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All taxonomy terms: Texas Rangers, MLB
Path: /mlb/2013-baseball-preview-texas-rangers
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Consider this about how far the Rangers franchise has come: Their 93 wins in 2012 were viewed as a major disappointment for a team that has disappointed often since coming to Texas in 1972. Fans in the Metroplex had reason to be upset after the Rangers blew a five-game division lead with nine to play. Texas bowed out of the playoffs with a 5–1 loss to Baltimore in the inaugural AL Wild Card Game. The offseason didn’t start out any better, as five-time All-Star Josh Hamilton bolted to the division-rival Angels, and free agent Zack Greinke turned down the Rangers’ pile of money for a bigger one with the Dodgers. But the Rangers’ lineup, despite losing Hamilton, is still productive. The rotation should be a strength, assuming it can avoid the injuries that led to the club’s downfall last year. There’s too much talent to count this team out.

Rotation
Failed bids to land Greinke and James Shields were met with dismay by Rangers fans, but the team’s rotation likely will feature three All-Stars and a 16-game winner. Yu Darvish finally lived up to the hype as he thrived down the stretch in 2012. The Rangers saw an ace-in-the-making who went 3–0 with a 2.21 ERA over his final five starts. Darvish made the AL All-Star team via the Final Vote contest on MLB.com. Matt Harrison could be considered the ace after winning a career-high 18 games. He dominated in June, when he was the AL Pitcher of the Month, and was a first-time All-Star in July. The third All-Star is Alexi Ogando, who made the AL team as a starter in 2011. The Rangers have settled on using Ogando as a starter after he spent the 2012 season in the bullpen. Ogando uses three pitches, though a mid- to upper-90s fastball is his best one. Derek Holland, who went 16–5 in 2011, and prospect Robbie Ross will round out the rotation, but the Rangers are expecting a significant contribution later in the year from Colby Lewis as he returns from surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon last summer.

Bullpen
There is little doubt that the Texas bullpen will be much stronger in the second half. That’s when the crew will be at full strength after the return of injured pitchers Neftali Feliz, Joakim Soria and Martin Perez. And with the return of Lewis to the rotation by then, Ross will have returned to his valuable role in the bullpen. Soria, the former Royals closer will be an impact arm, but not until late May as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Jose Lindblom, who was acquired from Philadelphia in a trade for Michael Young, takes another spot. He’s a power pitcher who relies on a mid-90s fastball and a slider, but he gave up too many homers (13 in 71 innings) in 2012. Closer Joe Nathan, who saved 37 games, headlines the group of returning relievers. Feliz should return from Tommy John surgery around midseason. Perez may miss a couple of months.

Middle Infield
There were multiple offseason discussions about where All-Stars Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus would play in 2013. The reason is top prospect Jurickson Profar. Club brass would like to see the switch-hitting Profar in the lineup every day. To do so, though, either Kinsler would have to be moved from second base or Andrus would have to be moved to another team. With free agency looming for Andrus after 2014 and with Scott Boras as his agent, the shortstop’s willingness to stay in Arlington is in question. Profar, who turned 20 early in spring training, is considered the top prospect in baseball. The Rangers believe his bat would upgrade a lineup that was inconsistent for much of 2012, and he’s athletic enough to play second base regularly even though he has been developed as a shortstop. He still could very well force his way into the Opening Day lineup, but the more likely scenario is that he will begin the season in the minors getting regular at-bats.

Corners
Adrian Beltre stands as the Rangers’ undisputed best player after Hamilton left for the Angels’ $125 million offer. Beltre, though, was moving toward that title last season as he swatted 36 homers with 102 RBIs and a .321 batting average. He also played spectacular defense, committing only eight errors, and earned his second straight Gold Glove — as well as the Platinum Glove, given to the best defensive player in the American League. The other side of the diamond, though, could be in flux. Mitch Moreland entered spring training as the starting first baseman, but wasn’t oozing with job security. The Rangers had flirted with the idea of playing Kinsler at first base in an attempt to make room for Profar. Moreland is the only true first baseman on the roster, but the left-handed hitter hasn’t shown much success against lefty pitchers. He also hasn’t had many chances the past two seasons, with the right-handed-hitting Young, Napoli and Mike Olt playing against lefties.

Outfield
The loss of Hamilton obviously hurts, but there were a couple winners in the fallout of his departure. David Murphy will take over left field on a permanent basis. Murphy, who bats left-handed, hit a career-high .304 last season in 457 at bats and proved that he could hit left-handed pitchers (.347 in 75 at bats). The other winner was Leonys Martin, who defected from Cuba in 2010. He has power in his bat, though he will find more gaps than outfield seats, and his speed allows him to be a threat on the bases and a weapon in the outfield. Martin will open the season in a platoon with another strong-armed speedster, Craig Gentry, but the Rangers want to see Martin seize everyday duties. Nelson Cruz has manned right field since late in 2008, but leg injuries have made him less effective despite having the strongest arm in the outfield.

Catching
Along with the bullpen, catcher was the other area that the Rangers needed to address during the offseason. Free agent A.J. Pierzynski signed a one-year deal to be the Rangers’ primary catcher, with Geovany Soto re-signing to be the backup. Pierzynski had his most productive season in 2012, with a career-high 27 homers and a career-high-tying 77 RBIs for the White Sox. Numbers like that ordinarily warrant a multi-year deal, but at 36 years old, Pierzynski’s most attractive offer was the Rangers’ one-year pact. Soto disappointed after being acquired from the Cubs on July 31. He batted only .196 after the trade, but many pitchers preferred to have him as their catcher rather than the departed Napoli.

DH/Bench
The Rangers like to use the DH spot as a chance to rest regulars without taking their bat out of the lineup, but the addition of Lance Berkman will limit that practice. Berkman might not be able to play 150 games, but it isn’t outrageous to think he will get 400 at-bats. Some of those could come at first base. Gentry will most likely serve as the fourth outfield, assuming Martin seizes center field. Veteran Jeff Baker appears to have won a reserve spot as a non-roster player. The most interesting decision remains what to do with Profar. Keeping him would most likely send Moreland to the bench. Sending him to the minors would open a spot for utility infielder Leury Garcia, a switch-hitter who has never played above Double-A.

Management
Ron Washington is back for his seventh season as manager. His primary strength is that he consistently gets the most out of his players and allows them to play an exciting brand of baseball. But he also stresses the fundamentals, and the Rangers had their best season defensively since he took over, but their worst on the bases. Hitting coach Dave Magadan left the same post in Boston and takes over an offense that led the majors in runs (808) and finished third in batting average (.273). Dave Anderson and Gary Pettis are swapping coaching boxes, with Pettis heading to third as the Rangers try to maximize the base-running knowledge he had as a player.

Final Analysis
The Rangers won’t be favored to win the West this year after losing Hamilton and failing to make an offseason splash. But this team still has multiple All-Stars, including three in the infield and three in the rotation, and they have the prospects and financial flexibility to alter the roster before the July 31 trade deadline. In short, the Rangers know how to win and still have the talent to compete for the AL West title.

Lineup
2B     Ian Kinsler (R)    
Kinsler is looking for a rebound season after a subpar 2012. Don’t be surprised to see him play some first base, too.
SS     Elvis Andrus (R)    
He set career-highs in average, on-base percentage and RBIs in 2012, and was terrific defensively.
DH     Lance Berkman (S)    
Nolan Ryan helped woo the veteran to Arlington. If Berkman is healthy, he can be a threat in the middle of the lineup.
3B     Adrian Beltre (R)    
The Rangers’ best player put up huge numbers for a second straight year. No one in the clubhouse is respected more.
RF     Nelson Cruz (R)    
A more slender Cruz produced career-highs in doubles and RBIs, but was streaky. He’s in his walk year, so look for a big 2013.
LF     David Murphy (L)    
The longtime fourth outfielder seized his chance to play every day over the final two months of 2012.
C     A.J. Pierzynski (L)    
Signed in late December, the veteran upgrades the catching situation and provides a needed left-handed bat.
1B     Mitch Moreland (L)    
He must show that he can stay healthy and handle left-handed pitchers. He had only 46 at-bats against them in 2012.
CF    Leonys Martin (L)    
A .323 average in 533 minor league at-bats has the Rangers believing he’s ready to succeed in the major leagues.

Bench
C    Geovany Soto (R)    
A .196 hitter after the July trade from the Cubs, this former Rookie of the Year expects more from himself in 2013.
OF     Craig Gentry (R)    
The defensive-minded outfielder showed something at the plate in 2012, but he is not viewed as an everyday player.
UT    Jeff Baker (R)
Hit just .248 for three different teams last season.
UT    Leury Garcia (S)
The Rangers are likely to keep Garcia as a bench player and allow Jurickson Profar the opportunity for regular at-bats in the minors.

Rotation
RH     Yu Darvish    
The Japanese import was one of the league’s top pitchers over the final two months, giving the Rangers high hopes for 2013.
LH     Derek Holland    
His 2012 was a disappointment after a 16-win 2011 season. Holland’s main problem was the long ball (32 HRs allowed).
LH     Matt Harrison    
He has won 32 games the past two seasons, tied for eighth-best in the majors. Won a career-high 18 in 2012.
RH     Alexi Ogando    
An All-Star in 2011, Ogando was back in the bullpen last year. He’s a starter once again, and it’s the job he wants most.
LH     Robbie Ross    
A longshot to make the 2012 roster, he posted All-Star numbers before fatigue caught up to him. He’s a key piece in 2013, and injuries to others have opened a door to the rotation.

Bullpen
RH     Joe Nathan (Closer)    
The veteran was a workhorse and an All-Star in 2012, and must be again while some key relievers try to overcome injuries.
RH     Joakim Soria    
The former Kansas City closer won’t be ready until late May (Tommy John surgery); will give the bullpen a boost on return.
RH     Josh Lindblom    
Acquired in the Michael Young trade, Lindblom gave up 13 homers in 71 innings in 2012. He knows that must improve.
RH     Tanner Scheppers    
Made big-league debut in ’12, two years later than anticipated. Fastball can hit 98 mph but straightens out too frequently.
LH     Michael Kirkman    
The former starting pitcher has found a home in the bullpen, and his slider is a key pitch against tough left-handed batters.
RH     Jason Frasor    
Says he’s healthy after hitting the DL (forearm strain) for the first time in his nine-year career in 2012.
 

Teaser:
<p> The Rangers won’t be favored to win the West this year after losing Hamilton and failing to make an offseason splash, but the Rangers know how to win and still have the talent to compete for the AL West title.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - 15:05
All taxonomy terms: Oakland A's, MLB
Path: /mlb/2013-baseball-preview-oakland
Body:

Since these are the Oakland Athletics, subject of a popular motion picture you may have heard about, we can say it without exaggeration: The 2012 season unfolded like a movie. Billy Beane, their mad scientist of a general manager, traded three All-Star pitchers before the season started, then used the pieces he got in return to build another unlikely winner. The A’s roared to a 33–13 finish after Aug. 15 to capture the AL West title on the season’s final day. They lost a five-game division series to Detroit but return nearly the entire roster in an effort to get back to the playoffs.

Rotation
The A’s ranked third in the American League in starters’ ERA, with their 3.80 mark trailing only Tampa Bay and Detroit. They managed this despite having only two pitchers, Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker, make 25 starts, while losing another, Bartolo Colon, to a suspension for testosterone use in August. Still another starter, Brandon McCarthy, had his season end in early September when he took a line drive off of his head. McCarthy has since signed with the Diamondbacks, but the A’s are bringing back everyone else,including Colon, who returns on a one-year, $3 million contract. Perpetually overweight, nearing 40 and presumably off performance-enhancing drugs, Colon is no sure thing. But there is young depth around him, with Milone, Parker and A.J. Griffin having gone a combined 33–19 as rookies last season, and lefty Brett Anderson ready for his first full season after Tommy John surgery. Dan Straily looked promising last season in his first seven career starts.

Bullpen
As well as the Oakland starters pitched last season, the relievers were even better. Only the Rays had a better bullpen ERA in the AL than the Athletics, whose 2.94 mark was more than a full run better than that of the division-rival Angels. Grant Balfour, the hard-throwing, fist-pumping, rage-inducing Australian, secured a closer’s role for the first time in his nine big-league seasons, earning 24 saves in 26 opportunities. And Balfour wasn’t even the bullpen’s All-Star — that honor went to Ryan Cook, who also pitched well in the second half before stumbling a bit in the playoffs. After knee surgery in February, Balfour may not be ready to start the season, leaving closing duties in Cook’s hands. Cook and sidewinder Pat Neshek, who was devastating against righties, provide strong right-handed setup relief for Bob Melvin, who could carry three lefthanders if Travis Blackley stays on the roster as a long man and spot starter. Jerry Blevins is prone to the long ball but generally holds lefties in check. And Sean Doolittle, a former first-round pick as a first baseman, made a remarkably swift transition to the mound, blowing hitters away with his heat while featuring, perhaps, the coolest Twitter handle in baseball (@whatwouldDOOdo).

Middle Infield
When the A’s look at what’s new this spring, they’ll train their eyes on the middle of the diamond. Scott Sizemore’s 2012 season ended before it even started due to a knee injury sustained in February. Jemile Weeks struggled to replace him, with a .304 slugging percentage that was even lower than his .305 on-base percentage. Cliff Pennington ended up starting at second in the playoffs but was traded to Arizona, so Weeks and Sizemore remain in the mix at the position. At shortstop, the A’s let Stephen Drew leave for the Red Sox and signed Hiroyuki Nakajima for two years and $6.5 million. Nakajima, a right-handed batter who hit for average and power in Japan, played in the World Baseball Classic in 2009 but did not participate this spring.

Corners
Nobody could have predicted at the start of last season that Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson would be starting at the infield corners for a playoff team. The duo had combined for zero hits in the majors in 2011, Moss having gone 0-for-6 in a brief call-up with the Phillies, and Donaldson having spent the entire season in the minors. Their unexpected rise was just further evidence of the charmed existence of the 2012 Athletics, and it’s fair to wonder whether either can maintain their success. So it’s difficult to blame the club for trading for Jed Lowrie. Having played shortstop with Houston last season, the A’s will pencil Lowrie in at third and in the No. 2 hole in the lineup. With Moss, it’s probably unrealistic to expect anything more. In just 84 games last season, he belted 21 homers, drove in 52 runs and posted an OPS of .954.

Outfield
The A’s lost Jonny Gomes, their high-on-base, high-energy, high-strikeout slugger, to the Red Sox, who gave him $10 million for two years. Even so, the A’s bring back three solid, athletic outfielders — Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick — who cover lots of ground and bring a diverse set of skills to the lineup. Cespedes can do it all and seems to have all the indicators of a possible breakout season in 2013. The Cuban defector has had a year to adjust to the United States and has already shown he can handle the majors, finishing as the runner-up for Rookie of the Year by hitting .292 with 23 homers and 16 stolen bases. At 27, he should be squarely in his prime and is the closest thing Oakland has to a legitimate superstar. Crisp is the old man of the offense, at 33, but he’s plenty spry enough to cover lots of ground in the outfield and is one of the top base-stealing threats in the league. Reddick — another former Red Sox player — blossomed with a full-time role in Oakland, drilling 32 homers and showing off a great arm in right.

Catching
The A’s got a catcher from the Nationals before last season (Derek Norris) and then traded a different one (Kurt Suzuki) to Washington during the season. Suzuki was popular in the Oakland clubhouse, but the A’s are fine with the swap. Norris didn’t show much at the plate last year, but he’s only 24 and his minor league numbers suggest the kind of hitter Oakland has long loved: high on-base percentage, big power. He also showed enough leadership qualities and rapport with a young pitching staff to get the most out of their abilities during the heat of the pennant race. The A’s also brought in John Jaso over the winter. He and Norris should split time, keeping both fresh throughout the season.

DH/Bench
Seth Smith can play all three outfield spots, but will be the primary DH. The A’s pulled off the rare October trade, acquiring Chris Young from the Diamondbacks shortly after their loss to Detroit in the division series. Parker, who played with Young in Arizona, told the San Francisco Chronicle he loved the move. “He’s similar to a lot of guys we have here. He’s young. He’ll have a lot in common with everyone. It’s going to be exciting to see him.” It’s a bit unclear where Young fits, exactly, because he’s a good defensive outfielder. But the A’s already have three of those, so expect Young to see at least some time at designated hitter while mixing in and out of the outfield to keep everyone fresh. Donaldson is the first option as a backup infielder.

Management
It’s difficult to think of any manager/GM combination that had a better year than Beane and Melvin. Beane’s bold trades of Andrew Bailey, Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez netted both quantity and quality, at low cost, and his signing of Yoenis Cespedes was a masterstroke. The A’s did not expect to win a division in 2012, but they did, and the level-headed, approachable Melvin clicked nicely with a young, exuberant roster. Melvin earned American League Manager of the Year honors, and Beane’s moves give the A’s the chance to keep their core while waiting for baseball to decide if owner Lew Wolff can ever build a ballpark in San Jose.

Final Analysis
The unsettled stadium issue hangs over the franchise, but Beane showed last season that he could still win a brain race against division rivals with much more cash to throw around. As the Angels spend lavishly to recapture their recent glory — Albert Pujols one year, Josh Hamilton the next — and the big-budget Rangers try to re-tool, the A’s have a strong chance to at least make things interesting again. It’s probably asking too much to make Oakland the favorite on paper, but with the talent and grit of this group, and with plenty of winnable games against Seattle and Houston, it’s foolish to count the A’s out.

Lineup
CF     Coco Crisp (S)     
In three seasons with A’s, has 120 steals and .314 average with runners in scoring position.
3B     Jed Lowrie (S)    
When healthy, he’s proven to be an all-around solid player and one of team’s top power threats.
LF     Yoenis Cespedes (R)    
Four-year, $36M deal looked puzzling at the time; looks shrewd now for this emerging star.
1B     Brandon Moss (L)     
Led the American League with .545 average (18 for 33) when putting first pitch in play.
RF     Josh Reddick (L)     
Embodies the A’s offense — lots of homers (32) and lots of strikeouts (151).
DH     Seth Smith (L)     
Made final out of 2007 World Series with the Rockies and 2012 ALDS with the A’s.
C    John Jaso (L)
Had a .394 OBP in 108 games with Seattle.
2B     Scott Sizemore (R)     
A’s are eager to see how he comes back from knee surgery that kept him out all last season.
SS     Hiroyuki Nakajima (R)    
Hit .302 with four seasons of at least 20 homers in Japan; signed a two-year deal with the A’s.

Bench
C     Derek Norris (R)     
Pitchers’ ERA was 3.13 with him behind plate, best for any AL catcher (min. 50 games). Will get significant at-bats against left-handed pitching.
OF     Chris Young (R)    
Strong defensive ability could be asset as fourth outfielder.
3B     Josh Donaldson (R)     
Former Auburn Tiger will need to improve .289 OBP to have a chance as an everyday starter.
1B    Daric Barton (L)
Has hit .209 with one home run in 597 plate appearances since hitting .273 with 10 dingers in 686 Pas in 2010.

Rotation
LH     Brett Anderson    
Southpaw has held opponents to .195 average with runners in scoring position over last three seasons.
RH     Jarrod Parker    
Former first-round pick by Arizona went 13–8 and had seven quality starts in his eight no-decisions.
LH     Tommy Milone    
Tossed Oakland’s only complete game with win vs. Dodgers last June.
RH     Bartolo Colon    
Won double-digit games for first time since 2005. Still must serve final five games of 50-game suspension.
RH     A.J. Griffin    
Slumped to 7.27 ERA in final four starts of regular season in his rookie campaign.

Bullpen
RH    Grant Balfour (Closer)    
Last blown save of 2012 season came on April 29; allowed only 41 hits in 74.2 innings. Will miss the beginning of the season due to knee surgery.
RH     Ryan Cook    
Held opponents scoreless in 22 of final 23 regular-season appearances in his first season in Oakland. Will fill in as closer until Balfour is healthy.
LH     Sean Doolittle    
Former first baseman hit 22 homers with 90 RBIs in minors in 2008.
LH     Jerry Blevins    
Allowed six first-batter home runs, most by A’s reliever in more than 30 years.
RH     Pat Neshek    
Righties went just 5-for-53 off Neshek after Orioles sold him to A’s in August.
RH    Chris Resop    
Threw a career-high 73.2 innings, seventh among NL relievers, for Pirates last season.
RH    Fernando Rodriguez
Torn ACL leaves season in doubt.
 

Teaser:
<p> It’s probably asking too much to make Oakland the favorite on paper, but with the talent and grit of this group, and with plenty of winnable games against Seattle and Houston, it’s foolish to count the A’s out.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - 15:00
All taxonomy terms: 2013 March Madness, College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-thursday-viewers-guide
Body:

Thursday (March 21) and Friday (March 22) will feature 16 NCAA Tournament games across four networks. An almost-continuous stream of college basketball will be fun, but it could be tiring.

Here’s everything you need to know for Thursday’s slate of games, including the TV schedule, the network, announcers, predictions and bits of knowledge for each game Thursday.

COMPLETE REGION PREVIEWS
East
| Midwest | South | West

THURSDAY NCAA TOURNAMENT VIEWERS GUIDE
All times p.m., Eastern.

No. 14 Valparaiso vs. No. 3 Michigan State
Time and TV: 12:15, CBS
Site and region: Auburn Hills, Mich., Midwest
Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery
What to watch: The Spartans played the nation’s toughest schedule according to KenPom.com, which is to say they played in the Big Ten and piled on with Kansas, Miami, Boise State and UConn.
Game in a Tweet: Kids, ask your folks about Bryce Drew’s shot 15 years ago. He’s coaching Valpo now.
Prediction: Michigan State

Related: Our best tips for your bracket pool

No. 11 Bucknell vs. No. 6 Butler
Time and TV: 12:40, truTV
Site and region: Lexington, Ky., East
Announcers: Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel
What to watch: Butler will get to know Bucknell’s stat-sheet stuffer Mike Muscala (19 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 2.3 apg, 2.4 bpg). The Bulldogs will need Rotnei Clarke to get hot from three-point land.
Game in a Tweet: Bucknell is 2–3 round of 64 games despite never being seeded higher than No. 9.
Prediction: Bucknell

Related: Bucknell among our top Cinderellas for 2013

No. 9 Wichita State vs. No. 8 Pittsburgh
Time and TV: 1:40, TBS
Site and region: Salt Lake City, West
Announcers: Spero Dedes, Doug Gottlieb
What to watch: Both Jamie Dixon and Gregg Marshall are looking for that elusive second weekend. Dixon has been to the Sweet 16 once in four tries since 2007, Marshall has never been.
Game in a Tweet: Pitt outscored opponents by 9.5 points per game in the second half, best in the country.
Prediction: Pittsburgh

No. 13 New Mexico State vs. No. 4 Saint Louis
Time and TV: 2:10, TNT
Site and region: San Jose, Midwest
Announcers: Brian Anderson, Dan Bonner
What to watch: Saint Louis forward Dwayne Evans has averaged 18.1 points and 9.8 rebounds since Feb. 6.
Game in a Tweet: A WAC team hasn’t won a Tournament game since Nevada went to the Sweet 16 in 2004.
Prediction: Saint Louis

No. 11 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 11 Memphis
Time and TV: 2:35, CBS
Site and region: Auburn Hills, Mich., Midwest
Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery
What to watch: Saint Mary's is 17-0 since Jan. 1 against teams not named Gonzaga. The Gaels are defeating those teams by an average of 14.8 points per game.
Game in a Tweet: Six players contribute between 10 and 18 percent of Memphis’ scoring.
Prediction: Memphis

No. 14 Davidson vs. No. 3 Marquette
Time and TV: 3:10, truTV
Site and region: Lexington, Ky., East
Announcers: Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel
What to watch: Marquette has advanced to the Sweet 16 in each of the last two seasons — as a No. 3 seed last year and a No. 11 in 2011.
Game in a Tweet: Davidson was the only team to make at least 80 percent of its free throws (80.1).
Prediction: Marquette

Related: How safe is Marquette for another Sweet 16: We rank the top teams

No. 16 Southern vs. No. 1 Gonzaga
Time and TV: 4:10, TBS
Site and region: Salt Lake City, West
Announcers: Spero Dedes, Doug Gottlieb
What to watch: Indiana and Michigan spent most of the season in the top two, but Gonzaga finished the season first in points per possession.
Game in a Tweet: Gonzaga’s rotation includes two from Canada, one from Germany and one from Ivory Coast.
Prediction: Gonzaga

No. 12 Oregon vs. No. 5 Oklahoma State
Time and TV: 4:40, TNT
Site and region: San Jose, Midwest
Announcers: Brian Anderson, Dan Bonner
What to watch: Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart may be one of the nation’s most indispensable players, but Oregon is much better than a No. 12 seed with Dominic Artis in the lineup.
Game in a Tweet: Oregon has six players averaging at least 8.5 ppg.
Prediction: Oklahoma State

No. 16 North Carolina A&T vs. No. 1 Louisville
Time and TV: 6:50, TBS
Site and region: Lexington, Ky., Midwest
Announcers: Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel
What to watch: Peyton Siva took over during Tournament time last season. Are we seeing the same after Siva won Big East Tourney MVP honors?
Game in a Tweet: Rick Pitino has only two round of 64 exits in his career. He’ll still have two after this game.
Prediction: Louisville

No. 13 South Dakota State vs. No. 4 Michigan
Time and TV: 7:15, CBS
Site and region: Auburn Hills, Mich., South
Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery
What to watch: Don’t expect to see free throws: Michigan and South Dakota State were No. 1 and 2 in the country in limiting their opponents’ trips to the line.
Game in a Tweet: Trey Burke and Nate Wolters average a combined 45.7 points and 13.8 assists per 40 minutes.
Prediction: Michigan

No. 11 Belmont vs. No. 6 Arizona
Time and TV: 7:20, TNT
Site and region: Salt Lake City, West
Announcers: Spero Dedes, Doug Gottlieb
What to watch: Belmont has one of the field’s most dynamic backcourts with Ian Clark from the perimeter and Kerron Johnson driving to the basket.
Game in a Tweet: Arizona is on upset alert, but Coach Sean Miller is 4-1 in the round of 64.
Prediction: Belmont

No. 12 Cal vs. No. 5 UNLV
Time and TV: 7:27, truTV
Site and region: San Jose, East
Announcers: Brian Anderson, Dan Bonner
What to watch: Despite being led by the backcourt, Cal made the fewest three-pointers per game in the field (four).
Game in a Tweet: UNLV has only advanced to the Sweet 16 once — in 2007 as a No. 7 seed — since Jerry Tarkanian was forced out in 1992.
Prediction: Cal

No. 9 Missouri vs. No. 8 Colorado State
Time and TV: 9:20, TBS
Site and region: Lexington, Ky., Midwest
Announcers: Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel
What to watch: Colorado State led the nation in rebound rate despite only one regular (leading scorer and rebounder Colton Iverson) taller than 6-6.
Game in a Tweet: The starting lineups feature a combined five transfers plus a first-year coach at Colorado State.
Prediction: Colorado State

No. 12 Akron vs. No. 5 VCU
Time and TV: 9:45, CBS
Site and region: Auburn Hills, Mich., South
Announcers: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery
What to watch: VCU picked up 11.2 extra scoring chances per game, nearly three more pre game than No. 2 Louisville.
Game in a Tweet: Take away suspended point guard Alex Abreu, and Akron has a 0.87 assist-to-turnover ratio. Good luck against VCU.
Prediction: VCU

No. 14 Harvard vs. No. 3 New Mexico
Time and TV: 9:50, TNT
Site and region: Salt Lake City, West
Announcers: Spero Dedes, Doug Gottlieb
What to watch: The Lobos will look to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1974.
Game in a Tweet: New Mexico leads the field by assisting on 66.5 percent of its made shots.
Prediction: New Mexico

No. 13 Montana vs. No. 4 Syracuse
Time and TV: 9:57, truTV
Site and region: San Jose, East
Announcers: Brian Anderson, Dan Bonner
What to watch: Which Syracuse shows up? Syracuse is 8–8 in its last 16 games. The Orange opened the season with an 18–1 record.
Game in a Tweet: Montana’s coaching pedigree: Jud Heathcote, Mike Montgomery, Stew Morrill, Larry Krystkowiak
Prediction: Syracuse

Related: All Athlon Sports 2013 NCAA Tournament content
 

Teaser:
<p> NCAA Tournament: Thursday Viewer's Guide</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - 14:00
All taxonomy terms: Matt Kuchar, Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2013-majors-no-16-matt-kuchar
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2013 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 20 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

No. 16: Matt Kuchar

Born: June 21, 1978, Winter Park, Fla. | Career PGA Tour Wins: | 2012 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2012 Earnings (PGA Tour): $3,903,065 (11th) World Ranking: 9

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Kuchar has won only five times on Tour, but his consistency is impossible to ignore — he has 42 top 10s since 2009. When someone comes that close that often, the experience they’ve gained in contending will eventually make them comfortable enough on Sundays to realize the potential of their talent — talent that was on display when Kuchar won the Players in 2012, and in the WGCs, where he has eight top 10s in the last 10 events he has played and won the 2013 Accenture Match Play. A multi-win year is certainly possible, as is a major for this under-the-radar player.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 29
Wins: 0

2012 Performance:
Masters - T3
U.S. Open - T27
British Open - T9
PGA Championship - Cut

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T3 (2012)
U.S. Open - T6 (2010)
British Open - T9 (2012)
PGA Championship - T10 (2010)
Top-10 Finishes: 4
Top-25 Finishes: 9
Missed Cuts: 15

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


Athlon's 2013 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 20 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, reigning FedExCup champion Brandt Snedeker, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Counts Down the 20 Golfers to Watch for Majors Season</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - 10:56
Path: /mlb/baseballs-top-15-breakout-players-2013
Body:

Every spring, major league baseball teams gather in Florida and Arizona to knock off the rust and get ready for the 162-game grind that is the regular season. While spring training is necessary for all pitchers to get their arms ready and hitters to get their timing at the plate, this time is even more critical for younger players.

Spring training not only presents these young players with the opportunity to show their team what they can do, but also lay the groundwork that will hopefully pay off at either the plate or on the mound once the season starts. With that in mind, here is Athlon’s list of players who appear to be in prime position to breakout for their respective team in 2013.

Baseball's Top 15 Breakout Players for 2013

Domonic Brown, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies have been hopeful of big things from Brown since he hit .327 with 20 home runs in 93 games between Double- and Triple-A in 2010. Unfortunately, things have yet to pan out for him at the plate, as he’s managed to hit just .236 in 433 at-bats in the majors with 12 home runs and 93 strikeouts. Still, Brown is only 27 and after tinkering with his swing and mechanics at the plate, he may be finally ready to put it all together. He has already mashed six home runs during spring training and has made steady improvement with his defense as well. Brown has all but locked up one of the starting corner outfield spots for the Phillies and could hit 20-25 home runs this season if he gets 500 at-bats.

Lorenzo Cain, OF, Kansas City Royals
At first glance, Cain’s 2012 numbers (.266-7-31, 10 SB) look anything but impressive, but don’t lose sight that the young outfielder played in just 61 games last season. Adjust these rates over a full season (162 G or 650 PA) and you get 18 home runs and 26 stolen bases, along with more than 80 RBIs and 70 runs scored. In fact, if Cain can stay healthy and show some improved plate discipline (56 SO in 61 G) in what would be full his first full season in the majors, it’s possible that the 27-year-old could provide a 20-home run, 30-stolen base season.

Alex Cobb, P, Tampa Bay Rays
In a Rays rotation that featured eventual American League Cy Young winner David Price, reliable workhorse James Shields, 2011 AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson and fellow young arm Matt Moore, Cobb more than held his own in 2012. The righthander went 11-9 with a 4.03 ERA in 23 starts last season, his first full one in the majors. His development was one of the reasons the team was willing to part with Shields in the offseason, and if his spring training numbers (14 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 23 SO in 19 1/3 innings so far) are any indication, he could be in for a big 2013 campaign.

Adam Eaton, OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
While he may not directly be the reason, Eaton’s presence and the production he provided (.259-2-5) in his late (85 at-bats) audition last season somewhat attributed to Arizona trading fellow outfielders Justin Upton and Chris Young during the offseason. Slotted for leadoff in manager Kirk Gibson’s lineup, Eaton was adept at getting on base during his time in the minor leagues (.456 on-base percentage over three seasons) and he walked just as many times (14) as he struck out (15) last September in the majors. He also stole 98 bases and hit a total of 24 home runs in the minors, so between his ability to get on base, steal a bag and occasionally drive one out of the park, he appears to have all the tools needed to be a dynamic and productive catalyst atop the Diamondbacks’ lineup.

Matt Harvey, P, New York Mets
The No. 7 overall pick of the 2010 MLB Draft arrived last July and didn’t disappoint. Harvey struck out 70 in 59 1/3 innings and posted a 2.73 ERA in 10 starts. He pitched no fewer than five innings in any one start and allowed two or fewer unearned runs on seven occasions. He’s picked up in spring training (2.95 ERA, 24 SO in 18 1/3 innings so far) right where he left off and, barring injury, should be among the National League’s strikeout leaders. In fact, if everything comes together and a few breaks go his way, Harvey could be a dark horse candidate to win the NL Cy Young award.

Adeiny Hechavarria, SS, Miami Marlins
A key piece of the trade that sent Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio and others to Toronto, Hechavarria will be the Marlins’ everyday shortstop in 2013. One of the Blue Jays’ top prospects, the Cuban will turn 24 in April and although his glove is a little more developed than his bat at this point, he is expected to hit soon enough. In parts of two seasons at Triple-A, Hechavarria hit .327 with 26 doubles, eight home runs and 74 RBIs. He made his major-league debut last August and hit .254 with eight doubles and two home runs in only 126 at-bats. If anything, Hechavarria should get plenty of at-bats and the opportunity to display his all-around game this season.

Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles
The top prospect in Baltimore’s system, Machado arrived earlier than expected when he made the jump from Double-A to the majors in August at just 20 years old. On top of that, the Orioles shifted their shortstop of the future over to third base, a position he played just two games at in AA prior to his call up. The third overall pick of the 2010 MLB Draft didn’t disappoint with his glove or bat, however, as he made just five errors in 51 games at the hot corner and hit .262 with seven home runs and 26 RBIs. For now, Machado will remain at third base, a position he should be even more comfortable at following his big-league indoctrination last season.

Starling Marte, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Everyone knows about Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen, but Marte may make a name for himself this season as well. The 24-year-old outfielder made his debut last July and provided a glimpse of the potential across-the-board contributions he can offer when he posted a .257-5-17 line with 12 stolen bases in less than 200 plate appearances. Penciled in as the Pirates’ starting left fielder, Marte could be capable of producing a 15-home run, 20-stolen base type of season, and that appears to be his floor, not ceiling.

Jurickson Profar, 2B/SS, Texas Rangers
Even if Profar doesn’t make the Rangers’ Opening Day roster, it’s simply a matter of when and not if for the game’s top prospect. The 20-year-old will get his chance at some point this season, and it’s highly likely that once he does come up he will stay. A .276 hitter in three minor-league seasons, Profar did collect his first career home run among three hits in 17 at-bats with the Rangers at the end of last season. The fact the Rangers reportedly discussed trading All-Star shortstop Elvis Andrus during the offseason to make room for Profar should be all you need to know about their expectations for the young infielder.

Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs
Despite a brutal 49-game introduction (.141-1-9 with 46 SO) to the big leagues with San Diego in 2011, the Cubs traded for the left-handed hitting Rizzo last January, believing him to be their future first baseman. After tearing up Triple-A once again (.342-23-62 in 70 G), the Cubs called him up last June and he proceeded to post a .265-15-48 line in a little more than half a season. Now entrenched in the No. 3 spot in manager Dale Sveum’s batting order, production along the lines of a .280 batting average, 25 home runs and close to 100 RBIs from the 23-year-old isn’t out of the question, especially if he continues to improve his production against southpaws (.208-4-17 in 101 AB last season).

Bruce Rondon, P, Detroit Tigers
Rondon is one of the reasons why the defending AL champion Tigers chose not to bring back closer Jose Valverde, who saved 35 games in 2012. The 22-year-old righty from Venezuela zoomed through Detroit’s minor-league system in 2012, striking out 66 batters in 53 innings across all three (A, AA, AAA) levels. Virtually handed the closer’s gig before spring training even started, Rondon struggled out of the gates down in Lakeland, Fla., but he has shown signs of improvement while maintaining his high-strikeout (15 in 8 2/3 innings) rate. If he’s given the opportunity to close for a Tigers team that’s expected to contend for another AL pennant, Rondon could be in line to rack up a lot of saves, not to mention strikeouts.

Justin Ruggiano, OF, Miami Marlins
On the heels of a massive multi-player trade with Toronto that netted the Marlins a bevy of prospects, opportunity knocks for more seasoned players in 2013, like Ruggiano. Last season, he hit .313 while providing both some pop (13 home runs) and speed (14 stolen bases) in less than 300 at-bats. That also represented the most playing time he had received in his four major-league seasons, but that should change in 2013. Back issues sidelined him at the start of spring training, but if he can show he’s healthy he should be the Marlins’ everyday center fielder this season. If he gets the chance to play a full season, Ruggiano could end up producing one of the quietest 20-home run, 20-stolen base campaigns in the majors.

Andrelton Simmons, SS, Atlanta Braves
Simmons made his major-league debut last June and promptly seized the Braves’ starting shortstop job by the throat. Besides providing Gold Glove-caliber defense, complete with a canon for an arm, Simmons showed he could handle the bat too. In June, he hit .333 with three home runs and 14 RBIs as he was named the National League’s Rookie of the Month. Everything was going smoothly for Simmons until he broke a bone in his right hand sliding into second base on July 8. The fracture kept him out until Sept. 10 and he hit just .275 following his return. The Braves are excited to see what Simmons can do over the course of a full season, as evidenced by the likelihood that he will bat leadoff in a lineup that added Justin and B.J. Upton during the offseason.

Julio Teheran, P, Atlanta Braves
One of several young promising arms in the Braves’ minor-league system, Teheran has taken full advantage of his time on the mound in spring training. The 22-year-old from Colombia has allowed just three earned runs on seven hits in 20 innings so far, while walking only six and striking out 25. While he may not have originally been a part of the Braves’ rotation plans, it’s looking more and more likely that Teheran will be one of manager Fredi Gonzalez’ starters come Opening Day.

Jacob Turner, P, Miami Marlins
The big prize in the trade that sent Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to Detroit last July, Turner provided a glimpse of his potential in his seven-start audition for the Marlins. Even though he went just 1-4 in his starts, he posted a tidy 3.38 ERA and even more impressive 0.98 WHIP as he allowed just 33 hits and nine walks in 42 2/3 innings, while also striking out 29. Despite his early struggles in spring training, Turner is expected to be a part of the Marlins’ starting rotation and, more than likely, will establish himself as the team’s ace.

Related Content:
10 Unlikely AL Pitchers Who Could Wiin the Cy Young in 2013

10 Unlikely NL Pitchers Who Could Wiin the Cy Young in 2013

Teaser:
<p> Baseball's Top 15 Breakout Players for 2013</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy, News
Path: /mlb/2013-fantasy-baseball-sleepers-and-busts-outfield
Body:

Using Athlon Sports' Big Board as the barometer, here are some potential sleepers who roam the outfield to keep an eye on, as well some possible busts to potentially be wary of. Keep in mind that the "bust" tag doesn't necessarily mean that player won't produce, it's more an indication of concern that he won't do so in relation to his position on the Big Board.

Note: Outfield includes players who have OF eligibility, according to Yahoo!. The player's ranking on the Big Board (200 players ranked) is listed, if applicable. UR means player was not ranked among the top 200. Player rankings from 2012 referenced are from a Yahoo! league that uses the following batting statistics: R-HR-RBI-SB-AVG-OPS.

Fantasy Baseball Positional Rankings: Big Board | C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | DH | SP | RP

2013 Fantasy Baseball Outfield Sleepers

Lorenzo Cain, KC, OF (UR)
At first glance, Cain’s 2012 numbers (.266-7-31, 10 SB) look anything but impressive, but don’t lose sight that the young outfielder played in just 61 games last season. Adjust these rates over a full season (162 G or 650 PA) and you get a near 20-20 campaign (18 HR, 26 SB) with more than 80 RBIs and 70 runs scored. In fact, if Cain can stay healthy and show some improved plate discipline (56 SO in 61 G) in what would be full his first full season in the majors, it’s possible that the 27-year-old could provide a 20-30 season, while also contributing in runs and RBIs. Not bad for someone not even ranked in the top 200 currently.

Adam Eaton, ARI, OF (UR)
While he may not directly be the reason, Eaton’s presence and the production he provided (.259-2-5) in his late (85 at-bats) audition last season somewhat attributed to Arizona trading fellow outfielders Justin Upton and Chris Young during the offseason. Slotted for leadoff in manager Kirk Gibson’s lineup, Eaton should offer plenty of value in the runs and steals departments, as he produced a .456 on-base percentage in three minor-league seasons and walked just as many times (14) as he struck out (15) last September in the majors. The plus production would come in batting average (.355 career mark in the minors, including .381 at Triple-A), and any sort of power he can provide. The bottom line is this kid seems to ooze potential and upside, so there’s no reason in taking a late-round flier on him, especially considering his value will probably only increase as Opening Day approaches.

Dexter Fowler, COL, OF (No. 178 overall)
Fowler raised his batting average more than 30 points (from .266 to .300) last season, even though his walk-to-strikeout ratio stayed basically the same (68:130 in 2011, 68:128 in ’12). The spike in batting average also was joined by career-bests in home runs (13) and RBIs (53), although his doubles dropped by nearly half (35 to 18) compared to 2011 for some reason. Still, the 27-year-old outfielder offers a little bit of everything, and if he decides to run a little bit more (12 SB in 2012) and continues to improve his plate discipline, there’s no reason to not expect him to be even better in 2013. Don’t forget, he plays his home games at Coors Field, where he’s a career .295 hitter.

Todd Frazier, CIN, 1B/3B/OF (No. 181 overall)
Frazier took full advantage of Joey Votto’s injury troubles to force Reds manager Dusty Baker to find a way to keep him in the lineup even after Votto, the 2010 National League MVP, returned. That’s what happens when you finish third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting after posting a .273-19-67 line in just 422 at-bats. Baker has already told Frazier he’s the starting third baseman this season, so it’s entirely possible that Frazier could hit 25 or more home runs, post 90 or more RBIs and hit more than 30 doubles over a full season. His multi-position eligibility certainly doesn’t hurt either.

Corey Hart, MIL, 1B/OF (No. 195 overall)
Yes, Hart will most likely be out of the lineup until sometime in May (knee surgery), but that still leaves him plenty of time to produce for your fantasy team. Don’t forget, this is the same guy who hit 30 home runs and drove in 83 last season, while scoring 91 runs, and he did all of this in just 149 games. When he’s ready, he will go back to his post at first base and probably bat behind Ryan Braun in the Brewers’ lineup, so unless his knee doesn’t recover, there’s really no reason to think Hart can’t offer similar production compared to last season, when he was a top-75 player. And at this point, it appears you can get this production at a considerably reduced price.

Dayan Viciedo, CHW, OF (UR)
When putting together your fantasy outfield, what’s one of the things you are hoping for? Power, right? If that’s the case, then why not take a long look at Viciedo, the White Sox’ 24-year-old outfielder who mashed 25 home runs in his first full season in the majors. He does have a tendency to come up empty (120 SO, just 28 BB), but it may be a risk worth taking to land a potential 30-home run option late in your draft.

2013 Fantasy Baseball Outfield Busts

Carlos Beltran, STL, OF (No. 96 overall)
When Opening Day hits, Beltran will be 36 years old. While I still think he will contribute, I think his days as a no-doubt top-100 option could be over. Last season, Beltran was extremely productive, clubbing 32 home runs with 97 RBIs, 83 runs scored and 13 stolen bases. The batting average dropped to .269, however, and he struck out 124 times, the second-highest total in his 15-year career. Beltran doesn’t really run anymore, so you need the power and production from him to drive his fantasy value, and also the 151 games he played last season marked just the third time since 2005 he had done so. Age, injury history and signs of diminishing skills in some areas are enough reasons to give me pause when it comes to Beltran’s current Big Board standing, especially with a position like outfield that offers many alternative options.

Curtis Granderson, NYY, OF (No. 99 overall)
At the risk of kicking a man who is already down, the fact that Granderson will be out until at least the early part of May (broken forearm) should be enough to push him down draft boards. He still currently ranks among the top 100 overall, which is still somewhat high in my opinion. The ironic thing about Granderson is that he’s gone from a speed and power option to become a guy who mainly hits home runs. Don’t get me wrong, 84 round-trippers over the past two seasons is extremely valuable to have, but he went from 25 stolen bases in 2011 to just 10 last season. What’s more, his batting average dropped from .262 to .232 in 2012, and he hit just .212 in the second half. A left-handed swinger, Granderson didn’t enjoy near as much success against fellow lefties last season (.218) compared to 2011 (.272), and he struck out nearly 200 times. Besides the injury, my concern with Granderson is he’s become power-hungry, not surprising since he plays his home games at cozy Yankee Stadium. He’s come up huge in this area the past two seasons, but if the batting average continues to drop and the balls stop flying out as regularly, then what do you have? I’m not entirely sure, but it could look something a lot like the 2010 version – .247-24-67 with 76 runs and 12 stolen bases. Does that look like a top-100 player to you?

Josh Hamilton, LAA, OF (No. 19 overall)
Hamilton is certainly paid a like a top-20 player (5 years, $123 million), but will he produce like one for his new team, the Angels, in 2013? I’m a little skeptical based on the fact that even though he’s played just six seasons, he will be 32 in May, meaning age may become more and more of a factor. This could especially be the case for a guy like Hamilton given his past history. There’s also the matter that he struggled after the All-Star break last season, when he posted a respectable, but not remarkable, .259-16-53 line. But perhaps the biggest reason for my skepticism has to do with his change of home venues. At Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Hamilton is a career .315 hitter with 83 home runs in 332 games or one every 15.4 at-bats. At Angels Stadium, albeit with a much smaller sample size, he has hit just .260 with five home runs in 38 games, or one every 30 at-bats. Hamilton will still get to play some games at his former stomping grounds, and he still should produce as a part of a stacked Angels lineup, but I wouldn’t draft him like a top-20 player.

Torii Hunter, DET, OF (No. 161 overall)
Hunter is certainly no spring chicken, as the veteran outfielder will turn 38 this summer, but he put together somewhat of a renaissance season (.313-16-92) in 2012. He’s moved on to Detroit now, where he’s a career .262 hitter in 305 at-bats at Comerica Park. A guy who was a safe bet for at least 20 home runs from 2001-11, will probably have a hard time surpassing last season’s total of 16. The most glaring “red flag,” if you will, regarding Hunter’s production from last season, however, is his ridiculously high BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) of .389. Considering his previous high in that category in a full season was .336 (back in 2000), it appears that some of Hunter’s production can be attributed to some good fortune. His career BABIP is much closer to .300, so it’s safe to assume a degree of regression in that area this season, which in turn will impact his overall production. Depending on where Hunter falls in the Tigers’ lineup, he could be a valuable fantasy producer for your fantasy team. Just be sure to temper your expectations and be wary of drafting him based on what he did last season.

Hunter Pence, SF, OF (No. 101 overall)
The swing sure doesn’t look pretty, but for the past five seasons, Pence has gotten the job done, hitting between 22-25 home runs and driving in an average of 89 runs during that stretch. In fact, last season was his first with 100 or more RBIs and he scored the second-most runs (87) of his career. So why sound the alarm on him as a top-100 player? For one, his batting average dropped 71 points (.324 to .253) last season alone as he struck out 145 times. He’s just a .259 career hitter at AT&T Park, his home venue, and hit just .220 there last season. He’s never been a huge power guy (career-best of 25 HR), and his home park certainly won’t help in that respect, and he also has basically stopped running (18 stolen bases in 2010, 12 combined in 2011-12). He made the most of his RBI opportunities last season to get to 104, but if the batting average continues to drop or even stays where it was, he will be hard-pressed to match that production in 2013.

Mark Trumbo, LAA, 1B/3B/OF (No. 108 overall)
Trumbo was an All-Star, both in real life and in fantasy, in the first half last season, as he mashed his way to a .306-22-57 line. The second half was a different story, however, as he stumbled to a .227-10-38 showing through the dog days of summer. As far as 2013 goes, Trumbo’s biggest issue is that he doesn’t really have a set spot in the lineup, since most of his at-bats figure to come as the DH. The Angels have plenty of other candidates, such as Vernon Wells, who can swing the bat, so if Trumbo struggles out of the gate, he may be hard-pressed to even match his 544 at-bats from last season. The uncertainty surrounding his opportunities alone calls into question his chances of producing along the lines of a borderline top 100 player. And that’s without bringing up his contact issues (153 SO, 36 BB).

Related Content:
2013 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Big Board
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitcher
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Relief Pitcher
2013 Fantasy Baseball: Closer Grid
2013 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2013
Fantasy Baseball 2013: Which Injured Players are Worth Drafting?

Teaser:
<p> 2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/5-players-watch-big-ten-spring-practice
Body:

With spring practice underway across college football, most of interest will focus on quarterback battles or incoming freshmen that enrolled early to get a jumpstart on making an impact for 2013.

However, there’s always a handful of players – outside of the quarterback position – that fly under the radar that need to have a big spring practice for their team. Whether it’s a running back replacing a 1,000-yard rusher or a lineman stepping into a starting role for an all-conference player, there’s plenty of names that will be under the spotlight this spring.

Athlon continues its spring practice previews with a look at five under-the-radar players to watch in each conference during spring practice. 

5 Players to Watch in Big Ten Spring Practice

Aaron Burbridge, WR, Michigan State
A new quarterback and a revamped receiving corps prevented Michigan State’s passing attack from getting off the ground last season. Despite the struggles at quarterback, Burbridge turned in an impressive freshman campaign with 29 receptions for 364 yards and two touchdown catches. His best performance came in a 31-27 win over Indiana, grabbing eight receptions for 134 yards. With another offseason to work under Michigan State’s coaching staff and develop in the weight room, Burbridge is due for an even better sophomore campaign. And if Michigan State can solve its quarterback issues, the Michigan native could push for all-conference honors.

Related Content: 2013 Michigan State Spring Preview
 

Darius Hillary, CB, Wisconsin
New coach Gary Andersen is inheriting a top-25 team, but the Badgers have some major work to do in the secondary. Three starters are gone from last season, including second-team All-Big Ten cornerback Devin Smith. Junior college transfer Donnell Vercher will arrive in the summer to compete, but Hillary and Peniel Jean are the frontrunners to claim the starting cornerback spots. Hillary played in 14 games last season and recorded 23 tackles and two pass breakups. As expected with any freshman, Hillary had his ups and downs in 2012 but should be better with another spring practice under his belt. The Badgers need to find two starting cornerbacks this spring, but some of the coaching staffs concerns about the secondary would be eased if Hillary solidifies a starting job.  

Related Content: 2013 Wisconsin Spring Preview
 

Akeem Hunt, RB, Purdue
Hunt has been mostly a role player in his first two years in West Lafayette. As a freshman in 2011, he rushed for 287 yards and two touchdowns and improved those numbers slightly in 2012, recording 335 yards and two scores on 42 attempts. In addition to his workload on offense, Hunt has contributed on special teams, averaging 22.6 yards per kickoff return. With Akeem Shavers and Ralph Bolden expiring their eligibility, Hunt is expected to be Purdue’s No. 1 back. At 5-foot-9 and 184 pounds, the Georgia native doesn’t have ideal size for a feature back. However, new coach Darrell Hazell used a player (Dri Archer) with similar measurables at Kent State, and Archer finished 2012 with 1,429 rushing yards and 16 scores. Is Hunt going to play a similar all-around role to Archer? Or is Hunt expected to just be the feature back in 2013? Spring practice should give the Boilermakers an idea of what they can expect from Hunt this season.
 

David Santos, LB, Nebraska
As if the late-season struggles weren’t enough to overcome, Nebraska’s defense was gutted by departures. The front seven loses ends Eric Martin and Cameron Meredith and tackle Baker Steinkuhler and linebackers Will Compton and Sean Fisher. Santos is one of the few proven players returning at linebacker after recording 24 tackles – including 10 against Michigan – in 13 contests last season. The Texas native is expected to have a more prominent role in the defense this year and will need to be a leader for a unit that has very little experience returning. Santos is expected to start at middle linebacker in 2013 for Nebraska.

Related Content: 2013 Nebraska Spring Preview
 

Noah Spence, DE, Ohio State
With the departure of all four starters on the defensive line, Ohio State is essentially starting from scratch in the trenches. While the losses on the line will be tough to replace, the Buckeyes have recruited well, and there’s no shortage of talent stepping into the starting lineup. Spence is expected to win one of the starting defensive ends spots this spring and could be the leader for the line in 2013. He recorded 12 tackles and one sack in 11 contests last season. Spence was regarded as one of the top defensive linemen in the 2012 recruiting class and displayed his potential in limited action last year. If the Buckeyes are going to play for a national championship, Spence needs to live up to his recruiting hype and dominate opposing offensive lines in 2013.

Related Content: 2013 Ohio State Spring Preview


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Ranking All 125 College Football Jobs for 2013
College Football's Top 10 Defensive Players on the Rise for 2013

College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2013

College Football's Top 20 Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2013

Big Ten 2013 Spring Storylines to Watch

College Football's Top 5 Wide Receivers on the Rise for 2013

College Football's Top 5 Running Backs on the Rise for 2013

College Football's Top 5 Quarterbacks on the Rise for 2013

Teaser:
<p> 5 Players to Watch in Big Ten Spring Practice</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - 07:45
Path: /college-football/notre-dame-2013-spring-football-preview
Body:

An undefeated run and a BCS National Championship were clearly premature for Brian Kelly. However, no one has ever doubted his ability to return the Golden Dome to national prominence and 2012 was proof. Now, the bar has been raised considerably for Kelly and his Irish. With elite recruiting class stacked upon elite recruiting class, Notre Dame fans are as optimistic about their future, including 2013, as any team in the nation. And the next run at a national title begins with the start of spring football on March 20.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2013 Spring Preview

2012 Record: 12-1

Spring practice dates: March 20-April 20

Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 8

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Everett Golson, 187-of-318, 2,405 yards, 12 TD, 6 INT
Rushing: George Atkinson III, 51 car., 361 yards, 5 TDs
Receiving: TJ Jones, 50 rec., 649 yards, 4 TDs
Tackles: Bennett Jackson, 65
Sacks: Stephon Tuitt, 12.0
Interceptions: Bennett Jackson, 4

Redshirts to Watch: DL Jarron Jones, RB Will Mahone

2013 Schedule

Aug. 31 Temple
Sept. 7 at Michigan
Sept. 14 at Purdue
Sept. 21 Michigan State
Sept. 28 Oklahoma
Oct. 5 Arizona State
Oct. 12 Open Date
Oct. 19 USC
Oct. 26 at Air Force
Nov. 2 Navy
Nov. 9 at Pitt
Nov. 16 Open Date
Nov. 23 BYU
Nov. 30 at Stanford

Offensive Strength: Offensive line. This group returns three starters with a combined 39 starts last year and a deep host of elite recruits.

Offensive Weakness: Playmakers. The top two rushers, the main two contributors at wide receiver and tight end Tyler Eifert have moved on. The offense needs to find skill players to contribute.

Defensive Strength: Defensive line. Losing Kapron Lewis-Moore hurts but this unit returns largely intact, and with more experience, could be one of the nation's elite front lines.

Defensive Weakness: Leadership. Four senior leaders, including Manti Te'o, Lewis-Moore and safety Zeke Motta have departed. Each layer of the defense will need a new leader.

Spring Storylines Facing the Fighting Irish:

1. Replace Manti. There is no shortage of talent in the Irish linebacking corps. Dan Fox, Prince Shembo, Carlo Calabrese and Danny Spond have loads of experience while Ishaq Williams, Ben Councell, Jarrett Grace and Kendall Moore add intriguing upside to the position as well. However, Te'o was the heart and soul of the locker room and his leadership will be missed as much as his 113 tackles and seven interceptions. Williams has a chance to be special and will push for time on the outside along with Concell. Fox, Calabrese and Grace appear to be the most likely candidates to fill Te'o's spot on the inside. Look for coordinator Bob Diaco to pay special attention to this group over the next month.

2. Build a supporting cast for Everett Golson. Running back and tight end, in particular, should be interesting position battles this spring. Troy Niklas is the most talented tight end of the bunch but Ben Koyack and Alex Welch will battle for time as well. George Atkinson III is the top returning rusher but Kelly undoubtedly wants to establish some depth behind the speedster. USC transfer Amir Carlisle, redshirt freshman Will Mahone and junior Cam McDaniel will all see plenty of time this spring in an effort to replace Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood. Two star freshmen are waiting to show what they can do in the summer (Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston), so spring practice should be an opportunity for one or more ball carriers to step up and take control of the position. 

3. Find safeties. Zeke Motta, Jamoris Slaughter and Dan McCarthy are all gone. Slaughter missed all but three games last year with an injury while Motta was an unquestioned leader of the secondary. So rebuilding depth at this position is important this spring — especially considering the gaping voids Alabama exploited in the Irish backfield in the BCS title game. Matthias Farley has the most experience and he will be joined by Elijah Shumate and Nicky Baratti on the backend. Austin Collinsworth could also factor in if healthy. Developing the talent at cornerback, which appears like it could be a position of strength in 2013, will help break in the new safeties as well. Getting Lo Wood back after missing all of 2012 will improve the defensive backfield overall.

4. Rebuild the interior of the O-line. The return of Zack Martin was a huge boost to the Irish offseason's expectations. But losing Braxton Cave and Mike Golic hurts the interior of the offensive line. Kelly has recruited at an elite level along both lines of scrimmage and new names will need to step up this spring to fill voids at center and guard. Matt Hegarty is first in line to take over at center and should be more than capable after playing in nine games last year. Nick Martin played in 13 games, Conor Hanratty played in six games and is versatile along the line while Bruce Heggie was officially the backup at right guard last year. Look for Kelly and O-line coach Harry Heistand to have some fun sorting through a very talented depth chart up front on offense.

5. Handle expectations. Notre Dame's unexpected run to the BCS national title game sped up the expectations calendar in South Bend. Many have long believed that Kelly is the right fit at Notre Dame and last year proved that to be accurate. However, after throngs of Irish fans left Miami Gardens, Fla., with their heads buried in their hands, Kelly will have his work cut out for him in 2013. Key seniors have departed at key positions, and despite those losses, Irish faithful are still expecting another push at a national title. This roster and coaching staff is capable of returning to a BCS bowl game once again in 2013, but Notre Dame is no longer the hunter. They now have to handle the bulls-eye firmly planted on the backs of their jerseys.

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Teaser:
<p> Notre Dame 2013 Spring Football Preview</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - 07:40
Path: /nascar/6-amazing-nascar-stats-auto-club-speedway
Body:

“Humdrum” is a word typically used to describe the racing action at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The two-mile Michigan clone was originally designed — it has received some touch-up work since being completed in 1997 — to be optimal for IndyCar-style race cars. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race might not offer much in terms of outright excitement, but there are some meaningful story lines hidden within a four-race sample size of advanced metrics.

Several driver and teams need a good outing — two of them are mentioned below — to right a wrong or two from earlier races this season. The hottest driver in the sport typically leaves California under a deluge of disappointment. As usual, if we focus on the stories behind the numbers, the overall game becomes far more intriguing.

For PEER and other metrics with which you may be unfamiliar, I refer you to my glossary of terms on MotorsportsAnalytics.com.


7.000  After four races, Brad Keselowski has the highest Production in Equal Equipment Rating (PEER) — a measure of a driver’s on-track production in an “all equipment even” scenario — in the Cup Series with a 7.000 rating.

The last time the No. 2 Penske Racing entry was this good, it was 1993, Rusty Wallace was the driver and the car was probably running on traction control. Keselowski’s bunch is a little more buttoned up, allowing him to capitalize on driving for the most consistent-finishing team in the Cup Series (a finish deviation of 0.6; a zero deviation is perfectly consistent). Keselowski has earned pairs of fourths and thirds to comprise his 3.5-place average finish, two of which were on tracks at which he has previously been a mundane producer (Phoenix and Las Vegas). Even more amazing is that the team has finished higher than its average running positions — 18th at Daytona, seventh at Phoenix, fifth at Las Vegas and ninth at Bristol — in each race. The team is frighteningly strong, but the ever-improving driver is earning his keep.


-1.188  Keselowski ranks 48th out of 49 drivers in PEER at Auto Club Speedway after averaging a finish of 22.8 in his only four Cup Series starts at the facility.

So yes, a driver off to a tremendous start to the season comes up against racetrack that has historically been a buzz killer for him. Something is sure to change on Sunday.


15.4  The start to Kasey Kahne’s 2013 season is 15.4 positions better than his first four-race effort last year.

To think that Kahne has essentially cut his average finish after four races in half is pretty nutty, though, when he was averaging a 29.8-place result following Bristol last year, it too was unfathomable for the consistently strong producer. To be fair, his win last Sunday and his second-place outing at Las Vegas are carrying his current 14.5-place average and his 16.5 finish deviation is the fourth-least consistent in the series. Kahne’s start to the season isn’t as explosive as Keselowski’s jump out of the starting blocks, but it is a foundation on which to build and can allow Kahne and his crew to focus more comfortably on Chase preparation rather than digging out of a hole created by spinning its tires at the start of a new year.
 

Teaser:
<p> Six amazing NASCAR stats for Sunday's Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - 17:24
All taxonomy terms: Minnesota Twins, MLB
Path: /mlb/2013-baseball-preview-minnesota-twins
Body:

The Minnesota Twins aren’t calling this a rebuilding season, but there’s no question they’re a team in transition. After winning six division titles in nine years, they’ve lost 99 and 96 games over the past two seasons, disappointing the slowly shrinking crowds at Target Field. Some moves this offseason suggested they were more focused on 2014 than 2013, but general manager Terry Ryan insists that fans could see some immediate improvement. Trading Denard Span and Ben Revere in a span of eight days left a big hole in center field, but those moves netted three starting pitchers for an organization sorely lacking quality arms at all levels. Span went to Washington for Double-A righty Alex Meyer, a hard-throwing first-round pick from the 2011 draft. Revere went to Philadelphia for Vance Worley, who will jump right into Minnesota’s rotation, and Trevor May, another Double-A righthander with No. 3 starter potential. The Twins have a wave of positional talent coming through their farm system, including center field prospect Aaron Hicks, a former first-round pick who probably will start the year at Triple-A. The goal now is to build a bridge toward the future without embarrassing themselves on the field.

Rotation
The Twins gave this group an overhaul after their starters ranked second-to-last in the majors last year, one spot ahead of Colorado, with a 5.40 ERA. Rookie Scott Diamond had arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone chip from his left elbow in December after going 12–9 with a 3.54 ERA in 27 starts. His availability for Opening Day is in question. Kevin Correia, who signed a two-year, $10 million deal, isn’t flashy, but he’s been consistent over the past four seasons for the Padres and Pirates. Worley finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2011 but went 6–9 with a 4.20 ERA for the Phillies last year before having arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow. The Twins were disappointed they couldn’t re-sign Scott Baker, who missed last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Baker took a one-year, $5.5 million deal with the Cubs. Instead, the Twins signed another pitcher coming back from Tommy John surgery, former Met Mike Pelfrey, who hopes to be ready for Opening Day. Beyond Diamond, Correia, Worley and Pelfrey, the Twins have several wild-card rotation candidates including Liam Hendriks, Sam Deduno, Cole De Vries and P.J. Walters.

Bullpen
Twins officials point to their 2012 bullpen as proof things can turn around quickly. Their relievers were a major concern last spring, as they’d posted the worst ERA in baseball in 2011, at 4.51, before losing longtime closer Joe Nathan to free agency. But Ryan revamped the bullpen, turning it into a team strength. Jared Burton (2.18 ERA) handled the eighth inning, and Glen Perkins (2.56) handled the ninth. With dependable late-inning relief, the Twins had no problem letting former closer Matt Capps leave as a free agent. Burton and Casey Fien (2.06 ERA) were both minor league free-agent signings, proving there are gems in the scrap heap. They’ll both be back, along with lefthanders Brian Duensing and Tyler Robertson. The Twins believe this group can be even better if their starters can pitch deeper into games.

Middle Infield
The Twins have candidates for both middle infield spots, but no sure things. Brian Dozier looked like he had real potential at shortstop at this time last year, but he disappointed both offensively and defensively in an 84-game stint. Now, there’s hope that he’ll settle in at second base, with Pedro Florimon taking over shortstop. Florimon has a strong arm and good range, but he’ll have to improve on the .272 on-base percentage he posted in six weeks last year. If either player falters, the Twins can turn to veteran utility man Jamey Carroll, who has shown he can start at second, third or shortstop.

Corners
First baseman Justin Morneau is entering the final year of his six-year, $80 million contract, and it’ll be interesting to see if he eventually gets traded for more pitching help. His past concussion issues and surgically repaired left wrist make him a continued injury risk, but after playing just 150 games combined the previous two years, he played 134 last year, making 99 starts at first base. The Twins could replace Morneau at first base with Chris Parmelee, but there’s room for both of them, as Parmelee also plays right field. Third baseman Trevor Plouffe hit 18 home runs in a staggering 39-game stretch last summer, but he managed just six homers over his other 80 games, and his defense was shaky throughout. A thumb injury helped contribute to his second-half fade, and the Twins hope he settles into another groove.

Outfield
After the Twins traded Span, it looked like Revere would replace him as their center fielder and leadoff hitter, but then they traded Revere, too. It said something about how much confidence they have in 2008 first-round draft pick Aaron Hicks, a switch-hitting center fielder who made big strides last year in Double-A. Hicks will challenge for the starting center field job this spring, but the Twins likely will go with Darin Mastroianni, allowing Hicks to gain polish at Triple-A. Josh Willingham is back in left, coming off a career season that saw him rack up 35 home runs and 110 RBIs. The question now is, can he approach that same success at age 34? Parmelee is getting his first chance as a big-league regular in right field. He batted .355 with a 1.035 OPS for the Twins in September 2011 but struggled in the majors last year.

Catching
The Twins will use the same formula they used last year to keep Joe Mauer’s bat in the lineup as much as possible. In 2011, injuries limited him to 82 games, which was especially tough in the first year of his eight-year, $184 million contract. Last year, he rebounded to play a career-high 147 games. After signing Ryan Doumit, the Twins finally had a backup catcher with a good bat, which put less pressure on Mauer to stay behind the plate. Mauer played 74 games at catcher, 42 at DH and 30 at first base, and led the American League with a .416 on-base percentage. Doumit batted .275 with a career-high 18 home runs and 75 RBIs. The Twins were so impressed, they gave him a two-year contract extension.

DH/Bench
After trading Jim Thome in 2011, the Twins often used the DH spot last year to keep Mauer and Morneau in the lineup. The team’s constant mound troubles led to it carrying at least 12 pitchers all season, leaving just four spots on the bench. They also kept three catchers, with Drew Butera serving as a defensive specialist to go with Mauer and Doumit (who will see time as the DH). This limits what the Twins can do with their other bench spots, but they gain some versatility with infielders who play multiple positions. Non-roster players Ray Olmedo, an infielder, and outfielder Wilkin Ramirez are making strong showings in spring training.

Management
Ron Gardenhire was named AL Manager of the Year in 2010, but the past two seasons have taken a toll. The Twins made just one change to his coaching staff over his first 11 years as manager, replacing Al Newman with Joe Vavra after the 2005 season. But after finishing with the AL’s worst record the past two years, management demanded changes. Three longtime coaches lost their jobs — Rick Stelmaszek, Steve Liddle and Jerry White — getting replaced by Bobby Cuellar, Tom Brunansky and Terry Steinbach. Gardenhire knows he could be next to go.

Final Analysis
Expectations haven’t been this low for the Twins since 2008, the season after they lost Torii Hunter to free agency and traded Johan Santana to the Mets. That year, the Twins wound up playing a Game 163 division tiebreaker, losing to the White Sox. But the Twins were stocked with pitching back then, both starting and relief. With their new makeshift staff, it’s difficult to imagine this team giving its fans much to cheer about in September. It’ll be interesting to see what midseason deals Ryan can make and whether Gardenhire survives to manage again in 2014.

Lineup
CF     Darin Mastroianni (R)    
In 77 games as a rookie, he posted a .328 on-base percentage and was 21-for-24 in stolen base attempts.
2B     Brian Dozier (R)    
A career .298 hitter in the minors, he batted just .234 in 84 games as a rookie last season.
C     Joe Mauer (L)    
Led the majors with a .416 OBP and a played a career-high 147 games, including 74 at catcher.
LF     Josh Willingham (R)    
At age 33, he posted career highs in games played (145), home runs (35) and RBIs (110).
1B     Justin Morneau (L)    
Stayed healthy enough to play 134 games, but his .773 OPS was 78 points below his career average. After a terrific run in July and August (.314), he slipped in September (.236).
DH     Ryan Doumit (S)    
At age 31, he had career highs for games played (134), home runs (18) and RBIs (75).
RF     Chris Parmelee (L)    
Batted .338 with a 1.102 OPS for Class AAA Rochester last year but just .229 with a .671 OPS for the Twins.
3B     Trevor Plouffe (R)    
Twins love his power potential, but he was inconsistent and made 17 errors in 95 games at third base.
SS     Pedro Florimon (S)    
The switch-hitter needs to improve offensively, especially from the left side of the plate.

Bench
INF     Eduardo Escobar (S)    
Acquired from the White Sox in the Francisco Liriano trade; posted a .271 OBP in 14 games.
C     Drew Butera (R)    
The defensive specialist’s .198 batting average actually was a 31-point improvement from 2011.
INF     Jamey Carroll (R)    
After a slow start last year, he batted .295 with a .365 OBP over his final 86 games.
OF     Wilkin Ramirez 
A .270 hitter in just 37 at-bats in 2009 and ’11.

Rotation
RH     Vance Worley    
Acquired from the Phillies for Ben Revere after going 6–9 with a 4.20 ERA last year.
RH     Kevin Correia     
Despite low strikeout rate, he’s averaged 11.5 wins over the past four years, the past two with Pittsburgh.
RH     Mike Pelfrey    
The ground-ball specialist had Tommy John surgery May 1 before leaving the Mets as a free agent.
LH     Scott Diamond    
Went 12–9 in 27 starts and ranked third among all qualifying MLB rookies in ERA (3.54). After elbow surgery in December, Diamond may not be ready to start the season. Righthander Liam Hendricks will fill the gap until the presumed ace is healthy.
RH     Cole De Vries     
Was 3–0 with a 1.02 ERA in his final three starts before suffering a cracked rib on Sept. 8.

Bullpen
LH     Glen Perkins (Closer)    
Had 78 strikeouts in 70.1 innings and converted 12-of-13 save chances to close the season.
RH     Jared Burton     
Posted a 2.18 ERA in 62 innings pitched, holding batters to a .186 batting average.
RH     Casey Fien     
Another minor league free-agent signee, he posted a 2.06 ERA in 35 innings pitched.
LH     Brian Duensing     
Posted a 3.47 ERA in 44 relief appearances but went 2–8 with a 6.92 ERA in 11 starts.
RH     Alex Burnett     
Led the Twins with 71.2 innings of relief, and his 3.52 ERA was down nearly two full runs from 2011.
LH     Tyler Robertson    
In his final 31 appearances, he held opponents to a .186 batting average, including .167 vs. lefties.
RH     Ryan Pressly     
Rule 5 draftee posted a 2.93 ERA in Double-A for the Red Sox last year.
 

Teaser:
<p> The Twins aren’t calling this a rebuilding season, but there’s no question this is a team in transition.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - 17:20
All taxonomy terms: Cleveland Indians, MLB
Path: /mlb/2013-baseball-preview-cleveland-indians
Body:

Over the 2011 and 2012 seasons, no team spent more days in first place in the American League Central than the Cleveland Indians. Getting there was no problem, but sustaining it proved much more difficult, as the Indians fell apart in the second half in both seasons. But significant changes have the Tribe moving in a better direction. The Tribe’s biggest offseason acquisitions were manager Terry Francona and outfielders Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher. The speedy Bourn is a potent catalyst atop the lineup and brings superb defense in center field. The switch-hitting Swisher will help a weak offense that averaged 3.7 runs per game after the All-Star break last season. Francona is coming off a great run in Boston, but Cleveland and Progressive Field are a long way from Fenway Park. Francona doesn’t have the payroll or the talent he had when he led the Red Sox to World Series titles in 2004 and 2007. But his leadership should pay immediate dividends.

Rotation 
Francona and new pitching coach Mickey Callaway are dealing with a rotation that lost the most games (76) in the AL last year. Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Brett Myers and Zach McAllister should fill the first four spots. Masterson and Jimenez, both righthanders, made a combined 65 starts last year, losing 32 of them. Myers was signed to a one-year $7 million deal in January, but he has not started a game since 2011. This will be McAllister’s first full year in the big leagues. The fifth spot will be decided among Trevor Bauer, Scott Kazmir, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and David Huff. Bauer, the third pick in the 2011 draft, was acquired in a three-way trade with Arizona and Cincinnati during the offseason. Bauer put up great numbers in the minors for Arizona last season, but his unique training methods and personality were so off-putting that the Diamondbacks traded him after only four big-league starts. At some point, he will join the rotation if not out of spring training. Kazmir, a former All-Star lefthander, has made just one major league start — lasting only 1.2 innings — since 2010. He came to camp on a minor league deal and has impressed Francona, becoming the leading candidate for the fifth spot.

Bullpen
All winter there was speculation that the Indians would trade closer Chris Perez, who offended almost everyone this side of the Pope last season with a sharp tongue and Twitter account. The Indians did not trade Perez, who will once again anchor the strongest part of the team after recording a save in 75-of-83 chances over the past two years. As in 2012, spring injuries have slowed his preparation for the season. There were changes in Perez’s setup men as Tony Sipp was traded to Arizona, Esmil Rogers to Toronto and Rafael Perez was non-tendered. Still, there are still plenty of good arms in front of him. Closer-in-waiting Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith, Cody Allen and Nick Hagadone are back. Newcomers Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw were acquired in the Arizona deal. Until Perez recovers from a balky shoulder this spring, Pestano will be the closer and either Rich Hill or David Huff will fill in gaps.

Middle Infield
Fat and out of shape is no way for an All-Star shortstop to go through a career. Such has been the chatter surrounding Asdrubal Cabrera. He’s been great until he makes the All-Star team. Then in the second half, when the Indians fall out of the race, he loses interest. He’s signed through 2014, and it will be interesting to see if Francona can snap him out of his second-half slumps. Second baseman Jason Kipnis, coming off his first full season in the big leagues, needs to put forth a much more consistent effort if the offense is going to improve. Like Cabrera, Kipnis disappeared offensively in the second half. The Indians are expecting Cabrera and Kipnis to key the offense between Bourn at the top and run producers Carlos Santana and Swisher in the middle.

Corners
This should be the year Lonnie Chisenhall gets his much anticipated chance to start at third base. Chisenhall, a No. 1 pick in 2008, was beaten out by journeyman Jack Hannahan the last two years. Hannahan was non-tendered after the season. The job belongs to Chisenhall as long as he can stay healthy and survive against lefthanders. Chisenhall, a converted shortstop, has power potential, but he doesn’t walk much. The Indians committed $56 million to Swisher over the next fours year, the richest free-agent deal in team history. Not only will his bat anchor the lineup, but his personality will liven up the clubhouse.

Outfield
The Indians committed $48 million to Bourn over the next four years. His on-base has been between .341 and .354 over the past four seasons, which should translate into about 40 steals and close to 100 runs for the Tribe. Pitchers will love his ability to run down balls in the gaps. Drew Stubbs, acquired in a three-team deal with the Reds and Diamondbacks, is scheduled to play right with Michael Brantley moving to left. Shin-Soo Choo, the Indians’ starting right fielder for the last four years, was traded to Cincinnati as part of the deal. Brantley, the only holdover from last year’s starting outfield, spent last season in center.

Catching
The Indians insist that Carlos Santana is a front-line catcher, but the evidence continues to mount that he is a future first baseman or DH. When the switch-hitting Santana struggles with the bat, as he did throughout the first half of last season, his catching suffers. He’s not aggressive or confident with his game-calling, and his ability to block balls in the dirt and control the running game is inconsistent. Santana is blessed with a strong arm, but he threw out only 26.3 percent of the runners he faced last season. Santana did lead the Indians in homers, walks and tied for the team lead in RBIs. Lou Marson was Santana’s backup, but he didn’t get much playing time. Yan Gomes, acquired from Toronto, could steal Marson’s job this summer.

DH/Bench
Mark Reynolds has averaged 30 homers per year since reaching the big leagues in 2007. The Indians signed him to a one-year $6 million deal because they needed his power and right-handed bat to balance a lineup that leans heavily to the left. The byproduct of Reynolds’ power is strikeouts, lots of them. He averages 187 per year. His glove improved dramatically at first base last season, so Swisher will DH occasionally. Jason Giambi, in camp as a non-roster player, should make the team out of spring. He may have more value as a mentor and de facto hitting coach than as a pinch-hitter. Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn can both play multiple positions, but neither has much pop at the plate. Gomes may be the most interesting bench possibility. He’s a right-handed hitter with pop who can catch, play some outfield and first and third base.

Management
The ties between the front office and the dugout have seldom been tighter. In signing a four-year deal with the Indians, Francona insisted on a clause that will give him an out if certain members of the front office are fired. It’s believed those members are GM Chris Antonetti and president Mark Shapiro. This is a homecoming of sorts for Francona, who worked as special assistant for the Indians in 2001 and played for them in 1988. Tito Francona, Terry’s father, played for the Indians from 1959-64. Sentimentality aside, there is a lot of work to do. Francona must repair a rotation that posted the second-highest ERA (5.25) in the AL last year and reclaim a roster that rolled over and played dead for former manager Manny Acta in the second half last season. The one good sign is ownership’s willingness to finally spend money on the free-agent market.

Final Analysis
The Indians have lost 93 or more games in three of the last four years. Fans have lost faith in the Dolan family ownership, and they showed it with the second-lowest attendance in the big leagues last year. It’s unlikely the Dolans will ever be popular owners in Cleveland, but hiring Francona was a positive step. Signing Swisher  and Bourn certainly helped. However, there have been so many bad drafts and poor trades that a turnaround will take more than one or two seasons. The best the Indians can do in 2013 is take one or two steps along that path.

Lineup
CF    Michael Bourn (L)
Speed atop the lineup will be catalyst of the offense although he doesn’t steal as much as he once did.
SS     Asdrubal Cabrera (S)     
Led AL shortstops last season in OPS (.765) and slugging (.425) and finished second in homers (16).
2B     Jason Kipnis (L)     
Finished tied for the team lead in RBIs despite driving in only 27 runs after the break.
1B     Nick Swisher (S)     
Ohio native hit 13 of his 24 home runs last season for the Yankees on the road.
C     Carlos Santana (S)     
Indians pitchers had a 4.68 ERA last season when he was behind the plate.
DH     Mark Reynolds (R)     
Hit just three of his 23 homers against left-handed pitching last year.
LF     Michael Brantley (L)     
Had hitting streaks of 22 and 13 games last season en route to career-high .288 average.
3B     Lonnie Chisenhall (L)     
Returned from a broken right wrist to hit .257 (18-for-70) in final 19 games of last season.
RF    Drew Stubbs (R)     
Over the last two seasons, Stubbs has averaged a strikeout for every three at-bats.

Bench
IF     Mike Aviles (R)     
Played in 128 games at shortstop last season for the Red Sox, hitting .250 with 60 RBIs.
C     Lou Marson (R)     
Threw out only 14 percent (11-of-78) of the basestealers he faced last year.
UT    Ryan Raburn (R)
Can play all over the field and has averaged more than 330 plate appearances over last four years as utility man with Detroit.
1B    Jason Giambi (L)
Francona loves the presence of the veteran and believes he will be a good manager some day.

Rotation
RH     Justin Masterson      
Masterson allowed six or more earned runs in eight of his 34 starts last year.
RH     Ubaldo Jimenez      
His 17 losses were the most by a Tribe pitcher since Tom Candiotti lost 18 in 1987.
RH     Brett Myers    
Made 70 relief appearances last season for the Astros and White Sox, but has been a starter most of his career.
RH     Zach McAllister    
Finished sixth among American League rookies with 110 strikeouts last year.
LH    Scott Kazmir
Former Tampa Bay fire-balling ace has resurrected his career — for now — with a fine spring.

Bullpen
RH     Chris Perez (Closer)    
He’s 41-for-45 in one-run save opportunities dating back to Aug. 12, 2010. With a strained shoulder, Perez is likely to begin the season on the DL
RH     Vinnie Pestano    
The Indians went 50–20 in his 70 appearances last year; only gave up 53 hits in 70 innings.
RH     Joe Smith    
His seven wins in relief were tied for second most in the American League last year.
LH     Nick Hagadone    
Struck out 26 in 25.1 innings last year, but allowed 14 earned runs in his last 10 appearances.
RH     Matt Albers    
Lefthanders hit .207 against him last year, righthanders .220.
RH     Cody Allen    
Started last season at Class A Carolina and ended up in the big leagues, where he struck out 27 in 29 innings.
LH    David Huff
Made 52 starts over last four seasons with a 5.30 ERA.

 

Teaser:
<p> Over the 2011 and 2012 seasons, no team spent more days in first place in the American League Central than the Indians. Getting there was no problem, but sustaining it proved much more difficult, as the Indians fell apart in the second half in both seasons. But significant changes have the Tribe moving in a better direction.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - 17:15
All taxonomy terms: Kansas City Royals, MLB
Path: /mlb/2013-baseball-preview-kansas-city-royals
Body:

It’s possible that the Kansas City Royals, after more than two decades of often pointless meandering, can become truly relevant again in 2013 after a seminal offseason in which general manager Dayton Moore overhauled a wretched rotation. Moore retained free agent Jeremy Guthrie and added James Shields, Ervin Santana and Wade Davis through trades. Remarkably, Moore did all of this without blowing up the baseball club’s modest payroll budget or disrupting a promising young lineup or deep bullpen. The cost, and it was high, came in prospects from a deep farm system, including outfielder Wil Myers (the consensus 2012 Minor League Player of the Year) and righthander Jake Odorizzi (the club’s most advanced pitching prospect). Myers and Odorizzi each went to Tampa Bay, along with two other prospects, to acquire Shields and Davis. It was a go-for-it move not without risk, but, as Moore says, “It’s time for us to start winning games.”

Rotation
Shields is the front-of-the-rotation arm the Royals have coveted, and failed to develop, since trading Zack Greinke to Milwaukee after the 2010 season. Shields isn’t an ace in the mold of Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez or even former Rays teammate David Price. But he is a genuine staff leader who eats innings and brings a proven ability to anchor a rotation. The Royals control Shields for two more years, and there is genuine debate whether that span is sufficient to offset surrendering six years of Myers. But they wouldn’t have made the deal if they didn’t think they could reach the postseason before Shields becomes a free agent. Davis also came in the Tampa Bay deal and will get a chance to pitch as a starter after spending last season in the bullpen. Davis flashed a notable hike in velocity as a reliever. If he can maintain that bump for 100 pitches, he could be an enormous addition. The Angels agreed to part with Santana primarily because the Royals will be paying all but $1 million of his $13 million salary for the final year of his contract. Santana closed strong last season after some early struggles. A full bounce-back would more than validate the financial outlay. Guthrie returns on a three-year deal after resurrecting his career with two terrific months following a July 20 trade that brought him from Colorado. That leaves the final spot as a battle between veteran lefty Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar, whose flashes of considerable potential are too often countered by monumental meltdowns. The Royals are open to trading either one. Otherwise, the loser goes to the bullpen.

Bullpen
Closer Greg Holland heads a collection of young power pitchers who performed so well last season the Royals chose not to pony up the dollars necessary to see whether former closer Joakim Soria could return to form after Tommy John surgery. Holland was 16-for-18 in save opportunities after replacing Jonathan Broxton (who replaced Soria) as the closer. Holland also compiled a 2.08 ERA after returning in early May from the disabled list. Lefty Tim Collins, in his second season, led all AL relievers with 93 strikeouts and demonstrated improved consistency in compiling a 3.36 ERA in 72 appearances. Aaron Crow, an All-Star as a rookie in 2011, produced a solid second season with 19 holds and a 3.48 ERA in 73 games. But the staff’s best arm is Kelvin Herrera, who had a 2.35 ERA in 76 games while often drawing the toughest assignments prior to the ninth inning. Manager Ned Yost relies on those four to protect leads. Francisley Bueno is a good bet to be the unit’s situational lefty after a strong series of late-season appearances, which could push side-armer Louis Coleman into a battle for one of two projected long-relief roles. Luis Mendoza is likely to get one of those jobs after the offseason seemingly squeezed him out of the rotation.

Middle Infield
Shortstop Alcides Escobar turned into an All-Star candidate with a breakout offensive season after signing a four-year contract that includes two additional club option years. Escobar batted a career-high .293 while stealing 35 bases and provided the glue to an underappreciated defensive infield. Second base will most likely be a platoon situation with Chris Getz, who can’t stay healthy, and Johnny Giavotella, who has yet to replicate his minor league production.

Corners
That overhauled rotation might not mean much if first baseman Eric Hosmer doesn’t rebound from a disappointing sophomore season. The most hopeful sign, beyond his immense potential, is that Hosmer batted .255 last season on balls in play. Statistically, that just shouldn’t happen again. Hosmer’s tools project as an impact No. 3 hitter — and that’s what the Royals need him to be. Mike Moustakas is another high-profile homegrown talent still looking to climb closer to his potential. He hit 20 homers last season while playing third base well enough to be a Gold Glove candidate in any league without Adrian Beltre. Moustakas denied a connection, but his production plummeted after he tweaked his knee in late July in Seattle.
 
Outfield
Here’s where the trade sending Myers to Tampa Bay has its biggest negative impact: The Royals, barring a late move, now have limited alternatives to right fielder Jeff Francoeur, whose production dipped alarmingly last season after a revitalized 2011. Then again, Francoeur could quell the concern by bouncing back again. Lorenzo Cain, when healthy, draws comparisons in center field to a young Torii Hunter. Problem is, Cain played only 61 big league games in 2012. Yost says, “I need him healthy.” There are no worries in left field, where Alex Gordon backed up a breakthrough 2011 season with another All-Star-caliber year and a second straight Gold Glove.

Catching
Salvy Perez, at 22, is firmly established as the club’s most irreplaceable player because he combines superior defensive skills and a remarkable feel for calling a game with an ability to hit for average and power. Perez suffered torn knee cartilage last year in spring training, which sidelined him until June 22, and it’s no coincidence that the Royals stumbled through a disastrous April. He showed no limitations from the injury after returning and is likely to start at least 140 games.

DH/Bench
Billy Butler was the Silver Slugger recipient last year for designated hitters and is quickly validating the belief that he is this generation’s Edgar Martinez — a .300-plus hitter with power but limited speed and defensive skills. Plus, Butler shows signs of only getting better after achieving numerous career highs in 2012. The bench will consist of a catcher (George Kottaras, acquired on waivers from Oakland); a utility infielder (presumably Getz or Giavotella, but Miguel Tejada, is trying to restart his career); and a backup outfielder (speedy Jarrod Dyson is the leading candidate); and an extra utility type (Elliot Johnson, acquired off waivers from Tampa Bay). David Lough, who is having a terrific spring, could be a low-cost corner outfielder to challenge Francoeur.

Management
Moore achieved his offseason goal of upgrading the club’s rotation by retaining Guthrie and acquiring Shields and Davis from Tampa Bay and Santana from the Angels — all without surrendering anyone from the club’s projected big-league roster. Yes, the cost in prospects was high. Some argued that the cost was too high. Time will tell. This much, however, is certain: Moore’s efforts send the Royals into the season positioned as legitimate postseason contenders for the first time since 1994.

Final Analysis
The Royals have everything in place to harbor postseason aspirations, although let’s not overstate things; Detroit remains the division favorite, and the Royals need a nine-game improvement just to reach .500. There’s a lot still to prove, but there’s real hope in the Heartland. That’s no small thing.   

Lineup
LF    Alex Gordon (L)    
Lineup’s best fit for leadoff role but only if Eric Hosmer can handle No. 3 slot.
SS     Alcides Escobar (R)    
Performed well last season after being moved up from bottom of the lineup.
1B     Eric Hosmer (L)    
Average dropped from .293 as a rookie to .232 in 2012; home runs and RBIs were down, too.
DH     Billy Butler (R)    
Continues to establish himself as one of the game’s best all-around hitters; belted 29 HRs in 2012.
C     Salvy Perez (R)     
Assuming he stays healthy, will be interesting to see what he can do in a full season.
3B     Mike Moustakas (L)    
Always likely to be streaky hitter but must prove late-season slide was outlier.
RF     Jeff Francoeur (R)    
Will be watched closely to see if he rebounds to 2011 form after disappointing 2012.
CF     Lorenzo Cain (R)    
Must prove he can stay healthy after multiple injuries derailed him a year ago.
2B      Chris Getz (L)    
Has set a franchise record with 887 career plate appearances without a home run.

Bench
C    George Kottaras (L)
On-base percentage fell from .409 for Brewers to .280 for A’s. Has never hit higher than .252
2B    Johnny Giavotella (R)
Will platoon at second base with Getz.
IF    Elliot Johnson (S)
Is handy with the glove at multiple positions.
OF     Jarrod Dyson (L)
Speed makes him ideal late-game weapon; could be more if he keeps ball on ground.

Rotation
RH     James Shields    
Last two seasons in Tampa were outstanding; won a combined 31 games and gave up 403 hits in 473 IP.
RH     Jeremy Guthrie    
Pitched like a legit No. 1 starter over final two months, which led to three-year deal.
RH    Ervin Santana    
Royals betting $12 million that he bounces back big in final year before free agency.
RH     Wade Davis    
Velocity jumped last season when used as a reliever — but can he do it for 100 pitches?
LH     Bruce Chen    
Probably merits rotation job over Luke Hochevar after winning 35 games in last three years.

Bullpen
RH     Greg Holland (Closer)    
Proved over final two months last season that he had all the tools to be a closer.
RH     Kelvin Herrera    
Superior arsenal makes him a closer-in-waiting while getting tough outs before ninth.
LH     Tim Collins    
Proved last year that he was more than a situational lefty; has multi-inning stuff.
RH     Aaron Crow     
Much like Collins, he can handle hitters from either side; potent setup weapon.
LH     Francisley Bueno    
Former Cuban defector emerged late last season as good fit for duty as situational lefty.
RH     Luis Mendoza    
Often characterized by manger Ned Yost as a perfect fit for duty as swingman/long reliever.
RH     Luke Hochevar    
Loser in battle for fifth starting spot will spend time as long man until opportunity to spot start arises.
 

Teaser:
<p> The Royals have everything in place to harbor postseason aspirations. However, Detroit remains the division favorite, and the Royals need a nine-game improvement just to reach .500. There’s a lot left to prove, but there’s real hope in the Heartland.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - 17:05
All taxonomy terms: Chicago White Sox, MLB
Path: /mlb/2013-baseball-preview-chicago-white-sox
Body:

Looking for a big finish, not just a fast start, the Chicago White Sox hope they can out-pitch their competition in the AL Central. That’s a tall order given that the Detroit Tigers line up behind Justin Verlander, but first-year general manager Rick Hahn hopes that his rotation will be deeper and even more effective. He re-signed Jake Peavy to work alongside lefty Chris Sale and is counting on a comeback from John Danks, the 2012 Opening Day starter who was limited to nine starts and eventually underwent shoulder surgery. The lineup lacks any especially dynamic young hitters, continuing to count on Alex Rios, homer-or-bust slugger Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko. Manager Robin Ventura had his team in first place for most of 2012, with strong fielding as the trademark, but he will be challenged to improve on that 85-win season.

Rotation
You can argue that the White Sox never should have let Mark Buehrle get away, but Sale has emerged as a potential long-term ace, and Peavy rebounded from three injury-plagued seasons to deliver 219 solid innings. Sale, an All-Star in his first year as a starter, draws some comparisons to Randy Johnson, with better command if not quite as much velocity. A few years ago, Danks looked like he’d be a staff ace, compiling a 3.32 ERA as a 23-year-old in 2008, but he now finds himself trying to turn around a slide that began in 2011. Gavin Floyd has been a consistent double-figure winner, which was why his contract option was exercised. Lefties Hector Santiago and Jose Quintana try will try to build off strong rookie seasons, with Brazilian prospect Andre Rienzo pushing for big-league consideration. Quintana has the edge over Santiago and Rienzo, who has a high ceiling, needs a full season in Triple-A.

Bullpen
How much does experience matter? Addison Reed and Nate Jones seemed to move past Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain to become the key guys in a group that is talented but wildly inexperienced. Reed is looking to build off a 29-save rookie season, and Jones carries just as much momentum into his second season after going 8–0 with a 2.39 ERA over 65 appearances as a rookie. He’s got the best stuff on the staff, but Reed doesn’t rattle, which is why he’s the closer. Thornton, arguably the best lefty setup man in the AL over the last seven seasons, appears to be a trade candidate with Donnie Veal and possibly Santiago or prospect Santos Rodriguez available to fill that role. Matt Lindstrom, signed as a free agent, adds some experience.

Middle Infield 
Shortstop Alexei Ramirez and second baseman Gordon Beckham provide up the middle fielding that’s as strong as any combination in the big leagues. But you wonder how much longer they will play together, as both have regressed as hitters. Ramirez’s OPS was .788 in 2008, his rookie season, and slipped to .651 last season. Beckham, a former first-round pick expected to be a force, had an .807 OPS as a rookie in 2009 but has been below .700 since. Carlos Sanchez, who hit .370 in 30 games in Double-A late last season, is a gifted fielder and promising on-base guy who could force himself into the mix at some point this season.

Corners
Konerko has been as consistently productive as any big leaguer over the last decade but at 37 is starting to show his age. Metrics suggest he’s become a liability in the field to go along with a career-long base-clogging tendency. The White Sox hope offseason surgery on Konerko’s left wrist will make this season more enjoyable for him, as it is the last one on his contract. He’s averaged 33 homers and 96 RBIs over the last nine years, and the Sox need him to get back to that level after a second-half slide ruined what was looking like a strong 2012. Third baseman Jeff Keppinger, signed to a three-year, $12-million contract, could get 500-plus at-bats for only the second time in almost a decade in the big leagues. He’s not flashy but could end the post-Joe Crede revolving-door approach at third.

Outfield
Rios resurrected his career after a 2011 season that had people wondering if he could be productive again. He adjusted his batting stance, raising his hands into a more conventional position from an exaggerated crouch, and is pounding the ball in the fashion that prompted the Blue Jays to give him a seven-year, $70-million contract before the 2008 season. He’s had an up-and-down career since then but will establish himself as a true All-Star if he can repeat a season in which he had 37 doubles, 25 homers and 23 stolen bases. Center fielder Alejandro De Aza and left fielder Dayan Viciedo return for their second years as regulars. De Aza is a decent on-base guy and good baserunner. Viciedo is better than advertised defensively in left, thanks to a strong arm, but his low on-base percentage (.300) must be addressed to justify regular at-bats. Dewayne Wise is available if Ventura wants to consider a platoon. His on-base was only .322 against righthanders, however.

Catching
Few teams allow above-average catchers to walk, but the White Sox made almost no attempt to keep A.J. Pierzynski after he turned in a career year at age 35. It was clear that Hahn did not believe Pierzynski could duplicate that performance, and also that Hahn felt it was past time for 27-year-old Tyler Flowers to get his shot as a regular. Flowers, who is listed at 6'4", 245, spent the last two years backing up Pierzynski. He has hit only .205 in 108 games, but the Sox are sold on his ability to replace Pierzynski’s power and also to be an upgrade behind the plate. He threw out 33 percent of runners attempting to steal last season, and Sox pitchers had almost exactly the same earned run average with him catching as with Pierzynski.

DH/Bench
To know Dunn is to respect him, which made it easy to explain how he was named Comeback Player of the Year even though he hit .204 and finished one strikeout short of matching the all-time record. It was impossible to ignore his 41 home runs, but the reality is that Dunn was never happy with his performance, even if it was much better than the nightmare 2011 season in which he hit .159 with only 11 homers. This is not an especially deep team, as Dunn, Konerko, Rios, Peavy, Danks and Floyd earn a combined $74.25 million (even with Konerko deferring $7 million of his salary), leaving little for spare parts. The Sox picked up corner infielder Conor Gillaspie over the winter and the former Giant appears to have earned a roster with a strong spring. Jordan Danks could figure in as an extra outfielder, though former Padre Blake Tekotte will also be in the mix to win a spot. Angel Sanchez, claimed in the Rule 5 Draft, and backup catcher Hector Gimenez round out a second-division bench.

Management
Hahn, who had spent 12 years as Ken Williams’ assistant general manager, takes over an organization that has wasted its post-World Series spike in attendance, which has fallen below two million, where it was in 2004. Williams repeatedly went for the jugular and failed after the ’05 championship, trading away kids for veterans and largely neglecting the farm system. Hahn’s mandate is to rebuild the foundation while trying to contend behind the declining base of veterans. It’s a daunting task, but he is off to a good start by penciling in Brent Morel, Carlos Sanchez, Tyler Saladino and Andy Wilkins as his Triple-A infield rather than rush any of them to Chicago. The Sox gained a pulse internationally when Williams hired Marco Paddy from Toronto to run that operation, and the 2012 draft — the first with the spending limits favored by Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf — seemed a step in the right direction. Ventura finished third in Manager of the Year voting in his first season on the job. Pitching coach Don Cooper remains a key organizational asset.

Final Analysis
There’s nothing wrong with this team that Mike Trout or Bryce Harper couldn’t fix. But the White Sox haven’t found many impact hitters in the draft since the run that brought them Frank Thomas, Ray Durham, Mike Cameron and Ventura, among others. The Sox were fourth in the AL in scoring last year but seem unlikely to sustain that level given the age of the lineup. They’ll need great pitching and fielding to compete. The presence of Sale, Peavy, Reed and Jones gives them a chance, but it will take surprising contributions elsewhere to win 85-plus games and click with a shrinking fan base.

Lineup
CF     Alejandro De Aza (L)     
Leadoff man with speed had a higher WAR than Paul Konerko last season.
3B     Jeff Keppinger (R)     
Solid right-handed bat figures to get 500-plus at-bats in first year of three-year deal.
RF     Alex Rios (R)     
Best hitter in the lineup hit mostly fifth and sixth a year ago, a mistake Robin Ventura shouldn’t repeat.
1B     Paul Konerko (R)     
Surgery on left wrist may explain why his OPS dropped from .932 at All-Star break to .771 in the second half.
DH     Adam Dunn (L)     
Fifty-homer season isn’t out of the question if he stays healthy and figures a way to make better contact.
LF     Dayan Viciedo (R)     
Decent first season as a regular, highlighted by .289 average with runners in scoring position.
SS     Alexei Ramirez (R)     
While hitting career-low nine homers, took only 14 unintentional walks in 621 plate appearances in 2012.
C     Tyler Flowers (R)     
Favorite of teammates and coaches last two years when serving as A.J. Pierzynski’s understudy.
2B     Gordon Beckham (R)     
.270 average as rookie in 2009 has shrunk to .245 career batting average.

Bench
OF     Dewayne Wise (L)     
Veteran with all-around skills could get 250 at-bats if Viciedo starts slow.
SS     Angel Sanchez (R)     
Houston’s primary shortstop in 2011, he hit .320 in Triple-A last year.  
C     Hector Gimenez (S)     
Next to Wise, probably the best hitter in the group; could emerge as a key contributor.
1B/3B    Conro Gillaspie (L)
Picked up from San Francisco over the winter, he had six extra-base hits in his first 32 at-bats in the spring.

Rotation
LH     Chris Sale    
A 17-game winner and All-Star in first year as a starter, he looks like a cornerstone player.
RH     Jake Peavy     
Fifth in AL with 219 innings last year; White Sox are betting he’s overcome run of injuries.
LH     John Danks     
Signed to a $65-million contract a year ago, he is a question mark after shoulder scope last August.
RH     Gavin Floyd     
With free agency around corner, the consistent double-figure winner is a trade candidate.
LH     Jose Quintana     
A major surprise as a rookie; started 22 games and pitched 136.1 innings.

Bullpen
RH     Addison Reed (Closer)    
Stephen Strasburg’s old college closer was 29-for-33 in his rookie season.
RH     Nate Jones     
High-90s fastball and snap-dragon curve give him chance to be eighth-inning force.
RH     Jesse Crain    
Veteran setup man makes mistakes up in strike zone but held hitters to .171 average last year.
LH     Matt Thornton     
Quiet leader in bullpen, the veteran workhorse worked a career-high 74 games at age 35.
LH     Donnie Veal     
Former Cubs second-rounder throws a slider that was death to left-handed hitters down the stretch.
RH     Dylan Axelrod     
Independent League find has a filthy slider and the ability to start or relieve.
RH    Matt Lindstrom
Veteran allowed just four of 20 inherited runners to score last season split between Baltimore and Arizona.

Teaser:
<p> Manager Robin Ventura had his team in first place for most of 2012, with strong fielding as the trademark, but he will be challenged to improve on that 85-win season.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - 17:00
All taxonomy terms: Detroit Tigers, MLB
Path: /mlb/2013-baseball-preview-detroit-tigers
Body:

The 2012 Detroit Tigers were a runaway pick to win the AL Central and a fashionable pick to win it all. But nothing ever seemed easy for them. They floundered below .500 for most of the first half of the season, trailed the Chicago White Sox for the bulk of the year and didn’t clinch the AL Central title until the calendar had flipped to October. Then, after surviving the A’s in the ALDS and destroying the Yankees in a four-game sweep in the ALCS, their bats curiously disappeared in the World Series, as they lost to the Giants in four games. The Tigers knew they needed more pop, and they also knew more pop was on its way, with DH Victor Martinez set to return in 2013 after a year spent rehabbing a blown-out knee. But that wasn’t enough — they also struck early in free agency, signing 37-year-old outfielder Torii Hunter coming off a career-high .313 average. Finally, they upgraded their rotation by re-signing righthander Anibal Sanchez, who came to Detroit in a trade-deadline deal last summer and pitched impressively down the stretch. Perhaps even more than a year ago — against a backdrop of an American League in which several perennial powers appear in decline — the Tigers will be viewed as a threat to win it all.

Rotation
On the surface, any rotation that has Justin Verlander at the top and three other 10-game winners following him — a rotation that, in fact, posted a combined 3.76 ERA in 2012 — is plenty solid. Not only that, but No. 2 starter Max Scherzer also took a huge step in 2012 towards fulfilling his vast promise, with a 16-win, 231-strikeout season. But as the wise men say, you can never have too much pitching, and the Tigers knew they needed to retain Sanchez if they wanted to enter April with a championship-caliber club. The cost was staggering: $80 million for what is essentially a No. 4 starter. But the payoff is also enormous: The Tigers’ rotation is arguably the strongest and deepest in the American League — whether the fifth starter’s job belongs to righthander Rick Porcello or emerging lefty Drew Smyly.

Bullpen
After letting Jose Valverde, their high-wire artist of a closer, walk away via free agency, the Tigers kicked around various options for a closer in 2013, including free agents, trade targets and in-house candidates. Of that last category, the most intriguing option is much-hyped prospect Bruce Rondon, a 22-year-old Venezuelan who torched batters at Single-A and Double-A in 2012. The Tigers have given him a chance to win the closer’s job, and it appears that he has done so this spring. Also on board for 2013 is a strong core of bullpen veterans in lefty Phil Coke and righthanders Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel, plus an intriguing Rule 5 pickup in swingman Kyle Lobstein. Al Alburquerque appears healthy and ready to return to his swing-and-miss form.
 
Middle Infield
Although Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta, the Tigers’ veteran double-play combo, don’t inspire much excitement, on this team and in this lineup there is something to be said for steady veteran play up the middle. Infante, a second baseman acquired last July in the Anibal Sanchez trade, broke his hand in Game 4 of the World Series but is completely healthy. Peralta, meantime, saw his offensive numbers drop in 2012, but he was an All-Star as recently as 2011 and is a capable shortstop, if nothing else.

Corners
The Tigers paid their corner infielders a combined $44 million in 2012 to hit a lot of home runs and not kill themselves (or the team) on defense. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder succeeded on both counts. The former had a historic year at the plate, winning both the Triple Crown and the MVP, and while the latter posted his lowest home run total in six years, he put up otherwise gaudy numbers in line with his career norms. On the other side of the ball, while neither was a threat to win a Gold Glove, the “experiment” of shifting Cabrera from first to third in order to accommodate Fielder was also not the abject disaster many predicted, and Cabrera’s selflessness in switching positions resonated both with teammates and MVP voters.

Outfield
With all the firepower in the middle of the Tigers’ lineup, it was easy to overlook the brilliant season put up by center fielder Austin Jackson, who raised his OPS by 166 points over the year before and established himself as one of the top leadoff men in the game. One of the great travesties of the 2012 AL MVP race was that Jackson garnered nary a vote. The addition of Hunter gives Jackson a Gold Glove-caliber wingman in right, as well as another big-time bat behind him. Left field might wind up being a revolving door, but for now it appears that Andy Dirks, who had a fine 2012 season in a limited role, will get the first crack at the starting job. At some point in 2013, top prospects Nick Castellanos and/or Avisail Garcia could get the inevitable call-up.

Catching
Alex Avila had a breakout 2011 season, highlighted by an All-Star selection, but an injury-plagued 2012 sent his numbers plummeting and raised questions about his future durability. He made only 107 starts at catcher in 2012, down from 130 the year before, and almost all his numbers dropped — including his OPS by a whopping 159 points. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that Tigers felt it important to upgrade at backup catcher, dropping veteran Gerald Laird and signing free agent Brayan Pena.

DH/Bench
With Martinez out for the year following knee surgery, the Tigers’ DH job in 2012 was left primarily to Delmon Young, who, while capable of an occasional burst of power, is certainly no V-Mart. Getting the veteran Martinez back in 2013 will be like adding another big bat via free agency — only without the extra expenditure. As for the Tigers’ bench, Don Kelly, Jim Leyland’s favorite super-utility security blanket, is gone now, and it could take multiple players to replace him. The Tigers acquired a second baseman, Jeff Kobernus, in the Rule 5 Draft, but if he is to stick he will need to learn additional positions — and perhaps become a Kelly-like utility man. The Tigers still have Danny Worth and Ramon Santiago as backup infielders — though they can probably only afford to carry one of them — plus Quintin Berry as an extra outfielder. It isn’t the most intimidating bench around, but it should be functional.

Management
Leyland, who has led the Tigers to two AL pennants in seven years with the organization, seems content at this point to exist on a series of one-year contracts, ending his last one with a World Series appearance, then signing yet another once the series was over. But at age 68, there are plenty of people wondering how many one-year contracts he has left in him. Which means, like plenty of others in the organization, his sense of urgency to win in 2013 will be acute. General manager Dave Dombrowski, on the other hand, signed a four-year extension in 2011 that carries through 2015 — not that he feels any less urgency to win. Together, they form one of the longest-standing and most respected GM/manager duos in baseball.

Final Analysis
Tigers owner Mike Ilitch has always shown a willingness to spend money, pushing the Tigers’ payroll into the upper quartile of baseball and dishing out mega-deals to Cabrera and Fielder. But in 2013, with the Tigers coming off a season that fell one step short of the ultimate goal, Ilitch is going another step. The signings of Hunter and Sanchez, plus the arbitration and contractual raises due a number of key players, will push the Tigers’ 2013 payroll into even more rarified air — in the $150 million range. Clearly, from the top of the organization down, the Tigers believe they are in position to win it all in 2013. They have arguably the best nucleus of talent in all of baseball, and all they need is for the rest to fall into place.

Lineup
CF    Austin Jackson (R)     
Dazzling .300/.377/.479 season established him as one of top leadoff men in game
RF    Torii Hunter (R)     
Still a great glove man, a professional hitter and top-notch clubhouse influence.
3B     Miguel Cabrera (R)     
Inherited the mantle from Albert Pujols as best right-handed hitter in the game.
1B     Prince Fielder (L)     
His 30 HRs were fewest since 2006, but Tigers are confident he’s poised for a monster 2013 season.
DH     Victor Martinez (S)     
His return from injury deepens the lineup and makes pitching around Cabrera, Fielder a risk.
LF    Andy Dirks (L)     
Tigers anxious to see if he can extend big-time 2012 production over a full season.
SS    Jhonny Peralta (R)     
Steady veteran has played at least 145 games in seven straight seasons.
C     Alex Avila (L)     
Even in what constituted a “down” year, posted a healthy .352 OBP.
2B     Omar Infante (R)     
Say what you will, but if he’s your No. 9 hitter, you’re in good shape.

Bench
C     Brayan Pena (S)     
Upgrades backup catcher spot, replacing popular veteran Gerald Laird.
2B     Jeff Kobernus (R)     
Light-hitting Rule 5 Draft pick will probably need to play multiple positions to stick.
OF    Quintin Berry (L)     
Plays all three outfield spots, and stole 21 bases without being caught in 94 games in 2012.
IF    Ramon Santiago (S)
Has made at least 60 starts as a middle infielder in each of the last four seasons for Detroit.

Rotation
RH     Justin Verlander     
Cy Young runner-up in 2012 is arguably the best pitcher in the game.
RH     Max Scherzer     
Flamethrower took huge step forward in 2012, winning career-high 16 games.
RH     Doug Fister     
Strained oblique plagued him in 2012, but still won 10 games with a respectable 3.45 ERA.
RH     Anibal Sanchez     
Justified July trade with three quality starts in postseason and was signed to big deal in offseason.
RH     Rick Porcello     
Still only 24, but allowed a career-high 11.5 hits per nine IP in 2012.

Bullpen
RH     Bruce Rondon (Closer)    
Throws gas, but does he have the command and the calm to close in majors?
RH    Joaquin Benoit     
Jim Leyland’s top right-handed setup man struck out 84 in 71 innings.
LH    Phil Coke     
Strong showing in 2012 postseason underscored his value and versatility.
RH    Octavio Dotel     
Not the workhorse he used to be, but still effective when used right.
LH    Kyle Lobstein     
Rule 5 Draft pick is seen as a starter long-term, but to stick he’ll need to relieve.
RH     Brayan Villarreal     
Emerged as Leyland’s top option in the sixth and seventh innings.
RH    Al Alburquerque
After returning from injury last September, he struck out 18 and gave up only six hits in 13.1 innings, but walked eight.
 

Teaser:
<p> Clearly, from the top of the organization down, the Detroit Tigers believe they are in position to win it all in 2013. They have arguably the best nucleus of talent in all of <a href="http://www.athlonsports.com/mlb" target="_blank">baseball</a>.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - 16:30
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, MLB, Overtime
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-bracket-baseball-style
Body:

This time of year, sports fans and many non-sports fans are thinking about one thing: their NCAA Tournament brackets. For the next few days hoops fans will dissect rebounding margins, three-point shooting percentages, experience of guards and the ability to force turnovers. But for those of us who spend much more time studying pitchers’ velocity, prospects’ development and fielding practice on back fields in Florida and Arizona, it can be a bit difficult to complete basketball brackets.

But here goes. A completed NCAA Tournament bracket from a baseball nerd, uh, fan.

Midwest

1 Louisville vs. 16 Liberty/North Carolina A&T
8 Colorado State vs. 9 Missouri


The fighting Sid Breams of Liberty will live to face Louisville in what we call the first round. We understand enough to know that 16s don’t beat 1s. Claiming Garry Templeton’s son, Garry Jr., isn’t enough for NC A&T. We love 8/9 games. Colorado State and Missouri is a classic. The Tigers with Max Scherzer, Aaron Crow and Ian Kinsler advance. But our favorite Mizzou alum might jut be Homer Summa.

In the second round Mizzou knocks out Louisville. There are only five former Cardinals who ever reached the majors, four of them in the 2000s. The tradition just isn’t there for Louisville.

5 Oklahoma State vs. 12 Oregon
4 Saint Louis vs. 13 New Mexico State


Oklahoma State and Oregon should be a real battle, but Okie State advances. After all, the Ducks just revived their program five years ago after rival Oregon State won a couple of College World Series titles. Saint Louis and New Mexico State? Really? How can I pick against a team from Saint Louis?

But being from Saint Louis is good enough only for one round. Not having produced a big leaguer since 1971 can’t match a school that produced Robin Ventura. Cowboys advance to Sweet 16.

6 Memphis vs. 11 Middle Tennessee/Saint Mary’s
3 Michigan State vs. 14 Valparaiso


St. Mary’s easily slides by Middle Tennessee. The Gaels have produced about four times as many major leaguers as the Blue Raiders. But we’ll take Dan Uggla’s alma mater (Memphis) over Mark Teahen’s (Saint Mary’s). Michigan State dominates Valpo. Steve Garvey and Kirk Gibson begin making plans to drop in on the Final Four.

Sparty keeps moving. There have been 38 players in the bigs who matriculated at East Lansing. Far more than at Memphis.

7 Creighton vs. 10 Cincinnati
2 Duke vs. 15 Albany


Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson, who grew up in Omaha, was a basketball star at Creighton in the 1950s. He appeared with the Harlem Globetrotters, so this is a no-brainer as the Bluejays soundly defeat Cincinnati. Dick Groat, a teammate of Gibson’s on the 1964 World Champion Cardinals, was an All-America hoopster at Duke. No one from Albany has ever played in the majors.

The Blue Devils’ Groat hit .317 off of Creighton’s Gibson in his MLB career with no HBPs. Advantage Groat and Duke.

Sweet 16
Things begin to get serious in the Sweet 16. The Oklahoma State Cowboys have appeared in 19 College World Series, Missouri just six. Groat continues a march toward MOP. He hit .320 in 101 plate appearances off Hall of Famer, and Sparty alum, Robin Roberts.

Crash Davis, an infielder not a catcher, played in 148 games over three seasons for Connie Mack during WWII. Basketball All-American Groat won NL MVP in 1960. Two-sport star Quinton McCracken played defensive back for Steve Spurrier before playing 999 games in the majors. With those three stars, Duke takes this bracket rather easily.

West

1 Gonzaga vs. Southern
8 Pittsburgh vs. 9 Wichita State


I’m sticking with the rule that 16s don’t lose to 1s, but I like Southern’s heritage with players like Lou Brock and Rickie Weeks. Pitt has never reached the College World Series, Wichita State has been to Omaha seven times, winning it all in 1989. Easy call. Not to mention the Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t fielded a winner since 1992.

The Zags have such little baseball tradition, Wichita State shocks the No. 1 seed.

5 Wisconsin vs. 12 Ole Miss
4 Kansas State vs. 13 Boise State/LaSalle


Wisconsin has produced a few heavyweights through the years, namely Addie Joss and Harvey Kuenn. But long-time Cubs shortstop and Ole Miss alum Don Kessinger was named to the SEC Decade of the 60s basketball team along with Pete Maravich, Louie Dampier, Dan Issel, and Neal Walk. We’re sold on the Rebels. No major league hitter explored LaSalle or Boise, and the schools have combined to produce just five pitchers. With 194 major league wins, Larry Jackson gets the nod for Boise State. Even though Carlos Torres, who spent some time in Manhattan, Kan., is kicking around spring training with the Mets, Boise State advances to face Ole Miss.

Ole Miss easily dispatches the Broncos.

6 Arizona vs. 11 Belmont
3 New Mexico vs. 14 Harvard


Arizona has 16 CWS appearances and is the reigning champ. I love Belmont, but the Bruins are not going to knock off the Wildcats. New Mexico has never been to the College World Series. Harvard made four CWS appearances in a span of seven years from 1968-74. But that was a long time ago. Three Lobos spent time in the bigs last season, so New Mexico advances.

Arizona easily advances past New Mexico.

7 Notre Dame vs. 10 Iowa State
2 Ohio State vs. 15 Iona


It’s pretty simple, really. Iowa State defeated Notre Dame 13-8 in 10 innings in the 1957 College World Series, so there. Both teams were eliminated the day before Cal beat Penn State 1-0 for the title. We’d have to see Nick Swisher of Ohio State face Jason Motte of Iona to be sure, but since the Gaels have yet to produce a major league hitter or play in the College World Series, we’re moving the Buckeyes into the next round.

Ohio State wins big over Iowa State, a school without a major leaguer since Mike Myers retired in 2007.

Sweet 16
The Shockers have had an alum in the major leagues every year since Bryan Oelkers and Joe Carter entered the league in 1983. Ole Miss is no match. Arizona is looking like a tournament favorite with all its tradition. Former Wildcats have accounted for 793 saves in the majors, 601 coming from Trevor Hoffman.

In a battle of heavyweights, Arizona by virtue of 16 CWS appearances to Wichita State’s 7 moves on to the Final Four.

South

1 Kansas vs. 16 Western Kentucky
8 North Carolina vs. 9 Villanova


No. 1 seed Kansas played in the 1993 CWS. The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers did not. Villanova has produced 49 big leaguers, but only 10 have made it to the show since the 1940s. Of the 60 players UNC has produced, 23 have played in the majors in the 2000s. Go Tar Heels.

During the second round, most basketball pundits will want to talk about Roy Williams and the UNC-Kansas connection. We’ll be talking about Brian Roberts’ comeback in Baltimore and breakout seasons from Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager. Tar Heels keep moving.

5 VCU vs. 12 Akron
4 Michigan vs. 13 South Dakota State


Evidently VCU has a smart coach and Brandon Inge, of course. There are no major league hitters from Akron. Zip. Nada. Rams advance. Way back during the Dead Ball era, Vean Gregg won 92 games, 72 coming with the Indians. He’s the lone Jackrabbit to make it to the show. And really, if you have to go back that far, forget it. Wolverines in a cake walk.

Michigan has the old: Hall of Famers Charlie Gehringer and George Sisler while VCU can counter with Jerry DiPoto, the general manager of the Angels. Edge to the old guard.

6 UCLA vs. 11 Minnesota
3 Florida vs. 14 Northwestern State


Who would have thought that a cold weather school like Minnesota would have more CWS appearances (8) and titles (3) than UCLA (4,0)? But the Gophers haven’t been there since 1977 and UCLA has been twice in the past three years. Bruins in a squeaker. Although in the 1973 NBA Draft (when John Wooden was still at UCLA) Jim Brewer from Minnesota was drafted second, Ron Behagen seventh before Swen Nater of UCLA was picked 16th. In that same draft, Golden Gopher Dave Winfield was the 79th pick by the Atlanta Hawks. He opted for baseball. Good decision. No big league hitter has ever come out of Northwestern State. Florida has produced three All-Star hitters since the 1980s. Laugher.

In a battle of two baseball factories, Florida has had 18 players drafted in the last two years, UCLA just 16. We’ll take Mike Zunino over Trevor Bauer or Gerrit Cole. Chomp!

7 San Diego State vs. 10 Oklahoma
2 Georgetown vs. 15 Florida Gulf Coast


Oklahoma can lean on basketball star Ryan Minor who hit .177 in 142 games for Baltimore and Montreal. He was a second-round pick of the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1996 NBA Draft, but never played in the NBA. His claim to fame is that he replaced Cal Ripken in the lineup to end the Iron Man’s streak of 2,632 consecutive games. San Diego State has the school’s all-time assists leader, Tony Gwynn, who also managed more than 3,000 hits in the majors. Yep, Gwynn is better than Minor. You know a No. 15 has beaten a No. 2 six times. Of the 35 former Georgetown Hoyas who made it to the show, just one has played in the majors since 1960. Florida Gulf Coast has Chris Sale. Upset!

Okay, we mentioned Tony Gwynn’s basketball exploits earlier, so now it’s time to play the Stephen Strasburg card. See ya Florida Gulf Coast.

Sweet 16
And with the even older history of brothers Moses Fleetwood Walker and Welday Walker — two African-American major leaguers in the 1800s — Michigan continues to advance by knocking off the Tar Heels.

Sheer numbers of the Florida Gators are too much for the Aztecs, although the Strasburg-Addison Reed combo put up a fight.

You have to go back to the Dwight Eisenhower administration (1960) to find a season in which there was no Michigan alum in the big leagues. Wolverines fight their way into the Final Four.

East

1 Indiana vs. 16 Long Island/James Madison
8 NC State vs. 9 Temple


Right off the bat, Long Island takes James Madison. Larry Doby is the most famous LIU alum, while Billy Sample takes that honor for JMU. Uh, no contest. However, Indiana keeps the No. 1 seeds perfect. NC State’s Tim Stoddard, who pitched 13 years in the bigs, was a power forward on the 1974 national title team that featured David Thompson, Monte Towe and the 7’4” Tom Burleson. Temple has Bobby Higginson. Go State!

The NC State Wolfpack knocks off No. 1 seed Indiana based on State’s lone College World Series appearance in 1968. Yep, it was an ugly game. I’m guessing neither team shot better than 30 percent.

5 UNLV vs. 12 California
4 Syracuse vs. 13 Montana


UNLV can impress with the Stottlemyre brothers (Todd and Mel Jr.), the Ludwick brothers (Ryan and Eric) and Cecil Fielder, but you can trace a Cal alum in the bigs all the way back to 1920. That’s a long time. Cal in an upset. No Montana Grizzly has made it to the show. A total of 26 Syracuse alums have made it, but none since Will Pennyfeather last appeared in 1994. Orange moves forward.

Cal absolutely blows out Syracuse. There have 25 former Bears in the majors since Pennyfeather’s retirement as the last Orange.

6 Butler vs. 11 Bucknell
3 Marquette vs. 14 Davidson


Doug Jones had 303 career saves and Dan Johnson hit a memorable walk-off homer for Tampa Bay on the final day of the 2011 regular season. Go Butler. Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson had 373 wins. Bucknell rules. Ralph Shinners is the lone Marquette alum to play in the bigs, and he played his final game in 1925. Davidson wins.

Christy Mathewson continues to pitch Bucknell into unchartered waters. They knock off Davidson to advance to the Sweet 16.

7 Illinois vs. 10 Colorado
2 Miami vs. 15 Pacific


Illinois has sent 71 players to the majors, Colorado only five. Blowout. The list of 11 former Pacific Tigers to play in the majors includes current Padre third baseman Chase Headley, who transferred to Tennessee. The University of Miami had 14 alums playing last season alone. Over by halftime.

Tournament favorite Miami can count 28 All-Star appearances from alums who have played since 2000. Illinois has no chance.

Sweet 16
Ryan Braun, Mike Piazza, Chris Perez and others end Bucknell’s Cinderella run. In the top of the bracket, it’s Cal all over NC State. Jeff Kent and Andy Messersmith lead the Golden Bears past, well, Stoddard and the Pack.

There have been 55 Miami Hurricanes play in the big leagues, and 46 of them have done so since 1990. Hurricanes are in the Final Four.

Final Four

The Michigan Wolverines, living on old tradition, finally run out of gas against the much more modern cast from Miami.

Arizona easily dispenses with Duke. The Wildcats call on Kenny Lofton, the sixth man on the 1988 Final Four team. After basketball season, Lofton joined the Arizona baseball team and got in just five games, mostly as a pinch-runner and had just one at-bat.

Arizona, having appeared in 16 CWS, winning four, and Miami with 23 appearances and also four titles, meet in the championship game.

The two have crossed paths in five CWS, but met only twice on the field. Arizona won 5-1 in 1979, and Miami defeated the Wildcats 4-2 in 1986, but Arizona rebounded to win the title.

In a double-overtime thriller, the Hurricanes prevail with a little help from Barry Larkin’s son Shane, Miami’s point guard.

So, there you have it. That’s how a die-hard baseball (even in March) fan fills out his NCAA Tournament bracket. Enjoy the madness. Opening Day is just around the corner.

-Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)

Teaser:
<p> This time of year, sports fans and many non-sports fans are thinking about one thing: their NCAA Tournament brackets. But for those of us who spend much more time studying fielding practice on back fields in Florida and Arizona, it can be a bit difficult to complete basketball brackets.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - 12:15
Path: /college-basketball/75-facts-75-ncaa-tournaments
Body:

The 75th NCAA Tournament will be played in 2013. Athlon Sports celebrates the 75th edition of March Madness with 75 facts about the Tourney over the years:

HISTORY

The first NCAA Tournament in 19391 was overshadowed by the NIT at the time. The first Tournament included eight teams with Oregon defeating Ohio State 46-33 in the final in Evanston, Ill.2 Dr. James Naismith, who wrote basketball’s original 13 rules, was in attendance.3

A moneymaker now for the NCAA, the first Tourney operated at a $2,531 loss.4

City College of New York, which would see its program fall apart after revelations of point shaving and altered academic records for recruits, became the only team to win the NCAA Tournament and NIT in the same season in 1950.5 Teams were limited to one postseason tournament by 1953.6

The NCAA’s first national television broadcast contract was signed in 1963 to air the championship game for $140,000 on the creatively named Sports Network.7 The latest television contract to broadcast every game was signed with CBS and Turner Broadcasting for $10.8 billion for 14 years.8

The highest-rated NCAA Tournament game was the championship game showdown between Michigan State’s Magic Johnson and Indiana State’s Larry Bird in 1979, gaining a 24.1 rating.9

The most-watched game in terms of actual television sets was Duke’s second consecutive NCAA title in 1992 when the Blue Devils defeated Michigan and the Fab Five. The game reached more than 20.9 million homes.10

The term “final four” was coined in 1975 by the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Ed Chay.11 The NCAA capitalized the Final Four three years later.12

The NCAA registered a trademark for the term March Madness in 2001.13 The NCAA also registered a trademark for Big Dance in 2000.14

TEAMS

UCLA owns the most NCAA championships with 11,15 followed by Kentucky (eight16), Indiana and North Carolina (five each17). The Tar Heels have the most Final Four appearances with 18.18

BYU has made the most NCAA Tournament appearances without a Final Four (2719).

Schools who won titles under another name: Oklahoma State (as Oklahoma A&M in 1945-46 20) and UTEP (as Texas Western in 1966 21).

Great nicknames for championship teams: The Fabulous Five (1948 Kentucky22), The Fiddlin’ Five (1958 Kentucky 23), Danny and the Miracles (1988 Kansas24).

Great nicknames for national runners-up: Rupp’s Runts (1966 Kentucky25), Phi Slama Jama (1983-84 Houston26) and The Fab Five (1992-93 Michigan27).

BRACKETS

Notable expansions in NCAA Tournament history: The Tournament started with eight teams in 193928 and expanded to 1629 in 1951. In 1975, the Tournament permitted conferences to send more than one team to the field when the event expanded to 32 teams.30 Further expansions included 48 teams in 198031, 52 teams in 198332, 64 teams in 198533 and 68 teams in 2011.34

The lowest-seeded team to win a title was Rollie Massimino’s Villanova Wildcats in 1985 in the first season after the field was expanded to 64.35 Every title winner since 1998 has been seeded third or higher.36

A No. 16 seed has never defeated a No. 1 seed.37

A No. 15 seed had not defeated a No. 2 seed from 2002-11 before two No. 15 seeds won on the same day in 2012 (Norfolk State over Missouri,38 Lehigh over Duke39). Four other No. 15 seeds have upset No. 2 seeds: Richmond over Syracuse in 199140, Santa Clara over Arizona in 199341, Coppin State over South Carolina in 199742 and Hampton over Iowa State in 2001.43

COACHES

UCLA’s John Wooden holds the records for the most national championships (10)44, Final Four appearances (12)45, consecutive Final Four appearances (nine).46

The only major Final Four-related coaching record Wooden doesn’t hold is winning percentage, held by Indiana’s Branch McCracken with a 4-0 record in 1940 and ‘53.47 Wooden is second with a winning percentage of 87.5 (21-3).48

McCracken is also the youngest coach to win a title at 31 years old, nine months and 21 days old in 1940.49 Recently retired Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun became the oldest coach to win a title in 2011 at 68 years, 10 months and 22 days.50

Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim will make his 30th NCAA Tournament appearance this season, extending his own record.51

Only two coaches have taken three teams to the Final Four. They both won national titles at Kentucky, and they’re now in-state rivals: Rick Pitino52 (Providence, Kentucky, Louisville) and John Calipari53 (UMass, Memphis, Kentucky).

This season, Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger will be the first coach to take five teams to the NCAA Tournament when his current team makes the field. He’s also made appearances with Kansas State, Florida, Illinois and UNLV.54

Two coaches have won national titles as both a coach and a player: Bob Knight55 and Dean Smith.56

Two coaches won a national title in their final collegiate games: Wooden (1975)57, Marquette’s Al McGuire (1977).58 Larry Brown was on this list, winning a title with Kansas in 1988, but he returned to the college game this season at SMU.59

Larry Brown is the only coach to win both an NCAA title and an NBA title.60

PLAYERS

Duke’s Christian Laettner has scored more points than anyone in the history of the NCAA Tournament with 407 points from 1989-92.61

Five players have won NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player honors multiple times and non since 1973: UCLA’s Bill Walton in 1972-73,62 UCLA’s Lew Alcindor in 1967-69,63 Ohio State’s Jerry Lucas in 1960-61,64 including once when his team was a national runner-up, Kentucky’s Alex Groza in 1948-49,65 and Oklahoma A&M’s Bob Kurland 1945-46.66

NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Players have included four freshmen (Kentucky’s Anthony Davis in 2012,67 Syracuse’s Carmelo Anthony in 2003,68 Louisville’s Pervis Ellison in 198669 and Utah’s Arnie Ferrin in 194470) and one junior college transfer (Indiana’s Keith Smart in 198771)

 

PLACES

The University of Dayton Arena, home to the opening round since 2001 and the First Four, has hosted more NCAA Tournament games than any other arena at 91.72

Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium still holds the record for most national championship games with nine from 1940-64.73 Kansas City, where the NCAA was formerly headquartered, has hosted the most Final Fours with 10 from 1940-88.74

North Carolina has hosted more NCAA Tournament games than any other state (23375).

Teaser:
<p> 75 Facts for 75 NCAA Tournaments</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - 12:00
Path: /college-football/michigan-state-spartans-2013-spring-football-preview
Body:

Entering 2012, Mark Dantonio's program faced an age-old question of rebuilding or reloading? Had Michigan State, following the two most successful seasons in program history (11 wins), become a program that reloads or rebuilds? After five losses in Big Ten play, it appears the Spartans are closer to rebuilding than reloading. However, with a host of talent returning to both sides of the ball, Dantonio's bunch won't be "down" for too long. Expectations in East Lansing will be high once again this summer.

Michigan State Spartans 2013 Spring Preview

2012 Record: 7-6 (3-5)

Spring practice dates: March 19-April 20

Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 6

Returning Leaders:

Passing: Andrew Maxwell, 234-of-446, 2,606 yards, 13 TD, 9 INT
Rushing: Nick Hill, 21 car., 48 yards, 1 TDs
Receiving: Bennie Fowler, 41 rec., 524 yards, 4 TDs
Tackles: Max Bullough, 111
Sacks: Denicos Allen, 3.0
Interceptions: Darqueze Dennard, 3.0

Redshirts to Watch: QB Tyler O'Connor, TE Josiah Price, TE Evan Jones, S Demetrious Cox, OL Jack Conklin, LB Riley Bullough, DB Jermaine Edmondson, WR Monty Madaris, RB Nick Tompkins, CB Ezra Robinson

2013 Schedule

Aug. 30 Western Michigan (Fri.)
Sept. 7 USF
Sept. 14 Youngstown State
Sept. 21 at Notre Dame
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 at Iowa
Oct. 12 Indiana
Oct. 19 Purdue
Oct. 26 at Illinois
Nov. 1 Michigan
Nov. 9 Bye Week
Nov. 16 at Nebraska
Nov. 23 at Northwestern
Nov. 30 Minnesota

Offensive Strength: Offensive line. Dan France, Jack Allen, Skyler Burkland and Blake Treadwell return after making a combined 41 starts a year ago.

Offensive Weakness: Running back. Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper are gone and the duo combined for 400 carries, 1,901 yards rushing and 12 of the team's 13 touchdowns on the ground.

Defensive Strength: Linebacker. This position has everything any coach could want: experience, talent, versatility, production and depth.

Defensive Weakness: Defensive line. William Gholston and Anthony Rashad-White are gone from this unit as is contributor Tyler Hoover.

Spring Storylines Facing the Spartans:

1. Develop a workhorse. Le'Veon Bell touched the ball 414 times last year on offense — the most of anyone in all of college football. He is gone as is his backup Larry Caper. That leaves Mark Dantonio with a glaring hole in his offense at tailback. Nick Hill and Jeremy Langford return but rushed for a total of 71 yards last season. Redshirt freshman Nick Tompkins, who battled an ankle injury all of last year, will also compete for touches this spring. A host of talented newcomers will join the battle this summer (Gerald Holmes, R.J. Shelton, Delton Williams), but Hill and Langford will have a chance this spring to get a headstart on the competition. Dantonio would feel much better about his running game if one of these players can step up and prove themselves in spring practice.

2. Establish a new identity on offense. New co-offensive coordinators Jim Bollman and Dave Warner take over running the offense for the Spartans. The system will still be a pro-style, power running attack but look for the new architects to add wrinkles. The first decision will be to decide if Andrew Maxwell is the final answer at quarterback. There is plenty of talent behind him with Connor Cook and redshirt freshman Tyler O'Connor pressing for time this spring. Adding an athletic dimension to the quarterback position is something MSU wants to do but Maxwell isn't the guy for that job. It will be interesting to see if Cook and O'Connor can close the gap on the incumbent this spring.

3. 

Stablize the defensive line. Two very dependable players — William Gholston and Anthony Rashad-White — have left the starting defensive line and Ron Burton will now be in charge of the D-line. So with one of the best back seven's in all of college football, the Spartans' one area of focus on defense this spring has to be the defensive line. Marcus Rush will lock down one defensive end spot while Shlique Calhoun seems like the favorite to replace Gholston. James Kittredge, Denzel Drone, Lawrence Thomas and Micajah Reynolds return with experience and all have the talent to start up front. Organizing this group and settling a rotation will be key in a league based so heavily on running the football.

4. Get the redshirts some reps. Michigan State has the luxury of a deep and talented class of redshirt freshmen to pick from this spring. The aforementioned O'Connor and Tompkins will compete at two key offensive positions but so too will names like safety Demetrious Cox, linebacker Riley Bullough, wide receiver Monty Madaris and cornerback Ezra Robinson. Josiah Price and Evan Jones, a pair of redshirt tight ends, also will be particularly interesting to watch this spring as they battle to replace the departed Dion Sims.

Related College Football Content

Ranking All 125 College Football Coaching Jobs for 2013

College Football's Top 20 Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2013

College Football's Top 10 Spring Storylines to Watch for 2013

College Football's Top 15 Spring Quarterback Battles to Watch

Teaser:
<p> Michigan State Spartans 2013 Spring Football Preview</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - 12:00
Path: /college-basketball/who-could-flop-2013-ncaa-tournament
Body:

For every upset early in the NCAA Tournament, there’s a team on the other end heading home with unfulfilled expectations.

The top four seeds enjoy the most beneficial status in the field -- playing closer to home, playing against weaker competition. But every year, some of these will watch the Sweet 16 from their couches.

The No. 1 seeds are overwhelmingly favored to escape the second weekend, but that percentage drops with the No. 2 seeds and furthermore with the next eight teams.

Who could those early exits be this season? Which among the top 16 teams in the field are looking like upset bait and which look like sure things for the NCAA Tournament?

We ranked each of the top four seeds in each region from the most likely to last only one or two games in the Tournament to the most likely to advance to the Sweet 16.

Related: All Athlon Sports 2013 NCAA Tournament content

WHO COULD FLOP IN THE 2013 NCAA TOURNAMENT?
Ranking the top 16 seeds from upset bait to sure things


1. Michigan (No. 4 seed in the South)
It’s been easy to hype up South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters, but it’s going to be a tall talk for him to outplay Trey Burke, though it’s not impossible. VCU could be the toughest second-game opponent for any of the top 16 seeds, especially on one day’s rest. At 6-6 down the stretch, Michigan did not look like a team that wants any part of Shaka Smart’s defensive pressure.

COMPLETE REGION PREVIEWS
East
| Midwest | South | West


2. Kansas State (No. 4 seed in the West)
Bruce Weber may have the toughest scouting assignment in the first round, preparing for either Boise State’s up-tempo team or La Salle’s sound defense in the round of 64. After that, Kansas State could face a suffocating defensive team in Wisconsin or the sometimes-unhinged play of Ole Miss’ Marshall Henderson. Playing in Kansas City will be a major advantage, though.

3. Florida (No. 3 seed in the South)
At one point, the Gators may have been our top team pegged for an early exit. Florida is 0-6 in games decided by single digits and was less than impressive playing away from Gainesville. The Gators shouldn’t have much trouble with an up-tempo Northwestern State team in the round of 64, and their second round opponents are less than inspiring. UCLA struggled with chemistry all season and now will miss one of the most valuable players in Jordan Adams. Minnesota has intriguing pieces to stage an upset with Trevor Mbakwe’s offensive rebounding and Andre Hollins boom-or-bust play, but the Gophers are limping into the Tournament.

Related: Our best tips for your bracket pool

4. Miami (No. 2 seed in the East)
The Hurricanes rebounded nicely from their late-season offensive woes to win the ACC Tournament. The Canes have the veterans, the balance, the talent and the coach to make a deep run in the Tournament, but they’re short on meaningful postseason experience. If Illinois has one of its hot-shooting nights, the Illini are capable of an upset, and Colorado’s Andre Roberson could cause problems for the Canes’ Kenny Kadji. Both Illinois’ and Colorado’s best days came before calendar turned to 2013, so they’ll have to regain form in a hurry.

5. Ohio State (No. 2 seed in the West)
Defending Iona’s Momo Jones in round of 64 will be tough, but Aaron Craft is up to the task. Seventh-seeded Notre Dame has had trouble advancing in the field over the years, so we’re more concerned about Iowa State. The Cyclones answered the call late in the season in defeating Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. Iowa State also leads the country by making 9.8 three-pointers a game. If the Cyclones can get hot and stay hot from three, they have a chance.

6. Saint Louis (No. 4 seed in the Midwest)
Ask Michigan State how it feels about this Saint Louis group in the Tournament. Saint Louis came within four points of a Sweet 16 berth last season in a 65-61 loss to then-No. 1 seed Michigan State. Now, Jim Crews' team is playing its best basketabll of 2013. The Billikens haven’t lost a game in regulation since Jan. 12. What’s most worrisome about their draw is the round of 32, where they could face Oklahoma State’s precocious freshman Marcus Smart or an Oregon team that’s 21-4 with point guard Dominic Artis in the lineup. The Billikens still have the edge in experience with senior Kwamain Mitchell and junior Dwayne Ellis.

Related: 10 potential mid-major Cinderellas

7. Kansas (No. 1 seed in the South)
Bill Self is way beyond his early exit days in the NCAA Tournament, but the round of 32 should be of concern. North Carolina’s smaller lineup surged at the end of the season, and Villanova won’t be intimidated by playing a No. 1 seed. Both teams are capable of defeating a team that was prone to puzzling lapses this season (a three-game losing streak and a 23-point loss to Baylor).

8. Syracuse (No. 4 in the East)
The Orange might be more likely to be upset bait against a Montana team at full strength, but the 13th-seeded Grizzlies are without one of their three scorers averaging more than 13 points per game. If Syracuse advances, its fate may depend on which opponent shows up. UNLV has the talent to make a run to the Sweet 16 despite underachieving during the regular season. When he’s on, Anthony Bennett can be as good as any player in the Big East. Meanwhile, Cal is perhaps underseeded at No. 12 and will need its backcourt of Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs to take over.

Related: March Madness by the numbers

9. New Mexico (No. 3 in the West)
With only one senior and one junior, 14th-seeded Harvard probably doesn’t have the veterans to score an upset of this magnitude. Belmont may upset Arizona to face the Lobos, but do the Bruins have the ability to reach the Sweet 16? The most intriguing matchup for New Mexico may be Arizona. While New Mexico has been a balanced team with players like Kendall Williams, Tony Snell and Alex Kirk all able to carry their share, Arizona struggled to put its pieces together. The Wildcats still be able to push the pace on New Mexico.

10. Georgetown (No. 2 seed in the South)
We’re going to assume this Hoyas team is too good to lose to a No. 15 seed. The real questions are in the next round. No. 7 seed San Diego State, who face a non-descript Oklahoma team in the round of 64, will be one of the few teams with a player as valuable to his own team (Jamaal Franklin) as Otto Porter is to the Hoyas.

11. Gonzaga (No. 1 seed in the West)
The Bulldogs will face the strongest No. 16 seed in Southern, the only 16 seed to win both its regular season and conference tournament titles. No. 8 Pittsburgh and No. 9 Wichita State are solid teams, but Pittsburgh may be the most worrisome matchup for Gonzaga. If freshman Steven Adams can keep Kelly Olynyk in check, and Pittsburgh’s perimeter players have a good day, Gonzaga could be on upset alert.

12. Marquette (No. 3 in the East)
Buzz Williams has led his team to back-to-back Sweet 16 trips with a cast of players few people acknowledged until they started beating up on Big East teams. It’s easy to forget the Golden Eagles, though seeded third in the Big east Tourney, finished tied with Louisville and Georgetown for the league lead. If Marquette avoids an upset with Davidson, are you going to doubt the Golden Eagles’ ability to execute a scouting report against Butler’s Rotnei Clarke or Bucknell’s Mike Muscala?

13. Michigan State (No. 3 seed in the Midwest)
The Spartans shouldn’t lose to Valparaiso after navigating the gauntlet of the Big Ten. And while Michigan State has its flaws, especially at point guard, it’s tough to pick against Tom Izzo in the second round. Memphis is the best potential matchup against the Spartans in the second round, but Memphis hasn’t proven it can defeat top-flight teams under Josh Pastner, whether in the Tournament or the regular season.

14. Indiana (No. 1 seed in the East)
The biggest threat to the Hoosiers may be eighth-seeded NC State, which has the talent to stack up against Indiana. That said, NC State might not be able to play soundly enough and disciplined enough to defeat a Fran Dunphy-coached Temple team in the round of 64.

15. Louisville (No. 1 seed in the Midwest)
Being the top overall seed has its perks. The Cardinals will draw either a 20-loss Liberty team or MEAC No. 7 seed North Carolina A&T in the second round. In the second round, the Cardinals may be more concerned with facing No. 8 seed Colorado State and its rebounding prowess rather than No. 9 seed Missouri. The Cards defeated Missouri 84-61 in November on a neutral court. It’s tough to see either beating a hot Louisville team in Lexington.

16. Duke (No. 2 seed in the Midwest)
The Blue Devils won’t fall to a No. 15 seed two seasons in a row. Unlike last season, the Blue Devils are at full strength and Albany doesn’t have a player like Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum. In the second round the Blue Devils will draw one of two flawed teams in Cincinnati, who can’t score, or Creighton, who can’t defend.

Teaser:
<p> Who could flop in the 2013 NCAA Tournament? Ranking the top 16 seeds from upset bait to sure things</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/top-20-golfers-2013-majors-no-17-padraig-harrington
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2013 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 20 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

No. 17: Padraig Harrington

Born: Aug. 31, 1971, Dublin, Ireland | Career PGA Tour Wins: 5 (14 on the European Tour) | 2012 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2012 Earnings (PGA Tour): $1,546,272 (53rd)   World Ranking: 54

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Padraig Harrington has been winless since 2008 on either the PGA or European tours. However, the three-time major winner and incessant swing tinkerer has shown signs of returning to his old form with solid finishes in majors and close calls at almost every turn. Long a great wedge player, Harrington had seen his tee to green game become a bit unreliable, but the click is back, and his putting has been brilliant. He will contend for a fourth major in 2013 and break his winless streak.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 57
Wins: 3

2012 Performance:
Masters - T8
U.S. Open - T4
British Open - T39
PGA Championship - T18

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T5 (2002, 2008)
U.S. Open - T4 (2012)
British Open - 1st (2007, 2008)
PGA Championship - 1st (2008)
Top-10 Finishes: 15
Top-25 Finishes: 23
Missed Cuts: 17

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


Athlon's 2013 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 20 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, reigning FedExCup champion Brandt Snedeker, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
<p> Athlon Counts Down the 20 Golfers to Watch for Majors Season</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - 10:58
All taxonomy terms: 2013 March Madness, College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/10-potential-cinderella-teams-2013-ncaa-tournament
Body:

Here comes the most fun task in the run up for the NCAA Tournament: Attempting to predict the unpredictable.

Teams from mid-major leagues upsetting heavy hitters, schools tucked away in the middle over nowhere knocking off state schools, programs with tiny enrollments and barely recruiting players defeating rosters full of McDonald’s All-Americans make the Tournament fun. Could this be the year for South Dakota State's Nate Wolters and other mid-major stars?

Here we’ll try to pinpoint the mid- to low-major programs with the best opportunity to advance in the NCAA Tournament.

For this list we looked at teams in the bottom half of the bracket -- i.e., teams seeded ninth or lower -- and then examined their early-round matchups for their likelihood to advance.

Related: Our best tips for your bracket pool

COMPLETE REGION PREVIEWS
East
| Midwest | South | West

10 POTENTIAL CINDERELLA TEAMS IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT

Bucknell
No. 11 seed vs. Butler in the East
One of surprises of Selection Sunday may be one of the surprises of the first day of the NCAA Tournament. The Bison are overseeded at No. 11 (keep in mind, Oregon and Cal were No. 12 seeds out of the Pac-12), but Bucknell has a legitimate star player in the frontcourt in Mike Muscala. The Bison won at Purdue to start the season and defeated Tourney teams New Mexico State and La Salle comfortably. But the eye-opening game may have been a 66-64 loss at Missouri when Phil Pressey was on his game and Laurence Bowers was healthy. It’s tough to pick against Butler and Brad Stevens in the NCAA Tournament, but this is not one of his better teams.

Belmont
No. 11 seed against Arizona in the West
Has the time come for the Bruins’ first NCAA win? Belmont gave Duke all it could handle in a 71-70 loss 2008 and has been a trendy upset pick in its last two Tournaments. Led by an underrated backcourt of Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson, Belmont is one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country, leading the nation in shooting inside the three-point line and second in effective field goal percentage. Arizona isn’t the strongest defensive team and has questions at point guard. Not to mention the Wildcats are 0-3 against Bruins (of the UCLA variety).

Middle Tennessee
First Four vs. Saint Mary’s for No. 11 seed against Memphis in Midwest
One of the last teams in the field has a good shot to advance, even beyond the First Four where the Blue Raiders will meet Saint Mary’s. Should the Blue Raiders defeat the Gaels and face Memphis, they’ll encounter a team that hasn’t won a Tournament game since 2009 under John Calipari. Can Middle Tennessee, ranked fifth nationally in points allowed per possession, guard Memphis’ athleticism? Of course, that’s only if Middle Tennessee can guard Saint Mary’s guard Matthew Dellavedova first.

Boise State
First Four vs. La Salle for No. 13 seed against Kansas State in West

The Broncos have ascended to major program status in football, but they remain a plucky upstart in basketball. If Boise State can defeat La Salle in the First Four, the Broncos are a strong candidate to win one more game. Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks can score in bunches, and the Broncos won’t be overwhelmed by Kansas State. Boise State already defeated Tournament teams San Diego State, Colorado State, UNLV and Creighton this season.

South Dakota State
No. 13 seed vs. Michigan in the South
A tricky game to pick for any college basketball junkie: South Dakota State guard Nate Wolters (22.5 points per game, 5.8 assists) is an NBA prospect and a favorite of college basketball nerds. Meanwhile, Michigan is an enigma in your bracket. The Wolverines looked the part of a national title contender when they started 20-1, but Michigan finished 6-6 and went 2-6 against the Big Ten’s other top five teams. Pick against Trey Burke at your own risk.

Montana
No. 13 seed vs. Syracuse in the East
Syracuse limped into the Big East Tournament with an offensive attack that looked lost. The Orange rebounded in Madison Square Garden, including a win over Georgetown. Will that inconsistency be enough to sink Syracuse against Montana? The Grizzlies won 25 games, but keep in mind their personnel: They lost Mathias Ward (14.8 ppg) for the remainder of the season but gained Will Cherry (13.9 ppg).

Wichita State
No. 9 seed vs. Pittsburgh in the West
Perhaps unfair to call Wichita State a Cinderella as the Shockers have won 20-plus games in each of the last four seasons. Nevertheless, they're seeded ninth out of the Missouri Valley. Wichita’s round of 64 game could be decided on the glass, where both the Shockers and Pittsburgh rank in the top 10 nationally in rebound rate. The No. 8/9 games are a crapshoot, so it’s an even bet for Wichita State to advance to face presumed opponent Gonzaga. The Bulldogs were the last No. 1 seed in the field.

Florida Gulf Coast
No. 15 seed vs. Georgetown in the South
Georgetown remade itself after January, winning 13 of the last 15 games, and Otto Porter is a legitimate superstar. But Florida Gulf Coast may be the best bet for a No. 15 to win a Tournament game. Since reaching the Final Four in 2007, Georgetown has had three early Tournament exits to NC State, Ohio, VCU and Davidson (granted, VCU reached the Final Four that year and Davidson had Stephen Curry). It may be a stretch for FGCU to upset Georgetown in its first appearance, but the Eagles defeated Miami in November and have been tested against VCU and Duke.

Davidson
No. 14 seed vs. Marquette in the East
Davidson was pinpointed as a mid-major to watch in the preseason and delivered with 17 consecutive wins to end the year, including an overtime win over Montana. The Wildcats defeated high-major programs Vanderbilt and West Virginia, though neither are in the field, and gave New Mexico all it could handle at The Pit. This is a tough draw, though, against a Buzz Williams team that has reached the Sweet 16 in each of the last two seasons.

Iona
No. 15 seed vs. Ohio State in the West
It seems everyone is back on the Ohio State bandwagon after the Buckeyes won the Big Ten Tournament. But Ohio State will have a tough opponent in Iona, a MAAC team led by a Pac-12 transfer. Momo Jones played on Arizona’s Elite Eight team with Derrick Williams before transferring East. Aaron Craft should be able to guard Jones in front of the friendly Dayton crowd, but don’t be surprised if Ohio State is challenged.

Teaser:
<p> 10 Potential Cinderella Teams in the 2013 NCAA Tournament</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy, News
Path: /mlb/2013-fantasy-baseball-sleepers-and-busts-infield
Body:

Using Athlon Sports' Big Board as the barometer, here are some potential sleepers who play on the infield to keep an eye on, as well some possible busts to potentially be wary of. Keep in mind that the "bust" tag doesn't necessarily mean that player won't produce, it's more an indication of concern that he won't do so in relation to his position on the Big Board.

Note: Infield includes all players who have C, 1B, 2B, SS and/or 3B eligibility, according to Yahoo!. The player's ranking on the Big Board (200 players ranked) is listed, if applicable. UR means player was not ranked among the top 200. Player rankings from 2012 referenced are from a Yahoo! league that uses the following batting statistics: R-HR-RBI-SB-AVG-OPS.

Fantasy Baseball Positional Rankings: Big Board | C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | OF | DH | SP | RP

2013 Fantasy Baseball Infield Sleepers

Dustin Ackley, SEA, 1B/2B (UR)
Following a respectable rookie showing (.273-6-36 in 90 G) in 2011, much more was expected from the No. 2 overall pick of the 2009 MLB Draft. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, as Ackley scuffled to a .226 average with only 12 home runs and 50 RBIs, although he did score 84 runs. Ackley has all the tools to be a highly productive fantasy player, it’s just a matter of putting it together. If he can be more consistent when it comes to making contact (124 SO), a .270-15-70 line with 90 runs and 20-some steals from this 25-year-old is not out of the question.

Alcides Escobar, KC, SS (No. 148 overall)
A borderline top-10 fantasy shortstop in 2012, there’s no reason to think Escobar can’t be even better this season. He posted career highs across the board in 2012, highlighted by a .293 average, 35 stolen bases and 68 runs scored. As long as his average doesn’t drop thirty or forty points, his other numbers could continue to increase, especially if he finds a home batting second in the Royals’ lineup.

Todd Frazier, CIN, 1B/3B/OF (No. 181 overall)
Frazier took full advantage of Joey Votto’s injury troubles to force Reds manager Dusty Baker to find a way to keep him in the lineup even after Votto, the 2010 National League MVP, returned. That’s what happens when you finish third in the NL Rookie of the Year voting after posting a .273-19-67 line in just 422 at-bats. Baker has already told Frazier he’s the starting third baseman this season, so it’s entirely possible that Frazier could hit 25 or more home runs, post 90 or more RBIs and hit more than 30 doubles over a full season. His multi-position eligibility certainly doesn’t hurt either.

Manny Machado, BAL, 3B (No. 191 overall)
The top prospect in Baltimore’s system, Machado arrived earlier than expected when he made the jump from Double-A to the majors in August at just 20 years old. On top of that, the Orioles shifted their shortstop of the future over to third base, a position he played just two games at in AA prior to his call up. The third overall pick of the 2010 MLB Draft didn’t disappoint with his glove or bat, however, as he made just five errors in 51 games at the hot corner and hit .262 with seven home runs and 26 RBIs. Third base is all his this season and there’s little doubt Machado will hit, a tool that will become even more appealing and valuable whenever he makes the move from third back to shortstop, which is his more natural position.

Will Middlebrooks, BOS, 3B (No. 140 overall)
Spring training got off to a somewhat auspicious start for Middlebrooks, who experienced a scare with his surgically repaired right wrist. The good news is that nothing serious was discovered and he returned to action after a brief absence. Injury may be the only thing that prevents Middlebrooks from hitting 30 home runs and driving in more than 100 runs, considering that was the pace he was on had he played a full season in 2012. Supplanting Kevin Youkilis at third, Middlebrooks hit 15 home runs with 54 RBIs in less than 270 at-bats (75 games) before a fastball fractured his wrist last August. He needs to improve his pitch selection, as he struck out 70 times with just 13 walks, but there’s no mistaking the power and run-production potential of this 24-year-old. Especially when you take into consideration that only three third base-eligible players went 30-100 last season – Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre and Chase Headley.

Anthony Rizzo, CHC, 1B (No. 103 overall)
Despite a brutal 49-game indoctrination (.141-1-9 with 46 SO) to the big leagues with San Diego in 2011, the Cubs traded for the left-handed hitting Rizzo last January, believing the then-22-year-old to be their future first baseman. After tearing up Triple-A once again (.342-23-62 in 70 G), the Cubs called him up in late June and he proceeded to post a .265-15-48 line in a little more than half a season. Now entrenched in the No. 3 spot in manager Dale Sveum’s batting order, a .280-30-100 season isn’t out of the question, especially if he continues to improve his production against southpaws (.208-4-17 in 101 AB last season).

Wilin Rosario, COL, C (No. 118 overall)
All Rosario did last year was lead all catchers in home runs with 28 and he did so in fewer than 400 at-bats. He’s just 24 years old and despite the high number of strikeouts (99), he managed to hit .270 with 67 runs scored and 71 RBIs. Even though he did most of his damage at hitter-friendly Coors Field (.297-18-44) and struck out a lot, his per-game splits from last season translate to a tidy .270-38-98 line with 92 runs scored over a full campaign.

2013 Fantasy Baseball Infield Busts

Edwin Encarnacion, TOR, 1B (No. 31 overall)
There is no dispute that Encarnacion’s 2012 breakthrough season wasn’t special, as he posted a .280-42-110 line with 93 runs and 13 stolen bases. He was the No. 10 player overall in Yahoo! leagues and rightfully so. The question is, can he do it again? Based on his current Big Board ranking, which has him fifth among first-base eligible players, the general consensus appears to be yes, but call me a skeptic. Granted, while playing opportunity was not a given for him early in his career, Encarnacion leaped from .272-17-55 in 134 games in 2011 to his monster ’12 campaign. While he shows enough plate discipline (84 BB, 94 SO) to believe that maintaining the batting average is certainly possible, I’m not sure about the power he discovered last season. Prior to 2012, he managed a home run every 23.3 at-bats. Last season, he hit one in every 12.9 at-bats. While there’s no reason to expect his production to drop off of the cliff, I would expect him to hit somewhere around 30 home runs, not 40. That decline in 10 or more home runs alone is probably enough to drop him from the ranks of the top 30 or so players overall. When it comes to the Toronto first baseman at draft time, try not to dwell too much on last season’s numbers.

Chase Headley, SD, 3B (No. 56 overall)
Prior to last season, Headley had hit 36 total home runs in 529 career games. In 2012, he hit 31 bombs and led the National League with 115 RBIs. The Padre third baseman did the majority of his damage in the second half when he posted an insane .308-23-73 line. The chances of him repeating anything close to that are pretty slim, so for starters the expectations for him this season need to be tempered. A better gauge for Headley, based on his career numbers, is using his .267-8-42 line from the first half of last season as a baseline. Totals of about 20 home runs, 90 RBIs, 80 runs and 20 stolen bases are certainly usable from any third baseman in fantasy, but not from one who’s currently ranked in the top 60 overall. This is especially the case now considering Headley will miss at least the first month of the season after breaking a bone in his left thumb in a spring training game. He is expected to be out anywhere between 4-6 weeks because of the injury, which the team has said will not require surgery.

Victor Martinez, DET, C (No. 95 overall)
This is not to say Martinez will be a complete bust necessarily, but I don’t think he will produce enough to be worth drafting along the lines of a top-six catcher, let alone a top 100 player, which is where he sits on the current Big Board. Not only is Martinez 34 years old, he is more than a year removed from his last game, as he’s coming back from a serious knee injury he sustained prior to last season’s spring training. Also, at this point in his career, Martinez’s value is primarily tied to two categories – batting average and RBIs – as he’s never hit more than 25 home runs in a season and managed just 12 dingers in 2011, his first with the Tigers. If for some reason he’s not able to maintain his average or drive in the runs, then you are looking at merely an average catcher. And that’s if he’s able to maintain his catcher-eligibility in the first place, since he’s nothing more than a full-time DH now.

Mark Trumbo, LAA, 1B/3B/OF (No. 108 overall)
Trumbo was an All-Star, both in real life and in fantasy, in the first half last season, as he mashed his way to a .306-22-57 line. The second half was a different story, however, as he stumbled to a .227-10-38 showing through the dog days of summer. As far as 2013 goes, Trumbo’s biggest issue is that he doesn’t really have a set spot in the lineup, since most of his at-bats figure to come as the DH. The Angels have plenty of other candidates, such as Vernon Wells, who can swing the bat, so if Trumbo struggles out of the gate, he may be hard-pressed to even match his 544 at-bats from last season. The uncertainty surrounding his opportunities alone calls into question his chances of producing along the lines of a borderline top 100 player. And that’s without bringing up his contact issues (153 SO, 36 BB).

Matt Wieters, BAL, C (No. 63 overall)
Wieters set career highs in home runs (23) and RBIs (83) last season as he played in 144 games and got 526 at-bats. His batting average dropped to .249, however, as he struck out a career-worst 112 times. Put it all together and the backstop came in at No. 195 overall in Yahoo! leagues and eighth among catcher-eligible players. Currently, he’s the fourth-ranked catcher and No. 63 overall, according to the Big Board. Unless Wieters makes strides in his plate discipline in his fifth year in the majors, I think it’s a bit too unrealistic to expect him to make the jump from a top 200 player to his current Big Board standing, especially when Miguel Montero, who is ranked No. 114 overall, provided similar numbers (.286-15-88) last season.

Related Content:
2013 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Big Board
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Outfield
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Starting Pitcher
2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Relief Pitcher
2013 Fantasy Baseball: Closer Grid
2013 Fantasy Baseball Deep Sleepers
Fantasy Baseball Studs to Avoid in 2013
Fantasy Baseball 2013: Which Injured Players are Worth Drafting?

Teaser:
<p> 2013 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers and Busts: Infield</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-10-defensive-players-rise-2013
Body:

With spring practice underway for many college football teams, the countdown to the 2013 season has officially started. With preseason predictions right around the corner, it’s never too early to start thinking about which players might be the next breakout stars.

With several of college football’s top defenders from 2012 moving on to the NFL, the door is open for a handful of newcomers to make an impact in 2013. Georgia’s Jordan Jenkins is due for an increase in playing time with the departure of Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree, while Florida State’s Mario Edwards is expected to step in for likely first-round pick Bjoern Werner.

Defining who fits the rising star or breakout player label isn’t easy.  Although these 10 players might not be household names in March, it could be a different story by the end of the season.

10 College Football Defensive Players on the Rise for 2013

Arik Armstead, DT, Oregon
Seven starters are back on Oregon’s defense, but the four departing seniors will be tough to replace. Hybrid end/linebacker Dion Jordan and linebackers Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso each earned all-conference honors last season, while tackle Isaac Remington was named as a honorable mention. Armstead ranked as the No. 8 prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and didn’t disappoint in his first year in Eugene. The California native played in all 13 games, recording 26 tackles and two tackles for a loss. With Jordan and Remington no longer on campus, look for Armstead to become one of the stalwarts on Oregon’s defensive line.


Alex Carter, CB, Stanford
In an offensive-minded league like the Pac-12, it’s not easy for a true freshman to start eight games at cornerback. However, that’s exactly what Carter did last season, playing in all 14 contests with those eight starts, recording 46 tackles and three tackles for a loss. At 6-foot and 204 pounds, the Virginia native has the size and athleticism to match the top receivers in the conference. And with another offseason to get acclimated to Stanford’s nasty 3-4 defense, Carter could emerge as one of the Pac-12’s top cornerbacks.
 

Mario Edwards, DE, Florida State
With the departure of ends Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine, along with tackles Everett Dawkins and Anthony McCloud, there will be a lot of new faces on Florida State’s defensive line in 2013. The Seminoles have recruited well, so there is talent waiting in the wings. Edwards is the most likely candidate to emerge as a star in 2013, as he was the No. 2 overall recruit in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and played in 11 games and recorded 17 tackles and 1.5 sacks as a true freshman last year. With another offseason to work in the weight room and learn from new defensive coaches Jeremy Pruitt and Sal Sunseri, Edwards is poised to have a breakout season and challenge for All-ACC honors.
 

Tracy Howard, CB, Miami
Last season was one to forget for Miami’s defense. The Hurricanes ranked 116th nationally in yards allowed and 102nd against the pass in 2012. That’s the bad news. The good news? Miami has some promising young talent that could take a step forward in 2013. Howard is one of the names the Hurricanes’ coaching staff wants to see claim a starting job this spring, as he played in all 12 games last year and recorded 17 tackles and four pass breakups. Howard made only one start last fall, however, and  he struggled to carve out a consistent role in the secondary. With 2012 behind him, Howard’s potential should turn into production for Miami’s defense in 2013.
 

Jordan Jenkins, LB, Georgia
The Bulldogs are a slight favorite over South Carolina to represent the East in Atlanta, but winning a third consecutive division championship will rest on a revamped defense. Only three starters return for Todd Grantham’s defense in 2013, and each level of the unit suffered some heavy losses. Defensive lineman John Jenkins and three starters in the secondary won’t be easy to replace, but the linebacking corps was hit hardest by departures, as both Alec Ogletree and Jarvis Jones chose to enter the NFL Draft. Losing Ogletree and Jones certainly stings, but Georgia has to be excited about Jenkins and the promise he showed last season. In 14 games as a true freshman, he recorded 31 tackles and five sacks, while forcing one fumble. If Jenkins can maintain Georgia’s pass rush off of the edge, the defense may not be in as bad of shape as some may have believed this offseason.


Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
No matter what season it is, LSU always seems to have an All-SEC-caliber defensive lineman ready to step up to replace a departing senior or early entrant into the NFL. This year is no different, as Johnson is expected to ease the blow from losing Bennie Logan and Josh Downs. As a sophomore in 2012, Johnson recorded 30 tackles and 10 tackles for a loss. He also registered three sacks and two quarterback hurries. With LSU losing six key linemen from last season, it’s up to Johnson to keep the Tigers’ defensive line among the best in the SEC.
 

James Ross III, LB, Michigan
With the emergence of Ross, along with the return of Jake Ryan, Joe Bolden and Desmond Morgan, Michigan should have one of the Big Ten’s top linebacking corps in 2013. Ross came on strong at the end of the year and finished with 36 stops. His best performance came against Iowa, recording 12 stops in the 42-17 win over the Hawkeyes. Michigan has a good problem to have with a surplus of linebackers for three starting spots. Considering how he played at the end of 2012, Ross will be difficult to keep off of the field in 2013.
 

Geno Smith, CB, Alabama
With Dee Milliner expected to be selected among the first 10 picks of the 2013 NFL Draft, Alabama will have a defensive back taken in the first round in three out of the last four years. So while losing a player of Milliner’s caliber hurts the Crimson Tide’s defense, Nick Saban always has someone waiting in the wings to emerge as the next superstar. Smith was considered one of the top-100 recruits in the 2012 signing class and played in 13 games last year, recording nine tackles and two pass breakups. Deion Belue is expected to man one of Alabama’s starting corner spots this year, but Smith could win the job on the other side. Even if Smith doesn’t beat John Fulton for the starting spot, he will play a ton of snaps in 'Bama's secondary.
 

Noah Spence, DE, Ohio State
If there’s one area that will keep coach Urban Meyer and co-defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Everett Withers awake at night – it’s the defense. The Buckeyes return only four starters on that side of the ball and must replace four key players from the defensive line. Thanks to Meyer’s relentless recruiting efforts, talent isn’t an issue with the new defensive linemen. Spence was one of the most sought-after defenders in last year’s class, ranking No. 4 in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100. In 11 games as a true freshman, the Pennsylvania native recorded 12 tackles and one sack. As with any first-year starter, expect a few ups and downs. However, Spence and fellow sophomore Adolphus Washington also will wreck havoc on opposing offensive lines.

Chaz Sutton, DE, South Carolina
Despite the departure of end Devin Taylor and tackle Byron Jerideau, South Carolina’s defensive line remains one of the best in college football. Of course, having a player like Jadeveon Clowney makes everyone’s job a little easier, but the Gamecocks have solid depth at the other positions. Sutton is a player that should thrive with Taylor’s departure, as he will slide into a starting role. With Clowney commanding plenty of double teams, Sutton will have an opportunity to easily improve on last season’s totals – 23 tackles, five sacks and seven tackles for a loss. And with just one season left at South Carolina, Sutton needs a big year to jump into consideration as one of the top-10 defensive ends for the 2014 NFL Draft.
 

10 Others to Watch in 2013

Jonathan Bullard, DE, Florida
Bullard recorded 27 tackles in an impressive freshman season and should see a bigger role in Florida’s defensive line with Sharrif Floyd, Omar Hunter and Lerentee McCray departing.

Darius Hamilton, DT, Rutgers
Ranked as the No. 7 defensive lineman in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100, Hamilton should slide into the starting lineup to replace Scott Vallone.

Ifeadi Odenigbo, DE/LB, Northwestern
Odenigbo played in one game last season but was forced to redshirt due to a shoulder injury. The four-star recruit should help Northwestern replace departing defensive end Quentin Williams.

Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
Playing time wasn’t easy for Goldman to find last year, as Florida State had one of the deepest and most talented defensive lines in the nation. With a couple of players departing, Goldman (No. 4 defensive lineman in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100) is due for an increase in snaps.

Ondre Pipkins, DT, Michigan
Pipkins was expected to be one of Michigan’s top freshmen last year but never managed to crack the starting lineup. With the departure of Will Campbell, Pipkins will be counted on for more of a contribution in 2013.

Peter Jinkens, LB, Texas
In addition to developing consistency at quarterback, fixing the defense is the top spring priority for Mack Brown. Jinkens could be one of the answers in the linebacking corps after recording 29 tackles and one sack in 13 games last season.

Kwontie Moore, LB, Virginia
With Steve Greer and LaRoy Reynolds expiring their eligibility, Moore will be fighting for a starting spot this spring. He played in 12 games and registered four tackles as a true freshman last year.

Adrian Hubbard, LB, Alabama
Hubbard was Alabama’s top pass-rush threat last season (seven sacks) and is due for an even bigger total in 2013.

Kevin Peterson, CB, Oklahoma State
Peterson was impressive in limited action last season and is expected to replace Brodrick Brown in the starting lineup.

De’Vante Harris, CB, Texas A&M
Harris had a solid freshman season, recording 30 tackles and one interception in 12 games. He should be one of the leaders for Texas A&M’s secondary in 2013.


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Teaser:
<p> College Football's Top 10 Defensive Players on the Rise for 2013</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - 07:24
Path: /college-football/5-players-watch-big-12-spring-practice
Body:

With spring practice underway across college football, most of interest will focus on quarterback battles or incoming freshmen that enrolled early to get a jumpstart on making an impact for 2013.

However, there’s always a handful of players – outside of the quarterback position – that fly under the radar that need to have a big spring practice for their team. Whether it’s a running back replacing a 1,000-yard rusher or a lineman stepping into a starting role for an all-conference player, there’s plenty of names that will be under the spotlight this spring.

Athlon continues its spring practice previews with a look at five under-the-radar players to watch in each conference during spring practice. 

5 Players to Watch in Big 12 Spring Practice

Malcom Brown, DT, Texas
The Longhorns owned one of the nation’s most disappointing defenses last season, allowing 192.2 rushing yards per game and finishing sixth in the Big 12 in points allowed. Fixing the defense starts in the trenches, especially on the interior where Texas was pushed around last season. Brown was a key part of the rotation at defensive tackle as a true freshman, and he finished 2012 with 25 tackles and two tackles for a loss. With an offseason to work in the weight room and refine his technique, Brown should be ready to take on more snaps in 2013. At 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds, the sophomore has the size to be a nightmare matchup for opposing offensive lines.
 

Brandon Carter, WR, TCU
With Josh Boyce leaving for the NFL and Skye Dawson out of eligibility, the Horned Frogs are searching for a new No. 1 target this spring. Thanks to four consecutive top-50 recruiting classes, the cupboard is far from bare for quarterback Casey Pachall. After catching 59 passes for 942 yards and nine scores, Carter is poised to become TCU’s new go-to weapon. The Trinity High School product was the team’s top deep option last year, as he averaged 16.4 yards per catch. TCU isn’t hurting for athleticism with David Porter, Cam White and LaDarius Brown rounding out the receiving corps, but if Carter can build on his first two years in Fort Worth, look for the junior to be an All-Big 12 performer in 2013.

Related Content: TCU 2013 Spring Preview
 

Tyler Johnson, DE, Oklahoma State
The biggest area of concern this spring for new Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer has to be at defensive end. The Cowboys are losing Cooper Bassett, Nigel Nicholas and Ryan Robinson, leaving Tyler Johnson as the team’s most experienced option. Johnson is a former walk-on but has developed into a solid player over the last three years. After recording 29 tackles in nine games in 2011, Johnson made 27 stops and registered five sacks in 2012. The Oklahoma native also had a standout performance in the bowl game, recording six tackles and two sacks against the Boilermakers. All signs point to Johnson winning one of the end spots, but he needs a big spring to ease the concerns of the coaching staff about this position. Even with Johnson’s emergence, Oklahoma State needs another end to emerge, which could be junior college recruit Sam Wren.

Related Content: 2013 Oklahoma State Spring Preview


Gabe Lynn, DB, Oklahoma
The Sooners were hit hard by departures on defense, as end David King, tackle Jamarkus McFarland, linebacker Tom Wort, cornerback Demontre Hurst and safeties Tony Jefferson and Javon Harris won’t be back for 2013. Just four starters return to Norman this year, and the defensive line is a major issue with very little depth returning. While the line is a concern, the back seven of the defense is in a little better shape. Aaron Colvin was a first-team All-Big 12 selection last season and should be the anchor for this group. Lynn has been a solid player during his career but hasn’t quite lived up to his recruiting hype. In three years with the Sooners, Lynn has recorded 56 tackles and no interceptions. To help ease the blow from the departure of Jefferson and Harris, Lynn is expected to slide to safety. However, he’s not guaranteed a starting spot, as incoming freshman Hatari Byrd could win the job in the fall. Can this former top recruit reach his potential in 2013? If he can, Lynn would help keep Oklahoma’s secondary among the best in the Big 12.

Related Content: 2013 Oklahoma Spring Preview
 

Jordan Thompson, WR, West Virginia
The Mountaineers are essentially starting from scratch on offense this spring. Quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin are gone, leaving a handful of inexperienced players stepping into key roles. Not only must West Virginia find a new quarterback, but it needs to find four new starting receivers. Thompson played in all 13 games last season and caught 13 passes for 85 yards. At 5-foot-7, the Texas native isn’t going to be a physical presence on the outside, but he should thrive in one of the inside spots. The Mountaineers won’t ask Thompson to be Tavon Austin. However, he needs to be a key piece of the receiving puzzle this spring.

Related Content: 2013 West Virginia Spring Preview


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ig 12 2013 Spring Storylines

Teaser:
<p> 5 Players to Watch in Big 12 Spring Practice</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - 07:20
Path: /college-football/5-players-watch-big-east-spring-practice
Body:

With spring practice underway across college football, most of interest will focus on quarterback battles or incoming freshmen that enrolled early to get a jumpstart on making an impact for 2013.

However, there’s always a handful of players – outside of the quarterback position – that fly under the radar that need to have a big spring practice for their team. Whether it’s a running back replacing a 1,000-yard rusher or a lineman stepping into a starting role for an all-conference player, there’s plenty of names that will be under the spotlight this spring.

Athlon continues its spring practice previews with a look at five under-the-radar players to watch in each conference during spring practice. 

5 Players to Watch in Big East Spring Practice

Ralph David Abernathy IV, RB, Cincinnati
The Bearcats have a streak of three consecutive seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher, but that run could be in jeopardy in 2013. With George Winn expiring his eligibility, there’s uncertainty surrounding who will be the new Bearcats’ No. 1 back in 2013. Abernathy is the team’s leading returning rusher after recording 366 yards and three touchdowns last season. But at 5-foot-7 and 161 pounds, does he have the size be an every-down back? While Abernathy can certainly handle more than his carry total from last season (69), he doesn’t need to record 250 attempts. So if Abernathy is best-suited for an all-purpose type of role, who steps up at running back? Is it Deionte Buckley, Tion Green or incoming junior college recruits Rodriguez Moore or Hosey Williams? Settling on which position Abernathy will play in 2013 will help Cincinnati solidify the backfield pecking order.


Abraham “Nacho” Garcia, OT, Louisville
Keeping quarterback Teddy Bridgewater away from opposing defensive ends and off the ground is the top priority for Louisville for 2013. The Cardinals have some work to do on the offensive line this spring, as this unit must replace second-team All-Big East tackle Alex Kupper and first-team All-Big East center Mario Benavides. The Cardinals have three starters returning, so the offensive line isn’t going to be starting from scratch. However, Kupper and Benavides were clearly the unit’s best players in 2012. Garcia has the inside track to replace Kupper at left tackle, and the 6-foot-5 Florida native certainly has the size to be an imposing force on the edge. Garcia played in seven games last season as a true freshman, which should give him plenty of confidence going into spring ball.


Savon Huggins, RB, Rutgers
Huggins was widely considered one of the top running backs in the 2011 signing class but has yet to reach his potential in two seasons with the Scarlet Knights. In nine games in 2011, Huggins rushed for 146 yards and 56 attempts. Last season, he rushed for 410 yards and two touchdowns on 119 carries, including 179 yards in a 10-3 win over Cincinnati. With Jawan Jamison early departure to the NFL, Rutgers is counting on Huggins to carry the workload in 2013. The former top recruit has all of the talent necessary to be a star in the Big East and should contend for the conference lead in rushing yards in 2013.


Jesse Joseph, DE, Connecticut
Injuries have prematurely ended Joseph’s playing time in each of the last two years. However, when he’s healthy, he can be one of the top defensive linemen in the Big East. In 25 games during his first two years in Storrs, Joseph recorded 11 sacks and 17 tackles for a loss, while also forcing two fumbles. And in 12 contests from 2011-12, he managed just two sacks and 41 tackles. Recovering from a torn Achilles and getting back to 100 percent in one year is no easy task. However, that’s the assignment facing Joseph this spring, especially as the Huskies have to replace Trevardo Williams and Ryan Wirth from last season’s line. Joseph will be limited in spring practice as he continues to recover. However, just having him back in the mix as a leader will be crucial for Connecticut’s defense in 2013.
 

Thomas Niles, DE, UCF
Of the four new teams joining the Big East this year, UCF will likely have the most success in 2013. The Knights return six starters on offense, but the defense needs attention in spring practice with just four returning starters. Defensive end is a huge concern, especially since Troy Davis and Cam Henderson expired their eligibility, and Victor Gray retired in March due to injury. Niles played in 13 games at defensive tackle as a redshirt freshman last season and recorded 30 tackles, five sacks and seven tackles for a loss. Due to the losses at end, UCF is planning to move Niles to the outside. After a strong debut as a freshman last year, the Knights need Niles to build on his performance and become a key cog in the defense in 2013. 

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Teaser:
<p> 5 Players to Watch in Big East Spring Practice</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - 07:19
All taxonomy terms: New York Yankees, MLB
Path: /mlb/2013-baseball-preview-new-york-yankees
Body:

After years of making flashy purchases, the New York Yankees hunkered down after last season, treading carefully in the market with an eye on their 2014 payroll. Baseball's new collective bargaining agreement gives the Yankees significant financial incentive to keep their payroll under $189 million that season, and they plan to do it. The reasoning is sound — every other champion has spent less than the Yankees on payroll, so why waste money? But the composition of their roster looks thin in certain spots, and old throughout. The Yankees handed one-year contracts to Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Hiroki Kuroda, and signed Kevin Youkilis for a year to spell the injured Alex Rodriguez, at least initially. It’s not an inspiring group, and it’s lacking key contributors like Russell Martin, Rafael Soriano and Nick Swisher. But this is still a team that won 95 games last season and should remain a force in the AL East.

Rotation
The Yankees doubled down on their 2012 rotation, bringing back Kuroda and Pettitte on one-year contracts to slot behind their ace, CC Sabathia, and in front of 16-game winner Phil Hughes. Ivan Nova and David Phelps are options for the fifth spot, and the Yankees are eager to finally see what they have in Michael Pineda, who missed all of last season with shoulder trouble that could cost him at least the first two months of 2013. Sabathia persevered through elbow discomfort last season and had minor elbow surgery in late October. Other American League aces have surpassed Sabathia in prominence, but there is no one the Yankees would rather have on the mound. Kuroda will be 38 this season, but he made such a seamless transition to the AL last year that he seems to be a sure thing. Pettitte turns 41 in June, and his stamina bears watching. While last year’s broken fibula was a freak injury — it came from a line drive — the fact remains that Pettitte has made just 12 regular-season starts in the last two years. Hughes, who turns 27 in June, should be squarely in his prime. If he’s going to reclaim his All-Star form of early 2010, now is the time. But a back injury has put him on the shelf for what will likely be the first few weeks of the season.

Bullpen
This was supposed to be Rivera’s first year of retirement, but he tore his ACL in a freak injury while shagging fly balls last May and decided to make this his final year. Rivera is 43, but remarkably, his skills have never diminished. To avoid a most awkward parting with the classy franchise icon, the Yankees need him to be the Rivera of old and leave on top, especially after losing their top insurance policy, Soriano. Even without Soriano, Rivera has a top setup man in David Robertson, a strikeout specialist who may have peaked in 2011 but was plenty effective last season, with 81 punchouts in 60.2 innings. Injuries have kept the once-electric Joba Chamberlain from reaching even 30 appearances in either of the last two seasons, but he’s still good for a strikeout per inning and should team with veteran David Aardsma or Cody Eppley as effective righties in middle relief. Lefties Clay Rapada and Boone Logan give manager Joe Girardi some solid matchup options.

Middle Infield
Derek Jeter’s gruesome season-ending ankle injury in the ALCS casts him again as an aging icon, obscuring what a dynamic season he had at age 38. Jeter led the majors in hits, with 216, his most since 1999, and even added 15 homers, a figure he had topped just once since 2005. He turns 39 in June, so the offense will go sometime, but that time does not appear to be soon, and the injury should not impact him in the batter’s box. The more important concern is how much the surgery will affect his range in the field, which was already limited and has been well below league-average for years. His double-play partner, Robinson Cano, has no such concerns. Cano, 30, starts his ninth season with the Yankees and his first as a potential free agent. Cano is coming off a career-high 33 homers and .929 OPS, and won his second Gold Glove while finishing fourth in the AL MVP race. He came under some criticism for failing to hit in the clutch, finishing below 100 runs batted in for the first time since 2009.

Corners
If the Yankees could dial back the clock five years, they’d have two of the best corner infielders in the game, with another on the disabled list. Alas, it is 2013, not 2008, and Youkilis and first baseman Mark Teixeira appear to be past their prime. Rodriguez, meanwhile, is working to regain strength and agility after offseason surgery on his left hip. He’s scheduled to come back no sooner than June, a lengthier DL stint than he had in 2009 because of the need to repair a bone impingement. To that end, Youkilis was a smart buy on a one-year deal. Teixeira struggled at the end of the season with a calf injury, and he still has four years remaining on his eight-year, $180 million contract. A wrist injury suffered while taking some practice swings in the spring hoists another red flag.

Outfield
You want left-handed hitters with speed? The Yankees have them, with Brett Gardner in left, Curtis Granderson in center and Ichiro Suzuki in right. Granderson, of course, is more of a power hitter now than a stolen base threat; with 43 homers last season and just 10 steals, he has become the ultimate Yankee Stadium player. Granderson is a top run producer but has a serious problem making contact, with 195 strikeouts in the regular season and 16 in 33 plate appearances in the postseason. But his homers, strikeouts and steals must wait while he recovers from a broken arm suffered when hit by a pitch during his first at-bat of the spring. Gardner missed almost all of last season, but thankfully for the Yankees, the injury was to his elbow, not the legs that scampered to an AL-best 49 stolen bases in 2011. The Yankees are eager to get Gardner and his .355 career on-base percentage back in the lineup, even if he is a very similar player to Suzuki, as a lefty singles hitter. Suzuki, who hit .322 in 67 games for the Yankees, returns with a two-year contract at age 39.
 
Catching
In a sure sign that their world is quite a bit different these days, the Yankees let Martin sign with Pittsburgh without bothering to match his two-year, $17 million offer. That might seem like a lot considering Martin’s .211 average last year, but he hit for decent power and handled the pitching staff well. What’s worse, the Yankees seemed to have no real backup plan, simply turning over the position to reserves Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli while they wait for their vaunted catching prospects to develop.
 
DH/Bench
The Yankees have so many older players needing rest, they really wish they could have more than one DH spot. They’ll begin with Travis Hafner in this role, but will rotate Teixeira, Jeter and Rodriguez (when he returns) in and out. The Yankees are eager to give Eduardo Nunez more playing time, and if his fielding misadventures continue, DH makes the most sense. The Yanks’ tighter budget will result in a considerably weaker bench. Jayson Nix started nine games or more at four positions last season is attractive due to his versatility. Outfielders Matt Diaz and Ben Francisco were added to the mix in the offseason. An intriguing option could be Cuban defector Ronnier Mustelier, who has impressed this spring and can play third base.

Management
Girardi’s stock phrase is “I believe in my guys,” but his faith has limits, and that should be encouraging for Yankees fans. Girardi’s greatest challenge is getting the most from aging superstars, and by benching Rodriguez and others in the playoffs, he showed a realization that big names cannot produce big results forever. Expect Girardi to deftly move his creaky veterans in and out of the DH spot and continue to work closely with Brian Cashman, who enters his 16th season as GM. Cashman recognizes the need for the Yankees to eventually get younger, but with a mandate to win every season, he’ll keep searching for impact veterans on short-term deals.

Final Analysis
The Yankees won’t come right out and say it, but they’re going through a transition. The old guard can’t hang around forever, and their presence restricts the club’s flexibility on the field and in the payroll. But while the Yankees aren’t as feared as they once were, there’s still enough punch here to put them in the AL East mix, and the pitching looks solid. A division title is no certainty, but it’s still within reach.

Lineup
RF     Ichiro Suzuki (L)    
Longtime Mariner hit .394 in final 16 games to earn two-year contract in winter.
SS     Derek Jeter (R)    
A hit machine, but serious ankle injury suffered in postseason could further hinder range at short.
2B     Robinson Cano (L)    
Only American League player to score 100 runs in each of the last four seasons.
1B     Mark Teixeira (S)     
His .997 AL fielding percentage is best in league history for a first baseman (min. 1000 games). An injured wrist may force him to miss all of April.
CF     Curtis Granderson (L)    
Has 61 homers at home, 47 on road, since joining Yanks in 2010, but he strikes out a ton. Hit by a pitch in his first plate appearance of the spring that left him with a broken arm and a place on the DL until May.
3B     Kevin Youkilis (R)    
After .233 average for Boston, hit just three points better after being dealt to the White Sox. He will see some time at first while Teixeira is on the mend.
DH     Travis Hafner (L)    
Although exclusively a DH, he hasn’t been healthy for a full season since 2007.
C     Chris Stewart (R)    
Yankee pitchers had a 3.41 ERA when working with this well-traveled veteran.
LF     Brett Gardner (L)    
Elbow injury ruined last season; led the American League in steals in 2011, with 49.

Bench
C     Francisco Cervelli (R)    
Returns to backup role after spending almost all of 2012 in minors; has hit .271 in his time in the bigs.
INF     Eduardo Nunez (R)    
They know he can hit and run. Weakness is fielding, so DH spot fits — at least until A-Rod returns.
OF     Melky Mesa (R)    
The only Melquisedec to make it to the major leagues. That’s why they call him Melky.
OF     Matt Diaz (R)    
Career .324 hitter vs. left-handed pitching has battled thumb problems recently.

Rotation
LH     CC Sabathia    
Only pitcher in the majors with at least 15 wins in each of the last six seasons.
RH     Hiroki Kuroda    
His 16 victories in first season with Yanks were a career high, including his 11 seasons in Japan.
LH     Andy Pettitte    
Has made 140 starts without a complete game, longest active streak in MLB.
RH     Phil Hughes    
Won 16 games in 2012 and 18 in ’10 but only five in dreadful ’11 season. A bulging disc this spring has added to his misery.
RH     Ivan Nova    
Allowed 87 extra-base hits, a single-season record for a Yankees pitcher.

Bullpen
RH     Mariano Rivera (Closer)    
Only other Yankee to earn a save after age 40 — Jim Kaat, in 1979.
RH     David Robertson    
His seven losses in 2012 were most by Yankee reliever since Jeff Nelson in 1997.
RH     David Phelps    
Held opponents to a .209 average as a reliever in his first season in the majors. Will be the first option to fill in for an injured starter.
LH     Clay Rapada    
Allowed only 29 hits in 38.1 innings in first season as a Yankee; lefties hit .186 off him.
LH     Boone Logan    
His 80 appearances in 2012 led the majors and set a record for a Yankees’ lefty.
RH     Joba Chamberlain    
Missed Yanks’ first 102 games recovering from elbow and ankle injuries.
RH     David Aardsma    
Has faced just five batters since Sept. 19, 2010.
 

Teaser:
<p> After years of making flashy purchases, the New York Yankees hunkered down after last season, treading carefully in the market with an eye on their 2014 payroll. Now the composition of their roster looks thin in certain spots, and old throughout. But this is still a team that won 95 games last season and should remain a force in the AL East.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 - 07:00

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