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Path: /nascar/nascar-bristol-will-aggression-spike-half-mile-bullring

Each week, Geoffrey Miller’s “Five Things to Watch” will help you catch up on the biggest stories of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ upcoming race weekend. This week, Kasey Kahne’s and Tony Stewart’s opposite run of results at Bristol, the effect NASCAR’s revamped title format will have on the amount of in-race aggression at the bullring and an overdue qualifying tweak are just a few of the major topics leading us into Sunday’s 500-lap race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

1. Kasey Kahne an easy pre-race favorite at Bristol  Kasey Kahne

It doesn’t take studying of loop data to see that Kasey Kahne figures to be up front Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway. Mr. Blue Eyes had a combined average finish of 1.5 last year at the half-mile track after winning the spring race and falling just short of Matt Kenseth in the fall night race.

“I can’t wait to race there,” Kahne said this week in a video posted by Hendrick Motorsports. “It’s a track we’ve performed really well at for a while. We won the spring race last year and had the best car there in the fall race — I just didn’t get by Matt.”

A win for Kahne would start to reveal his No. 5 as the contender that it should be this season. He is, after all, driving one of Rick Hendrick’s Chevrolets.

Kahne was stung by pit road penalties and a crash in the season-opener at Daytona before landing inauspicious finishes of 11th and eighth at Phoenix and Las Vegas, respectively. He’s led just two laps this season.

That number just might change at a track where he started and finished both races better than seventh last season.

2. Does points system really give drivers an incentive for Bristol aggression?

Much has been made over the last few days about the role that NASCAR’s newest points system played on Steve Letarte’s decision to gamble on fuel mileage and go for the win with Dale Earnhardt Jr. last week at Las Vegas. All told, that’s an argument set to NASCAR’s desired narrative and not grounded in fact.

Still, it’s fair to wonder if NASCAR will be forced to reckon with driving more rambunctious than usual Sunday on Bristol’s high banks. While points certainly still do matter in the regular season, the new scoring style does play to the favor of drivers not really expected to be Chase players come September. And in those drivers’ favor is the fact that Bristol’s short track characteristics can provide a more even playing field amongst low-budget and top-tier teams.

That means drivers like AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, or Kyle Larson — remember how good Larson was in the Bristol Nationwide Series race last spring? — could be looking to push, pull and generally consider bulldozing as an option to gain track position in Sunday’s race. A win could be their Chase ticket, and they won’t have too many more opportunities.

3. Bristol not a good place for Tony Stewart’s rebound

After three races and only 48 total points collected, Tony Stewart has landed 27th in points without a single top-10 finish, a single lap led and only one lead-lap finish. Those are numbers that are probably worse than Stewart even expected to launch with in 2014 despite coming back from serious injury.

if Stewart was physically ready to compete on the circuit’s demanding racetracks and the jury remains out. The tight confines of Bristol won’t be especially kind to him if physical pain or strength is making a difference in his ability to tune in the race car.

Even without the injury, Stewart has been woeful at BMS of late. Sunday’s race marks the four-year anniversary of Stewart finishing second at the track. Since then, he’s finished 19th, 28th, 14th, 27th and 31st. (Last season, of course, he missed the August race with the leg injury.)


Voice of Vito: "

4. NASCAR averts substantial qualifying issue

We may never known why it took NASCAR until midweek between the Las Vegas race and this weekend’s event at Bristol to finally listen to basically everyone in the garage and a make a change to make qualifying safer. But NASCAR did finally come to its senses and Friday’s session won’t have the extra hazard of slow-driving cars trying to keep engines cool.

That’s because NASCAR changed protocol and will now allow teams to attach cooling hoses from a pit box to valves hidden just under the hood cowl flaps. The hoses will supply cold water to the car’s radiator and engine cooling system while pulling hot water out — allowing teams to make more runs during the “knockout” style qualifying sessions.

It’s a move that makes sense and one that came about two weeks too late. Fortunately, NASCAR avoided any serious incidents in the process despite drivers worried about the generous speed difference between cars trying to cool down while motoring slowly around the track and cars on hot laps. The problem would have been exacerbated at Bristol thanks to the short track having substantially less room for cars to operate.

5. Joe Gibbs Racing a recent Bristol force  Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne

The Cup Series has raced three times at Bristol since the resurfaced track had its upper groove altered by a grinding process. The intent was for racing to move down to the bottom of the corners, but that never happened. Instead, drivers live at the top of Bristol’s high-banks and rarely venture down.

The style of racing has seemed to suit Joe Gibbs Racing pretty well. In those three races, JGR has two wins, a second-place and has led 42.9 percent of the laps raced. Was it not for a crash a year ago that knocked Matt Kenseth out of contention — he couldn’t avoid Jeff Gordon when the No. 24 blew a tire — JGR very well could have been three-for-three.

There are no guarantees how Kenseth, Kyle Busch or Denny Hamlin will roll off in Sunday’s race or if they’ll actually compete. But if the last three races are an indication at all, JGR should play in the mix at some point during the 266.5-mile race.

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NASCAR's new qualifying tweak, increased aggression, and Kasey Kahne's and Tony Stewart's opposite run of results in Bristol highlight Geoffrey Miller's "Five Things to Watch" as the Sprint Cup Series heads to East Tennessee for the Food City 500.
Post date: Friday, March 14, 2014 - 10:51
Path: /mlb/los-angeles-angels-2014-preview

Los Angeles Angels

Owner Arte Moreno’s millions have bought only dysfunction and disappointment the past two years. The mega-millions additions of former MVPs Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton have not gotten the Angels closer to their first playoff berth since 2009. The two have been expensive busts, failing to justify the Angels’ investments and handcuffing GM Jerry Dipoto’s ability to make other moves. The farm system has gone fallow, and Dipoto’s attempts to assemble a pitching staff within the confines of a budget strained by the commitments to Pujols and Hamilton have been failures, forcing him to expend other resources — young trade chips Mark Trumbo and Peter Bourjos — in a desperate search for pitching. This winter’s moves had better get the Angels back into contention, or another winter of discontent lies ahead.

As debilitating as the twin failures of Pujols and Hamilton were last year, the main reason the Angels have been among baseball’s biggest underachievers the past two seasons has been the crumbling of their pitching staff. Only C.J. Wilson and Jason Vargas (now gone via free agency) performed adequately in 2013. Wilson was outstanding, going 17–7 with a 3.39 ERA and giving the Angels their only 200-inning starter. Sidelined for a chunk of the season by an elbow injury, staff ace Jered Weaver took a step back in 2013. Wilson and a healthy Weaver represent the only reliable pieces in the Angels’ rebuilt-for-2014 rotation. Dipoto’s acquisitions a year ago — Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson and Vargas — were more bust than boost. This year, he is rolling the dice on three young pitchers to fill out the rotation — homegrown righthander Garrett Richards and lefties Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs, both acquired in a three-way trade that cost the Angels Trumbo. Santiago must overcome control issues. Skaggs was made available by the Diamondbacks after losing velocity from his fastball last season.

The sagging rotation in 2013 replaced the bullpen as the biggest problem area on the Angels’ pitching staff. After a sad performance in 2012, the relief corps got only marginally better last season as Dipoto swung and missed on a series of moves — trading Jordan Walden for Hanson and signing Ryan Madson and Sean Burnett. Madson (Tommy John surgery) never threw a pitch for the Angels, and Burnett gave them fewer than 10 innings due to his own arm issues. Dipoto will try again this year. He acquired one-time closer Fernando Salas in the trade that brought third baseman David Freese from St. Louis and signed setup man Joe Smith to a three-year deal. Ernesto Frieri will once again close after converting 37-of-41 save chances last season. Kevin Jepsen, Dane De La Rosa and Michael Kohn return to the mix — as will Burnett. De La Rosa is fighting through a forearm strain that will delay his season.

Middle Infield
Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick will return for another season as the Angels’ primary keystone combination — and that is a surprise. Going into the offseason, Kendrick was considered more valuable to the Angels as a trade chip to obtain front-line pitching. The winter didn’t play out that way, and he returns as a steady, complementary bat in the Angels’ lineup and an improved defensive player. Meanwhile, the Angels are still waiting for Aybar to develop into a top-of-the-order hitter. It hasn’t happened, and the switch-hitter has settled in at the bottom of the order with a series of uneven seasons since his .312 breakout in 2009. Defensively, Aybar’s arm and range make him an asset at shortstop.

The last time Pujols and Freese were paired together across the diamond, the St. Louis Cardinals won a World Series title. Things have not gone very well for either in the two years since. The Angels knew they would be getting the worst years of his Hall of Fame career when they signed a 32-year-old Pujols for 10 years two winters ago. They just didn’t realize they’d be getting them at the front end of that contract as well as (almost assuredly) at the back end. Leg and foot problems were largely at fault in 2013 as Pujols put up career lows in every statistical category, including games played (99). Greater DH time should be in order — but the Angels traded away their best alternative at first base (Trumbo) in search of pitching. That leaves the Angels hoping for a return to health to buoy Pujols’ production in 2014. Freese, on the other hand, remains more of a mystery. After his postseason heroics in 2011 and an All-Star selection in 2012, he was discarded by the Cardinals following a power drop-off and whispers of lost bat speed in 2013. Still, he represents the Angels’ best hopes for a productive third baseman since Troy Glaus left as a free agent following the 2004 season.

As cloudy as the past two seasons have been for the Angels, Mike Trout has been the bright silver lining. At age 22, Trout has already stamped himself as the best player in baseball (status disputed only by Miguel Cabrera’s legion of supporters) with a two-year big-league arrival that ranks among the best in baseball history. After nearly winning a Rookie of the Year-MVP double in 2012, Trout was actually better in some ways last season, finishing as the MVP runner-up to Cabrera for the second consecutive season after leading the AL in runs and walks while posting a .323/.432/.557 slash line. If you like your statistics more New Age, Trout has led the majors in WAR in each of his two full big-league seasons. Trout will be back in his comfort zone, center field, full-time after moving to left field for Peter Bourjos at times in 2013. The Angels plan to flank him with Kole Calhoun and — they earnestly hope — a more productive Hamilton. Hamilton’s massive drop-off for most of 2013 was one of the biggest mysteries in baseball last season. But he did show signs of coming around as the dismal season wound down. The Angels can only hope his .329 average and .518 slugging percentage (albeit with just five home runs) over the final 45 games of last season augurs a rebirth in 2014. Hamilton has been dealing with a calf strain, which has prevented him from working out much of spring training.

Satisfying Mike Scioscia’s defensive demands and still contributing offensively has proved too much for a generation of Angels catchers. Chris Iannetta hasn’t been able to do it. He hit just .225 last season, and it might be time for the Angels to give former first-round pick Hank Conger a larger share of the workload. Conger’s defense has been a work in progress for the past three seasons spent largely on the bench. But he at least holds out the possibility of offensive contributions.

The ideal situation would have Pujols spending a far greater portion of his playing time at DH, putting less wear and tear on his legs, which have broken down each of the past two years. But Pujols doesn’t want that. So, the Angels signed 41-year-old Raul Ibanez to handle most of the DH duty. Behind Ibanez and Conger (who will share catching duties with Iannetta), the Angels’ bench is not likely to offer much. The team signed veteran Carlos Pena, who could spell Pujols at first at times.

The Angels’ dysfunction was not confined to the roster last season. Scioscia and Dipoto have not meshed well since Dipoto was hired before the 2012 season. The expectation was that last season’s failures would cost one or both their job. Instead, it was a couple of minor heads that rolled (coaches Rob Picciolo and Jim Eppard), and both Scioscia and Dipoto return. If the Angels’ playoff drought extends to a fifth season, though, it’s hard to see the status quo continuing.

Final Analysis
The decade that followed Scioscia’s arrival as manager was the most successful in franchise history, including the Angels’ only World Series title in 2002. The franchise has drifted away from the foundation upon which that success was built, however. Moreno’s luxury spending binge on stars (Pujols and Hamilton) and other decisions have decimated the farm system and produced a dysfunctional roster that has more name recognition than functional strengths. The Angels now find themselves pinning their hopes on comeback seasons from three players (Pujols, Hamilton, Freese) who almost certainly have passed their best days — the kind of misguided strategy that too often characterized the franchise’s first four championship-less decades.

LF    Kole Calhoun (L)    
A .402 on-base percentage during his minor-league career makes him a candidate to fill leadoff void.
CF    Mike Trout (R)    
Only he and Willie Mays ever had consecutive seasons with a .320 AVG or better and at least 25 HRs, 30 SBs.
1B    Albert Pujols (R)    
Since moving from St. Louis to Anaheim, Pujols’ OPS has dropped more than 200 points as an Angel.
RF    Josh Hamilton (L)    
Batted .329, raised his average 33 points over final 45 games of 2013 — giving Angels hope for the future.
3B    David Freese (R)    
Freese would be a hero to Angels fans if he gave them their first prototypical 3B since Troy Glaus.
DH    Raul Ibanez (L)    
The Angels are banking on the 41-year-old Ibanez being able to keep Father Time at bay for another year.
2B    Howie Kendrick (R)    
Nearly traded to the Dodgers in midseason and dangled for pitching in the winter.
C    Chris Iannetta (R)    
The combination of Iannetta and Hank Conger produced pretty much the MLB average for catchers last year.
SS    Erick Aybar (S)    
Seems to be regressing offensively with his lowest batting average (.271) since 2010.

C    Hank Conger (S)    
Is it time to take off the “water wings,” as Mike Scioscia likes to say, and let him play?
OF    J.B. Shuck (L)    
Made defensive play of the year in 2013, tumbling into the outfield seats at Angel Stadium to rob a home run.
OF    Collin Cowgill (R)    
Journeyman gives Angels coverage in the outfield and some experience off the bench — but little else.
INF    Grant Green (R)    
A’s soured on their 2009 first-round pick, but Angels have to be more open-minded about his potential.
1B    Carlos Pena (L)    
Since leading the AL with 39 homers in 2009, Pena has hit just .206 with 83 home runs in four different uniforms.

RH    Jered Weaver     
Fractured elbow biggest reason for sub-par 2013, but Angels have to be worried about his shrinking velocity.
LH    C.J. Wilson     
Pillar of stability amid the shambles of the 2013 rotation, essentially matching his All-Star season of 2011.
RH    Garrett Richards    
GM Jerry Dipoto wanted Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson in the 2013 rotation instead of Richards.
LH    Tyler Skaggs    
Dipoto has acquired Skaggs in trades twice (with the Diamondbacks and Angels).
LH    Hector Santiago    
Needs to harness his stuff or get bumped to the pen; has averaged 4.5 walks per nine IP in the big leagues.

RH    Ernesto Frieri (Closer)    
Fastball-reliant closer is vulnerable to the big mistake (11 HRs in 2013) but saved 37 games.
RH    Joe Smith    
After five successful seasons in Cleveland (a 2.76 ERA), Smith moves West to Anaheim.
RH    Fernando Salas    
Had 24 saves for the Cardinals in 2011 but fell out of favor and back into the minors the past two seasons.
LH    Sean Burnett    
Gave the Angels less than 10 innings last year before undergoing season-ending elbow surgery.
RH    Kevin Jepsen    
Has never developed into reliable back-end bullpen presence, but 8.2 career K rate makes him valuable.
RH    Dane De La Rosa    
Big surprise last year with 6–1 record, two saves, 2.86 ERA and 1.16 WHIP over 75 appearances.

2013 Top Draft Pick
Hunter Green, LHP
Free-agent compensation for their big-ticket signings have robbed the Angels of high draft picks and left their farm system ranked 30th out of the 30 clubs. With that backdrop, the Angels were thrilled to find Green — who had signed a letter of intent to pitch at the University of Kentucky — available in the second round. The Bowling Green, Ky., native made just a handful of appearances in the Arizona Rookie League after signing last summer, going 0–1 with a 4.32 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 16.2 innings. But the 18-year-old already ranks as the Angels pitching prospect with the highest upside in a system thoroughly devoid of high-end pitching.

Top Prospects
RHP R.J. Alvarez (22)
Could rise quickly after posting 1.24 WHIP, 3.08 ERA and striking out 117 in 76 innings at Class A level in 2013.
1B C.J. Cron, 1B (24)
Top hitting prospect in system won Arizona Fall League batting title (.413). His path to big leagues is clearer with Mike Trumbo traded.
3B Kaleb Cowart (21)
Took big step back in Class AA (.221/.279/.301). His road to the big leagues now blocked by David Freese’s acquisition.
2B Taylor Lindsey (22)
Offense-minded infielder has hit at every level, showing newfound power (17 home runs) at Class AA last season.
RHP Mark Sappington (23)
The Angels have high hopes for 6'5" righthander who went 11–4 with a 3.38 ERA in Cal League before late-season promotion to Class AA last year.
2B Alex Yarbrough (22)
Ole Miss product blossomed in hitter-friendly Cal League last year — a .313 average, 11 HRs, 80 RBIs, 14 stolen bases.
SS Jose Rondon (20)
Venezuelan hit .293 with 50 RBIs and 13 stolen bases in 68 games in rookie ball last year.
LHP Ricardo Sanchez (17)
He’s young and he’s small (about 160 pounds), but his fastball hits 90 and he’s got an advanced curveball.

Beyond the Box Score
Tough words During his brief tenure on a sports talk radio show in St. Louis last year, former big-leaguer Jack Clark accused Angels slugger Albert Pujols of using performance-enhancing drugs. Clark said he knew for certain that Pujols was “a juicer.” In the aftermath of his comments, Clark’s show was cancelled, and Pujols sued for defamation of character, saying the accusations were “malicious, reckless and outrageous falsehoods.” Clark’s attorney responded by saying his client would be willing to undergo a lie-detector test — if Pujols agreed to do the same.
Big crowds Though attendance dropped slightly for the third consecutive season, the Angels topped three million in attendance for the 11th consecutive season in 2013. Only one team in the American League (the New York Yankees) can match that streak. But last year’s total of 3,019,505 fans drawn to Angel Stadium was the lowest of Arte Moreno’s decade as owner. Not coincidentally, the Angels have missed the playoffs each of the past four seasons.
Staff shakeup Despite speculation throughout the season that he might be fired, Mike Scioscia survived and returns for his 15th season as Angels manager. But his staff underwent some major renovations. Hitting coach Jim Eppard and bench coach Rob Picciolo were dismissed. Dino Ebel moves from third-base coach to bench coach, and two former Angels returned to the fold. Don Baylor was hired as hitting coach and Gary DiSarcina as third-base coach. In addition, the Angels added two positions — assistant hitting coach (Dave Hansen) and player information coach (Rick Eckstein). Both Hansen and Eckstein have been hitting coaches at the major-league level before.
Stadium talk The Angels have begun a potentially acrimonious negotiation with the city of Anaheim over a new lease for the team at Angel Stadium. Amid veiled threats from ownership about building a new stadium elsewhere, the Anaheim City Council agreed to open negotiations on a new lease and grant the Angels an extension on their opt-out clause from 2016 to 2019. The current lease runs through 2029, and the Angels are seeking massive concessions from the city in order to finance approximately $150 million in renovations.

Owner Arte Moreno’s luxury spending binge on stars (Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton) and other decisions have decimated the farm system and produced a dysfunctional roster that has more name recognition than functional strengths. The Angels now find themselves pinning their hopes on comeback seasons from three players (Pujols, Hamilton, David Freese) who almost certainly have passed their best days — the kind of misguided strategy that too often characterized the franchise’s first four championship-less decades.
Post date: Friday, March 14, 2014 - 10:48
Path: /mlb/houston-astros-2014-preview

Houston Astros

For the Astros, it’s time to move forward. Coming off three consecutive 100-loss seasons, including a club-record 111 losses last year that included a franchise-record 15-game losing skid to end the season in their first year in the American League, the Astros are poised to take a step forward in their rebuilding process after bringing in some pieces this winter that should make them more competitive. In 2014, they should have the makings of a legitimate major-league lineup and bullpen to go along with a promising young rotation. The Astros finished the season with a payroll of about $13 million following years of trading away established players — including pitcher Bud Norris last year — in exchange for prospects. That allowed them to rebuild their minor-league system into one of the best in baseball, which should set them up well for the future. But knowing they couldn’t afford another 100-loss season while they waited on the kids to arrive in Houston, the Astros opened their pocketbook and added about $30 million in payroll by signing starting pitcher Scott Feldman to a three-year, $30-million deal and inking relief pitchers Jesse Crain, Chad Qualls and Matt Albers to bolster baseball’s worst bullpen. The team also made a trade to acquire center fielder Dexter Fowler from the Rockies and plan to plug him into the leadoff spot, giving the Astros a solid 1-2-3 combo at the top of the order with Fowler hitting first, second baseman Jose Altuve hitting second and All-Star catcher Jason Castro batting third.

The Astros have built a wealth of young starting pitching in their system over the last few years, and a few of those promising arms were anchoring the youngest rotation in baseball at the end of the season. What was missing was an established veteran, which led to the signing of Feldman, who split last year between the Cubs and Orioles. For much of the second half of 2013, the Astros went with a six-man rotation in which all were 25 years old or younger. That included rookie sensation Jarred Cosart, who flirted with a no-hitter during his July 12 major-league debut against Tampa Bay and wound up going 1–1 with a 1.95 ERA in 10 starts. He’ll be joined in the 2014 rotation by lefty Brett Oberholtzer, who was 4–5 with a 2.24 ERA in 10 starts (two complete games). Also returning is lefty Dallas Keuchel, who was 6–8 with a 4.90 ERA as a starter and tied with Lucas Harrell for the team lead in innings. The Astros signed veteran Jerome Williams — yes, he’s still in the league — in early February to add depth. It appears Williams will begin the season in the rotation. The highly regarded Brad Peacock, who was 4–3 with a 3.67 ERA in his last 12 starts, and Harrell, who had a disastrous 2013 after a breakout 2012, will be back pushing for a spot.

This was by far the Astros’ weakest link last year, especially after the club traded veteran reliever Jose Veras to the Tigers at the deadline. What followed was a series of late-inning meltdowns, as manager Bo Porter threw a bevy of young arms into closing roles without any success. The Astros led the majors in blown saves and had the highest bullpen ERA, so adding some veteran arms to the mix was the team’s No. 1 task in the offseason. The Astros signed Qualls and Albers — both of whom were drafted and developed by the Astros — and veteran Crain. Houston traded for Anthony Bass. None of the four has closing experience, however. While taking their lumps in the bullpen last year, the Astros did get a good look at arms with some upside in rookies Josh Fields, Chia-Jen Lo, Josh Zeid and Kevin Chapman. They should play even bigger roles during their second seasons in 2014. Alex White, who missed all of last year following Tommy John surgery, is competing for a spot as well.

Middle Infield
Altuve slipped a little both offensively and defensively in 2013 following an All-Star campaign the season before, but the club liked him enough to sign him to a budget-friendly four-year contract extension in July. When he’s hot, there may not be a tougher out in the league. While former No. 1 overall pick Carlos Correa, a shortstop, makes his way through the minors, the club plans to get an extended look in 2014 at shortstop Jonathan Villar. The speedster made his debut at 22 last year and hit .243, but he stole 18 bases in 58 games and dazzled with his speed. He also struggled mightily on defense, making16 errors, and didn’t always make the best decisions on the bases.

The Astros found their third baseman of the future, thanks to a breakout 2013 season by Matt Dominguez, acquired in 2012 from the Marlins in the Carlos Lee trade. Dominguez was one of the best defensive third basemen in the AL and hit .241 with 21 homers and 77 RBIs at 23 years old for much of the season. Across the diamond at first base, things aren’t quite as settled. Brett Wallace, Chris Carter and Carlos Peña split playing time at first base last season, and only Carter returns. The slugger provided most of Houston’s punch with 29 homers and 82 runs batted in, while also setting the club record with 212 strikeouts The Astros acquired Jesus Guzman as an option to share time with Carter. Slugger Jonathan Singleton, one of the club’s top prospects, should be in the mix at some point this year.

Fowler will patrol the spacious center field of Minute Maid Park after doing the same at Coors Field the previous six years. He came to the Astros via trade and instantly becomes one of the club’s best offensive weapons and gives them a legitimate leadoff hitter. Astros leadoff hitters had a combined on-base percentage of .310 last year; Fowler's was .369. Robbie Grossman figures to start in left field, and he did enough during the second half of his rookie season to deserve a longer look. He struggled in his first stint with the club (hitting .198) but came back to Houston and hit .322 from July 28 to the end of the season and showed a little pop. Right field figures to be a mix between L.J. Hoes and Marc Krauss, although top prospect George Springer could play his way into the lineup. Springer is a center fielder, but the addition of Fowler means the club could move him to right field.

A former first-round pick by the Astros, Castro was finally healthy last year and wound up having an All-Star season. He should hit third in the lineup in 2014 after batting .276 with 18 homers and 56 RBIs last year. He missed the final three weeks of the season after he had a cyst removed from the surgically repaired knee that he injured prior to the 2011 season. Switch-hitting Carlos Corporan has proven to be a solid backup both offensively and behind the plate for Castro, and the club is also high on rookie Max Stassi, who suffered a concussion in his second career game last year and wound up playing only three games at the major-league level.

Krauss should get the bulk of the at-bats at the designated hitter. The bench isn’t deep. Corporan is a steady hand at catcher. Veteran Cesar Izturis is a solid defender in the middle infield, but provides very little offense thus can’t be counted on as a pinch-hitter. Krauss and J.D. Martinez are power threats who can play outfield and DH.

This will be the third year of general manager Jeff Luhnow’s ambitious overhaul of the roster. The organization has made huge strides in the minor leagues, but with the farm system stocked and the franchise now willing to spend some money, the pressure mounts on Luhnow to start winning more games. Porter made some rookie mistakes, but he held a young team together during 111 losses.

Final Analysis
The Astros will probably be bottom-feeders in the league once again, but they have improved and should benefit from the arrival of more of their top prospects, including Springer, Singleton and pitcher Asher Wojciechowski. The veteran additions they made should make them more competitive on a nightly basis, but meaningful baseball in Houston in September is still a few years away.

CF    Dexter Fowler (S)    
New acquisition gives the Astros a dynamic presence at top of lineup with a career OBP of .365.
2B    Jose Altuve (R)    
Finished last season with a .283 batting average and 35 steals after a torrid stretch in September.
C    Jason Castro (L)    
The team’s MVP in 2013 when he hit .276 with 18 homers and 56 RBIs and was an All-Star.
1B    Chris Carter (R)    
Carter set the club record for strikeouts in a season with 212, but he mashed 29 homers and drove in 82.
3B    Matt Dominguez (R)    
A steady hand at third base, Dominguez showed surprising power in ’13 with 21 homers and 77 RBIs.
DH    Marc Krauss (L)    
The broad-shouldered Krauss made his debut last year and flashed some impressive raw power from left side.
RF    L.J. Hoes (R)    
Acquired from the Orioles in the Bud Norris trade, Hoes is still trying to establish himself in majors.
LF    Robbie Grossman (S)    
Grossman got better with more playing time and wound up hitting .268 with a .332 on-base percentage.
SS    Jonathan Villar (S)    
His speed makes him one of the most exciting players to watch, but he needs more discipline in his game.

C    Carlos Corporan (S)    
Did a solid job while backing up Jason Castro, hitting .225 with seven homers and 20 RBIs.
1B    Jesus Guzman (R)    
The Astros acquired him in a trade from the Padres as a right-handed option at first base with Brett Wallace.
OF    J.D. Martinez (R)    
The Astros removed him from 40-man roster after tough 2013, but he had a big winter in Venezuela.
INF    Cesar Izturis (S)    
The veteran won a Gold Glove and made an All-Star team back in the mid-2000s. More recently, he hit just .225 in only 143 games for four different teams over the past three seasons.

RH    Scott Feldman    
The lone veteran in the rotation; the Astros needed someone to eat innings and mold youngsters.
RH    Jarred Cosart    
Former top prospect had a dazzling debut in 2013. Now we’ll find out what he can do in a full season.
LH    Brett Oberholtzer    
Not considered one of the club’s top minor-league arms, but opened eyes with his solid debut season.
LH    Dallas Keuchel     
Bounced between the rotation and bullpen last year as the Astros shuffled starters. He’s better suited to start.
RH    Jerome Williams    
After being out of baseball in 2010, Williams set a career high in innings in 2012, then surpassed that total last season in 25 starts for the Angels.

RH    Chad Qualls (Closer)    
Returns to Houston as most experienced member of a young bullpen and the likely candidate to close games.
RH    Matt Albers    
Albers, who was traded from Astros in 2007, returns to hold down a back-end spot. He’s a strike-thrower.
RH    Josh Fields    
Former Rule 5 Draft pick was only Astros reliever to last entire season on roster, and showed promise.
RH    Jesse Crain    
Veteran put up tremendous numbers during All-Star season before injuries forced him to miss second half.
LH    Kevin Chapman    
Will take over as the situational lefty in the bullpen following the departure of Wes Wright.
RH    Josh Zeid    
Made 24 relief appearances in final two months of last season, posting a 1.23 ERA in September.
RH    Lucas Harrell    
Pitched in long relief last year after struggling as a starter, though he could wind up back in rotation.

2013 Top Draft Pick
Mark Appel, RHP
After taking a 17-year-old infielder out of Puerto Rico with their first pick in the 2012 draft, the Astros took Appel, a polished right-handed pitcher from Stanford, with the top selection last year. He was drafted high by the Pirates a year earlier and chose to return for his senior season at Stanford, where he was 10–4 with a 2.12 ERA. Appel, who was born in Houston and has tons of family in the area, made 10 combined starts between Class A Quad Cities and short-season Tri-City, going 3–1 with a 3.79 ERA. Appel, 22, will come to major-league camp this spring, but he’s not going to be competing for a spot in the rotation. Expect the Astros to allow him to pitch a full season in the minor leagues before they hope he becomes the ace of their staff sometime in 2015.

Top Prospects
SS Carlos Correa (19)
Was the second-youngest player in the Midwest League and still led league in OPS (.872) and was third in batting average (.320).
OF George Springer (24)
Put together a monster season, hitting combined .303 with 37 homers, 108 RBIs and 45 steals between Double-A and Triple-A.
2B-OF Delino DeShields Jr. (21)
Will make the move to center field at Class AA this year after hitting .317 as a second baseman at Class A Lancaster.
1B Jonathan Singleton (22)
Should make major-league debut following tough 2013 season that included 50-game suspension for violating minor league baseball’s drug policy.
RHP Lance McCullers Jr. (20)
First full pro season for fire-baller resulted in 117 strikeouts in 104.2 innings at Class A Quad Cities.
RHP Mike Foltynewicz (22)
One of the hardest throwers in the system, he should begin the year in starting rotation at Triple-A.
SS Nolan Fontana (22)
An on-base machine, Fontana drew 102 walks in 104 games for Class A Lancaster in ’13.
RF Domingo Santana (21)
Has a big-time arm and can hit for power, mashing 25 homers at Double-A last year.

Beyond the Box Score
Junior Express Reid Ryan, the son of Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, was named the Astros’ president of business operations on May 17. Ryan founded the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks (Astros) and Triple-A Round Rock Express (Rangers) and was hired by owner Jim Crane to help restore some goodwill in Houston.
See you in court Crane filed a lawsuit in November against former owner Drayton McLane, Comcast and NBC Universal, saying the team had lost tens of millions of dollars or more because of what the plaintiffs contend to be an inflated television deal that was negotiated by McLane, Comcast and the owner of the NBA’s Houston Rockets. McLane sold the Astros to Crane’s group in November 2011.
Springer has sprung Outfielder George Springer had one of the finest seasons in minor-league history en route to Texas League Player of the Year honors. In 2013, he became the first minor leaguer in franchise history and the first since Grant Desme in 2009 to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases in the same season.
Coaching turnover The Astros made a few changes to their coaching staff for 2014. Brent Strom returns to the Astros as pitching coach, the same role he held in 1996. Pat Listach (first-base coach) joined the organization, and Craig Bjornson returned as the bullpen coach for the second time in three years. Dave Trembley, who served as third-base coach, took over as bench coach, with former bench coach Eduardo Perez moving to the third-base box.
Top pick three-peat For the third consecutive year, the Astros will have the first pick in the MLB Draft in June. After taking shortstop Carlos Correa with the first pick in 2012, the Astros took Stanford pitcher Mark Appel with the top pick in 2013. They are the first team to have the No. 1 pick three years in a row.
Celebrating equality The Astros will play host to Major League Baseball’s Civil Rights Game on May 30 at Minute Maid Park against the Orioles. The game, which will be televised nationally on MLB Network, was developed by MLB to pay tribute to those who fought on and off the field for equal rights for all Americans.
Hope for the future? The Astros set a franchise record by putting six of their minor-league affiliates in the playoffs. Class A Quad Cities and short-season Tri-City both won their respective league championships.

The Astros will probably be bottom-feeders in the league once again, but they have improved and should benefit from the arrival of more of their top prospects, including George Springer, Jonathan Singleton and pitcher Asher Wojciechowski.
Post date: Friday, March 14, 2014 - 10:26
All taxonomy terms: Brandel Chamblee, Graeme McDowell, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2014-majors-no-22-graeme-mcdowell

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2014 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the ’s Brandel Chamblee.

No. 22:

Born: July 30, 1979, Portrush, Northern Ireland | Career PGA Tour Wins: 2 (9 on European Tour) | 2013 Wins (Worldwide): 3 | 2013 Earnings (PGA Tour): $2,174,596 (28th) World Ranking: 15

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Graeme McDowell is good at everything — and by everything I mean dealing with the media, multitasking business concerns while managing a world class game and being, well, just a good guy to have a beer with. All of this makes him popular, but may not necessarily make him as good as he can be at golf, which takes a selfishness he doesn't appear to possess. Nonetheless, he won three times in 2013, once on the PGA Tour and twice in Europe. At his best, he hits some of the coolest irons in the game, and it was the strength of that iron play that made him a U.S. Open champion in 2010. If his short game improves in 2014, besides being a thorn in the side of U.S. players at the Ryder Cup he will make the media rooms a whole lot more fun to be in.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 33
Wins: 1

2013 Performance:
Masters - Cut
U.S. Open - Cut
British Open - T58
PGA Championship - T12

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T12 (2012)
U.S. Open - Won (2010)
British Open - T5 (2012)
PGA Championship - T10 (2009)
Top-10 Finishes: 4
Top-25 Finishes: 14
Missed Cuts: 12

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


Athlon's 2014 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, Dustin Johnson, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. .

Post date: Friday, March 14, 2014 - 10:16
All taxonomy terms: videos, College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/wyoming-guard-josh-adams-has-amazing-dunk
During yesterday's game against UNLV, Wyoming guard Josh Adams supplied some serious excitement with a sweet double-clutch dunk. Unfortunately, Wyoming lost. But that doesn't diminish the sophomore's athletic slam that keeps us fired up for more March Madness.

During yesterday's game against UNLV, Wyoming guard Josh Adams supplied some serious excitement with a sweet double-clutch dunk.
Post date: Friday, March 14, 2014 - 08:34
All taxonomy terms: Funny, College Basketball, Overtime, News
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketball-coaches-godfather-characters

The Madness is upon us. March is here and the NCAA tournament is less than a week away from tipping off. And with the Oscar’s recently concluding, I thought I would have a little bit of fun at some basketball coach’s expense.

Elite college basketball coaches often look the part of modern day mobsters. Expensive perfectly tailored suits, demonstrative sideline behavior, rockstar status in the community and, at times, questionable business practices (yes, I said it, basketball recruiting is dirty).

Obviously I am not suggesting that Bo Ryan likes to knock off banks in his spare time or that John Beilein is a drug dealer on the side. No, I am simply taking two of my all-time favorite things — the NCAA Tournament and The Godfather Trilogy — and putting them together (ideally) for your enjoyment.

So this is my editorial disclaimer: This is for fun. It’s entertainment. Not journalism. No coach’s egos were harmed in the making of this piece so please enjoy as such.

ncaa, coaches, godfather, basketballRick Pitino, Louisville: Vito Corleone

Pitino has been to the top of the mountain and felt the warm glow of a championship wash over him like the Tuscan sun. Yet, he didn’t stick around too long in Act I as the game began to pass him by. He disappeared for a while but returned to play a prominent and possibly more successful role in Act II – whether that is beating Michigan in one of the most memorable championship games in history or making Charles Barkley look foolish on CBS’ television set. He is a champion of the highest caliber and doesn't let a little geographical rivalry get the better of him. With seven Final Four showings and two national titles at three different schools, it's hard to argue that Pitino isn't the Godfather of college hoops. Additionally, Vito taught his prized pupil how to operate, recruit, coach, fund-raise and dress – as both a player and coach.

Billy Donovan, Florida: Michael Corleone

After heading off to war to hone his craft (in the MAC), "Mikey" could not help but return to his father’s former arena of business (the SEC). When the son of the legend took over, he exceeded all expectations, but this time in a new zip code. After learning on the job the hard way, Michael grew the empire to levels Vito could not achieve and with eyes on a distinguished and . Even beyond all expectations, Mikey exists now in a dangerous what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of guerilla war-cruiting. He is constantly looking over his shoulder – and possibly losing hair for it – but a fourth trip to the championship game would keep him on top of the family business. Plus, his name is Donovan.

Bill Self, Kansas: Tom Hagen

He walks, talks, acts, dresses and recruits like his Italian brethren, but has had to prove himself doubly due to his status as an “outsider.” After finally earning his chance with many years of loyal hard work - and a Mario Chalmers three-pointer - Hagen is named acting Don instead of Corelenone’s actual brother, Fredo. Yet, no matter how much he does for the family, he will likely never get the full credit - mostly because he does his livestock decapitation routine west of the Mississippi (looking at you Austin, Texas). Through all of the family’s turmoil, however, Hagan perseveres and continues to come out on top… for 10 straight years.

Mike Krzyzewski, Duke: Hyman Roth

Roth is the biggest of the big fish who everyone loves to hate. Yet, you never hear too much about the inner-workings of his business dealings. He has been wildly successful across many generations and is a key player in many of the family’s enterprises – domestic (Durham) and abroad (USA Basketball). Yet, somehow he manages to keep his quiet little home nice and tidy. He is untouchable and the primary antagonist for… everyone in the country that doesn’t love Duke. Originally named Hyman Suchowsky, Don Coreleone pseudo-orders him to simplify his name. So he becomes Hyman Roth – a scene that was originally removed from the theatrical release. It's not called "Krzyzewski Court" is it? And if need be, he can call on thousands of Crazies to come to his back.

Bo Ryan, Wisconsin: Captain McCluskey

The aged and grizzled veteran of the game didn’t get where he got because of lack of brains. He is savvy leader who has accomplished much in his time. McCluskey’s rise to Captain of the police force happened because he isn't scared to club a few knees to win games. He is an elite success in his realm but when faced with the talent and upside of the Corleone family, he generally comes out on the losing end.

John Calapari, Kentucky: Fredo Corleone

Coach Cal has proven that he will do whatever is humanly possible to win. And, until Anthony Davis came along, he had come so very close only to have all he worked for snatched from within his fingertips (in one case, by Tom Hagen's senior point guard). Fredo’s inability to maintain institutional control over his immediate family forced Michael to strip his brother of any trust he may have. So he aligned himself with Johnny Ola, a shady, backroom character with deep roots in the seedy, worldwide underbelly, and one casual slip of the tongue cost him everything. He was given a tradition-laden, historic family name and, unlike Fredo, returned it to the top of the college basketball mountain (as long as he continues to watch his tongue).

Bob Huggins, West Virginia: Sonny Corleone

Talented, charismatic, hard-working and loyal. But, at times, a total buffoon who allows his temper to get the better of him. Sonny has been successful at every stop along the way - partly because his rage translates well on the defensive side of the ball. But he lacks the overall wherewithal to be truly great, so he will likely end up sitting in line at the toll plaza listening to the big game on the radio.

Gregg Marshall, Wichita State: Sal Tessio 

The smarter, savvier and more ruthless capo works a solid beat and makes himself quite a fortune in the upper mid-major ranks of the family. And after a lifetime of hard work and loyalty, he thought he deserved the big seat when Vito passed away. So in an effort to land his dream job, he makes more than a few clandestine rendezvous with the rival families. After rolling off 34 straight wins, Marshall will most certainly get courted and offered other jobs at other programs. This won't make an already abrasive guy any easier to be friends with and he may have to learn the hard way about swimming in the deep waters of high major basketball.

Frank Martin, South Carolina: Carlo Rizzi

Rizzi has somehow, someway befriended someone somewhere to earn the right to sit at the family table. Apparently, that person is Sonny Coreleone, whose coat-tails he rides all the way into the family business. He doesn’t exactly know what is happening out there on the court, but he has a great view of the action and is making quite a living. Eventually, Rizzi's temper gets the better of him.

Jim Larranaga, Miami: Peter Clemenza

Clemenza is the jollier, well-respected caporegime who sort of skates through his entire career largely untouched and generally unknown to outsiders. But with one drive into the city - or to the Final Four with George Mason - the Don's general made the most of his one shining moment: “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”

Rick Barnes, Texas: Moe Greene

He believes he is building the empire out west - and he has plenty of talent and natural resources to do so. He has climbed the ladder and has himself a very cushy job. Yet, he has never really accomplished much of anything and always finds himself with an early ticket home when he messes with the wrong people.

Steve Alford, UCLA: Jack Woltz

The supposed King of Hollywood, Woltz worked his way to the top of his profession. He lives a posh, lavish lifestyle in the city of lights with all of the benefits that come along with one of the best jobs in the world. However, when the brutal East Coast comes calling, the Bruins have generally crumbled in key situation.

Jay Wright, Villanova: Johnny Fontane

This one is a lay-up. The best-dressed man in the business makes ladies swoon with his sweet singing voice and signature slicked back hair style. He never really plays a prominent role in any of the most critical scenes but his appearances are normally extremely memorable and always popular. Because, frankly, everyone seems to love this guy.

Tom Izzo, Michigan State: Philip Tattaglia

Is the head of the one of the top programs in the nation and has built a vast empire of wealth and fame. He is always the first to act and is downright ruthless in crunch time. (A bit of a stretch but Izzo had to make the list.)


College Basketball Coaches As Godfather Characters
Post date: Friday, March 14, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/top-10-big-12-defensive-backs-bcs-era

The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.

The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.

So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.

The Big 12 is known for its elite quarterback play, record-setting wide receivers and innovative offenses. This tends to put a lot of pressure on the defensive backs and secondary coaches in the Big 12 to stop these powerhouse offenses. Here are the best the league had to offer during the BCS Era.

Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.

1. Roy Williams, Oklahoma (1999-2001)
One of the biggest hitters in college football history, Williams dominated college football during his time in Norman. He helped lead the Sooners to an unbeaten BCS National Championship in 2000 while setting the school record for tackles for loss by a defensive back (12.0). The following year, he claimed the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back as well as the Nagurski and Jack Tatum Trophies and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. He was a unanimous All-American, first-round pick of the Cowboys in 2002 and will go down in Red River Shootout lore for .

2. Terence Newman, Kansas State (1999-2002)
Newman did a little bit of everything for Bill Snyder and Kansas State. He returned kicks and punts and even played some wide receiver. The lockdown cornerback was a two-time All-Big 12 pick, a unanimous All-American, the Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s top DB and a first-round pick by the Cowboys in 2003. The 2002 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year also was a two-time Big 12 outdoor track champion in the 100 meters and the league champ in the indoor 60 meters.

3. Derrick Strait, Oklahoma (2000-03)
As the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year, Strait helped lead an undefeated (13-0) Sooners team to the BCS National Championship as a freshman. By his senior season, Strait had led Oklahoma back to the BCS national title game and was recognized nationally with the Thorpe and Nagurski Trophies as the nation’s top defensive player and top defensive back. Strait also was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2003 and finished his career with 14 interceptions returned for a Big 12-record 417 yards and three touchdowns. Strait was selected in the third round of the 2004 NFL Draft.

4. Michael Huff, Texas (2002-05)
The superstar safety from Texas was a Freshman All-American in 2002 before earning back-to-back first-team All-Big 12 honors as a junior and senior. Huff was a unanimous All-American on the 2005 BCS National Championship team and was named the Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s top defensive back. He posted 87 tackles, 9.0 for loss, two sacks, two interceptions and three forced fumbles on the historic ’05 squad. Huff was the seventh overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.

5. Aaron Ross, Texas (2003-06)
Ross was a bit of a late bloomer but played a key role on the 2005 BCS National Championship squad. He capped his career in Austin with a stellar '06 campaign in which he won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors and the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top DB. Ross played 51 games during his career but only started 15 times, posting 205 tackles and 10 interceptions. He also was a dynamic punt returner, finishing his Longhorns career with 893 return yards and three touchdowns. Ross was a first-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.

6. Earl Thomas, Texas (2008-09)
Thomas redshirted and played only two seasons in Austin or he could have been the best defensive back in the Big 12 during the BCS Era. He started all 27 games, posting 135 tackles, 10 interceptions, 29 passes defended, five forced fumbles and two return touchdowns. He was a freshman All-American in 2008 and was a consensus All-American in ’09. Thomas skipped his final two seasons in Austin and was the 14th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. He has blossomed into one of the NFL’s finest safeties.

7. Aqib Talib, Kansas (2005-07)
Along with Todd Reesing and others, Talib is responsible for the “glory” years of Kansas football. The two-time all-conference pick won the Tatum Trophy as the nation’s top DB and was a unanimous All-American in 2007 — the year KU went 12-1 and won the Orange Bowl. Talib is a troubled individual who has dealt with serious off-the-field issues but his 162 tackles, 13 interceptions and seven total touchdowns (two defense, five offense) made him one of the Big 12’s top playmakers. He was a first-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.

8. Prince Amukamara, Nebraska (2007-10)
Quarterbacks stayed away from this flamboyant coverman during his four-year career. After a monster junior season (64 tackles, two sacks, five interceptions), the entire Big 12 avoided The Prince in 2010. His work as a senior earned him consensus All-American and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year recognition. The two-time All-Big 12 pick was a first-round selection by the New York Giants in the 2011 NFL Draft.

9. Jason Verrett, TCU (2011-13)
The star cornerback started 34 of his possible 37 career games at TCU. He posted 160 tackles, 10.0 for loss, 34 passes broken up and nine interceptions during his three-year career after coming to TCU from junior college. Verrett was a first-team All-Big 12 selection in both seasons he played in the league and was named co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.

10. Ralph Brown, Nebraska (1996-99)
Brown was a member of the All-Decade All-Big 12 team after being named first-team All-Big 12 three times as a Cornhusker. He intercepted 11 passes for 253 return yards and set a school record with 50 passes deflected. He was a consensus All-American in ’99 for the last Nebraska team to win a conference championship.

Just missed the cut:

11. Quentin Jammer, Texas (1998-2001)
The consensus All-American was a two-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection while at Texas. He finished his career with 195 total tackles and seven picks before being selected fifth overall in the 2002 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers.

12. Mike Brown, Nebraska (1996-99)
The Huskers' star safety was a two-time, second-team All-Big 12 pick and a first-team selection as a senior on the last Nebraska team to win a league title. He set a school record for tackles by a defensive back with 102 stops as a junior before his stellar final season that featured 96 tackles, six forced fumbles, five interceptions and two sacks. He was a second-round pick by the Bears.

13. Quinton Carter, Oklahoma (2006-10)
He played sparingly in his first three years but was an important contributor for the 2008 Big 12 champs that played in the BCS title game. He posted 88 tackles as a junior and 96 as a senior with four interceptions in each of his final two seasons. Carter was a consensus All-American in 2010 and was a fourth-round draft pick in '11.

14. Michael Griffin, Texas (2003-06)
Griffin played a big role on the 2005 BCS title team, posting 100 tackles on that historic squad. He made 88 tackles and picked off four passes as a junior en route to first-team All-Big 12 honors. He had a knack for making big plays — try nine forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries.

15. J.T. Thatcher, Oklahoma (1997-2000)
Originally a wide receiver, Thatcher excelled as an All-American defensive back and all-world special teamer. He is one of just three players in Big 12 history to earn the Mosi Tatupu Award as the nation’s top special teams player. He was a first-team All-Big 12 pick and a consensus All-American on the historic 2000 Sooners team that won the BCS National Championship.

Best of the Rest:

16. Terrence Wheatley, Colorado (2003-07)
17. Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State (2010-13)
18. William Moore, Missouri (2005-08)
19. Nathan Vasher, Texas (2000-03)
20. Josh Bullocks, Nebraska (2002-04)
21. Darrent Williams, Oklahoma State (2000-03)
22. Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma (2010-13)
23. Kenny Vaccaro, Texas (2009-12)
24. Nigel Malone, Kansas State (2009-12)
25. Darcel McBath, Texas Tech (2005-08)

Top 10 Big 12 Defensive Backs of the BCS Era
Post date: Friday, March 14, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-basketball/college-basketballs-not-coach-year-every-major-conference

Three weeks ago, Athlon Sports in every league. This is not that story.

For every yin there’s a yang, and these are what we’re going to call the Not Coach of the Year for every major conference.

In general, we’ve tried to stay away from programs where things have happened beyond their control such as injuries or coaches of programs expected to be bad this season.

To be a Not Coach of the Year, the coach probably saw his program slip below expectations to a major degree. A few probably won’t return for 2014-15. But others are fine coaches who have just had one of those seasons where anything and everything could go wrong.

League-by-League Not Coach of the Year

Contenders: Jeff Bzdelik (Wake Forest), Steve Donahue (Boston College)
Not coach of the year: Donahue
Bzdelik continues to be the king of ACC hot seats, even though Wake Forest defeated both Duke and North Carolina this season. The nod, though, has to go to Donahue despite one of the most out-of-nowhere upsets in 2014 when the Eagles beat then-undefeated Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. Boston College scheduled aggressively in the non-conference, facing Providence, UMass, Toledo, UConn, Purdue, USC, Maryland, VCU and Harvard. BC lost them all. Boston College had two veterans in Olivier Hanlan and Ryan Anderson but few other players able to hold up during the ACC season. Despite hopes for playing in a postseason of some kind, Boston College finished 8-24.

Contenders: Fran Dunphy (Temple), Eddie Jordan (Rutgers)
Not coach of the year: Jordan
Even in a rebuilding year, Dunphy had to expect better than 9-22 at Temple. Rutgers and Jordan, though, inched ahead of Dunphy and Temple with a 92-31 loss to Louisville in the American Tournament. The Scarlet Knights had one top 100 win all season — over Canisius on Nov. 18 — and their last three wins were over USF. Jordan, a former NBA coach, now has to take this broken team into the Big Ten.

Big 12
Trent Johnson (TCU), Travis Ford (Oklahoma State)
Not coach of the year: Ford
When Marcus Smart was suspended for three games for a fan altercation, Smart and the Texas Tech fan took plenty of criticism. But Travis Ford , either. Teammates, not Ford, escorted Smart from the playing surface or from the bench, where he lingered until the end of the game. The combustable situation never escalated beyond the original shove, but the possibility of the incident becoming uglier remained. Since then, Oklahoma State more or less recovered from that incident after Smart’s return, but this has still been a disappointing season nonetheless. Ford dealt with a short bench for most of the season without an injured Michael Cobbins and dismissed Stevie Clark. The result was an 8-10 Big 12 season from a team that expected to contend for the league crown.

Big East
Contenders: John Thompson III (Georgetown), Buzz Williams (Marquette)
Not coach of the year: Thompson
It’s tough enough to contend for a conference title after the do-it-all league player of the year (Otto Porter) heads to the NBA. Georgetown, though, never found a groove this season and wasn’t helped by the dismissal of Greg Whittington in November and ineligibility of Josh Smith in January. With the possibility of the NCAA Tournament still alive, Georgetown flopped against DePaul, handing the last-place Blue Demons their first Big East Tournament win since 2009.

Big Ten
Contenders: Tom Crean (Indiana)
Not coach of the year: Crean
A drop off was inevitable for Indiana, which lost two top-four picks off of last year’s team (Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo). Still, this team had enough returning veterans including Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey and a decorated freshman class led by Noah Vonleh to make the NCAA Tournament. After going 17-15, Indiana will head to the NIT only a year after being a No. 1 seed. The Hoosiers found a way to lose to Northwestern, Penn State and Nebraska all at home.

Contenders: Ken Bone (Washington State)
Not coach of the year: Bone
In recent decades, only Tony Bennett and Kelvin Sampson have won at the toughest job in the Pac-12. In the last two seasons at Washington State, Bone went 23-40 overall and 7-30 in the Pac-12.

Contenders: John Calipari (Kentucky), Anthony Grant (Alabama), Frank Haith (Missouri), Johnny Jones (LSU)
Not coach of the year: Calipari
Was the preseason No. 1 ranking premature for Kentucky? Certainly. But it was understandable. The Wildcats brought in the most decorated signing class in college basketball history with six McDonald’s All-Americans with a coach who had won a national title with a freshman-laden class two seasons earlier. This Kentucky team never found a way to play together and became the first preseason No. 1 team to fall out of the rankings since 1980. It’s during the course of the season. Kentucky hasn’t been there since Dec. 2.

College Basketball's Not Coach of the Year for every major conference
Post date: Friday, March 14, 2014 - 07:00
Path: /68-funny-ncaa-tournament-bracket-team-names

The NCAA Tournament is about to tip off. And while only one person will win your office bracket pick 'em pool — probably the girl who makes her picks based on colors, mascots and hot dude-bros, not the nerd alert with bookmarked — everyone can have a funny March Madness bracket team name. Here are 68 names that should get a chuckle from the First Four to the Final Four.

Wiggin' Out

99 Problems, Embiid's Back Is One

When I Think About You I Touch Bill Self

Not In Kansas Anymore

Shock It To Me

Shock and Awe

March Mad Men

Fast Breaking Bad

Ball So Hard University

Definitely In My Izzone

Yes! Yes! Yes!

Sparty Party

Final Fourgasm

Cinderella Story

Boom Shaka Shaka

One Man Wolf Pack

Teach Me How to Dougie

Dougie McBuckets

Doug Dynasty

Mr. 3000


Anthony Benedetto's Wahoos

I Left My Heart in Charlottesville

Church of Bracketology

Amoeba Defense

Stretch Final Fours

Backdoor Man

Air Ballers

2-3 Zoners

Jim Boeheim's Jacket

Horace Grant's Nephew

Rakeem Christmas Present

Premature Ejection

Ennis Envy

TV Teddy

Cronin's Valentine

POTUS > Clark Kellogg

Billy the Kid is the Man

Chomp-ionship Coronation

Greatest Recruiting Class Ever

Calipari's Recruiting Budget

Ashley's Judds

Big Bluegrass Nation

Pitino's 15-Second Drill

Italian Sausage Stuffed Snapper



Coach K's Stool

Cameron Crazies

Bo Knows

Bo's Badgers

F--- 'Em Bucky

7-10 Splits


The Shockers?


Shabazz-er Beater

Slow Mo

Jerry's House Party

Oracles of Omaha

Warren Buffett's Bracket

Billion-Dollar Bracket

Full Metal Bracket

Big Dancin' For Money

One Shining Moment


These March Madness bracket team names will make your league laugh.
Post date: Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 19:00
All taxonomy terms: tall-americans, College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/athlon-sports-2013-14-college-basketball-tall-america-team

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 .

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.



Athlon Sports 2013-14 Tall-America Team

5-7 Christopher Anderson, San Diego
Others: Keon Johnson (Winthrop)
San Diego coach Bill Grier has described Anderson with a word associated with most 5-7 players who thrive in college basketball: Fearless. The 150-pound point guard led the West Coast Conference in assists (5.9 per game), tied for the lead in steals (1.8) and shot 43.7 percent from 3-point range.
Photo courtesy of Brock Scott

5-8 Kendall Anthony, Richmond
Others: Johnathan Loyd (Oregon)
The 2012 A-10 Rookie of the Year set a career high with 16 points per game as a senior. With a shorthanded roster, Richmond moved Anthony to the starting point guard spot late in the year.

5-9 Chaz Williams, UMass
Others: Dre Mathieu (Minnesota), Nic Moore (SMU)
The standout career for Williams, who started his career at Hofstra, will finally end in the NCAA Tournament. Williams has shown a knack to take over games with his scoring (15.8 points per game) or passing (7.1 assists, third nationally).

5-10 Jahii Carson, Arizona State
One of the quickest guards in the country, the sophomore Carson is leading Arizona State to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009. Carson has averaged 18.7 points per game in his two seasons with the Sun Devils.

5-11 Fred VanVleet, Wichita State
Others: Keifer Sykes (Green Bay), Anthony Hickey (LSU)
After coming off the bench for 16 minutes per game as a freshman on Wichita State’s Final Four team, VanVleet is the floor general for the Shockers’ undefeated team heading into the Tournament. VanVleet averages 5.3 assists per game and 3.9 assists per turnover.

6-0 Russ Smith, Louisville
Others: Yogi Ferrell (Indiana), Trevor Releford (Alabama)
“Russdiculous” is having a season just as good as last year when the Cardinals won the national title and Smith earned Ken Pomeroy’s National Player of the Year award. The season has included highlights such as the game-winning shot against Cincinnati and 13 assists on Senior Night.

6-1 Shabazz Napier, UConn
Others: Joe Jackson (Memphis), Marcus Paige (North Carolina), Bryce Cotton (Providence), Scottie Wilbekin (Florida)
The American Athletic Conference player of the year leads the Huskies in points per game (17.8), assists (5.2), steals (1.8) and rebounds (6.0) as a point guard.

6-2 Tyler Ennis, Syracuse
Others: Billy Baron (Canisius), Aaron Craft (Ohio State)
Ennis’ torrid pace cooled near the end of the season like the rest of Syracuse’s roster, but there are few players who should be more trusted with the ball in his hands at the end of the game. Ennis had more than two turnovers in a game only once in his first 18 games.

6-3 Xavier Thames, San Diego State
Others: Ryan Arcidacono (Villanova), Ron Baker (Wichita State), Nick Johnson (Arizona)
One of the nation’s biggest surprises this season, Thames led San Diego State to a 27-3 season and a Mountain West championship. A role player the last two seasons, Thames emerged to average 16.9 points per game a senior.

6-4 Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
Others: DeAndre Kane (Iowa State), Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State)
Kilpatrick has led Cincinnati in scoring for three seasons, culminating this season with an AAC-best 20.9 points per game.

6-5 Tyler Haws, BYU
Others: Lamar Patterson (Pittsburgh), Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia), Jordan Adams (UCLA)
Haws is sixth in the nation in scoring, topping 20 points per game for the second consecutive season. He’ll try for a third season above the 20-point milestone as a senior.

6-6 Melvin Ejim, Iowa State
Others: K.J. McDaniels (Clemson), Roy Devyn Marble (Iowa), Nik Stauskas (Michigan), Terran Petteway (Nebraska)
The 6-foot-6 group includes both the Big 12 player of the year (Ejim) and the Big Ten player of the year (Stauskas). Our nod will go to Ejim, who averaged 18.2 points and 8.6 rebounds.

6-7 Alan Williams, UC Santa Barbara
Others: Ethan Wragge (Creighton)
The UCSB star is the only player in the country averaging better than 20 points and 10 rebounds at 21.6 points and 11.5 rebounds.

6-8 Doug McDermott, Creighton
Others: Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood (Duke), T.J. Warren (NC State), Andrew Wiggins (Kansas)
The 6-8s are loaded: The national player of the year, the ACC’s leading scorer and perhaps the top two players to be taken in the NBA Draft. The nod can’t go to anyone but McDermott, though, who is one of eight players to top 3,000 points in his career.

6-9 Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico
Others: James Michael McAdoo (North Carolina), Ryan Anderson (UCLA), Julius Randle (Kentucky)
The Australian forward went from never averaging double figures to averaging 20.3 points and 7.2 per game for a team that finished 24-6.

6-10 Adreian Payne, Michigan State
Others: Noah Vonleh (Indiana)
Payne was injured for parts of 2013-14 but still managed 16.1 points per game. Most impressive has been the addition of long-range shooting to his game in the last year and a half.

6-11 Chad Posthumus, Morehead State
Others: Chris Otule (Marquette), Nnanna Egwu (Illinois), Amir Williams (Ohio State)
Posthumus is a fine player (9.7 points, 11 rebounds per game), but the limited group of 6-11ers may indicate most anyone who is close gets rounded up to 7 feet in the media guide.

7-0 Joel Embiid, Kansas
Others: Kaleb Tarczewski (Arizona), Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin), Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky)
A shame Embiid may not be available until the later rounds of the NCAA Tournament if Kansas makes it that far. For a stretch this season Embiid was Kansas’ most impressive freshman, not Andrew Wiggins. Embiid averaged 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game this season.

7-1 Alec Brown, Green Bay
Others: Isaiah Austin (Baylor)

Green Bay appeared to be one of the top mid-majors that could make noise in the NCAA Tournament. After losing in the Horizon championship, Brown, who has averaged 13.4 points per game in his career, and the Phoenix will try to make noise in the NIT.

7-2 Jordan Bachynski, Arizona State
The Pac-12’s career leader in blocks had 24 blocked shots in a three-game span against Oregon State, Oregon and Arizona at one point this season.

7-3 Boris Bojanovsky, Florida State
The center from Slovakia averaged 5.9 points per game and 1.9 blocks in his first extended action for the Seminoles this season.

7-4 (Vacant)
Despite efforts, we couldn’t find a top player at the 7-4. Tweet us at @AthlonSports or leave a comment if we missed a good one.

7-5 Sim Bhullar, New Mexico State
At 360 pounds, Bhullar is huge, of course, but he’s also quite productive at 9.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game. He also has a “little” brother on the New Mexico State roster, Tanveer, who is 7-3.

7-6 Mamadou Ndiaye, UC Irvine
The center from Senegal led UC Irvine to a Big West championships, averaging 8.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in 20.7 minutes per game.
Ndiaye photo courtesy of UC Irvine


Athlon Sports' 2013-14 College Basketball Tall-America Team
Post date: Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 15:30
Path: /college-football/texas-am-and-ucla-schedule-two-game-series

College football’s new playoff format has encouraged better scheduling among BCS teams, and Texas A&M and UCLA continued that trend with an announcement of a two-game series.

The Aggies and Bruins will play in 2016 at Kyle Field and 2017 at the Rose Bowl.

Assuming both teams continue on their recent trajectory, this should be one of the top non-conference games during those two seasons.

However, let’s also hope this leads to more Pac-12-SEC matchups – especially in the bowl season.

Heading into the new playoff format, there’s no Pac-12-SEC bowl matchup scheduled. Shouldn’t the top two conferences in the nation play each other in a bowl? Even if the postseason matchups don't transpire for a while, it's good to see high-profile teams like Texas A&M and UCLA playing non-conference games.


Texas A&M-UCLA Agree to Two-Game Series
Post date: Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 13:41
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/golf-equipment-2014-whats-hot

Equipment manufacturers have gone back to the future, dusting off some iconic brands with new versions. Adams Golf has resurrected the Tight Lies fairway wood, the club that took the small company to new heights in the 1990s. COBRA Golf has launched a new line of easy-to-hit drivers, fairways, hybrids and irons for men and women called the Baffler XL, a family of clubs that takes inspiration from the original Baffler driver built 40 years ago. PowerBilt is offering a contemporary version of the Countess, a women's set that originally debuted in 1968. Most intriguing of all, Callaway Golf revived the Big Bertha with two new drivers in 2014, the Big Bertha and Big Bertha Alpha. Phil Mickelson already has one in his bag.

The retro theme has certainly raised some eyebrows in the golf industry, but new ideas and concepts continue to dominate the marketplace. Here’s a look at a handful of hot products for 2014:

Golf Clubs

Cleveland Golf 588 Woods – The 460cc titanium head of the 588 Custom Driver offers the greatest combination of distance, forgiveness and accuracy of any driver Cleveland Golf has ever made. An adjustable hosel creates 12 different settings to precisely tune loft, lie and face angle. The back of the sole has an adjustable weight screw to optimize swing weight. The line includes 588 Fairway woods and 588 hybrids. Variable face thickness helps both maximize distance and playability. The hybrid features a slightly offset face and Gliderail Technology. Website: .

TaylorMade Golf SpeedBlade Irons - The ‘Speed Pocket’ of the SpeedBlade irons is wider and longer than the successful Rocketballz line. The handlebar-shaped slot in the sole of the 3-7 irons enables a large area of the face to flex and rebound at impact, resulting in faster ball speed, higher launch and better feel. This improvement allows shots hit below the center of the face, where most golfers miss, to come out higher and longer. More skilled players might gravitate toward the newer Tour Preferred MB, Tour Preferred MC and Tour Preferred CB irons released in January. Dustin Johnson used the Tour Preferred MB irons at the 2014 Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Maui. Website: .

Adams Golf New Idea Hybrid irons – High handicappers can rejoice that Adams Golf continues to look after their needs. A revolutionary wraparound slot helps these new hybrid irons generate higher ball speeds and more forgiveness, especially on mis-hits. Extensive research revealed that 15-plus handicap golfers make the majority of contact nearly a half-inch toward the toe. These irons enhance the face speed in the area. Adams recently signed Ernie Els to an endorsement contract, proving that its equipment can satisfy the game’s elite, too. Website: .

Scotty Cameron Futura X Dual Balance mallet putter – Master craftsman Scotty Cameron has created another magic wand that coaxes balls into the hole with striking consistency. The club’s advanced perimeter stability weighting in the head, a 50-gram counterweight in the butt of the shaft and the 15-inch grip that reduces hand action all work together to promote a smoother, more stable stroke. The proper length of a Dual Balance putter is 38 inches, three inches longer than a conventional putter length. Two of the hottest players in golf, Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth, use Scotty Cameron putters. Website:

Miura K-Grind Wedge – The distinctive fluted sole of this popular 56-degree wedge is known for producing high-spin exits from bunkers. Two new recently introduced lofts, 52 and 60 degrees, make this short-game weapon more versatile than ever. Katsuhiro Miura, a one-man wizard of craftsmanship, has built Miura Golf, Inc., based in Vancouver, Canada, into the world’s preeminent maker of quality forged golf clubs. Its wedges are second to none. Website: .

Golf Balls

Nicklaus Golf Balls – Jack Nicklaus has thrown his hat into the competitive golf ball industry. Forget about launch monitors and ball testing. Players choose their Nicklaus ball — the Nicklaus Black, Nicklaus Blue and Nicklaus White — based on the color of the tees they tend to play from. A percentage of every golf ball sold will be donated directly back to the Nicklaus Children's Health Care Foundation to support pediatric programs and hospitals nationwide. Balls sold through the website listed below will be cheaper — the Black for $32 and Blue and White for $28 — than those sold at pro shops nationwide (costing between $46-$50) to encourage consumers to donate to the cause. Website: .

NIKE Golf RZN Golf Balls - For the second time in three years, Nike Golf has unveiled another industry first. Building on the success of the 20XI ball, Nike Golf has introduced its innovative Speedlock RZN core technology with four golf balls — the RZN Platinum, RZN Black, RZN Red and RZN White — designed to deliver more distance, better feel and a more consistent, stable ball flight. The new Speedlock RZN core technology features an interlocking core that connects with the compression layer to form a tighter bond. This ‘Speedlock’ harnesses energy for more explosive results. Website: .

Golf Shoes

adidas Golf adizero one shoes – Weighing less than 10 ounces, the second generation of the adizero line weighs 10 percent less than last year’s innovative Tour shoe, already among the lightest in golf. The seven spikes strategically located on the sole are three fewer than the Tour shoe, yet still maintain traction and stability on the ground. Seven flashy color patterns will be available by May 1. Website:

Ecco Street EVO One – Ecco dominates the casual street shoe market with a stylish look that functions at a high level. The Street EVO One comes in high-grade cow leather or genuine camel leather versions. Both combine the award-winning ECCO-Dynamic Traction System (E-DTS) with an array of stabilization and weather-resistant features. Its design cups and cushions the heel, delivering comfort and support. The Danish company owns its own factories, a key component in delivering a quality product. Website: .

Golf Fashions

Tommy Hilfiger Golf - Preppy, with a splash of attitude, defines Tommy’s fashions. Its spring 2014 golf collection celebrates the energy and spirit of coastal destinations like California’s trendy Monterey Peninsula all the way to the traditional country clubs of East Hampton in New York. A palette of tonal blues and turquoise accents color certain polo shirts and sweaters inspired by the California lifestyle. Other pieces toned in sophisticated greens, navy blues and whites mimic the classic look of East Coast heritage. Special fabrics and cottons combine comfort with performance. Website: .

TravisMathew – The Spring 2014 Huntington Collection hearkens back to California of the 1960s. As children of the postwar baby boom became teenagers, the so-called “Age of Youth” became a time of freedom and exploration. The Huntington Beach-based golf outfitter wanted to capture what it calls “A Wonderful Time” with its hip patterns, styles and colors. These cool and casual golf outfits can be worn on the course and to the party afterward. Website: .

Sunice Pro Sport Collection – This Canadian sportswear company makes cold and wet weather tolerable with lightweight and fashion-driven layering pieces. The new Triberg, a super lightweight and four-way stretch jacket, is the category’s most breathable piece. It’s 100 percent windproof and highly water repellent. The sharp Malaga vest incorporates the same features. The Harvey, York, and Huntley all provide new design options for Sunice’s Windstopper-lined sweaters. Website: .

Golf Accessories

Sun Mountain H2NO Golf Bags – This line’s popularity in Europe comes down to its walker-friendly design and waterproof characteristics. The integrated handles on top and swinging legs make it easy to pick the bag up or set it down. The E-Z Fit Dual Strap System distributes weight equally across each shoulder. The bag bottom still fits snug into a golf cart for riding. Multiple pockets organize and store items with ease. Website: .

Bushnell Golf – Three new Bushnell products help golfers answer the age-old question: What club should I use? The NEO XS Golf GPS Watch is not only preloaded with over 33,000-plus courses in more than 30 countries, but it also features market-leading battery life and can be used as an odometer on the course or while exercising away from golf. The Pro X7 range finder and the more compact Tour Z6 JOLT use JOLT Technology, where vibrations alert golfers when they’ve hit the pin, and Second Generation E.S.P. (Extreme. Speed. Precision.) for faster, more accurate readings. Website: .

Under Armour Fire Sunglasses – Made for the elite athlete such as spokesman Hunter Mahan, the new UA Fire offers a wide field of view through its ArmourSight Shield lenses. Adjustable nose pads create a snug fit. They’re versatile enough for baseball as well as golf. Website: .

Oakley Belts – Oakley’s unique custom belt program launched last year, allowing customers to mix and match belt buckles with leather straps of all colors. The new aluminum Golf Pro Series Buckles ($25) are interchangeable with the Premium Belt Straps ($70) or the Reversible Leather Belt Strap ($45), which has stripes on one side and a solid color on the other. Website: .

Practice Aid

SKLZ - Want to hone your game at home? Create your own practice range just about anywhere with the Glide Pad and Quickster Net by SKLZ, an innovative company of sports training equipment located in Carlsbad, Calif. The Glide Pad (costing $99.99) gives way when golfers strike it, allowing them to hit down and through. Its sliding mechanism simulates natural turf movement and helps reduce shock and injury during practice. The 6-foot-by-6-foot Quickster Net ($99.99) is easy to set up and take down. Website: .



Post date: Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 13:05
Path: /golf/conversation-arnold-palmer

There have been better players with prettier swings. But there has never been a more important golfer than The King, Arnold Palmer. He almost single-handedly quadrupled purses, grew the game beyond the country clubs and brought it into our living rooms, and assembled an Army of devoted followers. He won — and lost — with more flair than any other athlete.

As hard as it might be to believe, this spring marks the 50th anniversary of Arnold Palmer’s last major championship victory. He won the 1964 Masters at Augusta National, earning his fourth green jacket in seven years and giving him a seventh professional major title.

Although there would be several close calls, there would be no more major titles, although Palmer kept contending for another decade, winning his last PGA Tour event, the 62nd of his illustrious career, at the Bob Hope Desert Classic in 1973. He would keep competing into his 50s and go on to support the Champions Tour for years.

Today, at age 84, Palmer remains a top earner in the golf endorsement world and one of the game’s most prominent figures, a beloved elder statesman. In addition to myriad business interests, Palmer hosts his own PGA Tour event, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which will be contested for the 36th straight year at the Bay Hill Club in Orlando.

Athlon gained an audience with The King to ask him a variety of questions on all manner of subjects.

Athlon Sports: What current player reminds you most of yourself?

Arnold Palmer: I’ve had a lot of people remark on who might be a lot like I am, and the name that comes up most of the time is Phil Mickelson. He’s left-handed and I’m right-handed, so we’re not similar there, but the compliments that he gets and the way he treats the fans and a lot of the way he plays the game … I suppose if I look I can see some things I enjoy doing and did in my career. I think he’s a very thoughtful guy, and that is certainly in his favor as far as my thoughts are concerned. And he’s a good closer. He’s had some unfortunate things at the U.S. Open, but he has finished very well most of the time.

Athlon: Speaking of Mickelson, what do you make of his British Open win and the way he won it at Muirfield?

Palmer: That was a great victory. He came on very good. He seemed to be playing with a consistent desire to win the championship. It was positive throughout. That was obvious in his play.

Athlon: What is your take on the anchored putter debate? Such a stroke is scheduled to be banned starting Jan. 1, 2016.

Palmer: I’m a little outspoken as far as the anchored putter is concerned. I’m opposed to it. You shouldn’t need to or be allowed to anchor a club against your body in any part of the golf swing. Of course you can find people who will argue with that and find fault with my opinion. When you touch your body you’re getting an aid that isn’t meant to be in the golf swing.

Athlon: Speaking of the rules, a new Decision (18/4) was enacted for 2014 that stipulates if a high definition video or replay is the only way to determine that a ball moved, the player will not be penalized. (Tiger Woods got a two-stroke penalty under a similar scenario at the BMW Championship.) Do you like this change?

Palmer: I think I go back to the rules of the game. It’s the player's responsibility to charge himself with the penalty. If he thinks he has done something wrong, it’s a penalty — whether he sees it with the naked eye or with HD isn’t the matter. It’s his own opinion of what he did during that transaction.

Athlon: Who is in your dream foursome, among people you have played with?

Palmer: It is very difficult to narrow it down. I certainly have people I’ve enjoyed playing golf with. One of the things I’ve always said is if you play 18 holes of golf with a person, you have an opportunity to really get to know that person. A lot of the people I have played with I have really come to that conclusion; it is a way of getting to learn about a person. So who would they be? My father would be one of the most interesting people in my group. Dwight D. Eisenhower would be one I enjoyed being with and playing golf with. I could go down a list. Jack Nicklaus, of course — people like that. Gary Player. People I have respected and enjoyed through the years. I could name hundreds of people I have enjoyed being with. I think of Bob Hope as another one. These are people I have thoroughly enjoyed.

Athlon: Who’s left that you wish you could play with?

Palmer: I was on my way one time to play golf with Jack Kennedy in Palm Beach. He hurt his back the day before and had to cancel the golf. That was not long before he was killed and I never played with him. I would have enjoyed that and trying to get to know him better.

Athlon: Do you regret that you didn’t get to play with today’s equipment in your prime? Do you think modern equipment has been good for the game?

Palmer: I suppose I have mixed feelings about that. Having played as far back as wooden shafted golf clubs and now seeing what they are doing with shafts alone, titanium … wood is a thing of the past now in golf clubs. So I’m not sure sometimes how things might be different. It’s very difficult to say. One day I did a competition with myself and I used the old model golf clubs with wooden shafts and leather grips and played one ball, and the other I used all the modern stuff, the graphite shafts, the titanium heads and so forth. The difference for nine holes was 2 strokes. But the modern stuff won…

I do think the modern golf ball, the modern shafts, the heads, the technology that has been put into the game is certainly an opportunity to improve your performance. And I think that is good for the game, for those trying to play the game.

Athlon: Do you feel it would still help to have the golf ball reined in?

Palmer: I think there is no question about the fact that some day in the near future we’re going to have to bring the ball back, cut it down. Bring it back to a more playable situation as far as distance is concerned. If technology continues to improve… and that takes in a lot of territory — dimples of golf ball, type of material we use, composition of the golf ball. I feel strongly those things will have to be adjusted.

Athlon: It's a Ryder Cup year. Are you surprised that the Ryder Cup has evolved into one of the biggest events in golf?

Palmer: Not really. I think the Ryder Cup was something that started with the rivalry of the nations involved. It’s a good competition, and I thought it was from the beginning. It will continue to be a good competition. I suppose it will continue to improve, and maybe there will be different rules or means of selecting teams. But that is progress and that will be something that is probably inevitable.

Athlon: Could someone today serve as playing captain as you did? (Palmer was the last U.S. playing captain, at the 1963 Ryder Cup at East Lake.)

Palmer: It was certainly fun for me. It was something where I was thoroughly honored to be the captain and to be playing on the same team. It was a lot of fun. And of course I enjoyed the competition and I enjoyed my team. They were very supportive in the matches that we were playing. I’m not sure how that would work out today.

Athlon: Why do you think the U.S. has struggled in the Ryder Cup? (Europe is 7-2 going back to 1995.)

Palmer: I think golf is becoming more international as days go by. The international community and golf community is certainly getting better and better all the time. The competition will be something that we all have seen grow and take note of, and it’s been great for the Ryder Cup.

Athlon: Do you get into the Ryder Cup as fan?

Palmer: I certainly am interested. Some of these matches, as a fan, you’ve got to have an interest in what’s happening. And if you know the golf courses and those situations, it becomes exciting and interesting.

Athlon: Is the Golf Channel everything you hoped it would be? (Palmer helped found the channel, which launched in 1995.)

Palmer: I always thought the Golf Channel was something that would be great. I have to admit that in the early days I was skeptical of what you would do for 24 hours. Working with that as I did, it was quite interesting. Of course I think the Golf Channel has done marvels for the game and the golfing public. It has been a godsend. And it’s something that will continue to be healthy for the golf public.

Athlon: If you had to pick one career highlight, what would it be?

Palmer: I don’t think there is one. I’ve had some good and bad. Certainly I’ve been very fortunate that I was able to win a lot of golf tournaments, including a lot coming from behind. I’ve lost a few, too, that have taken me down. And in all instances I feel it’s a great opportunity that I’ve had to be able to play and compete in those circumstances to way back in the middle 1950s.

 Certainly I’ve been very fortunate that I was able to win a lot of golf tournaments, including a lot coming from behind. I’ve lost a few, too, that have taken me down. And in all instances I feel it’s a great opportunity that I’ve had to be able to play and compete in those circumstances to way back in the middle 1950s.

Athlon: Is there a biggest disappointment?

Palmer: I haven’t won the PGA Championship. That is certainly one that I immediately think of. I would have loved to have added it to my resume. But I had a lot of success with the PGA Championship. I had a couple that I finished second in and some other close calls. (Palmer had six top-10s at the PGA, including two runner-up finishes.) I literally just didn’t make the shot that I needed to make at the right time. It’s sort of like how Sam Snead never won the U.S. Open.

Athlon: What is your take on reigning Masters champion Adam Scott’s future?

Palmer: I think he is a wonderful young man. I think he has a fantastic future in the game. He’s got a great golf swing, great personality. He’s learned to compete around the world. I feel very strongly about him. I am very pro Adam Scott.

Athlon: Tiger Woods will be trying to win your tournament for the ninth time at Bay Hill. To what do you attribute his success?

Palmer: I think he knows the golf course very well. He came here and played as a junior and won, won on this golf course as an amateur. He is very familiar with playing golf in the central part of Florida. And of course Bay Hill is a course that is somewhat tuned to his game. That is quite obvious given his number of victories.

Athlon: Do you have a personal recipe for an Arnold Palmer?

Palmer: I made the whole thing. I did it for a special reason and it has worked out very well. I am very pleased with the drink, I am very happy that people have supported it and enjoyed it. I put the combination together originally and that is what we do. And that is a secret!

This interview appears in the 2014 edition of Athlon Sports Golf Annual, on newsstands now. .

Post date: Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 12:19
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-13-2014

This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for March 13.



• On the mic for the new college football national championship game: .

• The headline says it all: .


• The decline and fall of the Rick Reilly empire continues — and will be a strictly on-air personality for the worldwide leader.

• Today's amusing cheap shot: .


, this one from Michigan. That one doesn't do it for you? .


• I know people are tired of Blake Griffin, but I never get tired of watching him do this. 



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

Post date: Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 10:51
All taxonomy terms: Brandel Chamblee, Hideki Matsuyama, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2014-majors-no-23-hideki-matsuyama

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2014 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the ’s Brandel Chamblee.

No. 23:

Born: Feb. 25, 1992, Matsuyama, Ehime, Japan | Career PGA Tour Wins: 0 (5 on Japanese Tour)  | 2013 Wins (Worldwide): 4 | 2013 Earnings (PGA Tour): $771,640 (107th) World Ranking: 22

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Hideki Matsuyama won on the Japanese tour four times in 2013, which is certainly evidence of a good year, but Japan doesn't have the deepest fields, and so players who come from there typically don’t carry that form with them. Which is why what Hideki did last year was so impressive. He finished 10th at the U.S. Open, sixth in the Open Championship (where he was assessed a slow play penalty) and 19th at the PGA Championship. Given that he was only 21 and the fact that Japanese players are loath to travel and be exposed to insane media obligations from their country, Hideki was one of the biggest surprises of 2013. He's long off the tee and possesses a wonderful touch on the greens. Combine those with a seemingly ideal temperament, and he looks poised for greatness.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 5
Wins: 0

2013 Performance:
Masters - DNP
U.S. Open - T10
British Open - T6
PGA Championship - T19

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: 0

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


Athlon's 2014 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, Dustin Johnson, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. .

Post date: Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 10:08
Path: /college-football/top-10-sec-defensive-backs-bcs-era

The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.

The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.

So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.

Defense is king in the Southeast. But it’s not just great defensive ends and tackles that have made the SEC’s defenses so dominant during the BCS Era. The defensive backs have been among the best in the nation as well. In no other league were there so many All-American defensive backs left out of the top 10 than the SEC.

Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.

1. Eric Berry, Tennessee (2007-09)
It didn’t take long for Berry to make his name known as an SEC defender. In 2007, he posted a school record with 222 INT return yards on five picks, led all SEC freshmen with 86 tackles and was named SEC Freshman of the Year. He then returned seven interceptions for 265 yards as a sophomore en route to his first of two unanimous All-American seasons. He also was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year that year. As a junior, Berry returned to win the Thorpe and Jack Tatum Awards and ended his collegiate career with the the most interception return yards in SEC history. Used on offense and special teams as well, Berry’s superior athletic ability made him the fifth overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft. For his career, Berry finished with 245 tackles, 17.5 for loss and 14 interceptions.

2. Patrick Peterson, LSU (2008-10)
The supremely gifted Peterson played in every game as a true freshman for the defending BCS champs. One of the most versatile, impactful athletes in the nation, Peterson scored on both defense and special teams throughout his career. He was a dynamic return man who brought a rare explosiveness to the game and led the SEC with 418 punt return yards. As a junior, Peterson won the Thorpe and Bednarik Awards and was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year while being recognized as an All-American for a second time. He was taken fifth overall in the 2011 NFL Draft and finished his career with 135 tackles, seven interceptions, four return touchdowns and 1,356 total return yards.

3. Morris Claiborne, LSU (2009-11)
One of the best pure covermen in the history of the SEC, Claiborne was a lock-down corner for LSU in his two full seasons as the starter. He developed a reputation as a sophomore with five picks and 37 tackles en route to All-SEC honors. After that, no one threw at him. Despite teams staying away from him and a teammate getting more Heisman hype, Claiborne was named the nation’s top defensive back in 2011 as the recipient of the Thorpe Award and was a unanimous All-American. He helped LSU to a perfect 13-0 regular-season mark, an SEC title, was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year as his Tigers earned a berth in the BCS national title game. He was taken sixth overall in the 2012 NFL Draft.

4. Champ Bailey, Georgia (1996-98)
From a versatility standpoint, few have ever been as explosive and dynamic as Champ Bailey. He was a lockdown cornerback, an elite return man and a dangerous wide receiver. His senior season — the only year he played during the BCS Era — Bailey posted 52 tackles and three interceptions on defense and caught 47 passes for 744 yards and five scores on offense. He was a two-time, first-team All-SEC pick and won the Nagurski Trophy in 1998 as the nation’s top defensive player. The consensus All-American finished seventh in the Heisman voting in '98 and he was the seventh overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.

5. Mark Barron, Alabama (2008-11)
The superstar safety was a three-time All-SEC pick, two-time All-American and helped the Crimson Tide win two BCS National Championships. (2009, '11). After three straight seasons with at least 68 tackles, Barron finished his career with 235 tackles, 13.0 for loss, 5.0 sacks, 12 interceptions and 34 passes defended. Many coaches called him the best player in the SEC in 2011 on what many consider the best defense of the BCS Era. The hard-hitting Alabama safety was taken with the seventh overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.

6. Carlos Rogers, Auburn (2001-04)
The Tigers coverman started 10 games as a freshman, earning Freshman All-American honors. He was a mainstay on the outside of Auburn’s defense for four years and it culminated in a historic 2004 campaign. Rogers started 44 games, registered 182 tackles and picked-off seven passes in his career. Rogers was named the Thorpe Award winner, an All-American and helped Auburn to a perfect 13-0 record, SEC and Sugar Bowl championship. He was the ninth overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.

7. LaRon Landry, LSU (2003-05)
The LSU safety might be the most physically imposing defensive back of the BCS Era. He started 10 games as a true freshman for Nick Saban and the 2003 BCS National Championship squad. He made 80, 92 and 70 total tackles respectively during his three-year career and was a two-time All-SEC pick. Landry earned consensus All-American honors in 2006 before leaving early for the NFL. The thumper was the sixth pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.

8. Joe Haden, Florida (2007-09)
Haden was the first true freshman cornerback to ever start opening day for the Gators. He helped lead Florida to the BCS National Championship in 2008 and was named National Defensive Player of the Year in '09. He also was a unanimous All-American that year and went seventh overall in the 2010 NFL Draft.

9. Johnthan Banks, Mississippi State (2009-12)
An excellent all-around football player, Banks was just as good a leader and tackler as he was pure coverman. He was a first-team All-American and Thorpe Award winner for the Bulldogs in his final season when he made 63 tackles and intercepted four passes. He helped lead State to three straight bowl games and finished his career with 221 tackles, 11.5 for loss, four sacks and returned 15 interceptions for 321 yards and three touchdowns. He also returned punts in his final two seasons and was drafted in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

10. Reggie Nelson, Florida (2005-06)
After playing at the junior college level, Nelson stepped right into Gainesville and started 25 games in two years. The hard-hitting safety patrolled center field for the BCS National Champions in 2006 with six interceptions and 51 tackles. He was a consensus All-American and Tatum Trophy winner that year as well. Nelson was taken in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft.

Just missed the cut:

11. Corey Webster, LSU (2001-04)
Coming to LSU as a wide receiver, Webster moved to defense and blossomed as a star as a three-year starter. He earned All-SEC honors three times and All-American honors twice while leading LSU to the BCS National Championship in 2003. He finished with 115 tackles and 16 interceptions in 29 starts and 50 career games. He was a second-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.

12. Lito Sheppard, Florida (1999-2001)
Playing for Steve Spurrier in his final three years in Gainesville, Sheppard was a mainstay for the Gators' secondary. He was a two-time, first-team All-SEC pick and an All-American in 2001. He started 23 of 36 career games with eight interceptions and helped lead Florida to an SEC championship in 2000. He was a first-round pick in the 2002 NFL Draft.

13. Eric Reid, LSU (2010-12)
As physically gifted as any player in any league at any position during the BCS Era, Reid played in all 13 games as a true freshman. He helped LSU to a perfect 13-0 record and SEC title as a sophomore and made the signature interception against Bama in the 9-6 overtime throwdown in Tuscaloosa. Reid finished with 199 tackles in his career and the 49ers traded up into the first round to draft Reid in 2013.

14. Deon Grant, Tennessee (1997-99)
One of the most important defensive players on the 1998 BCS National Champs, Grant was as big a name for the Vols as any of the elite defensive linemen. Grant was a consensus All-American after leading the nation in interceptions with nine in ’99. Grant made huge plays (SEE: Florida in 1998) for three seasons in Knoxville and was a second-round pick in 2000.

15. Thomas Davis, Georgia (2002-04)
Sort of a hybrid outside linebacker and safety at Georgia, Davis was one of the most physically imposing defensive backs in SEC history. He posted 272 career tackles, 18.0 for loss, 10.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, nine fumble recoveries and three interceptions. He was an All-American and two-time All-SEC pick before starring at OLB for the Carolina Panthers in the NFL.

16. Dee Milliner, Alabama (2010-12)
He played in 38 games at Alabama and got 29 starts in just three years. He helped win two BCS National Championships and was a big part of what many believe was the best defense of the BCS Era in 2011. A unanimous All-American his final season, Milliner posted 133 tackles, 9.0 for loss, six interceptions, 40 passed defended in his Crimson Tide career and was taken in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft by the Jets.

17. Tyrann Mathieu, LSU (2010-11)
The Honey Badger won the Bednarik Award, was an All-American, made impact plays and was a Heisman finalist. However, he also was suspended multiple times, eventually kicked off the team — costing himself two full seasons — and was abused in the 2011 BCS National Championship game by Game MVP AJ McCarron. It makes him one of the most difficult players of the BCS Era to evaluate. He posted 133 tackles, 16.0 for loss, four interceptions and 11 forced fumbles in his two-year career.

18. Craig Steltz, LSU (2004-07)
The hard-hitting safety played center field as well as any safety in league history. He started 20 times, played in 40 games and won a BCS national title as a senior All-American. Steltz finished with 184 tackles and 11 interceptions before getting drafted in the fourth round by the Bears.

19. Keiwan Ratliff, Florida (2000-03)
The dynamic playmaker finished his All-American Gators career with school records for interceptions (9) and was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year by some outlets. The two-time All-SEC pick was a second-round selection in the 2004 NFL Draft.

20. Jason Allen, Tennessee (2002-05)
Starting at both corner and safety during his career, Allen is one of the more versatile players to come through the SEC. He was an All-American in 2004 when he led the team in tackles with 123 stops during his junior year. Allen would be even higher on this list had his final season not ended early due to his severe hip injury.

Best of the rest:

21. Ko Simpson, South Carolina (2004-06)
22. Fred Smoot, Mississippi State (1997-2000)
23. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama (2011-13)
24. D.J. Moore, Vanderbilt (2006-08)
25. Johnathan Joseph, South Carolina (2004-05)
26. Javier Arenas, Alabama (2006-09)
27. Greg Blue, Georgia (2002-05)
28. Casey Heyward, Vanderbilt (2008-11)
29. Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama (2009-11)
30. Captain Munnerlyn, South Carolina (2006-08)

Top 10 SEC Defensive Backs of the BCS Era
Post date: Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-basketball/weekly-tipoff-can-kansas-win-title-injured-joel-embiid

One of the nation’s best freshmen with a bright future and national title contending team received season-altering news this week when center Joel Embiid sustained a stress fracture in his back.

At first, Embiid was held out of the last two games of the regular season as a precautionary measure, but the news worsened when it was announced he’d be held out of the Big 12 Tournament and the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

The news could impact Embiid’s NBA Draft hopes, where he was a contender for the No. 1 spot, in addition to Kansas’ national championship hopes. With Selection Sunday a little more than a week away, our editorial staff ponders the latter.

Will Joel Embiid’s back injury prevent Kansas from contending for the national championship?

David Fox: An absence by Embiid won’t prevent Kansas from getting to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, which is when the seven-foot big man is set to return. The Jayhawks likely will be a No. 2 seed, and barring a bad matchup in the round of 32, KU is good enough to get to the Sweet 16 riding Andrew Wiggins. If Embiid can’t return or is limited — certainly possible given the nature of back injuries — Kansas might not be able to make it to the Final Four. Embiid averaged 11.5 points in Big 12 play, but his impact was more on the defensive end. He accounts for 40 percent of Kansas’ blocked shots when the next best contributor accounts for 16 percent. And he makes up 20 percent of Kansas’ rebounds, though Wiggins claims a better share of offensive rebounds. Simply put, Embiid is too big a piece and one with a dangerous skill set to not be a critical absence.

Braden Gall: My Kansas prediction for the first game — should it be a 2-15, 3-14 or 4-13 matchup — won't be affected at all by Joel Embiid's absence. In fact, I can almost guarantee that I am going to have the Jayhawks reaching the second weekend and the Sweet 16 regardless of matchups. But from there on, all bets are off if Embiid doesn't play or isn't at full strength. A championship run is incredibly fragile as it takes not only a great collection of talent and coaching but also some luck to win The Big Dance. And while Kansas has loads of depth and quality front court talent to pick up where Embiid left off (Perry Ellis, Tariq Black), this is a totally different team without an Olajuwonian presence in the lane. Could Kansas play their way to North Texas and the Final Four without their star freshman center? Possibly. Do I consider this team (sans Embiid) capable of winning six straight games in the tourney? I'll say no.

Mitch Light: Depends on our definition of contender. Without Embiid, Kansas is still in a group of about 10-12 teams that can win a national championship. But I don't believe the Jayhawks can be considered a favorite to win the title — or each the Final Four without the freshman big man in the lineup. This team still has plenty of talent, but Embiid is such an important piece to the puzzle in every facet of the game. He is known for his defense and rebounding, but he also has proven to be a skilled offensive player who can deliver team 10-14 points per game. If he is not able to play, there will be more pressure on KU's three other double-figure scores — Andrew Wiggins, Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden.  

Nathan Rush: Of course Kansas is still a national championship contender without 7-foot freshman phenom Joel Embiid. The Jayhawks have a 21–7 record with Embiid and a 2–1 mark without him. And the Embiid-less loss at West Virginia came on the same day that KU's "other" freshman, Andrew Wiggins, poured in a Kansas freshman record 41 points (although, don't forget Wilt Chamberlain played JV as a frosh, which was the style in 1955). Coach Bill Self's team still has all the pieces in place to cut down the nets at AT&T Stadium (the architecture formerly known as Cowboys Stadium). Kansas has a legitimate superstar in Wiggins, solid guard play from Naadir Tharpe and Frank Mason, wing scoring from Wayne Selden Jr. and plenty of size down low with Perry Ellis (6-8, 225), Jamari Traylor (6-8, 220) and Tarik Black (6-9, 260). No one should cry for KU heading into March Madness; they should fear the chant "Rock Chalk, Jayhawk."

Weekly Tipoff: Can Kansas win a title with an injured Joel Embiid?
Post date: Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Bill Haas, Brandel Chamblee, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2014-majors-no-24-bill-haas

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2014 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the ’s Brandel Chamblee.

No. 24:

Born: May 24, 1982, Charlotte, N.C. | Career PGA Tour Wins: | 2013 Wins (Worldwide): 1 | 2013 Earnings (PGA Tour): $3,475,563 (14th) World Ranking: 31

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Bill Haas has won five times in the last four years on some of the Tour's best courses and against some of the best fields and yet has failed to record even one top ten in a major championship. This lack of success in the game's biggest events can only be temporary, as Bill is just too talented not to start contending in majors. Winning last year at Tiger’s event, the AT&T National, might have been all the evidence he needed to convince himself what everyone who has seen him swing a club has been convinced of: that he is one of the best players in the world.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 17
Wins: 0

2013 Performance:
Masters - T20
U.S. Open - Cut
British Open - Cut
PGA Championship - T25

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T20 (2013)
U.S. Open - T23 (2011)
British Open - T19 (2012)
PGA Championship - T12 (2011)
Top-10 Finishes: 0
Top-25 Finishes: 5
Missed Cuts: 6

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


Athlon's 2014 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, Dustin Johnson, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. .

Post date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 10:52
Path: /mlb/cleveland-indians-2014-preview

Was 2013 just a nice little season by the Indians or a springboard to bigger things? AL Manager of the Year Terry Francona asked that question in December at the winter meetings at Disney World, and the answer has yet to reveal itself. The Indians caught MLB looking last season when they won 92 games and made the postseason for the first time since 2007 by claiming the AL’s first wild card spot. They have not had consecutive winning seasons since 2000-01, and based on the pitching defections, that streak may stay intact through 2014. In the rotation, the Indians lost 13-game winner Ubaldo Jimenez and 10-game winner Scott. They released closer Chris Perez, third in franchise history in saves, and lost key relievers Joe Smith and Matt Albers to free agency. Most of the offense that finished fifth in the AL in runs last season returns. To make up for the pitching losses, the Indians need more production from Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, who signed big free-agent contracts before the 2013 season but turned in subpar performances.


Justin Masterson, coming off a career season, will once again be the No.1 starter, followed by Danny Salazar, Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister. The fifth spot will be determined among Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer. To compensate for the loss of Jimenez and Kazmir, it’s imperative that Masterson, Kluber and McAllister stay healthy. Masterson was knocked out of the rotation by an oblique injury in early September, and Kluber and McAllister missed time because of finger injuries. Salazar, the Indians’ most exciting home-grown starter since Bartolo Colon, has never pitched a full season in the big leagues. Carrasco and Tomlin are rebounding from Tommy John surgery, while Bauer spent most of 2013 at Class AAA Columbus trying to rework his delivery.


John Axford lost his closer’s job with the Brewers last April and spent the rest of the season pitching in a setup role with Milwaukee and St. Louis. The Indians signed him to a one-year $4.5 million deal to replace Perez as closer, a role in which Axford earned 105 saves for Milwaukee from 2010-12. Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw will be Axford’s top setup men with Allen probably getting the first shot at closing if Axford falters. Outfielder Drew Stubbs was traded to Colorado for Josh Outman, who should replace Rich Hill as the Tribe’s left-handed specialist. Marc Rzepczynski has the inside track to be the second lefty in the pen, while righthander Vinnie Pestano will try to re-establish himself as one of the AL’s top setup men after struggling last season with a sore elbow.


Middle Infield
Three years ago, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera was the Indians’ best overall position player, but his game has slipped the last two seasons. Now that title belongs to second baseman Jason Kipnis, who is coming off his first All-Star appearance. The only thing holding back Kipnis, who led the Indians in runs, hits, RBIs and steals, is a tad more consistency at the plate. Cabrera, who has seen his OPS drop for three straight seasons, is entering his walk year after batting a career-low .242 last season. Cabrera is sure-handed with a good arm but ranks low on most defensive metrics. Mike Aviles is an experienced backup in the middle infield.


While Swisher will be at first base, third base could be a revolving door. Swisher, who played a career-high 112 games at first last season, watched his OPS drop below .800 (.763) for just the second time in the last eight years. He led the Indians with 22 homers but was bothered by a sore left shoulder and couldn’t handle the pressure of batting cleanup. Last season ended with Lonnie Chisenhall and Aviles platooning at third. The Indians want Chisenhall to seize the job. Catcher Carlos Santana, Swisher’s main backup at first, could get some at bats at third after playing the position in winter ball.


In their big free-agent signing of the winter, the Indians added left-handed-hitting David Murphy to platoon in right field with Ryan Raburn. Murphy is coming off a bad season with Texas — he hit only .220 with 13 home runs — but the Indians believe he’ll improve their stats against righthanders. Murphy is a .280 lifetime hitter against righties but struggled against them last year. Bourn, coming off surgery on his left hamstring, will open his second season in center. In his first year in the AL, Bourn stole just 23 bases and had an on-base percentage of .316, down 32 points from his final season in Atlanta. Left fielder Michael Brantley hit .375 with runners in scoring position and played the entire season without making an error. He doesn’t have much power — 16 home runs in 1,220 plate appearances the past two seasons — but he does have a respectable 133 RBIs over that span.


Yan Gomes took the starting job away from Santana last August even though he didn’t make the team out of spring training. Not only did Gomes handle the pitching staff and throw out 41 percent (20-for-49) on the basepaths, but he also batted .294 (86-for-293) with extra-base power. It remains to be seen how Gomes handles the burden of catching full-time. The emergence of Gomes makes Santana the backup at catcher, first and third base and the primary DH. He is coming off a solid offensive season and showed he could handle batting cleanup.


Last year the bench players named themselves the Goon Squad and were one of the best units on the club. On the Goon Squad, all roads lead to Jason Giambi, 43, the part-time DH and clubhouse Yoda. Giambi played only 71 games last year, but hit nine homers with 31 RBIs. Aviles can play second, short, third and the outfield. Raburn, who is especially effective against lefties, hit 16 homers and drove in 55 runs in just 243 at-bats. If Santana doesn’t start at third, he’s expected to be the regular DH and backup catcher. Should the Indians go with three catchers, veteran Matt Treanor will get a look. Justin Sellers has been a pleasant surprise in the spring and could make the team as an extra infielder.


Francona made GM Chris Antonetti, the man who signed him to a four-year deal in October 2012, look good in 2013. One area in which the Indians need to improve this season is their play against good teams. They went 8–31 last year against Detroit, Boston, the Yankees and Tampa Bay and 84–39 against everyone else. Antonetti believes the Indians have a better roster entering the 2014 season than they did a year ago. He is especially high on the starting pitching, noting the improved depth behind Masterson, Salazar, Kluber and McAllister. It would help if he hit on a couple of minor-league free agents as he did last season with Raburn and Kazmir.


Final Analysis
The Indians had a chance to build on their momentum with another winter of signings and trades. But that didn’t happen. After shaking things up with the signings of Swisher and Bourn for a combined $104 million before last season, they moved cautiously this offseason. In signing Swisher and Bourn, they spent against this year’s revenues from MLB’s national TV contracts, which somewhat depleted their resources. Issues with attendance could be another reason ownership may have chosen not to make a bigger play on the free-agent market. Despite being in contention from late April, the Indians drew only 1.6 million fans, second-fewest in the big leagues. The Rays, who beat the Indians in the wild card game, were the only team that drew fewer fans. Overall, this is a team that will be a factor in the AL Central but didn’t do enough in the offseason to pass favored Detroit and must contend with surging Kansas City to stay in the wild card race.

CF Michael Bourn (L)
His .316 OBP was his lowest in five years as he had trouble adjusting to the AL.
1B Nick Swisher (S)
Hit .263 with seven homers and 17 RBIs in September stretch run.
2B Jason Kipnis (L)
Hit .307 (114-371) with 25 doubles and nine homers from June 5 through the end of the season.
DH Carlos Santana (S)
The Indians went 33–15 with Santana batting in the cleanup spot.
SS Asdrubal Cabrera (S)
Hit just .209 (54-for-258) at home compared to .276 (69-for-250) on the road.
LF Michael Brantley (L)
Made at least one start in every spot in the lineup except No. 9.
RF David Murphy (L)
He’s a career .365 (27-for-74) hitter at Progressive Field, his new home ballpark.
C Yan Gomes (R)
Ranked third in OPS (.826) for MLB catchers who had at least 275 plate appearances.
3B Lonnie Chisenhall (L)
Helpless against lefties, hitting .111 (4-for-36) with one homer and six RBIs.

INF Mike Aviles (R)
Replaced injured Asdrubal Cabrera for 19 straight games at shortstop in June.
1B Jason Giambi (L)
Veteran slugger has six pinch-hit, walk-off homers, the most in MLB history.
OF Ryan Raburn (R)
His 1.020 OPS against lefthanders ranked fifth in AL for hitters with at least 100 plate appearances.
INF Justin Sellers (R)
In 82 games with the Dodgers over the past three seasons, he batted .199 with three homers and a stolen base.

RH Justin Masterson 
Went from 15 losses in 2012 to career-high 14 victories in 2013.
RH Danny Salazar 
Opened year at Class AA and ended it by starting the AL wild card game against the Rays.
RH Corey Kluber
Won four of his last five starts after coming off the disabled list in September.
RH Zach McAllister
Former third-round pick of the Yankees pitched five or more innings in 19 of his 24 starts.
RH Josh Tomlin
Didn’t walk a batter in 29.1 combined innings last year as he rebounded from Tommy John surgery.

RH John Axford (Closer)
Appeared in 75 games last season, but none as a closer after April 7.
RH Cody Allen
Finished second in the AL with 77 appearances as a rookie, second-most in club history
RH Bryan Shaw
Went 5–0 with a save and did not allow a run in 13 September appearances.
LH Josh Outman
Lefties hit just .198 (22-for-111) against him last year with the Rockies.
LH Marc Rzepczynski
After he was acquired from St. Louis on July 30, the opposition hit just .159 (11-for-69) against him.
RH Vinnie Pestano
Went 6-for-9 in save situations, but other than that 2013 was a nightmare.
RH Carlos Carrasco
The Indians love his arm and want him to start, but he seems more comfortable in the pen.

2013 Top Draft Pick
Clint Frazier, CF
The Indians selected the 19-year-old high schooler with the fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft and sent him to the Arizona Rookie League after signing him for $3.5 million. Frazier homered in his first professional at-bat, tripled in his second and drove in four runs. Frazier hit .297 (51-for-182) with 11 doubles, five triples, five homers and 28 RBIs in 44 games for Arizona. He swung and missed a lot (61 times) and drew just 17 walks. Look for him to play next season at Class A Lake County. In his senior year at Loganville (Ga.) High School, Frazier hit .485 with 17 homers, 45 RBIs and 22 steals. He hit a school-record 63 homers at Loganville. The right-handed-hitter, has power and speed, but is still probably four to five years away from the big leagues. In Arizona, he hit .318 (14-for-44) against lefties, but all five of his homers came against righthanders.


Top Prospects
OF Tyler Naquin (22)
The center fielder/leadoff hitter put together a nice year at Class A Carolina and Class AA Akron. He performed well in the Arizona Fall League, too.
SS Francisco Lindor (20)
Lindor hit .303 overall at Carolina and Akron, but his season ended prematurely with a stress fracture in his back.
1B Jesus Aguilar (23)
He hit 16 homers and drove in 105 runs at Class AA Akron before tearing up winter ball in Venezuela.
SS/2B Jose Ramirez  (21)
The speedy infielder was a September call-up from Class AA and made the wild-card roster.
SS Dorssys Paulino (19)
Son of former big leaguer Jesus Sanchez can hit for average and power.
RHP Cody Anderson (23)
Named Indians Minor League Pitcher of the Year after a strong season at Class A Carolina.

Beyond the Box Score
Walk this way Jason Giambi, 42, became the oldest man in history to hit a walk-off homer on July 29 when he beat the White Sox. Almost two months later, Giambi broke his own record with another walk-off homer, once again against the White Sox.
Now that’s a scoop The Indians officially announced the signing of outfielder David Murphy to a two-year $12 million deal on Nov. 25, but it was old news by then thanks to his five-year-old daughter, Faith. On Nov. 19, Faith was at her Dallas-area preschool listening to teachers talk about Thanksgiving and the roles played by the Pilgrims and Indians. Faith piped up and told the teachers, “My dad is going to the Indians.” A couple of hours after Murphy confirmed the news to teachers and some parents when he picked up Faith at school, word of the signing appeared on Twitter.
Feel the beet Catcher Yan Gomes had a career day on May 20 as he went 3-for-4 with four RBIs and a walk-off 10th-inning homer against Seattle. Asked what he credited his performance to, Gomes said, “I drank a bottle of beet juice before the game.”
Ying and yang The Indians went 4–15 against Detroit last season and 17–2 against the White Sox. They must do better against the defending Central champs.
Is Brody home? On June 4 a small amount of marijuana was delivered to the residence of Chris Perez, the Indians’ former closer, in the Cleveland suburb of Rocky River. Police and drug enforcement agents followed the package and arrested Perez and his wife, Melanie, on misdemeanor drug charges. The packages  were addressed to Brody Baum, the Perez’s dog. Baum is Melanie Perez’s maiden name.
Help me In the early morning of Sept. 27, Scott Kazmir was returning to his Minneapolis hotel room when his elevator got stuck on the 27th floor. Kazmir called Mike Seghi, director of team travel, who alerted the hotel and fire department, but it took them an hour-and-a-half to get Kazmir free. He didn’t enjoy the wait. “I sat down, fetal position pretty much,” said Kazmir. “I was just sitting in the corner rocking.” On Sept. 28, Kazmir struck out 11 in six innings in a 5–1 victory over the Twins. “It was nice being on the mound in all that wide open space,” he said.

Overall, this is a team that will be a factor in the AL Central but didn’t do enough in the offseason to pass favored Detroit and must contend with surging Kansas City to stay in the wild card race.
Post date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 10:45
Path: /mlb/minnesota-twins-2014-preview

During their first 50 seasons in Minnesota, the Twins had a total of two seasons with 95-plus losses: 1982 and ’99. After averaging 97 losses the past three seasons, fans were demanding change, but it didn’t come in the form of a managerial firing. That hasn’t happened for this franchise since Ray Miller gave way to Tom Kelly with 23 games left in the 1986 season. Ron Gardenhire returns for a 13th season at the helm, and this time his trusted pitching coach, Rick Anderson, will have some talent in the rotation. Whether it leads to a quick turnaround remains to be seen, but the days of “Pitch to Contact” appear over. Meanwhile, for all their starting pitching woes, the Twins’ offense posted the third-most strikeouts in history and finished with just 614 runs in 2013. That was the lowest run total in any full season for the Twins since 1968, the year before the pitcher’s mound was lowered.


The Twins, who rank last in the majors in rotation ERA over the last three seasons, threw some money at the problem. First, they signed workhorse righthander Ricky Nolasco to a four-year, $49 million deal that ranks as the richest the Twins have ever given in free agency. Of the 31 active pitchers with more than 1,000 innings since the start of 2008, Nolasco ranks third in fewest walks per nine innings (2.0). Next, they reeled in former Yankees mega-prospect Phil Hughes for $24 million over three years. Hughes had fallen on hard times in New York, but if his troublesome back holds up, he is primed for a return to prominence. As much as the fans wanted them to clean house, the Twins couldn’t bring themselves to cut righthander Mike Pelfrey loose after his stabilization year post-Tommy John surgery. They handed him a two-year, $11 million deal that could grow to $14.5 million if he hits all his incentive targets. Add it up, and the Twins guaranteed $84 million to three righthanders in hopes of climbing back to respectability sooner than expected. Workaday righthander Kevin Correia returns as well, but the fifth slot in the rotation is up for grabs. Ideally at some point in 2014, top pitching prospect Alex Meyer will be recalled from Triple-A Rochester and thrust into the rotation for years to come. For now, however, it will be a battle among lefties Scott Diamond and Kris Johnson and righties Kyle Gibson, Samuel Deduno and Vance Worley.


As bad as the Twins’ rotation was in 2013, the bullpen was pretty solid. First-time All-Star Glen Perkins, the closer, continued to nail down 90 percent of his save chances. He’s signed through 2015 with a club option for 2016, so if the Twins can just get him the ball with a few more leads, the victory total should climb. Veteran setup man Jared Burton struggled at times with command issues, but journeyman Casey Fien stepped in to help carry the burden of the eighth inning. Former independent leaguer Caleb Thielbar roared past Brian Duensing to claim top situational lefty honors. Failed starter Anthony Swarzak settled nicely into his long relief role and led all major-league pitchers in relief innings. Rule 5 pickup Ryan Pressly came flying out of the gates but scuffled at times over the final three months. He could face a challenge from towering righty Michael Tonkin.

Middle Infield 

Failed 2012 shortstop Brian Dozier overcame a slow first half and blossomed into a power-hitting second baseman over the final three months. Dozier needs to improve his on-base abilities if he wants to stay near the top of the lineup, but he throws his body around on defense and seems to be one of the club’s few unquestioned positional building blocks. He also works well with shortstop Pedro Florimon, the deceptively strong defender who ranked behind only Atlanta’s Andrelton Simmons in defensive runs saved at the position in 2013. The switch-hitting Florimon still needs work with the bat, but he’s wiry strong and still has enough upside at age 27 for the Twins to stick with him for at least another year.


The timing couldn’t have been more convenient. Just as the Twins were getting set to trade former American League Most Valuable Player Justin Morneau to Pittsburgh, Joe Mauer was suffering the serious concussion that ultimately caused him to give up catching for good in November. Mauer, 30, has made 54 starts at first base over the past three seasons and should have no trouble making the transition. Less wear and tear also could boost his offensive production, not that he needs too much work in that area anyway. Versatile Trevor Plouffe returns at third base, but most believe it’s only a matter of time before he’s on the move again, this time to make way for 20-year-old slugger Miguel Sano. Issues in his throwing elbow have slowed Sano’s progress a bit, but he could start knocking on the door with a strong first half in the minors.


Defense could again be a concern unless former first-rounder Aaron Hicks can re-assert himself and win a spring battle with Alex Presley. The Twins are lumbering at the corners with Josh Willingham in left and bat-first slugger Oswaldo Arcia in right. Presley is slightly above average as a defender, but he needs to prove he can get on base against major-league pitching and use his speed more productively as a base-stealer. Willingham is coming off a frustrating season interrupted by cleanup surgery on his left knee. This is the final year of a three-year, $21 million deal that had been the largest the Twins ever granted to an outside free agent. The streaky Arcia struggles to hit lefties, but his upside and potential importance are obvious, especially for a power-challenged lineup.


Rookie Josmil Pinto is the first option after a breakout season in 2013, including a highly productive September audition in the majors. However, his defensive limitations and nagging issues in his throwing shoulder caused the Twins to dump Ryan “No Mitt” Doumit on Atlanta and use the savings to sign veteran Kurt Suzuki as insurance. Now it appears the club is cashing in on the insurance and committed to going with Suzuki as the regular. Suzuki’s power and throwing numbers have dropped off, but he can still handle a pitching staff and blocks balls with the best of them. The most likely scenario is that Pinto will be sent back to Triple-A for more seasoning, but the hard-working Venezuelan should return by midseason.  Either journeyman Eric Fryer or versatile Chris Herrmann will serve as Suzuki’s backup until then.


Former Twins standout Jason Kubel was brought back on a minor-league deal that could pay him up to $3 million if he reclaims his former hitting prowess. Kubel’s brother-in-law is Tonkin, the hard-throwing relief prospect for the Twins. With Mauer’s move to first, former first-rounder Chris Parmelee and indy-league survivor Chris Colabello must battle for playing time. Eduardo Escobar is an energy guy with a better glove than you think at shortstop. Another ex-Twin, Jason Bartlett, was brought back on a minor-league deal as well after missing the past season-and-a-half with knee issues.


Twins president Dave St. Peter proudly calls Terry Ryan “the most disciplined general manager in the game,” a title that remains even after the targeted spending of this offseason. Organizational stability is of vital importance to the Pohlad family, a belief shown once more by the decision to give Gardenhire a two-year extension coming off 291 combined losses the past three seasons. Ryan, 60, essentially has a lifetime contract after building the clubs that reeled off six American League Central titles in nine seasons from 2002-10. The highly respected GM has brought back trusted scouting associates such as Wayne Krivsky and Larry Corrigan since returning to the role in November 2011.

Final Analysis 

After bolstering their rotation, the Twins are closer to competing again in the American League Central but recognize that their true return to prominence won’t come until top-shelf prospects such as Byron Buxton, Sano and Meyer begin to arrive. A frustrated fan base has filled more seats than you might expect at well-regarded Target Field, but they will need to see another winning product before too long. What’s more, Mauer’s prime years are being wasted.   

CF    Alex Presley (L)     

Has a career .377 OBP in 1,242 Class AAA plate appearances, but just a .304 OBP in the majors.
2B    Brian Dozier (R)     

His 18 homers broke Tim Teufel’s 29-year-old franchise mark for most homers by a Twins second baseman.
1B    Joe Mauer (L)     

His career .323 average leads all active players by nearly two full points. Albert Pujols is second.
LF    Josh Willingham (R)     

Combined on-base/slugging percentage of .709 was lowest of his career when playing 13 or more games.
DH    Jason Kubel (L)    

Before falling off in 2013, he had posted adjusted OPS between 105 and 137 for six straight seasons.
3B    Trevor Plouffe (R)     

His WAR (per Baseball Reference) nearly doubled (to 1.9) despite seeing homer total drop from 24 to 14.
RF    Oswaldo Arcia (L)    

Streaky slugger torched Oakland and the White Sox for combined eight (four apiece) of his 14 rookie homers.
C    Kurt Suzuki (R)     

Hit 11 homers combined past two seasons after averaging 14 from 2009-11 with Oakland.
SS    Pedro Florimon (S)     

Trailed only Braves Gold Glover Andrelton Simmons for Defensive Runs Saved (12) among shortstops.

UT    Eduardo Escobar (S)     

Showed league-average range at shortstop last season but was poorly rated defensively at third.
OF    Darin Mastroianni (L)     

Surgery on his left ankle limited him to 30 games in 2013, but he can handle all three outfield spots.
INF    Jason Bartlett (R)     

Hasn’t played since May 2012 but says his knee is fully recovered.  
C    Josmil Pinto (R)     

Posted an adjusted OPS of 165 in dazzling 21-game September audition.

RH    Ricky Nolasco     

Has thrown more than 1,151 innings over the past six seasons, 24th in MLB.
RH    Phil Hughes      

Has gone 34–21 over past two even-numbered seasons, 9–19 in past two odd years.
RH    Kevin Correia     

ERA and adjusted ERA have dropped three straight years even as innings have climbed.
RH    Mike Pelfrey     

Fielding Independent stats were more encouraging than his 5.79 home ERA.
LH    Scott Diamond     

His 3.57 K/9 rate ranked fourth-worst out of 496 pitchers with at least 20 innings.

LH    Glen Perkins (Closer)     

First-time All-Star had only four save chances over the final 25 games.
RH    Jared Burton     

WHIP spiked by 37 percent to 1.258 after career year in 2012.
RH    Casey Fien      

Had a 1.016 WHIP with 73 strikeouts in 62.0 innings pitched last season.  
LH    Caleb Thielbar     

Held left-handed hitters to .482 OPS, among the best for any situational lefty.
LH    Brian Duensing     

Lefties hit 40 points higher (.303) against him than right-handed hitters in similar number of chances.
RH    Anthony Swarzak     

Long reliever’s WAR (1.7) per Baseball Reference trailed only Perkins on the Twins.  
RH    Ryan Pressly     

Rule 5 pick stuck all year but struggled to 5.59 ERA after mid-June (28 outings).

2013 Top Draft Pick
Kohl Stewart, RHP
A star quarterback from Houston, Stewart passed up a chance to follow Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. The Twins took Stewart fourth overall and signed him for a $4,544,400 bonus. A Type 1 diabetic, Stewart missed close to three weeks in the Gulf Coast League after cutting his foot on a seashell. He was shut down for the final two weeks of the Appalachian League season due to shoulder soreness and was kept off the mound at instructional league, but he should be fine for spring training. Stewart’s fastball touches 96 mph with above-average life and command. He puts hitters away with a mid-80s power slider. His curve and change are improving, meaning he could brandish four above-average big-league pitches.

Top Prospects
CF Byron Buxton (20) 

Blessed with all five tools, the No. 2 overall pick blew through Class A in his first full pro season and swept Minor League Player of the Year honors.
RHP Kyle Gibson (26) 

Taken three spots before Mike Trout, Gibson also had to overcome Tommy John surgery en route to 10 uneven big-league starts (6.53 ERA) last season.
3B Miguel Sano (20) 

The Dominican super prospect pounded 35 combined homers last season at Class A and AA.
RHP Alex Meyer (24) 

A shoulder strain cost him 10 weeks last season, but he was hitting 100 mph again in the Arizona Fall League.
2B Eddie Rosario (22) 

The former fourth-rounder was suspended 50 games after testing positive for a drug of abuse for the second time.
RHP Jose Berrios  (19) 

The highest-drafted pitcher from Puerto Rico has a fastball that touches 95 mph, but he struggled with his command in the Midwest League.
LHP Lewis Thorpe (18)

Used a 95-mph fastball to dominate Team USA at the 18U World Championships in Taiwan.

Beyond the Box Score
Franchise player Even while missing the final 39 games after suffering a concussion on Aug. 19, Joe Mauer still finished second in the American League with a .324 batting average. His .404 on-base percentage ranked third in the league. The Twins went 49–61 (.445) with Mauer in the starting lineup and 17–35 (.327) without him. Good thing they have him signed through 2018 at $23 million per season ($115 million total).
Escape from New York Phil Hughes, a former 18- and 16-game winner, had little trouble handling the pressures of New York. A bigger issue for the 27-year-old righthander was his former workplace, Yankee Stadium. While going 4–14 in 2013, Hughes posted a 6.32 home ERA that ranked fourth-worst among the 184 pitchers to work at least 40 home innings. On the road, his 3.88 ERA ranked 78th out of 165 pitchers with at least 40 innings. Hughes’ home OPS allowed was .909 compared to .735 on the road. To put it another way, that was the difference between the OPS of National League MVP Andrew McCutchen (.911) and ex-Twins first baseman Justin Morneau (.734).
Short list In bringing back Ron Gardenhire after three straight 90-loss seasons, the Twins hope to repeat history as well as buck it. Of the past eight managers brought back after three straight 90-loss seasons since World War II — according to Jacob Pomrenke of the Society for American Baseball Research — just one has ever managed that team to another winning record: Tom Kelly. Gardenhire’s predecessor and mentor followed four straight 90-loss seasons (1997-2000) with an 85–77 record and a second-place finish in 2001 before retiring at age 51.
Back for more Ricky Nolasco’s only previous career start at Target Field came last April 23 in the nightcap of a day-night doubleheader necessitated by a snowout the previous day. Originally scheduled to pitch the afternoon game, Nolasco switched places at the last minute at the insistence of Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, who didn’t want rookie phenom Jose Fernandez pitching in extreme cold. It was 42 degrees at first pitch for the second game, which Nolasco won after allowing three runs (two earned) on six hits and a walk over five innings.

After bolstering their rotation, the Twins are closer to competing again in the American League Central but recognize that their true return to prominence won’t come until top-shelf prospects such as Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Alex Meyer begin to arrive.
Post date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 10:39
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-march-12-2014

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

. I'm not going to argue.

• Some guy wasn't doing anything useful with his back, so .



• Remember Rex Chapman? Somebody does. .

. Humans are still in charge. For now.



. "What the hell is Brett Favre doing here?"


• NFL Free agent news is flying. .

• A concerned MMA mom jumped into the ring to check on her son. I'm thinking he won't tell her where his next bout is.



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

Post date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 10:37
Path: /mlb/detroit-tigers-2014-preview

Over the winter, the Tigers underwent the type of overhaul befitting a disappointing loser, not a 93-win division champ that came within two wins of a second straight World Series berth. They switched managers, traded their cleanup hitter, jettisoned their starting shortstop and swapped a front-line starting pitcher for a trio of younger players. Not every move made sense on its own (the return for righthander Doug Fister seemed egregiously light), but taken as a whole, the Tigers got younger, more athletic and more versatile — traits that could serve them well in 2014, when they should again be favorites in the AL Central. When your roster includes the best hitter in the game (Miguel Cabrera) and two of the last three AL Cy Young winners (Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer), you have a very good head start.


The Tigers, looking to shed a starting pitcher for some usable pieces and payroll flexibility, may have preferred to move righthander Rick Porcello, but everyone else wanted Fister. And so, it was Fister who was sent to Washington for two young lefty pitchers and a utility infielder. Hard as it was to say goodbye to a pitcher who had won 32 games in two-plus years in Detroit — plus three more in the postseason — the Tigers have the pieces to make fans forget Fister, as long as things go according to plan. This is still a formidable rotation, headed by Scherzer and Verlander, and with Anibal Sanchez and Porcello slotting in as Nos. 3 and 4. At the back end, the trade of Fister gives young lefty Drew Smyly, whom the organization is very high on, the chance to move from the bullpen to the rotation as the fifth starter.


The loss of Joaquin Benoit to free agency and the signing of veteran Joe Nathan to a two-year deal means the Tigers will be sporting their fourth closer in three years in 2014. Nathan may be 39 now, but he is coming off a resurgent season that saw him post career bests in WHIP (0.897) and home run rate (0.3 per nine innings). Flamethrowing phenom Bruce Rondon will be back in the eighth inning role, and while Smyly’s move to the rotation will cost the bullpen its top lefty from 2013, the Tigers hope Ian Krol, acquired in the Fister trade, can handle that role. Veteran Phil Coke and 25-year-old Jose Alvarez present additional options from the left side. And on the right side, free-agent signee Joba Chamberlain, returning from elbow surgery, is an intriguing addition, joining Rondon, veteran Al Alburquerque and Luke Putkonen.

Middle Infield 

The Tigers are basically starting over here, after letting double-play combo Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta walk away via free agency and replacing them with Ian Kinsler and Jose Iglesias. The former, a three-time All-Star in Texas, was acquired in November in the blockbuster Prince Fielder trade, while the latter won the Tigers’ trust with his excellent fill-in work during Peralta’s 50-game PED suspension in 2013. Perhaps most important, the Tigers got a combined nine years younger up the middle with these moves, and both Kinsler and Iglesias are better defenders than the men they replaced — which should go over well with the Tigers’ pitching staff.


The combination of Cabrera and Fielder sounded great in theory when the Tigers added the latter via a nine-year megacontract in January 2012. But in reality, the lack of defensive range at the corners was difficult to overcome, especially when Fielder’s power fell off a cliff in 2013 (a career-low .457 slugging percentage). By trading Fielder over the winter, the Tigers allowed Cabrera to move back to first base, his natural position, while opening third base for top prospect Nick Castellanos. The rising star, just 22, completed his minor-league apprenticeship with a .276/.343/.450 season at Triple-A Toledo in 2013. Together, the Castellanos/Cabrera combo at the corners should be significantly better defensively than the Cabrera/Fielder combo it replaces.


The Tigers’ plan to return the same outfield they used in 2013 was derailed by Andy Dirks’ back injury, which led to surgery. He’ll be out until June. Supersub Don Kelly and speedster Rajai Davis will share the duty until Dirks in healthy enough to play everyday. Austin Jackson is still in center and veteran Torii Hunter in right. Of immediate concern is stopping Jackson’s offensive slide, which saw his OPS suffer a 100-point fall in 2013 over the year before. At his best, Jackson is a top-flight leadoff man. But he hasn’t been at his best in while. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Jackson batting fifth with Kinsler leading off. Meantime, like clockwork, you can put Hunter down for his usual .300 batting average, 15-to-20 homers and above-average defense in right field.


Since his spectacular 2011 breakthrough (.295/.389/.506), Alex Avila has seen his OPS fall nearly 200 points. Now, at 27, he is best described as a decent-hitting catcher, good for a dozen homers or so and a respectable .700 OPS. Avila’s real value, though, is behind the plate, where he has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the best game-callers in baseball. Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez all saw their ERAs rise by a half-run or better whenever someone other than Avila caught them in 2013. He may never have another year at the plate like he did in 2011, but the Tigers don’t necessarily need that.


Victor Martinez, now two years removed from the knee injury that cost him all of 2012, returns as the Tigers’ primary DH and occasional spot-starter at first base and catcher. He is now Cabrera’s personal protector. The team made solidifying its bench a major part of their offseason plan, and the additions of Davis (as a fourth outfielder or possibly the right-handed half of a platoon in left field) and Steve Lombardozzi (as a utility infielder) have accomplished that mission. One other key: Davis can serve as a late-inning pinch-runner, something they sure could have used in the 2013 postseason. These additions also should make the Tigers less reliant on Kelly — who remains useful, but in limited quantities. Because Lombardozzi isn’t a great option to back up at shortstop, the Tigers could also give infielder Hernan Perez a roster spot. At backup catcher, the Tigers appear poised to go with organizational man Bryan Holaday, after Brayan Pena was allowed to walk via free agency.


The Jim Leyland/Dave Dombrowski duo produced four playoff berths, three division championships and two American League pennants in eight years together in Detroit, and while the lack of a World Series title will taint that legacy in some minds, there were few GM/manager combinations in this generation that worked better together or produced more success. While Leyland retired, Dombrowski remains — at least for now. (He is considered to be a candidate to replace Bud Selig as commissioner.) In Brad Ausmus, the Tigers have a young and highly inexperienced manager, but one for whom communication appears to be a strong suit. Ausmus has a long way to go to match Leyland’s 1,769 career wins, but even Leyland had to start somewhere.

Final Analysis 

The Tigers underwent a lot of change for a team with such a winning pedigree — not all of it with a win-now mantra in mind. But the goal was to remain a World Series contender while keeping one eye pointed towards the future. It will be difficult for them, in the short term, to replicate Fielder’s power, Fister’s consistency and Leyland’s grizzled brilliance. But they also got better in some small (and not-so-small) ways, most notably the improved infield defense and the increased versatility of their bench. In the AL Central, the Indians made a surprising run at the Tigers’ dominance in 2013 and figure to be right there again in 2014, along with the emerging Royals. The Tigers’ ability to hold them off for another year will probably depend on the health of those horses at the front of their rotation and the big fella at first base.

CF    Austin Jackson (R)    

With Ian Kinsler also capable of leading off, Jackson needs to produce to keep spot.
2B    Ian Kinsler (R)    

Career .349 on-base percentage will play well at top of Tigers’ lineup.
1B    Miguel Cabrera (R)    

Two-time defending AL MVP is best right-handed hitter in the game.
DH    Victor Martinez (S)    

Cleanup spot is key because of protection for Cabrera; was mostly Prince Fielder in ’13.
RF    Torii Hunter (R)    

Batted primarily in No. 2 spot in ’13, but can be run-producer further down.
C    Alex Avila (L)    

Now three years removed from career year in ’11, but he’s still a capable hitter.
LF    Don Kelly (L)    

Jim Leyland favorite can play all three outfield spots, plus first, second and third.
3B    Nick Castellanos (R)    

Tigers think he’s ready to play every day; Fielder trade opened up third-base spot.
SS    Jose Iglesias (R)    

Filled in admirably for Jhonny Peralta in ’13; now gets the everyday job.

INF     Steve Lombardozzi (S)    

Versatile infielder can hit from both sides and also play some left field.
OF    Rajai Davis (R)    

Could start in left field against lefties, and should have great value as pinch-runner.
OF    Ezequiel Carrera (L)
Played everyday for Indians during last two months of 2012 hitting a respectable .272.
C    Bryan Holaday (R)    

Has only 46 plate appearances in big leagues, but played well in spot duty.

RH    Max Scherzer    

Moved from front-line starter to true ace with Cy Young season in ’13.
RH    Justin Verlander    

Wins, innings, strikeouts, ERA+ were all five-year lows for veteran ace.
RH    Anibal Sanchez    

Had career year in first full season with the Tigers; fourth in Cy Young voting.
RH    Rick Porcello    

In fifth big-league season, had career-bests in  WHIP and K rate.
LH    Drew Smyly    

Tigers hope his swing-and-miss stuff as reliever in ’13 translates to rotation.

RH    Joe Nathan (Closer)    

Four years removed from elbow surgery, appears to have regained stuff.
RH    Bruce Rondon    

Hard-throwing youngster will close someday, but not in ’14.
LH    Ian Krol    

Part of Doug Fister trade, he will try to reprise Smyly’s role as lefty setup man.
RH    Al Alburquerque    

Struggled for consistency in ’13, but has big arm and misses bats.
RH    Joba Chamberlain    

Former Yankees phenom gets new chance in new organization.
LH    Phil Coke    

Veteran swingman had an awful ’13 — career-high 1.670 WHIP — but he’s valuable when on his game.
RH    Luke Putkonen    

Performed well in sixth- and seventh-inning roles in spot duty in ’13.

2013 Top Draft Pick
Jonathon Crawford, RHP
After not having first-round draft picks in 2011 or 2012, having the 20th overall pick in 2013 felt like a luxury, and the Tigers made a relatively safe pick by choosing Crawford, a righthander out of the University of Florida. While Crawford doesn’t have enormous upside, he projects as a No. 3 starter in the big leagues and could get there relatively quickly. He possesses a fastball that touches 95 mph, but his best pitch is probably his slider, which he throws in the mid-80s and can throw in any count. He had a successful pro debut in 2013, posting a 1.89 ERA in eight starts in the short-season New York-Penn League, and could start 2014 in Low-A ball. It’s not out of the question that he could make the big leagues in 2015.

Top Prospects
RHP Jake Thompson (20)

Strong showing in Low-A (3.13 ERA, 9.8 K/9 IP) and new curveball made 2013 a solid year for this second-round pick.
C James McCann (23) 

Made big strides at plate (.277/.328/.404) and was rewarded with spot on Futures Game roster. Likely to start in Class AAA but could earn a roster spot in bigs at some point.
3B Nick Castellanos (22) 

Organization’s top prospect hit his way to big leagues in 2013, gets everyday third-base job in 2014 thanks to Miguel Cabrera’s move to first.
LHP Robbie Ray (22) 

Centerpiece of the Tigers’ haul from Nationals in Doug Fister trade; has front-line-starter upside.
OF Steven Moya (22) 

Massive (6'6", 230 pounds) specimen has top-flight power, but struggled with strike zone at High-A, whiffing 106 times in 388 plate appearances.
SS Eugenio Suarez (22) 

Took step forward with strong showing at Double-A, but projects as more of a utility type in majors.
2B Devon Travis (23) 

Great athlete, emerged as prospect during strong 2013 (.351/.418/.518, 22 steals in Class A).
RHP Corey Knebel (22)
The former University of Texas closer took the Midwest League (Low-A) by storm last summer. He held opponents to a .133 average and whiffed 41 over 31 innings.

Beyond the Box Score
Health watch Miguel Cabrera’s health will continue to be a major concern for the Tigers. Though he played in 148 games in 2013, it was the fewest since his rookie season of 2003, as he dealt with nagging injuries to his hip, back, groin and abdominal wall. He underwent surgery after the ALCS to repair a sports hernia and is expected to be ready for spring training. But he’ll be 31 in April, and for a player with his size, any minor problem can quickly become a major one.
Solid fit Rajai Davis was the perfect addition as an extra outfielder, given his ability to hit lefties (.294/.354/.425 for his career). He will likely wind up in a platoon with Andy Dirks in left field, given the latter’s struggles against lefties (.234/.306/.325 last season).
Planning ahead Part of the Tigers’ motivation for their big offseason moves (the trades of Prince Fielder and Doug Fister) was to gain some payroll flexibility, in anticipation of the looming contract battles with Cabrera and Max Scherzer, both of whom could become free agents after the 2015 season. Including the $30 million they paid to Texas, the Tigers saved about $76 million in the Fielder trade alone.
Bullpen woes The Tigers’ bullpen issues in 2013 were laid bare in the postseason, when, in 11 total games, they gave up 18 runs after the sixth inning — including 12 to the Red Sox in the six-game ALCS, essentially costing them a World Series berth. The Tigers initially targeted Brian Wilson as a closer candidate but were rebuffed and turned their attention to Joe Nathan, whom they eventually signed to a two-year deal.
Veteran closer Can Nathan fix the Tigers’ ninth-inning problems? He did have an excellent year in 2013, but that was partly attributable to a difficult-to-sustain .228 BABIP. Few closers in history have had success at such an advanced age (39). In fact, since 2000, only three pitchers — Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman and Todd Jones — have finished 50 or more games at age 39 or older.
Questionable deal Many industry observers ripped the Tigers for the Fister trade, arguing that they didn’t get enough in return for a pitcher whom they perhaps undervalued. Indeed, as measured by fWAR, Fister was the ninth-most valuable pitcher in the game from 2011-13, just behind David Price and just ahead of Cole Hamels.

The Tigers underwent a lot of change for a team with such a winning pedigree — not all of it with a win-now mantra in mind. But the goal was to remain a World Series contender while keeping one eye pointed towards the future.
Post date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 10:16
Path: /mlb/chicago-white-sox-2014-preview

Rebuild and restructure are words the Chicago White Sox have preferred to avoid for decades, primarily because that has not been the game plan. They were a Go For It franchise. Maybe these two words fit better for the Sox strategy for 2014 — overdue overhaul. The message was pretty clear long before the Sox finished with 99 defeats and went 26–50 inside the AL Central. General manager Rick Hahn moved briskly to shed payroll, dealing Jake Peavy and Alex Rios in July, and then got more determined to build a younger, more athletic team during the offseason. It’s unlikely to translate into a 2014 contender, but if the young players Hahn collected from the Tigers (Avisail Garcia), Diamondbacks (Adam Eaton, Matt Davidson), Rangers (Leury Garcia) and Cuba (Jose Abreu) deliver, then the White Sox already have the young pitching to become factors in the AL Central soon.


There is a reason Chris Sale finished fifth in AL Cy Young voting with a losing record (11–14). Sale averaged better than a strikeout per inning and limited opposing hitters to a .230 average. He’s the most dominant lefthander in a rotation that will feature three lefties — and White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper is convinced that Sale, 25, is the best southpaw in the league. Sale has pitched in consecutive All-Star games, winning the 2013 game while pitching two hitless innings. The White Sox lefthander who is not as well known is the staff’s second starter — Jose Quintana. He pitched 200 innings, 64 more than his rookie season, but finished 9–7 because Sox hitters didn’t do their part. He mixes four pitches well, walking less than two batters per start. The top rotations excel at spots three, four and five, and that’s where the White Sox have work to do. John Danks, another lefty, leads the rotation on payday ($14.25 million) but is working to regain velocity after 2012 shoulder surgery. Although Danks recovered to make 22 starts, he allowed an alarming 27 home runs in 138.1 innings and didn’t match his pre-surgery strikeout ratio. If his velocity does not improve, his control must. The final two spots opened with the trades of Peavy (Red Sox) and Hector Santiago (Angels). Erik Johnson is a durable righthander who dominated the Southern League and also excelled in the International League before getting five solid September starts. Andre Rienzo was actually promoted ahead of Johnson. He throws harder with less command. That pair and former Royal Felipe Paulino, on the mend from 2012 elbow surgery, are the top righthanders. The White Sox signed former Giant Eric Surkamp, which means they are considering a four-lefty rotation.


The Sox sent Addison Reed and all 40 of the team’s saves to Arizona, but Cooper never worries about finding a closer. He’ll remind you that the 2005 World Series champs used three. Nate Jones is likely to move his triple-digit fastball from the eighth inning to the ninth. But if he’s not ready for prime time, veterans Matt Lindstrom and Ronald Belisario have pitched in the ninth inning. The Sox have two other young powerful right-handed arms in Daniel Webb and Jake Petricka. Cooper would love to see Mitchell Boggs rediscover his command that allowed him to collect 34 holds and strand 83 percent of inherited runners for the Cardinals in 2012. Manager Robin Ventura likes to have left-handed specialists, so the Sox acquired Scott Downs. Donnie Veal has the edge for the second spot, but if his control disappears, watch for rookie Charlie Leesman.

Middle Infield

Shortstop Alexei Ramirez delivered the strangest season of his six-year career, stealing a career-high 30 bases while hitting a career-low six home runs and making a career-worst 22 errors. The Sox need more pop and reliability. Second baseman Gordon Beckham started fast and then suffered a fractured hamate bone. He failed to hit with power and did not deliver on Gold Glove predictions, either. If the Sox deal either veteran at some point this season, they will have to rely on a fading Jeff Keppinger or rookies Luery Garcia or Marcus Semien.


The corners are not as settled as the middle. Paul Konerko’s 15-season reign as the team’s first baseman will end as he moves to a part-time role. The Sox expect Abreu, a 27-year-old free agent from Cuba, to replace Konerko’s middle-of-the-order power. His next big-league game will be his first professional game in the U.S. There is also a plan for third base, but the transition might not be as swift. Davidson, the MVP of the Futures Game, should be the guy by midseason, but he might not be ready in April, so look for Conor Gillaspie (lefty) and Keppinger (righty) to share the spot in a strict platoon.


Hahn was not thrilled with much from his outfield last season — hitting, baserunning, catching the ball, thinking the game. So he has started almost completely fresh. Avisail Garcia was a prize in the Tigers’ system, and the Sox expect him to grow into a 25-homer, 100-RBI middle of the order stud who will play an All-Star right field. In a perfect world, Garcia also steals 20 bases. The expectations for center fielder Eaton are different, but equally high. Hahn sees an on-base machine who will take walks and pepper the gaps. Eaton’s arrival moves Alejandro De Aza into a left-field platoon with Dayan Viciedo. De Aza’s power spiked last season with 17 home runs, but he struck out 147 times and was repeatedly thrown out on the bases. Viciedo’s power took a vacation. He slipped from 25 home runs to 14 while driving in 56 and also making fielding mistakes. The Sox expected more.


Hahn has work to do here if Tyler Flowers and Josh Phegley struggle again. Flowers failed to hit and lost the spot to Phegley in July and then underwent shoulder surgery in August. Phegley started fast, hitting three home runs in his first five games. But pitchers took advantage of his aggressiveness. He hit .206 with five walks in 204 at-bats. Neither was great defensively; the Sox were second in the AL with 21 passed balls. Adrian Nieto, a 24-year-old switch-hitter is a remote possibility this season. He spent last year in Single-A.


Can a team win with two first basemen/designated hitters on its bench? The White Sox will find out, because Konerko’s move to part-time player means he is likely to share the DH role with Adam Dunn, a free agent in 2015. With three guys (add Abreu) who can only play first base, the Sox will need flexibility from their other reserves. That’s good news for Leury Garcia, a swift middle infielder who can also play third and the outfield. Gillaspie can also play first and Keppinger can play across the infield. Jordan Danks could win the 25th spot because of his left-handed bat.


Ventura learned the realities of managing last summer. In 2012, he was calm and consistent. When the White Sox nearly won the division, he was credited with transferring those qualities to his players. In 2013, Ventura was calm and consistent. When the White Sox disappeared, he was blamed for not stirring any energy within the group. Ventura remains perplexed by the team’s defensive meltdowns. For a team with solid starting pitching and offensive issues, Ventura knows that fixing the defense must be a spring training priority. He and Hahn are working to address another issue — a smarter approach to hitting. The Sox ranked last in the AL in walks and next-to-last in on-base-percentage. Hitting coach Jeff Manto was fired with one game left in the season, replaced by Todd Steverson. He arrives from Oakland where he served as the minor-league hitting instructor for an organization that preaches on-base percentage daily.

Final Analysis 

After you lose 99 games, the first goal has to be .500 baseball, not contention. That is only realistic for this team if the starting pitching, led by Sale, Quintana and Danks, performs like one of the best units in the AL. The bullpen has a nice mix of young power arms and veterans but lacks a proven closer. But offense and defense are the issues. With their reliance on pitching, the Sox have to catch the ball the way they did in 2012 — and hope that Avisail Garcia, Abreu, Eaton and Davidson begin to form the core that will make this franchise contenders in 2015 and beyond.

CF    Adam Eaton (L)    

Hit .252 with 17 extra-base hits in 250 at-bats while battling injuries with Diamondbacks.
2B    Gordon Beckham (R)    

Started fast, but wrist and leg injuries erased his power, limiting him to 24 RBIs and five home runs.
RF    Avisail Garcia (R)    

Has been compared to his pal, Miguel Cabrera, and showed a nice bat during his stint with the Sox.
DH    Adam Dunn (L)    

Still the team’s primary power threat (34 homers, 86 RBIs) but those Ks (189) crush too many rallies.
1B    Jose Abreu (R)    

Signed six-year, $68 million contract thanks to power he flashed for Cuba in the World Baseball Classic.
SS    Alexei Ramirez (R)    

Sox need him to hit more than six home runs and make fewer than 22 errors while continuing to steal 30 bases.
3B    Conor Gillaspie (L)    

Hits righties (.261) considerably better than lefties (.159), which makes him a perfect platoon candidate.
C    Tyler Flowers (R)    

Had first crack at replacing A.J. Pierzynski, but 94 Ks in 256 at-bats (plus eight passed balls) a major red flag.
LF    Alejandro De Aza (L)    

Making overdue shift from center field and bringing his 48 extra-base hits and 84 runs scored with him.

1B    Paul Konerko (R)    

Power numbers slipped to 12 home runs and 54 RBIs, but plans to make a rousing farewell tour.
UT    Leury Garcia (S)    

Can play six positions but will never secure any of them hitting .204 without power.
OF    Dayan Viciedo (R)    

Sox expected 30 home runs and 100 RBIs, but he gave them 14 and 56 with sub-par defense.
INF    Jeff Keppinger (R)    

Makes consistent contact but failed to score (38) or drive in (40) nearly enough runs.
C    Josh Phegley (R)    

Started with three home runs, eight RBIs in his first five games; added one HR and 14 RBIs in final 60 games.

LH    Chris Sale    

Will be a prime Cy Young contender if he continues to strike out 226 hitters in 214.1 innings with a 3.07 ERA.
LH    Jose Quintana    

Contender for Mr. Unappreciated finished 9–7 while allowing 188 hits in 200 innings with 164 strikeouts.
LH    John Danks    

Made determined return from shoulder surgery with drop in velocity that resulted in 28 home runs in 138 IP.
RH    Erik Johnson    

Looked major-league ready in five September starts, winning three games and striking out 18 in nearly 28 IP.
RH    Felipe Paulino    

Struggled at two minor-league levels in the Royals organization in first season back from Tommy John.

RH    Nate Jones (Closer)    

Has shown he can deliver more than a strikeout per inning, getting 89 in 78 last season.
RH    Matt Lindstrom    
Possible closer because of his ability to generate double plays (15) and keep the ball in the park.
LH    Scott Downs    

Durable veteran returns for 13th season because of his ability to retire left-handed hitters.
LH    Donnie Veal    

The Sox loved the 29 strikeouts in 29 innings but worry about the 16 walks.
RH    Ronald Belisario  

Inconsistent veteran makes his American League debut after striking out 49 in 68 innings with the Dodgers.
RH    Daniel Webb    

Looked promising during September call-up, striking out 10 in 11.1 innings

2013 Top Draft Pick
Tim Anderson, SS
The White Sox have always been a franchise attracted to players with tools, and they proved that again when they drafted Tim Anderson, a shortstop from East Central Community College in Decatur, Miss., with the 17th overall selection. Anderson grew up playing basketball in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and did not seriously pursue baseball until his junior year, one reason SEC programs did not heavily recruit him. The White Sox hope that he develops as a leadoff hitter who can steal bases. Many scouts evaluated him as the fastest player in the draft, and Anderson showed that speed by stealing 24 bases in 68 games in Low-A ball. He hit .277 with little power and will have to improve his contact rate after striking out 78 times in 267 at-bats. Anderson prefers to play shortstop, but many believe that he’ll have to move to center field.

Top Prospects
OF Courtney Hawkins ()
The youngest player in the Carolina League, Hawkins showed power, but struck out in nearly 42 percent of his at bats.
RHP Erik Johnson (24)
Powerful 6'3" righthander struck out 149 across three pro levels and went 3–2 with a 3.25 for the big club in 2013.
3B Matt Davidson (23)
Futures Game MVP launched 17 home runs in Class AAA and three more with the Diamondbacks.
2B/SS Marcus Semien (23)
Southern League MVP showed solid glove and speed while hitting .261 in September call-up.
RHP Chris Beck (23)
The 6’3” righthander walked only three in 28 innings after promotion to Class AA.
2B Micah Johnson (23)
Led the minor leagues with 84 steals while advancing from Low-A to Class AA.

Beyond the Box Score
Face of the franchise The White Sox acquired Paul Konerko from the Reds before the 1999 season, and by 2000 he replaced Frank Thomas as the team’s everyday first baseman. Now he's embarking on a farewell tour. This season, officially his last, Konerko will have three official roles — part-time first baseman, part-time designated hitter and full-time clubhouse sage. Konerko has officially served as the team’s captain since 2006. He says the primary reason he decided to return for his 16th and final season was to serve as a mentor to younger players and re-create the winning culture the Sox lost in 2013.
Cuban ambassador Minnie Minoso’s popularity has never subsided with White Sox faithful — and neither has his legacy. Minoso, who made his debut with the Sox in 1951, was the team’s first Cuban-born player. Now 88, Minoso remains a White Sox ambassador as well as a guy who has helped the franchise become a favored destination of three key Cuban players. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez joined the Sox in 2008. Left fielder Dayan Viciedo followed in 2010. This season the Sox should have a threesome because first baseman Jose Abreu elected to sign with Chicago over other interested franchises.
Latin America's Team Cuba won’t be the only Latin American country with baseball fans trying to track White Sox games. When righthander Andre Rienzo pitched against Cleveland last July 30 he became the first Brazilian-born player to pitch in the major leagues. Rienzo added to his resume by winning his first game against the Royals on Aug. 21. He finished 2–3 and will compete for a spot in the Sox rotation. Don’t forget the folks in Colombia, either. With 15 career wins, Jose Quintana has more victories than any pitcher from that nation.
Forecasting the future Conor Gillaspie is in a battle to keep his job as the White Sox third baseman. He’s not ready to give in. But when the time comes for Gillaspie to try something else, he’ll be ready. Gillaspie is a confirmed weather nerd. He studied meteorology at Wichita State and loves a complex Midwest forecast. “I love blizzards, heavy snow,” Gillaspie says. “I love that stuff. You have to find something you are interested in outside this game just in case.”

After you lose 99 games, the first goal has to be .500 baseball, not contention. That is only realistic for this team if the starting pitching, led by Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and John Danks, performs like one of the best units in the AL.
Post date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 10:11
Path: /mlb/kansas-city-royals-2014-preview

This is the year, finally, the Royals believe that everything comes together after an often-tortuous reconstruction project over the last seven-plus years under general manager Dayton Moore. The youthful core showed signs of blossoming last year in compiling a 43–27 record after the All-Star break, which enabled the Royals to play meaningful games in September for the first time in a decade. This offseason saw Moore address the club’s three biggest questions by signing two free agents, pitcher Jason Vargas and second baseman Omar Infante, and acquiring right fielder Norichika Aoki in a trade from Milwaukee. So everything appears in place, but the clock is ticking. Staff ace James Shields, acquired a year ago in a franchise-defining trade that sent outfielder Wil Myers to Tampa Bay, will be a free agent after the 2014 season.


Vargas arrives on a four-year deal for $32 million as the replacement for Ervin Santana, who chose free agency by rejecting a qualifying offer. While Vargas projects as the unit’s No. 2 starter behind Shields, which is where Santana slotted, club officials dismiss that label. They simply want Vargas to make 30 starts, give them 200 innings and give the team a chance to win every time out. In effect, they want him to be a left-handed Jeremy Guthrie, who achieved a career high last season with 15 victories by pitching to contact and using the Royals’ magnificent defense (and the spacious Kauffman Stadium dimensions) to his benefit. Beyond Shields, Vargas and Guthrie, the Royals will hold a spring audition to determine the final two slots. It figures to be a high-quality battle with three of the organization’s prize prospects — Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer — in the mix. Club officials prefer that at least one of them (Duffy is the best bet) breaks camp with the club. Once again the Royals will bring back veteran Bruce Chen. Over the past four seasons, the lefthander is 44-33 (.571). During that time the club has played at a .457 clip, so he must be doing something right. The only other real alternative at this point is Wade Davis, who struggled as a starter, but excelled as a reliever. Another youngster, Chris Dwyer, could also pitch his way into consideration. Duffy, Ventura and Zimmer all have front-of-the-rotation potential. If one of them reaches that level, and Vargas, Guthrie and Chen effectively become the No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 guys, this could be an imposing rotation.


All-Star closer Greg Holland will be hard-pressed to repeat his 2013 success (a 1.21 ERA in 68 games, 47 saves in 50 chances and 103 strikeouts in 67 innings) but, even if he slips from superhuman to stellar, he still provides the bullpen with an air-tight anchor. Beyond Holland, the Royals have an enviable mix of power arms from both sides in righties Kelvin Herrera and Aaron Crow and lefty Tim Collins; tough side-armers in righthander Louis Coleman and lefty Donnie Joseph, and a number of other guys — such as lefty Francisley Bueno and righty Michael Mariot — who would be prime setup guys on other clubs. And that doesn’t even include Davis, who is likely to be the unit’s top setup reliever. Luke Hochevar held that role at the end of last season, when he fashioned a 1.92 ERA in 58 games. But he went under the knife with Tommy John surgery in early March, so the Royals won’t see him throwing in earnest until this time next season.

Middle Infield

Utilityman Emilio Bonifacio blossomed last season when installed as the regular second baseman after arriving in an August trade from Toronto. He batted .285 with a .352 on-base percentage in 42 games while adding a speed element with 16 steals in 18 attempts. He also helped stabilize the lineup by serving as the No. 2 hitter. That seemed to solve a longstanding problem. So what did the Royals do? They upgraded by signing Infante to a four-year deal, with a club option for a fifth year, at $30.25 million. Infante batted .318 last season in Detroit, and his arrival made Bonifacio expendable. Alcides Escobar regressed sharply last year at the plate, falling from a .293/.331/.390 slash to .234/.259/.300, but he remains one of the game’s best defensive shortstops. If Infante and Aoki perform as expected, it probably won’t matter what Escobar hits. But, yes, the Royals are hoping for an offensive rebound.


First baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas are, no pun intended, the two most visible cornerstones of Moore’s effort to rebuild the Royals through the draft. Hosmer appeared to find himself last season after a disappointing sophomore slide in 2012, but Moustakas remains more potential than production. That potential is still considerable, and the Royals likely will continue to show patience in waiting for it to emerge, but that patience isn’t endless. They made a proactive move in December to get Danny Valencia from Baltimore for outfielder David Lough. Valencia batted .304 last season in 52 games, primarily against left-handed pitchers.


An already crowded outfield grew still more crowded — prior to the Lough trade — when the Royals acquired Aoki from the Brewers for lefty swingman Will Smith. Really, though, that deal did much to stabilize the roster and lineup. Aoki becomes the right fielder and leadoff hitter, which enables All-Star left fielder Alex Gordon to shift lower in the lineup, where the Royals need additional pop. Gordon, the No. 2 pick in the 2005 draft, might never be a star, but he should provide 20-plus home runs and 80-plus RBIs on a consistent basis. Oft-injured Lorenzo Cain, when healthy, is one of the game’s top defensive center fielders. Those injury concerns mean the Royals probably will hold onto speedy Jarrod Dyson as a hedge. That puts Justin Maxwell at risk, although he performed well in a platoon role — slugging .505 in 111 plate appearances — after arriving in a July 31 trade from Houston.


Salvy Perez is well on his way to becoming the face of the franchise as an All-Star who, at age 23, combines offensive pop (a .301 career average and growing power) with Gold Glove defensive skills. His contract also might be the most club-friendly in baseball — a combined $5.25 million over the next three seasons with club options totaling for $14.75 million for 2017-19. The only issue, and it’s a major one, is that he’s already missed time for concussions — primarily from taking foul tips off his mask.


Billy Butler drew scads of criticism from Royals’ fans after showing a sharp decline from 2012 and, yet, he still led the club with a .374 on-base percentage and 82 RBIs. The Royals also showed a willingness to trade Butler as they worked to refine their roster; a trade loomed as likely if they had succeeded in signing free-agent Carlos Beltran. A desire to free up the DH role in future years, to keep Perez’s bat in the lineup (for example), probably means Butler’s future with the Royals is limited. Still, he’s a potent bat and, in a go-for-it year, a commodity worth holding onto. The backup catcher figures to be Brett Hayes. If he plays more than a handful of games due to a Perez injury, it will be a problem. That leaves space for three other reserves if, as expected, the Royals go with 12 pitchers. Dyson seems to be a near-lock because of Cain’s injury history. That leaves the final spots likely to go to Valencia and Maxwell.


Moore and his staff loaded up this season for a big roll of the dice because Shields and Aoki are pending free agents. The Royals probably overpaid, at least in terms of years, to sign Vargas and Infante. The hope is that both will be sufficiently productive in the first few years to make that gamble pay off. So, the Royals took some risks, but they needed to do so. This franchise hasn’t tasted the postseason since its 1985 World Series title.

Final Analysis 

This is the best team, on paper, the Royals have fielded in at least 20 years. It still might not be good enough to chase down Detroit in the American League Central Division, but it should, at minimum, make a real charge at a Wild Card berth.

RF    Norichika Aoki (L)    

Newcomer provides lineup with true leadoff hitter. He stole 50 bases over last two seasons with the Brewers.
2B    Omar Infante (R)    

Should fill club’s long-time hole at second base after hitting .318 with the Tigers in 2013.
1B    Eric Hosmer (L)     

Shows signs of blossoming into a genuine star. Hit .302 with 79 RBIs last season.
DH    Billy Butler (R)    

Homers dropped from 29 in 2012 to 15 in ’13, but he should benefit from better lineup protection.
LF    Alex Gordon (L)    

Dropping down aids need for mid-order pop. Has been durable, with 600-plus ABs in three straight seasons.
C    Salvy Perez (R)    

Only concern, really, is whether Perez — one of the team’s three ’13 All-Stars — avoids concussions.
3B    Mike Moustakas (L)    

Pivotal year for former top prospect — the No. 2 pick in the 2007 draft — whose clock is ticking.
CF    Lorenzo Cain (R)    

Can he stay healthy? That’s all that matters for one of the game’s elite defensive outfielders.
SS    Alcides Escobar (R)    

Glove alone makes him a plus, but more bat needed. Dropped to .234 after hitting .293 in ’12.

C    Brett Hayes (R)    

Fine as a backup who is needed only once a week — as long as Perez is healthy.
OF    Justin Maxwell (R)    

Last season he hit. 347 when ahead in the count, .210 when even or behind.
3B    Danny Valencia (R)    

Offers a solid alternative if Moustakas struggles at third. Hit .304 with the Orioles last season.
OF    Jarrod Dyson (L)    

Speed and defense make Dyson a nice extra outfielder. Stole 34 bases in 2013.

RH    James Shields    

Proved last year — his first in Kansas City — to be staff leader the Royals had long needed.
LH    Jason Vargas    

A contact lefty who should benefit from superb defense. On his third team in last three years.
RH    Jeremy Guthrie    

No reason he can’t repeat last year’s success, when he won a career-high 15 games.
LH    Danny Duffy    

Former third-round pick has all the tools to be an impact starter.
LH    Bruce Chen    

The Royals were 9-6 in his 15 starts last season, all coming after July 11.

RH    Greg Holland (Closer)    

Is there a better closer in the American League? Gave up 40 hits in 67 innings last season.
RH    Wade Davis    

Got hit hard last season, but the guess is he gets one more chance as a starter.
RH    Kelvin Herrera    

Rebounded well last year after rough first half. Allowed 15 hits in final 23.1 innings.
LH    Tim Collins    

When he has command, he dominates. Strikeout rate dipped from 12.0 per 9 IP in ’12 to 8.8 in ’13.
RH    Aaron Crow    

Royals’ first-round pick in 2009 has the tools, just needs to throw strikes.
RH    Louis Coleman    

Seems to get overlooked despite 3–0 record, 0.61 ERA in 2013.
LH    Donnie Joseph    

Third-round pick of the Reds in 2009 could be that situational lefty that all clubs covet.

2013 Top Draft Pick
Hunter Dozier, 3B
It raised eyebrows when the Royals chose Dozier, a shortstop from Stephen F. Austin, with the eighth overall pick when he was generally viewed, at best, as a late first-round talent. By getting Dozier to agree to a below-slot price, the Royals had enough pool money left to grab lefty Sean Manaea — a top college lefthander who dropped due to injury concerns — with the 34th overall pick. Dozier then made the maneuver look masterful with a breakout pro debut that helped short-season Idaho Falls win the Pioneer League crown. Dozier also spent a few weeks at Low-A Lexington, where he shifted positions to accommodate shortstop Raul Adalberto Mondesi, one of the organization’s top prospects. Now, Dozier is a fast-track third baseman who could be ready to challenge for big-league time within two years.

Top Prospects
RHP Kyle Zimmer (22) 

Turned dominant last year after a small tweak in his delivery seemed to unlock his potential; will get a long look in big-league camp.
OF Bubba Starling (21)

Club officials insist they’re pleased by the progress of this raw-but-toolsy player, but it’s time for him to take a major step forward.
RHP Yordano Ventura (22)

Even if he isn’t the next Pedro Martinez (and he might be), there’s no longer talk of shifting him to bullpen because of diminutive size.
SS Raul Adalberto Mondesi (18) 

Scouts continue to rave over his advanced skills and label him a virtual can’t-miss as an impact shortstop.
LHP Sean Manaea (22)

Was a potential No. 1 overall pick last June before dropping due to pending hip surgery; he could be an absolute steal.
OF Jorge Bonifacio (20)

Missed time last year because of a broken hand, but his potential is a big reason the Royals were willing to trade Wil Myers.
RHP Miguel Almonte (20)

Shows advanced stuff and poise; could move quickly after strong first full season of stateside ball.

Beyond the Box Score
All-Star talk The Royals had three players selected last season to the All-Star Game for the first time since 1988. All three took the field in the seventh inning at Citi Field in New York — catcher Salvy Perez, left fielder Alex Gordon and relief pitcher Greg Holland. Further, Perez’s single in the eighth inning marked the first All-Star hit by a Royals player since Bo Jackson went 2-for-4 with a homer and a stolen base in the 1989 All-Star Game at Anaheim, Calif.
Moore extended General manager Dayton Moore received a two-year contract extension in late November, which binds him to the club through the 2016 season. Moore took the post in June 2006 and will, if he remains in place for the full term of his extension, become the longest-serving GM in franchise history.
Gold Standard The Royals had three Gold Glove recipients for the first time in franchise history. Gordon won a third straight award in left field, while Perez and first baseman Eric Hosmer were first-time recipients. The Royals also had two players who were finalists at their position — shortstop Alcides Escobar and center fielder Lorenzo Cain.
Record Payroll It’s getting harder and harder to cast owner David Glass as a penny-pinching tightwad. The Royals set a franchise record for payroll for the second straight year at an estimated $95 million. The payroll was $38.2 million as recently as 2011.
Revamped staff Manager Ned Yost received a new two-year contract after the season and revamped his staff by adding two ex-managers and one long-time manager from the club’s minor-league system. Former Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu is the new bench and catching coach; former Cubs manager Dale Sveum is the new third-base and infield coach; and Mike Jirschele, who spent the last 11 seasons as the manager at Class AAA Omaha, will fill unspecified duties on the big-league staff.
Extra sauce DH Billy Butler introduced his own brand of barbecue sauce last spring to barbecue-mad Kansas City as a fund-raising project for his Hit-It-A-Ton foundation, which provides food for needy families. Butler also contributes with his bat: a ton of food (roughly $250) for every homer and a half-a-ton of food (roughly $125) for every double.

This is the best team, on paper, the Royals have fielded in at least 20 years. It still might not be good enough to chase down Detroit in the American League Central Division, but it should, at minimum, make a real charge at a Wild Card berth.
Post date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 10:06
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/conference-tournament-primer-dark-horses-every-major-league

Conference tournament time is back, serving as a reminder that essentially any team has a chance to play for a national championship in college basketball.

Of course, that’s not realistic, but for most of the teams in the country starting last week, the only thing that separates them from the NCAA Tournament is three, four or five wins in a row.

Last season, Ole Miss won the SEC Tournament to clinch an NCAA bid. Colorado came from obscurity two years ago to win the Pac-12 Tournament and knock regular season champion Washington to the NIT.

In our look at potential dark horses for conference tournament titles, not all of them need to win out to get into the NCAA field, but they’re certainly not the favorites to cut down nets by Saturday or Sunday.

Others, though, are conference tournament or bust and just might have the ability to catch a hot streak all the way to Selection Sunday.

ACC: NC State
The Wolfpack have been average at best for most of the season, but sophomore forward T.J. Warren has been one of the top scorers in the nation of late. He scored a total of 83 points in the final two regular-season games to power him to ACC Player of the Year honors.

American: Memphis
The Tigers lacked consistency throughout much of the regular season, but they will have the luxury of playing the tournament on their home floor, the FedExForum. Josh Pastner’s team won its final seven AAC home games.

Atlantic 10: Dayton
The hottest team in the league started 1-5 but finished 10-6. Archie Miller, the brother of Arizona coach Sean Miller, doesn’t need to win the A-10 Tourney to get in the field, but it could happen anyway.

Big 12: Oklahoma State
The Cowboys had a losing record in league play, but this is probably the second-most talented roster in the Big 12. Marcus Smart is capable of leading his team to four wins in four days.

Big East: St. John’s
In an honest moment, most coaches in the league will tell you that St. John’s might have the most talented team in the league. The Red Storm rallied late to finish 10–8. This is a dangerous team.

Big Ten: Nebraska
Tim Miles has done a tremendous job making Nebraska basketball (or Nebrasketball) relevant in the Big Ten. The Huskers won nine of their final 10 games to earn the No. 4 seed in Indianapolis.

Mountain West: Nevada
The Wolf Pack are a streaky group with an elite point guard who can take over in Deonte Burton. The Pack finished with a losing record overall but won three of their last four, including wins over Boise State on the road and UNLV.

Pac-12: Oregon
It was a strange season for the Ducks, who lost five in a row in January and then ended the regular season with seven straight wins. This team has a ton of weapons.

SEC: Tennessee
It’s always dangerous to pick Tennessee in the SEC Tournament — the Vols have not advanced to Saturday since 2010 — but this team is playing its best basketball of the season at the right time.

Conference Tournament Primer: Dark Horses for every major league
Post date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 08:00