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The NFL Combine is under way, so it’s a good time to take a look at what each team might be looking for in Indianapolis. Keep in mind these could change once teams start adding free agents on March 10, so we’ll revisit this just before the Draft in late April.
Here are the top needs for each NFC team:
First-Round Pick: No. 5
What They Need: The Redskins are in a really nice spot at No. 5 overall. Their biggest need is a pass-rushing defensive end, and there are plenty of those at the top of this draft. It is possible (but unlikely) the three best DEs will be gone; but that will mean one of the top two quarterbacks is still out there, and Washington’s phone will be ringing.
New York Giants
First-Round Pick: No. 9
What They Need: The Giants did not run the ball well (23rd in the NFL) or stop the run (30th in the NFL), which can’t make Tom Coughlin happy. Look for them to address both areas by drafting some big bodies. They may have their choice of the top offensive linemen on the board in Round 1.
First-Round Pick: No. 20
What They Need: All eyes will be on Chip Kelly to see if he will try to trade up and get his old Oregon QB, Marcus Mariota. Unless Mariota starts sliding fast, it would seem too big of a jump to make. Assuming the Eagles stay put, they should be able to get some much-needed secondary help in the first round.
First-Round Pick: No. 27
What They Need: Running back DeMarco Murray and WR Dez Bryant are both free agents, and most are betting on Bryant staying and Murray going. But while a running back will likely be needed, the Cowboys would be wise to look to the defensive side of the ball early on in the draft.
First-Round Pick: No. 7
What They Need: With John Fox taking over as head coach, it’s a safe bet the Bears will look to start filling holes on defense early in the draft. Chicago may be in more dire need of safeties and linebackers, but the value in the top 10 will likely be along the defensive line.
First-Round Pick: No. 11
What They Need: Even if Adrian Peterson does not return, serviceable running backs can be found. The Vikings need help protecting QB Teddy Bridgewater and also need to get him another weapon on the outside. Minnesota seems likely to be looking at offensive tackles and wide receivers early.
First-Round Pick: No. 23
What They Need: Four of the Lions’ top five defensive tackles, including All-Pro DT Ndamukong Suh, are free agents. Bringing Suh back is a priority, but either way the position will be addressed at the draft. Look for the Lions to also grab some offensive line help and possibly a cornerback.
Green Bay Packers
First-Round Pick: No. 30
What They Need: The Packers ranked 23rd against the run in terms of yards allowed and were graded 31st by ProFootballFocus.com, so help at defensive tackle or inside linebacker would be a good place to start. Offensively, Green Bay may look for an upgrade at tight end.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
First-Round Pick: No. 1
What They Need: Everyone has the Bucs pegged to take the quarterback of their choice at the top of the draft; and it sure seems like that is the plan as they cut Josh McCown and are also reportedly shopping Mike Glennon. But if they decide they don’t like the top QBs or someone blows them away with an offer for the top pick, they could use a top pass rusher as well.
First-Round Pick: No. 8
What They Need: The Falcons are desperate for help defending the pass, as they ranked 29th in both pass rush and pass coverage according to ProFootballFocus.com. The best of the best pass rushers will likely be gone before they pick eighth, but a defensive lineman will still be the likely choice.
New Orleans Saints
First-Round Pick: No. 13
What They Need: Many early mock drafts have the Saints targeting a pass rusher early, and that certainly would not hurt. But at some point in the draft, secondary help is needed as well. New Orleans ranked second to last in the NFL in pass coverage according to ProFootballFocus.com.
First-Round Pick: No. 25
What They Need: Cam Newton spent much of the season running for his life thanks to pass protection that was ranked dead last in the NFL by ProFootballFocus.com. Look for Carolina to get some offensive line help early and then possibly try to bolster a pass rush that was middle-of-the-pack in 2014.
St. Louis Rams
First-Round Pick: No. 10
What They Need: The Rams are a candidate to try to move up in Round 1 to get one of the top two quarterbacks, but they have plenty of other holes to fill on offense. Assuming they don’t jump up to get a QB, help along the offensive line is most likely in Round 1.
San Francisco 49ers
First-Round Pick: No. 15
What They Need: Michael Crabtree and Brandon Lloyd are slated to become free agents, and neither Anquan Boldin nor Stevie Johnson is a real threat to stretch the field. So wide receiver could be an early target, as could offensive line, especially if guard Mike Iupati leaves in free agency.
First-Round Pick: No. 24
What They Need: Linebacker might be the first place the Cardinals look, as Larry Foote and John Abraham are both free agents. James Bettcher takes over as defensive coordinator, but the blitz-heavy scheme will remain, so Arizona can always use corners who can cover without help.
First-Round Pick: No. 31
What They Need: If Marshawn Lynch retires or signs elsewhere, running back could be addressed at the draft, but the bigger need would seem to be on the outside. The lack of a true No. 1 wide receiver leaves Russell Wilson running around looking for someone to break open late far too often.
NFL Combine is under way, so it’s a good time to take a look at what each team might be looking for in Indianapolis. Keep in mind these could change once teams start adding free agents on March 10, so we’ll revisit this just before the Draft in late April.
Here are the top needs for each AFC team:
New York Jets
First-Round Pick: No. 6
What They Need: Everyone knows the Jets need a quarterback. It is possible that Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston slips to them at No. 6, or they make a move up to make sure they get one of them. There are plenty of other needs, though, including cornerback and offensive tackle.
First-Round Pick: No. 14
What They Need: Miami’s offensive line graded out among the worst in the league according to ProFootballFocus.com, so that would be a good place to start. But if the top offensive tackles are gone before the Dolphins pick, cornerback or linebacker could be in play in the first round.
First-Round Pick: None (traded to Cleveland in Sammy Watkins deal)
What They Need: If DE Jerry Hughes walks in free agency, Rex Ryan will surely be tempted to look for another pass rusher. Offensive line help is still needed even after the signing of OG Richie Incognito, and of course there is still that little matter of a quarterback unless EJ Manuel makes huge strides.
New England Patriots
First-Round Pick: No. 32
What They Need: With Vince Wilfork and Rob Ninkovich both on the wrong side of 30, another defensive lineman would not hurt. But if the right guy is available at the end of Round 1, New England may want to take another shot at drafting a speed receiver to help Tom Brady stretch the field.
First-Round Picks: No. 12, 19
What They Need: With Josh Gordon suspended again, this time possibly for good, the Browns definitely need a wide receiver. They also need help stopping the run (they were dead last in the NFL last season), so that second first-round pick they have thanks to the Sammy Watkins trade with Buffalo will come in handy.
First-Round Pick: No. 21
What They Need: The Bengals had just 20 sacks in 2014, and ProFootballFocus.com rated their pass rush dead last in the NFL by a wide margin. So it’s safe to say Cincinnati will be looking for some guys who know how to get after the quarterback. Free agency could also create some holes in the secondary.
First-Round Pick: No. 22
What They Need: The Steelers have a new defensive coordinator and holes to fill all over the defense. Both outside linebackers are free agents, as is corner Ike Taylor. And safety Troy Polomalu will turn 34 in April. Look for some new faces to join the Steel Curtain at the draft.
First-Round Pick: No. 26
What They Need: Baltimore could look to get Joe Flacco more weapons early in the draft. Wide receiver Torrey Smith and running back Justin Forsett are both free agents, and WR Steve Smith Sr. has to slow down at some point, right? Defensive back is also a possibility as the Ravens gave up a lot of yards through the air for a team with such a strong pass rush.
First-Round Pick: No. 2
What They Need: The good news is that the Titans need a quarterback and a pass rusher, and there are plenty of both at the top of the draft. If the Titans like both top QBs, they are OK even if Tampa takes one with the first pick. If Tennessee doesn’t like its QB options, the team will get its choice of the top pass rushers. The Titans also could trade the pick to someone who likes the No. 2 QB and still get a top pass rusher.
First-Round Pick: No. 3
What They Need: The Jags’ biggest need is probably right tackle, but third overall is not the place to look to fill that need. They could get some offers for the No. 3 pick if one of the top quarterbacks is still on the board. But if they don’t deal the pick, look for them to take a top pass rusher and address the RT need later.
First-Round Pick: No. 16
What They Need: The Texans need a quarterback but are not in position to take one early. The most likely route will be to look for an offensive tackle to help protect whoever is throwing the passes, but don’t rule out a receiver as Andre Johnson will be 34 years old when training camp begins.
First-Round Pick: No. 29
What They Need: While the Colts allowed just 29 sacks, it would be overstating it to say that Andrew Luck had plenty of time to throw; Indianapolis was ranked 26th in pass protection by ProFootballFocus.com. Their run defense was also exposed by New England in both late-season meetings, so help there could not hurt.
First-Round Pick: No. 4
What They Need: The Raiders appear to have found their quarterback in Derek Carr, leaving them with options for the No. 4 overall pick. Carr needs weapons, and they will almost certainly have their choice of wide receivers (Amari Cooper, anyone?). Oakland could also use a pass rusher to help Khalil Mack.
San Diego Chargers
First-Round Pick: No. 17
What They Need: Both starting corners are slated to become free agents, but early on the Chargers may look to upgrade along the lines. They ranked 30th running the ball and 26th stopping the run, so an interior defensive lineman or offensive lineman would not be a big surprise.
Kansas City Chiefs
First-Round Pick: No. 18
What They Need: It became somewhat of a punchline last season that the Chiefs did not have a single touchdown pass to a wide receiver. Donnie Avery and A.J. Jenkins have both already been released, so it’s no surprise that just about every mock draft out there has K.C. grabbing a new weapon for Alex Smith in the first round. Offensive line help is needed as well.
First-Round Pick: No. 28
What They Need: If the Broncos lose WR Demaryius Thomas and/or TE Julius Thomas to free agency, targeting a weapon for Peyton Manning (assuming he returns) becomes a priority. If the Thomas’ return, look for Denver to get some help up front on offense and defense early in the draft.
Up until 2014, Kevin Harvick’s place in NASCAR lore was simple: “The man who replaced Dale Earnhardt.” Called into service a year ahead of schedule following the sport’s most horrific tragedy, Harvick was owner Richard Childress’ life raft, forever measured against a driver whose skill hooked fans for a generation. Earning a victory in just his third Sprint Cup start at Atlanta in 2001, Harvick helped spur the healing of a NASCAR Nation grieving Earnhardt’s untimely death.
Thirteen years and 27 wins later, Harvick etched his name in the history books again, becoming a worthy Sprint Cup champion in the first year of the new Chase format. In between came controversy and change, as the oft-volatile Harvick moved from Richard Childress Racing, the only home he had ever known, to “restart” with Stewart-Haas Racing. With an opportunity to build from scratch at age 38, Harvick could put the expectations and the burden of being Earnhardt’s successor behind him.
Harvick clearly had fast cars, and from Day 1 at SHR, he found the team’s system to his liking. His No. 4 group won five times, and if not for bad luck could have won twice that much. Harvick was often dominant, leading more than 2,000 laps, and put together a Chase average finish of 8.0. His series-leading eight poles were further proof of the speed that his team was able to coax from its racecars.
Can Harvick go back-to-back in 2015? Yes, absolutely. All the pieces remain in place, and Harvick and his team now have the confidence that they can complete a championship run. Most important of all, a driver who once felt lost once again controls his own destiny.
“My Cup career really started backwards,” he said after capturing the title. “It’s taken a long time to navigate through exactly what was a good mix. I think for me personally, (2014) was huge just in the fact that I’ve been excited to go to work and be a part of building something — getting my life where it had a great balance, whether it be personally, financially, or professionally.”
That sounds like a man with the mental focus to start collecting multiple championships. The irony is that Harvick’s success with the new Chase format showed other teams how it’s done, making a repeat that much harder in Year 2. The No. 4 team wasn’t flawless in the Chase — although it was close — and it’s likely that this year’s champ will have to up his game considerably.
Perhaps the biggest weapon in Harvick’s arsenal is crew chief Rodney Childers. Childers, who came to SHR from Michael Waltrip Racing last year, had an immediate impact. Need proof of Childers’ value to a team? Look at the performance of MWR and the overall dropoff of that organization in 2014. He and Harvick will be a formidable pair with a year’s worth of notes to work from.
Harvick’s value to his sponsors was evident from the moment he moved to the SHR camp. Budweiser and Jimmy John’s left an established, iconic team to stick with Harvick rather than stay on with rookie Austin Dillon. Harvick has solid backing entering the season from companies who have thrived in the sport, understanding what it takes to win.
The equipment, a strong step up from RCR, should be excellent for 2015. Harvick’s cars are Hendrick chassis, prepared by SHR’s own engineering group, paired with library books of information and support. Hendrick also provides the engines, some of the best in the business in terms of both horsepower and durability.
That partnership extends to teammates. In Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch, Harvick also has a pair of former champions in-house who can help him shake down setups. The three worked well together in 2014 despite their reputations for being difficult, and these relationships are only going to improve with time. Harvick also credited Jimmie Johnson out of the Hendrick shop for helping him calm nerves and ascend to the title in crunch time.
Harvick proved he could put together speed and strategy with his championship, but now comes the hard part — defending it. A title run requires a team’s entire focus, avoiding distraction while sustaining the type of effort used for title No. 1.
Fortunately, focus is no longer a problem for Harvick, who is settled and successful in his new digs as he readies to keep his NASCAR reboot in high gear.
Beware of the outlier season Harvick led a total of 2,137 laps in 2014, which represents 32.6 percent of his career total, and ranked first in NASCAR’s average green-flag speed rank. The laws of regression indicate that it’s a safe bet he won’t lead as many laps or be as fast in 2015.
Make him your pick at Phoenix There have been seven races on Phoenix’s current configuration — Harvick has won four of them and finished second in another. It’s tough to argue with that kind of efficiency.
A closer in daylight hours In the 25 races that took place during daytime, Harvick gained 26 positions in the final tenth of races. Conversely, he lost 47 positions in the final tenth of races that took place under nighttime skies. Seems as if Harvick is more often “happy” when he gets to bed on time.
No. 4 Stewart-Hass Racing Chevrolet
Primary Sponsors: Budweiser, Jimmy John’s, Ditech, Outback Steakhouse
Owner: Tony Stewart/Gene Haas
Crew Chief: Rodney Childers
Year With Current Team: 2nd
Under Contract Through: 2016
Best Points Finish: 1st (2014)
Hometown: Bakersfield, Calif.
Born: Dec. 8, 1975
|Years||Starts||Wins||Top 5s||Top 10s||Poles||Titles||Earned|
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
Joey Logano’s been termed the “best thing since sliced bread” for a decade now, but 2014 was the year he finally earned that label. Logano, who had three career wins entering the season, won five times and went all the way to Homestead in the title hunt before fading to fourth after the season’s final race.
The man who was anointed by Mark Martin as the “best driver” of his generation took a big step forward at age 24, the same age at which Jeff Gordon won his first title. Logano, who would have captured the championship under the old Chase format, gained valuable postseason experience while scoring victories in nearly every type of race. He won on short tracks (Richmond, Bristol), on intermediates (Texas, Kansas) and the flat mile at Loudon last year, leading in a career-high 22 of 36 races. He led 993 laps, more than tripling his previous top mark of 323 for a season, and failed to finish on the lead lap just six times. By season’s end, owner Roger Penske had Logano signed to a long-term extension, as the once-disappointing superstar completed his transition from bust to boom.
“It’s been a spectacular year,” Logano said at Homestead. “We had fun with it. Learned a lot, how I can maybe do a few things differently next time I compete for a championship.”
He won’t have to wait long to do that. Logano enters his third year with Team Penske facing higher expectations; he’s set to be one of Sprint Cup’s top title contenders for years to come. Driving the No. 22 Ford with sponsorship from Shell-Pennzoil, AAA and AutoTrader.com, Logano has financial support that extends through 2018. A perfect mix of professionalism and potential, Logano was a good pickup for the team after the departure of Kurt Busch, a driver whose off-track controversies affected his on-track performance. Logano keeps his cool and rarely makes waves, although he’s learned over the years to stand up for himself. While rivals still exist, like Denny Hamlin, Logano has gained respect from most of his competition.
That balance of aggression and hard driving is the hallmark of Logano’s teammate, 2012 champion Brad Keselowski. Keselowski handpicked Logano as his teammate at Team Penske, and his guidance has no doubt led to improved performance. The two are well matched, using similar driving styles, and are committed to an “open book” policy with information. Keselowski’s a bit more controversial than Logano, and that’s part of why it works well; Logano is content to be more mild-mannered, but he’s no lackey, a role he sometimes played at Joe Gibbs Racing. It’s this duo’s chemistry, setting an example from the top down, that keeps Team Penske competitive with rivals twice its size.
Team Penske has become the flagship team for Ford, supplanting Roush Fenway Racing as the manufacturer’s prime championship threat. Penske chassis had great speed in 2014, and the Roush-Yates power under the hood represents some of the best engines in the business. A smaller, streamlined Penske team saw both drivers getting only the best equipment and support. Logano’s crew chief, Todd Gordon, is often overlooked but is a key cog in the team’s engineering and overall success.
So what will it take for Logano to take home his first Cup title in 2015? Perhaps first and foremost, he’ll have to stay one step ahead of his older, more experienced teammate. The new rules package, with reduced horsepower and downforce, will play a role as well; teams that figure it out quickly will earn early victories and a pre-Chase edge. Logano also struggled a bit on the restrictor plate tracks, not scoring a top 10 in four combined starts at Daytona and Talladega. Logano’s career plate race average is 19.8, and while the superspeedways don’t represent a large percentage of tracks, Talladega looms large inside the postseason.
The biggest obstacle Logano faces is the level of competition in the series. With a field of 16, the new Chase format demands near perfection; a single mistake at the wrong time can destroy an entire season in a matter of seconds. It’s a lesson Logano learned last year, when a faulty pit stop at Homestead dropped him to the back of the lead lap and destroyed any chance at the title.
The good news is that every other team in the hunt faces the same formidable competition, and Logano gave them all a run for their money last year. Team Penske was the best organization as a whole last season, and with limited changes, it’s likely it will be so once again in 2015.
The “best thing since sliced bread” is ready to keep slicing through the field.
Short track sweet spot Logano’s 6.2-place average finish at tracks smaller than a mile was his best average by track type in a career season that saw him net five trips to Victory Lane. It makes sense. Logano turned heads while racing as a teenager in lower divisions with his dominance at some of America’s most heralded short tracks.
Dropped positions Logano had a tough time holding onto his stellar running positions last season, considering his team gave up a ton of spots during green-flag pit cycles (a loss of 63 positions) and in the final tenth of races (a 19-position loss).
Unkind Atlanta Save for his second-place finish there in 2013, Logano finished 14th or worse in his seven other starts at Atlanta, averaging a 24.3-place finish. His 14th-place finish there in 2014 was an 8.2-position drop from his 5.8-place average running position.
No. 22 Penske Racing Ford
Primary Sponsors: Shell/Pennzoil, AAA Insurance, Autotrader.com
Owner: Roger Penske
Crew Chief: Todd Gordon
Year With Current Team: 3rd
Under Contract Through: 2018
Best Points Finish: 4th (2014)
Hometown: Middletown, Conn.
Born: May 24, 1990
|Years||Starts||Wins||Top 5s||Top 10s||Poles||Titles||Earned|
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
It appears more clear than ever that Melo played through pain for 40 games this year so he could play in the All-Star game, which was held in his own Madison Square Garden. Anthony wanted to be a gracious host — but now that the duty is over, there’s clearly no reason to keep jeopardizing his health for a 10-43 team that’s bound for the top of the draft lottery.
Playing with a breaking body part and making sure he’s around to represent his city may seem honorable to some, but most doctors would probably choose a different word for it: stupid. While Anthony’s likely to fully heal and come back ready for action on a (hopefully) improved Knicks squad in 2015-16, putting all that unnecessary stress on a compromised knee could have gone very wrong for him.
Enlightened New York fans should be encouraged by this development. With Melo resting, Amar’e Stoudemire’s buyout complete and Andrea Bargnani going off the books this summer, one of the worst epochs in Knicks history seems to be coming to a merciful end. There’ll be a lost more losing this season, but the way has been cleared for Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher to do their work of drafting, developing, and pursuing fresh talent on the market this summer.
If NYK’s new brain trust actually has the know-how and patience to do the long, lurching work of culture-building from the bottom up, now’s the time for that process to begin in earnest. For once, it seems like Melo and the Knicks aren’t selling a dollar of their future for an extra quarter in the present. But we’ll see how long that feeling lasts.
— John Wilmes
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 19:
• Marginally safe for work: the girls of Mardi Gras on Instagram.
• An artist made a dress entirely of game-used Mets baseballs. If it was the Mets, they weren't all that used.
• Cool tribute: The Las Vegas Strip dimmed its lights in honor of Jerry Tarkanian.
• Retired Ram Jeff Zgonina is trying his hand at the dog show thing. The best part: Picturing him prancing around in front of the judges.
• Watch the Ginger Hammer run the 40-yard dash in the NFL office.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
The 2015 NFL Scouting Combine is underway in Indianapolis, as this year’s crop of prospects takes the first step in the job interview process leading up to the draft (April 30-May 2). While opinions on the value of the “Underwear Olympics” are mixed, this year’s participants know fully well what’s at stake at Lucas Oil Stadium. Millions of dollars are on the line for these NFL hopefuls as they go through different drills and tests, including the 40-yard dash, bench press, vertical leap, broad jump, cone drills, Wonderlic and BOD Pod tests.
As it relates to the classroom that is the Combine, here are 10 workout warriors who aced their tests:
1. Bo Jackson, RB, Auburn – 1986
The two-sport tall tale weighed in at a chiseled 6’1”, 230 pounds before running an unofficial hand-timed 4.12 in the 40-yard dash — a jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring effort that is still a part of Combine folklore.
2. Tony Mandarich, OT, Michigan State – 1989
In hindsight, the most impressive thing the “Incredible Bulk” did was pass his steroid drug screening during the Combine. At 304 pounds, Mandarich ran a 4.65 in the 40, exploded for a 30” vertical and 10’3” broad jump, and ripped off 39 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.
3. Vernon Davis, TE, Maryland – 2006
Davis looked like a body builder or, at the very least, an actor from an Under Armour commercial en route to running a 4.38 in the 40, skying for a 42” vertical, 10’8” broad, and slamming 33 reps on the bench press.
4. Mike Mamula, LB, Boston College – 1995
After all these years, Mamula remains the go-to cautionary tale of the Combine. The BC beast vaulted up draft boards after a 4.58 in the 40, 28 reps of 225 pounds on the bench, a 38” vertical and a 49-of-50 on the Wonderlic Test. Mamula never looked as good in pads as he did in shorts.
5. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor – 2012
The fastest quarterback in Combine history, RG3 was a track star on the fast track to NFL and commercial superstardom — with a blistering 4.41 in the 40-yard dash to go along with a dunk contest-worthy 39” vertical.
6. Chris Johnson, RB, East Carolina – 2008
Before he became CJ2K, the gold-grilled CJ4.24 was the gold standard official record-holder in laser-timed 40-yard sprints, posting a 4.24 and hitting the first-round finish line in-stride. CJ has not, however, been able to set up a race against Usain Bolt.
7. Deion Sanders, CB, Florida State – 1989
The ultimate showman (and show-boater), Deion showed up fashionably late (and probably fashionably loud) to the Combine, then ran his 40-yard dash only once — in a time between 4.19 and 4.29, depending on whose hand-timed stop watch you trust. But Prime Time didn’t stop running once he hit the finish line; Sanders ran out of the building to a limousine waiting to take him to the airport.
8. Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech – 2007
With his draft stock holding strong near the top of the class, Johnson planned on kicking back and watching the festivities. But once the fireworks started, Megatron’s competitive juices started flowing and he decided he wanted to run after all. The only problem? He didn’t bring any track shoes. So Johnson borrowed a pair of spikes from East Carolina’s James Pinkney — then proceeded to run a blistering 4.32 in the 40.
9. J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin – 2011
In hindsight, the numbers that Watt put up at the Combine were a window into his dominant Defensive Player of the Year future. At 6’5”, 290 pounds with 11 1/8” hands and 34” arms, Watt ran a 4.84 in the 40, soared for a 37” vertical and 10’ broad jump, and threw up a long-armed 34 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.
10. Vernon Gholston, DE, Ohio State – 2008
One of the main reasons teams remain skeptical of off-the-charts Combine stats, Gholston was the classic “look like Tarzan, play like Jane.” In shorts and a muscle shirt, Gholston ran a 4.67 in the 40, had 37 reps on the bench and lifted off for a 35.5” vertical and 10.5” broad jump.
For several years, the Big Ten has had a roster of basketball coaches that could rival only the ACC.
Now, the league is working to make sure its roster of football coaches rivals only the SEC.
Names like Tom Izzo, Bo Ryan, John Beilein and Thad Matta are on the top of anyone’s list of college basketball coaches. Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh would be the same among college football coaches.
Those additions on the football side — plus Penn State’s James Franklin — give the Big Ten one of the most interesting rosters of coaching tandems in the country.
The goal of our coach tandem rankings is to look at each football and basketball duo as a pair. In general, we’re looking at the duos most likely to keep each school’s fans happy and entertained from the start of football season through the end of basketball season.
1. Ohio State
Football: Urban Meyer | Basketball: Thad Matta
Meyer and Alabama’s Nick Saban are the Nos. 1A and 1B of college football coaching with good reason. After Ohio State’s improbable run to the 2014 national championship, Meyer and Saban are the only coaches to win national titles at two different schools. Meyer is 38-3 with the Buckeyes and has six AP top five finishes at Utah, Florida and Ohio State. Matta has one of the most underrated careers in college basketball, partly because he’s never won a national title and partly because of his low-key personality. Remember, when Matta took over at Ohio State, the Buckeyes were emerging from NCAA sanctions. Since then, Ohio State has won 30 games three times and reached the Final Four twice. In 15 seasons as a head coach, he’s won at least a share of eight regular season conference titles.
2. Michigan State
Football: Mark Dantonio | Basketball: Tom Izzo
This duo rarely makes a big splash with major recruits, but Dantonio and Izzo both excel at developing upperclassmen capable of winning in the Big Ten and the postseason. Dantonio has elevated Michigan State football to one of the powers in the Big Ten. He’s led Michigan State to four seasons of 11 wins or more in the last five and back-to-back top-five finishes, something that hasn’t happened in East Lansing since 1965-66. Izzo is in interesting territory. He is enduring his longest Final Four drought (five seasons, boo hoo) and his team is in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1997. The track record, though, is elite: Izzo has six career Final Fours and a national title.
Football: Jim Harbaugh | Basketball: John Beilein
Give credit to both of these coaches for not taking the easy route: Harbaugh’s first head coaching job was at San Diego of the non-scholarship Pioneer League; Beilein’s was at Erie Community College. All Michigan is asking of its new hire Harbaugh is to do what Beilein has done — return a program to national contention. In basketball, the Wolverines reached the Final Four in 2013 and the Elite Eight in 2014. Harbaugh would seem to be up to the task at his alma mater. He built Stanford into a Pac-12 contender and took the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl.
Football: Paul Chryst | Basketball: Bo Ryan
Ryan was already one of the best coaches in the country when he led Wisconsin to top-four finishes in the Big Ten every year since 2002. Now, he’s looking to take the Badgers to back-to-back Final Fours. And he’s done all of that without a ton of major recruits on his roster. Wisconsin football has had an unbroken record of success under Barry Alvarez, Bret Bielema and Gary Andersen. Chryst, a former Badgers player and offensive coordinator, knows the territory. His record at Pittsburgh — 19-19 overall, 10-13 in the ACC — was nothing special, but he took over program with a tumultuous coaching situation.
5. Penn State
Football: James Franklin | Basketball: Patrick Chambers
Penn State is nearing full strength after severe NCAA sanctions, and it has the right coach to lead the program back to national prominence. Franklin is the only coach in Vanderbilt history with back-to-back nine-win seasons and three bowl appearances. In his first season at Penn State, he capitalized on the Nittany Lions’ first post-Paterno bowl bid with a win over Boston College. There’s only so much Chambers can do with Penn State basketball, so flirting with a winning record in consecutive seasons has to be taken in context.
Football: Mike Riley | Basketball: Tim Miles
Riley’s move to Nebraska was one of the most puzzling of the offseason on two fronts — first that Riley would leave Oregon State after 12 years of resisting overtures to go elsewhere and second because Nebraska would hire a coach who averaged fewer than six wins in his last five seasons. But he can unearth and develop recruits, which is what Nebraska might need. In basketball, the momentum has stalled in Miles’ third season in Lincoln, but two NCAA appearances in four years at places like Colorado State and Nebraska is no small feat.
Football: Jerry Kill | Basketball: Richard Pitino
Opposing coaches will tell you how good a coach Kill is — his teams are routinely one of the toughest to play in the Big Ten. Top 25 finishes and major bowl games aren’t plentiful at Minnesota no matter the coach, but Kill has led the Gophers to back-to-back eight-win seasons for the first time since 2002-03. The 32-year-old Pitino is one of the names to watch in the sport, and not just because of his bloodlines. He his first season at Minnesota, he led the Gophers to an NIT championship, and in his only season at FIU, he led the Golden Panthers to their best season in 17 years.
Football: Randy Edsall | Basketball: Mark Turgeon
Maybe Big Ten affiliation will be good for Maryland in ways beyond finances. Turgeon should get to double-digit conference wins for the first time during his tenure at Maryland, and Edsall presided over wins over (weakened) Iowa, Penn State and Michigan squads in his Big Ten debut. Progress is good, but there’s still a lot of work for both coaches. Football hasn’t won eight games or won a bowl game since 2010 and basketball hasn’t reached the Sweet 16 since 2003. Edsall and Turgeon are on the clock.
Football: Pat Fitzgerald | Basketball: Chris Collins
Two years ago, it would be tough to find a hotter name in coaching that Fitzgerald. In 2012, he had led the Wildcats to a 10-win season and five consecutive bowl appearances. He’s 5-7 in each of his two seasons since. Some hard-luck injuries have been a factor, but either way, the momentum in Evanston has stalled. Hopes are high that Collins, a former Duke assistant, will be the one who turns things around for Northwestern hoops, but it’s a long climb.
Football: Kirk Ferentz | Basketball: Fran McCaffery
Neither coach will win a popularity contest. Ferentz is 34-30 in his last five seasons and struggling to live up to the standard he set with three top-10 finishes from 2002-04. McCaffery is prickly with the media and combustable on the bench, but his team ended an eight-year NCAA Tournament drought last season.
Football: Darrell Hazell | Basketball: Matt Painter
After two losing seasons, Painter is leading Purdue to its best season since Robbie Hummel left. During one stretch, Painter led the Boilermakers to six consecutive NCAA appearances, including two Sweet 16s. Hazell is 4-20 in two seasons with the football program.
Football: Kevin Wilson | Basketball: Tom Crean
Give Indiana credit for featuring two coaches who put up a ton of points but can’t seem to stop anyone from scoring. Crean pulled Indiana out of the depths of NCAA sanctions stemming from the Kelvin Sampson era, but what has it done for the Hoosiers in terms of sustainability? Indiana won 29 games and spent much of the season ranked No. 1 in 2012-13 — yet it yielded a Sweet 16 at the end of that season and a 17-win campaign the next. Indiana football is as good as any Big Ten team on offense — yet hasn’t reached a bowl game in four seasons under Wilson.
Football: Tim Beckman | Basketball: John Groce
Give Groce credit for making the most of this season despite some bad luck. He missed on some key recruits and had players miss stretches due to injury. But Illinois could reach the NCAA Tournament this year or should at least win 20 games for the third time under Groce. Beckman has led a two-game improvement at Illinois every season as head coach.
Football: Kyle Flood | Basketball: Eddie Jordan
Three consecutive bowl games at Rutgers is still a notable feat, and Flood has done it in his first three seasons. Rutgers basketball is destined for 10 or more conference losses, no matter the conference or the coach.
The Charlotte Hornets almost stole Hayward away in restricted free agency this past summer. If they had, they’d be a much better team. But the Utah Jazz smartly matched Michael Jordan’s four-year offer, worth over $60 million, and now Gordon’s the centerpiece of a budding new NBA culture in Salt Lake City. Averaging 19.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists as his team’s go-to option, Hayward does more than a little bit of everything. When the Jazz mature around the 24-year-old, they’ll be a scary, climbing force in the future of the Western Conference.
5. Andre Iguodala
Also known as arguably the best NBA player who doesn’t start, Iguodala is the most versatile defender and floor-runner on basketball’s best team, the Golden State Warriors. His selfless attitude doesn’t hurt, either; Andre’s given up a starting spot under head coach Steve Kerr so that Harrison Barnes could get his swagger back, and his acceptance of the move has made the Warriors a far more fearsome team overall. More important than anything, though, is that Andre will be the man who’s called upon to try to contain Kevin Durant in the seemingly inevitable playoff matchup between GSW and the Oklahoma City Thunder. There could hardly be a better man for the job.
4. Carmelo Anthony
Melo’s busted knee on a busted New York Knicks team shouldn’t take away from what we know to be reality: Anthony is one of the greatest scorers the game has ever seen. A creative, confident, efficient shooter who’s an offense unto himself, Carmelo has made Eastern Conference defenses sweat since he came to Manhattan. It’s a sad sight seeing his talent wasted through NYK’s sorry rebuilding years, but we’ll always have plenty of memories of his transcendent moments. And with any luck, his healed knee and and a hopefully refurbished Knicks roster can bring Anthony’s brilliance back to the limelight next season.
3. Kawhi Leonard
Last year’s NBA Finals MVP is as great as he is quiet, and he’s very quiet. A lengthy, relentless two-way player who was forged in early fires—he was already fighting for championship appearances with the San Antonio Spurs as a 20-year-old—Leonard is the purest product of the league’s best franchise since they got Tim Duncan into their hands in 1997. Kawhi is the future of the most impressive culture the league has likely ever seen, and his scary, mean intensity seems like an appropriate spearhead for years and years of more Spurs dominance; last June, he even ran LeBron James ragged. Leonard’s future is even brighter than his present, which is a big, blinding light.
2. Kevin Durant
Durant’s in the news, these days, for a somewhat shocking new turn in personality. But in the weeks to come, we’ll probably shut up about that talk, as KD’s play comes to be the main event yet again. The leader of a Thunder team who have some work to do, a pissed-off version of last year’s MVP is a frightening prospect for the rest of the sport. No player creates more problems for defenses — the word “unguardable” is not hyperbole when we’re discussing this man. Whatever you may think of his testy behavior of late, anyone who doubts Durant is doing so at their own peril; the rest of us will sit back and enjoy the show.
1. LeBron James
The NBA’s best small forward is also its best player. And, to be sure, his positional designation is merely something of a formality — close followers of the sport know that James plays his own, singular role for his Cleveland Cavaliers. “The LeBron position” is something like a point forward. In other words: The King does it all. He runs the offense, makes big shots, finds open men as well as anyone in the league, and guards the other team’s best player in crunch time. And if he keeps up his scintillating play of the last month down the stretch, he’ll be looking at his fifth MVP trophy.
— John Wilmes
The driver known to legions of race fans simply as “Junior” turned 40 in 2014, but Earnhardt appeared rejuvenated. With four victories, he doubled his total with Hendrick Motorsports and completed his best season across the board in a decade. Earnhardt drew first blood in the new “win and you’re in” Chase format, capturing the Daytona 500, and he crossed an item off his personal bucket list when he won the fall race at Martinsville.
Earnhardt had extra incentive to win races and contend for his first Cup title. Early in 2014, crew chief Steve Letarte announced that he’d be stepping down at season’s end to pursue a career in television. Earnhardt, who credits Letarte with salvaging his Cup career, wanted his longtime partner to go out on a high note.
It was a run of bad luck in the Chase that kept the third-generation driver from holding the big trophy, part of a shocking Chase in which all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers — winners of 13 of 36 races in 2014 — failed to make the Final Four at Homestead.
Following those results, the organization hopes a new personnel mix will change its luck in 2015. Of course, there will be a new voice in Earnhardt’s head, as Greg Ives steps in for Letarte. Ives, who guided Chase Elliott to the 2014 Nationwide Series title, was the engineer on Jimmie Johnson’s team before teaming with Elliott. He’s a product of the Hendrick system and should fit well with Earnhardt, who excels with a crew chief who keeps him focused on the big picture. Ives, who shadowed Letarte for the better half of 2014, is already well integrated with Earnhardt, a driver who needs time to build confidence in this type of relationship. While Ives is not as much of a cheerleader on top of the box, the hope is that Earnhardt has matured enough in the past few years that he no longer will need his crew chief to motivate him.
Earnhardt is a good fit in the Hendrick Motorsports stable. He and Jimmie Johnson work well together, and the two like a similar feel in their cars. Hendrick gives them the best equipment money can buy in both chassis and engines. The pit crew, typically strong, will be the only piece of the puzzle that’s a bit untested. Three of Earnhardt’s over-the-wall members, along with car chief Jason Burdett, have moved on post-Letarte.
Earnhardt will have new backing this year from Nationwide Insurance, which joins his team for 21 races, replacing the National Guard. Diet Mountain Dew and AMP Energy drink return as well, although the organization is still looking for additional backing. The struggle to fund Earnhardt, a perennial choice by fans as the series’ Most Popular Driver, is puzzling at best, concerning for NASCAR at worst.
Here’s the key number for Earnhardt: zero, the number of victories he’s earned for each season he debuts with a new crew chief. Earnhardt should make the Chase, however he likely won’t start jelling perfectly with this new pairing until 2016.
Taking advantage Earnhardt benefited from Hendrick horsepower in his sweep of the Pocono races and up-front runs at Michigan and Indianapolis in 2014. If it appears that his Hendrick team has its usual advantage in the motor department, he’ll be a favorite during the summer portion of the schedule.
Daytona stealth His Daytona 500 win was atypical because he led 54 laps en route to the win. It was the only race in his last six Daytona attempts that he led a single lap. His 14th-place finish after averaging a 26.2-place running position in the July race was more like the current iteration of Earnhardt at DIS.
Strong closer The ends of races tend to work in Earnhardt’s favor. The diligent closer gained 1.9 and 1.1 positions in the final tenth of races in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Primary Sponsors: Nationwide Insurance, Diet Mountain Dew/AMP Energy, Kelley Blue Book
Owner: Rick Hendrick
Crew Chief: Greg Ives
Year With Current Team: 8th
Under Contract Through: 2017
Best Points Finish: 3rd (2003)
Hometown: Kannapolis, N.C.
Born: Oct. 10, 1974
|Years||Starts||Wins||Top 5s||Top 10s||Poles||Titles||Earned|
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
Jeff Gordon’s season was lost in a matter of moments — but boy, what a season it was. His four wins were the most he had posted in a single year since his dominant 2007 campaign, and his 10.4 average finish was the best among all drivers in 2014. Gordon, who turned 43 years old in August, looked more like the driver of his youth than he has in nearly a decade.
It was a cut tire at Texas that cost Gordon his championship chance, as he rubbed fenders while fighting for the lead. But what made Gordon a contender in the first place was that he was a threat to win almost anywhere. From short tracks to road courses to superspeedways, the No. 24 team was fighting for victories virtually every time they dropped the green. That versatility has been a hallmark of Gordon’s career; he doesn’t have a weakness in terms of racetracks. He has wins on every track he’s visited as a Sprint Cup driver with the lone exception of Kentucky Speedway, which was only added to the schedule four seasons ago.
Throughout his career, Gordon has enjoyed remarkable stability, and nothing has changed for the four-time champion entering 2015. Gordon has driven his entire career for Hendrick Motorsports, an organization with more than 200 Cup wins and 11 championships; it had 31 and 0, respectively, when he joined the fold for 1993.
Gordon announced in late January that 2015 would be his last season as a full-time driver behind the wheel of the No. 24 car for Hendrick Motorsports. With this the final 36-race season for Gordon, there's plenty of added pressure for this team to send the Indiana native out as a champion. Chase Elliott will replace Gordon next season as a full-time driver for Hendrick Motorsports.
Gordon’s equipment remains a step ahead of the competition with the cash to stay there. Gordon finished every race in 2014, a testament to the durability of his No. 24 cars. Hendrick horsepower is some of the best in the business, and it’s likely that new rules changes will play to the strengths of this organization. Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, is typically the best at finding solutions, and that information will filter down to the Hendrick shops.
One area that won’t be a problem is financial backing. Axalta Coating Systems, primary sponsor for 10 races this year, bought out DuPont’s automotive paint division a few years ago. DuPont was Gordon’s first Sprint Cup sponsor, now on the car for 20-plus years. Few drivers have enjoyed that kind of loyalty from a backer. Also returning are AARP’s Drive to End Hunger (13 races), Pepsi (two races), and Panasonic (two races). Rounding out the sponsorship will be 3M, on board for 11 events.
Gordon’s team remains intact with crew chief Alan Gustafson calling the shots. Gordon’s pit crew was strong in 2014, and Gustafson knows how to come to the track prepared. In-race, the two work well together; Gustafson is more of a technical guy than a coach, and that fits Gordon, who doesn’t need a cheerleader but rather a crew chief who can take feedback and turn it into performance.
If there’s a question mark for 2015, it’s Gordon’s health. The driver has been plagued by back problems for years, and while he’s driven through them, there have been times when he hasn’t looked like the aggressive, skilled driver who has racked up more than 90 career wins.
Another roadblock for Gordon has been the Chase system, which he has never been able to master. Without these changes to the postseason format, it’s widely speculated that Gordon would have seven Cup titles in hand; he earned the most points under a season-long format in 2004, ’07, and ’14. There are other variables there, but the fact remains that the titles have eluded Gordon under NASCAR’s playoff system. Some might say he’s not aggressive enough; even after Texas, Gordon could have advanced to the Final Four at Phoenix, but he failed to rough up Kevin Harvick down the stretch.
Whether or not he wins another championship, Gordon has earned his place as the best of his era. He’ll be worth watching this year for another reason, too. Sitting eight victories shy of 100 career Cup wins, he’d be the first to hit the century mark entirely inside the sport’s modern era. He won’t likely get there this season, but as he approaches triple digits, expect the old fire to ignite. The chances for title No. 5 are running out for Gordon, who knows he can’t let another season like 2014 just slip away.
The planets aligned Gordon averaged a single-digit running position in 25 of 36 races in 2014, up from 15 in 2013. His focus on winning the title and a rules change that catered to drivers with a preference for tight-handling cars played into Gordon’s favor last year. It’s no guarantee that everything will just fall into place for him again this season.
Hendrick horsepower The summer stretch of the schedule caters to powerful engines, and Gordon benefited from having Hendrick power plants last year, winning at 2.5-mile Indianapolis and two-mile Michigan. He’s a good bet to shine again at these facilities. He averaged a 5.8-place finish at non-restrictor plate tracks two miles or longer.
Plate track problems His worst track type is the restrictor plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega. He averaged a finish of 20.3 in the point-paying races there last year.
No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Primary Sponsors: AARP/Drive To End Hunger, 3M, Axalta, PepsiMax, Panasonic
Owner: Rick Hendrick
Crew Chief: Alan Gustafson
Year With Current Team: 23rd
Under Contract Through: Lifetime
Best Points Finish: 1st (Four Times)
Hometown: Pittsboro, Ind.
Born: Aug. 4, 1971
|Years||Starts||Wins||Top 5s||Top 10s||Poles||Titles||Earned|
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
Teams have started to report to spring training in Florida and Arizona, which means the 2015 MLB season has officially begun. Opening Day is still six weeks away, but here are 15 storylines to whet your appetite between now and then.
1. He’s the Manfred
Baseball hasn’t started a season with a new commissioner since 1993, the spring after Bud Selig took over for the ousted Fay Vincent. Massive changes followed in the next few years: realignment, a strike that wiped out a World Series, wild cards, interleague play and expansion, all while the steroid issue bubbled to the surface. Selig stepped down in January, and his successor, Rob Manfred, seems less inclined to implement radical change to a game that is booming financially. Then again, Manfred has been coy about his plans. After owners elected him as commissioner-elect last August, Manfred would not identify any priorities: “I think probably the single biggest challenge is filling the shoes of the gentleman standing to my right,” he said, referring to Selig. “He’s established a great tradition of unity among the 30 clubs, and I’m going to work very hard to try to maintain that.” In a way, Manfred is right. For all of Selig’s obvious successes, his greatest skills were political, steering a group of owners with competing interests to a common cause while ending with 20 years of labor peace. But fans want to see more than maintenance, and Manfred will need to find ways to speed up a game that is getting ever slower; revive flagging national TV viewership (although local viewership is strong); make the amateur game safer for pitchers and more accessible to low-income athletes; resolve the stadium situations in Oakland and Tampa Bay; negotiate a new collective-bargaining agreement in 2016; and so on. He inherits a healthier industry than Selig did, but the agenda is already full.
2. Miami Millions
The Miami Marlins’ megacontract for Giancarlo Stanton (13 years, $325 million) was not even official before folks began wondering how long Stanton would actually stay. Such is the skepticism around the Marlins, who have a history of aggressive spending and equally aggressive dismantling. It’s also a fair question because of Stanton’s opt-out clause after 2020. For now, though, the money will catapult Stanton to a new level of stardom and celebrity, and it will be interesting to see the kind of image he cultivates with that platform. Far more compelling, though, is that vicious Stanton swing, the kind that launches majestic drives over any outfield wall and connects at a higher rate than just about any other slugger. He’s an edge-of-your-seat performer in person, and if you’ve got tickets to a Marlins game, be sure to get there for his batting practice. You won’t regret it.
3. Dodgers Brainpower
The Dodgers have proven at least two things since their new owners took over during the 2012 season: They know how to win the National League West, and, boy, can they write checks. They’d like to continue doing the first without doing as much of the second. To that end, they hired two maestros of small-market success — Andrew Friedman, the former general manager of the Rays, and Farhan Zaidi, the assistant to Billy Beane in Oakland. Friedman is the president of baseball operations, Zaidi is the GM, and Josh Byrnes, the former San Diego general manager, is also on board as “senior vice president of baseball operations.” That’s a big group of smart, innovative thinkers with years of experience handling small payrolls. Now that they have much more money, will they stay as disciplined in seeking and exploiting market inefficiencies? What kind of edge will the team gain from their knowledge of statistics? And will Don Mattingly, a manager they did not hire, be on board? As a concept, this sounds promising. But the Dodgers, despite October letdowns, are starting from a high point. So the pressure’s on for the new front office to win big — right away.
4. (More) Cuban Imports
Jose Abreu became the latest, and most successful, Cuban defector to hit the majors last season, winning the Rookie of the Year award for the White Sox while leading the majors in slugging. His example helped Rusney Castillo get a $72.5 million contract from the Red Sox in August, and Yasmany Tomas land a $68.5 million pact from the Diamondbacks in December. The secret is out: Cuban sluggers like Abreu, Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig are a safe buy, and Castillo and Tomas will try to become the latest. Castillo played for the Red Sox in September and, like Tomas, profiles as a slugger with speed who can cover ground in the outfield. But teams and fans won’t really know until we see them more consistently. The contracts are largely based on faith, with teams having few opportunities to see these players in high-level competition before signing them. Someday, one will be a bust. But the air of mystery surrounding them and the possibility of Abreu-like success make Castillo and Tomas especially intriguing to watch.
5. How the Astros Handle the Draft
For the first time since 2011, the Houston Astros will not be picking first in the June draft. The Diamondbacks will choose first, but the Astros will be right behind them, as compensation for failing to sign No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken, a high school pitcher, last summer. The Astros will also pick fifth overall, giving them two of the top five selections and a chance at an unprecedented haul of top-end amateur talent. The Astros have passed on Byron Buxton and Kris Bryant at the top of recent drafts — taking Carlos Correa and Mark Appel instead — so their choices will be intriguing no matter what. But this year, they will bear even closer scrutiny by the union, which was furious last summer after the Astros backed out of an agreement with their fifth-round pick, pitcher Jacob Nix, whose bonus amount was tied to Aiken’s. The Astros will have a bountiful pool of bonus money to use on their picks, and the way they allot it will be just as fascinating as the players they select.
Related: A Look Back at the 2005 MLB Draft
6. Will the Mets Pass the Yankees?
The Mets and the Yankees awoke last Sept. 10 to a strange reality — both teams were exactly five and a half games out of a playoff spot. The story was a source of amusement in New York, another way to make fun of the Mets (do you believe the Yankees are this bad?), and by the end of the year the teams were in their regular roles: the Yankees with a winning record, the Mets a losing record. But neither team made the playoffs, and while the Yankees struggle to break free of their over-the-hill character, the Mets may finally have found the right mix of veterans and prime-age, ascending talent to go with their core of emerging pitchers. The Mets have a streak of six losing seasons in a row (tied with Houston for the majors’ longest), and the Yankees haven’t had a losing season since 1992, so this might be a longshot. But it would be foolish to bet on the Yankees’ older, declining hitters suddenly rediscovering the best versions of themselves, and the Mets can dream on catcher Travis d’Arnaud, first baseman Lucas Duda and Gold Glove center fielder Juan Lagares. Veteran outfielder Michael Cuddyer — David Wright’s childhood friend from Virginia — offers nice value for two years and $21 million, and a rotation led by Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Jacob deGrom, with top prospect Noah Syndergaard nearly ready, could be a legitimate force. The results still have to show it, but for real baseball optimism in New York, Citi Field is now the place to be.
7. Montreal Momentum?
For the second year in a row, baseball will hold two exhibition games in Montreal at the end of spring training, this time with games between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Cincinnati Reds. Last year’s games, between the Blue Jays and the Mets, drew more than 96,000 fans and fueled hope that MLB could return to the city that hosted the Expos from 1969-2004. “I think they would be an excellent candidate in the future,” Bud Selig said in July, at his final All-Star game as commissioner. “No question about it.” Of course, there is one overriding question — how will the city build and finance a viable alternative to decrepit Olympic Stadium, where the Expos failed to draw 1 million fans in their final seven seasons? Until that question can be answered, it’s still a fantasy. But the Tampa Bay Rays are suffering from chronically poor attendance, an outmoded stadium and an exodus of talent from the clubhouse and the field. The Rays maintain they have not discussed relocation, but as long as baseball stays at 30 teams, the failure of the Tampa Bay franchise seems like the best hope for Montreal. Former Expos outfielder Warren Cromartie has been arranging a local coalition of politicians and businessmen looking for an opportunity to bring a team back. Again, a lot must take place for this to happen, but the trend lines could be pointing Montreal’s way.
8. Back in Action
Though the incidence of the injury mercifully slowed as the summer went along, the torn ulnar collateral ligament was the story of the early 2014 season, claiming Jose Fernandez (left), Matt Moore (right), Jarrod Parker, Kris Medlen, Patrick Corbin, Brandon Beachy, Bronson Arroyo, A.J. Griffin, Ivan Nova, Bruce Rondon and Luke Hochevar. All of them needed Tommy John surgery, like the Mets’ Matt Harvey, who spent the season recovering from his Oct. 2013 procedure. Harvey should be ready to go at the start of spring training, and the others should come along soon after. Major League Baseball formed a task force and a website in November to address the issue, aimed largely at keeping amateur elbows healthy. The results of those efforts, which include formal, coordinated recommendations and several research projects, will take years to see. For now, we are eager for the return of the missing pitchers, especially Harvey and Fernandez, two of the more dynamic young righthanders in the game. This could be a transition year for both, but at least they will be back on the mound, hopefully working back to the form that offered such promise.
9. Free Agent Pitchers
It’s impossible to predict who will be traded during the season, but a useful place to start is by looking at the upcoming free agent class. And next winter, barring contract extensions, it will be loaded with starting pitchers, including David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Cliff Lee, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, Hisashi Iwakuma, Rick Porcello, Yovani Gallardo, Scott Kazmir and Mat Latos. That’s more than two rotations’ worth of high-quality starters. Some of them may sign new deals before free agency, some may stay with their teams through the end of the season, and some may be traded. All will bear watching to see how their stock changes before their status does, but expect to hear a lot about Cueto, especially. Cueto, the Reds ace who finished as the runner-up for the NL Cy Young, will need a deal larger than that of teammate Homer Bailey, who somehow scored a six-year, $105 million contract before last season. Can the small-market Reds, who also have Joey Votto on an exorbitant contract, really afford another mega-deal? Likewise, while the White Sox acted boldly to trade for Samardzija, who grew up a fan of the team, they’ve never given out a $100 million contract. If Samardzija pitches well and the White Sox struggle, they might have to consider flipping him to a contender. And if Lee proves that his elbow is healthy, the clearly rebuilding Phillies will be eager to move him — though the structure of Lee’s deal (with a $12.5 million buyout for 2016, if a $27.5 million option does not vest) will limit the return they can get.
10. Pedro Martinez’s Hall of Fame Speech
When the mood struck Pedro Martinez, the great righthander could be just as entertaining behind a microphone as he was on the pitcher’s mound. He could wax nostalgic, reminiscing about his boyhood under the mango trees in the Dominican Republic. He could turn feisty, challenging Babe Ruth to rise from the grave and grab a bat. He could be creatively conciliatory, calling the Yankees his daddy after another rough game. Martinez showed the depth of his insights on the modern game during TBS’ postseason coverage, and he has always had a deep respect for baseball history. As a new inductee to the Hall of Fame, Martinez will bring his best stuff to Cooperstown for his induction ceremony in late July. Expect richly detailed memories, unfiltered opinion, fanciful wordplay and a whole lot of emotion.
11. Broken Hearts in the Desert?
Tony La Russa used most of last season to survey what he had with the Arizona Diamondbacks, who hired the Hall of Famer to oversee their baseball operations after a disastrous start. En route to an MLB-worst 98 losses, La Russa decided to replace general manager Kevin Towers with the ace of his old Oakland teams, Dave Stewart. A rookie manager, Chip Hale, takes over for Kirk Gibson. Now the Diamondbacks have to get real. One of Stewart’s first moves was to trade prospects for Jeremy Hellickson, the former Rookie of the Year for the Rays, who has a 5.00 ERA the last two seasons. La Russa’s former pitching coach, Dave Duncan, works for him in Arizona and turned around Stewart’s career in the mid-1980s. Perhaps he can work his magic on Hellickson and other Diamondbacks, because without some unforeseen surge, it’s hard to picture this team as a contender for 2015. Arizona’s 4.26 staff ERA ranked 14th in the NL, and the offense has little to fear besides Paul Goldschmidt, Cuban free agent Yasmany Tomas (if he’s as good as advertised) and the big-power, on-base-challenged Mark Trumbo. But La Russa and his staff are dedicated to quickly reviving the Diamondbacks. As he told Arizona reporters in November: “I will be absolutely brokenhearted if we don’t have a winning record next year, which is 82–80. … I think the message that we’re careful to send to our fans is that we are not a patient bunch.” La Russa knows more baseball than just about anyone alive, but quick fixes rarely seem to work.
12. Royal Revolution, or just a KC Thing?
The Royals insist they were not trying to reinvent the game with their style of play while winning the American League pennant last season. General manager Dayton Moore’s disciplined, single-minded mission to acquire athletic players with speed who excelled on defense was born of necessity. Kauffman Stadium’s outfield has the most square footage of any park in the majors, and the Royals need fielders who can cover it. They also need runners who can take extra bases when balls go in those gaps — and speed, of course, helps on defense and never goes into a slump. Such players are more cost-effective than power hitters, anyway, and they generally offer the added benefit of contact hitting. This is a lost art in baseball, but the Royals do it well, and it drove opponents crazy in the postseason. Kansas City hitters had the majors’ fewest strikeouts in an era when strikeouts rise across baseball every year. Will other teams take notice of the Royals’ success — their lack of empty at-bats — and preach contact? Or will the industry keep desperately pursuing home runs in an era of declining power? Moore isn’t sure. “You can only understand from your own perspective and what you have to do for your team,” he said. “It’s hard to say what someone else should do or how they should build their team. For us, it’s just the way we all set out to do it.”
13. The Crowds in Cleveland
On a pillar in the second deck in Cleveland, above right field, is the number 455 and the words, THE FANS. The Indians “retired” that number in 2001 to recognize the 455-game sellout streak that accompanied the team’s recent glory years. It took a unique set of circumstances for that streak to happen — a new downtown ballpark, the departure of the Browns, a boring Cavaliers team and, of course, a winning product on the field. Now, the ballpark is familiar, the Browns are back and the Cavaliers are exciting. But the Indians are winning again — and the fans don’t seem to notice. Only the Rays and the Indians drew average crowds under 20,000 last season. The Indians have been hurt by the changing economy in Cleveland — 20 years ago, there were 100,000 more people who worked downtown — and have embarked on a two-year renovation plan that will eliminate 7,000 seats at Progressive Field, which remains a wonderful place to watch a ballgame. Terry Francona’s team has two of baseball’s best players in outfielder Michael Brantley and AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, who leads an intriguing rotation. The Indians have raised their payroll in recent seasons, won a wild card in 2013 and came close in 2014. If they contend for a third year in a row, will the fans respond? And if not, what more can the team do to entice them?
14. Bryce Harper
Baseball got a seven-game World Series to close out the postseason, and in the process found an October icon in Madison Bumgarner of the Giants. But the championship series and World Series were largely devoid of young, marketable superstars with potential to resonate beyond the baseball world. This was not the fault of Bryce Harper, the 22-year-old Washington Nationals outfielder, who seemed poised to break out in a big way. Harper crunched three home runs in the division series against the Giants, showing off the kind of monstrous power that can captivate the casual fan. The Nationals are strong but have not escaped the first round in two trips to the postseason. Likewise, Harper is enormously talented but has not escaped the injury bug in his young career. His high-energy (some would say reckless) style has led to injuries in the field and on the bases, and Harper has no plans to change. In short, he’s the perfect player to dream on: He’s offered us a taste of what he can do, while leaving us eager to see more. And if Harper can lead a Washington team to a World Series title for the first time in 90 years? Then we’ve got a legend in the making.
15. Padres Cycle or No-Hitter
This is one of those baseball oddities that defies explanation. How could a franchise exist for 46 seasons and not once, in more than 7,000 games, have a player hit for the cycle or a pitcher throw a no-hitter? It’s happened to the San Diego Padres. Of course, the Padres have not been big winners, with two pennants and no championships in all that time. But they’ve had their share of stars, too, and simply by showing up for all those games, you would think at least one of those feats would have happened. The Padres have had close calls, including a near-cycle last year by Tommy Medica, who missed by a single in May. For the record, there have been 120 no-hitters and 140 cycles since the start of the 1969 season — and because of the lightning-bolt nature of those events, few, if anyone, predicted they would happen before those games began. But just for fun, we’ll keep an eye on Andrew Cashner, the big righthander with overpowering stuff. Cashner struggles to stay healthy; he’s 28 years old but has never made more than 26 starts in a season. Yet he pitched one-hit and two-hit shutouts last year, and once faced the minimum 27 batters in a one-hitter. When he’s on, he’s always got a chance to make history.
— Written by Tyler Kepner for Athlon Sports
This season, it’s championship or bust for Carl Edwards.
That NASCAR’s most natural pitchman has lofty expectations in plain view for 2015 isn’t much of a surprise. Optimism and external motivation are hallmarks of Edwards’ personality.
But it is interesting to hear the two-time Chase runner-up talk so candidly about his expectations in 2015 after an offseason of such significant change. Edwards, 35, will drive the No. 19 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing this season after a decade of driving Fords for Roush Fenway Racing in the Sprint Cup Series.
It’s a big move, no doubt, but to Edwards, it’s one that had to happen. The theory is that a new environment, after years of stagnation, gives the driver an automatic boost.
“Matt Kenseth’s move, Kevin (Harvick)’s move, Joey (Logano)’s move — when I talked to (Roush Fenway Racing President) Steve Newman and Jack Roush about my decision, those guys were evidence that sometimes change on its own can spur performance,” Edwards says. “I’m hoping that it works that way for me.”
That trio’s success could mark a shift in thinking that’s emblematic of NASCAR’s decades-long push for on-track parity — a movement that has pushed every well-funded, competitive team within tight technical parameters and minimal setup diversity. No longer does a crew chief have to find the optimal way to communicate with a driver to maximize performance. The team leader just has to make sure that a team of engineers can appropriately mesh on-car data acquisition with driver feedback, and then he has to hope that the team’s overall approach isn’t lagging behind the competition. If that all goes well, then the driver’s heavy lifting gets a bit easier.
Edwards also sees NASCAR’s newest championship format — the revised Chase for the Sprint Cup featuring a regular season, three elimination rounds and a final best-finisher-take-all race — as another hurdle eliminated in the process of reaching the sport’s greenest pasture with a new team.
“I don’t have to perfectly mesh with everyone or figure out the race cars right away,” Edwards says. “All I have to do is get a win in the regular season and be at top form at race 36. I’m certain, that as a driver, I can do that.”
The process Edwards speaks of is very similar to how Harvick won the 2014 title. Harvick won twice early in 2014 and ran relatively well for the entire season, but he hit rocky stretches in which mechanical issues, bad luck and pit crew problems knocked him from contention on a seemingly weekly basis. The wins, however, provided his team with the championship eligibility safety net. By race No. 27, the team was firing on all cylinders.
But Harvick also had the benefit of an open testing policy that’s been completely shelved in 2015, turning laps in his new No. 4 just weeks after his stint with Richard Childress Racing ended. Edwards’ only time on the track with his new JGR team will come on race weekends, NASCAR-scheduled test sessions and an occasional Goodyear tire test.
To make up the difference, Edwards is expecting that the opportunity to work again with Kenseth — they were teammates at RFR from 2004-12 — at JGR will shorten the learning curve. Their reunion may rekindle memories of a time when the two didn’t get along so well — including an awkward post-race incident at Martinsville Speedway in 2007 — but Edwards insists that the relationship has improved. “There were times when we didn’t get along, but that’s ancient history,” Edwards says. “He’s a guy I really look up to.”
Edwards will start the season with Darian Grubb as crew chief. There’s irony here as the duo once battled when Grubb led Tony Stewart’s team, winning the 2011 title that Edwards lost on a tiebreaker. Grubb is a strong engineer who will help a new team get off the ground. His chemistry with Edwards is unknown, but keep in mind that he’s got wins with three of the best in the business: Denny Hamlin, Stewart and Jimmie Johnson.
Then, there’s owner Joe Gibbs, one of NASCAR’s best, who waited nearly a decade to expand from three teams to four. He wanted the perfect financial combination (in this case, ARRIS and Stanley Tools) paired with the right driver capable of contending immediately. Expectations for the new No. 19 will be high.
“To us, to me, that championship is it,” Edwards says. “Anything less and I won’t be satisfied.”
Needs some speed Roush Fenway’s No. 99 car ranked 18th in average green-flag speed, per NASCAR. Joe Gibbs Racing cars should supply Edwards with a jolt in the speed department.
Road course standout Edwards averaged a third-place finish last year at the road courses and scored his first career road course win at Sonoma.
Still a threat on the quad-ovals Las Vegas, Texas, Charlotte and Atlanta proved comfortable for Edwards during a down 2014 season. The fast intermediates were his best oval track type per average finish (7.5) and saw him close adeptly, gaining 37 positions in the final tenth of races.
Positive regression forthcoming His 135 laps led in 2014 were his fewest in a season since becoming a full-time Cup Series driver in 2005. It’s doubtful he’ll perform that poorly again, especially in JGR equipment.
No. 19 Toyota Joe Gibbs Racing
Primary Sponsors: ARRIS, Stanley
Owner: Joe Gibbs
Crew Chief: Darian Grubb
Year With Current Team: 1st
Under Contract Through: 2017
Best Points Finish: 2nd (2008, ’11)
Hometown: Columbia, Mo.
Born: Aug. 15, 1979
|Years||Starts||Wins||Top 5s||Top 10s||Poles||Titles||Earned|
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
College football’s spring practice session is already underway for some teams, which means the countdown to the 2015 season can officially start.
Quarterback play is always under a microscope and several playoff or conference title contenders are breaking in a new starter in 2015. While pinpointing breakout players is easier after spring practice, it’s never too early to examine some of the top rising stars at quarterback.
The list of quarterbacks on the rise takes into account players that were not a starter for a full season of games in 2014.
10 College Football Quarterbacks on the Rise for 2015
Kyle Allen, Texas A&M
Since joining the SEC in 2012, the Aggies have averaged 41.3 points per game. Life after Johnny Manziel presented a few challenges in 2014, but the arrow on Texas A&M’s offense is pointing up headed into 2015. Allen started the final five games for coach Kevin Sumlin, including a four-touchdown performance against Auburn and a 294-yard effort against West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl. The Arizona native finished 2014 with 1,322 passing yards and 16 touchdowns. Allen will be pushed by talented freshman Kyler Murray this offseason, but the edge in experience should help the sophomore hold onto the starting job. With a talented receiving corps returning, Texas A&M’s passing offense should be among the SEC’s best once again in 2015.
Mike Bercovici, Arizona State
Bercovici steps into the spotlight in 2015 as he assumes the keys to Arizona State’s high-powered offense from Taylor Kelly. The California native is already a known commodity for coordinator Mike Norvell, as Bercovici started three games in place of Kelly due to injury in 2014. Bercovici torched USC for 510 yards and five scores and threw for 245 yards and one touchdown in a 26-10 win over Stanford last year. In his Arizona State career, Bercovici has thrown for 1,478 yards and 12 scores. He also boasts a 62.2 percent completion percentage and produced three passing plays of 40 yards or more in 2014. The Sun Devils will miss receiver Jaelen Strong, but Bercovici is more than capable of keeping Arizona State’s passing attack firing on all cylinders.
Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee
The insertion of Dobbs into the starting lineup in late October sparked Tennessee to a 4-2 finish over its last six games. The Georgia native threw for 192 yards against Alabama after replacing Nathan Peterman in the first half and guided the Volunteers to a 45-42 upset win over South Carolina by accumulating 467 total yards and five scores. Dobbs also played well in the bowl win over Iowa by accounting for 205 yards and three scores. The junior should have more help from his supporting cast in 2015, as Tennessee should be healthier at receiver, and a young offensive line has a full offseason to grow. Dobbs should push for All-SEC honors in 2015.
Jeremy Johnson, Auburn
Johnson varies slightly in style to former starter Nick Marshall, but Auburn’s offense shouldn’t miss a beat in 2015. The Alabama native ranked as the No. 11 pro-style quarterback in the 2013 signing class and has played well in limited action over the last two years. Johnson completed 29 of 41 passes for 422 yards and six scores in 2013 and threw for 436 yards and three touchdowns in 2014. He also has two starts under his belt, including one against Arkansas (2014). Johnson may not have the dynamic mobility of Marshall, but the junior is going to have a huge season directing the offense for coach Gus Malzahn.
Josh Rosen, UCLA
Perhaps it’s too early to place much pressure on Rosen, but there’s little doubt the freshman is ready to push for the starting job at UCLA in 2015. With Brett Hundley off to the NFL, the Bruins have an open battle for the quarterback spot this spring, with Jerry Neuheisel and Rosen considered the favorites. Rosen ranked as the No. 12 overall recruit and as a five-star prospect in the 2015 247Sports Composite. While Neuheisel has the edge in experience, Rosen has more overall talent and upside. And since he enrolled in time to compete this spring, Rosen should have plenty of time to pickup the UCLA offense. Needless to say, the future is bright for the Bruins with Rosen at the helm.
Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
It’s no coincidence Oklahoma State’s improvement on offense late in the year came with Rudolph at the helm. The Cowboys scored at least 30 points in five games against Power 5 opponents. Rudolph was the quarterback for two of those efforts, including an impressive 38-35 win over Oklahoma and a 30-22 bowl win over Washington. The South Carolina native finished 2014 with 853 passing yards and six scores in three appearances. Rudolph needs more help from his supporting cast in 2015, but the potential is certainly there for the sophomore to earn All-Big 12 honors.
Seth Russell, Baylor
Over the last five seasons, Baylor’s starting quarterback has averaged 4,031 yards and 30 touchdowns. With Bryce Petty off to the NFL, the keys to a high-powered offense are in Russell’s hands. Of course, he has to hold off a challenge this offseason from sophomore Chris Johnson and talented true freshman Jarrett Stidham. However, there’s a clear edge in experience for Russell, as he has one start under his belt and completed 48 of 85 passes in 2014. The Texas native torched Northwestern State for five scores and 438 yards last year and completed 8 of 17 passes for 82 yards in relief of Petty against Texas Tech. With one of the nation’s top receiving corps in place, Russell – if he wins the job – will be next standout quarterback for coach Art Briles.
Greg Ward, Houston
New coach Tom Herman has to be excited about Ward’s potential in 2015. The converted receiver replaced John O’Korn under center and started the final eight games at quarterback. Ward showcased his dual-threat potential in the bowl win over Pittsburgh, throwing for 274 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for 92 yards on 14 attempts. He also passed for 360 yards against Cincinnati and 336 against Tulane and finished the year with 573 rushing yards and 2,010 through the air. Ward is far from a finished product, but the potential is there for a monster season in Herman’s offense for the Cougars in 2015.
Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Clemson has won at least 10 games in each of the last four seasons and has a good shot at extending that streak to five in 2015. Watson is the biggest reason for optimism and potential at contending for the ACC Championship, as the sophomore is expected to be at full strength in his recovery from a torn ACL by the season opener. The Georgia native ranked as the No. 41 recruit in the 2014 signing class and completed 93 of 137 passes for 1,466 yards and 14 scores in his debut. Watson also rushed for 200 yards and five scores last season. The departure of coordinator Chad Morris was a big loss for Clemson, but with Watson’s return and a talented group of skill players, the Tigers will be among the ACC’s best on offense in 2015.
Malik Zaire, Notre Dame
Zaire isn’t guaranteed the starting job for 2015, as Everett Golson remains in the mix after throwing for 3,445 yards last season and enters next season with 23 starts under his belt. However, all signs point to Zaire emerging as Notre Dame’s No. 1 option under center. In seven appearances last season, Zaire completed 21 of 35 passes for 266 yards and one touchdown, while rushing for 187 yards and two scores. The Ohio native’s most-impressive outing took place against LSU in the Music City Bowl, throwing for 96 yards and a touchdown, while adding 96 yards and a score on the ground in the upset win over the Tigers. With a strong supporting cast in place, Zaire has all of the necessary pieces for a breakout year.
Other Quarterbacks to Watch in 2015
Kurt Benkert, East Carolina
Shane Carden posted big numbers in East Carolina’s offense over the last three years. Coordinator Lincoln Riley also departed this offseason, but the Pirates aren’t expected to change much on offense. Benkert – a sophomore – will have the first shot at replacing Carden this spring.
Jake Coker, Alabama
The Florida State transfer was supposed to win the job last season but never made a start thanks to the emergence of Blake Sims. Now that Coker has a year of experience in coordinator Lane Kiffin’s offense, will the Alabama native claim the starting job?
William Crest/Skyler Howard, West Virginia
Crest was poised to spend 2014 as Clint Trickett’s backup at West Virginia but a shoulder injury ended his freshman season. The Baltimore native has tremendous upside and should benefit from another offseason to learn under coach Dana Holgorsen. If Crest is unable to win the job, the Mountaineers have a good fallback option in Skyler Howard, who threw for 829 yards and eight scores in 2014.
Luke Falk/Peyton Bender, Washington State
Falk was pressed into the starting job in 2014 after Connor Halliday suffered a season-ending leg injury against USC. The former walk-on threw for 601 yards against Arizona State but also tossed six picks over his last two games. Falk will be pushed by Bender – a three-star recruit in the 2014 signing class – for time this spring. The winner of this battle will post huge numbers in coach Mike Leach’s high-powered passing offense.
Tyler Ferguson, Louisville
Three quarterbacks – Will Gardner, Reggie Bonnafon and Kyle Bolin – started for coach Bobby Petrino’s team in 2014. Ferguson should push for time next season, as the Penn State transfer is eligible after sitting out last year. In his only season with the Nittany Lions, Ferguson completed 10 of 15 passes for 155 yards and one score.
Ryan Finley/Brett Rypien, Boise State
The Broncos have personnel voids to address on offense with the departure of quarterback Grant Hedrick and running back Jay Ajayi, but expect coach Bryan Harsin to find the right answers this offseason. The quarterback battle between Ryan Finley (a sophomore) and Matt Rypien (a true freshman, four-star prospect) will be one to watch this spring. Finley has the edge in experience, but Rypien was a big pickup on the recruiting trail for Boise State.
Brooks Haack, UL Lafayette
The Ragin’ Cajuns must replace quarterback Terrance Broadway, but coach Mark Hudspeth has a few talented options in place. Haack was a three-star recruit by the 247Sports Composite in 2012 and the Texas native has been solid as a backup over the last two years, completing 41 of 58 passes for 403 yards and three scores.
Ben Hicks, SMU
Hicks seems to be the perfect fit for new coach Chad Morris’ high-powered offense. The Texas native ranked as a three-star recruit in the 247Sports Composite for the 2015 signing class and should push Matt Davis for the starting job this offseason.
Taylor Lamb, Appalachian State
In its first season of FBS play, Appalachian State quietly finished 2014 on a six-game winning streak. Lamb turned in a promising freshman campaign, throwing for 2,381 yards and 17 scores and rushing for 483 yards and four touchdowns. The Georgia native started the final 10 games and led the Mountaineers to an average of 34.8 points per contest in that span.
Jack Milas, Ball State
Milas emerged as Ball State’s starter midway through 2014 but missed the last game of the year due to a wrist injury. The Illinois native showed promise by throwing four touchdowns and 326 yards against Western Michigan and completed at least 60 percent of his passes in three out of his six games.
Brice Ramsey, Georgia
Ramsey isn’t guaranteed the starting job next season, as he will be pushed for time by Jacob Park and Faton Bauta. However, regardless of whether it’s Ramsey, Park or Bauta under center, there’s a good chance the starter puts up solid numbers in Georgia’s offense.
Hayden Rettig, Rutgers
Rettig – the brother of former Boston College quarterback Chase Rettig – will compete with Chris Laviano to start in 2015. After sitting out a year due to a transfer from LSU, Rettig will have three seasons of eligibility remaining. Rutgers will have a new play-caller in 2015 after Ralph Friedgen decided to step down, and coach Kyle Flood promoted receivers coach Ben McDaniels to coordinator.
Thomas Sirk, Duke
Coach David Cutcliffe is one of the top quarterback gurus in college football. And assuming Sirk holds off Parker Boehme, the Florida native should be the next solid quarterback from Durham. In limited action last season, Sirk completed 10 of 14 passes for 67 yards and three scores. He also rushed for 238 yards and eight touchdowns in 2014.
Clayton Thorson, Northwestern
Northwestern hopes to get back to a bowl after a two-year absence, and the first step to a winning record will be settling the quarterback battle. Thorson will compete with Zack Oliver and Matt Alviti for the starting job this spring, and the talented redshirt freshman will be tough to keep off the field. Thorson ranked as a four-star prospect in the 2014 signing class and was the No. 188 overall recruit in the 247Sports Composite.
Step back five years and the list of football-basketball coaching tandems in the ACC looks pretty crazy.
That Mike Krzyzewski is the basketball representative at Duke probably makes sense, but what about the Blue Devils having a successful football coach?
Now, that’s weird.
And what about the No. 2 and No. 3 teams on our list: Louisville and Notre Dame were hardly a glimmer in the eye of the ACC several years ago. Notre Dame, of course, isn’t a full member, but we’ve included the Irish here since men’s basketball is an ACC team and the football team by contract plays its fair share of ACC schools.
Semantics aside, with Duke football plus Louisville and Notre Dame in the fold, the ACC has assembled a solid group of football-basketball coaching duos.
The goal of our coach tandem rankings is to look at each football and basketball duo as a pair. In general, we’re looking at the duos most likely to keep each school’s fans happy and entertained from the start of football season through the end of basketball season.
Football: David Cutcliffe | Basketball: Mike Krzyzewski
Krzyzewski’s resume is self-explanatory: More than 1,000 career wins, 11 Final Fours and four national titles. Early NCAA Tournament exits (Mercer in 2014, Lehigh in '12) have vexed the Blue Devils, but that appears to be unlikely with the group Coach K has assembled this season. Cutcliffe has done the unthinkable with the football program by turning the perennial ACC bottom-feeder into a factor in the league race. Duke has won 19 games the last two seasons, reached three consecutive bowl games and won the ACC Coastal Division in 2013.
Football: Bobby Petrino | Basketball: Rick Pitino
The Petrino/Pitino duo is back at Louisville for the first time since 2006. Having both coaches is still a boon for the Cardinals. Petrino went 9-4 and finished in the top 25 in his first season back with the Cardinals, a notable feat considering the revolving door at quarterback and that it was the football program’s indoctrination into the ACC. Petrino has finished in the top 25 in six of 10 seasons as a head coach, including four times in five total seasons at Louisville. Pitino has seven Final Fours and two national championships, including the 2013 title.
3. Notre Dame
Football: Brian Kelly | Basketball: Mike Brey
Is Notre Dame a year-in and year-out powerhouse in either sport? Not yet. Still, both coaches deserve credit for putting the Irish back into the mix. The Irish are two years removed from an undefeated regular season in football, and Kelly is the first Notre Dame coach to post five consecutive winning seasons since Lou Holtz. Mike Brey’s consistency — six NCAA appearances in eight years — gets overlooked because his team hasn’t made it to the Sweet 16 since 2003. Now if only both of them could go a season without losing a player to an academic-related suspension...
4. Florida State
Football: Jimbo Fisher | Basketball: Leonard Hamilton
Florida State’s football program is the healthiest it has been since Bobby Bowden was in his prime. In the last three seasons, Fisher has led the Seminoles to a national title, 29 consecutive wins, a College Football Playoff appearance and three ACC titles. The basketball program was on a nice hot streak from 2009-12 under Hamilton with four consecutive NCAA appearances, an ACC tournament title and a trip to the Sweet 16. In three seasons since, FSU has yet to post a winning ACC record.
5. North Carolina
Football: Larry Fedora | Basketball: Roy Williams
North Carolina fans don’t like to hear this, but both coaches leave us wanting more these days. Williams is a Hall of Fame coach with seven career Final Fours and two national championships. Yet his team will have five or more ACC losses for the third consecutive season. If Carolina doesn’t reach the Sweet 16 this season, Williams will face his longest Sweet 16 drought since 1998-2000 at Kansas. Fedora’s win total has decreased every season at Carolina, and he’s never finished better than 5-3 in the league.
6. Virginia Tech
Football: Frank Beamer | Basketball: Buzz Williams
On career achievements, this duo should rank higher. Virginia Tech is a factor in football because of Beamer, who has been the coach since 1987. And despite 22 consecutive winning seasons, the Hokies are having a bit of identity crisis. The 10- and 11-win seasons have become seven- and eight-win seasons during the last three years. Williams’ credentials at Marquette were impeccable — two Sweet 16s, an Elite Eight and five consecutive NCAAs through 2013 — but he’s working through a major rebuilding project in his first season in Blacksburg.
Football: Al Golden | Basketball: Jim Larranaga
Golden left Temple with the reputation of a miracle worker and walked into the Nevin Shapiro mess at Miami. After a self-imposed bowl ban in his first two seasons, Miami went 9-4 in his third year before falling to 6-7 last season. With quarterback Brad Kaaya starting his second season, Golden is entering a critical fifth year. Larranaga has taken George Mason to a Final Four and won the ACC at Miami. That’s a pretty darn good career right there, never mind that he has 547 career wins otherwise.
Football: Scott Shafer | Basketball: Jim Boeheim
Boeheim probably would like us to spend more time thinking about the four Final Fours, the 2003 championship and the 964 career wins rather than the last 12 months. The Orange were the last undefeated team in the country last season and ended on a 3-6 skid. And now, due to NCAA issues, Syracuse forfeited its chance to go to the postseason this year (in a season that likely would have ended in the NIT anyway). Shafer has had a rough two seasons since taking over for Doug Marrone. Syracuse football is 10-15 overall and 5-11 in the ACC under Shafer.
Football: Mike London | Basketball: Tony Bennett
Bennett is quickly becoming college basketball’s best miracle worker. Despite no McDonald’s All-Americans on his roster, Bennett has the Cavaliers en route to a second consecutive ACC regular-season title. He also has a pair of Sweet 16 appearances under his belt at Virginia and Washington State. London may have saved his job with a three-game improvement in 2014, but the Cavs’ football coach still has three losing season in five years.
Football: Pat Narduzzi | Basketball: Jamie Dixon
Few coaching tandems seem so perfect for their particular school. Dixon has already established a rugged, blue collar program with Pitt basketball, and Narduzzi did the same with his defenses at Michigan State. Dixon’s overall resume at Pitt is great (10 NCAA appearances in 12 seasons), but Pitt is flirting with its second NCAA miss in four years. The Panthers also haven’t reached the Sweet 16 since 2009. Narduzzi is a first-time head coach, but he was in demand as one of the best DCs in the country at Michigan State.
Football: Dabo Swinney | Basketball: Brad Brownell
Swinney has returned Clemson to national prominence. The Tigers have won 10 or more games in four consecutive seasons and finished four seasons in a row in the AP top 25, the first time either has happened since the late '80s/early '90s. The lingering question for 2015 is if he can do it without offensive coordinator Chad Morris. Clemson is no basketball power, but Brownell hasn’t exactly elevated the Tigers, either. He has one NCAA appearance in five seasons. His win in the 2011 First Four is Clemson’s only NCAA win since 1997.
12. Georgia Tech
Football: Paul Johnson | Basketball: Brian Gregory
Just when it appeared Georgia Tech hand slid into mediocrity, Johnson led the Yellow Jackets to an 11-win season, a top-10 finish and an Orange Bowl victory. Johnson is unconventional beyond the option offense, but he led Georgia Tech to an ACC title in 2009 and has never had a losing conference season. Gregory is headed to his fourth consecutive season with at least 12 conference losses in four seasons in Atlanta.
13. NC State
Football: Dave Doeren | Basketball: Mark Gottfried
Doeren improved from 3-9 overall and 0-8 in the ACC in his first season to 8-5 and 3-5 in his second. Now, the question is if he can take that momentum into his third season. Gottfried has upped the talent level for the basketball program but has delivered sporadic results. Consistency, though, eludes the Wolfpack in basketball right now.
14. Boston College
Football: Steve Addazio | Basketball: Jim Christian
Addazio has two identical seasons of 7-6 overall and 4-4 in the ACC, two seasons which actually exceeded preseason expectations. Boston College will have its fourth consecutive losing season overall in Christian’s first season with the program. He has a long climb ahead.
15. Wake Forest
Football: Dave Clawson | Basketball: Danny Manning
Clawson and Manning had successful runs at Bowling Green and Tulsa, respectively, but Wake Forest hasn’t given them much to work with in their first seasons in Winston-Salem.
It’s not just you: The Duke-North Carolina rivalry is played a little later these days.
The two Tobacco Road foes meet for the first time on Feb. 18 this season. Last year, they didn’t meet for the first time until Feb. 20. Compare that to years past when the first game generally will be played in early February.
The late start doesn’t make the meeting any less interesting. Perhaps even it raises the stakes as both teams have more of their regular season resumes behind them. A win for Duke would be another item on a ledger for a potential No. 1 seed. A win for North Carolina would be a key building block for the Tar Heels’ postseason run.
North Carolina at Duke
Site: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham, N.C.
Time: Wednesday, 9 p.m. Eastern
What’s up for grabs?
Duke will look to continue its recent dominance of the rivalry. The Blue Devils are 8-3 against North Carolina since 2009 with only one of those losses coming at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Beyond that, postseason considerations are at play. Both teams will have trouble catching Virginia for the ACC regular season title, so both will try to hang onto a top-four finish in the standings and a bye to the quarterfinals in the ACC tournament. Duke is No. 3 in the league at 9-3 while North Carolina is tied for fourth with Louisville at 8-4.
You’ll tune in to watch:
Another strong Duke performance or a bounceback effort from North Carolina. The second-half comeback against Virginia on Jan. 31 seemed to re-energize Duke. At that point, the Blue Devils had gone 3-3 in their last six games. Starting with the Virginia win, Duke has won five in a row, including a 30-point rout of Notre Dame. North Carolina will need to be better than what it has shown if it’s going to stop Duke’s momentum. The Tar Heels are starting to look like a team with a clear ceiling. They’ve lost three of their last four to Louisville, Virginia and Pittsburgh and have not defeated a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team since Jan. 10.
Pivotal player: Justise Winslow
Duke’s Big Two freshmen of Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones is back to being a Big Three. Winslow is averaging 14 points per game since going scoreless against St. John’s on Jan. 25. Duke is averaging 120 points per 100 possessions during Winslow’s hot streak.
Biggest question: Can North Carolina stop anyone?
North Carolina is coming off a miserable defensive performance against Pittsburgh. The Panthers couldn’t miss against the Tar Heels, averaging 1.44 points per possession, shooting 65 percent from the field and assisting on 30 of 37 made field goals. Roy Williams says North Carolina guarded capably in that game, and Pitt just made shots. That may be true, but UNC is 10th in the ACC in defensive efficiency and hasn’t held an opponent to under one point per possession since facing Wake Forest on Jan. 24.
David Fox: Duke 80-67
Mitch Light: Duke 76-70
Jake Rose: Duke 78-66
Ohio State’s quarterback situation will be one of the nation’s most intriguing battles to watch this offseason.
Out of the trio competing for the No. 1 spot – Cardale Jones, Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett – Jones is the only passer healthy for spring ball.
While Miller and Barrett aren’t expected to participate in spring ball, both have indicated via social media over the last few weeks that they are getting closer to full strength.
On Tuesday, Barrett posted a picture on Instagram of the screws from his ankle, which was injured against Michigan:
6. Tyreke Evans
Evans has been doing point guard duty for his New Orleans Pelicans lately, but only because of an injury absence from Jrue Holiday — the two is ‘Reke’s natural spot. The 25-year-old’s vast talents have not been truly unlocked in New Orleans, or with his previous Sacramento Kings squad. But a terrific winter has shown that Evans is a crazy-talented freelancer who’s capable threatening triple-double territory on any given night. Combined with Holiday and Anthony Davis, Evans is in the best situation of his career, and looks poised to spread roundball optimism down south.
5. Wesley Matthews
Damian Lillard’s coming-out party over the past two seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers has been a hell of a story. But it wouldn’t be possible without Matthews at his side; the Blazers’ guard is one of the most underrated players around, providing a “three-and-D” combo that’s the envy of front offices across the league. He’s made the third-most three-pointers in the NBA this season, and he stymied James Harden through much of his team’s first round series victory over the Houston Rockets last year. Does his resumé really need anything more?
4. Jimmy Butler
The Bulls’ breakout All-Star is one of the most frenetic players in the league. He covers more distance than anyone in the NBA, according to mileage reports, and that bit of data is hardly surprising. Watching Butler, one begins to wonder whether he’s got a clone who secretly subs in for him every few minutes; he affects nearly every Bulls play, on both sides of the ball. He finds alley-oop opportunities, open jumpers, invades passing lanes and runs down scorers with the intensity of a soldier. Does he even sleep? It came as no shock when Floyd Mayweather recently said that the relentless Butler could make an easy transition into boxing.
3. Kyle Korver
The Hawks’ historically hot-handed shooter is so good a marksman that he’s rarely appreciated for the all-around player that he is. Korver can’t create shots for himself at a high rate, but there really aren’t any other deficiencies to his game. He’s a crisp passer with an eye for the open man, a firm defender, and a terrific hustle player with more muscle and speed than you think. And at 6’7”, he creates some matchup issues that are going to tie opposing defenses into knots when the Eastern Conference playoffs roll around.
2. Klay Thompson
37 points, one quarter. Klay Thompson’s internet-breaking performance isn’t soon to be forgotten, and here’s the thing: it was a representative feat. While Steph Curry’s backcourt partner with the Golden State Warriors can’t shatter record books every night, you always have to guard him like he might. As deadly a shooter as there is, Thompson is also shrewd at recognizing defenses and creating opportunities, and a staunch to defender to boot. If the vaunted Warriors are going to make a real run at a title this season, it’ll be in no small part because of their All-NBA candidate Klay.
1. James Harden
James Harden’s defensive embarrassments are a thing of the past, and so is acknowledging him only for his singular facial hair and scoring ability. Harden must now be mentioned among the very best players in the game, as he’s whipped himself into one of the fiercest competitors around. A more willing — and smarter — facilitator than he’s ever been, the 2015 version of Harden is a roving, hyper-intelligent army tank who creates problems on every play with his I.Q. and unparalleled footwork. No team relies as much on one player as the Rockets do on Harden, and they could hardly be making that investment in a better man.
— John Wilmes
Take a look at any draft, no matter the sport, and there are going to be some people chosen in the top eight or 10 picks who never make it. In some years, the misses far outweigh the hits.
The 2005 MLB version didn’t fit that description. If you’re looking for a prime example of the exception to the draft rule, consider this episode. Six of the first seven and eight of the first 12 players picked became All-Stars. And we’re not talking just a bunch of one-and-dones for the Midsummer Classic. Five of the eight earned multiple berths. And three of the four players who didn’t gain that distinction enjoyed big-league careers. That’s a pretty good winning percentage for those doing the drafting.
It had hits elsewhere, but for sheer star power at the top, it’s tough to beat 2005.
1. Diamondbacks: Justin Upton, OF
Great Bridge (Va.) HS
’07-12, Arizona; ’13-14, Atlanta
A steady source of outfield power who has hit more than 25 homers in a season four times, Upton had his biggest year in 2011, when he hit .289 with 31 homers. Although he will strike out quite often (100-plus Ks in seven straight seasons), Upton is a big run-producer. Though not the superstar Arizona thought he would be when it drafted him No. 1 overall, Upton has delivered considerably.
All-Star Games: 2
2. Royals: Alex Gordon, 3B
University of Nebraska
’07-14, Kansas City
A cornerstone of the Royals’ rebuilding process that culminated in a trip to the 2014 World Series, Gordon is an all-around standout who has won four Gold Gloves and been a productive middle-of-the-order bat for K.C. A two-time All-Star, Gordon began as an infielder but settled in left field. He has hit 20 or more home runs twice and in 2011 led the majors with 51 doubles.
All-Star Games: 2
3. Mariners: Jeff Clement, C
’07-08, Seattle; ’10, ’12 Pittsburgh
Clement’s abbreviated career was hampered by injury and poor production, as he managed just a .218 batting average as a part-time catcher, first baseman and DH. He bounced around the minors in between shortened MLB stints and never gained enough traction to become an everyday player. After spending September 2012 with the Pirates, he became a free agent, never reached the majors again and retired before the ’14 season.
All-Star Games: 0
4. Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
University of Virginia
A two-time Silver Slugger winner, Zimmerman personifies the Nationals like no other member of the organization. He has been part of the franchise since its move to D.C. and has been a stalwart at third base and in left field. Zimmerman has hit 25 or more homers four times and driven in 100 or more runs twice. In 2009, he hit .292, with 33 homers and 106 RBIs.
All-Star Games: 1
5. Brewers: Ryan Braun, 3B
University of Miami
The five-time All-Star and 2011 NL MVP has had a career that has featured triumph and controversy. One of baseball’s most accomplished sluggers, he was also suspended for the final 65 games of the ’13 season for PED use. He won the 2011 MVP award after hitting 33 homers and knocking in 111 runs. He was suspended for the first 50 games of the 2013 season for a positive urine test. He appealed, and the penalty was overturned on a technicality. He was caught again in 2013, and the charges stuck.
All-Star Games: 5
6. Blue Jays: Ricky Romero, LHP
Cal State Fullerton
After a blazing start to his career over the first three seasons, Romero’s fortunes faded, as poor performance and injury removed him from the majors. He won 42 games from ’09-11 and was 15–11 in 2011 with a 2.92 ERA and 178 strikeouts, a performance that earned him an All-Star invite. But he became increasingly ineffective after that and spent 2014 in the minors and on the DL, due to a knee injury.
All-Star Games: 1
7. Rockies: Troy Tulowitzki, SS
Long Beach State
One of the premier infield talents in the majors, “Tulo” combines the ability to hit for power and average with excellent fielding that has earned him a pair of Gold Gloves. A four-time All-Star, Tulowitzki has topped 30 homers twice and has batted over .300 four times. But injuries have limited his production over the past three years, and he missed a total of 222 games from 2012-14.
All-Star Games: 4
8. Devil Rays: Wade Townsend, RHP
Townsend was drafted by Baltimore in 2004 but couldn’t agree to terms and returned to finish his degree at Rice before entering the draft again in ’05. A rare miss by Tampa Bay, he never climbed higher than AA ball and posted a 7–21 record in five minor league seasons. He was plagued by injury during his time in the minors and underwent Tommy John surgery and a procedure to repair a torn labrum.
All-Star Games: 0
9. Mets: Mike Pelfrey, RHP
’06-12, New York Mets; ’13-14, Minnesota
At one point, Pelfrey was considered a linchpin of the Mets’ rotation, and his 15–9 record in 2010 was proof of that. For four seasons, he was a fixture among the team’s starting pitchers, but after a 7–13 performance in 2011, Pelfrey underwent Tommy John surgery and missed almost all of the ’12 campaign. He has spent the past two years with Minnesota, but elbow, groin and shoulder injuries limited him to just five starts last season.
All-Star Games: 0
10. Tigers: Cameron Maybin, CF
T.C. Roberson (N.C.) HS
’07, Detroit; ’08-10, Florida; ’11-14, San Diego
With a blend of speed and size, Maybin was considered the perfect outfield prospect. But during his eight years in the majors, he has not delivered on his substantial promise. Maybin has had his moments, like when he stole a total of 66 bases in 2011-12 for the Padres. But his highest batting average for a season has been .264, and he has spent just two campaigns (’11-12) as a full-time outfielder.
All-Star Games: 0
11. Pirates: Andrew McCutchen, CF
Fort Meade (Fla.) HS
The four-time All-Star was voted NL Most Valuable Player in 2013 and has become one of the majors’ top all-around players. McCutchen’s blend of speed, power and the ability to hit for average has made him a catalyst in the Pirates’ recent run to the postseason. McCutchen has hit above .300 for the past three years, and in 2012 he smacked a career-high 31 homers. That year, he also won his first Gold Glove.
All-Star Games: 4
12. Reds: Jay Bruce, CF
West Brook (Texas) Senior HS
A two-time All-Star and Silver Slugger winner, Bruce has been a steady power producer for the Reds, hitting at least 20 homers in each of his first six years in the league and at least 30 from 2011-13. A torn meniscus hurt his production in 2014, but Bruce remained a formidable presence in the middle of the Cincinnati lineup. In 2012, Bruce had a slugging percentage of .514, and the next season he drove in a career-high 109 runs.
All-Star Games: 2
13. Orioles: Brandon Snyder, C
Westfield (Va.) HS
’10-11, Baltimore; ’12, Texas; ’13, Boston
It took Snyder five years to reach the majors, and he hasn’t been able to find a regular job during the parts of four years he has been on big-league clubs. Snyder has spent time at catcher, first and third but was never a full-time member of a team. He signed a minor league contract with Boston before the 2014 season but never reached the big leagues, instead playing 35 games in AAA and hitting .206 with eight homers.
All-Star Games: 0
14. Indians: Trevor Crowe, CF
University of Arizona
’09-11, Cleveland; ’13, Houston
For a while, it looked as if Crowe was headed for a spot in the Cleveland outfield. After making his big-league debut in 2009, he played in 122 games, hitting .251, with 24 doubles. But Crowe lasted in Cleveland for just 15 games the next season and was out of the majors in 2012. He played 60 games for the Astros in 2013 but hit only .218, and after signing a contract with Detroit in 2014 was cut loose in July.
All-Star Games: 0
15. White Sox: Lance Broadway, RHP
’07-09, Chicago White Sox; ’09, New York Mets
After pitching a total of 27 games — with two starts — and compiling a 2–2 record with a 5.24 ERA in three seasons with the White Sox and Mets, Broadway was out of the majors. He made 20 starts for the Blue Jays’ AAA team in 2010 and went 3–11, in the conclusion of his professional pitching career. Broadway has since taken up acting.
All-Star Games: 0
16. Marlins: Chris Volstad, RHP
Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) Community HS
’08-11, Florida; ’12, Chicago Cubs; ’13, Colorado
Although Volstad only had one year with a winning record as a starter, he did make 102 starts from ’08-11 with the Marlins and went 12–9 in 2010. He became a free agent after the 2011 campaign and was signed by the Cubs, for whom he went 3–12. Volstad appeared in six games for the Rockies in ’13 but failed to register a decision. He spent the 2013 and ’14 seasons in the minors and had 17 starts in the Korean Baseball Organization.
All-Star Games: 0
17. Yankees: C.J. Henry, SS
Putnam City (Okla.) HS
There are those who believe Henry should have stuck with his other sport, basketball, for which he was highly recruited. His brother, Xavier, plays in the NBA, but C.J. never made it to the Show. In fact, he didn’t escape High-A ball. He struggled in the field and at the plate and was out of the minors after 2008. He played in the Frontier League in 2013 but didn’t compete in ’14.
All-Star Games: 0
18. Padres: Cesar Carrillo, RHP
University of Miami
’09, San Diego
The total of Carrillo’s MLB experience is three starts for the Padres in 2009 — a 1–2 record with a ghastly 13.60 ERA and 16 hits allowed in 10.1 innings pitched. He has spent 10 years in the minors, the last two in independent ball. He was implicated in the Biogenesis scandal in 2012 and was suspended for 100 games. Though Arizona signed him to a contract in early 2014, he couldn’t hang with the team.
All-Star Games: 0
19. Rangers: John Mayberry Jr., RF
’09-14, Philadelphia; ’14, Toronto
Son and namesake of the former Royals slugger, Mayberry never displayed the necessary consistency to warrant a full-time starting position. Mayberry spent five-plus seasons with the Phillies as a reserve, going on occasional short binges that would tantalize before reverting to his inconsistent form. He hit 15 homers in 2011 and 14 in ’12 but wasn’t able to drive the ball on a regular basis. Philadelphia traded him to the Jays in a waiver deal on Aug. 31, 2014.
All-Star Games: 0
20. Cubs: Mark Pawelek, LHP
Springville (Utah) HS
The lefty never climbed higher than High-A ball during his five years with MLB organizations and topped out at three wins during that time. His final season was 2010, when he made three starts for Gateway of the Frontier League. In 2013, he pitched for Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic.
All-Star Games: 0
21. A’s: Cliff Pennington, SS
’08-12, Oakland; ’13-14, Arizona
Pennington spent most of three years (’10-12) as the A’s regular shortstop and hit a career-high .264 with 26 doubles in 2011. He was traded to Arizona following the ’12 campaign, after losing his starting job and has been a reserve middle infielder for the D-backs the last two seasons.
All-Star Games: 0
22. Marlins: Aaron Thompson, LHP
Second Baptist (Texas) School
’11, Pittsburgh; ’14, Minnesota
Thompson had a strong beginning to his professional career and was named a South Atlantic League All-Star at one point, but his pitching record during five years in the Marlins’ system was 22–34. He pitched in four games for the Pirates in 2011, making one start, and threw seven times for the Twins last year with a 2.45 ERA and six strikeouts in 7.1 innings pitched.
All-Star Games: 0
23. Red Sox: Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
’07-13, Boston; ’14, N.Y. Yankees
A strong all-around player with good speed, a quick bat and excellent glove, Ellsbury is a former All-Star who can create trouble for opposing teams with his bat and on the basepaths. He has led the AL in steals three times, including a career-high 70 in ’09. In 2011, Ellsbury was the runner-up in the MVP voting, thanks to a .321 average, 32 homers and 105 RBIs. After the 2013 season, he signed a seven-year, $153 million deal with the Yankees.
All-Star Games: 1
24. Astros: Brian Bogusevic, LHP
‘10-12, Houston; ’13 Chicago Cubs
Although Bogusevic was drafted as a pitcher and spent three-plus years in Houston’s system as a hurler, he was converted to the outfield in ’08. He hit .287 with the Astros as a part-time outfielder in 2011 and was a starter in ’12 but hit only .203. After spending part of 2013 with the Cubs, he was in the minors for all of ’14 and signed a minor league deal with the Phillies after the season.
All-Star Games: 0
25. Twins: Matt Garza, RHP
’06-07, Minnesota; ’08-10, Tampa Bay; ’11-13, Chicago Cubs; ’13, Texas; ’14, Milwaukee
A starting pitcher who has posted a 75–75 record during his big-league career, Garza bounced among four teams before signing a four-year, $50 million deal with the Brewers before the ’14 season. Garza’s finest season came in 2010, when he went 15–10 with a 3.91 ERA for Tampa Bay. Garza struck out 197 hitters in 2011 with the Cubs and has twice logged more than 200 innings in a season.
All-Star Games: 0
26. Red Sox: Craig Hansen, RHP
’05-06, ’08 Boston; ’08, ’08-09, Pittsburgh
Although Hansen had a stretch with the Red Sox during which he appeared in 70 games during parts of two seasons, he never became a reliable reliever, and his career was waylaid by sleep apnea and a weakening of the arm that ended his time in professional baseball. In four seasons, Hansen posted three saves and had an ERA of 6.34.
All-Star Games: 0
27. Braves: Joey Devine, RHP
’05-07, Atlanta; ’08, ’11, Oakland
If Devine had not had to endure two Tommy John surgeries, he might have become one of the majors’ top relievers. But he missed 2009 and ’10, and after a solid 2011, had to go under the knife again.
All-Star Games: 0
28. Cardinals: Colby Rasmus, CF
Russell County (Ala.) HS
’09-11, St. Louis; ’11-14, Toronto
Rasmus has been a steady outfield producer for the Cards and Jays, although he has never had a breakout season. After a lackluster 2014 (.225 average, 18 HR, 40 RBI), Rasmus became a free agent.
All-Star Games: 0
29. Marlins: Jacob Marceaux, RHP
In six professional seasons, Marceaux never reached the majors. He rose as high as AA ball, and in 2008 was 4–1 as a reliever with the Marlins’ Carolina affiliate. Marceaux began as a starter but couldn’t develop consistency.
All-Star Games: 0
30. Cardinals: Tyler Greene, SS
’09-12, St. Louis; ’12, Houston; ’13, Chicago White Sox
A utility infielder who saw action with three teams over five seasons, Greene never became a consistent starter. His greatest activity came in 2012, when he played 77 games with the Cardinals.
All-Star Games: 0
Other Notable Selections
Luke Hochevar, RHP
Dodgers (Round 1 – Supplemental) • University of Tennessee
Hochevar didn’t sign with the Dodgers, spending a year in an independent league. He was then taken No. 1 overall the following season by Kansas City.
Clay Buchholz, RHP
Red Sox (Round 1 – Supplemental) • Angelina (Texas) College
A two-time All-Star, Buchholz has become a fixture on the Red Sox starting staff, amassing a 66–44 record in eight seasons.
Jed Lowrie, 2B
Red Sox (Round 1 – Supplemental) • Stanford
After spending five seasons as a part-timer with Boston and Houston, Lowrie spent 2013-14 starting for Oakland and hit .290 in 2013. He signed a three-year deal with the Astros in December.
Chase Headley, 3B/OF
Padres (Round 2) • University of Tennessee
Headley hasn’t been a star throughout his nine years with San Diego and the Yankees, but in 2012, he won a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger and led the NL with 115 RBIs. He signed a four-year deal with the Yankees in the offseason.
Yunel Escobar, SS
Braves (Round 2) • Martires de Barbodos (Cuba) HS
Escobar has not earned an All-Star berth during his time with Atlanta, Toronto and Tampa Bay, but he has been steady in the field and reliable at the plate.
Brett Gardner, OF
Yankees (Round 3) • College of Charleston
Gardner has been a fixture in the New York outfield for the past five years. He led the AL in steals (49) in 2011 and in triples (10) in ’13.
Jeremy Hellickson, RHP
Devil Rays (Round 4) • Hoover (IA) HS
Although Hellickson was laid low by elbow surgery before the 2014 season, he had been a big part of the Tampa Bay rotation from 2011-13, when he won 35 games. He was traded to Arizona after the ’14 campaign.
Marco Estrada, RHP
Nationals (Round 6) • Long Beach State
Estrada bounced between the starting rotation and the bullpen during his seven seasons with the Nats and Brewers. The hard thrower was dealt to Toronto in the offseason.
Michael Brantley, OF
Brewers (Round 7) • Central (Fla.) HS
In his sixth big-league season, Brantley had his best year, posting 20 home runs, 97 RBIs and a .327 batting average for Cleveland, a performance that earned him an All-Star berth and a third-place finish in the American League MVP voting.
Will Venable, OF
Padres (Round 7) • Princeton
Venable has demonstrated the ability to play all three outfield positions during his seven years with San Diego, including the last five as a starter. In 2013, he slugged 22 homers.
Austin Jackson, CF
Yankees (Round 8) • Billy Ryan (Texas) HS
Jackson has led the AL in triples twice during his five years in the big leagues and has played well in the field. The runner-up in the 2010 Rookie of the Year balloting, Jackson was traded by Detroit to Seattle during the 2014 season.
Logan Morrison, LF/1B
Marlins (Round 22) • Northshore (La.) HS
Morrison has proven to be a valuable outfielder and first baseman, first for the Marlins, for whom he hit 23 homers in 2011, and most recently for Seattle.
Tommy Hanson, RHP
Braves (Round 22) • Riverside (Calif.) Community College
From 2009-12, Hanson was a solid contributor to the Braves’ rotation, winning a total of 45 games. But injuries have detoured him and limited his MLB starts to 13 over the past two years.
Jaime Garcia, LHP
Cardinals (Round 22) • Sharyland (Texas) HS
During his first two full years in the majors, Garcia looked like a potential ace and won 26 games. Since then, shoulder problems have limited him greatly and cast doubt over his future.
Sergio Romo, RHP
Giants (Round 28) • Colorado Mesa University
Romo has become a valuable part of the Giants’ success and is one of the top closers in the majors. In 2013, he earned an All-Star berth on the way to 38 saves.
— Written by Michael Bradley for Athlon Sports
Seton Hall suspended guard Sterling Gibbs for two games for throwing a punch at Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono while fighting for a loose ball during the Wildcats’ 80-54 win Monday.
Gibbs was ejected for a flagrant foul for the incident in the second half.
Gibbs was clearly remorseful after the incident, apologizing publicly to Arcidiacono on Twitter. To the Villanova guard’s credit, he accepted the apology and moved on.
In a statement after the game, Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said:
“I am extremely disappointed in Sterling’s actions tonight. Our student-athletes are entrusted to uphold the morals and values of good sportsmanship and personal conduct that we preach to them on a daily basis. Tonight’s incident involved a young man of high character showing poor judgement in the heat of competition. It was regrettable, and we will address the issue.”
In the immediate aftermath, ESPN analyst Jay Williams tweeted that Gibbs should be suspended for the remainder of the season.
Sterling Gibbs should not be allowed to play the rest of the season for that strike to the face. It was intentional & Violent. @ESPNCBB— Jay Williams (@RealJayWilliams) February 17, 2015
The Gibbs incident is the latest setback in a season that started with promise for Seton Hall. The Pirates, who have not reached the NCAA Tournament since 2006, started 12-2. However, Seton Hall has lost five in a row and eight of its last 10 in conference play.
Gibbs and star freshman Isaiah Whitehead nearly came to blows after a loss to Georgetown last week, reported The Setonian, the school’s campus newspaper. Starting guard Jaren Sina abruptly left the team last week.
Willard attempted to downplay the issues surrounding his team.
“There is no chaos outside the program,” Willard told NJ.com. “The only chaos is you guys (the media).”
Predicting where Matt Kenseth will end up at the end of this season isn’t easy after the results he’s turned in during the past two years. But there is good news buried inside that confusion: Even if Kenseth replicates the worst of his first two seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing, he’ll be a top-10 driver.
Kenseth, of course, was simply golden during his first run with JGR in 2013. He won a series- and career-high seven times and pushed Jimmie Johnson harder than any other driver.
But last season proved to be far different. Kenseth was largely as consistent as ever, recording the same number of lead-lap finishes (30) as the previous year while increasing his top-5 and top-10 results. However, in the stat that counts — visits to Victory Lane — he put up a surprising goose egg. Kenseth qualified for the postseason through points, a product of his consistency, and actually remained eligible for the title through the third round.
For a time, it even looked like he could become the sport’s first winless champion. When it didn’t happen, Kenseth was realistic, recognizing the lack of speed that hampered him.
“In 2013, we were exceptionally fast at most race tracks,” Kenseth says. “Between the (2014) aero changes and getting the cars down and all that stuff, we just didn’t seem to have a handle on it the way we did the year before. Our balance was just way off, and we never really did get it fixed the way we wanted to.”
Interestingly, Kenseth wasn’t too surprised at how he and his JGR teammates performed. In testing before the 2014 season, the JGR Toyotas never had the same handling comfort — and thus the speed — as they had with the 2013 rules package. It’s a deficit from which they never recovered. That’s changed for this season, Kenseth said after test sessions revealed major improvement based on 2015 rules.
“I feel the best about the aero changes, getting the downforce off the cars,” Kenseth says. “Hopefully that will make it a little bit easier to pass in traffic and the cars a little more free. I’m hoping that will help.”
Among the tweaks this year are decreased rear spoiler heights, a reduced-horsepower engine and a new set of in-car suspension adjustment tools for the driver’s use. Should Kenseth adapt well, expect it to make a substantial difference in how well he and the rest of the JGR stable perform. Despite teammate Denny Hamlin earning a spot in the final race to determine the champion, JGR teams won only twice in Sprint Cup — and one of those wins came on the restrictor-plate track at Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR’s ultimate equalizer.
In Kenseth’s favor is the addition of Carl Edwards, Kenseth’s former Roush Fenway Racing teammate, to the JGR lineup as the multi-car operation expands from three to four teams. Kenseth and Edwards had a positive working relationship at RFR prior to Kenseth’s departure for JGR in 2013. Edwards also brings in substantial new sponsorship, allowing JGR to hire more engineers and shop staff while dedicating more resources to research and development. An influx of funding from Kenseth’s main backer, Dollar General, and the addition of old partner DeWalt give the team more funding even with the departure of longtime JGR supporter Home Depot.
The organization is also undergoing a hefty transition of several key staff members thanks to the addition of Edwards and the disappointment of 2014 — though Kenseth’s main point of contact, crew chief Jason Ratcliff, won’t change. This season, Edwards will work with Darian Grubb, who moved over from Denny Hamlin’s team. Grubb was replaced in that role over at the No. 11 Toyota by Kyle Busch’s former crew chief, Dave Rogers. That leaves Busch with Adam Stevens, promoted from the JGR XFINITY Series teams, on his pit box going forward. Expect the changes to boost performance.
Kenseth, 43, will start his 545th Sprint Cup race and 16th consecutive full-time season at NASCAR’s highest level when the green flag drops on the 2015 Daytona 500. Having made 10 of 11 Chases, a record topped only by Jimmie Johnson, there’s no reason to believe the consistency will stop.
“I really feel more confident about (2015) than I did last year at this time,” Kenseth says.
With changes made and plans for improvement over a moderately successful run a year ago, it’s not hard to understand why.
No wins? No problem Kenseth’s fall from seven wins in 2013 to zero in 2014 had more to do with speed than skill. His No. 20 car dropped from second to seventh in average green-flag speed rank. If JGR regains speed in 2015, look for Kenseth to take advantage.
Expect excellence The one- to 1.49-mile tracks, such as Phoenix, Dover and Darlington, are welcome sites for the veteran, who averaged a 7.4-place finish in seven races at tracks that fall in that mileage range last year.
Seal the deal Kenseth gained 37 positions in the final 10th of races last year. His closing acumen was amplified in the daylight, where he gained 46 positions across 25 races in daytime hours.
A top-10 fixture In what many felt was a down season after a career year, Kenseth scored two more top-10 finishes — 22 in all, up from 20 — in 2014.
No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Primary Sponsors: Dollar General, DeWalt
Owner: Joe Gibbs
Crew Chief: Jason Ratcliff
Year With Current Team: 3rd
Under Contract Through: 2016
Best Points Finish: 1st (2003)
Hometown: Cambridge, Wis.
Born: March 10, 1972
|Years||Starts||Wins||Top 5s||Top 10s||Poles||Titles||Earned|
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
Opening Day is less than two months away.
Just keep repeating that, Boston Red Sox fans. Maybe it will help warm the soul. After one look at Fenway Park, though, maybe not.
Boston is enduring its snowiest month on record, and not even Fenway can escape.
The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore and his producer Steve Petyerak tweeted several images of Fenway buried in snow during the last few weeks. The white stuff is piled up to the right field wall but not quite to the Green Monster. Yet.
The images are pretty remarkable.
The Red Sox home opener is April 13 against the Nationals, assuming the snow can be cleared by then.
Sunset over the Green Monster pic.twitter.com/h1ll0pTbz7— Steve Petyerak (@StevePetyerak) February 12, 2015
Snow in the stands at Fenway pic.twitter.com/6TLZWYKt4P— Steve Petyerak (@StevePetyerak) February 12, 2015
Fenway Park covered w/ snow pic.twitter.com/NDO5ybS419— Steve Petyerak (@StevePetyerak) February 12, 2015
Kyle Busch demands perfection from the racecar and has no qualms about ratcheting up the pressure on his crew chief to make that happen. It’s understandable that Busch has a periodic revolving door of team leaders, a merry-go-round that resulted in the move of former crew chief Dave Rogers to Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 11 team for this year.
The two were at odds for much of the Chase, which is surprising, because that’s when Busch snapped it together after a summer slump that endangered his playoff bid. Outside of a Talladega wreck, you could argue that the 2014 Chase was Busch’s best in terms of consistency. Busch won once last year and finished 10th in points, impressive considering he was 17th — with four DNFs — heading into the Chase.
Busch, who’s been vocal about the changes for 2015, insists that his relationship with Rogers was just fine, thank you. Any public back-and-forths between the two were a case of two parties demanding nothing less than perfection.
Internal sources claim differently, although Rogers’ move in the offseason was part of a larger shift of employees at JGR, both across series and across teams. When the music stopped, it was Busch’s XFINITY (formerly Nationwide) Series crew chief Adam Stevens who landed on Busch’s Sprint Cup team for this year.
Stevens wasn’t necessarily Busch’s first pick. “There was definitely a wish list on my end, and there was definitely a ‘Hey, you’re getting Adam Stevens’ on their end,” Busch says. “I went and did some of my due diligence, talked to a few of the guys that I had on my list. I got a good response from that, but at the end of the day it just all came down to bringing Adam up.”
Busch sees Stevens’ transition from managing an XFINITY Series team to a Cup program as a challenge. “For Adam, just going from the (XFINITY) level to the Cup level, you’re working with probably 40 people in the (XFINITY) shop and with 400 in the Cup shop,” Busch says. “It’s a lot more people, a lot more things on your plate, and I’m sure you can get overwhelmed quite quickly.”
Should Stevens manage the transition, the organization has high hopes. Since pairing up at the start of the 2013 season, he and Busch have 19 XFINITY victories in 52 starts, winning at an unthinkable 36.5 percent clip. Even a sliver of that success puts Busch on better footing in Cup, where he’s struggled by comparison.
Stevens is making the transition to Cup just as JGR is undergoing an expansion to four teams with the addition of Carl Edwards. This move has Busch enthused, as he felt for much of 2014 that the lack of a satellite program, like Hendrick Motorsports has with Stewart-Haas Racing, left his organization with a big disadvantage in terms of resources.
“Having Carl on board is going to be great for the team. He’s obviously gotten results in years past,” Busch says. “Having a bunch of new people at JGR and getting the engineering department all ramped up with more people. … It’s just going to make us a stronger team.”
Busch says any jumps in performance won’t come from the new rules package that cut downforce and reduce horsepower. It’ll make the Cup cars handle more like their XFINITY series counterparts. “It’s just a baby step. I don’t think it’s markedly different,” he explains. “You’re going to see some speeds slow down from the track records maybe, but it’s just going to be about trying to see what balance is going to be like with the horsepower to drag and everything else.”
Differing from the majority, Busch claims that the JGR problems are in-house, related simply to getting the cars to turn better. But having the cars in Cup handle more like those in the second-tier series may be a step in favor of Busch’s on-track handling preference. He’s become a regular dominator of the XFINITY Series in recent seasons — which brings things back full-circle to the Stevens promotion.
“The relationship we’ve had over the last year has gone really well,” Busch says. “We’ve won lots of races and we’ve been competitive. That level at the (XFINITY) level is obviously a lot less than what it is at the Sprint Cup level, but I still think he’s got a good repertoire within the shop and his guys. When you can have all of that, then there’s no better thing than to try and move that guy up.”
It’s a mixed message coming from Busch, who seems torn on all the changes. But replicating any XFINITY success on the Sprint Cup level would mean very positive things for Busch come November.
The car didn’t fit him It’d be tough to find a driver who desires a car with a looser handling condition than Busch, who was stymied by the tight-skewing rules package of 2014. It affected his laps led; the 453 he led for the season was his lowest total since his rookie year in 2005.
Gotta love those quad-ovals Busch averaged an eighth-place finish on the quad-oval intermediates of Las Vegas, Texas, Charlotte and Atlanta in 2014.
The spring Richmond race In the last eight spring races at Richmond, Busch won four times, led 613 laps and averaged a finish of 4.4. His last eight fall races at Richmond? Zero wins, 53 laps led and an average finish of 12.1. Perhaps he just prefers Virginia in the springtime?
Crew chief help Busch’s crew chief fed him 57 positions across green-flag pit cycles at all oval tracks, save for Daytona and Talladega.
No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Primary Sponsors: M&M’s, Interstate Batteries, Doublemint Gum, Snickers
Owner: Joe Gibbs
Crew Chief: Adam Stevens
Year With Current Team: 8th
Under Contract Through: 2017
Best Points Finish: 4th (2013)
Hometown: Las Vegas, Nev.
Born: May 2, 1985
|Years||Starts||Wins||Top 5s||Top 10s||Poles||Titles||Earned|
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
The 2015 MLB Draft isn't until June 8-10, but it's never too early to take a look at the next potential crop of impact players. When it comes to making the leap from high school to a top prospect in the minor leagues, look no further than the reigning MVPs in each league. Clayton Kershaw out of Highland Park (Texas) High School was the No. 7 overall pick in 2006, while Mike Trout from Millville Senior (N.J.) was taken with the 25th overall selection in 2009. Obviously, those two first-round picks have worked out well for the Dodgers and Angels, but what about this year's high school class? Are there any Kershaws or Trouts in this group? Only time will tell.
1. Brendan Rodgers, SS, Lake Mary (Fla.) HS
Rodgers, a Florida State commit, has an advanced bat with a chance to hit for average and power while sticking at shortstop.
2. Kolby Allard, LHP, San Clemente (Calif.) HS
Last year’s high school class featured countless players with plus fastballs. Allard fits right with that group, with an easy 91-94 mph fastball and a solid breaking ball.
3. Justin Hooper, LHP, De La Salle HS, Concord, Calif.
A massive (6'7") lefty with massive stuff, Hooper has one of the best fastballs in the class as he’ll touch 95-97 mph at his best.
4. Trenton Clark, OF, Richland HS, N. Richland Hills, Texas
Speedy outfielder who is among the fastest players in the class and shows an advanced understanding of how to put the bat on the ball and get on base.
5. Daz Cameron, OF, Eagles Landing Christian Academy, McDonough, Ga.
Son of long-time big league outfielder Mike Cameron, Daz is also a smooth center fielder with excellent bat speed and the speed to create havoc when he gets on base.
6. Nick Plummer, OF, Brother Rice HS, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
If you’re a hitter from a northern state, you better play well on the summer showcase circuit as you won’t face the same competition during the high school season. Plummer positioned himself well with an excellent summer.
7. Chris Betts, C, Woodrow Wilson HS, Long Beach, Calif.
One of the better power bats in the draft class, Betts has shown significant improvement behind the plate. He became more and more polished as a receiver throughout the summer.
8. Ashe Russell, RHP, Cathedral HS, Indianapolis
Russell, a Texas A&M signee, is one of the pitchers batters hate to face, especially with a wood bat, as his ability to make the ball run in on batters breaks bats.
9. Mike Nikorak, RHP, Stroudsburg (Pa.) HS
Nikorak has been one of the hardest throwers in this class, topping out at 96 mph at the Perfect Game National showcase.
10. Garrett Whitley, OF, Niskayuna (N.Y.) HS
A speedy outfielder with excellent range and instincts in center field, Whitley impressed throughout the summer, showing more advanced instincts than expected for a prospect from the Northeast.
11. Demi Orimoliye, OF, St. Matthew HS, Orleans, Ont.
Orimoliye intrigues scouts now, but they are even more excited about what he could be with further polish. The big (6'4", 225) outfielder has power and speed.
12. Beau Burrows, RHP, Weatherford (Texas) HS
Burrows has the makings of three quality pitches with a 90-95 mph fastball, a quality changeup that has late movement and a 12-to-6 curveball.
13. Kyle Tucker, OF, Plant HS, Tampa, Fla.
The younger brother of Astros outfield prospect Preston Tucker, Kyle is one of the more well-rounded prospects in this year’s class. Has good speed and strength.
14. Austin Smith, RHP, Park Vista Community HS, Lake Worth, Fla.
Another potential power pitcher with size, Smith throws a heavy 88-93 mph fastball that he works down in the zone to generate ground balls.
15. Cornelius Randolph, SS, Griffin (Ga.) HS
Randolph may end up moving to second or third base because of his thick lower half, but he is a left-handed hitting infielder with a chance to hit for average and power.
16. Juan Hillman, LHP, Olympia HS, Orlando, Fla.
The school that has produced first-rounders Jesse Winker and Nick Gordon in recent years could get another first-rounder in 2015.
17. Donny Everett, RHP, Clarksville (Tenn.) HS
Clarksville doesn’t produce a whole lot of baseball players — the last player from Clarksville High School to be drafted was back in 1967. Everett, a Vanderbilt commitment, should change that, as he throws strikes with a 90-94 mph fastball.
18. Triston McKenzie, RHP, Royal Palm Beach (Fla.) HS
A long and lean (6'5", 160) Vanderbilt commitment, McKenzie gets swinging strikes thanks to his lively low-90s fastball.
19. Chandler Day, RHP, Watkins HS, Pataskala, Ohio
The 6'4", 167-pound Day is a skinny righthander with lots of projection ahead of him, but he has present stuff with an easy 91-93 mph fastball. Also committed to Vanderbilt.
20. Cole McKay, RHP, Smithson Valley HS, Spring Branch, Texas
McKay has shown a 92-94 mph fastball with good riding life to run in on right-handed hitters. The LSU commit has mixed in a curveball and changeup with impressive potential.
21. Alonzo Jones, 2B/OF, Columbus (Ga.) HS
Jones is one of the fastest players among this year’s high school class, but he’s not just a speedster —he’s thickly built with some strength to go with that blazing speed. Jones is also committed to play at Vanderbilt.
22. Kyler Murray, SS/OF, Allen (Texas) HS
Murray is one of the best athletes and best prospects in this year’s draft class, but scouts aren’t even sure he’ll keep playing baseball after high school. He’s also one of the top quarterback prospects in the country and has signed to play at Texas A&M.
23. Kyle Molnar, RHP, Aliso Niguel HS, Aliso Viejo, Calif.
An athletic pitcher who works to both sides of the plate with a 91-93 mph fastball and a quality breaking ball and changeup, Molnar is one of the more polished pitchers in the class.
24. Dakota Chalmers, RHP, Lakeview Academy, Gainesville, Ga.
Chalmers, a University of Georgia signee, has stuff that got better as the summer heated up. By October, Chalmers was sitting at 91-93 mph while showing excellent control.
25. Luken Baker, 1b/RHP, Oak Ridge HS, Conroe, Texas
Better known as a pitcher despite his plus power at first, the big and thick Baker gets lots of ground balls with a 90-95 mph fastball with plenty of sink. He’s committed to TCU.
The 2015 MLB Draft isn't until June 8-10, but it's never too early to take a look at the next potential crop of impact players. Among the college prospects, defending College World Series champion Vanderbilt leads the way with three Commodores in the top 10. At the top of the list is lefthander Brady Aiken, last year's No. 1 overall pick who didn't sign with Houston. Will Arizona take Aiken first again this June?
1. Brady Aiken, LHP, TBD
We don’t know where Aiken will play this year after last year’s overall No. 1 pick’s deal with the Astros fell through because of elbow concerns. But his arm looks healthy, and he’s got the best pure stuff in the class.
2. Michael Matuella, RHP, Duke
Matuella carries plenty of concerns because he’s taken summers off, and he has a back injury that forced him to sit out fall ball, but he has shown top-five stuff for Duke.
3. Kyle Funkhouser, RHP, Louisville
The ace of Louisville’s College World Series team last year, Funkhouser has big stuff. But befitting someone with his name, his nasty stuff isn’t always easy to control and throw for strikes.
4. Walker Buehler, RHP, Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt was so deep that Buehler was the fourth starter on its national championship club last year and now is one of the top pitching prospects in the country.
5. Dansby Swanson, 2B/SS, Vanderbilt
Swanson was arguably the best player in the College World Series last year. Now he gets a chance to move from second to shortstop to quarterback the Commodores’ title defense.
6. Nathan Kirby, LHP, Virginia
Virginia’s aces don’t have a great pro track record yet (Danny Hultzen is the most prominent example), but Kirby is a lefthander with polish and athleticism.
7. Alex Bregman, SS, LSU
The 2013 SEC Freshman of the Year struggled as a sophomore — he hit .316 after a .369 freshman campaign — but has lots of swagger and a track record of hitting.
8. Riley Ferrell, RHP, TCU
Ferrell was a closer who came in to finish off Brandon Finnegan’s starts last year with a 95-100 mph fastball. Now, he will get a chance to start on Friday nights for the Frogs.
9. Kyle Cody, RHP, Kentucky
Cody is a big-bodied (6'7") righthander with a big fastball (93-96 mph). He battled injuries as a sophomore, but a strong summer in the Cape Cod League has scouts very interested.
10. Carson Fulmer, RHP, Vanderbilt
Fulmer served as a moment-of-truth pitcher for the Commodores last year, switching from the pen to the rotation and pitching well as the starter in Vanderbilt’s national championship win. He’s an emotional leader with the results to back it up.
11. Jake Lemoine, RHP, Houston
Unlike most of the pitchers on this list, Lemoine doesn’t really have above-average stuff yet. But thanks to a good body and a very clean delivery, scouts believe he will continue to develop.
12. Ian Happ, OF, Cincinnati
Happ might be able to stick at second base in pro ball, but most scouts believe he’ll move to the outfield. That will hurt his draft value, but his track record of hitting makes him hard to ignore.
13. James Kaprielian, RHP, UCLA
Kaprielian has one of the best breaking balls in the draft class, as he showed repeatedly with Team USA last summer. But he’s got to prove his fastball is good enough to set up his breaking ball.
14. Phil Bickford, RHP, College of Southern Nevada
A first-round pick in 2013 who was erratic as a freshman at Cal State Fullerton, Bickford was better this summer as a reliever in the Cape Cod League. He transferred to a junior college to become draft eligible this summer.
15. Kevin Newman, SS, Arizona
Newman is a typical college shortstop prospect. He may not be able to stick at short in pro ball, but his quality bat and defensive versatility will make him a potential first-round pick.
16. D.J. Stewart, OF, Florida State
Stewart has always hit, and he looks like he could hit for power. But so far he’s been a corner outfielder who doesn’t provide the home run numbers one would expect. He’s got one more year to prove to scouts there’s more thump.
17. Cody Ponce, RHP, Cal Poly Pomona
A Division II righthander, Ponce used the Cape Cod League to rocket onto the national scene by showing a 93-96 mph fastball and a very useful cutter.
18. Gio Brusa, OF, Pacific
Brusa hit for average and power in the Cape Cod League last summer, but he did it with a swing-at-everything approach that scares scouts.
19. Jacob Nix, RHP, TBD
Nix signed with the Astros last summer as a fifth-round pick, but ended up having the contract voided when Brady Aiken didn’t sign. He may have to go to a junior college because of eligibility issues.
20. Richie Martin, SS, Florida
Another well-rounded college shortstop who won’t wow scouts with exceptional tools, but he impresses with his baseball aptitude, athleticism and understanding of the game.
21. Tyler Jay, LHP, Illinois
Jay is an electric, small-bodied, left-handed reliever who had a great summer with Team USA. He’s going to try to start, but can he hold up in that role?
22. Dillon Tate, RHP, UCSB
Tate is an athletic, high-energy reliever who was hitting 97-99 mph for Team USA last summer in short stints.
23. Jon Harris, RHP, Missouri State
Harris showed some versatility for Missouri State, serving as both a weekend starter and a closer during his sophomore season. He should be the club’s ace this spring.
24. Mac Marshall, LHP, Chipola (Fla.) JC
Another of the Astros’ 2014 draft refugees, Marshall ended up not signing when the Astros didn’t sign Aiken and Nix. He’s a lefty with plus stuff and some feel for pitching.
25. Marc Brakeman, RHP, Stanford
Brakeman has largely worked as a reliever at Stanford but will start this spring after striking out 47 batters in 33 innings in the Cape Cod League. He mixes a quality 90-95 mph fastball and an above-average changeup.