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The Toronto Raptors recently invited one-time power forward Charles Oakley — more famous for his stints with the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks — to a game, to honor him.
Oak used the occasion as an opportunity to speak his mind about the state of the NBA. And he doesn’t love it.
"Who do I like watching? It's hard to watch," he said. "I don't know, it's just, it's a different game. It's some good games and a lot of bad games. More bad games than good games these days. Everybody says the game has changed, instead of talking about the guys I got a chance to see them first hand. It was kind of bad. The mind is not — you don't have to be strong to play this game no more. I don't know what it is.
“They just roll you out there like a basketball. That's why ... you see the same teams in the finals or winning 55 games. Strong teams, strong-minded coach. Just the players, they don't think it, they don't know how to play together. So that's one of things I see the weakness is: Communication, the guys don't love the game. They play the game, but they don't play with their heart.”
There’s some merit to what Oakley says, even if he comes from the same self-serving place that Charles Barkley and Shaq do when they hurl criticisms at contemporary big men. Like the NBA on TNT crew, Oakley is only human, and watching his narrative of fame fade over time has to be a melancholy experience. Sometimes, that means making a straw man out of today’s players, to take your frustrations out on them.
On the other hand, Oakley’s words get at the biggest problem of the NBA’s regular season: it’s too long. Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs changed the model of game-to-game approach by implementing aggressive rest throughout year, a habit now practiced by most contenders. And at the core of this is a heightened awareness of how meaningless much of the 82-game grind is.
NBA teams are smart to recognize this. Does it mean a less watchable product, at times? Definitely. But a lack of heart? Maybe not so much.
— John Wilmes
They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.
No. 18: Phil Mickelson
Born: June 16, 1970, San Diego, Calif. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 42 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $2,158,019 (38th) | World Ranking: 21
Brandel Chamblee's Take
Mickelson will go down in history as one of the greatest players of all time and may yet be considered one of the top ten, but that seemingly impenetrable list includes the likes of Nicklaus, Woods, Jones, Hogan, Hagen, Snead, Palmer, Sarazen, Player and Nelson. Maybe Tom Watson or Harry Vardon or Seve Ballesteros rounds out your list, but the question remains: If Phil is a top-10 all-time player, whom do you kick out? With Phil’s victory at the Open Championship in 2013, giving him 42 wins and three legs of the career grand slam, he certainly put himself in a different light, and perhaps that was enough to put him in the top-10 discussion, but personally I think he has a ways to go, perhaps two more majors or one more at the right major. When Phil gets to the U.S. Open for the rest of his career or until he wins it, he will have to answer questions about what a career grand slam would mean to him. Of course it would make him just the sixth man to have achieved this, putting him in the rarest of company. Mickelson is sneaking up into his mid 40s and his length off the tee is no longer a huge asset, but his long swing will serve him well for a few more years, time enough for him to add to his already incredible career.
Major Championship Résumé
Masters - Cut
U.S. Open - T28
British Open - T23
PGA Championship - 2
Best Career Finishes:
Masters - 1 (2004, '06, '10)
U.S. Open - 2/T2 (1999, 2002, '04, '06, '09, '13)
British Open - 1 (2013)
PGA Championship - 1 (2005)
Top-10 Finishes: 36
Top-25 Finishes: 49
Missed Cuts: 9
Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.
Opening Day of the 2015 MLB season is less than a month away, which means fantasy baseball is just around the corner. For some leagues, drafts have already begun or will soon begin and Athlon Sports is here to help.
Besides providing our comprehensive Fantasy Baseball Big Board, we also have our positional rankings, courtesy of Bruce Herman. These are pulled straight from this year’s 2015 MLB Preview magazine, which is available at newsstands everywhere and for purchase online.
A: FRANCHISE PLAYER — You need one to compete, two to win, three to dominate.
B: CAREER YEAR — Veteran with a strong possibility of delivering his best season.
C: SLEEPER — Could be a great acquisition at a price or draft slot below his true value.
D: ROADBLOCKED — Rank has been lowered because there is no current opportunity to play regularly.
E: DECLINER — Expect moderately to significantly worse stats than in 2014.
F: INJURY RISK — Has had a recent injury that could affect performance.
G: INVESTOR’S SPECIAL — Top prospect whose immediate impact may be minimal.
Pitching stats are expressed W-ERA-SO-WHIP.
2015 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Starting Pitchers
1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (A)
Kershaw is No. 1. Water is wet. Yes, his four-year ERA of 2.11 is the ninth-best of the live-ball era, but consider this: He allowed 18% of his ERs last season in one inning, without which his ERA would have been 1.46 instead of 1.77. SOs/WHIP/wins since 2010: first/first/second.
2. Chris Sale, White Sox (A)
Sale lines up right behind Kershaw in three categories — wins excluded — but now the White Sox are better positioned to supply some runs. In 2014, he made only 26 starts and won just seven of the 15 times he surrendered 0-1 ERs, so he could easily jump from 12 victories to 18.
3. Felix Hernandez, Mariners (A)
Hernandez has shed 3-to-4 mph off his fastball over the years, but he’s made the compulsory transition to the point where his 2014 campaign was his best in ERA, SOs and WHIP. Over his decade of excellence, he tops the majors in whiffs and the AL in ERA.
4. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals (A,B)
Strasburg’s 242 SOs move him close to the top tier, but he still has adversarial relationships with the gopher ball and the big inning. It’s easy to imagine him taking the next step, especially if the Nats — who scored three or fewer runs in 15 of his starts — lend a hand.
5. Max Scherzer, Nationals
Scherzer — not Kershaw — has won more games (39, tied with Wainwright) with a higher WIN% (.830) and more SOs (492) than any other pitcher in the game the past two years. He was not as dominant in 2014, though.
6. Johnny Cueto, Reds (A)
Only Kershaw’s ERA is lower than Johnny Beisbol’s 2.48 the last four years. Cueto’s 2014 SO rate of 8.9 per 9 far exceeded anything he’d done before, and he’s won 39 games in his last two full seasons. Durability had been an issue, but he led the NL in batters faced.
7. Madison Bumgarner, Giants (A)
Kershaw, Hernandez and CC Sabathia are the only active pitchers who’ve come close to Bumgarner’s numbers by an age-24 season. As indestructible as he looked in the postseason, how much longer can he throw 1,000-plus high-80s sliders per year out of that slinging, low-slot delivery?
8. Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals (A)
He’s actually more effective than teammate Strasburg, but in roto, the 25% fewer strikeouts are a big deal. A massive bound in SO/BB ratio from 4.0 in 2013 to 6.3 confirmed Zimmermann as having entered the peak phase of his underrated career.
9. David Price, Tigers (A)
Price led the majors with 271 SOs (and in pitches thrown) while walking only 38 batters — not easy to do. He lives in the strike zone so much these days, however, that he’s more hittable than most in the upper echelon of aces. Career ERA away from Tropicana Field is only 3.53.
10. Zack Greinke, Dodgers
Consistency has separated Greinke from the true alpha dogs much of his career, but for the first time, he has put two exceptional across-the-board seasons back-to-back. That includes his MLB-record groove of 22 consecutive starts with two or fewer ERs.
11. Cole Hamels, Phillies
Hamels, whose fate has reached Greek-tragedy depths, desperately needs a trade. Things have gotten so bad in Philly that his nine wins in 2014 were the fewest ever by a pitcher who made at least 30 starts with a sub-2.50 ERA. Since 2008, he’s lost 32 quality starts — most in baseball.
12. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals (E,F)
Wainwright pitched through discomfort the last three months to complete a tremendous season, but October elbow cartilage surgery throws up a yellow flag for a pitcher who’s already had Tommy John. Expect a tempered workload for Waino.
13. Jon Lester, Cubs
After never having posted an ERA below 3.21, Lester hit the free agent jackpot with a 2.46 last year. His 1.102 WHIP also was his best by far. Tossing out 2014 and the 2012 debacle as outliers, his full-season average has been 16-3.42-192-1.252.
14. Corey Kluber, Indians (E)
Never a top prospect, dumped by the Padres in an innocuous 2010 trade and not listed among our top 100 pitchers of 2014, Kluber mustered a miracle: 18-2.44-269-1.095. The only pitchers to match that line in the last quarter-century are Big Unit, Schilling, Clemens and Smoltz.
15. Yu Darvish, Rangers (F)
Darvish’s value is more strikeout-centric than anything else — the pitcher most likely to punch out 300 in a season. His 182 last year were the most ever in a campaign of fewer than 150 IP. He joined the long litany of elbow patients in August, but opted for rehab over surgery. Unfortunately, he could be facing season-ending surgery because of his elbow issues.
16. Alex Cobb, Rays
This is a lofty rating for someone who’s never won more than 11 games nor struck out 150 batters, but Cobb needs just to stay healthy (24-start average since 2012) and match his two-year ERA of 2.82 to validate it.
17. Julio Teheran, Braves
This fast-ascending 24-year-old’s 3.03 ERA of 2013-14 was seventh among hurlers with at least 28 wins and 350 SOs — better than such luminaries as Justin Verlander and Lester.
18. Andrew Cashner, Padres (B,C,F)
Something always happens to knock Cashner off the precipice of stardom, from role inconsistency to a lack of run support to physical setbacks. Last year, he went into his final start with the game’s fourth-lowest ERA (2.21) among 100-inning hurlers.
19. Jeff Samardzija, White Sox (B)
One of nine pitchers with an ERA below 3.00 and more than 200 SOs, yet his ledger was a heart-rending 7–13. He’s gone at least seven ER-free innings nine times the last two years — six of which his team lost anyway.
20. Sonny Gray, Athletics
His staying power has been questioned because of his size, but Gray capped 2014 with a 12-SO game, a shutout and a 2.08 ERA in two ALDS starts. He’s not the dominating type, but he is ideal as your No. 2 or 3 starter.
21. Jake Arrieta, Cubs
Among our 2014 “C” sleepers were breakout pitchers Gray, Alex Wood, Garrett Richards, Chris Archer, Wily Peralta, Michael Pineda and — the sleepingest beauty of all — Arrieta. His 2.53 ERA included a 1.46 at Wrigley, and he fanned 9.6 per nine.
22. Alex Wood, Braves
Wood, another hard-luck case, joined Hamels as the only pitchers with a sub-2.80 ERA and 150 or more SOs who lacked a winning record. He presents a bargain opportunity (especially in keeper leagues) before he blows up.
23. Michael Pineda, Yankees
Having taken the ball only 13 times in the last three years, and with his mph nowhere close to where it was as a rookie All-Star in 2011, Pineda isn’t all the way back. Nobody could hit him last year, though — a 1.89 ERA that was lower than anyone’s except Kershaw at his start level.
24. Anibal Sanchez, Tigers
2013 AL ERA champ who was off his game a little last season, then missed 10 starts with a pec injury. At one point he had a two-year streak in which he allowed three or fewer earnies 32 times in a row.
25. Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees (F)
With more emphatic health assurances, Tanaka (scary elbow) would slot high in Tier 2. Had he cloned his first three months over his last three, his season would have been a Cy Young Award-contending 22-2.10-254-0.951.
26. James Shields, Padres
“Small-to-Medium Game James” (career postseason ERA = 5.46) is a dinosaur in his ability to do the heavy lifting without the slightest hint of a physical toll. As such, his nine-year average of 33 starts at 14-3.64-190-1.205 is a secure baseline.
27. Danny Duffy, Royals (B,C)
Duffy was still a nonentity when his ERA peaked at 3.57 at the end of May. It was a stunning 1.93 over his next 18 starts. He’ll perch about halfway in between, but his counting stats won’t be anything great until he stretches out past 5.9 innings per start.
28. Matt Harvey, Mets (F)
The capricious nature of Tommy John “survivors” relegates Harvey to a ranking about 20 spots lower than would have been projected off his career to date: 2.39 ERA, 9.9 SOs/9 IP, 0.985 WHIP. True believers will draft him much higher.
29. Gerrit Cole, Pirates
Tough to get a bead on this presumptive phenom without a full season on his résumé. He tends to pitch consistently well, rarely either dominant or dominated. A 31-start extrapolation on his stats to date is 16-3.45-180-1.191.
30. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals
Seems to be on the downward slope of what has been a bell curve of a career, but he’s only 29 and has a couple of powerhouse seasons behind him. Helps, too, that he’s pitching for a potential championship team.
31. Shelby Miller, Braves
The Rubber Band Man. Partitioning Miller’s career into thirds: 1.98 ERA in his first 20 outings, 4.18 in his next 36, 2.92 in his most recent 13. More hills and valleys ahead, but in the long run, he’s a No. 2.
32. Justin Verlander, Tigers
The easy explanation for Verlander’s ERA inflation (2.40-2.64-3.46-4.54) is that he’s chucked nearly 2,000 more pitches than anyone else since 2007. It may also be the correct one, but it’s too soon to bury a 32-year-old who’s spent much of his career as the best there is.
33. Carlos Carrasco, Indians
Like Duffy, Carrasco went from zero to sexy before anyone noticed. On June 22, he was a middle reliever with a career ERA of 5.12. Suddenly, he was finishing the year on a roll of 10 starts with a 1.30 ERA. We see him more as a “light went on” type than a flash-in-the-pan.
34. Mat Latos, Marlins (F)
Of the 78 pitchers with at least 150 starts who were active in 2014, Latos was among nine with 60 wins, a 3.34 ERA and 850 SOs. Having undergone two elbow procedures in close proximity, his “horse” status has been withdrawn.
35. Doug Fister, Nationals (E)
Fister has improved his victory sum three years in a row, and his 2.41 ERA in 2014 was a yawning departure from his 3.67 of 2013. He’s not your man for punchouts, though — 84th among 88 qualifiers at 5.38 per nine.
36. Garrett Richards, Angels (E,F)
Transited from thrower to pitcher, standing at 13-2.61-164-1.038 prior to wrecking his knee in August. Those numbers are authentic, but he might not be back on the bump until May.
37. Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners (E)
Kuma peaked in mid-August, when his ERA stood at 2.31 over a two-year span of 29 starts. He faltered after that and may not have the durability to remain at the top of his game at age 34. Still a WHIP stud, though.
38. Henderson Alvarez, Marlins
He has a no-hitter and a four-win stretch in which all were shutouts; he’s gone 34 starts while allowing six homers; and last year he threw the fewest pitches per batter (3.38) among qualifiers. Conversely, he posted the highest differential between his actual (2.65) and Component ERAs (3.59), which often portends regression.
39. Michael Wacha, Cardinals (F)
2013 rookie hero who since has endured shoulder woes and a postseason demotion to the bullpen. Assuming the wing holds up, he still has a chance to be fringe-special.
40. Yordano Ventura, Royals
41. Drew Smyly, Rays (B,C)
42. Tyson Ross, Padres
43. Chris Archer, Rays
44. Jacob deGrom, Mets
45. Homer Bailey, Reds (F)
46. Zack Wheeler, Mets
47. Lance Lynn, Cardinals (E)
48. Wily Peralta, Brewers
49. Kevin Gausman, Orioles (C)
50. Matt Cain, Giants (F)
51. Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays
52. Jered Weaver, Angels
53. Derek Holland, Rangers
54. Matt Shoemaker, Angels (E)
55. Francisco Liriano, Pirates
56. Jose Quintana, White Sox
57. Chris Tillman, Orioles
58. Kyle Hendricks, Cubs (E)
59. Mike Fiers, Brewers (E)
60. Drew Hutchison, Blue Jays (C)
61. Jose Fernandez, Marlins (F)
62. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers (E)
63. Phil Hughes, Twins (E)
64. Collin McHugh, Astros (E)
65. Josh Collmenter, Diamondbacks (C)
66. Wade Miley, Red Sox
67. Mike Minor, Braves (F)
68. Dan Haren, Marlins
69. John Lackey, Cardinals
70. James Paxton, Mariners (C)
71. Dallas Keuchel, Astros (E)
72. Matt Garza, Brewers
73. Ian Kennedy, Padres
74. Rick Porcello, Red Sox
75. Jake Odorizzi, Rays
76. Nathan Eovaldi, Yankees (B,C)
77. Mike Leake, Reds
78. Brandon McCarthy, Dodgers
79. Edinson Volquez, Royals (E)
80. Jorge De La Rosa, Rockies
81. Bud Norris, Orioles
82. Kyle Lohse, Brewers (E)
83. Scott Kazmir, Athletics (E)
84. Jason Hammel, Cubs
85. Ervin Santana, Twins
86. Yovani Gallardo, Rangers
87. Cliff Lee, Phillies (F)
88. Alfredo Simon, Tigers (E)
89. Wei-Yin Chen, Orioles
90. Carlos Martinez, Cardinals (C)
91. Danny Salazar, Indians (C)
92. Jarred Cosart, Marlins
93. Shane Greene, Tigers
94. R.A. Dickey, Blue Jays
95. Trevor Bauer, Indians
96. Drew Pomeranz, Athletics (C)
97. Jonathon Niese, Mets (F)
98. C.J. Wilson, Angels
99. CC Sabathia, Yankees
100. Bartolo Colon, Mets
Tulane is adding a new jersey and helmet to its uniform rotation for 2015. While the new gear hasn’t been officially announced by the school, images are already circulating of the Green Wave’s new jerseys and helmets.
The black jerseys aren’t new for coach Curtis Johnson’s team, but the uniform now features blue numbers. And the helmet appears to feature a new matte look for the team.
Here’s a look at Tulane’s new black jerseys and helmets for 2015:
The day after Selection Sunday is not a great time to get caught up on the college basketball season.
As you start to fill out NCAA Tournament brackets for your pools, Athlon Sports did some of the homework for your basketball cram session. March Madness is unpredictable, and we expect it to be again.
But there are some tried and true trends in the Tournament, and we’ll break them down here.
These are our favorite rules for picking our brackets, along with some of the examples from this year’s field.
Advance all the No. 1 seeds (and maybe all of the No. 2 seeds)
A No. 1 seed has never lost in the round of 64. We have little doubt it will happen one day, but you’re more likely to wreck your bracket by advancing a No. 16 seed. The No. 2 seeds have been more vulnerable in the last two seasons than ever before. Two No. 2 seeds lost in 2012 and No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast advanced all the way to the Sweet 16. If you must drop a No. 2 before the Sweet 16, do your homework.
This year? It’s still foolish to touch the No. 1 seeds in the first round. Two of the matchups for No. 2 seeds will at least make us think. Virginia struggled with turnovers late in the year, and its best player is still battling back from injury. Belmont launches 3s as well as anyone in the country, but the Bruins were the No. 3 team in their own league. In the West, Arizona faces a Texas Southern team that defeated Michigan State and Kansas Stat earlier in the year.
Drop at least one No. 1 or a No. 2 in the round of 32
In the last five Tournaments, 11 of the 40 No. 1 or No. 2 seeds lost before the Sweet 16. Only once in the last five years have all the No. 1 seeds advanced to the Sweet 16. As for the No. 2 seeds, their matchups with 7-10 seeds are against are talented but streaky teams, capable of knocking off a top seed on a quick turnaround. The 7-10 seeds in particular are interesting: Wichita State, Indiana, Michigan State, Davidson, VCU and Ohio State. All of these teams have the goods to knock off a No. 2 on a good day.
Our picks for vulnerable top-two seeds: Gonzaga, Kansas, Virginia
Don’t fall in love with upsets
Wichita State, Butler, VCU and George Mason in the Final Four are all memorable. So is Florida Gulf Coast’s run to the Sweet 16 two years. Still, don’t get too caught up trying to look smart by advancing a double-digit seed to the Final Four. Of the last 56 Final Four teams, 46 were top-four seeds, and four of the seven who were not top-four seeds were No. 5 seeds.
Butler, VCU and George Mason and last year’s ninth-seeded Wichita State are memorable because they're outliers. After No. 7 UConn and No. 8 Kentucky reached the national final last season, there might be a temptation to advance more lower-seeded teams to the Final Four. UConn caught fire with an other-worldly performance from Shabazz Napier, and Kentucky was a talented team that underachieved all year. Proceed with caution.
Don’t go chalk all way the Final Four
Statistically, advancing every higher seed every round might not be a bad idea, but what’s the fun in that? Only once have all four No. 1 seed advanced to the Final Four. Want to know if your Final Four is risky or too safe? Add up the seeds of your Final Four. The median for the last 20 Final Fours is 14. If the seeds for your Final Four add up to 10 or fewer, you’ve picked a safe Final Four. If the Final Four seeds add up to 20 or more, you’re picking the kind of Final Four that has happened only three times in 20 years.
The real upset potential starts at the No. 5 seeds
Advance some double-digit seeds to the Sweet 16, but keep track of how many. The 2011 tournament was the only time in the last 11 years four double-digit seeds have reached the Sweet 16. Three double-digit seeds in the second weekend is probably a good rule of thumb.
Since the field expanded in 1985, the No. 4 seed wins 79 percent of the time. That drops to 63.3 percent for the No. 5 seed, 65.8 percent for the No. 6 and 60.8 percent for the No. 7.
12-5 Upsets We Like: Buffalo over West Virginia, Eastern Washington over Georgetown, Wofford over Arkansas
11-6 Upsets We Like: Dayton/Boise State over Providence, BYU over Xavier
10-7 Upset We Like: Davidson over Iowa, Ohio State over VCU
Pay attention to extreme free throw numbers
Expect closer games in the NCAA Tournament. That means free throws will play a critical role. If you’re on the fence about a team, give free throw numbers a look. Avoid falling in love with teams that can’t hit free throws.
Key teams with high free throw percentages: BYU, Oregon, Notre Dame, Wisconsin
Key teams with low free throw percentages: Louisville, Michigan State, VCU, West Virginia
All that talk about bubble teams? Forget it
We spent the last six weeks talking about bubble teams. Time to stop paying them any mind, especially bubble teams from major conferences. Teams had trouble clinching a Tourney bid because they couldn’t win consistently. Teams from major conferences had chances all year to prove they were Tourney teams and didn’t do it until the last week of the season. Knock them out early. The exception: Bubble teams from mid-major conferences. The inclusion of VCU and George Mason in recent years were criticized ... until they reached the Final Four.
Bubble teams to avoid beyond round of 32: Georgia, Indiana, Ole Miss, St. John’s, UCLA
Use caution with teams that faded since February and early March
Are teams tired? Was there a major personnel change? Was there an injury? Did opponents catch up? In any case, we don’t like teams limping into the Tournament, no matter what they did from November through January. On the flip side, give credit to teams that got better as the season went along.
Teams that faded: Iowa, Oklahoma State, Utah, VCU
Teams that improved through the season: Baylor, Boise State, BYU, Davidson, Oregon
Find balance on offense and defense
Defense wins championship is a football saying. Don't let it take over your bracket. The key to winning in March is balance on both sides of the court, especially for teams that can play multiple tempos and styles. The last 10 national champions ranked in the top 20 in both of Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive and defensive rankings. Steer clear from advancing teams to the Elite Eight or Final Four if they have a great offense and questionable defense or vice versa.
The teams around the top 20 in both this season are: Arizona, Gonzaga, Kentucky, Northern Iowa, Utah, Villanova, Wichita State
Good offense, bad defense: BYU, Davidson, Indiana, Iowa State, Notre Dame, Oregon
Good defense, bad offense: Louisville, San Diego State
Now that Selection Sunday is over, it's time for March Madness to kick into high gear. It's that time of year when everyone —even your IT guy and Midge in accounting — starts caring about college basketball. Most of the excitement comes from NCAA Tournament bracket games, where anyone can fill out a March Madness bracket in hopes winning cash and bragging rights among friends and co-workers. Of course, the majority of people have no clue which teams to pick.
Athlon Sports is here to help you. We put together these handy cheat sheets of bracket picks from three of our college basketball experts. Each editor has their own bracket picks, so you can choose one or use the cumulative knowledge of each to create your own unique picks. Either way, it will likely save you the office humiliation of picking North Florida to win it all.
David Fox's Tournament Picks
Braden Gall's Tournament Picks
Mitch Light's Tournament Picks
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Kentucky skipped the tradition of cutting down nets after it won the SEC tournament championship Sunday.
Instead, team managers cut down nets after Kentucky’s 78-63 win over Arkansas and brought it to the locker room — in one piece.
Kentucky didn't cut down nets. Got it anyway. pic.twitter.com/7WoRyMhA5W— David Fox (@DavidFox615) March 15, 2015
“Those aren’t the nets we’re really looking to cut down,” center Willie Cauley-Stein said. “It’s part of the process for us winning and everything, but we’re looking for something bigger. We’re looking to cut down a couple more nets in the (NCAA) Tournament).
The team claimed the SEC tournament championship trophy and thanked the fans on the podium but rushed to the locker room with ladders still set up around the nets.
The gesture may be especially interesting for Cauley-Stein, a junior on Kentucky’s team who has never cut down nets as a member of the program. Kentucky missed the NCAA Tournament when he was a freshman. Florida won the SEC tournament when he was a sophomore. And last year, when Kentucky went to the Final Four, Cauley-Stein was unable to climb the ladder to during the ceremony due to an ankle injury.
A pre-meditated act, a statement or an act of forgetfulness, who knows?
“I didn’t even know we were supposed to do it,” freshman point guard Tyler Ulis said.
Karl-Anthony Towns wore the net around his neck in the postgame and echoed his fellow big man Cauley-Stein.
“We’re just not done,” Towns said. “We’ve got more to do. We’re not done yet.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Ever since Memphis missed critical free throws in the 2008 national championship game against Kansas to send the game to overtime — a game and title the Jayhawks eventually won — free throw shooting has been under the microscope for every John Calipari team.
All that talent and the great equalizer often has been the free throw line.
On this year’s team, the line may be Kentucky’s secret weapon.
Kentucky is 49-of-58 from the free throw line in two SEC tournament games, boosting an already respectable rate of 72 percent from the line.
It’s no coincidence that Calipari’s national championship team of 2012 is also his best free throw shooting team of his time at Memphis and Kentucky. That team shot 72.3 percent from the line. This year’s team is two-tenths of a percent behind.
If free throw shooting at some point becomes the determining factor in Kentucky’s bid for a 40-season, Calipari can thank peer pressure and family pressure around his top two big men.
Kentucky isn’t a top-100 free throw shooting team just because its guards are shooting around an 80 percent clip — that’s where Aaron and Andrew Harrison are — it’s because Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein are factors at the line.
Towns doesn’t just shoot well for a big man. He shoots free throws well for anyone. The 6-11 freshman shoots 81.1 percent from the line, better than either of the Harrisons and second only to prodigious jump shooter Devin Booker (82.8 percent).
For Towns, this was ingrained since the third grade. Towns was always tall for his age, and his father wanted to make sure the free throw shooting wouldn’t be the liability it is for so many other big men.
“My dad seeing how tall I was always wanted to make sure I was good at shooting free throws,” said Towns, who is 11-of-11 from the line in the SEC tournament. “I just constantly practiced shooting free throws. I always knew at my height I would be fouled. Every day I work on my free throws.”
Cauley-Stein maybe needed some extra prodding.
He was a 37 percent free throw shooter as a freshman, then improved to 48.2 percent as a sophomore. He’s now shooting nearly 60 percent as a junior.
“We work on it. And we talk a lot of trash,” Aaron Harrison said. “He took it to heart. Willie’s improved a lot and for Karl, it’s just easier.”
Kentucky’s four big men, Towns, Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles and Dakari Johnson, are shooting a combined 68.6 percent from the line. That’s not great, but it’s better than at least a dozen NCAA Tournament at-large teams shoot as a team.
If Kentucky’s size wasn’t imposing enough, now not even the free throw line can put a dent in the Wildcats’ armor.
|Calipari's Best FT Shooting Teams Since 2002|
|2012 Kentucky||72.3||National champion|
|2011 Kentucky||71.0||Final Four|
|2009 Memphis||69.0||Sweet 16|
|Calipari's Worst FT Shooting Teams Since 2002|
|2008 Memphis||61.4||National runner-up|
|2007 Memphis||62.1||Elite Eight|
Poor, poor Stony Brook.
The Seawolves latest attempt to reach their first NCAA Tournament ended in the most cruel way.
Albany’s Peter Hooley hit a 3-pointer with 1.6 seconds left to give the Great Danes a 51-50 win in the America East championship game to clinch and NCAA bid.
The shot may be the wildest of March Madness regardless of what happens in the NCAA tournament. A jumper from Ray Sanders hit the top of the backboard, and Albany tipped the ball out to the perimeter where Hooley could make the game-winning shot.
Take a look:
For Stony Brook, this the latest miss in the program’s hunt for its first NCAA bid. Since 2010, Stony Brook has won the America East regular season title three times and reached the America East championship four times. The Seawolves have come up empty each time.
Here is the complete sequence that broke Stony Brook’s heart:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Auburn may be staring down the most lopsided final score in the SEC tournament. If that’s the way Saturday’s semifinal plays out, it will be the most one of the meaningful blowouts in the history of Auburn basketball.
Kentucky and Auburn might be one of the biggest conference tournament semifinal mismatches in the country, but Auburn has already made its statement.
With an epic LSU collapse Friday, the Tigers left the door open for Auburn in the SEC quarterfinals. Coach Bruce Pearl and the Tigers busted through, defeating LSU 73-70 for Auburn’s second win over an NCAA contender in two days. Auburn upset Texas A&M 66-59 a night earlier, potentially sending the Aggies to the NIT.
After winning four conference games all season, Auburn has won three SEC tournament games in three days.
Certainly, LSU gave Auburn a gift with a spectacular meltdown in the final minutes. LSU led by eight with 2:45 to go before Auburn went on an 11-3 run to tie the game with regulation.
It was also easy to see Pearl’s team rocketing ahead of SEC foes making incremental progress.
LSU may be the most talented team in the league not named Kentucky. Auburn is has a better roster than ... Missouri and Mississippi State? Yet all of LSU’s pro prospects couldn’t help the Tigers hit shots at the end, decide the proper time to foul or not to foul or prevent yet another series of end-of-game gaffes.
When a perfect play needed to be run, Auburn ran it.
Down 3 in the final seconds of regulation, Cinmeon Bowers set the screen for KT Harrell, the leading scorer in the SEC, to hit an uncontested 3 to tie the game at 64.
“I make KT look real good,” Bowers said. “I told him I’m going to get this screen for you to get a good shot. ... It’s going to be cash every time.”
Now, Auburn’s future as a factor in the SEC is just as certain as Harrell’s game-tying shot.
Just look around at the trajectory of teams around the SEC. Kentucky will be on top as long as John Calipari is there. Florida went 16-17, but that’s probably an aberration.
The next tier of the SEC is wide open. Vanderbilt and Alabama are treading water. Missouri, Mississippi State and South Carolina are perpetually rebuilding.
Texas A&M will add a top-five recruiting class next season. LSU will add two five-star prospects. But Auburn just beat those last two teams, and the Tigers beat both of them with a vastly inferior roster. Auburn has only one regular taller than 6-7. The Tigers are playing guys who were at New Mexico State and Niagara last season.
In the last two games of the SEC tournament, Auburn has played greater than the sum of its parts. That’s not something many SEC teams can say.
If Pearl has found a way to lead this team to wins over A&M and LSU in two days, what is he going to do when he has players?
That’s coming. Auburn already has a top-15 recruiting class when its head coach couldn’t recruit until late August due to NCAA sanctions stemming from his time at Tennessee.
In the short term, Pearl’s not talking about potential miracles against Kentucky. He’s called them the biggest, most physical team he’s seen in his career. His team is woefully undersized in comparison, even moreso with the absence of 6-8 forward Jordon Granger, who will miss the game after he was ejected for throwing a punch in a scrum against LSU.
In the only meeting between Auburn and Kentucky this season, the Wildcats won 115-75, a game decided when Kentucky took a 30-4 lead to start the game.
A competitive game on its own would be a major victory for Auburn, but it won’t be the last.
“(We’re) just trying to get Auburn relevant, for us to be a factor,” Pearl said. “The way our kids play hard, the way they don't quit, and the way they believe in each other, they're making some history.”
25. Lou Williams, Toronto Raptors (Unrestricted)
Lou Williams can be one of the best sixth men in the league for stretches, but there’s a surplus of his type, and he has injury history.
24. Rodney Stuckey, Indiana Pacers (Unrestricted)
Stuckey’s a quiet contender for Sixth Man of the Year candidacy with the surging Pacers, and could jump up this list soon. But what he’s doing now isn’t representative of the rest of his career.
23. Brandon Knight, Phoenix Suns (Restricted)
Knight’s on the third team of his young career. He was a near All-Star with Milwaukee before being traded, and he has obvious talent. But teams don’t seem to be clamoring for him.
22. Reggie Jackson, Detroit Pistons (Restricted)
The Pistons seem ready to lock Jackson up this summer… but why? He’s been a black hole for both Detroit and the Oklahoma City Thunder this year.
21. Kostas Koufos, Memphis Grizzlies (Unrestricted)
Koufos is one of the most reliable backup big men in the game, and could likely start elsewhere. Will he flee Memphis — which is loaded down low, with or without him — for more money?
20. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs (Unrestricted)
Bat-grabbing Manu is a Hall of Famer, but he’s at the end of his road and is worth far more to the Spurs than he is to anyone else.
19. Patrick Beverley, Houston Rockets (Restricted)
In a point-guard-driven league, having a defender like Beverley (who can agitate any of them) is of underrated value.
18. Rajon Rondo, Dallas Mavericks (Unrestricted)
Rondo’s sad decline seems to be about both his sinking health and circumstances beyond his control. The NBA is a pace-and-space league with little room left for plodding, ball-dominant, half-court eccentrics like Rajon anymore.
17. Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs (Unrestricted)
Green is one of the best “three-and-D” guards around. But how much of his career does he owe to Gregg Popovich’s system?
16. Amir Johnson, Toronto Raptors (Unrestricted)
A power forward who’s elite at all the invisible big man tasks imaginable, Johnson could fetch a surprisingly high price tag in July.
15. Tyson Chandler, Dallas Mavericks (Unrestricted)
Tyson’s still one of the best defensive centers around. But how much does he have left?
14. Omer Asik, New Orleans Pelicans (Unrestricted)
Omer got what he wanted with a starting gig in New Orleans. Will he stick around to keep building chemistry with Anthony Davis?
13. Wesley Matthews, Portland Trail Blazers (Unrestricted)
The outstanding Matthews would be much higher on this list, if not for his recent tragic injury, and he could sink down it depending on how well he recovers.
12. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors (Restricted)
Green is a polarizing, swaggering utility man who could fit anywhere. But Golden State is likely to match any offer he receives.
11. DeMarre Carroll, Atlanta Hawks (Unrestricted)
Aside from Kawhi Leonard, there may be no one better at guarding LeBron James than Carroll, whom the Hawks will probably retain.
10. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers (Unrestricted)
Jordan’s dominant second half has him climbing up this rankology very rapidly. He’s making All-Stars look bad these days.
9. Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks (Restricted)
Middleton is young, versatile, efficient, and has an invisible personality. Any rebuilding team should be after him, but Milwaukee will probably lock him down and not let them get too close.
8. Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks (Unrestricted)
The Hawks’ success has a lot to do with having two great modern big men. Both Al Horford and Millsap can play like wings or post you up all night long. Like Carroll, Millsap is unlikely to leave Georgia.
7. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls (Restricted)
The Bulls’ breakout star has one concerning section on his resume — Tom Thibodeau’s crazy minute totals. Aside from that, he’s one of the best shooting guards around, and Chicago should recognize that with a healthy offer.
6. Goran Dragic, Miami Heat (Unrestricted)
Dragic is happy to be in Miami, but still plans to test the waters this summer. He’ll get more than one maximum offer sheet.
5. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs (Restricted)
Leonard is part of the Spurs’ quiet, dominant compound, through and through. Or is he? The young torch-carrier of the San Antonio dynasty will reveal his fate soon enough.
4. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers (Unrestricted)
The Blazers have done a lot to keep Aldridge happy, and he seems content to keep fighting for titles alongside Damian Lillard. But don’t be surprised if he has a flattering dinner or two, with other teams interested in his amazing game.
3. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs (Unrestricted)
Duncan is high on this list as a mere honorary formality. He’ll be a free agent this summer, sure, but he’s either retiring or re-signing with the Spurs.
2. Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers (Unrestricted)
Kevin Love can’t like being a third wheel in Ohio. He’s good enough to have offenses built around him, and he may go somewhere else this offseason, to experience just that.
1. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies (Unrestricted)
Perhaps the best center in the game, Gasol is good enough to be the No. 1 piece for a championship squad. He loves Memphis and probably won’t leave, but the league will surely try to reverse that inevitability.
Restricted Free Agency means the player’s team can match any salary pitched to him by another team, and retain him.
Unrestricted Free Agency means the player can go wherever he chooses.
There is only one free agent player on this list who has a player option for next season — Kevin Love — because players rarely turn down their options.
— John Wilmes
The shooting woes of the 2015 West Virginia basketball team are very well documented by anyone that follows the Mountaineers and has left head coach Bob Huggins searching for answers. After the Mountaineers' gut-wrenching loss to Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament, Huggins may have gotten the answer that he had been searching for, in JUCO shooting guard Teyvon Myers.
Myers, the leading scorer in JUCO basketball and No. 2-ranked shooting guard in the country, committed to the Mountaineers as part of their 2015 recruiting class. After watching the Mountaineers lose 80-70 to the Bears, Myers called the Mountaineers coaching staff and informed them of his decision to commit. Myers was on campus this past weekend for the regular-season finale against Oklahoma State and was scheduled to visit Louisville this weekend but has since cancelled that trip. Myers said that the atmosphere at WVU was a big selling point, but not the biggest. Myers took note of the way that the basketball team is like a big family and that stood out to Myers enough for him to commit to WVU. Myers also stated that his relationship with assistant coach Larry Harrison was another big factor in making this decision.
Myers, who attends Williston State, is currently averaging 25 points per game while shooting 45 percent from the field, and 37 percent from beyond the arc. Myers is scheduled to graduate in May and plans to enroll at West Virginia this summer to get things started for next season. He says that he wants to bring a national championship to WVU and believes next year is looking very bright to make that goal a reality.
— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.
(Teyvon Myers photo courtesy of Williston State College athletics Web site, wsctetons.com)
When it became clear that the Giants wouldn’t catch the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West, they held a team meeting. The message: Just find a way to play baseball in October, and the rest would take care of itself. By this point, who would argue? Under Bruce Bochy, the Giants have met 10 playoff opponents and dispatched every one of them, leading to three World Series parades down Market Street in the last five seasons. Madison Bumgarner overwhelmed the Pittsburgh Pirates in the wild card game and never stopped until the final out of a triumphant Game 7 in Kansas City, posting a 1.03 ERA over 52.2 innings — an all-time record workload in a single postseason. The Giants won’t be favored to repeat, though, in part because of a static offseason in which they lost Pablo Sandoval to the Red Sox and came up short in a bid to sign Jon Lester. That’s OK. They seem to enjoy coming out of nowhere.
The Giants won titles in 2010 and ’12 on the strength of their starting pitching, but the rotation finished 10th among 15 NL teams with a 3.74 ERA in the ’14 regular season. Aside from Bumgarner, the starters posted just one quality start all postseason. So this is a group that enters the season with some major question marks. Much will hinge on the healthy return of Matt Cain, whose streak of 200-inning seasons ended because of surgery in July to remove bone chips from his elbow. The club re-signed Jake Peavy to a two-year contract, hoping he’ll pitch more like the second-half ace they obtained at the trade deadline and not the 1–9 pitcher they received from Boston. Tim Hudson will turn 40 in July and didn’t have much left after one playoff start. Tim Lincecum, despite being demoted to the bullpen in August, will return in a starting role, with Yusmeiro Petit standing as a safety net. Even Bumgarner comes with concerns after throwing a grand total of 270 innings — the most by a Giant since 1973. Ryan Vogelsong also returned on a one-year, $4 million deal. Insurance for the rotation, he could wind up the long man in the bullpen.
Santiago Casilla might be the most underrated closer in baseball. He was 19 for 23 in save chances after taking over duties in midseason when Sergio Romo’s slider lost its signature bite, then was unscored upon in nine postseason appearances. Romo probably would have gone elsewhere as a free agent if the Giants had been able to sign Sandoval or Lester. Instead they had largesse to spread around and brought Romo back on a two-year, $15 million contract. Jeremy Affeldt, when healthy, is a highly valuable piece — a lefty who almost never gives up home runs, can pitch multiple innings, and has the stuff to retire right-handed batters. His streak of 22 consecutive scoreless appearances in the postseason is one away from matching Mariano Rivera’s all-time record. Sidearm lefty Javier Lopez slipped a bit yet still held lefties to a .194 average. Righthander Jean Machi is a workhorse whose splitter is an effective out pitch. Petit, a strike-throwing savant, set a major league record when he retired 46 consecutive batters over eight appearances.
Joe Panik was a lifesaver after his mid-June debut, filling a vacuum at second base after Marco Scutaro’s ailing back limited him to just a token appearance. The line-drive-hitting lefty led all NL rookies in average (.305) and on-base percentage (.343) in 73 games while also playing smooth — and at times spectacular — defense. Panik is an ideal fit in the No. 2 spot with his blend of contact skills and ability to hit behind the runner. Shortstop Brandon Crawford had another season that was greater than the sum of its parts. He finished just short again in his perennial quest to hit .250 (ending at .246) but posted career bests in runs, triples, homers, RBIs and walks — and he hit the grand slam that powered the Giants past Pittsburgh in the wild card game. Although Crawford’s 21 errors ranked as the second most among NL shortstops, he’s a gifted and creative playmaker. If he could just eliminate some of the routine errors, he’d be a Gold Glove candidate.
If not for that ride in another World Series parade, Brandon Belt would have considered his season totally forgettable. He landed on the disabled list three times, once for a broken thumb after getting hit by a pitch in May and then twice for a concussion following a batting practice accident in which he was struck in the face by a thrown ball. Belt ended up hitting .243 with 12 home runs in 61 games, but he finished the regular season free of concussion symptoms, and his home run in the 18th inning in Game 2 of the NLDS at Washington was probably the turning point of the postseason. Casey McGehee was the NL’s Comeback Player of the Year for the Marlins after hitting .287 and finishing fourth in the NL with 177 hits. He doesn’t provide much power and represents a defensive step down from Sandoval.
Few players are as reliable as Hunter Pence, who has appeared in 383 consecutive games since making his Giants debut in the middle of the 2012 season. Unfortunately, Pence’s consecutive games streak will come to an end due to a broken forearm he sustained when he was hit by a pitch in his first spring training game. The Giants hope to get Pence, who topped 20 homers for the seventh consecutive season and was second in the NL with a career-best 106 runs scored, back in the lineup by late April or early May. Angel Pagan is the antithesis of Pence. He’s a catalyst atop the lineup when healthy, but that’s seldom the case. One year after hamstring surgery limited him to 71 games, Pagan played just 96 games while complaining of a back ailment. Gregor Blanco ended up in the lineup more often than the Giants would like, but he’s a productive on-base guy and a phenomenal defender. Another speedy glove man, Juan Perez, could receive more playing time now that Michael Morse has moved on. The Giants also signed Nori Aoki to a one-year deal. Aoki, who faced the Giants in the World Series when he was with the Royals, will likely take Pence’s spot in the starting lineup while he’s sidelined.
Buster Posey proved once again that he doesn’t need to be an elite offensive player to bring plenty of value to the field. He didn’t have one extra-base hit all postseason but remained a rock for the staff while executing scouting reports to help the Giants pitch their way to a title. Even though a sore back and accumulated innings might have limited his bat in October, Posey remains one of the league’s best pure hitters. His .348 average away from AT&T Park was the highest of all major leaguers on the road. With the emergence of rookie Andrew Susac, Bochy should feel free to keep Posey fresh by giving him more days off or starts at first base.
Travis Ishikawa became a modern-day Bobby Thomson when he hit a walk-off home run to win the pennant. He returns as a left-handed bat off the bench with the ability to play a serviceable left field and a very good first base. Matt Duffy supplanted Joaquin Arias as the club’s top right-handed pinch-hitter, and there may be room for only one on the bench.
Bochy is one of 10 managers in history to win three World Series championships, and the other nine are in the Hall of Fame. Brian Sabean, who took over the Giants baseball operations department after the 1996 season, is the longest-tenured GM in the majors. Although not the most creative when it comes to making trades, Sabean puts his trust in a scouting system that has few peers when it comes to unearthing minor league free agents, breaking down opponents and hitting home runs with top draft picks.
The Giants weren’t able to turn another World Series title into a recruiting advantage on the free-agent market, but their core players (Bumgarner, Posey, Pence, Cain) weren’t going anywhere and still have plenty of prime years left. The bullpen is a strength, but depth remains an issue both in the rotation and lineup. The Giants missed the playoffs as defending champions in 2011 and ’13, and once again, there’s no guarantee they’ll get back to defend — especially if players like Belt and Pagan have trouble staying healthy again.
2015 Prediction: 2nd in NL West (Wild Card)
CF Angel Pagan (S) Talented switch-hitter has topped 125 games just twice in his career and is coming off lower back surgery.
2B Joe Panik (L) Hit .373 against lefties, joining Willie McCovey and Will Clark as only Giants rookies to hit .300 vs. southpaws.
RF Hunter Pence (R) Became first Giant with 700 plate appearances in a season since Brett Butler in 1990.
C Buster Posey (R) Started 109 games at catcher, 30 at first base and two as the designated hitter.
1B Brandon Belt (L) Joined Dusty Rhodes and Mel Ott as the only Giants to hit an extra-inning homer in the postseason.
3B Casey McGehee (R) Returned from a year with Rakuten in Japan to finish fourth in NL with 177 hits for the Marlins.
LF Gregor Blanco (L) In 226 total chances, committed just one error — his first since 2012.
SS Brandon Crawford (L) His 10 triples were tied for second most in the big leagues behind Dee Gordon.
1B/LF Travis Ishikawa (L) The Pirates’ Opening Day first baseman ended up becoming an unlikely postseason hero for Giants.
OF Juan Perez (R) Hit just .170 while going up and down six times between Giants and Triple-A Fresno.
C Andrew Susac (R) Once threw out the Reds’ Billy Hamilton twice in a minor league game.
INF Joaquin Arias (R) Hit .305 against lefthanders, so most of his starts should come against southpaws.
OF Nori Aoki (L) Hit just .071 (1-for14) for Royals against Giants in last year’s World Series.
LH Madison Bumgarner Among all his other talents, he also led the major leagues with nine pickoffs.
RH Matt Cain Made 30 starts in eight consecutive seasons before elbow surgery snapped the streak.
RH Jake Peavy Posted 1.35 ERA in his last nine outings, the lowest in the majors after Aug. 13.
RH Tim Hudson The 16-year veteran leads all active pitchers with 214 victories, but is coming off his first losing season.
RH Tim Lincecum Lost spot in the rotation in August after posting 9.49 ERA in his last six starts.
RH Santiago Casilla (Closer) Converted 17 of 18 save chances after taking over closer role in late June.
RH Sergio Romo Allowed career-high nine homers and lost closer role at the end of June, but rebounded with strong second half.
RH Yusmeiro Petit Was 3–4 with a 5.03 ERA as a starter and 2–1 with a 1.84 ERA in 27 relief appearances.
RH Jean Machi Made team-high 71 appearances and had a scoreless streak of 25.1 innings between April 16 and June 21.
RH George Kontos Shuttled between Triple-A and the bigs five times, but will be out of minor league options next season.
LH Javier Lopez Has allowed just four home runs in 185 innings during his time with the Giants.
LH Jeremy Affeldt His 1.10 WHIP in 62 appearances was the lowest of his career.
Beyond the Box Score
Mr. October Madison Bumgarner became the fourth pitcher to win both the LCS and World Series MVP awards in a single postseason, joining Orel Hershiser (1988), Livan Hernandez (1997) and Cole Hamels (2008). He also became the first pitcher in history to rack up two wins and a save — in a five-inning relief appearance, no less — in a single World Series. With his four-hit, 10-K performance in the NL Wild Card game at Pittsburgh and a four-hit, eight-strikeout night in Game 5 of the World Series, Bumgarner became the first pitcher since Florida’s Josh Beckett in 2003 to throw multiple shutouts in a postseason.
Granny Bumgarner hit a grand slam April 11 at Colorado and connected again with the bases loaded July 13 at home against Arizona, making him the second pitcher in MLB history to hit two grand slams in one season. Buster Posey also hit a slam July 13, marking the first time in major league history that a pair of batterymates hit grand slams in the same game.
Double no-nos Tim Lincecum no-hit the San Diego Padres for the second consecutive season, this time accomplishing the feat at AT&T Park on June 25. He became just the second pitcher in major league history (joining Addie Joss) to no-hit the same team twice, and joined Sandy Koufax as the only pitchers in history with multiple no-hitters, multiple Cy Young Awards and multiple World Series rings.
Proud papa In 2014, Bruce Bochy became the first manager in major league history to hand the baseball to his son on a big league mound after righthander Brett Bochy joined the roster in September. The Bochys became the eighth father-son manager-player combination in major league history; the previous seven combinations all involved sons who were position players.
Unhittable Yusmeiro Petit set a major league record when he retired 46 consecutive batters over eight appearances (six in relief) from July 22-Aug. 28. He broke the previous record of 45 set by Mark Buehrle, who followed up his perfect game in 2009 with five more perfect innings. Arguably, Petit’s run of perfection was much more difficult because he worked as a spot starter and long man, twice pitching on more than nine days of rest.
2014 Top Draft Pick
Tyler Beede, RHP
Before the Giants clinched another World Series title, Beede and his pals stormed the field to celebrate Vanderbilt’s College World Series championship in Omaha. Because of Beede’s heavy workload with the Commodores, he only made six pro starts after signing for a $2.65 million bonus, never working further than the fourth inning. Beede’s college statistics (8–7, 3.20 ERA) don’t reflect his combination of stuff, size and stamina that convinced the Giants that he could move quickly through their system. Beede throws a fastball that averages 92-94 mph and has topped out at 97, although he projects to throw harder when he adds size to his 6'4" frame. The Giants liked his athleticism, arm speed and ability to stay within a clean delivery, even if his 43 walks in 98.1 innings were on the high side.
Top 10 Prospects
1. Kyle Crick, RHP (22) Highest-ceiling pitcher in the system was on a 100-pitch limit and only completed six innings four times in 22 starts because of command issues at Double-A Richmond.
2. Christian Arroyo, SS (19) His ticket is his intelligence at the plate and his bat control; a move to second base is probably in his future.
3. Tyler Beede, RHP (21) Giants’ No. 1 pick in 2014 should make a rapid rise. Fastball hits mid-90s, and he boasts a devastating changeup.
4. Keury Mella, RHP (21) Posted 63 strikeouts and just 13 walks in 66 innings at Low-A Augusta, along with a ton of ground-ball outs despite missing some time with shoulder soreness.
5. Steven Okert, LHP (23) Dominated out of the bullpen on two levels, then continued to shine against top prospects in the Arizona Fall League.
6. Daniel Carbonell, OF (24) Gifted athlete signed a guaranteed deal after defecting from Cuba and exceeded expectations both at Single-A San Jose and then in the Arizona Fall League.
7. Adalberto Mejia, LHP (21) Conditioning issues hampered development and a 50-game suspension for using a banned stimulant didn’t help matters.
8. Ty Blach, LHP (24) Smart competitor with a plus changeup in the Tom Glavine mold but won’t be able to get away with mistakes.
9. Clayton Blackburn, RHP (22) Big-bodied strike-thrower had command of four pitches from the day he signed out of high school.
10. Mac Williamson, OF (24) Rare combination of power and on-base skills but missed an important year of development after Tommy John surgery.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 13:
• Rick Pitino was a bit terse with a student reporter after Louisville's loss.
• John Wall blocked two shots on one play.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
The Philadelphia Eagles signed not one, but two running backs on Thursday as DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews became the latest pieces added to Chip Kelly’s ever-changing puzzle. Combined with holdover Darren Sproles. Kelly definitely doesn’t lack for backfield options, but that is a good thing as it relates to each player’s fantasy value for 2015?
Consider that Murray led the NFL in rushing last season with 1,845 yards. He did that by carrying the ball a league-high 392 times. LeSean McCoy, who Kelly traded last week to Buffalo, led the Eagles with 1,319 yards on 312 carries. Sproles and Chris Polk, whose roster spot could now be in jeopardy, combined for another 501 yards on 103 carries.
Combined, Philadelphia running backs totaled 415 carries or just 23 fewer than Murray had by himself. While it’s a pretty safe bet that the Eagles will run the ball more than they did last season, it just doesn’t seem likely that Murray will come anywhere near to the 392 carries he had last season, not with Ryan Mathews and Sproles also capable of doing things with the football.
While Murray appears to be a good fit for Kelly’s offense, the reality is that there is no guarantee he will be the workhorse for the Eagles that he was for the Cowboys. Consider that McCoy saw his touches go down from 364 in 2013, when he led the league in rushing, to 340 last year. While that may not seem like a lot, his yards from scrimmage went down even more – from a league-best 2,146 in 2013 to 1,474 last season. And McCoy didn’t have a sidekick like Mathews, who rushed for 1,255 yards in 2013 with the Chargers, in the same backfield.
There’s also the matter of Philadelphia’s quarterback change, with Sam Bradford poised to replace the departed Nick Foles as the starter. Besides learning a new offense, Bradford has plenty of rust to shake off, as he’s played in just seven games in the last two seasons combined.
With all of this in mind, here’s the fantasy outlook for each Philadelphia RB as we look ahead to 2015:
Will still serve as the No. 1 back, but probably safer to assume a workload of around 325-350 carries, not 392. Also worth mentioning that he goes from one of the best offensive lines in the NFL to one that struggled at times last season. Kelly also is reportedly seeking to trade guard Evan Mathis, a two-time Pro Bowler and a very good run-blocker. Murray caught 57 passes last season, but don’t be surprised if that number is cut in half if not more because of Sproles’ presence.
2015 Outlook: From a no-questions-asked top-five option to a borderline top-10 RB with a fair amount of uncertainty attached. Reduced workload is all but a given, which not only impacts his yardage totals, but also could affect his scoring opportunities.
A little surprising that Mathews still signed with Philadelphia after Murray was reeled in. Instead of having the chance of being the No. 1 for another team, Mathews now is looking at a reduced workload, barring injury. Mathews also has had trouble staying on the field himself, as he’s played 16 games just once in his five-year career and was limited to eight last season.
2015 Outlook: Mathews’ role is the least defined at this point, but his versatility should get him some touches. That said, other than serving as Murray’s obvious handcuff (which can’t be overlooked given Murray’s injury history), it’s tough to gauge Mathews’ value given the uncertainly regarding workload. Right now, I would peg him in the RB3/flex territory.
Even with Murray and Mathews on board, Sproles’ role shouldn’t change that much. He ran the ball 53 times for New Orleans in 2013 and had 57 carries for Philadelphia last season. The more surprising statistic, however, was that his receptions plummeted from 71 with the Saints to just 40 with the Eagles. There’s really no reason to expect this to change, especially with the addition of Mathews, who has recorded 146 receptions in 62 career games. If anything, Sproles could see fewer touches on offense and instead serve as the primary kick returner.
2015 Outlook: Sproles was a disappointment for his fantasy owners last season and the new additions don’t exactly instill great hope for a huge rebound in 2015. At best, Sproles is a flex option with more value in PPR leagues and those that include special teams contributions in their scoring.
It was shaping up to be another ho-hum winter for the Padres when first-year general manager A.J. Preller changed the complexion of the team with a dizzying series of blockbuster trades in just more than a week in mid-December. After eight seasons out of the playoffs, the Padres suddenly have a pulse following the acquisitions of slugging outfielders Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers, All-Star catcher Derek Norris and third baseman Will Middlebrooks. And he didn’t stop there, landing free agent starting pitcher James Shields in February. Preller’s attitude is to win now and win later after pumping up what had been the worst offense in the major leagues and luring one of the top arms on the market. The Padres are finally in position to spend some of the millions of dollars from their local TV deal. The moves will send the player payroll well into the $100 million range. Whether they’re enough to catch the Dodgers and Giants in the NL West remains to be seen, but they at least bring realistic expectations of success to Petco Park.
Preller was able to swing his big deals without losing the big three in his rotation, Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy, and that was before he brought in Shields. Preller did deal Jesse Hahn, a young righthander who had been penciled into the rotation before being sent to Oakland in the trade for Norris. Even though he was viewed as one of the better pitchers available, Shields was one of the last to sign when he agreed to a four-year, $75 million deal to front the Padres’ rotation. Ross was more than durable in his first full season, going 13–14 with a 2.81 ERA and making the All-Star team. Cashner isn’t as durable, having spent the equivalent of half the season on the disabled list. But when he’s on, he’s hard to hit. Cashner (5–7, 2.55 ERA in 2014) has an active streak of allowing two or fewer earned runs in a franchise-record 18 consecutive starts at home dating back to June 11, 2013. Kennedy was mentioned in several trade rumors during the winter, but the Padres were able to keep him. Kennedy was one of 11 big-league pitchers and one of five National Leaguers in 2014 to log 200 or more innings and strike out 200 or more. Cuban righthander Odrisamer Despaigne won his first two starts before leveling off with a 4–7 record and 3.36 ERA. He will compete with Brandon Morrow for the final spot. Preller signed Morrow, who was never able to stay healthy while he was with the Blue Jays, to a $2.5 million, one-year contract that will allow him to earn up to $8 million if he starts regularly. Waiting in the wings are Casey Kelly and Cory Luebke, still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Luebke had to have a second operation after the first one failed to take. The Padres are also bringing back Josh Johnson, who made $8 million last year but didn’t throw a pitch after sustaining an elbow injury in spring training that required a second career Tommy John surgery.
As solid as the rotation is, there’s a pretty good reason why Preller worked to keep his bullpen intact. Padres relievers went 21–15 with 41 saves in 49 opportunities, with a 2.73 ERA. The ERA was second to Seattle’s 2.59 in the majors and was the best mark in team history. Closer Joaquin Benoit was shut down for almost a month late in the season with shoulder discomfort, finishing with 11 saves and a 1.49 ERA. The 37-year-old enters the final year of his $15.5 million, two-year deal. In Benoit’s absence, Kevin Quackenbush stepped into the closer’s role during his first big-league season and gained valuable experience, earning six saves. Overall, Quackenbush was 3–3 with a 2.48 ERA with 56 strikeouts against 18 walks in 56 appearances. He held opponents scoreless in 46 of his 56 appearances. In late December, Preller acquired right-handed setup man Shawn Kelley from the Yankees for a minor leaguer. The Padres also obtained hard-throwing Brandon Maurer from Seattle for outfielder Seth Smith just before the New Year. Maurer was originally a starter for the Mariners last year but was exceptional once he moved to the pen.
The Padres are looking for a bounce-back season from second baseman Jedd Gyorko, who struggled at the plate and with foot injuries after signing a $35 million, six-year deal just weeks into his second full big-league season. He struggled to get his average up to .210 and finished with 10 homers, falling well short of his rookie numbers of .249 and 23 homers. His double-play partner will be either Alexi Amarista or free-agent pickup Clint Barmes, who turns 36 in March. Amarista filled in down the stretch for injured shortstop Everth Cabrera, who was not tendered a contract after the season due in part to off-field drug issues.
Yangervis Solarte had been penciled in at third base, where he took over after being obtained from the Yankees in the deal for Chase Headley, before Preller traded for Middlebrooks. The Padres are looking for a rebound season by Middlebrooks, who hit 15 homers as a rookie in 2012 and 17 in 2013 before injuries, a .191 average and shuttling up and down from Triple-A led to what he called “a rough year” in 2014. The Padres also need a bounce-back year from first baseman Yonder Alonso, who was limited to only 84 games due to injuries.
The dynamic of the outfield changed 100 percent in just a matter of days, from an injury-prone group to three stars. Manager Bud Black envisions Upton in left, Myers in center and Kemp in right. All are right-handed hitters, and the hope is they’ll wear out left field at Petco Park. The centerpiece of Preller’s winter revamp is Kemp, who twice made the All-Star team during his time in L.A., as well as winning two Gold Gloves and two Silver Slugger awards. Although Kemp has a history of shoulder and ankle injuries, he had a strong second half in 2014, finishing the season with a .287 average, 25 home runs and 89 RBIs. Myers was the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year with Tampa Bay. A wrist injury limited him to 87 games last year. Upton hit 29 home runs and drove in 102 runs last year. Even after moving Smith, Preller still has a surplus of outfielders, including oft-injured Carlos Quentin, who is owed $8 million this season and has a full no-trade clause, and Cameron Maybin.
Preller has gone for a total overhaul behind the plate, acquiring Norris from the A’s while dealing Rene Rivera and Yasmani Grandal during his big pre-Christmas shopping spree. Norris set career highs in nearly every offensive category in 2014, including batting average (.270), on-base percentage (.361), runs (46), hits (104), doubles (19), home runs (10), RBIs (55) and walks (54) en route to being named to his first AL All-Star team.
Preller still has some tough decisions to make before settling on a 25-man roster. His crowded outfield includes Quentin and Maybin, both of whom have been limited by injuries. Quentin has a no-trade clause and one year at $8 million remaining on his contract. Maybin still has two years and $15 million left on his deal. Then there’s Will Venable, who struggled with a .224 average. Tim Federowicz, who came over from the Dodgers with Kemp, will be the No. 2 catcher. Barmes and some combination of Solarte, Tommy Medica and Jake Goebbert will comprise the rest of the bench.
Preller came in with a reputation of being a hard-working, hard-charging executive, a trait that showed during his remarkable run of trades in December. Ownership is finally loosening the purse strings and spending some of the increased revenues from its local TV contract. One of Preller’s next big decisions will be whether to extend Black, who enters the final year of his contract and has yet to get the Padres into the playoffs during his tenure.
Some people thought the Padres would contend for a wild card spot last year, only to watch them post historically awful offensive numbers in the first half. After Preller’s shopping spree, this might finally be the season when the Padres break through. The NL West is still tough, with the Dodgers’ and Giants’ pitching, but the Padres will at least have a chance.
2015 Prediction: 3rd in NL West
SS Alexi Amarista (L) Utility man settled in at shortstop the last month of 2014; now he’ll try to hold position on everyday basis.
CF Wil Myers (R) After winning AL Rookie of Year in 2013, was limited to 87 games, six homers, 35 RBIs due to wrist injury.
RF Matt Kemp (R) Centerpiece of offseason moves looks to build on strong second half in 2014.
LF Justin Upton (R) One of game’s top right-handed power hitters had 29 homers, 102 RBIs last season with Atlanta.
C Derek Norris (R) Padres like 26-year-old All-Star’s offense: 10 home runs and 55 RBIs in 127 games last year.
1B Yonder Alonso (L) Hand, forearm injuries limited him to 84 games, fewest in three seasons with the Padres.
2B Jedd Gyorko (R) Struggled mightily after signing big deal; Padres hope he can return to form of his rookie year.
3B Will Middlebrooks (R) Hit 32 homers his first two big-league seasons combined before dropping off to two last year.
OF Carlos Quentin (R) Padres are handcuffed by his no-trade clause and perennially troublesome knees.
SS Clint Barmes (R) Played in only 48 games in 2014 with 102 at-bats, hitting .245 with seven RBIs. Will be 36 on Opening Day.
3B Yangervis Solarte (S) Played in 56 games after coming over from Yankees in Chase Headley deal.
C Tim Federowicz (R) Came over from Dodgers in Kemp deal; played parts of four big-league seasons with L.A.
OF Will Venable (L) One of many Padres who slumped in 2014; .224 average was 44 points below his career-best set in 2013.
RH James Shields New ace has posted eight straight seasons of 200 or more innings, making 264 starts for Rays then Royals during this span.
RH Andrew Cashner Hard-throwing, injury-prone former first-round pick of the Cubs had a 2.55 ERA, 1.127 WHIP in 2014.
RH Tyson Ross First-time All-Star threw 195.2 innings in 31 starts, struck out 195 and went 13–14 with a 2.81 ERA.
RH Ian Kennedy Workhorse was 13–13 with a 3.63 ERA and 207 strikeouts against 70 walks.
RH Brandon Morrow Free-agent pickup signed $2.5 million, one-year contract that jumps to $8 million if he starts regularly.
RH Joaquin Benoit (Closer) Was limited to 11 saves in 53 appearances due to shoulder discomfort in first season in San Diego.
RH Kevin Quackenbush Fan favorite went 3–3 with six saves, 2.48 ERA in 56 appearances as a rookie.
RH Dale Thayer Set career-bests with four wins, 2.34 ERA, 65.1 innings and 70 appearances.
RH Nick Vincent Had career-best 25-game, 23.1-inning scoreless streak from July 23 to Sept. 12.
LH Alex Torres Stranded 39 of his 44 inherited runners (88.6 percent), tied for the fourth-best rate in MLB.
RH Shawn Kelley Went 3–6 with four saves and a 4.53 ERA in 59 appearances as setup man for Yankees in 2014.
RH Odrisamer Despaigne Cuban defector had fast start to rookie season that ended with 4–7 record, 3.36 ERA, 65 strikeouts. Will compete with Morrow for final rotation spot.
Beyond the Box Score
All-Star Game In January, the Padres were announced as the hosts of the 2016 All-Star Game, one of Bud Selig’s final acts before handing over the commissioner’s office to Rob Manfred. The City Council has approved spending a maximum $1.5 million for police officers, firefighters and other services during the game and five days of related events. The city expects a total economic impact of $80 million. San Diego hasn’t hosted an All-Star Game since 1992.
Padres in HD The Padres are spending more than $10 million to install a high-definition video board in left field. At 61 feet tall by 123 feet wide, it will be the third largest in MLB and the biggest in the National League. It will be nearly five times the size of the old video screen, which has been in place since Petco Park opened in 2004.
Sir Paul at Petco The Padres were able to lure Paul McCartney to play their downtown ballpark on Sept. 28, the third California stadium the former Beatle played on his “Out There” tour. One problem, though: McCartney gave a shout-out to the Chargers, who won their game earlier that day, but he didn’t give any props to the host team. That’s OK — in November 2005, Mick Jagger gave David Wells a shout-out during a Rolling Stones concert at Petco.
A Sinatra man Matt Kemp drew chuckles at his introductory news conference when he called Preller “a GM rock star right now” because of all the big deals he was making. Later, Preller, a native New Yorker, said he listens to Frank Sinatra most mornings, “but I don’t know if that characterizes me as a rock star.”
Job security issue New hitting coach Mark Kotsay, who retired following the 2013 season, isn’t swayed by the fact that the previous six Padres hitting coaches were either fired or resigned before they could be dismissed. “It’s a difficult task. It’s a role that in some regards is not necessarily rewarding,” he says. “Being recently retired … my connection to the game and the players that I’m going to be leading is very close, very new, very fresh. I think that I will have an understanding of what they’re going through as players, based on my career, and the different roles that I played as an offensive player on different teams, the successes, the failures.”
2014 Top Draft Pick
Michael Gettys, OF
Gettys was the Padres’ second-round pick, selected behind shortstop Trea Turner, the PTBNL dealt to Washington as part of the 11-player, three-team trade that brought Wil Myers to the Padres. Although Gettys, from Gainesville (Ga.) High School, is a potential five-tool player, concerns about his hitting caused him to drop into the second round. Gettys’ first pro season, in the Arizona Rookie League, played out as expected. He was touted as having speed and raw power, and that he would struggle to make consistent contact. He hit .310 in 213 at-bats, with 66 strikeouts and only 15 walks. Still, he has a strong arm, and the Padres hope he can make a rapid climb.
Top 10 Prospects
1. Hunter Renfroe, OF (23) Former Mississippi State star made a quick jump from Single-A to Double-A, where he hit .232 with five homers, 23 RBIs in 60 games. Has raw power and strong arm.
2. Austin Hedges, C (22) Is considered the best defensive catcher in the minor leagues, but his bat is still catching up. He hit .225 with six homers and 44 RBIs at Double-A San Antonio in 2014.
3. Matt Wisler, RHP (22) Made quick jump from Double-A San Antonio to Triple-A El Paso, where he went 9–5 in 22 starts with a 5.01 ERA. Will continue to develop in AAA.
4. Rymer Liriano, OF (23) Played 38 games in first big-league stint. Showed off his raw power by homering into the top deck of the brick warehouse in left field corner of Petco Park.
5. Michael Gettys, OF (19) Second-round pick out of high school hit .310 with three homers, 38 RBIs in 52 games in rookie league.
6. Jose Rondon, SS (21) Hit .319 in two stops in High-A ball and should open season with Double-A San Antonio.
7. Zech Lemond, RHP (22) Third-round draft pick in 2014 bounced back from elbow inflammation in final season at Rice to go 2–3 with a 3.43 ERA combined at Single-A Eugene and Double-A San Antonio.
8. Tayron Guerrero, RHP (24) Intriguing, slow-developing 6'7" prospect was added to 40-man roster to protect him from Rule 5 draft; posted 1.45 ERA between Low-A and High-A in 2014.
9. Justin Hancock, RHP (24) Was not put on 40-man roster after going 3–2 with a 4.12 ERA in 12 starts plus one relief appearance for Double-A San Antonio. Had 6.19 ERA in the Arizona Fall League.
10. Ryan Butler, RHP (23) Seventh-round draft pick last June was 1–1 with a 2.76 ERA in 23 games combined between Low-A and High-A.
The Dodgers are hoping to find out what happens when ‘Moneyball’ gets big money.
Two years of record payrolls and high-profile acquisitions did just what they were supposed to do — regain credibility for the franchise after the dark days of the McCourt era and garner a massive new TV rights deal. It did not, however, produce postseason success or a return to the World Series for the first time since 1988.
So Phase 2 of the Guggenheim ownership group’s master plan kicked in when the Dodgers stole Andrew Friedman from the Tampa Bay Rays to be the new president of baseball operations. A new decision-making hierarchy of Friedman, GM Farhan Zaidi (from Oakland) and senior vice president of baseball operations Josh Byrnes (Arizona, San Diego) brings small-market discipline and sophisticated analytical techniques to the big-market Dodgers.
The result was unprecedented roster churn for a two-time division champion and 94-win team — and hopefully a more sustainable model for long-term success.
A disappointing playoff performance against the Cardinals was the only blemish on one of the greatest seasons any pitcher has had in recent years. Clayton Kershaw became the first National League pitcher since Bob Gibson in 1968 to win both the Cy Young and MVP awards. Kershaw spotted the rest of the league a five-week head start (spending time on the DL for the first time in his career) and still led the majors with 21 wins. He also led MLB in ERA (1.77) — for an unprecedented fourth consecutive season — winning percentage (.875), complete games (six) and WHIP (0.86) and led the NL in strikeout-to-walk ratio (7.71). Zack Greinke returns as possibly the best No. 2 starter in baseball. But the Dodgers are crossing their fingers on the rest of the rotation. Nagging injuries limited Hyun-Jin Ryu to 152 innings — 40 fewer than in 2013, his first season with the team. Brandon McCarthy was signed to a four-year, $48 million contract as a free agent despite a history of shoulder problems. And Brett Anderson was also signed despite a litany of injury problems that limited him to barely 200 innings over the past four years. There is not much depth beyond that group, but the potential upside is strong if the Dodgers’ trainers can hold them together. Former Atlanta righty Brandon Beachy in February, but he’s recovering from a second Tommy John surgery and won’t be ready to return to the mound until around the All-Star break at the earliest.
Former GM Ned Colletti spent big in assembling the Dodgers’ 2014 bullpen. That’s the main reason he is a former GM. The relief corps was supposed to be a strength of the Dodgers last season, but it underperformed thoroughly and instead became an Achilles heel —particularly in the Division Series loss to the Cardinals. So Friedman tore it apart and rebuilt it in the winter. Closer Kenley Jansen and lefthander J.P. Howell survived the purge. Joel Peralta, Chris Hatcher and Juan Nicasio were all acquired in trades and will pitch key innings in 2015 (though Nicasio is also a candidate to flesh out the rotation if needed). The reconfigured bullpen will be tested early, as Jansen could miss as many as the first five weeks of the season after undergoing foot surgery in the middle of February. Peralta or Howell figure to see the save chances while Jansen is sidelined.
The middle of the diamond was Ground Zero for the offseason makeover. Oft-injured shortstop Hanley Ramirez had become a moody annoyance in the clubhouse and a defensive liability on the field. He was allowed to leave as a free agent. Second baseman Dee Gordon had been an All-Star in his first season at a new position but was coveted by the Marlins and dealt in an seven-player trade. In their place, the Dodgers acquired Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick. Even at age 36, Rollins is a huge upgrade defensively over Ramirez. Under contract for just one more year, Rollins is keeping the position warm for top prospect Corey Seager. Kendrick will be counted on to replace some of the right-handed offensive production lost when Matt Kemp was traded away. But primarily, Rollins and Kendrick will improve the infield defense behind a ground ball-oriented pitching staff.
Adrian Gonzalez and Juan Uribe survived the winter makeover and will anchor the infield. Both fit the new profile of a lineup more balanced towards defense. Gonzalez led the majors in RBIs (116), won his fourth Gold Glove and second Silver Slugger Award in 2014. He figures to be an even more critical piece of the Dodgers’ foundation with the departures of Ramirez and Kemp. Uribe, meanwhile, continued his late-career renaissance, providing above-average defense at third base and a revitalized bat (he hit a career-high .311 last year). But don’t get used to this infield. The four starters average nearly 34 years old, and only Gonzalez is signed beyond this season — setting up another busy offseason project for next winter.
One of the first things on Friedman’s ‘to-do’ list when he took over the Dodgers was to clear out the outfield logjam that had made the team’s roster unbalanced and dysfunctional for two years. He did that in a big way — but not the expected way — by trading Matt Kemp to the Padres in a five-player deal. After two years of injuries, Kemp regained his form in the second half of the 2014 season and was one of the most productive hitters in the National League. That offensive production will be difficult to replace. But dealing Kemp cleared a path to the big leagues for blue-chip prospect Joc Pederson and allowed the Dodgers to settle into a more appropriate defensive alignment in the outfield — like Ramirez, Kemp was among the worst defenders at his position in the National League last season. Pederson will step in as the everyday center fielder. Yasiel Puig will move back to right field, and left field will be manned primarily by Carl Crawford. Scott Van Slyke is available to platoon against left-handed pitching (he had a 1.045 OPS against lefties last season).
Dodgers catchers were last or next to last in nearly every offensive statistic last season, and their defensive work was fairly unimpressive as well. A.J. Ellis is back on the strength of his relationship with the Dodgers’ pitchers (particularly Kershaw) and the hope that leg injuries were at the root of his offensive failings. But he will be in a secondary role with Yasmani Grandal (acquired in the Kemp trade) the lead catcher. Grandal hit 15 home runs for the Padres last season and had an .863 OPS in 60 games as a rookie in 2012. But he comes with a red flag: Since a 50-game suspension for testosterone use in 2013, he has been a .224 hitter with a .721 OPS and a rising strikeout rate.
Van Slyke and Justin Turner were two of the most productive bench players in the NL last season. Van Slyke hammered left-handed pitching, and Turner hammered just about everyone. Turner hit a ridiculous .419 (26-for-62) with runners in scoring position, driving in 33 runs in those situations. With those two in place, the Dodgers will sort through infielders Darwin Barney and Alex Guerrero, as well as their outfield surplus, to fill out the bench.
Some observers have tabbed the Dodgers’ new front office executives as a ‘Dream Team.’ They certainly hit the ground running in remaking the organization. The mandate is to win now while bringing the payroll into a more manageable range and building a prospect pipeline that will sustain the franchise. It won’t be an easy balancing act. Manager Don Mattingly has earned respect for his handling of a clubhouse loaded with big paychecks and big egos. But the decision-makers will no doubt use 2015 to evaluate whether he is their man long term.
The Dodgers spent nearly a half-billion dollars in salaries over the past two seasons and couldn’t get back to the World Series for the first time since 1988. Tearing apart a 94-win roster was an unexpected turn, but the Dodgers emerged as a much better defensive team and one still built on an exceptional pitching staff that should make them the favorite in the National League West once again. Whether the new approach works any better in October remains to be seen.
2015 Prediction: 1st in NL West
SS Jimmy Rollins (S) One of only four players in baseball last year with at least 15 home runs and 25 stolen bases.
LF Carl Crawford (L) Emerged from Dodgers’ outfield time-share to hit .403 over his final 44 games last year.
RF Yasiel Puig (R) 11 HRs in first 48 games but none in next 32 games and only five in final 100 games of season.
1B Adrian Gonzalez (L) Only two players have had 100 RBIs in seven of the past eight seasons — Miguel Cabrera and Gonzalez.
2B Howie Kendrick (R) Hit just seven HRs with Angels last year, but Dodgers believe his swing is suited for Dodger Stadium.
C Yasmani Grandal (S) Career .225 hitter as a right-handed batter, the switch-hitter figures to share catching starts with A.J. Ellis.
3B Juan Uribe (R) Veteran was made “manager for a day” by Don Mattingly on last day of regular season — a 10–5 win.
CF Joc Pederson (L) Matt Kemp trade paved way for Pederson, who had first 30-30 season in Pacific Coast League since 1934.
OF Scott Van Slyke (R) Death to lefthanders — 1.045 OPS, 18 extra-base hits (including eight HRs) in 108 ABs against lefties in ‘14.
INF Justin Turner (R) His .388 average, 1.025 OPS after the All-Star break were tops in baseball (min. 70 at-bats).
C A.J. Ellis (R) Relationship with Dodgers pitchers (Kershaw in particular) might have saved him from roster churn.
INF Alex Guerrero (R) Contract says he has to be on big-league roster this year, but Dodgers have to find a position for him.
INF Darwin Barney (R) Last spot on the bench could be a free-for-all among Barney and the last outfiielder standing.
LH Clayton Kershaw Madison Bumgarner stole his thunder, but Kershaw has three Cy Youngs and an MVP in past four seasons.
RH Zack Greinke Opt-out clause in Greinke’s contract could make this his last year in Dodger blue — if he wants to leave.
LH Hyun-Jin Ryu Nagging injuries, including recurring sore shoulder, limited him to 40 fewer innings in second season.
RH Brandon McCarthy Dodgers believe he has begun a new chapter in his career thanks to stronger shoulder, increased velocity.
LH Brett Anderson Dodgers are taking a gamble on oft-injured lefthander who hasn’t pitched 45 innings in a season since 2011.
RH Kenley Jansen (Closer) Converted 44 of 49 saves last year to become only fourth Dodgers pitcher with a 40-save season. Will miss up to the first five weeks of the season after undergoing foot surgery in February.
RH Joel Peralta 38-year-old was one of most reliable relievers in AL over past four years with Rays.
LH J.P. Howell Pitched up to expectations in the first half but struggled down the stretch (11.81 ERA in September).
RH Brandon League Hasn’t lived up to his contract extension but was a useful piece of last year’s disappointing bullpen.
RH Juan Nicasio Might have found his true calling in move to bullpen with Rockies last year.
RH Chris Hatcher Converted catcher acquired in big trade with Marlins gives Dodgers a power arm to deploy in late innings.
LH Adam Liberatore Minor league success vs. lefties could give him leg up on others for a bullpen spot.
Beyond the Box Score
Quick stay The roster churn that followed Andrew Friedman’s hiring was so thorough that he acquired five players in a six-week span who weren’t around long enough to wear a Dodgers uniform. Lefthander Andrew Heaney, righthander Zach Eflin and outfielder Matt Long were acquired in trades then flipped to a third team in another trade. Catcher Ryan Lavarnway and infielder Ryan Jackson were acquired in waiver claims; Lavarnway was later designated for assignment to clear a roster spot and Jackson was traded to Kansas City for cash. Heaney made light of the tumultuous day that saw him go from the Marlins to the Dodgers to the Angels, posting on Twitter: “Well, Dodgers we had a good run! Great to be a part of such a storied franchise. #thanksforthememories”
Legend Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully will return for his 66th season as the Dodgers’ play-by-play broadcaster in 2015. Scully (who turned 87 in November) has cut back his travel schedule considerably over the years (he broadcasts road games in California and Arizona only) but agreed to another one-year contract for the 2015 season. “Naturally, there will come a time when I will have to say goodbye,” Scully said in announcing his decision to return. “But I’ve soul-searched and this is not the time.”
No-no With no-hitters by Josh Beckett in May and Clayton Kershaw in June, the Dodgers ran their major league-high total of no-hitters to 22. But the Dodgers weren’t just doubling up on no-hitters at the big-league level in 2014. On Aug. 28, two of the Dodgers’ minor league affiliates threw no-hitters. Righthander Andres Santiago threw a no-hitter for Double-A Chattanooga, and four pitchers for the Dodgers’ team in the Arizona Summer League combined for a no-hitter.
Experience With the hiring of Friedman as president of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi as GM and Josh Byrnes as senior vice president of baseball operations, the Dodgers enter 2015 with six former or current general managers in their front office — Friedman (Tampa Bay), Byrnes (San Diego and Arizona), Zaidi, senior advisor Ned Colletti (Dodgers), special advisor to the GM Gerry Hunsicker (Houston and Tampa Bay) and special advisor to the chairman Tommy Lasorda, who was the Dodgers’ interim GM in 1998.
2014 Top Draft Pick
Grant Holmes, RHP
Scouting director Logan White’s last first-round pick for the Dodgers — he took a job in the Padres’ front office this winter — fit the profile; it was the 11th time in the past 12 years the Dodgers had taken a pitcher with their first pick. White described Holmes, a big righthander from Conway, S.C., as “an advanced high school pitcher” with a good fastball and a power breaking ball rated among the best in last year’s draft class. Holmes, taken No. 22 overall, struck out five batters in two innings in his pro debut in the Arizona Summer League and was quickly moved to rookie-level Ogden. In 11 appearances at the two levels, he struck out 58 in 48.1 innings.
Top 10 Prospects
1. Corey Seager, SS (20) The Dodgers targeted 36-year-old Jimmy Rollins as Hanley Ramirez’s replacement at shortstop so that they wouldn’t block blue-chipper Seager’s imminent arrival.
2. Joc Pederson, OF (22) Got a taste of the big leagues as a September call-up last year and struggled but will get every chance to be Dodgers’ Opening Day starter in center field.
3. Julio Urias, LHP (18) The Dodgers are handling their precocious pitching prospect with kid gloves, limiting his pitch counts and innings. But he could arrive in the big leagues before age 20.
4. Grant Holmes, RHP (19) A high-90s fastball and a power breaking ball could allow Holmes to move quickly through the Dodgers’ system.
5. Joe Wieland, RHP (25) Acquired from the Padres in the Matt Kemp trade, Wieland got his feet wet in big leagues last year and could be first starter called if the Dodgers’ have health issues in their rotation.
6. Scott Schebler, OF (24) Schebler has continued to hit as he has risen through the Dodgers’ system — including a .310 average that put him on the Arizona Fall League’s Top Prospects team.
7. Chris Anderson, RHP (22) The Dodgers’ top pick in 2013 (18th overall), Anderson took his lumps in the hitter-oriented California League.
8. Darnell Sweeney, 2B (24) Sweeney was on that Top Prospects team with Schebler after following up a .288 season in Double-A with a .316 average in the Arizona Fall League.
9. Austin Barnes, C (25) Barnes has a .298 average in the minors while moving between catcher, second and third base.
10. Zach Lee, RHP (23) Was lured away from playing QB at LSU, but his development has been slow (a 5.38 ERA at Triple-A Albuquerque last year).
The Rockies endured their fourth straight losing season. Their 96 defeats were eight more than in 2013 and two shy of the franchise record. A regime change resulted. General manager Dan O’Dowd turned down a contract extension and resigned. So did assistant general manager Bill Geivett when he found out he wasn’t going to be O’Dowd’s replacement. Instead, Jeff Bridich was promoted to GM after three years as player development director and 10 seasons in the organization.
The only NL West club never to win the division, the Rockies were two games out of first place and six games above .500 on May 20. A slew of injuries followed, and they lost 76 of their final 116 games. Worse, their historic troubles on the road turned into epic failure last season. The Rockies’ 21–60 road record was the worst in franchise history. They lost 39 of their final 45 road games, including 30 of 35 after the All-Star break.
Offensively, the Rockies should be fine, if they can stay reasonably healthy. That wasn’t the case last year when core players Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Nolan Arenado and Michael Cuddyer, who departed as a free agent, missed substantial time.
Pitching is another matter. The Rockies were last in the majors with a 4.84 ERA. And the ERAs of their starters (4.89) and relievers (4.79) were the highest in the NL. Improving the rotation and the bullpen became the offseason priority.
Four of the five projected starters last season were sidelined for lengthy stretches with injuries — Tyler Chatwood, Jhoulys Chacin, Brett Anderson and Jordan Lyles. The Rockies dipped into the minors, used a host of retreads and ended up tying a club record by having 15 pitchers start at least one game. Jorge De La Rosa thrives at Coors Field, where he’s 45–14 with a 3.98 ERA in 81 games (76 starts) but is ordinary on the road. Chacin made just 11 starts, the last on June 28. He was diagnosed with a strained right rotator cuff but avoided surgery. Chacin, who can be a free agent after this season, could provide a huge boost if he can give the rotation a second dependable starter at the front end. Lyles was able to develop an effective changeup during his two-month absence, brought on by a broken bone in his left (non-pitching) hand. His command can be erratic, but he has room for growth. Lefthander Tyler Matzek made his major league debut on June 11 and ended up giving the Rockies 19 starts and 117.2 innings. Prospects Eddie Butler, Jon Gray and lefthander Tyler Anderson are close to the majors. The Rockies need one of them to contribute this season at the big-league level.
Closer LaTroy Hawkins, 42, consistently throws strikes, doesn’t rattle and can hold down the ninth inning. Lefthander Rex Brothers entered 2014 as the Rockies’ closer of the future but regressed badly, posting an 8.31 ERA in 28 games after the All-Star break. Getting Brothers back to his 2013 form — when he had a 1.74 ERA in 72 games — is a priority. Veteran lefthander Boone Logan signed a three-year, $16.5 million contract as a free agent in December 2013, the largest deal the Rockies have ever given a reliever, despite the fact that he was coming off arthroscopic elbow surgery. A healthy and effective Logan would take some of the burden off Brothers. Adam Ottavino throws hard and throws. He has become a dependable setup man and could close if Hawkins falters. Colorado also added to its supply of relief arms with a January trade for David Hale and Gus Schlosser from Atlanta and signing former closer Rafael Betancourt and John Axford to minor-league deals. If anything, these additions could help create competition during spring training.
Tulowitzki can impact the game on both offense and defense. But staying on the field has been a problem. He played just 91 games last year before undergoing labrum repair surgery on his left hip but still hit 21 home runs and finished with a .340 average and a 1.035 OPS. In eight full seasons in the majors, Tulowitzki has played 150 or more games only twice, and in the past three seasons, he has played in just 264 games. Second baseman DJ LeMahieu won his first Gold Glove last season and along with Tulowitzki gives the Rockies solid defense up the middle. LeMahieu, who typically bats eighth, has little power but makes steady contact.
Arenado, one of the game’s top defensive third basemen, can make spectacular plays in any direction. Last year, he became the fifth player to win a Gold Glove in each of his first two seasons in the majors. He missed 37 games starting in late May due to a fracture in his left finger and missed the final two weeks of the season due to pneumonia. In between, he set a franchise record with a 28-game hitting streak. First baseman Justin Morneau revived his career last season, hitting .319 to win the National League batting title and adding 17 homers and a team-leading 82 RBIs. He catches what he can reach, made just four errors and saved his fellow infielders countless miscues by picking low throws out of the dirt. Signed to a two-year, $12.5 million contract as a free agent after the 2013 season, Morneau offers veteran presence and professionalism.
Left fielder Corey Dickerson, an improved but below-average defender, has a live bat and plays with notable hustle and energy. He hit .312 with 76 RBIs and led the team last year in homers (24) and extra-base hits (57). Center fielder Charlie Blackmon, who can play all three outfield positions, hit .288 with 82 runs scored, 19 homers and 72 RBIs. He set a franchise record with five leadoff homers and led all big-league hitters with 69 RBIs from the leadoff spot. Gonzalez, a very gifted two-way player when healthy, was slowed by knee and finger injuries and finished with a career-low 70 games played, just 15 in the second half.
Nick Hundley will be a much-needed defensive upgrade over Wilin Rosario for the Rockies, whose pitchers will benefit from Hundley’s pitch-framing, receiving and game-calling skills. He won’t be counted on for offense but will benefit from playing at Coors Field. At hitter-friendly Camden Yards last year, Hundley hit .278 with three homers and 14 RBIs in 25 games.
Signing free agent Daniel Descalso to a two-year, $3.6 million contract was an under-the-radar move that will pay significant dividends. He’s a left-handed hitter who can play shortstop, second base and third base — positions where the regulars bat right-handed — and he brings a winning pedigree from the Cardinals. Catcher Michael McKenry is a capable backup who works well with pitchers and is an adept receiver. Infielder Charlie Culberson is a reliable defender who adds little on offense. Outfielder Drew Stubbs strikes out more than once every three at-bats but has power (15 homers in 388 at-bats) and speed (20-for-23 in stolen bases) and is reliable in center field. Outfielder Brandon Barnes led the majors in pinch hits last year, going 17-for-61 (.279) in that role.
Bridich resisted any urge to move quickly and revamp the roster, holding to the belief that the Rockies were a good team early last season when healthy. That said, Bridich will listen to offers for often-injured stars Tulowitzki and Gonzalez. The latter is owed $53 million over the next three seasons, while Tulowitzki has $118 million guaranteed in a contract that runs through 2020 with a buyout the following year. Manager Walt Weiss has a bigger voice in personnel decisions than he did under O’Dowd and Geivett.
To have any chance to contend, the Rockies must hold their own and play close to .500 on the road and dominate at Coors Field, winning at least 50 games at home. If this pattern is going to unfold in 2015, the Rockies are going to have to pitch much better than they did last season. It will take a handful of career years and/or significant contributions from young pitchers for the Rockies to make the leap to contender status.
2015 Prediction: 5th in NL West
CF Charlie Blackmon (L) His 28 stolen bases were the most by a Rockie since Matt Holliday (28) and Willy Taveras (68) in 2008.
3B Nolan Arenado (R) His club-record 28-game hitting streak was longest in the majors last year.
RF Carlos Gonzalez (L) Had surgery to remove benign tumor from left index finger June 10 and to repair left knee patella tear Aug. 18.
SS Troy Tulowitzki (R) Tied for NL lead in home runs (21) at All-Star break and led in average (.345) and OPS (1.048).
1B Justin Morneau (L) Hit .327 with .363 OBP and .515 slugging percentage at Coors Field and .309/.364/.475 on the road.
LF Corey Dickerson (L) In 200 career games, has 80 extra-base hits — 40 doubles, 11 triples and 29 homers — in 630 at-bats.
C Nick Hundley (R) Newcomer is very familiar with NL West after spending most of the past seven seasons with the Padres.
2B DJ LeMahieu (R) Led all NL second basemen in total chances (5.16), assists per nine innings (3.15) and double plays (99).
INF Daniel Descalso (L) Has fared better against LHP — .262 career average and .364 last year — than righthanders (.238/.211).
C Michael McKenry (R) Pitchers had 4.19 ERA in 406 innings with McKenry and 5.18 ERA in 824 innings with Wilin Rosario.
OF Drew Stubbs (R) Set career highs in batting (.289), on-base percentage (.339), slugging percentage (.482) and OPS (.821).
OF Brandon Barnes (R) Had 100 strikeouts in 292 at-bats and hit just .182 (12-for-66) with runners in scoring position.
INF Charlie Culberson (R) Made just one error at both shortstop, where he played 135.2 innings, and second base (129).
LH Jorge De La Rosa Went 10–2 with 3.08 in 15 starts at hitter-friendly Coors Field, holding opponents to .228 average.
RH Jhoulys Chacin Rotator cuff strain limited him to 63.1 innings in 11 starts, the last on June 28.
LH Tyler Matzek Fourth Rockies rookie pitcher to throw a complete game shutout and first since 2001.
RH Jordan Lyles Missed 54 games after suffering broken bone in left hand on June 4 in a tag play while covering home plate.
RH Eddie Butler Went 1–1 with 6.75 ERA in three starts for the Rockies; lefthanders batted .423 (11-for-26) with 1.310 OPS.
RH LaTroy Hawkins (Closer) Went 23 for 26 in save situations, pitched in 57 games and ranks 16th all-time with 1,000 appearances.
RH Adam Ottavino Held right-handed hitters to .238 average and .645 OPS in 172 AB, but lefties hit .347 with .943 OPS in 75 AB.
LH Boone Logan Was on disabled list four times, three with elbow soreness that led to Sept. 11 surgery.
LH Rex Brothers Left-handed batters hit .309 with four home runs and a .908 OPS against him in 97 at-bats.
RH Jairo Diaz Averaged 11.8 Ks and 2.8 walks per nine innings in 56 games combined at High-A and Double-A.
RH Brooks Brown Former first-round pick limited first batters he faced to an average of .115.
RH Tommy Kahnle Averaged 4.1 walks per nine innings but averaged 8.3 Ks per nine and held opposing batters to .206 average.
Beyond the Box Score
Non-Coors factor The Rockies scored a franchise-worst 255 runs on the road, the fewest in the majors, and batted .228. Only the 2010 Rockies had a lower average (.226) on the road.
Home cooking Jorge De La Rosa went 10–2 with a 3.08 ERA in 15 starts last year at Coors Field, giving him a 45–14 (.763) record at home in 79 games, 75 starts, since joining the Rockies’ rotation in 2008. The 45 wins and .763 winning percentage are franchise bests, and De La Rosa’s home winning percentage since 2008 is second in the majors only to Zack Greinke’s .782 percentage (61–17).
Going the distance Rookie Tyler Matzek threw the Rockies’ only complete game last season, a three-hit shutout against the Padres in his 16th career start on Aug. 30. It was the 12th complete game shutout in Denver and first since Jhoulys Chacin on April 15, 2011, against the Cubs.
April reign Outfielder Charlie Blackmon hit .374 (37-for-99) through the end of April with a 1.034 OPS and an average of one strikeout every 14 plate appearances. From May 1 through the end of the season, Blackmon hit .271 (134-for-494) with a .723 OPS and averaged one strikeout every 6.1 plate appearances.
Perfection Blackmon went 5-for-5 or better three times last season. Blackmon is the fifth player in the major leagues since 1900 to record three games of 5-for-5 or better, joining Hall of Famers Ty Cobb (1922), Tris Speaker (1923), Stan Musial (1948) and Tony Gwynn (1993) as well Ichiro Suzuki (2004).
June swoon While appearing in a team-leading and career-high 75 games, Adam Ottavino had a 3.60 ERA. In 13 games in June, he allowed 14 earned runs in 11.2 innings and had a 10.80 ERA. He yielded 12 earned runs in a combined 53.1 innings in 62 games in the other five months for a 2.03 ERA.
Making contact First baseman Justin Morneau, who won the National League batting title with a .319 average in his first season in Colorado, was one of the most difficult players in the league to strike out. He tied for fourth in the NL with 9.2 plate appearance per strikeout.
2014 Top Draft Pick
Kyle Freeland, LHP
Born and raised in Denver and drafted eighth overall out of the University of Evansville, Freeland went 1–0 with a 1.56 ERA in five starts for Rookie-level Grand Junction and 2–0 with a 0.83 ERA in five starts for Low-A Asheville. He has two well above-average pitches — a fastball that he commands to both sides of the plate, and a wipeout slider. His fastball ranges from 90-97 mph and sits at 92-93 mph, and he comes inside fearlessly to get outs, not just for intent. In instructional league, Freeland’s priority was his changeup, a pitch he didn’t throw often in college. He has the potential to be a front-of-the-rotation starter and likely will get to Double-A New Britain at some point in 2015 and the big leagues possibly in 2016.
Top 10 Prospects
1. Jon Gray, RHP (23) Power pitcher taken third overall in 2013 out of Oklahoma. Went 10–5 with a 3.91 ERA at Double-A Tulsa last year. Will vie for rotation spot in spring training.
2. Eddie Butler, RHP (24) Winter strength program will enable him to hold his delivery better. Has power stuff and will contend for rotation spot.
3. David Dahl, OF (21) 10th overall pick in the 2012 draft rebounded from a lost 2013 season to hit .309 in 90 games at Low-A Asheville and .267 after promotion to High-A Modesto.
4. Kyle Freeland, LHP (21) 2014 first-round draft pick should move up the system and compete for a spot in the rotation in the near future.
5. Ryan McMahon, 3B (20) Hit .282 at Low-A Asheville last year with 46 doubles, 18 homers and 102 RBIs. Has impressive power to all fields for such a young hitter.
6. Raimel Tapia, OF (21) Hit .326 with 93 runs, nine homers and 72 RBIs at Low-A Asheville. Exceptional hand-eye coordination and plus bat speed.
7. Tom Murphy, C (24) Fully recovered from shoulder injury that limited him to 94 at-bats last year at Double-A, where he hit .213 with five homers and 15 RBIs. Arm strength, accuracy and receiving skills are all above average.
8. Antonio Senzatela, RHP (20) Went 15–2 with a 3.11 ERA last year at Low-A Asheville. Added a slider to above-average fastball and plus changeup.
9. Forrest Wall, 2B, (19) Pure hitter with loose hands who batted .318 with three homers, 24 RBIs and .416 OBP at Rookie-level Grand Junction.
10. Tyler Anderson, LHP (25) First-round pick in 2011 went 7–4 with a 1.98 ERA last year at Double-A Tulsa. If healthy, he could pitch in majors in 2015.
Breakups are hard, and they’re said to happen for all sorts of reasons. Different goals, different principles, sudden realizations about your partner’s hygiene — love is hard when it fails, and that failure often rears its thorny head through the peskiest, most seemingly forgettable details. Right?
There’s long been no love lost between Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau and his front office, though — and the reasons for their enmity are not exactly subtle, or secret. Despite being one of the winningest coaches in NBA history through five seasons in Chicago (compiling a .648 regular-season record) the Bulls seem to be headed for a split with their hard-charging man.
Once seen as a revolutionary mind who changed the nature of NBA defense, Thibs is now frequently criticized for operating with false concepts. His blue-collar, win-at-all-costs program has been linked to repetitive major injuries to key players Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Today, Rose, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson are all out of the lineup as we approach the playoffs, and Noah is still playing on a problematic knee.
The blame for these hurts should be sourced to a number of things. While Thibodeau’s approach certainly doesn’t help to nurture any human’s body, there are also large factors of luck, science and timing to be accounted for with the Bulls’ health.
But the reported issue between the Bulls’ coach and team management — led by John Paxson and Gar Forman — is Thibodeau’s management of his players’ minutes. Virtually every major NBA reporter has confirmed this tension.
The smoke over the fire between these two sides, though, seems misrepresented by such a small grapple. Breakups don’t happen when you don’t like your partner’s new tattoo, and they don’t arise over “minutes”; they come from a more fundamental place.
The combative Thibodeau was likely never meant to last with the sensitive Paxson and Forman, who recently asked for a public apology from Thibs’ friend and Bulls critic Jeff Van Gundy. These people just don’t like each other, and it should surprise no one if they finally call it quits this summer over something deeper than what the hands of a clock say.
— John Wilmes
The Diamondbacks are rebooting, and it is hard to blame them. The wall-to-wall changes began with the hiring of Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa as chief baseball officer last May, and also include new GM Dave Stewart, new director of baseball operations De Jon Watson and new manager Chip Hale. While it remains to be seen if the overhaul from a 98-loss season will pay immediate dividends in a division that has produced the World Series winner in three of the last five years, at least the D-backs should be healthier after the 100-year flood of injuries to key contributors in 2014.
Stewart, a four-time 20-game winner, knows pitching, and he made several moves to rework the starting rotation in his first offseason. At least three of the D-backs’ starters will be new after the trades that brought righthanders Rubby De La Rose and Allen Webster from Boston and Jeremy Hellickson from Tampa Bay. Steady righthander Josh Collmenter is penciled is as the No. 1 starter, while lefthander Vidal Nuno and righties Chase Anderson and Trevor Cahill are among the candidates for the final spot. Collmenter is intriguing. He has a severe overhand delivery that he attributes to his hatchet-throwing days as a kid in the Michigan woods. His fastball tops out at 87 mph, but he throws strikes, commands his secondary pitches and gets outs. De La Rosa has hit 100 mph in a career that was disrupted by Tommy John surgery in 2012, and he has the kind of power arm not seen around here since the Randy Johnson/Curt Schilling days. He is 8–15 with a 4.34 ERA in 44 major league appearances while averaging 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Hellickson was the AL Rookie of the Year in 2012, the first of three straight seasons of double-digit victories, before surgery to remove bone chips compromised his 2014 season. Stewart was not fazed — his best seasons came after he had bone chips removed. Webster has a three-pitch mix with a fastball that can touch the mid-90s. Nuno, obtained in a July trade for Brandon McCarthy last season, throws a handful of pitches at a variety of speeds. His inclusion would give the D-backs a lefty in the rotation. Anderson’s nine victories tied Mets righthander Jacob deGrom for the most among NL rookies last season. All-Star Patrick Corbin is expected back from Tommy John surgery in June. In January, the Diamondbacks signed 21-year-old Cuban righthander Yoan Lopez for $8.25 million. Where Lopez will start the season remains to be seen, but Arizona hopes its investment will pay dividends in the majors sooner than later.
Righthander Addison Reed returns as the closer after recording 32 saves in a hit-or-miss first season in the National League. Reed averaged 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings and had a 4.6:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but he was susceptible to the long ball, giving up 11 home runs in 59.1 innings. No other closer gave up as many. Sidearming setup man Brad Ziegler again was effective in keeping the ball on the ground, inducing nine double-play ground balls in 67 innings before missing most of September with microfracture knee surgery. He may be delayed at the start of spring training but is not expected to miss much if any of the regular season. Righthander Evan Marshall and lefthander Oliver Perez are strike-throwing setup men who can be used from the sixth inning on. Marshall had a 3.18:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio as a rookie in 2014, and Perez was at 3.17:1 as the primary lefthander out of the pen, although he is more than a situational lefty. Randall Delgado gained velocity into the mid-90s when he moved to the bullpen after struggling as a starter last April. Daniel Hudson returned in September after his second Tommy John surgery and threw well. Righthander Matt Stites has a fastball that touches 97-98 mph, but command was an issue his rookie year.
After missing two months with a shoulder injury, Chris Owings spent the final month of the 2014 season at second base and showed well. He had 27 extra-base hits (15 doubles) and 26 RBIs in 91 games in 2014, above-average pop for a middle infielder. Rookie Nick Ahmed, obtained in the Justin Upton deal with Atlanta before the 2013 season, is considered to be the same type of plus-plus defender as departed Didi Gregorius, who was traded to the Yankees in the offseason.
The D-backs opened the wallet for Cuban league bopper Yasmany Tomas, committing $68.5 million over six years. Tomas will receive a $14 million signing bonus and a total of $36 million over the first four years, after which he can opt out and become a free agent. Scouts love his power; he fits best on the D-backs roster at third base, where he will be given every chance. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt has become one of the top power hitters in the game, and the D-backs’ season-ending plummet last season coincided with the fractured right hand he suffered when he was hit by a pitch Aug. 1.
A.J. Pollock was emerging as a rising star before he missed three months with a broken hand after being hit by a pitch on May 31. He has speed, gap power and the range of Steve Finley and should be the starter in center field for years to come. Mark Trumbo will move from left field to right field, which should be a better fit, and his bat is a constant. Even if his home run rate was slightly down last season in his first season in the NL, Trumbo had 61 RBIs in 88 games, right on his career average. Success story David Peralta, who was playing independent ball as late as June 2013, will play left field.
Tuffy Gosewisch inherits the position, which opened when Miguel Montero — and the remaining $40 million on his contract — was traded to the Cubs. Gosewisch played eight minor league seasons before making the majors in late 2013, and this will be his first shot at even semi-regular playing time. He has not shown the Montero bat, but he is a strong catch-and-throw guy and a good handler of the staff. Gosewisch has thrown out 40 percent of potential base-stealers in his short career.
Ender Inciarte was a valuable piece at all three outfield spots and in the leadoff position last season after injuries to regulars Trumbo and Pollock. Outfielder Cody Ross is going on two years removed from a devastating hip injury, and he offers solid production against left-handed pitchers. Catcher Oscar Hernandez was the first pick of the Rule 5 Draft from Tampa Bay and is major league-ready as a defender. Aaron Hill had 10 homers and 60 RBIs last season, when he played mostly third base the final month. Cliff Pennington is a valuable defender at three infield positions.
La Russa was interviewed for sitting general manager Kevin Towers’ position last May before the D-backs created a new position for him, and he jumped in head-first. La Russa made the rounds of the D-backs’ minor league affiliates to familiarize himself with the personnel before hiring Stewart and Watson in late September. This is a new job for La Russa, but it is hard (read: impossible) to argue with his previous success.
President/CEO Derrick Hall and managing general partner Ken Kendrick remain aggressive in seeking ways to compete in a large market that is one of the smallest in TV/radio reach and revenue. The D-backs wooed Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka before losing him to the Yankees, and this time landed their top international free agent target in Tomas. La Russa, Stewart and Watson provide a strong triumvirate, although it remains to be seen if the D-backs have enough pitching to compete this season. They will hit.
2015 Prediction: 4th in NL West
CF A.J. Pollock (R) Breakout 2014 season curtailed by broken hand; hit .324 with 14 extra-base hits in 17 games at leadoff.
2B Chris Owings (R) Adjusted to second base effortlessly; his 1.8 WAR (fangraphs.com) was fourth among NL rookies last year.
1B Paul Goldschmidt (R) Second player in franchise history with consecutive .300 seasons.
LF David Peralta (L) Led NL rookies (min. 325 at-bats) in slugging percentage, triples and OPS; added six outfield assists.
RF Mark Trumbo (R) Finished strong with six homers and 22 RBIs in September; one RBI per 5.38 at-bats a career best.
3B Yasmany Tomas (R) Veteran major league talent evaluator: “The guy has potential game-changing power.”
C Tuffy Gosewisch (R) After eight-year minor league apprenticeship, defense-first Gosewisch gets call to replace Miguel Montero.
SS Nick Ahmed (R) Hit .312 with 14 stolen bases in the Pacific Coast League; Baseball America’s best defensive shortstop.
OF Ender Inciarte (L) Hit .308 the final two months, and he was successful on 19 of 22 stolen base attempts for the season.
OF Cody Ross (R) Ross should be more like his old self after a full offseason of training.
INF Aaron Hill (R) One of six second basemen with 20-plus doubles in the last six seasons; also could see time at third.
INF Cliff Pennington (S) Versatile sparkplug is well above average at all three infield spots and is comfortable in either batter’s box.
C Oscar Hernandez (R) Rule 5 pick has thrown out 42 percent of potential base-stealers in five minor league seasons.
RH Josh Collmenter Set career highs in victories, starts, strikeouts and innings pitched after early-season move to the rotation.
RH Rubby De La Rosa A four-game winner in 18 starts with Boston in 2014, his first extended time in a rotation.
RH Jeremy Hellickson Averaged 12 victories and 180 innings in Tampa Bay in 2011-13 before bone chip surgery disrupted 2014.
RH Allen Webster Had five victories for Boston while yo-yoing between the Red Sox and Pawtucket a year ago.
LH Vidal Nuno Tied for the major league lead with seven “wins lost,” games he left with a lead that the bullpen did not hold.
RH Addison Reed (Closer) One of 10 closers with at least 30 saves in the last two seasons, the only to do it in each league.
RH Evan Marshall Stranded 24 of 29 inherited runners while recording a team rookie-record 19 holds after early May recall.
RH Brad Ziegler Second in franchise history with 246 appearances; will pass Jose Valverde with his eighth outing this season.
LH Oliver Perez One of three lefties in MLB with 60 appearances and 70 Ks in each of the last two seasons.
RH Daniel Hudson Made three September appearances in his first major league games since two Tommy John surgeries.
RH Randall Delgado Averaged 11.45 strikeouts per nine innings after an April move to the bullpen, when his velocity ticked up.
RH Matt Stites Held lefties to a .189 average following mid-June promotion after 15 saves at two minor league stops.
Beyond the Box Score
Career change Rookie David Peralta’s helium-laced rise to the major leagues was as captivating as it was successful. Signed as a pitcher with St. Louis in the mid-2000s, Peralta was released in 2011 because of repeated left shoulder issues. He returned to his native Venezuela and took up hitting, working his way to independent league outposts in Amarillo and Harlingen, Texas, before D-backs scout Chris Carminucci found him. The rest is, well, history. Peralta hit .346 at Class A Visalia in 2013 and was tied with Kris Bryant for the Southern League RBI lead last season before being promoted to the parent D-backs on June 1. It took. “I was going to make it,” Peralta says. “I was going to fight for it.”
Not such a g’day The D-backs opened the 2014 major league season in Sydney, Australia, with two games in 24 hours against the Los Angeles Dodgers in late March. The D-backs lost both games a week after losing No. 1 starter Patrick Corbin for the season due to Tommy John surgery, and it never got much better. The D-backs logged about 15,500 miles and 30 hours of plane time on the trip.
Kid-friendly First baseman Paul Goldschmidt and his wife Amy are registered volunteers at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, meaning they can visit on a regular basis. Goldschmidt has helped raise more than $200,000 for the hospital the last two years, first with proceeds from a limited edition print and last year with a “Goldschmidt Bleacher Creature” keepsake toy.
Giving back Reliever Brad Ziegler is active in support of military families with his Pastime for Patriots Foundation and was one of six finalists for the 2014 Bob Feller Act of Valor Award, given annually to the major leaguer who best fits the criteria of baseball accomplishments, integrity and character, service to the country and community involvement. Ziegler’s foundation provides education-based financial assistance and tickets to major league games for military families. Last May, Ziegler dedicated the latest of the D-backs’ youth baseball fields in Prescott, Ariz., as a tribute to the memory of the 19 Granite Mountain Hot Shots who perished in the Yarnell Hill wild fire in 2013. Ziegler proposed the idea to the D-backs and attended the dedication. “I cried my whole speech,” he says.
2014 Top Draft Pick
Touki Toussaint, RHP
The D-backs were pleasantly surprised to find the hard-throwing righthander available with the 16th pick, and with starting pitching a stated priority, they snapped him up. Toussaint hit the low 90-mph range with his fastball at Coral Springs (Fla.) Academy last spring and struck out 86 while giving up 17 hits in 45 innings. Toussaint, who had committed to play at Vanderbilt, has an eclectic background. His father was a senator and presidential candidate in Haiti, but Toussaint and his mother moved to Florida when he was 6. His first sport of choice was soccer. He tried baseball at age 10 but quit when he struck out “22 times in 24 at-bats,” he said. He returned to the game for good at 12. His immersion in pro ball was a learning experience — 8.48 ERA in 12 games — but the D-backs believe they have seen the tip of the iceberg.
Top 10 Prospects
1. Archie Bradley, RHP (22) Bradley may have pushed too hard to make the major league rotation in 2014, suffering a strained right flexor tendon.
2. Yasmany Tomas, 3B (24) Most recent Cuban season produced a .290/.346/.450 line with six HRs, 21 walks, 46 strikeouts in 257 plate appearances.
3. Yoan Lopez, RHP (21) Diamondbacks signed highly touted Cuban arm for $8.25 million.
4. Jake Lamb, 3B (24) Lamb cannot do much more in the minor leagues after slashing .318/.399/.551 with 35 doubles, 14 homers and 79 RBIs in 103 games at Class AA Mobile last season.
5. Touki Toussaint, RHP (18) First-round pick in 2014 is an outstanding athlete who consistently throws in the low 90s.
6. Aaron Blair, RHP (22) A big-bodied bulldog type, Blair leads with a heavy fastball and adds a good secondary mix. He averaged 10 strikeouts per nine innings in 2014, finishing at Class AA Mobile.
7. Braden Shipley, RHP (23) The D-backs’ first-round pick in the 2013 draft, Shipley is a converted shortstop with an abundance of athleticism and a fastball that has touched the high-90 mph range.
8. Peter O’Brien, C (24) Has shown prodigious power in three minor league seasons, hitting 34 homers last season in little more than four months.
9. Robbie Ray, LHP (23) The D-backs’ return in the three-team trade that sent Didi Gregorius to the Yankees, Ray had a strong 2013.
10. Brandon Drury, 3B (22) Drury followed his minor league-leading 51 doubles in 2013 with his best year — 42 doubles, 23 homers, 95 RBIs — at two levels last year.
They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.
No. 19: Hideki Matsuyama
Born: Feb. 25, 1992, Matsuyama, Ehime, Japan | Career PGA Tour Wins: 1 (6 on Japanese Tour) | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $2,837,477 (27th) | World Ranking: 15
Brandel Chamblee's Take
Matsuyama was the best iron player on Tour in 2014. He was only 116th in greens in regulation, but from every distance — from 50 yards to over 250 yards — he was in the top 30 in proximity to the hole, the consistency of which put him above great ball-strikers like Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose. At 23 years of age he has won some of the biggest events in the game, such as the Memorial and the Dunlap Phoenix, with the latter being a great predictor of success for so many of its champions. Names like Johnny Miller, Seve Ballesteros Tom Watson, Ernie Els, Tiger Woods and Luke Donald used this late-season win in Japan to launch them to great follow-up years. Matsuyama has already shown an ability to contend in majors, and this early success combined with his power and precision give him the best chance to become Japan’s first major winner.
Major Championship Résumé
Masters - Cut
U.S. Open - T35
British Open - T39
PGA Championship - T35
Best Career Finishes:
Masters - T27 (2011)
U.S. Open - T10 (2013)
British Open - T6 (2013)
PGA Championship - T19 (2013)
Top-10 Finishes: 2
Top-25 Finishes: 3
Missed Cuts: 1
Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.
The national perception of the Big Ten shifted at the end of the 2014 season thanks to Ohio State’s national championship and Michigan’s hire of Jim Harbaugh as the program’s new coach. While the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry is only going to increase in intensity with Harbaugh going up against Urban Meyer, don’t forget about Michigan State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. The Spartans return some of the league’s top talent with quarterback Connor Cook and defensive end Shilique Calhoun in 2015.
With spring practice underway, it’s never too early to look ahead at 2015. Here’s a quick (and very early) primer on the Big Ten’s top 15 players for 2015. This list takes into account production so far in career, as well as a slight projection for the upcoming year. Of course, this list is all subject to change later this summer as depth charts and personnel shift during spring practice.
Big Ten’s Pre-Spring Top 15 Players for 2015
1. Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior
2014 Stats: 55 tackles, 21 TFL, 13.5 sacks, 4 FF
Bosa was a disruptive force for Ohio State’s defense last season, leading the Big Ten with 13.5 sacks and 21 tackles for a loss. He should be one of college football’s top defenders in 2015.
2. Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State
2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior
2014 Stats: 3,214 yards, 24 TDs, 8 INTs
Cook will have to find a new go-to receiver with Tony Lippett out of eligibility, but the senior enters 2015 as the top quarterback in the Big Ten. Cook has guided Michigan State to 24 wins (including two huge bowl victories) over the last two years.
3. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior
2014 Stats: 1,878 yards, 18 TDs, 28 catches, 220 yards
Elliott closed out the 2014 season on a tear, rushing for at least 220 yards in each of the final three games to help Ohio State win the national championship. The Missouri native is one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman in 2015.
4. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior
2014 Stats: 2,977 yards, 12 TDs, 15 INTs
Sure, Penn State’s offense struggled in 2014, but let’s not forget Hackenberg threw for 2,955 yards and 20 scores as a true freshman in 2013. With a little more help from his offensive line, Hackenberg – one of the top NFL prospects in the 2016 draft (if he wants to come out early) – should rebound in 2015.
5. Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State
2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior
2014 Stats: 39 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 8 sacks, 1 FF
Calhoun turned down the NFL for one more season in East Lansing. Over his three-year career with the Spartans, the New Jersey native has accumulated 16.5 sacks and 29 tackles for a loss.
6. Anthony Zettel, DT, Penn State
2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior
2014 Stats: 42 tackles, 17 TFL, 8 sacks, 1 FF
Zettel was quietly one of the nation’s most productive defensive linemen last season. He recorded 42 tackles (17 for a loss) and eight sacks in 13 games. Zettel earned Athlon Sports All-America honors after the 2014 campaign.
7. Jack Conklin, OT Michigan State
2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior
Conklin is a former walk-on that has emerged as one of the nation’s top offensive linemen over the last two years. The Michigan native has started 26 games for the Spartans and earned fourth-team All-American honors by Athlon Sports in 2014.
8. Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State
2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore
2014 Stats: 81 tackles, 16.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 2 INT, 3 PBU
Lee is one of the nation’s top rising stars on the defensive side of the ball. He recorded 81 tackles last season in his debut, including a standout performance (7 tackles, 2 sacks) in the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama.
9. Ohio State Quarterbacks
All three Ohio State quarterbacks could individually rank in this space. But for now, let’s just slide a placeholder into the rankings and update prior to fall practice.
10. Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State
2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior
Decker was the lone returning starter on Ohio State’s offensive line and anchored a group that showed steady improvement over the course of 2014. The Ohio native has started 29 consecutive games entering the 2015 season.
11. Jack Allen, C, Michigan State
2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior
Allen and teammate Jack Conklin helped anchor a Michigan State offensive line that allowed only 11 sacks last season and paved the way for rushers to average 5.2 yards per carry. Allen enters 2015 with 35 career starts.
12. Vonn Bell, S, Ohio State
2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior
2014 Stats: 92 tackles, 2 TFL, 6 INT, 6 PBU
Bell turned in a breakout season in his first full year as a starter, finishing second on Ohio State’s defense with 92 tackles. His six interceptions tied for first in the Big Ten, which included three picks over the final four games.
13. Briean Boddy-Calhoun, CB, Minnesota
2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior
2014 Stats: 51 tackles, 2 TFL, 5 INT, 9 PBU, 2 FF
Boddy-Calhoun was one of the leaders for a stingy Minnesota secondary last season. The Delaware native led the Golden Gophers by picking off five passes and his 14 defended passes ranked second in the Big Ten.
14. Maliek Collins, DT, Nebraska
2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior
2014 Stats: 45 tackles, 14 TFL, 4.5 sacks
Collins isn’t a household name yet, but the Missouri native is poised for a breakout year as the anchor for Nebraska’s defense. In his first full season as a starter in 2014, Collins recorded 45 tackles (14 for a loss) and 4.5 sacks. He has the talent to push for All-American honors in 2015.
15. William Likely, CB, Maryland
2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior
2014 Stats: 83 tackles, 4 TFL, 6 INT, 9 PBU
Likely was a first-team All-Big Ten selection after a standout 2014 campaign, which featured a big-play effort on defense (six interceptions) and on special teams (two return touchdowns.
Other Players to Watch in Spring Practice
Ja’Whaun Bentley, LB, Purdue
Bentley emerged as one of Purdue’s defensive leaders as a true freshman, ranking second on the team with 76 tackles.
Vince Biegel, LB, Wisconsin
Biegel was on the cusp of making the top 15. He was one of the Badgers’ top defenders in 2014 after recording 16.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks.
Leonte Carroo, WR, Rutgers
Carroo just missed the top 15 player rankings. How will the senior perform with a new quarterback and play-caller in 2015?
Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin
Melvin Gordon will be missed, but Wisconsin is in good shape in the backfield with Clement returning for his junior season. Over the last two years, Clement has rushed for 1,496 yards and 16 scores. He should easily eclipse the 1,000-yard mark with more carries in 2015.
Imani Cross, RB, Nebraska
Will Cross replace Ameer Abdullah? Or will the Cornhuskers turn to Adam Taylor or Terrell Newby?
Jordan Howard, RB, Indiana
UAB transfer should be a solid replacement for Tevin Coleman.
Wes Lunt, QB, Illinois
Has the talent to be one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten. Can he stay healthy?
Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State
Primed for a bigger role on Michigan State’s defense after recording 15 tackles and 1.5 sacks as a true freshman in 2014.
Drew Ott, DE, Iowa
Earned second-team All-Big Ten honors by the league media in 2014 and will be the leader for a defensive line that must replace both starting tackles this offseason.
Paris Palmer, OT, Penn State
Junior college recruit is a key piece in Penn State’s hopes of improving the offensive line in 2015.
Jabrill Peppers, CB, Michigan
Five-star recruit was forced to redshirt due to injury after three games in 2013. Should be an impact defender for new coach Jim Harbaugh in 2015.
Anthony Walker, LB, Northwestern
Florida native started seven games as a redshirt freshman and impressed by recording 51 tackles and a team-high nine for a loss.
College basketball, especially this time of year, is all about mismatches.
In general, that means a power forward with quickness or a big guy who can step out to take a 3.
With 351 teams in college basketball, the sample size leads to size mismatches between a 5-foot-8 guard and a 7-6 center. And we’re not kidding. This is a matchup that actually happened a year ago.
That leads us to the Tall-America team, a collection of the best players at every height from a 5-7 point guard to a 7-6 center.
For sake of consistency, we used only the heights provided on school rosters for this season. We’re not ignorant to schools adding an inch or two to each player, but we also don’t have exact heights from the NBA Draft.
Christopher Anderson, San Diego
Anderson does what you’d hope for a 5-7, 150-pound point guard. He dished out 197 assists and grabbed 58 steals. Anderson finished his career 9.2 points, 5.9 assists and 2.0 steals per game.
Saah Nimley, Charleston Southern
Nimley — whose Twitter handle is @CantGuardNims — had a career year as a senior, averaging 21.2 points per game to lead the Big South.
Nic Moore, SMU
The Mustangs have had their personnel issues this season, but Moore, the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, has held it together. The Illinois State transfer averaged 14.4 points and 5.3 assists per game.
Stefan Moody, Ole Miss
Moody transferred from FAU to junior college to Ole Miss, where he’s become a clutch performer for a Rebels team en route to the NCAA Tournament. Moody averaged 18.8 points per game in conference play and shot better than 90 percent from the free throw line.
Phil Forte, Oklahoma State
One of the Cowboys’ Big Two, Forte rounded out his game from just a 3-point jump shooter. He’s still hitting nearly 40 percent for his 3s, but he’s doubled his production from inside the arc to average 15.5 points per game.
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
Ferrell played as a freshman for the 2012-13 team that spent much of that season ranked No. 1. His last two teams haven’t had the record of his rookie season, but Ferrell has stood out through some difficult times. He was seventh in the Big Ten in scoring (16 ppg) and fourth in assists (five per game).
Tyus Jones, Duke
Jones took over the point guard spot manned by senior Quinn Cook and met all expectations for a national championship-contending Duke team. Jones is in the top 40 nationally in offensive rating, and his clutch play in the second half led Duke to a come-from-behind win over North Carolina on Feb. 18.
Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga
Pangos is averaging a career-low 11.6 points per game, but he’s having one of his best years. Credit that to the best supporting cast he’s had at Gonzaga. The senior is sixth nationally in offensive rating and a career-high five assists per game.
Kris Dunn, Providence
Dunn is arguably the nation’s must underrated player. He’s overshadowed by teammate LaDontae Henton’s 20 points per game, and he doesn’t play on a glamour team in a glamour league. Dunn averages 15.5 points of his own and leads the nation in assist rate at nearly 50 percent and ranks fifth in steal rate.
Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
Hield is leading the Big 12 at 17.4 points per game, winning the first Big 12 Player of the Year award for the Sooners since Blake Griffin in 2009. Hield topped 20 points in a Big 12 game eight times.
Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
The representatives for 6-foot-5 may be the most loaded group in the country. Utah’s Delon Wright, Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell and BYU’s Tyler Haws were all considered here. The nod, though, goes to Notre Dame’s high-scoring guard who averages 16.9 points per game and leads the ACC in assists (6.6).
Justin Anderson, Virginia
Anderson returned from an eight-game absence in the ACC tournament against Florida State, going scoreless in 12 minutes. When healthy, Anderson has been the MVP of the 29-2 Cavaliers, averaging 12.8 points per game and ranking in the top 50 nationally in offensive rating.
Stanley Johnson, Arizona
Johnson has had his trouble finishing around the basket at times this season (a 3-for-19 performance against Utah), but he still leads the Pac-12 champion in scoring at 14.1 points per game while averaging 6.6 rebounds.
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
This is another loaded height with Iowa State’s Georges Niang, LSU’s Jordan Mickey and Northern Iowa’s Seth Tuttle all representing for 6-foot-8. Harrell, though, can’t be dismissed as the pick. Harrell has an imposing offensive game that’s only getting more dangerous as he’s able to stretch the floor. Harrell is averaging 15.7 points per game and 9.5 rebounds.
Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse
Christmas is one of the most improved players in the country. After failing to average double figures in his first three seasons, the former role player is averaging 17.5 points and nine rebounds for the Orange this season.
Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga
The most offensively productive Kentucky player is one who had to transfer to find playing time. Wiltjer’s game has been a perfect fit for Gonzaga as the junior has averaged 17.1 points per game, buoyed by 61 3-pointers by the forward.
Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Okafor has been exactly what was promised for the post presence who could be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft. Okafor is second in the ACC at 17.4 points per game, sixth nationally in effective field goal rate and eighth in offensive rebound rate. He’s neck and neck with our seven-footer for National Player of the Year.
Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein is also listed at 7-foot, but we have to go for Frank the Tank. Kaminsky burst onto the scene last season and has been even better in 2014-15, averaging 18.4 points per game and 8.1 rebounds. He’s always been a effective 3-point shooter, but he’s improved his jumper to 41 percent from long range.
Ben Lawson, Western Kentucky
The Brit is a defensive specialist for the Hilltoppers, averaging 3.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots in 18.8 minutes per game.
Isaac Haas, Purdue
The freshman Haas may have lit a fire under 7-foot center A.J. Hammons, who had a career year for the Boilers. Haas wasn’t so bad himself, averaging 7.9 points and 4.2 rebounds.
Boris Bojanovsky, Florida State
The Slovak is averaging 5.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game for the Seminoles.
Mamadou N’Diaye, UC Irvine
The tallest player in college basketball for two seasons averaged 11.1 points and five rebounds per game in an injury-shortened season.
Christopher Anderson image courtest of Brock Scott. Mamdou N'Diaye image courtesy of UC Irvine.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Let’s get weird, NCAA selection committee.
In one day, the SEC lost probably one and perhaps two teams in consideration for the NCAA Tournament. Texas A&M lost 66-59 to an Auburn team that won four SEC games all year. Ole Miss lost 60-58 to a South Carolina team that won six league games.
If the Aggies and Rebels are a representative sample of the bubble, send the lot of them to the NIT.
This is not picking on Texas A&M and Ole Miss in particular, but let’s entertain that they’re typical of the bubble. These two just happened to lose in one place in one day and in sloppy and spectacular fashion.
Texas A&M won’t go to the NCAA Tournament. Ole Miss, by virtue of beating Arkansas and Oregon on the road this year, might.
Every year we do the same thing. We identify a dozen or so halfway decent teams, call it the bubble, and those that don’t fall all over themselves against an Auburn or South Carolina in a conference tournament claim the last bids in the NCAA Tournament.
The selection committee needs to shake things up.
Every precedent says Murray State won’t be in the field. The Racers played one RPI top 50 team and lost to that team by 27. That’s the only NCAA Tournament they’ve faced all year.
No one on Selection Sunday will be surprised if Murray’s name isn’t called. When Murray doesn’t go to the tournament, selection committee chair Scott Barnes won’t have to go on TV and explain why.
No one will pity Murray State because those are the breaks.
In the last two weeks, I’ve watched Murray State in the Ohio Valley tournament, and I’ve watched Texas A&M and Ole Miss in the SEC tournament in the last two weeks.
I’d rather see more of Murray State.
Instead of rewarding Murray State’s 25-game win streak that came to an end on a 3-pointer with 3.2 seconds left in an Ohio Valley final, the committee will pick among flawed major conference bubble teams.
Even if Texas A&M and Ole Miss are out of the field, there are still plenty of teams like Texas A&M and Ole Miss still playing — Indiana, Purdue, UCLA and Georgia for starters.
And some unnamed school that makes South Carolina coach Frank Martin ill to see in the field.
“I’m not going to use school names because it makes me sick to my stomach,” Martin said. “Texas A&M gets beat today with a leading scorer in the conference (Danuel House) not playing. And all of the sudden they’re no longer an NCAA tournament team? Yet there’s a team that everyone has in from a different conference and they got beat last game of the season by a lot of points. Yet’s OK for them, but it’s not OK for our guys?”
We could take guesses at the team making Martin sick. Maybe it’s St. John’s, who lost 105-68 to Villanova in its last regular conference game. Or Ohio State, which lost 72-48 to Wisconsin. Maybe it was some lopsided conference tournament score.
The team he’s referring to doesn’t really matter.
We’re talking about a Texas A&M that turned the ball over 19 times and trailed by double figures in the second half to Auburn.
Or we’re talking about an Ole Miss team that turned the ball over 21 times and shot 30 percent from the field in a game it absolutely could not lose.
“We have had a hard time handling the pressure of games when things went bad for us,” A&M coach Billy Kennedy said.
Said Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy: “The inability to make a play has cost us.”
Sure, they both lost Saturday, but those aren’t trends I want Tournament coaches to admit.
Even in its last game, a loss, Murray State hit 11 3-pointers, scored 88 points and shot 33-of-68 from the floor. Let’s see more of that.
Teams like Ole Miss and Texas A&M have shown us enough. Perhaps Georgia has as well. The Bulldogs’ best two wins of the year are over Ole Miss. At least by drawing South Carolina, Georgia can show us it can beat the No. 11 seed in its own league, something the Bulldogs didn’t do during the regular season.
“How do you know the middle of the pack SEC is good? How do you know the middle of the pack Big Ten is good?” Prohm said after the Ohio Valley tournament. “Everybody just starts with an RPI number. That’s not fair. Watch the teams play. A team wins 25 in a row, there’s no question that team belongs in the Tournament. It shouldn’t even be up for debate. I’m not saying it’s a 10 seed (we deserve), but if it’s a 12 seed, a 12-seed play-in game, we definitely are deserving.”
And it’s not just Georgia or Ole Miss taking up valuable space in the NCAA Tournament.
Iowa lost to Penn State in the Big Ten tournament and will likely stay in the field despite doing nothing of note since early February. The Hawkeyes beat North Carolina in December, swept an OK Ohio State team and beat Maryland in early February. Since then, Iowa has lost to Northwestern, Minnesota and Penn State.
St. John’s lost to Providence by 17 and may still be in the field.
And Murray State isn’t the only low-major that should find its way into the field, regardless of the conference tournament.
If Stephen F. Austin loses in the Southland tournament, the Lumberjacks are out, too. They’ve lost once since Nov. 24. They won their league by two games and neat VCU last year in the tournament.
North Carolina Central is 16-0 in the MEAC, won its league by four games and outscored league opponents by more than 15 points per game.
On the CBS Sports Eye on College Basketball Podcast, Gary Parrish suggested a tweak to the system.
Teams from traditional one-bid leagues win their regular season in dominant fashion get into the 64-team bracket, regardless of their conference tournament results. The conference tournament champion, in the case of the OVC, play in the first four.
The selection committee doesn’t even need to go that far.
Just take Murray State as an at-large. Or Stephen F. Austin or North Carolina Central if need be. Other arms of the NCAA ignore precedent all the time, why not tournament selection committee?
Don’t think of it as breaking the rules, just making new ones.
Photo courtesy of Tab Brockman, Murray State Athletics
The NBA’s giant new TV deal, worth a reported $24 billion and penned this past fall, gave way to an inevitable trend: more money for players.
A big jump in the salary cap was confirmed this week, by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. Windhorst’s sources estimate that the cap, currently at about $63 million, will jump closer to the $88-$92 million range this summer. Such a development will surely be a boon for the upcoming free agent class.
LeBron James anticipated this event when he signed his most recent deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers, giving himself an opt-out clause after one year so he may renegotiate.
News of the jump in the cap comes after the players’ union declined a cap “smoothing” proposition, which would continue to pay players 51 percent of basketball-related revenue. The “smoothing” would mean a steady increase in the cap, but would ultimately net the players less than they’re capable of negotiating for.
Windhorst estimates that James, for instance, could be making as much as $30 million per year on a new deal, up from his current rate of $22 million.
The bigger picture here is a little clearer now, and it tells us that a future lockout is looking more likely. With aggressive, principled new leader Michele Roberts at the helm of the NBAPA, the players aren’t backing down from the owners, and the fight for a bigger share of the pot is on.
While the cap jump is a concession of sorts by the owners, they’re still likely to toe a hard line in 2017, when both sides have an opt-out clause from the current collective bargaining agreement. An era of increased transparency — in which we regularly learn unsavory things about ownership groups — has given players greater clout in Adam Silver’s NBA, and they appear quite ready to utilize it.
— John Wilmes