Justin Verlander to return to 2011 form, and a Tigers bullpen that ranked 27th in ERA in 2014.

 

This 2015 Tigers team is not the same squad that won four straight AL Central titles. Unless names like Nick Castellanos, Anthony Gose, and J.D. Martinez can produce, the Tigers will have a hard time competing with the likes of the Royals and White Sox later in the summer. If for some reason the Tigers are once again in the postseason hunt come September, Cespedes will be a major reason why.

 

Jeff Samardzija, RHP, Chicago White Sox

If you are still debating whether or not Samardzija should have picked the NFL over playing baseball, you've missed his transition into a certifiable top of the rotation hurler.

 

The righthander known as Shark was traded to the A’s last July along with fellow Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel, as part of Billy Beane’s effort to make a deep October run. The trade between Oakland and the Cubs sent A’s top prospect and Athlon’s No. 4 overall prospect, Addison Russell, to the Windy City.

 

Since Theo Epstein & Co. took over the Cubs' front office four seasons ago, there was always a disconnect between Samardzija and the brass. Shark wanted a long-term deal worth top-end money, while the Cubs liked Samardzija but were hesitant to sign him long term.

 

After being traded to Oakland, Samardzija pitched admirably. In 16 starts for the A's, Samardzija had a 3.14 ERA with 99 strikeouts and a 0.931 WHIP. Beane, in his constant state of wheeling and dealing, dealt Samardzija back to the place where his major-league career began — Chicago. But this time, Shark would be pitching on the Southside. Samardzija became an integral part of Chicago’s Executive VP/President of Baseball Operations, Kenny Williams’, personal episode of Extreme Makeover: White Sox Edition.

 

Samardzija is now featured at the top of a Sox staff that includes ace lefty stud Chris Sale and newly acquired closer David Robertson, along with new faces in the field: Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche to complement Cuban sensation Jose Abreu. The White Sox are now in prime position to overthrow the Tigers as kings of the AL Central and Shark is a big reason why.

 

Didi Gregorius, SS, New York Yankees

The one person in all the world that is genuinely excited about Alex Rodriguez back in Yankee pinstripes is Didi Gregorius. You might be asking yourself — who is Didi Gregorius?

 

And why is he happy A-Rod is back?

 

Gregorius is the shortstop replacing Derek Jeter, and he is really, really happy A-Rod is back. Rodriguez’s return means less spotlight on the Captain’s replacement as he gets antiquated to baseball’s biggest stage, Yankee Stadium — which probably makes skipper Joe Girardi happy too.

 

Once all the Rodriguez hoopla dies down, all eyes in New York will be on Gregorius. Every at-bat, every ground ball to short, every strikeout, error, and base hit will be compared to that of Jeter. It’s unfair, but also inevitable.

 

Gregorius was originally signed by the Reds in 2007 as a free agent from Amsterdam — yes, baseball is played in the Netherlands, too. He spent the previous two seasons in the Diamondbacks' organization where he appeared in 183 games. Gregorius’ bat is a work in progress. His best year was in 2013 where he appeared in 108 games, batting .256/.313/.366 with 16 doubles, 28 RBIs, 7 HRs, and 37 walks. Defensively, Gregorius is considered average to below average in terms of defensive runs saved or prevented — but that’s okay, so was Derek Jeter.

 

What Gregorius does have going for him (maybe), is his age and he is inexpensive. At 26, he is four years younger than the second-youngest player expected to be a regular for the Yanks (Chase Headley) and is making approximately $500K this season. Maybe that is enough to save him from the New York media on a Yankee team that is a long shot to make the postseason — but probably not.

 

Welcome to the Bronx Zoo, Didi.

 

- by Jake Rose

Teaser:
Five American League Players on New Teams to Watch in 2015
Post date: Monday, March 2, 2015 - 12:00
Path: /college-football/sec-east-2015-spring-preview-and-power-rankings
Body:

Spring practice is already underway for a handful of college football teams, and the offseason workouts and scrimmages provide the first glimpse of how all 128 teams will look in 2015.

 

Georgia is the early favorite in the SEC East for 2015, but the Bulldogs will be pushed by Florida, Missouri and Tennessee. The Volunteers are a team on the rise under coach Butch Jones, while the Gators have the talent to rebound in coach Jim McElwain’s first year. The Tigers have key personnel losses to address, but coach Gary Pinkel’s team always seems to find the right answers to reload the roster.

What are the key questions and storylines shaping each SEC East’s roster and outlook for 2015? Let’s take a quick look at the seven teams and the priority list for each coach. 

 

SEC East Spring Preview and Storylines to Watch
 

(Teams listed by pre-spring power rank)

 

1. Georgia

2014 Record: 10-3 (6-2 SEC)
Returning Starters:
Offense – 6, Defense – 6

Key Coaching Changes:

Brian Schottenheimer (offensive coordinator)

Rob Sale (OL coach)
Thomas Brown (RB coach)

 

Georgia's Spring Priorities


1. Quarterback Battle
New play-caller Brian Schottenheimer doesn’t need to overhaul the offense with Nick Chubb leading the way at running back, but the Bulldogs have question marks in the passing game. Who will replace Hutson Mason at quarterback? Will it be Brice Ramsey (24 of 39 for 333 yards last year)? Or will Faton Bauta or Jacob Park push for the job this spring?

2. Who Emerges at WR?
The Bulldogs are losing their top two receivers (Chris Conley and Michael Bennett) from last year. If Malcolm Mitchell can stay healthy, he could be one of the top receivers in the SEC. While Mitchell and tight end Jeb Blazevich are solid targets, Georgia needs a few more playmakers to emerge this spring.

3. Development of the Secondary
Georgia’s secondary entered last season with plenty of question marks but allowed only 10 touchdown passes in SEC contests. This unit loses only two key players from the 2014 depth chart and the overall experience and snaps in coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s defense should help the secondary improve in 2015. How will this unit replace cornerback Damian Swann after he earned second-team All-SEC honors last year?
 

 

2. Missouri

2014 Record: 11-3 (7-1 SEC)
Returning Starters: Offense - 6, Defense - 6

 

Key Coaching Changes:

 

Barry Odom (defensive coordinator)

Ryan Walters (Safeties coach)

 

Missouri’s Spring Priorities


1. The Next Standouts at DE?
Missouri consistently produces standouts at end under line coach Craig Kuligowski. Will that trend continue in 2015? The odds are in the Tigers’ favor, but this is a big spring for Marcus Loud, Charles Harris and Rocel McWilliams. Junior college recruit Marcell Frazier will arrive this summer.

2. New Targets for QB Maty Mauk
In his first season as a starter, Maty Mauk had his share of ups and downs. Mauk completed only 48.9 percent of his throws in SEC games but also limited his interceptions to just four over the final seven contests. How much will Mauk improve this offseason? It’s critical for the junior to take the next step for Missouri to contend in the East.

3. New Receivers
Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White all depart, leaving Nate Brown (five receptions) and Wesley Leftwich (three receptions) as the top returning wide receivers. Mauk’s development could be tied to how quickly Missouri can reload in the receiving corps.
 

 

3. Tennessee

2014 Record: 7-6 (3-5 SEC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 9, Defense – 8

Key Coaching Changes:

 

Mike DeBord (offensive coordinator)


Tennessee’s Spring Priorities


1. Improving the OL
Tennessee allowed 43 sacks in 13 games last season. But there’s reason for optimism in 2015 with the return of four starters and improved depth. How much will this group progress? This spring will provide the first glimpse for coach Butch Jones.

2. Development of QB Joshua Dobbs
New coordinator Mike DeBord is tasked with getting quarterback Joshua Dobbs to the next level in his development. Dobbs threw for 1,206 yards and nine touchdowns and rushed for 469 yards and eight scores over the final six games. If the junior takes another step forward this offseason, he should be in the mix for All-SEC honors in 2015.

3. Next Step on Defense
After allowing 6.1 yards per play in SEC-only contests in 2013, the Volunteers lowered that number to 5.4 in 2014. With eight starters back, it’s possible Tennessee takes another noticeable jump in defensive production. End Derek Barnett is one of the nation’s rising stars at defensive end, and the addition of tackle Kahlil McKenzie is another example of how the team’s talent level has improved under coach Butch Jones.  

 

 

4. Florida

2014 Record: 7-5 (4-4 SEC)
Returning Starters:
Offense – 4, Defense – 7

Key Coaching Changes:

Jim McElwain (head coach)
Doug Nussmeier (offensive coordinator)
Geoff Collins (defensive coordinator)
Randy Shannon (co-defensive coordinator, LB coach)


Florida's Spring Priorities


1. Quarterback Battle
Treon Harris started the last six games as a true freshman last season and passed for 1,140 yards, nine scores and 10 picks. Can he build on his freshman campaign or will he be pushed for time by redshirt freshman Will Grier?

2. Rebuilding the OL
While the quarterback position will garner most of the offseason storylines, the offensive line could be a bigger problem spot for Florida in 2015. Only one starter (Trip Thurman) is back, as this unit must replace center Max Garcia, left tackle D.J. Humphries, guard Tyler Moore and tackle Chaz Green. How will this unit jell in the spring?

3. Replacing Dante Fowler
With seven starters back, the defense should once again be the strength of this team. But the Gators have one critical void to address, as end Dante Fowler left early for the NFL. Fowler led the team with 8.5 sacks and 15 tackles for a loss in 2013.  

 

 

5. South Carolina

2014 Record: 7-6 (3-5 SEC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 6

Key Coaching Changes:
 

Jon Hoke (Co-defensive coordinator)


South Carolina’s Spring Priorities


1. QB Battle
Dylan Thompson departs after guiding South Carolina to a 7-6 record in his only full season as the starter. Sophomore Connor Mitch (2 of 6 in 2014) holds the inside track to replace Thompson, but the battle in Columbia is far from finished. Can Perry Orth, Michael Scarnecchia or incoming freshman Lorenzo Nunez unseat Mitch this offseason?

2. Restock the OL
South Carolina has significant personnel losses at each offensive unit. But the offensive line might have the biggest shoes to fill with the departure of standouts Corey Robinson (LT) and A.J. Cann (guard). Could Brandon Shell flip from right tackle to the left side?

3. Finding Answers on Defense
South Carolina’s defense ranked 12th in the SEC by allowing 30.4 points per game in 2014. Coach Steve Spurrier is turning to a familiar face in Jon Hoke to find some answers this spring. Six starters are back from last season, and a handful of young players should benefit from another spring to develop. Improving the pass rush and secondary will be two areas of specific focus for Hoke.
 

 

6. Kentucky

2014 Record: 5-7 (2-6 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 6

Key Coaching Changes:

Shannon Dawson (offensive coordinator)
Andy Buh (OLB coach)

 

Kentucky’s Spring Priorities


1. Replacements at Defensive End
Mark Stoops and coordinator D.J. Eliot have some major renovations ahead at end this spring. Gone are Za’Darius Smith and Bud Dupree, two standout performers who recorded 12 of Kentucky’s 27 sacks last season. Junior college recruit Alvonte Bell could help, but he won’t arrive until this summer. Expect junior Jason Hatcher to play a key role in replacing Dupree and Smith.

2. Patrick Towles
In his first full season as the starter, Towles threw for 2,718 yards and 14 scores and added 303 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Can he take the next step in his development this spring? Redshirt freshman Drew Barker was a touted prospect from the 2014 signing class and will have a chance to push for the job this offseason.

3. Improvement on the OL
Only one team (Tennessee) allowed more sacks in SEC games than Kentucky last season. The Wildcats gave up 27 sacks in eight games and must replace left tackle Darrian Miller this spring. This is a big spring for returning starters Zach West, Jon Toth, Ramsey Meyers and Jordan Swindle to build chemistry for 2015.

 

 

7. Vanderbilt

2014 Record: 3-9 (0-8 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 9

 

Vanderbilt’s Spring Priorities


1. Find a Quarterback
New coordinator Andy Ludwig inherits an offense that managed only 12.8 points per game in SEC contests. Improving the offense starts with finding a quarterback. The Commodores aren’t hurting for options under center, as three players have started a game and Shawn Stankavage is ready to push for time after a redshirt year. Can Ludwig settle on a clear No. 1 passer?

2. Development at WR
New receivers coach Cortez Hankton opened spring practice looking for more playmakers. With inconsistency at quarterback, evaluating the Vanderbilt receiving corps isn’t easy, but only two receivers – C.J. Duncan and Latevius Rayford – caught more than 20 passes in 2014. Can young players like Caleb Scott, Ronald Monroe, Rashad Canty and Trent Sherfield emerge as threats to help Duncan and Rayford in 2015?

3. Derek Mason’s Defense
In addition to his duties as the head coach, Derek Mason is now Vanderbilt’s defensive coordinator. That’s a lot on Mason’s plate, but as his tenure at Stanford showed, he’s one of the nation’s top defensive signal-callers. With Mason having a full spring to work with a unit that returns nine starters, how much can the Commodores’ defense improve in 2015?

Teaser:
SEC East 2015 Spring Preview and Power Rankings
Post date: Monday, March 2, 2015 - 11:30
Path: /college-basketball/west-virginias-non-conference-schedule-could-impact-mountaineers-ncaa-tournament
Body:

As the regular season comes to an end West Virginia currently sits in a three-way for third place in the Big 12 with two games remaining. The two-game gap between the Mountaineers and Kansas means WVU still has a shot a share of the Big 12 regular season title. At 22-7 overall, the Mountaineers are guaranteed to hear their name called on Selection Sunday. However, most projections, including , still have the Mountaineers as a No. 6 seed. The question is why?

 

Although the Mountaineers sit at 10-6 in arguably the toughest basketball conference in the nation, their RPI is still 22. The problem WVU is facing now is not something it can fix, at least not this season. WVU currently has a non-conference strength of schedule ranking of 227. It should be noted that its non-conference RPI is 9. Unfortunately, there are teams the Mountaineers have played that have not helped the cause in the least and I think everyone knows where I am going with this.

 

After the Marshall game, WVU coach Bob Huggins expressed his feelings regarding the yearly series with the in-state rival. He stated that it was not beneficial to play them and it looks as though he was correct. Marshall currently boasts an RPI of 299, making the Thundering Herd the worst team WVU has played this season. While many felt Huggins’ rant was solely in response to Marshall head coach Dan D'Antoni, it is now obvious his statements regarding the series are valid no matter the reasoning. Huggins did go on to say that he would like his team’s non-conference schedule to consist of teams that were ranked in the RPI’s top 100.

 

WVU still has the opportunity to improve its seeding moving forward with games against the aforementioned Jayhawks and Oklahoma State remaining before the Big 12 Tournament. However, some early non-conference games have hurt the Mountaineers. Don't get me wrong, the Wofford and NC State wins are big resume builders as NC State is looking like an NCAA Tournament team and Wofford finished the season at 25-6 and is favored to get the Southern Conference’s automatic bid by winning its tournament. However, there’s still reason for the Mountaineers to be somewhat concerned based on these earlier non-conference matchups and the current RPI of those teams:

 

Marshall () RPI 292

Northern Kentucky (W ) RPI 267

College of Charleston (W ) RPI 295

Monmouth (W ) RPI 189

 

Looking at the overall body of work, WVU has a very impressive resume with five wins over teams that appear poised to make the NCAA Tournament. However, it is now clear that Huggins had a valid point regarding the Mountaineers’ non-conference schedule. The Mountaineers are also just 4-7 against the RPI top 50 this season. The only team with a higher RPI and a worse record against the RPI top 50 is North Carolina at 3-8.However, the Tar Heels have the second-toughest schedule in the nation, while the Mountaineers’ strength of schedule sits at 40.

 

— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of , a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter .

Teaser:
West Virginia's Non-Conference Schedule Could Impact Mountaineers' NCAA Tournament Seed
Post date: Monday, March 2, 2015 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-2-2015
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 2:

 

shows that drivers take a back seat to no one in the hot significant others department.

 

• MVP candidates getting testy: .

 

.  Coach K will not be pleased.

 

• It's March, meaning it's a good time to let .

 

. I can personally vouch for No. 2.

 

.

 

.

 

. Trust me, you have time. Just don't blink.

 

.

 

.

 

.

 

• Shades of Shaq: NIU center Pete Rakocevic destroyed a goal yesterday.

 

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

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 2, 2015 - 11:29
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/ranking-american-league-ballparks-2015-expert-poll
Body:

Athlon Sports has polled 10 experts from around Major League Baseball in an effort to find the best place to watch a game.

 

Based on criteria like fan support, home field advantage, amenities, tradition, surrounding area, facilities, gameday atmosphere and more, our 10 experts have ranked all 15 American League parks for 2015.


Remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

 

The Voters:

 

, NY Times

, AndrewBaggarly.com

, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

, WEEI

, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

, Chicago Sun Times

, Orange County Register

, Cincinnati Enquirer

, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

, FoxSportsArizona.com

 

The Results:

 

Scoring: A first-place vote is worth one point, a second-place vote is worth two points and a 15th-place vote is worth 15 points. The lowest score is voted the best stadium in the American League.

 

 ParkTeamPoints (1st)
1.Fenway Park14 (7)
2.Safeco Field31 (1)
3.Camden Yards33
4.Target Field50 (1)
5.Yankee Stadium55
6.Kauffman Stadium60 (1)
7.Comerica Park72
8.Angel Stadium80
9.Progressive Field83
10.Minute Maid Park99
11.Globe Life Park106
12.Rogers Centre113
13.U.S. Cellular Field120
14.O.co Coliseum141
15.Tropicana Field143

 

The Analysis:

 

Fenway Park dominates

Four different parks got first place votes but The Green Monster ran away with top billing in the American League. The third-smallest park in the majors seats just 37,499, but brings it strong with character and tradition. The neighborhood is great, the team is constantly competitive (normally) and the fan support is as good as any in the sport.

 

 

Underrated small markets

The other three first-place votes went to “small market” parks Safeco Field, Target Field and Kauffman Stadium. Traditionally, these three teams haven’t won a ton of baseball, but have had their moments (SEE: 2014). But all three scored very high with the experts. In fact, the Mariners' home park ranked No. 2 in the AL while the Twins' new building finished fourth.

 

Polarizing Yankee Stadium

Some love the façade, location and enormity of the new Yankee Stadium — it got six third-place votes. And some hate the cavernous, corporate expanse in the Bronx — it got a 12th- and a 13th-place vote as well. Love it or hate it, it’s still a bucket list item for any baseball fan.

 

Oriole Park at Camden Yards

A tip of the cap to the Orioles' home stadium as it finished third in the AL in our voting. When it was built, it was considered a first of its kind and has led the way in reinventing the way MLB built stadiums. Now, with the team winning, Camden Yards is one of the best spots in the league to catch a game.

 

Trop edges O.co for last

Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay is considered the worst stadium in the AL and has spurned plenty of relocation discussion for the Rays. But it’s only slightly worse than Oakland’s O.co Coliseum. The Trop landed four last-place votes and was ranked no higher than 13th by any voter. O.co got six last-place votes, but scored an 11th- and 12th-place vote, keeping it just barely ahead of Tampa Bay. For me, being outdoors alone makes it better.

 

 

Teaser:
Ranking the American League Ballparks in 2015 (Expert Poll)
Post date: Monday, March 2, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Marc Leishman, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-28-marc-leishman
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 ’s Brandel Chamblee.

No. 28:

Born: Oct. 24, 1983, Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia | Career PGA Tour Wins: 1 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $2,558,657 (32nd) World Ranking: 52

Brandel Chamblee's Take

In 2009, Leishman became the first Australian in the history of the PGA Tour to win Rookie of the Year honors. And though he has won only once on Tour through 2014, when asked who they think will break through with a major win soon, many of the caddies point to this talented Aussie. In 2013, he finished fourth at The Masters, and last year he finished fifth at the Open Championship in addition to finishing in the top 10 in the last two WGC events. His upright swing gives him a powerful high ball flight and a heavy hit that sets up perfectly for the tucked pins on hard greens that one faces at the majors as well as many other events along the way.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 14
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - Cut
U.S. Open - DNP
British Open - T5
PGA Championship - T46

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T4 (2013)
U.S. Open - T51 (2011)
British Open - T5 (2014)
PGA Championship - T12 (2013)
Top-10 Finishes: 2
Top-25 Finishes: 3
Missed Cuts: 6

—Brandel Chamblee is lead analyst for the . Be sure to follow him  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. .

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 2, 2015 - 10:36
Path: /college-football/acc-2015-spring-preview-and-power-rankings
Body:

Spring practice is already underway for a handful of college football teams, and the offseason workouts and scrimmages provide the first glimpse of how all 128 teams will look in 2015.

 

Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech are the early favorites to win the ACC in 2015, and each team opens spring ball with plenty of question marks. Who will replace Jameis Winston at quarterback for the Seminoles? How quickly will the Tigers reload in the trenches? And for the Yellow Jackets, can they find a few options at running back and continue to develop on defense?

What are the key questions and storylines shaping all 14 teams in the ACC and outlook for 2015? Let’s take a quick look at the 14 teams and the priority list for each coach. 


ACC Spring Preview and Storylines to Watch
 

(Teams listed by pre-spring power rank)

 

ACC Atlantic

 

1. Florida State

2014 Record: 13-1 (8-0 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 3, Defense - 7

 

Key Coaching Changes:


Brad Lawing (DE/OLB coach)

 

Florida State’s Spring Priorities

 

1. QB Battle
All eyes in Tallahassee this spring will be on the quarterbacks. Who replaces Jameis Winston in 2015? Sean Maguire has the edge in experience, but he will be pushed by redshirt freshman J.J. Cosentino.

2. Revamping the OL
Line coach Rick Trickett is going to be busy this spring. Florida State loses four all-conference performers in the trenches, including Cameron Erving and guard Tre Jackson. Sophomore Roderick Johnson is a key part of the rebuilding effort, but who steps up at the other four spots?

3. Defensive Line/Secondary
Florida State returns seven starters are defense, but the personnel losses are heavy. Gone are defensive linemen Mario Edwards Jr. and tackle Eddie Goldman, along with cornerbacks Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams. There’s no shortage of talent at either position, it’s just a matter of finding the right mix for coordinator Charles Kelly.
 

2. Clemson

2014 Record: 10-3 (6-2 ACC)

Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 2

 

Key Coaching Changes:

 

Jeff Scott (co-offensive coordinator)

Tony Elliott (co-offensive coordinator)

Brandon Streeter (QB coach)

 

Clemson’s Spring Priorities


1. Rebuild the DL
The Tigers were hit hard by departures on the defensive line, as six key players from last year’s rotation expired their eligibility. The biggest losses are end Vic Beasley and tackle Grady Jarrett – a pair of first team All-ACC selections in 2014. End Shaq Lawson is a breakout candidate, and the incoming freshman class should provide some immediate help.  

2. Tony Elliott/Jeff Scott
Chad Morris was one of the nation’s top offensive coordinators, and there’s no doubt his departure will have some impact on Clemson’s offense in 2015. Quarterback Deshaun Watson won’t practice this spring due to ACL surgery, but this is Scott and Elliott’s first chance to coordinate the offense. What tweaks or changes will they unveil?

3. Answers on the OL?
Although Clemson has one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks (Watson) and a loaded group of receivers, the offense won’t click unless a few answers are found in the trenches. Left tackle Isaiah Battle and center Ryan Norton are the only returning starters from a group that allowed 27 sacks in 2014. Who steps up this spring?
 

3. Louisville

2014 Record: 9-4 (5-3 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 4

Key Coaching Changes:

None


Louisville’s Spring Priorities


1. Settle on a QB
Three quarterbacks made a start for Louisville last season, and the competition will add a fourth name this spring with Penn State transfer Tyler Ferguson eligible after sitting out 2014 due to NCAA rules. Can the Cardinals settle on a starter?

2. Revamped OL
Replacing receiver DeVante Parker will be a challenge, but a bigger concern for Louisville has to be the offensive line. Three starters are back for 2015, including center Tobijah Hughley and tackle Aaron Epps. However, the three departing players each earned at least honorable mention All-ACC honors last season from a unit that allowed 40 sacks.

3. Replacements on Defense
Each unit on Louisville’s defense will be replacing a key player for 2015. Gone are standouts in rush end Lorenzo Mauldin, end B.J. Dubose and defensive backs Charles Gaines, James Sample and Gerod Holliman. The cupboard isn’t completely bare for coordinator Todd Grantham, but there will be some retooling this spring. Keep an eye on Georgia defensive back transfers Shaq Wiggins and Josh Harvey-Clemons.
 

4. NC State

2014 Record: 8-5 (3-5 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 7

Key Coaching Changes:

George McDonald (WRs coach)


NC State’s Spring Priorities


1. New Names at WR
Quarterback Jacoby Brissett is coming off a solid first season as NC State’s starter (23 TDs, 5 INTs). However, Brissett is losing a couple of his receivers from last season, including standout Bo Hines (45 catches) and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. This is a big spring for receivers Bra’Lon Cherry and Johnathan Alston and tight end David Grinnage.

2. New Tackles
Solidifying the offensive line will be a key spring storyline for NC State as it hopes to climb in the Atlantic Division next year. The line allowed 22 sacks in eight ACC contests and must replace both starting tackles (Rob Crisp and Tyson Chandler). Will replacements emerge this spring?

3. Next Step on Defense
NC State allowed 5.4 yards per play in ACC games last season, a sizeable decrease from the 6.3 allowed in 2013. There’s room for improvement with seven starters returning, but the front seven has a few holes to address with the losses of end Art Norman, tackles Thomas Teal and T.Y. McGill and linebacker Rodman Noel.

 

5. Boston College

2014 Record: 7-6 (4-4 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense –4, Defense – 6

 

Key Coaching Changes:


Todd Fitch (offensive coordinator)
Brian White (WR coach)
Coleman Hutzler (Special Teams/OLB coach)

 

Boston College’s Spring Priorities

 

1. Replace QB Tyler Murphy
Tyler Murphy’s one season at Boston College was a success, and coach Steve Addazio opens spring ball looking for his next signal-caller. Sophomore Darius Wade (3 of 6 in 2014) opens as the frontrunner, with Elijah Robinson and Troy Flutie also in the mix.

2. Revamp the OL
Adding to the overall uncertainty on offense is the departure of four starters from one of the ACC’s top lines. Harris Williams is the unit’s top returning option after missing nearly all of last season with an ankle injury. How quickly will this group jell?

3. Few Holes on Defense
With six starters back, the defense should be a strength for coach Steve Addazio. There are a few key personnel losses to address, including end Brian Mihalik (4.5 sacks), linebacker Josh Keyes (66 tackles) and defensive backs Manuel Asprilla and safety Dominique Williams. With a new quarterback and offensive line, the defense may have to carry Boston College early in 2015.
 

6. Syracuse

2014 Record: 3-9 (1-7 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 4, Defense – 3

Key Coaching Changes:

Tim Lester (first full year as OC)
Bobby Acosta (moves from TE to WRs coach)
Jake Moreland (TE/OT coach)
Joe Adam (OG/C coach)


Syracuse’s Spring Priorities


1. Settle on a QB
Terrel Hunt missed the final seven games of 2014 due to a leg injury, and in his absence, three other quarterbacks received playing time. Hunt is the favorite to win the job once again, but sophomore AJ Long showed promise in a limited stint. The spring will also be Tim Lester’s first as the full-time play-caller for Syracuse.

2. New Options at RB
Lester has some work to do at running back this spring, as Syracuse lost Prince-Tyson Gulley and Adonis Ameen-Moore. Ervin Phillips is slated to move to a hybrid running back/receiver role, leaving George Morris II and Devante McFarlane as the top options at running back. Will Morris II or McFarlane claim the job? Or could the Orange turn to an incoming freshman in the fall?

3. New Faces on Defense
Only three starters are back on defense, and this unit suffered critical losses with the departure of end Micah Robinson, nose tackle Eric Crume, linebackers Dyshawn Davis and Cameron Lynch, and safety Durell Eskridge. Coach Scott Shafer and coordinator Chuck Bullough will be busy restocking each unit and getting a look at several different options this spring.  
 

7. Wake Forest

2014 Record: 3-9 (1-7 ACC)

Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 7

 

Key Coaching Changes:


None

 

Wake Forest’s Spring Priorities


1. Addressing the OL
Wake Forest allowed a whopping 48 sacks in 2014. And it wasn’t just pass protection that was a problem, as the Demon Deacons managed only 1.3 yards per carry. Two starters depart, including guard/center Cory Helms. Can this unit take a step forward?

2. Find a Threat at Running Back
In addition to addressing the offensive line, Wake Forest has to find a threat at running back to take the pressure off of quarterback John Wolford. Dezmond Wortham and Isaiah Robinson are the team’s top returning options, but incoming freshmen Rocky Reid and Matt Colburn could compete for playing time in the fall.

3. New Starters at CB
The combination of Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel was one of the nation’s underrated duos at cornerback. Both are off to the NFL and leave big shoes to fill for 2015. Josh Okonye and Brad Watson were listed as the backup corners last season and figure to get first crack at the starting jobs in the spring.
 

Coastal Division

 

1. Georgia Tech

2014 Record: 11-3 (6-2 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense - 7

Key Coaching Changes:

None


Georgia Tech’s Spring Priorities


1. Restock the Backs
Quarterback Justin Thomas is back, but the Yellow Jackets need to retool their options at the A-back and B-back positions. Synjyn Days, Deon Hill, Charles Perkins, B.J. Bostic, Tony Zenon and Zach Laskey all depart. Broderick Snoddy and Dennis Andrews are the top returning backs, but other players need to emerge. Keep an eye on redshirt freshman C.J. Leggett.

2. Find the Next Standout at WR
Micheal Summers (seven catches) and Antonio Messick (one reception) are the only returning receivers with a catch from 2014. DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller combined for 13 touchdown receptions last year and will be missed. Can Georgia Tech find another go-to option (or two) for Thomas?

3. Filling a Few Voids on Defense
Seven starters return from a defense that allowed 25.7 points per game in 2014. This unit could improve with its core returning largely intact, but the departure of tackle Shawn Green, linebacker Quayshawn Nealy and safety Isaiah Johnson creates a few question marks for coordinator Ted Roof to address this spring.


2. Virginia Tech

2014 Record: 7-6 (3-5 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 9, Defense – 8

Key Coaching Changes:

 

Zohn Burden (WRs coach)


Virginia Tech’s Spring Priorities


1. Improvement at QB
In his first season as Virginia Tech’s quarterback, Michael Brewer threw for 2,692 yards and 18 scores. While Brewer had some solid performances for the Hokies, he also tossed 15 interceptions. With another spring to work under coordinator Scot Loeffler, Brewer should be more comfortable in this offense in 2015.

2. Solidifying the OL
The Hokies have allowed at least 30 sacks in back-to-back seasons. This unit has to take a step forward for this team to contend in the Coastal Division, and there’s plenty of uncertainty with three starters departing. Guard Wyatt Teller is a promising building block for 2015.

3. New Safeties
With eight starters back, combined with the return of tackle Luther Maddy and cornerback Brandon Facyson, the Hokies should have the best defense in the ACC next year. If there’s one concern for coordinator Bud Foster, it has to be at safety with the loss of Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner. Who will emerge to fill this void?

 

3. North Carolina

2014 Record: 6-7 (4-4 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 10, Defense – 6

Key Coaching Changes:

Gene Chizk (defensive coordinator)

John Papuchis (LB coach)

Charlton Warren (DBs coach)


North Carolina’s Spring Priorities


1. Mitch Trubsiky’s Time to Shine
With Marquise Williams out for spring practice due to injury, Mitch Trubisky will take control of the offense. Williams is still expected to be the starter in the fall, but this is Trubisky’s opportunity to put a little pressure on Williams.

2. More Development From the OL
All five starters return from an offensive line that gave up 25 sacks in ACC contests. In addition to providing better protection for Williams and Trubisky, this unit needs to get a better push for the rushing attack (just 3.7 yards per carry in conference games).

3. Defensive Improvement

If North Carolina can improve slightly on defense in 2015, this team can contend in the Coastal Division. The good news is coach Larry Fedora hired a good defensive staff, headlined by coordinator Gene Chizik. Additionally, six starters are back from a unit that also has plenty of young players returning after garnering valuable experience last year. There should be improvement in 2015. But how far along can Chizik bring this defense?


4. Miami

2014 Record: 6-7 (3-5 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 3, Defense – 5

Key Coaching Changes:

Kevin Beard (WRs coach)
Randy Melvin (DL coach)

 

Miami’s Spring Priorities

 

1. More Improvement on Defense
On defense last season, the Hurricanes showed some improvement on the stat sheet by cutting their yards per play allowed from 5.8 in 2013 to 4.8 in 2014. While that’s a positive step, more is needed from the defense in 2015. Five starters are back, but this unit loses standout linebacker Denzel Perryman.

 

2. New Targets at WR
Quarterback Brad Kaaya should push for All-ACC honors in 2015, but question marks exist about the receiving corps this offseason. Big-play threat Phillip Dorsett and tight end Clive Walford have expired their eligibility. Stacy Coley, Braxton Berrios and Malcolm Lewis are talented, but all three need a big offseason to help replace some of the production left behind by Dorsett and Walford.

 

3. Restocking the OL
The Hurricanes had one of the better offensive line units in the ACC last season, allowing only 21 sacks and helping rushers average 5.3 yards per carry. Three starters are gone from last season, but there’s enough returning personnel to keep the line performing at a high level. How quickly will this unit jell in spring practice? 
 

5. Pittsburgh

2014 Record: 6-7 (4-4 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 7

Key Coaching Changes:

 

Pat Narduzzi (head coach)

Jim Chaney (offensive coordinator)

Josh Conklin (defensive coordinator)


Pittsburgh’s Spring Priorities

 

1. More Help for Chad Voytik
Voytik isn’t necessarily guaranteed the starting job, as Tennessee transfer Nathan Peterman is expected to provide competition. Regardless of which quarterback starts, the receiving corps needs more consistent options to emerge. Tyler Boyd is one of the best in the nation, but the passing game would benefit if another receiver or two take a step forward.

 

2. Defensive End
The Panthers are thin on proven options at defensive end after Shakir Soto and Rori Blair. Expect to see coach Pat Narduzzi and coordinator Josh Conklin spending plenty of time evaluating their options at this position, and there’s some help on the way in the form of junior college recruit Allen Edwards this summer.

 

3. Improving the Secondary
Pittsburgh’s secondary finished 43rd nationally in pass efficiency defense last year but also gave up 12 plays of 40 yards or more. This unit returns nearly intact, with safety Ray Vinopal the lone departing player with significant experience. This will be a big spring for young players like Avonte Maddox and Reggie Mitchell in the new defensive scheme.

 

6. Duke

2014 Record: 9-4 (5-3 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 6

Key Coaching Changes:

 

Matt Guerrieri (safeties coach)


Duke’s Spring Priorities


1. Thomas Sirk at QB
Duke has nearly completed spring practice, and Sirk seemed to distance himself from the other quarterbacks this offseason. Coach David Cutcliffe is one of the nation’s top offensive minds and should develop Sirk into a solid starter for this team. Sirk’s progression will be critical for Duke’s chances at winning at least nine games for the third season in a row.

2. Restocking the OL
An underrated part of Duke’s improvement under Cutcliffe has been the play of the offensive line. But this unit enters 2015 with a few missing pieces, including standouts Laken Tomlinson and Takoby Cofield. Can line coach John Latina keep this unit performing at a high level?

3. Revamping the DL/LB
The Blue Devils allowed 192.9 rushing yards per game last season and lose five key performers from last year’s unit. Linebacker David Helton (134 tackles) is a big loss, but the return of Kelby Brown should alleviate some of the concerns for this unit. Revamping the defensive line should be the bigger concern for Cutcliffe.
 

7. Virginia

2014 Record: 5-7 (3-5 ACC)
Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 4

Key Coaching Changes:

 

Chris Beatty (RBs coach)
Dave Borbely (OL coach)


Virginia’s Spring Priorities


1. Rebuilt Front Seven
The Cavaliers allowed only 5.1 yards per play on defense last season. Repeating that total in 2015 could be difficult with the departure of end Eli Harold and linebackers Max Valles, Henry Coley and Daquan Romero. This is a big spring for talented sophomore tackle Andrew Brown and senior Kwontie Moore to help fill the voids in the front seven.

2. Consistency at QB
In his first full season as Virginia’s starter (nine games), Greyson Lambert threw for 1,632 yards and 10 scores. With another set of practices to work as the starter, the coaching staff hopes Lambert takes the next step in his development. If not, Matt Johns (8 TDs, 5 INTs) was effective in limited action and could push for more snaps.

3. Better OL Play
Virginia was solid in pass protection (16 sacks allowed last year), but the offensive line helped to generate only 3.7 yards per carry. Three full-time starters are back from last season, and the Cavaliers regain the services of Ryan Doull (guard) and Jay Whitmire (tackle) for 2015 after both players missed time due to injuries in 2014. Can this unit develop under new coach Dave Borbely?

Teaser:
ACC 2015 Spring Preview and Power Rankings
Post date: Monday, March 2, 2015 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: Chicago Bulls, NBA
Path: /nba/jeff-van-gundy%E2%80%99s-feud-chicago-bulls%E2%80%99-front-office-rages
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Jeff Van Gundy was always a thorn in the side of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. Taking over for Pat Riley when he left the New York Knicks for the Miami Heat, he persisted in coaching squads that did everything they could to batter MJ and the Bulls to death.

 

Now Van Gundy is all but retired from coaching, working color commentary for ESPN and ABC. But his ire for Chicago’s basketball club doesn’t seem to have changed as his job has.

 

Among swirling rumors of Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau — a former assistant to Van Gundy with the Knicks and Houston Rockets — potentially being on the hot seat, JVG let loose on the Bulls’ front office on a January 23, ESPN telecast of a Bulls game against the Dallas Mavericks.

 

“I think right now, it’s almost criminal … what [Thibodeau is] having to endure with some of the fringe media,” . “Attacking his job status, attacking his personality. This isn’t new to Chicago Bulls basketball, all the way back to Phil Jackson. The team has publicly supported their coach while privately, oftentimes, undermining that same person. You saw it with Vinny Del Negro, Scott Skiles. Think about it, they ran Phil Jackson out after winning all those championships.

 

“Listen, I read every Chicago story and there is no doubt that the Bulls organization has the media, with a few exceptions, in their hip pocket. And for whatever reason, they have taken their sights on Thibodeau when all he’s done is deliver greatness here in his five years.”

 

Van Gundy has been by Thibodeau’s agent, among others, but he’s apparently not getting the message. During the Bulls’ 98-86 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on ABC yesterday, Jeff poured some salt in Bulls general manager John Paxson’s wounds.

 

"John was really mad at me,” Van Gundy said. “I mean, it's not like I traded LaMarcus Aldridge for Tyrus Thomas.”

 

Cruelly bringing up bad moves of management past? This sounds eerily similar to the way our president recently

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 2, 2015 - 10:03
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Overtime, News
Path: /overtime/best-sports-movies-documentaries-and-tv-shows-streaming-netflix
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The weather may have you stuck inside the house or summer sports just don’t do it for you. Either way, you’re grasping at some kind of sports programming in these difficult times.

 

Maybe it’s time to fire up and see what you can find. Let us be your guide, sports fan. There may be something you’ve missed on America’s favorite streaming service. Trust us, there’s a lot.

 

The Athlon staff has compiled its favorite sports programming on Netflix — films, documentaries and television series — right here. Luckily all of programming, not to mention SEC Storied, ESPN Films and Soccer Stories are all available. If you notice that our list is a little 30 for 30-centric that’s because... a) those documentaries are very good and... b) they make up the overwhelming majority of the sports content on Netflix right now.

 

Feel free to bookmark this page or check back. We’ll do our best to keep up with the monthly changes.

 

1. Hoop Dreams (1994)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Basketball

Hoop Dreams one of the greatest sports documentaries of all time — or simply one of the greatest documentaries period. Steve James follows two African-American teenagers in Chicago, William Gates and Arthur Agee, as they try to pursue the NBA from a young age. The film is more than 20 years old (and the footage more than 25), but the themes are all too universal — issues of race, poverty, the education system and precocious kids expected to shoulder the load for an entire family. “People ask me will I remember them if I make it,” Gates says. “I tell them, will you remember me if I don’t.”

 

 

2. Jerry Maguire (1996)

Genre: Drama

Sport: Football

Perhaps Jerry Maguire became too quotable for its own good — “show me the money!” and “you had me at hello” — but it’s the perfect crowd-pleaser. A movie about a sports agent just barely fits into the sports movie category but it has enough drama and sports to fit outside of the romantic comedy box. Jerry Maguire is full of sports cameos, and like any Cameron Crowe film, it has a perfect soundtrack. Jerry Maguire took home a best supporting actor nod (Cuba Gooding Jr.) and was nominated for best actor (Tom Cruise) and best picture.

 

 

3. The Two Escobars (2010)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Soccer

Arguably the top installment of ESPN’s acclaimed 30 for 30 series, The Two Escobars is bigger than a sports documentary and portrays a level of politics and organized crime more dramatic than any fiction. The film traces the intertwined stories of drug lord Pablo Escobar, a passionate supporter of Colombian soccer, and defender Andres Escobar, whose own goal cost the country the 1994 World Cup.

 

 

4. Friday Night Lights (2006-11)

Genre: TV drama

Sport: Football

The low-rated but beloved television series has little in common with the classic Buzz Bissinger book and the movie aside from the title, the West Texas setting and Connie Britton. The on-field action is quality, and the off-field drama is heavy. Just power through that subpar second season, y’all. Trust us.

 

 

5. Rudy (1993)

Genre: Drama

Sport: Football

People either love or hate Notre Dame, and the Hollywood version of Daniel Ruettiger’s story may take a few liberties here and there. Still, Rudy is a classic sports movie, the underdog story of the walk-on too small to play college football. But the film doesn’t have to be totally true to life for us to get misty eyed near the end.

 

 

6. Without Bias (2009)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Basketball

Basketball fans of a certain generation vividly remember the when the learned of the death of Len Bias, the Maryland basketball star who died in 1986 after a cocaine-induced heart attack. As college players, Bias was mentioned in the same breath as Michael Jordan. Bias' death, brought about by casual drug use, shook the sports world. 

 

7. You Don’t Know Bo (2012)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Football/Baseball

Bo Jackson holds no major professional sports records. His trophy case includes “only” a Heisman Trophy and an MLB All-Star MVP award. Yet he was one of the most spellbinding athletes of a generation. This doc, one of the best installments in the second run of 30 for 30s, explains why he came around at the perfect time — just at the start of the modern sports marketing, highlight and video game age and just before the cynicism of the steroid era took over.

 

 

8. The Best that Never Was (2010)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Football

Before Rivals.com, before five-star recruits, before 24-hour coverage of National Signing Day and before televised commitment announcements, there was Marcus Dupree. In 1981, Marcus Dupree of Philadelphia, Miss., was one of the most coveted recruits of the era. The high point of his career, though, was his freshman season at Oklahoma. This is how a promising future can detour.

 

9. Bad News Bears (1976)

Genre: Comedy

Sport: Baseball

Yes, that’s the original Bad News Bears with Walter Matthau, not the more PC remake featuring Bad News Bears. It’s a classic, but this is not one of those saccharine kids sports movies. The language, the casual racism and sexism, the drunk coach — how did this movie get made?

 

10. Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns (1994)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Baseball

Baseball romanticism is laid on pretty thick, especially after all that’s happened to the sport in the last 20 years — the dominance of football as the nation’s new pastime, the baseball strike and steroids. Still, no documentary more perfectly portrays baseball as a part of American culture. With 10 installments, Ken Burns’ Baseball is exhaustive, but all of it is necessary.

 

11. I am Ali (2014)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Boxing

No summation of great sports films would be complete without representation from The Greatest. This isn’t necessarily best Muhammad Ali documentary — When We Were Kings would be in that discussion, but it’s unavailable on Netflix now — but it does show a different side of one of the greatest athletes in American history.

 

12. Knuckleball! (2012)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Baseball

Pitchers are all a little strange. And there’s no stranger pitch in the arsenal than the knuckleball. The exclusive fraternity of knuckleballers — Tim Wakefield, Phil Niekro, Charlie Hough and R.A. Dickey — discuss why the pitch saved their careers and why a knuckleballer is always flirting with disaster. The film centers on Wakefield, but the moments with Dickey, filmed a year before he won the NL Cy Young in 2012, are especially poignant.

 

 

13. Pony Excess (2010)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Football

What does it look like when an athletic program gives into the dark side (at least as far as NCAA rules are concerned)? This is the answer. SMU football wasn’t the biggest rule-breaker in the history of college athletics, but it was among the most brazen and certainly the most harshly punished.

 

14. Varsity Blues (1999)

Genre: Drama?

Sport: Football

Don’t trust anyone born between 1980-85 who can’t identify a character (Billy Bob), a line (“I don’t want your life”), an artist represented on the soundtrack (Foo Fighters, Green Day) or a scene (whipped cream bikini) from this film, the apex of 90s teen movies.

 

15. Days of Thunder (1990)

Genre: Drama

Sport: Racing

We could dismiss Days of Thunder on a few counts: It’s “Top Gun in a Stock Car,” it’s a not-great Tom Cruise movie when the actor could do little wrong, it’s John C. Reilly’s second-best racing movie. Or we could point out all the plot holes and head scratching moments. No, Days of Thunder hasn’t aged very well — — but it’s plenty nostalgic for moviegoers of a certain age.

 

16. Coach Carter (2005)

Genre: Drama

Sport: Basketball

Before Samuel L. Jackson was in Avengers movies and Channing Tatum was in ... everything, they starred in this high school basketball film. The story is a familiar one as a coach lays down the law for a troubled basketball team in the inner city. Jackson, though, is the perfect badass to take the title role.

 

17. Survive and Advance (2013)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Basketball

There was only one Jim Valvano. One of the most colorful personalities in college basketball is known now as much for his ESPYs speech and the Jimmy V Foundation as his 1983 national title at NC State. That’s a good thing.

 

18. No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson (2010)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Basketball

Before he was one of the most electrifying NBA guards ever, Allen Iverson was a “transcendent” high school athletes in the words of Hoop Dreams director Steve James. James tells the complicated story of the trial and conviction of Iverson after a riot in a bowling alley in Virginia when Iverson was 18. James, also a native of Hampton, Va., takes great care in portraying the racial tensions surrounding the arrest of a local legend.

 

19. Elway to Marino (2013)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Football

Think the NFL Draft is bonkers now? How about the 1983 first round that featured three Hall of Fame quarterback alone. The first one taken (John Elway) wanted nothing to do with the team that drafted him. The last one taken in the first round (Dan Marino) fell due to rumors drug use.

 

20. Run Ricky Run (2010)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Football

In 2004, Ricky Williams may have been one of the most polarizing athletes of the time when the star running back abruptly left the Miami Dolphins amid repeated failed drug tests. Was Williams selfish? Was he battling bipolar disorders? Or was he misunderstood? Director Sean Pamphilon pulls back the curtain and we’re not quite sure.

 

21. Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL? (2009)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Football

Before Donald Trump became ... whatever you think he is now ... he was the most important owner in the USFL. Director Michael Tollin, who worked for Trump and the New Jersey Generals, retraces the history of a league that took on the NFL and produced six Pro Football Hall of Famers. Was Trump’s ownership the death knell of the league or was any competitor to the NFL doomed for failure?

 

 

22. Once Brothers (2010)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Basketball

As basketball became a worldwide sport, many of the NBA’s international players couldn’t help be impacted by political strife back home. Few conflicts were as bloody as the breakup of Yugoslavia. In Once Brothers, former Lakers center Vlade Divac of Serbia, revisits his relationship with Drazen Petrovic of Croatia. The two won a World Championship for Yugoslavia but were driven apart by civil war in their home country. The two were unable to reconcile before Petrovic’s death in 1993.

 

23. The U (2009)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Football

How did the Miami Hurricanes of the 80s and 90s go from being a college football afterthought to one the biggest villains in sports history? Let the players, coaches and Luther Campbell explain.

 

24. Kings’ Ransom (2009)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Hockey

The first installment of ESPN’s 30 for 30 was the perfect table-setter for the rest of the series — a major story told in a new way by an expert director. Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights) examines the unthinkable trade that sent the greatest hockey player in history from Edmonton to Los Angeles.

 

25. The Karate Kid (1984)

Genre: Kids
Sport: Martial arts
Does it count as a sports movie? A coach, a kid, an underdog. Yep. Wax on, wax off.

 

 

Others of note:

 

The Fab 5 (2011)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Basketball

In the 1990s, starting this many freshmen was revolutionary. Not to mention the baggy shorts, black socks and shaved heads. So much about basketball we take for granted in 2014-15 started with Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson. The story, of course, wasn’t all rosy.

 

Jordan Rides the Bus (2010)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Basketball/Baseball

Remember when Michael Jordan left basketball in the prime of his career to play minor league baseball and not all that well? The writer and director of Bull Durham takes a look in this 30 for 30 installment.

 

Straight Outta L.A. (2010)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Los Angeles

Ice Cube directs what would become one of the staples of the 30 for 30 series, in particular how a sports team or athlete becomes intertwined with a community, this time with Los Angeles and the Raiders.

 

The Legend of Jimmy the Greek (2009)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Gambling

The 30 for 30 series took more risks early on, and few are more emblematic of that spirit than The Legend of Jimmy the Greek. A doc about rough-around-the-edges gambling guy narrated by a stand-in for Jimmy the Greek? That spirit had dimmed in following installments.

 

June 17th, 1994 (2010)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Basketball, O.J. Simpson, et al

It’s hard to imagine a day in the life of sports being more dramatic than this day in 1994 when O.J. Simpson’s Ford Bronco was chased on the streets Los Angeles, when the Knicks were playing in the NBA finals and when Arnold Palmer played his last round in the U.S. Open. It also captured a time when all of this played out on live television rather than social media.

 

Necessary Roughness (1991)

Genre: Comedy

Sport: Football

Sinbad, Rob Schneider, Scott Bakula and Kathy Ireland. The only way this movie could be more 90s is if it were on VHS.

 

The Last Gladiators (2011)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Hockey

Hockey fans love enforcers, but the life of Chris “Knuckles” Nilan was more than fights on the rink.

 

Bigger Stronger Faster (2008)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Steroids

Director Christopher Bell explores the 2000s steroid scandals from a different angle, that of the non-professional athlete, and takes a look at the image of mixed messages (Gov. Schwarzenegger) and other performance enhancements in sports.

 

Everest (1998)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Mountain climbing

Originally filmed in IMAX, but now that enough viewers have HD big screens and surround sounds, it’s time to take this picturesque to the “small” screen.

 

Requiem for the Big East (2014)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Basketball

Why were sports fans sad to watch the traditional Big East slip away? This is the reason. The Syracuse-Georgetown rivalry, the colorful coaches, the physical play, Madison Square Garden. The league started from humble roots, built itself up on ESPN and then collapsed under the weight of football.

 

Silly Little Game (2010)

Genre: Documentary

Sport: Fantasy sports

Find out why you need to blame a bunch of newspaper schlubs and professors meeting in a rotisserie restaurant created the biggest time vampire for football and baseball season.

Teaser:
The Best Sports Movies, Documentaries and TV Shows Streaming on Netflix
Post date: Monday, March 2, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: AL East, American League, New York Yankees, MLB, News
Path: /mlb/new-york-yankees-2015-preview-and-prediction
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The Yankees committed almost $500 million to new players before 2014, yet their record actually got worse. Their first multi-year playoff drought of the wild card era seems likely to stretch to three years in 2015. The Yankees, as usual, have the flashy names and the gaudy payroll, but they again won’t have the elite-level production to go with it. Almost all of their important players are over 30, making them prone to injury and increasingly less likely to rediscover their youthful primes all at once.

 

Rotation

The Yankees have two starters on contracts worth more than $150 million, and neither is a safe bet to hold up all season. CC Sabathia, 34, made only eight starts last season because of knee injuries, and it could be that the traits that made him such a highly respected ace — always taking the ball, willing himself deep into games — have irreparably worn him down. With Masahiro Tanaka, it’s all a matter of his elbow: Tanaka, 26, was every bit as good as advertised last season, until a partial UCL tear cost him most of the second half. Uncertainty clouds his immediate future. Michael Pineda has been prone to injury, but with his lethal slider, he’s overpowering when available. As the Yankees await Ivan Nova’s return from Tommy John surgery, which he underwent last April, they will see what they get from Nathan Eovaldi, the hard-throwing righthander they acquired from Miami in December. Eovaldi’s high-octane fastballs have yet to match his production, but he’s only 25 and worth a long look. The veteran Chris Capuano is his opposite in every way: a lefthander who relies on guile. 


Bullpen

The Yankees have spent the last few years trying to hit Andrew Miller in the American League East, and they gave up on solving him when they signed the former first-round pick to a four-year, $36 million contract. It was a smart way for the Yankees to use their payroll advantage on a mid-level star who carries less risk but can still make a major impact. Miller and All-Star Dellin Betances both struck out over 100 hitters last season and will form a nasty bullpen endgame for the Yankees, no matter which one ultimately ends up as the closer. Justin Wilson, a hard-throwing lefty with control issues, joins the middle relief corps with right-handed strikeout specialists David Carpenter Adam Warren and versatile long man Esmil Rogers. The swing-and-miss stuff of the Yankees’ relievers will make the bullpen the team’s strength.

 

Middle Infield

The good thing about Derek Jeter’s replacement at shortstop, Didi Gregorius, is that he is only 25 years old and is a high-impact defender with a strong arm and the kind of range Jeter never had. The bad thing is that he’s already with his third team and could not stick as the starter for the woeful 2014 Diamondbacks. Gregorius is a left-handed hitter with decent pop, but he struggles to hit lefties and projects to be, at best, a .240-.250 hitter. Brendan Ryan, another smooth defensive player, is also a light hitter but will start for Gregorius against lefthanders, at least sometimes. At second base, the Yankees brought back Stephen Drew on a one-year deal to solidify the position after trading Martin Prado to Miami. The team also will try and determine if prospects Jose Pirela or Rob Refsnyder can be the long-term answer. Pirela, 25, has played every position but catcher and pitcher in the minors, but he has played second more than any other spot and hit .305 with 42 extra-base hits and 15 steals at Class AAA last season. Refsnyder, 24, had never played above Class A before last season but hit .318 at the two highest minor league levels.

 

Corners

Mark Teixeira started his Yankees career by finishing as the runner-up for the AL Most Valuable Player Award and making the final putout of a World Series championship. That seems like a long time ago. Minor injuries nag at Teixeira, who turns 35 in April, but he still managed to come back from a serious wrist injury and make 508 plate appearances. The Yankees’ best hope is that the further removed Teixeira gets from his wrist trouble, the more closely he’ll resemble the feared slugger of old. But just in case, they have Garrett Jones to help out. Jones, the former Pirate and Marlin whose power will play well at Yankee Stadium, will play first base when Teixeira needs a rest or a day at DH. Across the diamond, the Yankees brought back Chase Headley on a four-year contract. They loved him in the field, at the plate and in the clubhouse last summer, and if Headley can match his Yankees on-base percentage (.371) with decent power and solid play in the field, that’s enough. His switch-hitting is also appealing to the Yankees. On Headley’s days off, Alex Rodriguez could spend some time at third. The Yankees won’t over-expose Rodriguez in the field, though, so he’ll get most of his playing time at designated hitter and some at first base.

 

Outfield

While Jacoby Ellsbury’s on-base percentage slid to an unacceptable .298 in the second half, the Yankees were mostly pleased with the first season of his extravagant seven-year, $153 million contract. Ellsbury excelled in center field and teamed with left fielder Brett Gardner to form a dangerous slashing tandem atop the order, with respectable power and game-changing speed. Right fielder Carlos Beltran, however, was a bust in his first season in the Bronx, unable to perform as he did in St. Louis because of a bone spur in his elbow that required surgery on Sept. 30. Beltran should be healthy now, but he turns 38 in April, and the rigors of everyday duty in right field might be too much to withstand, especially for a player the Yankees signed through 2016. The Yankees need to play him at DH as much as possible, but other creaky veterans need time there, too. 

 

Catching

The Yankees like to perpetuate the narrative that Brian McCann figured things out in the second half, but the numbers don’t back that up. He had a better slugging percentage after the All-Star break, but he hit just .221 with a pitiful .274 on-base percentage — both figures even worse than they were in the first half. The Yankees plainly need a lot more to justify their five-year, $85 million investment. It paid off with a steady hand behind the plate and a team-leading 23 homers, but the .286 OBP made McCann, on the whole, an offensive liability. 

 

DH/Bench

If only the Yankees could use three or four players at DH, they’d have a much better chance of holding up through the season. Teixeira still has value in the field, although his body could use the occasional rest at DH. Beltran, with his surgically repaired elbow, could also use more time here. But as long as Rodriguez is on the team, he should get the bulk of the playing time at DH. If A-Rod stays away from performance-enhancing drugs, he’s going to need a natural way to heal that crumbling body every day. Beating it up by playing in the field won’t help, so DH looks like his best spot.

 

Management

Joe Girardi usually knows how to juggle a roster of veterans, but he hasn’t been able to cajole a successful playoff push since 2012. That’s hardly his fault, though, since neither of his last two teams had any right to produce a winning record, given their meager statistics. Even so, a third straight year out of the playoffs can’t be good for Girardi’s job security, even in the more rational world of Hal Steinbrenner. General manager Brian Cashman made deft deadline moves last summer, proving his worth to Steinbrenner, but the Yankees’ biggest organizational advantage remains their ability to spend on free agents or afford to take on other teams’ unwanted contracts.

 

Final Analysis

The Yankees always have hope, because most of their players have, at one point in their careers, ranked among the game’s best. The question is whether they can do it again. Don’t bet on it. It’s increasingly a young man’s game, and if the Yankees continue to rely on the overpaid and over-the-hill, they could be stuck on 27 championships for a long time.

 

2015 Prediction: 4th in AL East

 

Projected Lineup

CF       Jacoby Ellsbury (L) Success rate of 84.6 percent on steals is second among active players, trailing only Carlos Beltran.

LF       Brett Gardner (L)      His 17 HRs were a career high, but .327 OBP was lowest since 2008 rookie season.

RF       Carlos Beltran (S)   With 373 HRs, trails only Mickey Mantle, Eddie Murray and Chipper Jones among switch-hitters.

C         Brian McCann (L)    Hit only four of his 23 homers on the road in unimpressive Yankee debut.

1B       Mark Teixeira (S)      Still owed $45 million for next two seasons after batting just .216.

3B       Chase Headley (S)             Has just 26 HRs, 99 RBIs since his 2012 breakout (31 HRs, 115 RBIs) with Padres.

DH      Alex Rodriguez (R) Will collect $6 million when he hits sixth HR of the season to tie Willie Mays on career list, with 660.

2B       Stephen Drew (L)    Back with Yankees after hitting just .150 in 46 games following July 31 trade from Red Sox.

SS       Didi Gregorius (L)   Substantial upgrade over Derek Jeter in the field, he must learn to hit lefties to fulfill offensive potential.

 

Bench

2B       Rob Refsnyder (R)  Should get a shot to play after a .297/.389/.444 slash line in three season in the minors.

C         John Ryan Murphy (R)        Strong second half at AAA gives the 2009 second-round pick from Princeton the inside edge for backup job.

OF       Chris Young (R)       Small sample, but Yanks loved what they saw after he flopped with Mets.

SS       Brendan Ryan (R)   Great glove, but bat was worse than Yankees expected, at .167.

1B       Garrett Jones (L)     Veteran has hit at least 15 homers in each of his last six seasons, including 27 with Pittsburgh in 2012.

 

Rotation

RH      Masahiro Tanaka    Two-start cameo in September wasn’t enough to quell fears about troublesome elbow.

LH       CC Sabathia             Has a 4.87 ERA in last two seasons, but expects to be healthy after knee surgery.

RH      Michael Pineda        Fragile but dominant, with a .208 opponents’ average in 41 career starts.

RH      Nathan Eovaldi        MLB hitters can handle his heat; he led National League in hits allowed last season (223 with Miami).

LH       Chris Capuano        Veteran had six quality starts in 12 tries for the Yankees late last season.

 

Bullpen

RH      Dellin Betances (Closer)   Exactly 50 percent of his outs came via strikeout (135 of 270).

LH       Andrew Miller            Fastball and wipeout slider make him a devastating late-inning weapon.

RH      David Carpenter      Acquired in early January, Carpenter gives the Yankees another strikeout specialist in the bullpen.

LH       Justin Wilson           Durable and tough on lefties, but high walk rate is worrisome.

RH      Adam Warren           Full-time relief role suited Warren, who held lefties to .178 average.

RH      Esmil Rogers           Before he was hit hard in season finale — four ER in 0.1 IP — had a 3.28 ERA for Yanks.

 

Beyond the Box Score

MVP shutout One way to measure the Yankees’ lack of 2014 impact was in the voting for the AL Most Valuable Player. Not a single Yankee got even so much as a 10th place vote from 30 members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. The last time the Yankees were completely shut out of the MVP vote was 1992, their last losing season. The Yankees also had no pitchers listed on any Cy Young Award ballots.

Stability at the top Only two general managers have been in their current jobs longer than the Yankees’ Brian Cashman — Brian Sabean of the Giants (1996) and Billy Beane of the A’s (1997). Cashman, who took over as GM in 1998, isn’t going anywhere soon. Despite missing the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, the Yankees re-signed Cashman to a three-year contract in October. “We know from our fan base’s perspective that we need to do better than we’ve done for the past two years,” Cashman says. “I say that for myself as well. Being in my chair, I’m responsible for it all — offense, defense and pitching. I’ve got to find a way to get our fan base back to enjoying October sooner than later.”

International spending bonanza The Yankees were assigned a $2.19 million bonus pool for international signings last summer, but with their farm system struggling, they blew past that limit. The Yankees spent more than $14 million to sign nine of the top 25 international free agents on MLB.com’s list. As a result, the Yankees will pay a 100 percent tax on their pool overage, and they must wait two years before giving more than $300,000 to another amateur on the international market.

Filling up fast The Yankees staged four promotions last season to honor their past, giving plaques in Monument Park to Goose Gossage, Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill and Joe Torre. The team also retired Torre’s No. 6. The Yankees have no set criteria for whom they honor, or how, leading to a somewhat haphazard process in which many stalwarts, including Hall of Famers like Waite Hoyt and Joe Gordon, are not represented at all. Bernie Williams is not a Hall of Famer, but he spent many more years in pinstripes than Gossage, Martinez, O’Neill and Torre, and will be honored with a plaque in 2015.

 

2014 Top Draft Pick

Jacob Lindgren, LHP

The Yankees’ free-agent shopping binge cost them their first-round draft choice in 2014, and they did not make a selection until No. 55 overall. But they were thrilled to land Lindgren, a left-handed reliever from Mississippi State who led the nation in strikeouts per nine innings as a junior, with 16.3. Lindgren played at four levels in his professional debut season, ending up at Class AA Trenton, where he fanned 18 in 11.2 innings. Lindgren could make an impact this season, and possibly even land on the Opening Day roster in a setup role. Lindgren has a deceptive delivery, his slider may be the best in the Yankees’ farm system, and his fastball can hit 94 mph with sink.

 

Top 10 Prospects

1. Luis Severino, RHP (21) A 6'0" righthander from the Dominican Republic with a high-90s fastball and a baffling changeup, Severino pitched in the Futures Game and reached Class AA Trenton, where he had a 2.52 ERA in six starts. He could make an impact as soon as this season.

2 . Gary Sanchez, C (22) Still highly regarded, but the Yankees’ commitment to Brian McCann blocks him behind the plate, where he’s shown a strong arm and improving defense. Decent power is a plus, off-field disciplinary issues a minus.

3 . Greg Bird, 1B (22) Led the minors in walks in 2013 with 107 and was the 2014 MVP of the Arizona Fall League, with a .313 average and six homers in 26 games.

4. Aaron Judge, OF (22) The 32nd overall pick in 2013, this Fresno State product hit 17 homers with 78 RBIs and reached High-A last season. He had a lot of walks, but also lots of strikeouts.

5. Rob Refsnyder, 2B (24) With a .300 average, a .389 OBP and decent power at Class AAA, line-drive hitter should have a chance to make an impact very soon.

6. Ian Clarkin, LHP (20) Added a cutter to low-90s fastball and curve last season, but has pitched only one game above Low-A.

7. Jacob Lindgren, LHP (22) Versatile southpaw was dominant as both a starter and reliever during his time at Mississippi State.

8. Eric Jagielo, 3B (22) Notre Dame product hit 16 homers with strong .354 OBP at High-A Tampa.

9. Luis Torrens, C (18) Signed for $1.3 million as a shortstop from Venezuela in 2012, he’s shown good skills behind the plate in low minors.

10. Domingo German, RHP (22) Aquired from the Marlins in the Martin Pardo deal, German is a strike thrower who has tremendous upside.

Teaser:
New York Yankees 2015 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Monday, March 2, 2015 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: AL East, American League, Boston Red Sox, MLB, News
Path: /mlb/boston-red-sox-2015-preview-and-prediction
Body:

With all due respect to Space Mountain, Goliath and the Viper, the wildest roller coaster in the United States currently resides in Fenway Park. From worst to first to worst to … first again? — the Red Sox have put their fans through a stomach-churning wringer, sandwiching the elation of the 2013 World Series between a pair of lost seasons, not to mention an epic collapse in 2011. The Red Sox can only hope that this is the dawn of a new age of stability, however. They recognized the error of relying on too many youngsters simultaneously last year and imported a number of veterans this winter. They’ve remade much of the roster and virtually all of their rotation and have built the best lineup in the division. In what projects to be a down year for the AL East, that should be enough to return to contention, where the coaster can perhaps once again provide thrills instead of dread.

 

Rotation

This group will ultimately determine the team’s fate. Stalwarts Jon Lester and John Lackey are gone, and the Red Sox chose to replace them with pitchers they hope are about to make the ascension to ace. Their primary offseason target was Detroit’s Rick Porcello, 26, a six-year veteran coming off his best season (15–13, 3.43), and a pitcher the Red Sox believe is ready to take the next step. In a similar boat is 28-year-old Wade Miley, a former All-Star who struggled last year with Arizona (8–12, 4.34) but struck out a career high 183, suggesting the stuff is there. If either fails to emerge as a No. 1, there’s always old friend Clay Buchholz, a true Jekyll-and-Hyde performer, or Justin Masterson, who is expected to improve after battling injuries (7–9, 5.88). All three newcomers are groundball pitchers. Joe Kelly rounds things out.


Bullpen

The first move of the winter flew largely under the radar. The Red Sox re-signed closer Koji Uehara for two years and $18 million. Because Uehara doesn’t rely on power, the Sox believe he will remain effective into his 40s, a la Trevor Hoffman. The rest of the pen is a bit muddled. Junichi Tazawa returns as the primary setup man, even though his fastball has lost just enough steam to leave him as a borderline power pitcher. The Red Sox also retained lefty Craig Breslow, who never seemed to recover from his workload in 2013 en route to a horrible 2014 (2–4, 5.96). Virtually every other spot will be up for grabs in spring training, with veteran Edward Mujica looking to rebound, newly acquired Anthony Varvaro and Robbie Ross trying to find a home, youngsters Brandon Workman and Matt Barnes doing battle, and a lefthander like Tommy Layne perhaps claiming a specialist role. Former All-Star Alexi Ogando also could factor into the mix if he’s able to show he’s recovered from the elbow inflammation that limited him to just 27 appearances last season with the Rangers.

 

Middle Infield

Maybe this is the year Dustin Pedroia stays healthy. His will and determination remain beyond reproach, but he has undergone hand or wrist surgery in three straight offseasons. All that slicing and dicing has cut into his power, with his OPS falling in each of the last four seasons (from .861 to .797 to .787 to .712). He’s still a Gold Glover, but the Red Sox need his pop, too. Meanwhile, double-play partner Xander Bogaerts will be manning one of the most pivotal positions on the field. He’s not only coming off a down season offensively, but his defense also often appeared shaky, and the Red Sox have left him with no safety net after signing a trio of groundball starters. The team believes the 22-year-old will eventually be a star — for now it’s simply asking him to make routine plays in the field. And speaking of stars, Boston hopes it has found its next one in Yoan Moncada. The Red Sox signed the 19-year-old Cuban free agent in late February, committing $63 million ($31.5 as a signing bonus to Moncada, $31.5 to MLB as a 100 percent overage tax for exceeding their allotment of international bonus money) to the switch-hitting shortstop who could end up at second or third or even in the outfield by the time he arrives in the majors.

 

Corners

Say hello to the Panda. The arrival of Pablo Sandoval should solve the vexing problem of wildly subpar third base production the last two seasons. Sandoval is everything the Red Sox seek — a durable hitter in his prime with a flare for the dramatic, a slightly above-average fielder, and a high-energy leader who should light up the clubhouse. He’s also one of the best low-ball hitters in the game, an area of emphasis with the strike zone dropping precipitously over the last three years. The solid Mike Napoli returns at first base, presumably recovered from the injuries that slowed him last year, with his 25-homer potential and clubhouse leadership intact.

 

Outfield

The arrival of All-Star Hanley Ramirez positions the Red Sox with one of the deepest lineups in the American League. The deal wouldn’t have been possible without Ramirez volunteering to forgo a career as an infielder to take a stab at left field. Ramirez hits lefties (.307) and righties (.298) and will play every day. Center likely will go to Cuban import Rusney Castillo, who tore up the Puerto Rican winter league after impressively hitting .333 with two homers in a brief September call-up. Right field is up for grabs, although it’s hard to see the Red Sox going in any direction other than with Mookie Betts, who has all the skills to be an All-Star leadoff hitter. Betts carries himself with a swagger that has earned him the immediate respect of the team’s veterans.

 

Catching

The Red Sox have proclaimed a willingness to hand things over to strong-armed Christian Vazquez, an advanced game-caller and pitch-framer who must answer major questions about his bat. Perhaps the Red Sox will be able to carry a .200 hitter if the rest of the lineup mashes, because the feeling is that Vazquez is only a one- or two-year stopgap until prospect Blake Swihart arrives. Ryan Hanigan fills the David Ross role of veteran who can play more than the typical backup if needed. He hits lefties well (.762 lifetime OPS), though he was better against righties last year.

 

DH/Bench

The name of the game here is flexibility. Brock Holt can play anywhere and would pull on catching gear if asked. His surprising ability to hit lefties from the left side last year (.293) helped fuel an eighth-place finish in the Rookie of the Year voting. Daniel Nava’s skills against right-handed pitching will find him some playing time in either the outfield or at first. Ramirez, a former shortstop and third baseman, provides options in an emergency. The interesting decision will be finding a role for either Shane Victorino or Allen Craig. The remade roster likely squeezes out one, if not both. Victorino, if he heals from back surgery, has the higher upside and is the more battle-tested player.

 

Management

A year after pushing all the right buttons, manager John Farrell and general manager Ben Cherington took a step back, along with the rest of the organization. Cherington’s relative inaction left the 2014 team with too many holes, and Farrell never figured out how to make the right moves with an offense that ranked in the middle of the pack in on-base percentage but bottom of the barrel in runs scored. That was last year, however. In the big picture, the team remains in good hands. Cherington is at his best when juggling a complicated offseason, and this past one certainly qualifies, with Castillo (signed in August), Sandoval, Ramirez, Porcello, Miley and Masterson coming aboard, to name a few. Farrell, meanwhile, is a proven leader who has already helmed a World Series winner. 

 

Final Analysis

The Red Sox are right where they want to be — as $200 million underdogs, if that’s possible. They’ve built a roster in the spirit of the out-of-nowhere 2013 World Series winners, although they’ve gambled a bit more, since their buy-low acquisitions are primarily in the starting rotation. One of last year’s biggest problems — a lack of depth up and down the roster — is no longer an issue. The lineup is deep, with Betts ready to step forward and the projected seven-eight hitters possible stars in Castillo and Bogaerts. While the jury very reasonably remains out on whether the Red Sox are built to win in October, there’s no question they’re at least constructed to get there.

 

2015 Prediction: 1st in AL East

 

Projected Lineup

RF       Mookie Betts (R)      Betts has potential star written all over him. The Sox love his combination of on-base, speed and swagger.

2B       Dustin Pedroia (R)  Are Pedroia’s hands/wrists a time bomb? We’ll find out. He has vowed to return stronger than ever.

DH      David Ortiz (L)           Time keeps on ticking, and Ortiz keeps on slugging. The ageless DH seeks his third straight 30-100 season.

LF       Hanley Ramirez (R)            Ramirez has agreed to move to the outfield, where his bat still profiles as one of the best in the game.

3B       Pablo Sandoval (S) Get ready for the Panda. The Red Sox expect that Sandoval will plug their gaping hole at third.

1B       Mike Napoli (R)        It’s easy to forget that before badly dislocating his finger last year, he appeared capable of a career year.

CF       Rusney Castillo (R)            Was signed to hit leadoff, but with that job likely going to Betts, the $72.5 Million Man can ease into things.

SS       Xander Bogaerts (R)           Bogaerts shouldn’t feel the pressure to be a star hitting at the bottom of the lineup.

C         Christian Vazquez (R)         The Red Sox have built a deep lineup, but the rifle-armed Vazquez is the one potential hole. 

 

Bench

OF       Shane Victorino (R) Coming off back surgery, Victorino is a man without a position and could be moved.

OF       Daniel Nava (S)       Provides real value from the left side of the plate on a roster that is otherwise heavily right-handed.

UT       Brock Holt (L)           One of last year’s few bright spots is Holt, who’s not an everyday player, but could excel in a super-utility role.

C         Ryan Hanigan (R)   Hanigan was acquired for Will Middlebrooks and could play regularly if Vazquez struggles.

 

Rotation

RH      Rick Porcello            The Red Sox hope Porcello can continue to build off a strong 2014 and become an ace.

LH       Wade Miley   Miley had career-highs in ERA (4.34) and WHIP (1.401) in his final season in Arizona.

RH      Clay Buchholz          There’s no more enigmatic player on the team than the wildly talented, equally inconsistent Buchholz.

RH      Justin Masterson     The Red Sox believe Masterson’s struggles last year (7–9, 5.88) were purely injury-related.

RH      Joe Kelly        Kelly impressed during his two months, featuring a 95 mph fastball and winning four of his final five starts.

 

Bullpen

RH      Koji Uehara (Closer)          The indomitable closer turns 40 in April, but the Red Sox don’t expect him to slow down anytime soon.

RH      Junichi Tazawa        Tazawa has settled in as a strikeout-an-inning arm in the eighth, and will continue to fill that role.

LH       Craig Breslow          Breslow returned on a one-year deal after a brutal season that saw his ERA soar to a career-worst 5.96.

RH      Edward Mujica         Mujica lost 1 mph off his fastball (to 91 mph) and saw his walk rate climb to 2.1/9 IP last season.

RH      Anthony Varvaro       Acquired from the Braves, Varvaro posted a career-low walk rate (2.1) last year while posting a 2.63 ERA.

RH      Brandon Workman  He’s fearless and has an attacking mentality, but his stuff isn’t overpowering, and he can be taken deep.

LH       Tommy Layne          Layne impressed in 30 games (0.95 ERA) and could join Breslow as the second lefty in the pen.

 

Beyond the Box Score

Memorable debut Red Sox fans will never forget Rick Porcello’s first start at Fenway Park, in 2009, when the 20-year-old rookie drilled Kevin Youkilis and incited a bench-clearing brawl. After Porcello signed, he wasted little time when asked for his most memorable Fenway moment: “Getting thrown out in the second inning my rookie year. Getting charged by Kevin Youkilis.” It should be noted that Porcello stood his ground and body slammed the enraged Youk.

Native son Catcher Ryan Hanigan will become the fifth Massachusetts native to play for the Red Sox in the last decade. The Andover native joins Chris Capuano (Springfield), Alex Hassan (Quincy), Rich Hill (Milton) and Manny Delcarmen (West Roxbury).

No love lost Oh, what might have been. When the Red Sox signed Hanley Ramirez in free agency, it opened the possibility of reuniting Ramirez with former minor league teammate Jon Lester, who made no secret of his dislike for the then-shortstop at the 2010 All-Star Game. “I’d have a better chance of being struck by lightning than me and him getting a pizza together,” Lester said at the time.

Big-time bowler Where does Mookie Betts get his incredible hand-eye coordination and ability to perform under pressure? It might have something to do with bowling. Betts is a tremendous bowler who took up the sport as a child and still rolls regularly. He has bowled a 300 game and an 800 series and was good enough to turn pro, had he so desired. Also, take heart Red Sox fans — he’s named after Mookie Blaylock, the former NBA All-Star, not Mookie Wilson.

Fun fact Random fact about manager John Farrell — he ended Paul Molitor’s 39-game hitting streak in just his second big league start in 1987, taking a no-decision against Teddy Higuera in a 1–0 loss to the Brewers. The game ended with Molitor on deck. “Rick Manning drove in the winning run in the 10th,” Farrell said, “and got booed off the field.”

King of gluten Wade Miley did not take kindly to friction with the Diamondbacks over the composition of his diet. His former team’s biggest complaint? That he ate too much gluten. The 6'0", 220-pounder is not having any of it, telling WEEI in Boston that, “You can’t tell me Babe Ruth ever stopped eating gluten.”

 

2014 Top Draft Pick

Michael Chavis, SS

The Red Sox used their first pick on one of the more intriguing power prospects in the draft. Chavis, a product of Georgia’s East Cobb baseball factory, isn’t huge (5'10", 190), but he owns tremendous bat speed and serious pop. He won a Perfect Game home run derby as a high school senior, and after a slow start to his pro career, finished with a .425 slugging percentage in the Gulf Coast League. He hit .379 with a homer and 1.057 OPS over his final 15 games. A shortstop at Sprayberry High School, Chavis will probably end up at third base in the long run. While Chavis has a big swing capable of producing loft, the Red Sox liked him because he’s calm and controlled at the plate. Another plus: His makeup and work ethic drew raves from rival scouts in the lead up to the draft.

 

Top 10 Prospects

1. Blake Swihart, C (23) Swihart has all the tools to be a star, with athleticism that reminds more than one observer of the Giants’ perennial MVP candidate Buster Posey.

2. Henry Owens, LHP (22) While there are questions over how Owens’ fastball (92 mph) will play in the big leagues, there’s no questioning his secondary stuff, which includes a plus changeup.

3. Yoan Moncada, IF (19) The switch-hitting Cuban is probably at least a year or two away from the majors, but the Red Sox hope their patience, not to mention the total of $63 million they invested to sign him, will pay off in a big way.

4. Rafael Devers, 3B (18) Remember how hyped Xander Bogaerts was when he arrived stateside? Devers has outperformed him at a similar age/level thus far and is the organization’s Next Big Thing.

5. Manuel Margot, OF (20) He posted one of the most tantalizing seasons in the minors as a teen, batting .293 with 12 homers and 42 steals between two levels of Class A.

6. Brian Johnson, LHP (24) Johnson’s pure stuff isn’t jaw-dropping, but he effectively mixes four pitches in the style of a crafty lefty.

7. Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP (22) Rodriguez has a changeup that rivals Owens’, but he pairs it with a fastball that regularly reaches 97 mph.

8. Matt Barnes, RHP (24) Barnes’ 2014 season ended in the big leagues, where he passed fellow pitching prospects Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster and Anthony Ranaudo (traded to Texas in January). 

9. Deven Marrero, SS (24) Marrero may never hit, but there’s no doubting his glove. He has a strong arm and tremendous instincts.

10. Sean Coyle, 2B (23) Mildly reminiscent of former Sox prospect Jed Lowrie, Coyle’s a similarly undersized infielder with surprising pop.

 

— Written by columnist John Tomase () for Athlon Sports' magazine.

Teaser:
Boston Red Sox 2015 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Monday, March 2, 2015 - 09:00
Path: /mlb/baltimore-orioles-2015-preview-prediction
Body:

After posting a winning record in three consecutive seasons, the Orioles could be challenged to finish above .500 in 2015 due to a lack of significant activity over the winter. They re-signed Delmon Young shortly before Christmas, but he’s more of a DH-type and not a suitable replacement for outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, two important bats that departed via free agency. There’s no Cruz to fall into their laps this spring, as he did last year before leading the majors with 40 home runs. The Orioles should benefit from the return of catcher Matt Wieters and third baseman Manny Machado from season-ending surgeries, but making the playoffs for the third time in four seasons looks like a longer shot than it did in October.

 

Rotation

The Orioles will rely heavily on their starting pitching and depth to stay in the playoff picture. They’re carrying six starters for five spots — Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, Kevin Gausman and Ubaldo Jimenez — and are reluctant to part with an arm in order to improve in another area. They’re not going with a six-man rotation, so someone will move to the bullpen or Gausman will be optioned. Jimenez was a bust after signing a four-year, $50 million deal, but Chen won 16 games and Norris 15 to establish career highs. Gonzalez posted a 2.19 ERA in his last 11 starts. Top prospect Dylan Bundy, recovered from Tommy John surgery, likely will start the year at Double-A, but he could be an option to start later in the summer.


Bullpen

The Orioles lost lefthander Andrew Miller to free agency, and he’s going to be hard to replace after holding opposing hitters to a .119 average and posting a 1.35 ERA in 20 innings with the Orioles after being acquired from the Red Sox on July 31. They signed lefthander Wesley Wright to a one-year, $1.7 million contract after the Cubs non-tendered him. Zach Britton, in his first season as closer, registered 37 saves in 41 opportunities. Lefty specialist Brian Matusz returns, though he’s also trade bait. Righthanders Darren O’Day and Tommy Hunter are quality late-inning options. Hunter brings the heat with his upper-90s fastball. Brad Brach can work in a variety of roles but is most important as a right-handed long man. T.J. McFarland could return as a lefty long man, but the Orioles may not want to carry four southpaws in their bullpen. He’s a candidate to start at Triple-A. Ryan Webb has another year and $2.75 million on his contract. The O’s selected Logan Verrett in the Rule 5 Draft and traded for Jason Garcia.

 

Middle Infield

The Orioles’ double-play combination remains intact after shortstop J.J. Hardy signed a three-year extension in October. He’s the leader of the infield and a dependable fielder. However, his home run total dropped from 25 to nine. Jonathan Schoop made most of the starts at second base as a rookie and hit 16 home runs, but he needs to improve on a .209 average. He’s got a rifle arm, and he ranked eighth among major league second basemen with 89 double plays turned. Former Rule 5 pick Ryan Flaherty can back up at both positions. He started the season 0-for-17 before singling on April 6 in Detroit. The Orioles signed Rey Navarro to a major league deal and view him primarily as a second baseman, though he also plays short. Manager Buck Showalter said he’s more willing now to move Machado from third base to short if Hardy is injured. The team also signed former San Diego shortstop Everth Cabrera to a one-year deal at the start of spring training. The NL stolen base leader in 2012, Cabrera was suspended for 50 games in '13 for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. With Hardy seemingly entrenched at short, Cabrera could potentially fill in at second or serve as an utilityman and late-inning pinch runner off of the bench, if he makes the team.

 

Corners

Machado returns after undergoing surgery on his right knee in August. He’s now had procedures on both knees in the last two years. He was sorely missed at third base, where he won a Platinum Glove in 2013. Machado also was suspended five games this summer for intentionally throwing his bat on the field in a June 8 game against Oakland. He could use a fresh start this season. First baseman Chris Davis was handed a 25-game suspension on Sept. 12 for a second failed test for Adderall. He has one game remaining on it, which removes him from the Opening Day lineup. Davis led the majors with 53 home runs in 2013, but he hit only 26 last year as his average dipped to .196. Flaherty can play both first and third as part of his super-utility role, and Jimmy Paredes remains an option. He’s more bat than glove, however. Steve Pearce can play first base and may be given a chance to back up at third. Pearce established career highs across the board, including doubles (26), home runs (21), RBIs (49) and games (102). The Orioles claimed Ryan Lavarnway off waivers, and he’s capable of playing first. First baseman Christian Walker, one of the top prospects in the organization, made his major league debut in September and eventually could return to the big club.

 

Outfield

Center fielder Adam Jones is the only remaining outfield starter from last season. Jones posted his fourth consecutive season playing 150 games and recording at least a .280 average, 25 doubles, 25 home runs and 80 RBIs, joining Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray as the only Orioles to accomplish the feat. But who’s playing left field and right field this year? Pearce could be the primary starter in right, and Alejandro De Aza could mostly play left and replace Markakis atop the order. De Aza batted .293 after being acquired from the White Sox on Aug. 30. He just needs to improve his splits against left-handed pitching. David Lough got off to an awful start in his first season with the Orioles, but he batted .356 in his final 52 games beginning July 6. He also provides plus-defense and much-needed speed. Young is a below-average fielder but can play left or right if needed. The Orioles also acquired Travis Snider from the Pirates in late January. Snider, who has yet to put it all together in his seven-year career, could end up stealing one of the starting corner spots, provided he makes the final roster.

 

Catching

Wieters played in only 26 games before undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow on June 17. He may not be ready for Opening Day. Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley — who wasn’t re-signed — did an admirable job as fill-ins. Joseph threw out 21 of 55 (38.2 percent) runners attempting to steal. His work behind the plate kept him in the majors as a rookie. Lavarnway, claimed in December, and Steve Clevenger are also viable options.

 

DH/Bench

Pearce could get plenty of starts as the DH, but Young was re-signed primarily for that role. Lavarnway could be a backup catcher and first baseman if he makes the team. Flaherty and/or Cabrera figure to make the club as super subs, and Lough should be an extra outfielder again. The Orioles signed Hassan off waivers and will give him a chance to win a backup outfield job. Paredes can move around the infield. Joseph is the favorite to serve as the backup catcher, but the position is unsettled.

 

Management

Executive vice president Dan Duquette was named Major League Executive of the Year by several media outlets. The Orioles have posted winning records in all three seasons since they hired Duquette, who has a knack for making under-the-radar moves that pay huge dividends. Showalter won his third BBWAA Manager of the Year Award, and he remains one of the best acquisitions in franchise history. He changed a losing culture, which isn’t easy. Owner Peter Angelos, heavily criticized in the past for meddling, has stepped back in recent years and trusted his baseball people. With two playoff appearances in the last three years, it’s hard to argue with the results.

 

Final Analysis

The Orioles have a nice core of players and a rotation and bullpen that could carry them back to the playoffs. They’re set in center field and at third base, second base, first base and catcher. But getting back to the American League Championship Series, where they appeared for the first time since 1997, will be difficult without Cruz, Markakis and Miller. The Orioles aren’t willing to spend big in free agency or make a bold trade, and their reluctance to dip into their pitching depth to acquire a big bat could come back to haunt them.

 

2015 Prediction: 3rd in AL East

 

Projected Lineup

LF       Alejandro De Aza (L)           Acquired last year from the White Sox, he’s the leading candidate to replace Nick Markakis atop the order.

3B       Manny Machado (R)           Former Platinum Glove winner recovering from second knee surgery in two years.

1B       Chris Davis (L)         Home run total dropped from 53 to 26, but he received exemption to use Adderall in 2015.

CF       Adam Jones (R)       Made his fourth All-Star team and won his fourth Gold Glove last season.

DH      Delmon Young (R)  Batted .302 in 83 games and went 10-for-20 as a pinch-hitter during the regular season.

C         Matt Wieters (S)        Could be final season as an Oriole after undergoing Tommy John surgery on right elbow.

RF       Steve Pearce (R)      Manager Buck Showalter said in December that Pearce would be in right if season started that day.

SS       J.J. Hardy (R)            Needs to rediscover his power stroke after home runs dropped from 25 to nine.

2B       Jonathan Schoop (R)         Hit 16 home runs as a rookie in 2014 but a .209 average leaves much room for improvement.

 

Bench

C         Caleb Joseph (R)     Nice story as a 27-year-old rookie who threw out 38.2 percent of runners.

OF       David Lough (L)       Plus-defender who can play all three outfield positions and bring needed speed element.

INF      Ryan Flaherty (L)     Valuable reserve played all four infield positions and the outfield last season.

INF      Everth Cabrera (B)           Made first trip to All-Star Game in 2013 as a Padre then missed 50 games because of ties to Biogenesis scandal.

 

Rotation

RH      Chris Tillman            Former second-round pick started on Opening Day and in Game 1 of the ALDS and ALCS.

LH       Wei-Yin Chen          Orioles resisted trade offers for Chen after he won career-high 16 games.

RH      Bud Norris     Won a career-high 15 games and posted career-low 3.65 ERA in first full season with the Orioles.

RH      Miguel Gonzalez      Vastly underrated despite posting 2.19 ERA in final 11 starts last year.

RH      Kevin Gausman       Has minor league options and could be sent down or sent to the bullpen.

 

Bullpen

LH       Zach Britton (Closer)           First year as closer was a rousing success with 37 saves in 41 opportunities.

RH      Ubaldo Jimenez       Could get back in rotation after disastrous first season with Orioles.

RH      Darren O’Day           Posted career-low 1.70 ERA and didn’t allow a run in 58 of 68 outings.

RH      Tommy Hunter          Lost closer’s job in May but posted 1.77 ERA in final 43 appearances.

LH       Brian Matusz            Would prefer to start, but the Orioles like his splits vs. left-handed hitters.

RH      Brad Brach    Didn’t get much attention after arriving from San Diego but won seven of eight decisions.

LH       Wesley Wright          Signed to one-year, $1.7 million deal to help ease loss of Andrew Miller.

 

Beyond the Box Score

Home sweet home The Orioles captured their ninth AL East title last season, but it was the first time they clinched via a win at home since 1969. That’s a big reason why players celebrated so enthusiastically on the field. The Orioles clinched in Milwaukee in 1997, 1983 and 1973, in Detroit in 1974, in New York in 1971 and in Washington in 1970. They clinched in 1979 despite losing to the Indians at home.

Double-figure winners The Orioles had four starters — Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris and Miguel Gonzalez — record at least 10 wins for the first time 1997. They matched Mike Mussina, Jimmy Key, Scott Erickson and Scott Kamieniecki.

Big hitters The Orioles led the majors with 211 home runs, 25 more than the Rockies and 34 more than the Blue Jays. Their 107 home runs at home were the most by an American League club. The Orioles have hit 200 or more home runs in three straight seasons for the first time in franchise history.

Back to back The Orioles became the fourth team since 1920 to have two different players win the home run title in consecutive years. Chris Davis won it in 2013 and Nelson Cruz won it in 2014. They joined the Yankees’ Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio in 1936-37, the Athletics’ Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco in 1987-88, and the Giants’ Barry Bonds and Matt Williams in 1993-94.

Saves from the southpaw Zach Britton, in his first season as closer, became only the seventh AL lefthander to record 37 or more saves in a season. Britton is just the second Oriole, joining Randy Myers, who had 45 saves in 1997.

Road kill Chris Tillman was undefeated in his first 15 road starts until he lost in Toronto on Sept. 26. Tillman’s 8–1 record away from home tied for the second-best road winning percentage in a season by an Orioles pitcher. Scott McGregor holds the record by going 14–1 in 1983. Had he won or taken a no decision in that game vs. the Blue Jays, Tillman would have had the most road starts in a season without a loss (16) since 1914.

Deep roster The Orioles used 23 different players on Sept. 7 against the Rays, the most by the club since also using 23 on Sept. 14, 1960 at Detroit.  The franchise record is 24 in a Sept. 7, 1958 game against Boston.

 

2014 Top Draft Pick

Brian Gonzalez, LHP

The Orioles forfeited their selections in the first two rounds after signing Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz as free agents. They took Gonzalez with the 90th overall pick after he went undefeated in his senior season at Archbishop McCarthy High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Gonzalez committed to the University of Miami before signing with the Orioles and went a combined 0–1 with a 1.34 ERA in 10 starts between the Gulf Coast League and short-season Class A Aberdeen. He allowed 21 hits, walked 10 and struck out 36 in 33.2 innings. He could move up to Low-A Delmarva in 2015. There’s no way to project his arrival date in the majors at such a young age, but the Orioles love his potential.

 

Top 10 Prospects

1. Dylan Bundy, RHP (22) The former first-round pick is recovered from Tommy John surgery and trying to climb back to the majors. He should start 2015 at Double-A Bowie.

2. Hunter Harvey, RHP (20) First-round pick in 2013 with a plus-fastball and plus-curveball is recovered from a flexor mass strain in his right arm that ended his second professional season.

3. Christian Walker, 1B (24) Walker, a fourth-round pick in 2012 out of the University of South Carolina, was named the Orioles’ Minor League Player of the Year.

4. Chance Sisco, C (20) The top catching prospect in the system won the South Atlantic League batting title with a .340 average at Class A Delmarva.

5. Dariel Alvarez, OF (26) Alvarez, the second Cuban player signed by the Orioles, projects as a right fielder with a plus-plus arm. He hit above .300 at Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk last season.

6. Zach Davies, RHP (22) Davies’ stock is really on the rise since the Orioles chose him in the 26th round of the 2011 draft. He may possess the best changeup in the farm system.

7. Tim Berry, LHP (24) Berry slipped to the 50th round of the 2009 draft after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. He posted a 2.53 ERA in his last eight starts at Double-A Bowie.

8. Mike Wright, RHP (25) He’s got a mid-90s fastball and a possible future as a late-inning reliever if there’s no spot in the Orioles’ rotation.

9. Mike Yastrzemski, OF (24) The grandson of Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski played at three levels of the system in 2014, finishing up at Double-A Bowie.

10. Jomar Reyes, INF (18) This is all about upside. Reyes is raw but he’s got impressive tools, including a strong arm and developing power.

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Post date: Monday, March 2, 2015 - 08:30

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