Articles By Athlon Sports

All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/nl-centrals-top-storylines-watch-2015
Body:

The tide could finally be turning in the National League Central division. The St. Louis Cardinals have long been the class of the division, as they have appeared in the last four NL Championship Series. The Pirates and the Cubs have other ideas, and the Brewers have redemption in mind following last season’s meltdown.

 

The NL Central could be the best division in baseball in 2015, full of fantastic narratives that will develop over the course of the summer. Here are the top storylines to watch for the NL Central in 2015.

 

The Return of Joey Votto

Joey Votto told members of the baseball media this week that he is feeling “normal.” Normal for Votto isn’t the same normal for you and I. When Votto is healthy, he is normally an All-Star and MVP candidate. Last season Votto was anything but his “normal, missing 100 games due to knee and quad issues.

 

Even when Votto was in the Reds’ lineup in 2014, he wasn’t the same, hitting just .255 in 62 games, 55 points under his career average. There is no way around it, the 2015 Reds are going to live and die with Votto. Him feeling “normal” is great news for fans in the Queen City.

 

Votto is entering his age-31 season and approaching the heart of a contract that will pay him approximately $206 million over the course of the next nine seasons. That amount of money makes Votto the cornerstone of this Reds franchise, which has to make the front office in Cincinnati a little uneasy as last season was the second time Votto’s left leg caused him to miss significant time.

 

Votto has proven that he can return to form after injury. In 2012 Votto had arthroscopic knee surgery and missed 51 games but still hit .337 and led the NL in on-base percentage (.474) for the third consecutive year. In 2013, Votto played in all 162 games, hitting .305 with 24 homers and once again led the NL in OBP (.435) and walks (135). The Reds are hoping that their franchise player can return to his 2010 MVP form, when he slashed .324/.424/.600, posting a  1.024 OPS, along with 37 home runs and 113 RBIs, in 2015.

 

After trading away starting pitchers Alfredo Simon and Matt Latos, it’s clear that the Reds are planning for the future, but having a healthy Votto, along with Jay Bruce, Homer Bailey and Brandon Phillips, for all of 2015 will make the allure of contention in ‘16 seem more realistic.

 

Cubs’ Youth Movement

A lot has been made about the Cubs’ offseason, and reasonably so. Some publications have even gone as far as to pick the Cubs to win the World Series. Let’s pump the brakes on the Cubs popping champagne in ski goggles in October.

 

No doubt about it, the Cubbies made great moves this offseason signing manager-savant Joe Maddon and ace Jon Lester, trading for leadoff man Dexter Fowler and catcher Miguel Montero. Those are all great moves that puts this team in contention for the NL Central, but don't forget about all the youth the Cubs have waiting on deck.

 

The Cubs’ lineup is currently built around shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, the team’s All-Star tandem and current cornerstones of the franchise entering their age-25 seasons. Maddon’s lineup card also could have several “new” faces in it, as Jorge Soler, Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez, eventually Kris Bryant, and possibly even Addison Russell, are expected to be the first wave to come from the Cubs’ stocked farm system. Besides being highly regarded, this group of prospects have two things in common — none of them are older than 23 and none of them have played a full season in The Show.

 

Soler, Baez, and Alcantara all spent time with the big club last season. Alcantara hit just .205 in 70 games, but showed his versatility in the field and pop at the plate. Baez, whose swing has been often compared to Gary Sheffield’s, hit nine home runs but also struck out 95 times in 52 games. Soler was the brightest highlight, hitting .292 with five homers and 25 RBIs in just 24 games, not a big sample size.

 

But none of the Cubs’ prospects are generating more buzz than Bryant. The 2013 Arizona Fall League MVP and 2014 Minor League Player of the Year according to USA Today and Baseball America, Bryant is pacing the field with six home runs in spring training. He’s also making plenty of news off the field, as the debate of service time and his Opening Day status has heated up, thanks to an assist from super agent Scott Boras. Last season Bryant hit .325 with 43 home runs (most of any player in baseball in 2014) and 110 RBIs for Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa. Barring something unforeseen happening, Bryant will the Cubs’ starting third baseman, although his debut may be delayed until later in April.

 

While all of these prospects and new additions are legitimately raising expectations in Wrigleyville, it is too early for that amount of pressure for young players that haven’t even played a full big-league season. If there is one certainty in baseball, it’s that prospect projections are always a crapshoot.  Let’s see how these young guns develop over the course of 2015 before we give the Cubs the Commissioner’s Trophy.


Related: Joe Maddon's Arrival Signals Next Step in Chicago Cubs' Resurgence

 

Cardinal Power Shortage?

We all know about The Cardinals’ Way. Great pitching, reliable defense, solid managing, roster depth, advanced scouting and timely hitting have been the ingredients to the Cardinals’ great success over the past decade. All of those special elements can be expected in 2015, but one thing is missing. Where is the power?

 

The NL Central will be decided by power, whether that be the Cubs’ young bombers or the Pirates’ slugging depth. The Cardinals are clearly lacking in this field. Coming into 2015, the Cards have just two players that hit at least 20 home runs last season, that being the aging Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta who hit 20 and 21, respectively.

 

The rest of the St. Louis lineup doesn't appear to provide much more pop, as Matt Adams is third on the team in returning homers with 15, followed by second baseman Kolten Wong (12) and third baseman Matt Carpenter (8). Wong, in his second season, could turn out to be a complementary piece to Peralta both in the field and at the plate. Newly acquired infielder Mark Reynolds hit 22 last season for the Brewers, but his batting average was just .196 and he drove in in only 45. He’s expected to add some pop, but only in a limited role off the bench.

 

The NL has been long known for small ball and as the Royals proved in last season’s World Series run, power isn’t everything. However, this season could be a pivotal one for the Cardinals. The Pirates are no longer bottom dwellers in the NL Central, the Cubs’ young talent is starting to bloom, and the Brewers could easily play spoiler. I’m not sure the Cards have what it takes at the plate to power their way back to October. 

 

- By Jake Rose

Teaser:
NL Central's Top Storylines to Watch in 2015
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 15:00
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/nba-season-too-long
Body:

82 games is a lot of games. That’s how many they play every year in the NBA, and it doesn’t always produce the best results for fans — in fact, it rarely does.

 

Commissioner Adam Silver is a smart man, so — in spite of what he says — he probably knows this. But the volume of the season is directly related to the bottom line of his business, so it’s unlikely he’ll be modifying the the schedule much.

 

"I'm not looking to reduce the length of the season," Silver recently said to reporters including Candace Buckner of the Indy Star. "It's no secret, it's an economic issue for the league and the players if we were to cut the number of games in a season and I don't think that's the issue. Frankly, as I travel, people only want more NBA, not less NBA.

 

"We're going to look at everything but to me, in the first instance, we've got to look at how we can do a better job scheduling within the existing number of dates. Then beyond that, should we be starting a little bit earlier? Can we go a little bit later? Those are also the kinds of things we can look at to try to stretch the season out a little bit."

 

There’s an old adage that’s generally true, and it definitely is in this case: quality is better than quantity.

 

This season, the league has seen prolonged injury absences from the likes of Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Anthony Davis, Paul George, Chris Bosh, Bradley Beal, Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin — all of whom only begin the list.

 

It’s also seen a playoff race that, save for a spot or two at the bottom of each conference, has largely been over since mid-December. Everyone already knows who’s going to the big dance, as 53 percent of the league does so every year. Plus, many teams don’t take seeding all that seriously — they just want to be sure that they’re in. 

 

So our season is rife with games that offer little more than a chance to watch squads fine-tune themselves, for when the competition begins in earnest come springtime. Exciting, heart-on-the-sleeve, competitive showdowns are the exception for NBA viewers in this reality, not the rule. Unfortunately, this doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 14:39
Path: /nba/john-wall-demarcus-cousins-say-their-kentucky-team-better-current-one
Body:

The University of Kentucky Wildcats are good this season — real good.

 

If you’re filling out an NCAA March Madness bracket, chances are that you picked them to win it all. That’s because they haven’t lost yet this year — coach John Calipari’s squad has followed a balanced attack of Tyler Ulis, Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl-Anthony Towns and the rest to a 34-0 record.

 

Washington Wizards All-Star point guard and Kentucky alum John Wall is impressed — but not that impressed. He remains convinced that his 2009-10 squad (also featuring fellow All-Star DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings) was superior.

 

When asked whether the current Wildcats are better than his, Wall bristled. ”Well, they got the better record, but I wouldn't say that,” he told CSNWashington.com. “We were a better team, but we didn't win … They’re going to have the leverage because they went 40-0 and got a national championship to back it up.”

 

Cousins echoed his buddy’s sentiment. "I mean, yeah. [John is] right. They would be considered the best, but we all know the truth," the big man said. "Hopefully these guys do pull this off.”

 

Wall and Cousins’ team fell just short of the Final Four in their postseason run, so it’s hard for them to boast too much about their college success. 

 

But regardless of how things pan out in the 2015 tourney, the contemporary Wildcats have a tall NBA order to fill if they’re to live up to the professional acumen of their forebears.

 

Not only did that team feature Wall and Cousins — two max-contract players worthy of building a winning roster around — but they had six other ballers who’ve done NBA time. The most prominent of which are Patrick Patterson, currently a key rotation player for the Eastern Conference contender Toronto Raptors, and Eric Bledsoe, the Phoenix Suns’ dynamo who would be an All-Star himself if he played on the other coast.

 

In time, we’ll see if these young Wildcats can have as big of a collective impact beyond this spring.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 10:07
All taxonomy terms: Bubba Watson, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-16-bubba-watson
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 16: Bubba Watson

 

Born: Nov. 5, 1978, Bagdad, Fla. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 7 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 3 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $6,336,978 (2nd) World Ranking: 2

2014 Key Stats

      Driving Distance: 314.3 (1st)

      Strokes Gained, Tee to Green: 1.322 (7th)

      Putting from 15-20’: 28.45% (3rd)

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

At 36 years old, Watson has finished in the top 10 in only four majors, but two of those were wins at Augusta National. This more than anything illumines the talents and troubles of one of the game’s most intriguing players. In 2014 he led the Tour in driving distance and was yet again one of the best with long and mid irons, but more impressive and more responsible for his improved consistency was a better year from 50-125 yards and a corresponding improvement from 15-20 feet on the greens, where those wedges put him on many occasions. A win late in the year and overseas at the WGC-HSBC proved for the first time that his game could travel outside the U.S., and that success causes one to at least raise an eyebrow when considering his chances at an Open Championship. Patience is as much his adversary as creativity and length are his gifts, but if he can play a whole year and control his emotions, he could win at major venues other than Augusta National, where the reverence of the patrons and the dogleg left preference of the course fit him like a Savile Row suit.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 28
Wins: 2

2014 Performance:
Masters - 1
U.S. Open - Cut
British Open - Cut
PGA Championship - T64

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 1 (2012, '14)
U.S. Open - T5 (2007)
British Open - T23 (2012)
PGA Championship - 2 (2010)
Top-10 Finishes: 4
Top-25 Finishes: 8
Missed Cuts: 10

 

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

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, March 18, 2015 - 09:58
Path: /nba/thunder-lose-serge-ibaka-after-knee-surgery
Body:

The hurt just keeps on coming for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Power forward Serge Ibaka — a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year — will join reigning MVP Kevin Durant on the bench, after undergoing successful arthroscopic surgery to his right knee.

 

Ibaka, according to Thunder P.R., is expected to miss four to six weeks.

 

It should be remembered that Ibaka was deemed out for the season at the onset of last year’s Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, only to return in Game 3 and lead OKC back into the series with his typically excellent rim protection.

 

It’s unlikely now — as it always is — that Ibaka is playing possum, though. This is just more bad luck for a team that’s come to be symbolized by the mask their star Russell Westbrook wears. Even he, their indestructible warrior, is covered in plastic protection.

 

Westbrook’s triple-double-laden campaign has been the silver lining keeping the Thunder alive through injuries and roster reshuffling alike. OKC currently has seven players acquired either over the summer or midseason, and their superstar point guard has been the only consistent factor through their effort to jell, while fighting for their playoff lives as Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans nip at their heels.

 

At time of publication, New Orleans is just a half game behind Oklahoma City for the West’s eighth and final playoff spot. Either team will have the not-so-welcome treat of squaring off with the 53-13 Golden State Warriors if they get in. Provided that the Thunder are the team to land the spot against basketball’s best team, they better hope the indispensable Ibaka is back on the earlier side of his recovery timeline. They’ll need everything they can get to pull off the upset.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 17:41
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/what-most-popular-college-basketball-team-each-state
Body:

Sorry, Louisville, people in Kentucky love Kentucky.

 

Ticket broker TicketCity released this map detailing what it calls the most popular college basketball team in each state.

 

Most of the revelations aren’t that surprising, for example, with Big Blue Nation taking hold of its state. Or Kansas, Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan, LSU, Arkansas and Arizona leading their states.

 

A few states, though, produced interesting results. For example:

 

• What are you doing Virginia? The Cavaliers are a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and back-to-back ACC champs, but VCU is the most popular there.

 

• How about Bruce Pearl in the state of Alabama? Auburn leads that state, edging rival Alabama. UAB, incidentally, is the only team from the state actually in the field.

 

• Memphis takes hold of the state of Tennessee over SEC programs Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Like Alabama, a mid-major (Belmont), is the state’s only representative in the 2015 field.

 

Ticket City says it used “fan engagement metrics (google searches by state, Facebook fans, Twitter followers, ticket prices, and attendance as percentage of stadium capacity)” to determine the data.

 

Disclosure: TicketCity is an advertiser on AthlonSports.com.

 

Teaser:
What is the Most Popular College Basketball Team in Each State?
Post date: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 16:09
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/nl-wests-top-storylines-watch-2015
Body:

The National League West very well could wind up being the defending World Series champion Giants and Dodgers duking it out at the top of the mountain — and then everyone else planning for 2016. Let’s face it, the best thing that could happen to the Diamondbacks this year might have already occurred when Will Ferrell hilariously played left field for them in a spring training game last week against the Reds. But that doesn't mean that the NL West won’t be one of the more intriguing divisions in baseball to watch in 2015.

 

We are now in the heart of spring training, as mid-March signals that Opening Day is just a few more weeks away. To get you ready for the upcoming MLB season, here are a couple of storylines to keep an eye on in the NL West in 2015.

 

Are Tulo and CarGo Colorado trade bait?

The time is now for the Rockies. No, not time to win, that time passed last season. It is now time for new general manager Jeff Bridich to put his two best players and biggest liabilities officially on the trade block. It is time for Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to be traded.

 

Let’s be blunt here. For the Rockies to be competitive at all in 2015 every single chip would have to fall in the most perfect of places, and I’m not one to really believe in a team whose pitching rotation is put together with duct tape and unproven arms, and as one fellow Athlon writer wrote, “retreads.” For the Rockies to be a contender would also require Tulo and CarGo to play as close to a full season as humanly possible — a tall order for those two.

 

In Tulowitzki’s eight big-league seasons he has played in 150 games or more just twice. Last season Tulo played in just 91 games after undergoing surgery to repair the labrum in his left hip. When he is healthy, Tulo is well worth the price of admission, whether you’re a fan of those who swing the bat or flash the leather. In a little more than half a season, Tulowitzki was putting together an MVP-caliber 2014 campaign, hitting .340/.432/.603 with a ridiculous OPS of 1.035 (OPS+ of 171), to go along with 21 homers, 18 doubles and 52 RBIs.

 

Tulowitzki is entering his age 30 season and is owed at minimum $114 million until 2020, with a $15 million club option for ’21. That is a lot of dough to keep in limbo for a franchise player on a club desperate for wins.

 

The Rockies are in the same boat with Gonzalez. When he is healthy enough, CarGo is one of the game’s best five-tool players. Problem is, he is rarely healthy, as he has played in more than 135 games just once in seven seasons. That one time was in 2010 when he slashed .336/.376/.598, led the NL in total bases, batting average and hits, finished third in the NL MVP voting and was award a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove. In 2014, Cargo appeared in just 70 games and was sidelined after having a benign tumor removed from his left index finger and also having surgery to repair the patella tendon in his left knee.

 

How much longer can the Rockies keep their fingers crossed on the health of their franchise players? Hard to say. What needs to be said is that it is time for Colorado to cut ties with Tulo and CarGo and start rebuilding for the long-term future.

 

MV-Puig?

On a good day, Yasiel Puig can set the baseball world on fire, hitting bombs into Dodgertown, stealing bases, making impossible throws from the warning track, stretching doubles into triples. On a bad day, Puig can make the SportsCenter’s “Not Top 10” list, showing up late to the ballpark, arguing with manager Don Mattingly, overthrowing cutoff men, striking out on three straight pitches. Both his flaws and his talents are the reasons that legendary Dodgers’ broadcaster Vin Scully has dubbed Puig “The Wild Horse.”

 

Now is the time for Puig to put it all together and be the MVP for one of the National League’s top contenders. There isn’t a single player in the NL that has all of the tools that Puig does, except for maybe Andrew McCutchen — maybe.

 

Puig dazzled us when he arrived to The Show in 2013. He instantly became a household name with his play and his antics, and we all welcomed it. But when the antics spilled over into his second season, baseball shook its collective head. While Puig still had an All-Star 2014 (.296/.382/.480, 37 doubles)  it didn’t quite live up to the promise we all saw in ‘13. Puig hit just five home runs in his final 100 games last season after hitting 11 in the first 48. He hit 14 round-trippers in 2013, even though he played in 44 fewer games (104) than he did in ’14 (148) and finished with the same number of stolen bases (11) too.

 

With the loss of the resurgent Matt Kemp to San Diego, the presence of an aging Carl Crawford in left field, and the insertion of rookie centerfielder Joc Pederson, it is now Puig’s time to be the leading man in Hollywood’s outfield. If the Dodgers have hopes of making it to the World Series in 2015, they will only go as far The Wild Horse takes them.

 

Are the new-look Padres for real?

I hope you didn’t hibernate this winter, because if you did you won’t recognize the San Diego Padres. New general manager A.J. Preller turned the heat up on the hot stove by making several trades to improve one of baseball’s weakest offenses in an attempt to halt a postseason drought that has lasted almost a decade. Preller made moves that brought in Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Will Middlebrooks. Kemp, Upton and Norris have been All-Stars, while Myers and Middlebrooks were once considered among the top prospects in the game.

 

While a lot has been about those moves, much depends on the health of those players acquired. Upton is the closest to a sure thing out of the new guys after he hit .270/.342/.491 in 2014 with 29 homers, 34 doubles and 102 RBIs. Kemp had a great bounce back in the second half last season after what seemed like an eternity jumping on and off the disabled list. While Kemp may never reach the his near-MVP numbers from 2011, he has proven that he can still be very productive on a daily lineup card.

 

Middlebrooks and Myers both took turns for the worse in 2014. Middlebrooks hit just .191 in 63 games with the Red Sox, a far cry from the .288 average and 15 homers he posted in his rookie campaign in 2012. Myers missed most of his sophomore season thanks to a broken wrist. When Myers was healthy, he wasn’t the same player that won AL Rookie of the Year honors in 2013, hitting just .222/.294/.320 in half a season’s work.

 

Norris was one of seven A’s All-Stars in 2014, hitting .270/.361/.403 with 10 homers and 55 RBIs as a catcher. Norris is only 26 and has improved noticeably in each of his three seasons. 

 

With a rotation that features free-agent acquisition James Shields, a promising Andrew Cashner and first-time All-Star Tyson Ross, along with a bullpen that compiled the second-best ERA in 2014, the Padres have a very realistic chance at making some noise on the West Coast this summer. 

 

- By Jake Rose

Teaser:
NL West's Top Storylines to Watch in 2015
Post date: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: Patrick Reed, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-17-patrick-reed
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 17: Patrick Reed

 

Born: Aug. 5, 1990, San Antonio, Texas | Career PGA Tour Wins: 4 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $4,026,076 (14th) World Ranking: 15

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Reed is someone his peers should pay attention to — not for any particular skill, but for the audacity with which he plays the game. In an era of over-coached talent, he wins because too many of those who would otherwise outshine him have had their genius coached out of them, and their timidity or confusion is no match for his belief in himself. It is this belief that we should admire above technical skill, but such is the aesthetic desire in all of us that we look for and seek the beautiful swings and overlook the sloppy ones like Patrick’s. He reminds me of a Lanny Wadkins or Hale Irwin or Hubert Green, all of whom had whirlybird easy-to-find-fault-with moves that were propped up by an inner arrogance that took them all to the Hall of Fame. Reed will keep winning, and too many of his peers will keep looking in the mirror.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 4
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - Cut
U.S. Open - T35
British Open - Cut
PGA Championship - T58

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - Cut (2014)
U.S. Open - T35 (2014)
British Open - Cut (2014)
PGA Championship - T58 (2014)
Top-10 Finishes: 0
Top-25 Finishes: 0
Missed Cuts: 2

 

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

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, March 17, 2015 - 09:57
Path: /nba/ranking-nba%E2%80%99s-strangest-team-names
Body:

6. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder have two of the game’s biggest faces in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and they’ve been one of the most fun watches for as long as they’ve been in Oklahoma. But NBA purists have long bemoaned their uninspired uniforms and team insignia, which seems focused on creating a sense of association so generic and non-regional that it couldn’t possibly offend anyone. They might as well be called the “Force,” the “Ballers,” or the “Sensations.” We like our squad names to be some sort of reflection of where the team resides, and the Thunder’s moniker falls well short of that mark.

 

5. Washington Wizards

Previously the Bullets, the nation’s capitol city team switched to something more politically correct nearly two decades ago, in 1997. While we’re all about non-violence and safe practices at Athlon, the “Wizards” tag is just as vague and lackluster as the Thunder. The franchise seems to have recognized its misstep with a gradual return to the color scheme and uniform design of the blue-and-red Bullets years, but they’re still walking around calling themselves something impotent and silly. Maybe D.C. native Kevin Durant can negotiate a return to the preferred title during his 2016 free agency…

 

4. Brooklyn Nets

What’s a net? It’s that piece of woven fabric — you know, the one that hangs from the rim. That makes enough sense. Why would anyone want to make this inert object their spirit metaphor, though? A lifeless assortment of string never struck fear into anyone’s heart, and it also certainly doesn’t give one a sense of home. The Nets’ mascot is the Brooklyn Knight — a seemingly randomly chosen character who provides further reminder that NYC’s second team is titled in a way so vague that it badly strains the imagination. The Nets have relocated and rebranded — perhaps now they need to rename themselves.

 

3. Toronto Raptors

Like many expansion teams before them, Toronto grasped at many a straw before landing on a franchise label. The most important factor in their choosing a kind of dinosaur? It was the popularity of everyone’s favorite 1990s Steven Spielberg thriller, Jurassic Park. “Raptors” isn’t exactly a bad name — just a fairly arbitrary one. Hardcore NBA followers have recently taken to calling them “The Drakes,” in reference to their collaboration with the famous Canadian rapper. I, for one, welcome the more culturally relevant shift.

 

2. Los Angeles Lakers

Strange doesn’t have to mean bad. We couldn’t possibly call Kobe, Magic, or James Worthy anything but Lakers — L.A.’s purple-and-gold-laden nickname has become more than indelible over the years. But a bit of context has some scratching their heads; there aren’t, as you may have noticed, a whole lot of lakes in Los Angeles. “The Oceaners” might make sense for them, geography-wise. But this team originally hails from the land of ten-thousand lakes — Minnesota — and has made a very permanent mark on an otherwise senseless handle.

 

1. Utah Jazz

Like the Lakers, Salt Lake City’s team has a name that essentially describes what its surrounding area isn’t. Not only is the largely Mormon state of Utah a pretty jazzless place, but the history of their basketball identity is almost the opposite of flashy. When they were a New Orleans squad featuring the entrancing Pete Maravich, the Jazz were the veritable saxophone of the league. But Karl Malone and John Stockton’s heyday were more about rote, blue-collar execution than style. There’s no changing this one, though — the paradox that is the Utah Jazz title has become far too endearing over the decades.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 16, 2015 - 14:27
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/2015-fantasy-baseball-rankings-relief-pitchers
Body:

Opening Day of the 2015 MLB season is less than a month away, which means fantasy baseball is just around the corner. For some leagues, drafts have already begun or will soon begin and Athlon Sports is here to help.

 

Besides providing our comprehensive Fantasy Baseball Big Board, we also have our positional rankings, courtesy of Bruce Herman. These are pulled straight from this year’s 2015 MLB Preview magazine, which is available at newsstands everywhere and for purchase online.

 

Rankings Key

A: FRANCHISE PLAYER — You need one to compete, two to win, three to dominate.

B: CAREER YEAR — Veteran with a strong possibility of delivering his best season.

C: SLEEPER — Could be a great acquisition at a price or draft slot below his true value.

D: ROADBLOCKED — Rank has been lowered because there is no current opportunity to play regularly.

E: DECLINER — Expect moderately to significantly worse stats than in 2014.

F: INJURY RISK — Has had a recent injury that could affect performance.

G: INVESTOR’S SPECIAL — Top prospect whose immediate impact may be minimal.

 

Pitching stats are expressed W-ERA-SO-WHIP.

 

2015 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Relief Pitchers

 

TIER 1

1. Craig Kimbrel, Braves (A)

Kimbrel meets the rare standard of dominance + durability + consistency better than any other closer. He’s the first pitcher to begin his career with four 40-save seasons, and he set an all-time record by fanning 42.4% of the batters he’s faced.

2. Greg Holland, Royals (A)

Holland’s stats are a virtual mirror image of Kimbrel’s the past two years, right down to the identical WHIP (0.89) and number of strikeouts (193). In AL-only leagues, there’s a vast gap between him and the next reliever, so open the wallet.

3. Aroldis Chapman, Reds (A)

Chapman has yet to log a 40-save season and he’ll have the occasional implosion, but he’s the most unhittable pitcher in the game. Last year he K’d 5.17 batters for every hit allowed; no one else (min. 50 IP) had a higher ratio than 3.17.

 

TIER 2

4. Dellin Betances, Yankees

Tier 2 begins the faith-based segment of the relievers’ list — headed by Betances, who’s saved one game in his career. Last year, though, he gave up 43% fewer hits than anyone else at his innings level and — get this — fanned more men than 54 pitchers who started at least 20 games.

5. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers

Jansen measures up to those above him in saves and strikeouts, but there are times when his one pitch (a Mariano-like cutter) catches too much of the plate, making him susceptible to the barrel (so-so 2.76 ERA, 7.6 hits per nine in 2014). Jansen also will miss the first month or so after underdoing foot surgery in February.

6. Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies

Pap’s velo is not what it once was, but he returned to his fastball as his bread-and-butter last year to chart his lowest WHIP since 2007. Whereas no other pitcher’s current streak is longer than four, he’s saved at least 29 games in nine straight campaigns.

7. David Robertson, White Sox

Robertson surrendered an ER in only 11 of 63 outings, but home runs trashed his ERA (3.08). Only pitcher in history with at least 10 Ks/9 IP in each of his first seven seasons.

8. Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals

Forty-five saves are 45 saves, but Rosenthal’s SOs/9 sank by nearly two and his BBs/9 rose by three to an unsightly 5.4. One theory is that he was overworked. His stuff is too electric not to be successful.

9. Zach Britton, Orioles

Subbing out ground balls for missed bats makes Britton just as effective as the top-shelf closers, sans strikeouts. He saved 37 games with a 1.65 ERA, although his 62 whiffs ranked just 63rd among relievers.

10. Cody Allen, Indians

Devoured the closer’s job when it fell to him in late May. Still a novice, he doesn’t yet have the command of some of his fellow flamethrowers, but if and when he develops it, he could look a lot like Holland.

11. Huston Street, Angels

He’s oft-downgraded for his sub-90s velocity, but Street’s bottom line is that he was the third-youngest closer to save 250 games. He simply has “it” — as well as the longest active streak (10) of 15-save seasons.

12. Steve Cishek, Marlins

Rocketed to 11.6 SOs/9 IP despite charting career-low velocities while throwing 94% sinkers and sliders. Kimbrel and Holland are the only other active closers (min. 50 chances) to convert nine of 10 career opportunities.

13. Mark Melancon, Pirates

He’s not a lights-out guy, but Melancon has allowed only three homers and 19 walks in 142 innings as a Pirate. The flip side: He was the lone full-time closer to serve up three walk-off hits in 2014.

14. Sean Doolittle, Athletics

Doolittle was the sole reliever to put fewer than one-of-five batters faced on base. He allowed 13 of his 19 ERs in three outings, plumping his ERA from 0.87 to 2.73. Looked bad in the playoffs, so he’s not yet totally battle-hardened, and he could miss some time at the beginning of the season because of a shoulder issue.

15. Koji Uehara, Red Sox

Uehara returned to the realm of mere mortals last season, allowing eight homers in 29.2 innings during a two-and-a-half-month stretch. He turns 40 soon after Opening Day, so his leash might be deceptively short.

 

16. Drew Storen, Nationals

17. Addison Reed, Diamondbacks

18. Fernando Rodney, Mariners (E)

19. Glen Perkins, Twins (F)

20. Brett Cecil, Blue Jays (B,C)

21. Joe Nathan, Tigers

22. Santiago Casilla, Giants

23. Jenrry Mejia, Mets

24. Neftali Feliz, Rangers

 

TIER 3

25. Joaquin Benoit, Padres (F)

26. Francisco Rodriguez, Brewers

27. LaTroy Hawkins, Rockies

28. Luke Gregerson, Astros (B)

29. Hector Rondon, Cubs

30. Brad Boxberger, Rays (C)

 

TIER 4

31. Wade Davis, Royals (D)

32. Ken Giles, Phillies (C,D,G)

33. Andrew Miller, Yankees

34. Jeurys Familia, Mets (C)

35. Jake McGee, Rays (E,F)

36. Chad Qualls, Astros (E)

37. Sergio Romo, Giants (E)

38. Bruce Rondon, Tigers (C,F,G)

39. Joel Peralta, Dodgers

40. Jonathan Broxton, Brewers

Teaser:
2015 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Relief Pitchers
Post date: Monday, March 16, 2015 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/charles-oakley-thinks-current-nba-heartless-hard-watch
Body:

The Toronto Raptors recently invited one-time power forward Charles Oakley — more famous for his stints with the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks — to a game, to honor him.

 

Oak used the occasion as an opportunity to speak his mind about the state of the NBA. And he doesn’t love it.

 

"Who do I like watching? It's hard to watch," he said. "I don't know, it's just, it's a different game. It's some good games and a lot of bad games. More bad games than good games these days. Everybody says the game has changed, instead of talking about the guys I got a chance to see them first hand. It was kind of bad. The mind is not — you don't have to be strong to play this game no more. I don't know what it is. 

 

“They just roll you out there like a basketball. That's why ... you see the same teams in the finals or winning 55 games. Strong teams, strong-minded coach. Just the players, they don't think it, they don't know how to play together. So that's one of things I see the weakness is: Communication, the guys don't love the game. They play the game, but they don't play with their heart.”

 

There’s some merit to what Oakley says, even if he comes from the same self-serving place that Charles Barkley and Shaq do when they hurl criticisms at contemporary big men. Like the NBA on TNT crew, Oakley is only human, and watching his narrative of fame fade over time has to be a melancholy experience. Sometimes, that means making a straw man out of today’s players, to take your frustrations out on them.

 

On the other hand, Oakley’s words get at the biggest problem of the NBA’s regular season: it’s too long. Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs changed the model of game-to-game approach by implementing aggressive rest throughout year, a habit now practiced by most contenders. And at the core of this is a heightened awareness of how meaningless much of the 82-game grind is.

 

NBA teams are smart to recognize this. Does it mean a less watchable product, at times? Definitely. But a lack of heart? Maybe not so much.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 16, 2015 - 10:18
All taxonomy terms: Phil Mickelson, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-18-phil-mickelson
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 18: Phil Mickelson

 

Born: June 16, 1970, San Diego, Calif. | Career PGA Tour Wins: 42 | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 0 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $2,158,019 (38th) World Ranking: 21

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Mickelson will go down in history as one of the greatest players of all time and may yet be considered one of the top ten, but that seemingly impenetrable list includes the likes of Nicklaus, Woods, Jones, Hogan, Hagen, Snead, Palmer, Sarazen, Player and Nelson. Maybe Tom Watson or Harry Vardon or Seve Ballesteros rounds out your list, but the question remains: If Phil is a top-10 all-time player, whom do you kick out?  With Phil’s victory at the Open Championship in 2013, giving him 42 wins and three legs of the career grand slam, he certainly put himself in a different light, and perhaps that was enough to put him in the top-10 discussion, but personally I think he has a ways to go, perhaps two more majors or one more at the right major. When Phil gets to the U.S. Open for the rest of his career or until he wins it, he will have to answer questions about what a career grand slam would mean to him. Of course it would make him just the sixth man to have achieved this, putting him in the rarest of company. Mickelson is sneaking up into his mid 40s and his length off the tee is no longer a huge asset, but his long swing will serve him well for a few more years, time enough for him to add to his already incredible career.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 85
Wins: 5

2014 Performance:
Masters - Cut
U.S. Open - T28
British Open - T23
PGA Championship - 2

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - 1 (2004, '06, '10)
U.S. Open - 2/T2 (1999, 2002, '04, '06, '09, '13)
British Open - 1 (2013)
PGA Championship - 1 (2005)
Top-10 Finishes: 36
Top-25 Finishes: 49
Missed Cuts: 9

 

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

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, March 16, 2015 - 10:07
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/2015-fantasy-baseball-rankings-starting-pitchers
Body:

Opening Day of the 2015 MLB season is less than a month away, which means fantasy baseball is just around the corner. For some leagues, drafts have already begun or will soon begin and Athlon Sports is here to help.

 

Besides providing our comprehensive Fantasy Baseball Big Board, we also have our positional rankings, courtesy of Bruce Herman. These are pulled straight from this year’s 2015 MLB Preview magazine, which is available at newsstands everywhere and for purchase online.

 

Rankings Key

A: FRANCHISE PLAYER — You need one to compete, two to win, three to dominate.

B: CAREER YEAR — Veteran with a strong possibility of delivering his best season.

C: SLEEPER — Could be a great acquisition at a price or draft slot below his true value.

D: ROADBLOCKED — Rank has been lowered because there is no current opportunity to play regularly.

E: DECLINER — Expect moderately to significantly worse stats than in 2014.

F: INJURY RISK — Has had a recent injury that could affect performance.

G: INVESTOR’S SPECIAL — Top prospect whose immediate impact may be minimal.

 

Pitching stats are expressed W-ERA-SO-WHIP.

 

2015 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Starting Pitchers

 

TIER 1

1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (A)

Kershaw is No. 1. Water is wet. Yes, his four-year ERA of 2.11 is the ninth-best of the live-ball era, but consider this: He allowed 18% of his ERs last season in one inning, without which his ERA would have been 1.46 instead of 1.77. SOs/WHIP/wins since 2010: first/first/second.

2. Chris Sale, White Sox (A)

Sale lines up right behind Kershaw in three categories — wins excluded — but now the White Sox are better positioned to supply some runs. In 2014, he made only 26 starts and won just seven of the 15 times he surrendered 0-1 ERs, so he could easily jump from 12 victories to 18.

3. Felix Hernandez, Mariners (A)

Hernandez has shed 3-to-4 mph off his fastball over the years, but he’s made the compulsory transition to the point where his 2014 campaign was his best in ERA, SOs and WHIP. Over his decade of excellence, he tops the majors in whiffs and the AL in ERA.

 

TIER 2

4. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals (A,B)

Strasburg’s 242 SOs move him close to the top tier, but he still has adversarial relationships with the gopher ball and the big inning. It’s easy to imagine him taking the next step, especially if the Nats — who scored three or fewer runs in 15 of his starts — lend a hand.

5. Max Scherzer, Nationals

Scherzer — not Kershaw — has won more games (39, tied with Wainwright) with a higher WIN% (.830) and more SOs (492) than any other pitcher in the game the past two years. He was not as dominant in 2014, though.

6. Johnny Cueto, Reds (A)

Only Kershaw’s ERA is lower than Johnny Beisbol’s 2.48 the last four years. Cueto’s 2014 SO rate of 8.9 per 9 far exceeded anything he’d done before, and he’s won 39 games in his last two full seasons. Durability had been an issue, but he led the NL in batters faced.

7. Madison Bumgarner, Giants (A)

Kershaw, Hernandez and CC Sabathia are the only active pitchers who’ve come close to Bumgarner’s numbers by an age-24 season. As indestructible as he looked in the postseason, how much longer can he throw 1,000-plus high-80s sliders per year out of that slinging, low-slot delivery?

8. Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals (A)

He’s actually more effective than teammate Strasburg, but in roto, the 25% fewer strikeouts are a big deal. A massive bound in SO/BB ratio from 4.0 in 2013 to 6.3 confirmed Zimmermann as having entered the peak phase of his underrated career.

9. David Price, Tigers (A)

Price led the majors with 271 SOs (and in pitches thrown) while walking only 38 batters — not easy to do. He lives in the strike zone so much these days, however, that he’s more hittable than most in the upper echelon of aces. Career ERA away from Tropicana Field is only 3.53.

10. Zack Greinke, Dodgers

Consistency has separated Greinke from the true alpha dogs much of his career, but for the first time, he has put two exceptional across-the-board seasons back-to-back. That includes his MLB-record groove of 22 consecutive starts with two or fewer ERs.

11. Cole Hamels, Phillies

Hamels, whose fate has reached Greek-tragedy depths, desperately needs a trade. Things have gotten so bad in Philly that his nine wins in 2014 were the fewest ever by a pitcher who made at least 30 starts with a sub-2.50 ERA. Since 2008, he’s lost 32 quality starts — most in baseball.

12. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals (E,F)

Wainwright pitched through discomfort the last three months to complete a tremendous season, but October elbow cartilage surgery throws up a yellow flag for a pitcher who’s already had Tommy John. Expect a tempered workload for Waino.

13. Jon Lester, Cubs

After never having posted an ERA below 3.21, Lester hit the free agent jackpot with a 2.46 last year. His 1.102 WHIP also was his best by far. Tossing out 2014 and the 2012 debacle as outliers, his full-season average has been 16-3.42-192-1.252.

14. Corey Kluber, Indians (E)

Never a top prospect, dumped by the Padres in an innocuous 2010 trade and not listed among our top 100 pitchers of 2014, Kluber mustered a miracle: 18-2.44-269-1.095. The only pitchers to match that line in the last quarter-century are Big Unit, Schilling, Clemens and Smoltz.

15. Yu Darvish, Rangers (F)

Darvish’s value is more strikeout-centric than anything else — the pitcher most likely to punch out 300 in a season. His 182 last year were the most ever in a campaign of fewer than 150 IP. He joined the long litany of elbow patients in August, but opted for rehab over surgery. Unfortunately, he could be facing season-ending surgery because of his elbow issues.

 

TIER 3

16. Alex Cobb, Rays

This is a lofty rating for someone who’s never won more than 11 games nor struck out 150 batters, but Cobb needs just to stay healthy (24-start average since 2012) and match his two-year ERA of 2.82 to validate it.

17. Julio Teheran, Braves

This fast-ascending 24-year-old’s 3.03 ERA of 2013-14 was seventh among hurlers with at least 28 wins and 350 SOs — better than such luminaries as Justin Verlander and Lester.

18. Andrew Cashner, Padres (B,C,F)

Something always happens to knock Cashner off the precipice of stardom, from role inconsistency to a lack of run support to physical setbacks. Last year, he went into his final start with the game’s fourth-lowest ERA (2.21) among 100-inning hurlers.

19. Jeff Samardzija, White Sox (B)

One of nine pitchers with an ERA below 3.00 and more than 200 SOs, yet his ledger was a heart-rending 7–13. He’s gone at least seven ER-free innings nine times the last two years — six of which his team lost anyway.

20. Sonny Gray, Athletics

His staying power has been questioned because of his size, but Gray capped 2014 with a 12-SO game, a shutout and a 2.08 ERA in two ALDS starts. He’s not the dominating type, but he is ideal as your No. 2 or 3 starter.

21. Jake Arrieta, Cubs

Among our 2014 “C” sleepers were breakout pitchers Gray, Alex Wood, Garrett Richards, Chris Archer, Wily Peralta, Michael Pineda and — the sleepingest beauty of all — Arrieta. His 2.53 ERA included a 1.46 at Wrigley, and he fanned 9.6 per nine.

22. Alex Wood, Braves

Wood, another hard-luck case, joined Hamels as the only pitchers with a sub-2.80 ERA and 150 or more SOs who lacked a winning record. He presents a bargain opportunity (especially in keeper leagues) before he blows up.

23. Michael Pineda, Yankees

Having taken the ball only 13 times in the last three years, and with his mph nowhere close to where it was as a rookie All-Star in 2011, Pineda isn’t all the way back. Nobody could hit him last year, though — a 1.89 ERA that was lower than anyone’s except Kershaw at his start level.

24. Anibal Sanchez, Tigers

2013 AL ERA champ who was off his game a little last season, then missed 10 starts with a pec injury. At one point he had a two-year streak in which he allowed three or fewer earnies 32 times in a row.

25. Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees (F)

With more emphatic health assurances, Tanaka (scary elbow) would slot high in Tier 2. Had he cloned his first three months over his last three, his season would have been a Cy Young Award-contending 22-2.10-254-0.951.

26. James Shields, Padres

“Small-to-Medium Game James” (career postseason ERA = 5.46) is a dinosaur in his ability to do the heavy lifting without the slightest hint of a physical toll. As such, his nine-year average of 33 starts at 14-3.64-190-1.205 is a secure baseline.

27. Danny Duffy, Royals (B,C)

Duffy was still a nonentity when his ERA peaked at 3.57 at the end of May. It was a stunning 1.93 over his next 18 starts. He’ll perch about halfway in between, but his counting stats won’t be anything great until he stretches out past 5.9 innings per start.

28. Matt Harvey, Mets (F)

The capricious nature of Tommy John “survivors” relegates Harvey to a ranking about 20 spots lower than would have been projected off his career to date: 2.39 ERA, 9.9 SOs/9 IP, 0.985 WHIP. True believers will draft him much higher.

29. Gerrit Cole, Pirates

Tough to get a bead on this presumptive phenom without a full season on his résumé. He tends to pitch consistently well, rarely either dominant or dominated. A 31-start extrapolation on his stats to date is 16-3.45-180-1.191.

30. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals

Seems to be on the downward slope of what has been a bell curve of a career, but he’s only 29 and has a couple of powerhouse seasons behind him. Helps, too, that he’s pitching for a potential championship team.

31. Shelby Miller, Braves

The Rubber Band Man. Partitioning Miller’s career into thirds: 1.98 ERA in his first 20 outings, 4.18 in his next 36, 2.92 in his most recent 13. More hills and valleys ahead, but in the long run, he’s a No. 2.

32. Justin Verlander, Tigers

The easy explanation for Verlander’s ERA inflation (2.40-2.64-3.46-4.54) is that he’s chucked nearly 2,000 more pitches than anyone else since 2007. It may also be the correct one, but it’s too soon to bury a 32-year-old who’s spent much of his career as the best there is.

33. Carlos Carrasco, Indians

Like Duffy, Carrasco went from zero to sexy before anyone noticed. On June 22, he was a middle reliever with a career ERA of 5.12. Suddenly, he was finishing the year on a roll of 10 starts with a 1.30 ERA. We see him more as a “light went on” type than a flash-in-the-pan.

34. Mat Latos, Marlins (F)

Of the 78 pitchers with at least 150 starts who were active in 2014, Latos was among nine with 60 wins, a 3.34 ERA and 850 SOs. Having undergone two elbow procedures in close proximity, his “horse” status has been withdrawn.

35. Doug Fister, Nationals (E)

Fister has improved his victory sum three years in a row, and his 2.41 ERA in 2014 was a yawning departure from his 3.67 of 2013. He’s not your man for punchouts, though — 84th among 88 qualifiers at 5.38 per nine.

36. Garrett Richards, Angels (E,F)

Transited from thrower to pitcher, standing at 13-2.61-164-1.038 prior to wrecking his knee in August. Those numbers are authentic, but he might not be back on the bump until May.

37. Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners (E)

Kuma peaked in mid-August, when his ERA stood at 2.31 over a two-year span of 29 starts. He faltered after that and may not have the durability to remain at the top of his game at age 34. Still a WHIP stud, though.

38. Henderson Alvarez, Marlins

He has a no-hitter and a four-win stretch in which all were shutouts; he’s gone 34 starts while allowing six homers; and last year he threw the fewest pitches per batter (3.38) among qualifiers. Conversely, he posted the highest differential between his actual (2.65) and Component ERAs (3.59), which often portends regression.

39. Michael Wacha, Cardinals (F)

2013 rookie hero who since has endured shoulder woes and a postseason demotion to the bullpen. Assuming the wing holds up, he still has a chance to be fringe-special.

 

40. Yordano Ventura, Royals

41. Drew Smyly, Rays (B,C)

42. Tyson Ross, Padres

43. Chris Archer, Rays

44. Jacob deGrom, Mets

45. Homer Bailey, Reds (F)

46. Zack Wheeler, Mets

47. Lance Lynn, Cardinals (E)

48. Wily Peralta, Brewers

49. Kevin Gausman, Orioles (C)

50. Matt Cain, Giants (F)

51. Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays

52. Jered Weaver, Angels

53. Derek Holland, Rangers

54. Matt Shoemaker, Angels (E)

55. Francisco Liriano, Pirates

56. Jose Quintana, White Sox

57. Chris Tillman, Orioles

58. Kyle Hendricks, Cubs (E)

59. Mike Fiers, Brewers (E)

60. Drew Hutchison, Blue Jays (C)

 

TIER 4

61. Jose Fernandez, Marlins (F)

62. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dodgers (E)

63. Phil Hughes, Twins (E)

64. Collin McHugh, Astros (E)

65. Josh Collmenter, Diamondbacks (C)

66. Wade Miley, Red Sox

67. Mike Minor, Braves (F)

68. Dan Haren, Marlins

69. John Lackey, Cardinals

70. James Paxton, Mariners (C)

71. Dallas Keuchel, Astros (E)

72. Matt Garza, Brewers

73. Ian Kennedy, Padres

74. Rick Porcello, Red Sox

75. Jake Odorizzi, Rays

76. Nathan Eovaldi, Yankees (B,C)

77. Mike Leake, Reds

78. Brandon McCarthy, Dodgers

79. Edinson Volquez, Royals (E)

80. Jorge De La Rosa, Rockies

81. Bud Norris, Orioles

82. Kyle Lohse, Brewers (E)

83. Scott Kazmir, Athletics (E)

84. Jason Hammel, Cubs

85. Ervin Santana, Twins

86. Yovani Gallardo, Rangers

87. Cliff Lee, Phillies (F)

88. Alfredo Simon, Tigers (E)

89. Wei-Yin Chen, Orioles

90. Carlos Martinez, Cardinals (C)

91. Danny Salazar, Indians (C)

92. Jarred Cosart, Marlins

93. Shane Greene, Tigers

94. R.A. Dickey, Blue Jays

95. Trevor Bauer, Indians

96. Drew Pomeranz, Athletics (C)

97. Jonathon Niese, Mets (F)

98. C.J. Wilson, Angels

99. CC Sabathia, Yankees

100. Bartolo Colon, Mets

Teaser:
2015 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Starting Pitchers
Post date: Monday, March 16, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/ncaa-tournament-2015-march-madness-bracket-cheat-sheets
Body:

Now that Selection Sunday is over, it's time for March Madness to kick into high gear. It's that time of year when everyone —even your IT guy and Midge in accounting — starts caring about college basketball. Most of the excitement comes from NCAA Tournament bracket games, where anyone can fill out a March Madness bracket in hopes winning cash and bragging rights among friends and co-workers. Of course, the majority of people have no clue which teams to pick.

 

Athlon Sports is here to help you. We put together these handy cheat sheets of bracket picks from three of our college basketball experts. Each editor has their own bracket picks, so you can choose one or use the cumulative knowledge of each to create your own unique picks. Either way, it will likely save you the office humiliation of picking North Florida to win it all.

 

David Fox's Tournament Picks

 

 

Braden Gall's Tournament Picks

 

 

Mitch Light's Tournament Picks

 

Teaser:
NCAA Tournament 2015: March Madness Bracket Cheat Sheets
Post date: Monday, March 16, 2015 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/ranking-nba%E2%80%99s-best-upcoming-free-agents
Body:

25. Lou Williams, Toronto Raptors (Unrestricted)

Lou Williams can be one of the best sixth men in the league for stretches, but there’s a surplus of his type, and he has injury history.

 

24. Rodney Stuckey, Indiana Pacers (Unrestricted)

Stuckey’s a quiet contender for Sixth Man of the Year candidacy with the surging Pacers, and could jump up this list soon. But what he’s doing now isn’t representative of the rest of his career.

 

23. Brandon Knight, Phoenix Suns (Restricted)

Knight’s on the third team of his young career. He was a near All-Star with Milwaukee before being traded, and he has obvious talent. But teams don’t seem to be clamoring for him.

 

22. Reggie Jackson, Detroit Pistons (Restricted)

The Pistons seem ready to lock Jackson up this summer… but why? He’s been a black hole for both Detroit and the Oklahoma City Thunder this year.

 

21. Kostas Koufos, Memphis Grizzlies (Unrestricted)

Koufos is one of the most reliable backup big men in the game, and could likely start elsewhere. Will he flee Memphis — which is loaded down low, with or without him — for more money?

 

20. Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs (Unrestricted)

Bat-grabbing Manu is a Hall of Famer, but he’s at the end of his road and is worth far more to the Spurs than he is to anyone else.

 

19. Patrick Beverley, Houston Rockets (Restricted)

In a point-guard-driven league, having a defender like Beverley (who can agitate any of them) is of underrated value.

 

18. Rajon Rondo, Dallas Mavericks (Unrestricted)

Rondo’s sad decline seems to be about both his sinking health and circumstances beyond his control. The NBA is a pace-and-space league with little room left for plodding, ball-dominant, half-court eccentrics like Rajon anymore.

 

17. Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs (Unrestricted)

Green is one of the best “three-and-D” guards around. But how much of his career does he owe to Gregg Popovich’s system?

 

16. Amir Johnson, Toronto Raptors (Unrestricted)

A power forward who’s elite at all the invisible big man tasks imaginable, Johnson could fetch a surprisingly high price tag in July.

 

15. Tyson Chandler, Dallas Mavericks (Unrestricted)

Tyson’s still one of the best defensive centers around. But how much does he have left?

 

14. Omer Asik, New Orleans Pelicans (Unrestricted)

Omer got what he wanted with a starting gig in New Orleans. Will he stick around to keep building chemistry with Anthony Davis?

 

13. Wesley Matthews, Portland Trail Blazers (Unrestricted)

The outstanding Matthews would be much higher on this list, if not for his recent tragic injury, and he could sink down it depending on how well he recovers.

 

12. Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors (Restricted)

Green is a polarizing, swaggering utility man who could fit anywhere. But Golden State is likely to match any offer he receives.

 

11. DeMarre Carroll, Atlanta Hawks (Unrestricted)

Aside from Kawhi Leonard, there may be no one better at guarding LeBron James than Carroll, whom the Hawks will probably retain.

 

10. DeAndre Jordan, Los Angeles Clippers (Unrestricted)

Jordan’s dominant second half has him climbing up this rankology very rapidly. He’s making All-Stars look bad these days.

 

9. Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks (Restricted)

Middleton is young, versatile, efficient, and has an invisible personality. Any rebuilding team should be after him, but Milwaukee will probably lock him down and not let them get too close.

 

8. Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks (Unrestricted)

The Hawks’ success has a lot to do with having two great modern big men. Both Al Horford and Millsap can play like wings or post you up all night long. Like Carroll, Millsap is unlikely to leave Georgia.

 

7. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls (Restricted)

The Bulls’ breakout star has one concerning section on his resume — Tom Thibodeau’s crazy minute totals. Aside from that, he’s one of the best shooting guards around, and Chicago should recognize that with a healthy offer.

 

6. Goran Dragic, Miami Heat (Unrestricted)

Dragic is happy to be in Miami, but still plans to test the waters this summer. He’ll get more than one maximum offer sheet.

 

5. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs (Restricted)

Leonard is part of the Spurs’ quiet, dominant compound, through and through. Or is he? The young torch-carrier of the San Antonio dynasty will reveal his fate soon enough.

 

4. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers (Unrestricted)

The Blazers have done a lot to keep Aldridge happy, and he seems content to keep fighting for titles alongside Damian Lillard. But don’t be surprised if he has a flattering dinner or two, with other teams interested in his amazing game.

 

3. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs (Unrestricted)

Duncan is high on this list as a mere honorary formality. He’ll be a free agent this summer, sure, but he’s either retiring or re-signing with the Spurs.

 

2. Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers (Unrestricted)

Kevin Love can’t like being a third wheel in Ohio. He’s good enough to have offenses built around him, and he may go somewhere else this offseason, to experience just that.

 

1. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies (Unrestricted)

Perhaps the best center in the game, Gasol is good enough to be the No. 1 piece for a championship squad. He loves Memphis and probably won’t leave, but the league will surely try to reverse that inevitability.

 

Notes:

Restricted Free Agency means the player’s team can match any salary pitched to him by another team, and retain him.

Unrestricted Free Agency means the player can go wherever he chooses.

 

There is only one free agent player on this list who has a player option for next season — Kevin Love — because players rarely turn down their options.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, March 13, 2015 - 15:01
Path: /mlb/san-francisco-giants-2015-preview-and-prediction
Body:

When it became clear that the Giants wouldn’t catch the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West, they held a team meeting. The message: Just find a way to play baseball in October, and the rest would take care of itself. By this point, who would argue? Under Bruce Bochy, the Giants have met 10 playoff opponents and dispatched every one of them, leading to three World Series parades down Market Street in the last five seasons. Madison Bumgarner overwhelmed the Pittsburgh Pirates in the wild card game and never stopped until the final out of a triumphant Game 7 in Kansas City, posting a 1.03 ERA over 52.2 innings — an all-time record workload in a single postseason. The Giants won’t be favored to repeat, though, in part because of a static offseason in which they lost Pablo Sandoval to the Red Sox and came up short in a bid to sign Jon Lester. That’s OK. They seem to enjoy coming out of nowhere.

 

Rotation

The Giants won titles in 2010 and ’12 on the strength of their starting pitching, but the rotation finished 10th among 15 NL teams with a 3.74 ERA in the ’14 regular season. Aside from Bumgarner, the starters posted just one quality start all postseason. So this is a group that enters the season with some major question marks. Much will hinge on the healthy return of Matt Cain, whose streak of 200-inning seasons ended because of surgery in July to remove bone chips from his elbow. The club re-signed Jake Peavy to a two-year contract, hoping he’ll pitch more like the second-half ace they obtained at the trade deadline and not the 1–9 pitcher they received from Boston. Tim Hudson will turn 40 in July and didn’t have much left after one playoff start. Tim Lincecum, despite being demoted to the bullpen in August, will return in a starting role, with Yusmeiro Petit standing as a safety net. Even Bumgarner comes with concerns after throwing a grand total of 270 innings — the most by a Giant since 1973. Ryan Vogelsong also returned on a one-year, $4 million deal. Insurance for the rotation, he could wind up the long man in the bullpen.

 

Bullpen

Santiago Casilla might be the most underrated closer in baseball. He was 19 for 23 in save chances after taking over duties in midseason when Sergio Romo’s slider lost its signature bite, then was unscored upon in nine postseason appearances. Romo probably would have gone elsewhere as a free agent if the Giants had been able to sign Sandoval or Lester. Instead they had largesse to spread around and brought Romo back on a two-year, $15 million contract. Jeremy Affeldt, when healthy, is a highly valuable piece — a lefty who almost never gives up home runs, can pitch multiple innings, and has the stuff to retire right-handed batters. His streak of 22 consecutive scoreless appearances in the postseason is one away from matching Mariano Rivera’s all-time record. Sidearm lefty Javier Lopez slipped a bit yet still held lefties to a .194 average. Righthander Jean Machi is a workhorse whose splitter is an effective out pitch. Petit, a strike-throwing savant, set a major league record when he retired 46 consecutive batters over eight appearances.

 

Middle Infield

Joe Panik was a lifesaver after his mid-June debut, filling a vacuum at second base after Marco Scutaro’s ailing back limited him to just a token appearance. The line-drive-hitting lefty led all NL rookies in average (.305) and on-base percentage (.343) in 73 games while also playing smooth — and at times spectacular — defense. Panik is an ideal fit in the No. 2 spot with his blend of contact skills and ability to hit behind the runner. Shortstop Brandon Crawford had another season that was greater than the sum of its parts. He finished just short again in his perennial quest to hit .250 (ending at .246) but posted career bests in runs, triples, homers, RBIs and walks — and he hit the grand slam that powered the Giants past Pittsburgh in the wild card game. Although Crawford’s 21 errors ranked as the second most among NL shortstops, he’s a gifted and creative playmaker. If he could just eliminate some of the routine errors, he’d be a Gold Glove candidate.

 

Corners

If not for that ride in another World Series parade, Brandon Belt would have considered his season totally forgettable. He landed on the disabled list three times, once for a broken thumb after getting hit by a pitch in May and then twice for a concussion following a batting practice accident in which he was struck in the face by a thrown ball. Belt ended up hitting .243 with 12 home runs in 61 games, but he finished the regular season free of concussion symptoms, and his home run in the 18th inning in Game 2 of the NLDS at Washington was probably the turning point of the postseason. Casey McGehee was the NL’s Comeback Player of the Year for the Marlins after hitting .287 and finishing fourth in the NL with 177 hits. He doesn’t provide much power and represents a defensive step down from Sandoval.

 

Outfield

Few players are as reliable as Hunter Pence, who has appeared in 383 consecutive games since making his Giants debut in the middle of the 2012 season. Unfortunately, Pence’s consecutive games streak will come to an end due to a broken forearm he sustained when he was hit by a pitch in his first spring training game. The Giants hope to get Pence, who topped 20 homers for the seventh consecutive season and was second in the NL with a career-best 106 runs scored, back in the lineup by late April or early May. Angel Pagan is the antithesis of Pence. He’s a catalyst atop the lineup when healthy, but that’s seldom the case. One year after hamstring surgery limited him to 71 games, Pagan played just 96 games while complaining of a back ailment. Gregor Blanco ended up in the lineup more often than the Giants would like, but he’s a productive on-base guy and a phenomenal defender. Another speedy glove man, Juan Perez, could receive more playing time now that Michael Morse has moved on. The Giants also signed Nori Aoki to a one-year deal. Aoki, who faced the Giants in the World Series when he was with the Royals, will likely take Pence’s spot in the starting lineup while he’s sidelined.

 

Catching

Buster Posey proved once again that he doesn’t need to be an elite offensive player to bring plenty of value to the field. He didn’t have one extra-base hit all postseason but remained a rock for the staff while executing scouting reports to help the Giants pitch their way to a title. Even though a sore back and accumulated innings might have limited his bat in October, Posey remains one of the league’s best pure hitters. His .348 average away from AT&T Park was the highest of all major leaguers on the road. With the emergence of rookie Andrew Susac, Bochy should feel free to keep Posey fresh by giving him more days off or starts at first base. 

 

Bench

Travis Ishikawa became a modern-day Bobby Thomson when he hit a walk-off home run to win the pennant. He returns as a left-handed bat off the bench with the ability to play a serviceable left field and a very good first base. Matt Duffy supplanted Joaquin Arias as the club’s top right-handed pinch-hitter, and there may be room for only one on the bench.

 

Management

Bochy is one of 10 managers in history to win three World Series championships, and the other nine are in the Hall of Fame. Brian Sabean, who took over the Giants baseball operations department after the 1996 season, is the longest-tenured GM in the majors. Although not the most creative when it comes to making trades, Sabean puts his trust in a scouting system that has few peers when it comes to unearthing minor league free agents, breaking down opponents and hitting home runs with top draft picks.

 

Final Analysis

The Giants weren’t able to turn another World Series title into a recruiting advantage on the free-agent market, but their core players (Bumgarner, Posey, Pence, Cain) weren’t going anywhere and still have plenty of prime years left. The bullpen is a strength, but depth remains an issue both in the rotation and lineup. The Giants missed the playoffs as defending champions in 2011 and ’13, and once again, there’s no guarantee they’ll get back to defend — especially if players like Belt and Pagan have trouble staying healthy again.

 

2015 Prediction: 2nd in NL West (Wild Card)

 

Projected Lineup

CF       Angel Pagan (S)      Talented switch-hitter has topped 125 games just twice in his career and is coming off lower back surgery.

2B       Joe Panik (L)            Hit .373 against lefties, joining Willie McCovey and Will Clark as only Giants rookies to hit .300 vs. southpaws.

RF       Hunter Pence (R)    Became first Giant with 700 plate appearances in a season since Brett Butler in 1990.

C         Buster Posey (R)     Started 109 games at catcher, 30 at first base and two as the designated hitter.

1B       Brandon Belt (L)      Joined Dusty Rhodes and Mel Ott as the only Giants to hit an extra-inning homer in the postseason.

3B       Casey McGehee (R)           Returned from a year with Rakuten in Japan to finish fourth in NL with 177 hits for the Marlins.

LF       Gregor Blanco (L)    In 226 total chances, committed just one error — his first since 2012.

SS       Brandon Crawford (L)         His 10 triples were tied for second most in the big leagues behind Dee Gordon.

 

Bench

1B/LF Travis Ishikawa (L)             The Pirates’ Opening Day first baseman ended up becoming an unlikely postseason hero for Giants.

OF       Juan Perez (R)         Hit just .170 while going up and down six times between Giants and Triple-A Fresno.

C         Andrew Susac (R)   Once threw out the Reds’ Billy Hamilton twice in a minor league game.

INF      Joaquin Arias (R)    Hit .305 against lefthanders, so most of his starts should come against southpaws.

OF       Nori Aoki (L) Hit just .071 (1-for14) for Royals against Giants in last year’s World Series.

 

Rotation

LH       Madison Bumgarner           Among all his other talents, he also led the major leagues with nine pickoffs.

RH      Matt Cain       Made 30 starts in eight consecutive seasons before elbow surgery snapped the streak.

RH      Jake Peavy    Posted 1.35 ERA in his last nine outings, the lowest in the majors after Aug. 13.

RH      Tim Hudson             The 16-year veteran leads all active pitchers with 214 victories, but is coming off his first losing season.

RH      Tim Lincecum          Lost spot in the rotation in August after posting 9.49 ERA in his last six starts.

 

Bullpen

RH      Santiago Casilla (Closer) Converted 17 of 18 save chances after taking over closer role in late June.

RH      Sergio Romo            Allowed career-high nine homers and lost closer role at the end of June, but rebounded with strong second half.

RH      Yusmeiro Petit         Was 3–4 with a 5.03 ERA as a starter and 2–1 with a 1.84 ERA in 27 relief appearances.

RH      Jean Machi   Made team-high 71 appearances and had a scoreless streak of 25.1 innings between April 16 and June 21.

RH      George Kontos        Shuttled between Triple-A and the bigs five times, but will be out of minor league options next season.

LH       Javier Lopez             Has allowed just four home runs in 185 innings during his time with the Giants.

LH       Jeremy Affeldt           His 1.10 WHIP in 62 appearances was the lowest of his career.

 

Beyond the Box Score

Mr. October Madison Bumgarner became the fourth pitcher to win both the LCS and World Series MVP awards in a single postseason, joining Orel Hershiser (1988), Livan Hernandez (1997) and Cole Hamels (2008). He also became the first pitcher in history to rack up two wins and a save — in a five-inning relief appearance, no less — in a single World Series. With his four-hit, 10-K performance in the NL Wild Card game at Pittsburgh and a four-hit, eight-strikeout night in Game 5 of the World Series, Bumgarner became the first pitcher since Florida’s Josh Beckett in 2003 to throw multiple shutouts in a postseason.

Granny Bumgarner hit a grand slam April 11 at Colorado and connected again with the bases loaded July 13 at home against Arizona, making him the second pitcher in MLB history to hit two grand slams in one season. Buster Posey also hit a slam July 13, marking the first time in major league history that a pair of batterymates hit grand slams in the same game.

Double no-nos Tim Lincecum no-hit the San Diego Padres for the second consecutive season, this time accomplishing the feat at AT&T Park on June 25. He became just the second pitcher in major league history (joining Addie Joss) to no-hit the same team twice, and joined Sandy Koufax as the only pitchers in history with multiple no-hitters, multiple Cy Young Awards and multiple World Series rings.

Proud papa In 2014, Bruce Bochy became the first manager in major league history to hand the baseball to his son on a big league mound after righthander Brett Bochy joined the roster in September. The Bochys became the eighth father-son manager-player combination in major league history; the previous seven combinations all involved sons who were position players.

Unhittable Yusmeiro Petit set a major league record when he retired 46 consecutive batters over eight appearances (six in relief) from July 22-Aug. 28. He broke the previous record of 45 set by Mark Buehrle, who followed up his perfect game in 2009 with five more perfect innings. Arguably, Petit’s run of perfection was much more difficult because he worked as a spot starter and long man, twice pitching on more than nine days of rest.

 

2014 Top Draft Pick

Tyler Beede, RHP

Before the Giants clinched another World Series title, Beede and his pals stormed the field to celebrate Vanderbilt’s College World Series championship in Omaha. Because of Beede’s heavy workload with the Commodores, he only made six pro starts after signing for a $2.65 million bonus, never working further than the fourth inning. Beede’s college statistics (8–7, 3.20 ERA) don’t reflect his combination of stuff, size and stamina that convinced the Giants that he could move quickly through their system. Beede throws a fastball that averages 92-94 mph and has topped out at 97, although he projects to throw harder when he adds size to his 6'4" frame. The Giants liked his athleticism, arm speed and ability to stay within a clean delivery, even if his 43 walks in 98.1 innings were on the high side.

 

Top 10 Prospects

1. Kyle Crick, RHP (22) Highest-ceiling pitcher in the system was on a 100-pitch limit and only completed six innings four times in 22 starts because of command issues at Double-A Richmond.

2. Christian Arroyo, SS (19) His ticket is his intelligence at the plate and his bat control; a move to second base is probably in his future.

3. Tyler Beede, RHP (21) Giants’ No. 1 pick in 2014 should make a rapid rise. Fastball hits mid-90s, and he boasts a devastating changeup.

4. Keury Mella, RHP (21) Posted 63 strikeouts and just 13 walks in 66 innings at Low-A Augusta, along with a ton of ground-ball outs despite missing some time with shoulder soreness.

5. Steven Okert, LHP (23) Dominated out of the bullpen on two levels, then continued to shine against top prospects in the Arizona Fall League.

6. Daniel Carbonell, OF (24) Gifted athlete signed a guaranteed deal after defecting from Cuba and exceeded expectations both at Single-A San Jose and then in the Arizona Fall League.

7. Adalberto Mejia, LHP (21) Conditioning issues hampered development and a 50-game suspension for using a banned stimulant didn’t help matters.

8. Ty Blach, LHP (24) Smart competitor with a plus changeup in the Tom Glavine mold but won’t be able to get away with mistakes.

9. Clayton Blackburn, RHP (22) Big-bodied strike-thrower had command of four pitches from the day he signed out of high school.

10. Mac Williamson, OF (24) Rare combination of power and on-base skills but missed an important year of development after Tommy John surgery.

Teaser:
San Francisco Giants 2015 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, March 13, 2015 - 12:30
All taxonomy terms: National League, NL West, San Diego Padres, MLB, News
Path: /mlb/san-diego-padres-2015-preview-and-prediction
Body:

It was shaping up to be another ho-hum winter for the Padres when first-year general manager A.J. Preller changed the complexion of the team with a dizzying series of blockbuster trades in just more than a week in mid-December. After eight seasons out of the playoffs, the Padres suddenly have a pulse following the acquisitions of slugging outfielders Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers, All-Star catcher Derek Norris and third baseman Will Middlebrooks. And he didn’t stop there, landing free agent starting pitcher James Shields in February. Preller’s attitude is to win now and win later after pumping up what had been the worst offense in the major leagues and luring one of the top arms on the market. The Padres are finally in position to spend some of the millions of dollars from their local TV deal. The moves will send the player payroll well into the $100 million range. Whether they’re enough to catch the Dodgers and Giants in the NL West remains to be seen, but they at least bring realistic expectations of success to Petco Park.

 

Rotation

Preller was able to swing his big deals without losing the big three in his rotation, Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy, and that was before he brought in Shields. Preller did deal Jesse Hahn, a young righthander who had been penciled into the rotation before being sent to Oakland in the trade for Norris. Even though he was viewed as one of the better pitchers available, Shields was one of the last to sign when he agreed to a four-year, $75 million deal to front the Padres’ rotation. Ross was more than durable in his first full season, going 13–14 with a 2.81 ERA and making the All-Star team. Cashner isn’t as durable, having spent the equivalent of half the season on the disabled list. But when he’s on, he’s hard to hit. Cashner (5–7, 2.55 ERA in 2014) has an active streak of allowing two or fewer earned runs in a franchise-record 18 consecutive starts at home dating back to June 11, 2013. Kennedy was mentioned in several trade rumors during the winter, but the Padres were able to keep him. Kennedy was one of 11 big-league pitchers and one of five National Leaguers in 2014 to log 200 or more innings and strike out 200 or more. Cuban righthander Odrisamer Despaigne won his first two starts before leveling off with a 4–7 record and 3.36 ERA. He will compete with Brandon Morrow for the final spot. Preller signed Morrow, who was never able to stay healthy while he was with the Blue Jays, to a $2.5 million, one-year contract that will allow him to earn up to $8 million if he starts regularly. Waiting in the wings are Casey Kelly and Cory Luebke, still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Luebke had to have a second operation after the first one failed to take. The Padres are also bringing back Josh Johnson, who made $8 million last year but didn’t throw a pitch after sustaining an elbow injury in spring training that required a second career Tommy John surgery.

 

Bullpen

As solid as the rotation is, there’s a pretty good reason why Preller worked to keep his bullpen intact. Padres relievers went 21–15 with 41 saves in 49 opportunities, with a 2.73 ERA. The ERA was second to Seattle’s 2.59 in the majors and was the best mark in team history. Closer Joaquin Benoit was shut down for almost a month late in the season with shoulder discomfort, finishing with 11 saves and a 1.49 ERA. The 37-year-old enters the final year of his $15.5 million, two-year deal. In Benoit’s absence, Kevin Quackenbush stepped into the closer’s role during his first big-league season and gained valuable experience, earning six saves. Overall, Quackenbush was 3–3 with a 2.48 ERA with 56 strikeouts against 18 walks in 56 appearances. He held opponents scoreless in 46 of his 56 appearances. In late December, Preller acquired right-handed setup man Shawn Kelley from the Yankees for a minor leaguer. The Padres also obtained hard-throwing Brandon Maurer from Seattle for outfielder Seth Smith just before the New Year. Maurer was originally a starter for the Mariners last year but was exceptional once he moved to the pen.

 

Middle Infield

The Padres are looking for a bounce-back season from second baseman Jedd Gyorko, who struggled at the plate and with foot injuries after signing a $35 million, six-year deal just weeks into his second full big-league season. He struggled to get his average up to .210 and finished with 10 homers, falling well short of his rookie numbers of .249 and 23 homers. His double-play partner will be either Alexi Amarista or free-agent pickup Clint Barmes, who turns 36 in March. Amarista filled in down the stretch for injured shortstop Everth Cabrera, who was not tendered a contract after the season due in part to off-field drug issues. 

 

Corners

Yangervis Solarte had been penciled in at third base, where he took over after being obtained from the Yankees in the deal for Chase Headley, before Preller traded for Middlebrooks. The Padres are looking for a rebound season by Middlebrooks, who hit 15 homers as a rookie in 2012 and 17 in 2013 before injuries, a .191 average and shuttling up and down from Triple-A led to what he called “a rough year” in 2014. The Padres also need a bounce-back year from first baseman Yonder Alonso, who was limited to only 84 games due to injuries.

 

Outfield

The dynamic of the outfield changed 100 percent in just a matter of days, from an injury-prone group to three stars. Manager Bud Black envisions Upton in left, Myers in center and Kemp in right. All are right-handed hitters, and the hope is they’ll wear out left field at Petco Park. The centerpiece of Preller’s winter revamp is Kemp, who twice made the All-Star team during his time in L.A., as well as winning two Gold Gloves and two Silver Slugger awards. Although Kemp has a history of shoulder and ankle injuries, he had a strong second half in 2014, finishing the season with a .287 average, 25 home runs and 89 RBIs. Myers was the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year with Tampa Bay. A wrist injury limited him to 87 games last year. Upton hit 29 home runs and drove in 102 runs last year. Even after moving Smith, Preller still has a surplus of outfielders, including oft-injured Carlos Quentin, who is owed $8 million this season and has a full no-trade clause, and Cameron Maybin. 

 

Catching

Preller has gone for a total overhaul behind the plate, acquiring Norris from the A’s while dealing Rene Rivera and Yasmani Grandal during his big pre-Christmas shopping spree. Norris set career highs in nearly every offensive category in 2014, including batting average (.270), on-base percentage (.361), runs (46), hits (104), doubles (19), home runs (10), RBIs (55) and walks (54) en route to being named to his first AL All-Star team.

 

Bench

Preller still has some tough decisions to make before settling on a 25-man roster. His crowded outfield includes Quentin and Maybin, both of whom have been limited by injuries. Quentin has a no-trade clause and one year at $8 million remaining on his contract. Maybin still has two years and $15 million left on his deal. Then there’s Will Venable, who struggled with a .224 average. Tim Federowicz, who came over from the Dodgers with Kemp, will be the No. 2 catcher. Barmes and some combination of Solarte, Tommy Medica and Jake Goebbert will comprise the rest of the bench.

 

Management

Preller came in with a reputation of being a hard-working, hard-charging executive, a trait that showed during his remarkable run of trades in December. Ownership is finally loosening the purse strings and spending some of the increased revenues from its local TV contract. One of Preller’s next big decisions will be whether to extend Black, who enters the final year of his contract and has yet to get the Padres into the playoffs during his tenure.

 

Final Analysis

Some people thought the Padres would contend for a wild card spot last year, only to watch them post historically awful offensive numbers in the first half. After Preller’s shopping spree, this might finally be the season when the Padres break through. The NL West is still tough, with the Dodgers’ and Giants’ pitching, but the Padres will at least have a chance.

 

2015 Prediction: 3rd in NL West

 

Projected Lineup

SS       Alexi Amarista (L)    Utility man settled in at shortstop the last month of 2014; now he’ll try to hold position on everyday basis.

CF       Wil Myers (R)            After winning AL Rookie of Year in 2013, was limited to 87 games, six homers, 35 RBIs due to wrist injury.

RF       Matt Kemp (R)          Centerpiece of offseason moves looks to build on strong second half in 2014.

LF       Justin Upton (R)      One of game’s top right-handed power hitters had 29 homers, 102 RBIs last season with Atlanta.

C         Derek Norris (R)      Padres like 26-year-old All-Star’s offense: 10 home runs and 55 RBIs in 127 games last year.

1B       Yonder Alonso (L)   Hand, forearm injuries limited him to 84 games, fewest in three seasons with the Padres.

2B       Jedd Gyorko (R)       Struggled mightily after signing big deal; Padres hope he can return to form of his rookie year.

3B       Will Middlebrooks (R)         Hit 32 homers his first two big-league seasons combined before dropping off to two last year.

 

Bench

OF       Carlos Quentin (R)  Padres are handcuffed by his no-trade clause and perennially troublesome knees.

SS       Clint Barmes (R)     Played in only 48 games in 2014 with 102 at-bats, hitting .245 with seven RBIs. Will be 36 on Opening Day.

3B       Yangervis Solarte (S)          Played in 56 games after coming over from Yankees in Chase Headley deal.

C         Tim Federowicz (R)       Came over from Dodgers in Kemp deal; played parts of four big-league seasons with L.A.

OF       Will Venable (L)       One of many Padres who slumped in 2014; .224 average was 44 points below his career-best set in 2013.

 

Rotation

RH      James Shields        New ace has posted eight straight seasons of 200 or more innings, making 264 starts for Rays then Royals during this span.

RH      Andrew Cashner     Hard-throwing, injury-prone former first-round pick of the Cubs had a 2.55 ERA, 1.127 WHIP in 2014.

RH      Tyson Ross  First-time All-Star threw 195.2 innings in 31 starts, struck out 195 and went 13–14 with a 2.81 ERA.

RH      Ian Kennedy Workhorse was 13–13 with a 3.63 ERA and 207 strikeouts against 70 walks.

RH      Brandon Morrow      Free-agent pickup signed $2.5 million, one-year contract that jumps to $8 million if he starts regularly.

 

Bullpen

RH      Joaquin Benoit (Closer)     Was limited to 11 saves in 53 appearances due to shoulder discomfort in first season in San Diego.

RH      Kevin Quackenbush           Fan favorite went 3–3 with six saves, 2.48 ERA in 56 appearances as a rookie.

RH      Dale Thayer  Set career-bests with four wins, 2.34 ERA, 65.1 innings and 70 appearances.

RH      Nick Vincent Had career-best 25-game, 23.1-inning scoreless streak from July 23 to Sept. 12.

LH       Alex Torres    Stranded 39 of his 44 inherited runners (88.6 percent), tied for the fourth-best rate in MLB.

RH      Shawn Kelley           Went 3–6 with four saves and a 4.53 ERA in 59 appearances as setup man for Yankees in 2014.

RH      Odrisamer Despaigne       Cuban defector had fast start to rookie season that ended with 4–7 record, 3.36 ERA, 65 strikeouts. Will compete with Morrow for final rotation spot.

 

Beyond the Box Score

All-Star Game In January, the Padres were announced as the hosts of the 2016 All-Star Game, one of Bud Selig’s final acts before handing over the commissioner’s office to Rob Manfred. The City Council has approved spending a maximum $1.5 million for police officers, firefighters and other services during the game and five days of related events. The city expects a total economic impact of $80 million. San Diego hasn’t hosted an All-Star Game since 1992.

Padres in HD The Padres are spending more than $10 million to install a high-definition video board in left field. At 61 feet tall by 123 feet wide, it will be the third largest in MLB and the biggest in the National League. It will be nearly five times the size of the old video screen, which has been in place since Petco Park opened in 2004.

Sir Paul at Petco The Padres were able to lure Paul McCartney to play their downtown ballpark on Sept. 28, the third California stadium the former Beatle played on his “Out There” tour. One problem, though: McCartney gave a shout-out to the Chargers, who won their game earlier that day, but he didn’t give any props to the host team. That’s OK — in November 2005, Mick Jagger gave David Wells a shout-out during a Rolling Stones concert at Petco.

A Sinatra man Matt Kemp drew chuckles at his introductory news conference when he called Preller “a GM rock star right now” because of all the big deals he was making. Later, Preller, a native New Yorker, said he listens to Frank Sinatra most mornings, “but I don’t know if that characterizes me as a rock star.”

Job security issue New hitting coach Mark Kotsay, who retired following the 2013 season, isn’t swayed by the fact that the previous six Padres hitting coaches were either fired or resigned before they could be dismissed. “It’s a difficult task. It’s a role that in some regards is not necessarily rewarding,” he says. “Being recently retired … my connection to the game and the players that I’m going to be leading is very close, very new, very fresh. I think that I will have an understanding of what they’re going through as players, based on my career, and the different roles that I played as an offensive player on different teams, the successes, the failures.”

 

2014 Top Draft Pick

Michael Gettys, OF

Gettys was the Padres’ second-round pick, selected behind shortstop Trea Turner, the PTBNL dealt to Washington as part of the 11-player, three-team trade that brought Wil Myers to the Padres. Although Gettys, from Gainesville (Ga.) High School, is a potential five-tool player, concerns about his hitting caused him to drop into the second round. Gettys’ first pro season, in the Arizona Rookie League, played out as expected. He was touted as having speed and raw power, and that he would struggle to make consistent contact. He hit .310 in 213 at-bats, with 66 strikeouts and only 15 walks. Still, he has a strong arm, and the Padres hope he can make a rapid climb.

 

Top 10 Prospects

1. Hunter Renfroe, OF (23) Former Mississippi State star made a quick jump from Single-A to Double-A, where he hit .232 with five homers, 23 RBIs in 60 games. Has raw power and strong arm.

2. Austin Hedges, C (22) Is considered the best defensive catcher in the minor leagues, but his bat is still catching up. He hit .225 with six homers and 44 RBIs at Double-A San Antonio in 2014.

3. Matt Wisler, RHP (22) Made quick jump from Double-A San Antonio to Triple-A El Paso, where he went 9–5 in 22 starts with a 5.01 ERA. Will continue to develop in AAA.

4. Rymer Liriano, OF (23) Played 38 games in first big-league stint. Showed off his raw power by homering into the top deck of the brick warehouse in left field corner of Petco Park. 

5. Michael Gettys, OF (19) Second-round pick out of high school hit .310 with three homers, 38 RBIs in 52 games in rookie league.

6. Jose Rondon, SS (21)  Hit .319 in two stops in High-A ball and should open season with Double-A San Antonio.

7. Zech Lemond, RHP (22) Third-round draft pick in 2014 bounced back from elbow inflammation in final season at Rice to go 2–3 with a 3.43 ERA combined at Single-A Eugene and Double-A San Antonio.

8. Tayron Guerrero, RHP (24) Intriguing, slow-developing 6'7" prospect was added to 40-man roster to protect him from Rule 5 draft; posted 1.45 ERA between Low-A and High-A in 2014.

9. Justin Hancock, RHP (24)  Was not put on 40-man roster after going 3–2 with a 4.12 ERA in 12 starts plus one relief appearance for Double-A San Antonio. Had 6.19 ERA in the Arizona Fall League.

10. Ryan Butler, RHP (23) Seventh-round draft pick last June was 1–1 with a 2.76 ERA in 23 games combined between Low-A and High-A.

Teaser:
San Diego Padres 2015 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, March 13, 2015 - 12:00
Path: /mlb/los-angeles-dodgers-2015-preview-and-prediction
Body:

The Dodgers are hoping to find out what happens when ‘Moneyball’ gets big money.

 

Two years of record payrolls and high-profile acquisitions did just what they were supposed to do — regain credibility for the franchise after the dark days of the McCourt era and garner a massive new TV rights deal. It did not, however, produce postseason success or a return to the World Series for the first time since 1988.

 

So Phase 2 of the Guggenheim ownership group’s master plan kicked in when the Dodgers stole Andrew Friedman from the Tampa Bay Rays to be the new president of baseball operations. A new decision-making hierarchy of Friedman, GM Farhan Zaidi (from Oakland) and senior vice president of baseball operations Josh Byrnes (Arizona, San Diego) brings small-market discipline and sophisticated analytical techniques to the big-market Dodgers.

 

The result was unprecedented roster churn for a two-time division champion and 94-win team — and hopefully a more sustainable model for long-term success.

 

Rotation

A disappointing playoff performance against the Cardinals was the only blemish on one of the greatest seasons any pitcher has had in recent years. Clayton Kershaw became the first National League pitcher since Bob Gibson in 1968 to win both the Cy Young and MVP awards. Kershaw spotted the rest of the league a five-week head start (spending time on the DL for the first time in his career) and still led the majors with 21 wins. He also led MLB in ERA (1.77) — for an unprecedented fourth consecutive season — winning percentage (.875), complete games (six) and WHIP (0.86) and led the NL in strikeout-to-walk ratio (7.71). Zack Greinke returns as possibly the best No. 2 starter in baseball. But the Dodgers are crossing their fingers on the rest of the rotation. Nagging injuries limited Hyun-Jin Ryu to 152 innings — 40 fewer than in 2013, his first season with the team. Brandon McCarthy was signed to a four-year, $48 million contract as a free agent despite a history of shoulder problems. And Brett Anderson was also signed despite a litany of injury problems that limited him to barely 200 innings over the past four years. There is not much depth beyond that group, but the potential upside is strong if the Dodgers’ trainers can hold them together. Former Atlanta righty Brandon Beachy in February, but he’s recovering from a second Tommy John surgery and won’t be ready to return to the mound until around the All-Star break at the earliest.

 

Bullpen

Former GM Ned Colletti spent big in assembling the Dodgers’ 2014 bullpen. That’s the main reason he is a former GM. The relief corps was supposed to be a strength of the Dodgers last season, but it underperformed thoroughly and instead became an Achilles heel —particularly in the Division Series loss to the Cardinals. So Friedman tore it apart and rebuilt it in the winter. Closer Kenley Jansen and lefthander J.P. Howell survived the purge. Joel Peralta, Chris Hatcher and Juan Nicasio were all acquired in trades and will pitch key innings in 2015 (though Nicasio is also a candidate to flesh out the rotation if needed). The reconfigured bullpen will be tested early, as Jansen could miss as many as the first five weeks of the season after undergoing foot surgery in the middle of February. Peralta or Howell figure to see the save chances while Jansen is sidelined.

 

Middle Infield

The middle of the diamond was Ground Zero for the offseason makeover. Oft-injured shortstop Hanley Ramirez had become a moody annoyance in the clubhouse and a defensive liability on the field. He was allowed to leave as a free agent. Second baseman Dee Gordon had been an All-Star in his first season at a new position but was coveted by the Marlins and dealt in an seven-player trade. In their place, the Dodgers acquired Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick. Even at age 36, Rollins is a huge upgrade defensively over Ramirez. Under contract for just one more year, Rollins is keeping the position warm for top prospect Corey Seager. Kendrick will be counted on to replace some of the right-handed offensive production lost when Matt Kemp was traded away. But primarily, Rollins and Kendrick will improve the infield defense behind a ground ball-oriented pitching staff.

 

Corners

Adrian Gonzalez and Juan Uribe survived the winter makeover and will anchor the infield. Both fit the new profile of a lineup more balanced towards defense. Gonzalez led the majors in RBIs (116), won his fourth Gold Glove and second Silver Slugger Award in 2014. He figures to be an even more critical piece of the Dodgers’ foundation with the departures of Ramirez and Kemp. Uribe, meanwhile, continued his late-career renaissance, providing above-average defense at third base and a revitalized bat (he hit a career-high .311 last year). But don’t get used to this infield. The four starters average nearly 34 years old, and only Gonzalez is signed beyond this season — setting up another busy offseason project for next winter.

 

Outfield

One of the first things on Friedman’s ‘to-do’ list when he took over the Dodgers was to clear out the outfield logjam that had made the team’s roster unbalanced and dysfunctional for two years. He did that in a big way — but not the expected way — by trading Matt Kemp to the Padres in a five-player deal. After two years of injuries, Kemp regained his form in the second half of the 2014 season and was one of the most productive hitters in the National League. That offensive production will be difficult to replace. But dealing Kemp cleared a path to the big leagues for blue-chip prospect Joc Pederson and allowed the Dodgers to settle into a more appropriate defensive alignment in the outfield — like Ramirez, Kemp was among the worst defenders at his position in the National League last season. Pederson will step in as the everyday center fielder. Yasiel Puig will move back to right field, and left field will be manned primarily by Carl Crawford. Scott Van Slyke is available to platoon against left-handed pitching (he had a 1.045 OPS against lefties last season).

 

Catching

Dodgers catchers were last or next to last in nearly every offensive statistic last season, and their defensive work was fairly unimpressive as well. A.J. Ellis is back on the strength of his relationship with the Dodgers’ pitchers (particularly Kershaw) and the hope that leg injuries were at the root of his offensive failings. But he will be in a secondary role with Yasmani Grandal (acquired in the Kemp trade) the lead catcher. Grandal hit 15 home runs for the Padres last season and had an .863 OPS in 60 games as a rookie in 2012. But he comes with a red flag: Since a 50-game suspension for testosterone use in 2013, he has been a .224 hitter with a .721 OPS and a rising strikeout rate.

 

Bench

Van Slyke and Justin Turner were two of the most productive bench players in the NL last season. Van Slyke hammered left-handed pitching, and Turner hammered just about everyone. Turner hit a ridiculous .419 (26-for-62) with runners in scoring position, driving in 33 runs in those situations. With those two in place, the Dodgers will sort through infielders Darwin Barney and Alex Guerrero, as well as their outfield surplus, to fill out the bench.

 

Management

Some observers have tabbed the Dodgers’ new front office executives as a ‘Dream Team.’ They certainly hit the ground running in remaking the organization. The mandate is to win now while bringing the payroll into a more manageable range and building a prospect pipeline that will sustain the franchise. It won’t be an easy balancing act. Manager Don Mattingly has earned respect for his handling of a clubhouse loaded with big paychecks and big egos. But the decision-makers will no doubt use 2015 to evaluate whether he is their man long term.

 

Final Analysis

The Dodgers spent nearly a half-billion dollars in salaries over the past two seasons and couldn’t get back to the World Series for the first time since 1988. Tearing apart a 94-win roster was an unexpected turn, but the Dodgers emerged as a much better defensive team and one still built on an exceptional pitching staff that should make them the favorite in the National League West once again. Whether the new approach works any better in October remains to be seen.

 

2015 Prediction: 1st in NL West

 

Projected Lineup

SS       Jimmy Rollins (S)    One of only four players in baseball last year with at least 15 home runs and 25 stolen bases.

LF       Carl Crawford (L)     Emerged from Dodgers’ outfield time-share to hit .403 over his final 44 games last year.

RF       Yasiel Puig (R)         11 HRs in first 48 games but none in next 32 games and only five in final 100 games of season.

1B       Adrian Gonzalez (L) Only two players have had 100 RBIs in seven of the past eight seasons — Miguel Cabrera and Gonzalez.

2B       Howie Kendrick (R) Hit just seven HRs with Angels last year, but Dodgers believe his swing is suited for Dodger Stadium.

C         Yasmani Grandal (S)          Career .225 hitter as a right-handed batter, the switch-hitter figures to share catching starts with A.J. Ellis.

3B       Juan Uribe (R)         Veteran was made “manager for a day” by Don Mattingly on last day of regular season — a 10–5 win.

CF       Joc Pederson (L)     Matt Kemp trade paved way for Pederson, who had first 30-30 season in Pacific Coast League since 1934.

 

Bench

OF       Scott Van Slyke (R) Death to lefthanders — 1.045 OPS, 18 extra-base hits (including eight HRs) in 108 ABs against lefties in ‘14.

INF      Justin Turner (R)     His .388 average, 1.025 OPS after the All-Star break were tops in baseball (min. 70 at-bats).

C         A.J. Ellis (R)  Relationship with Dodgers pitchers (Kershaw in particular) might have saved him from roster churn.

INF      Alex Guerrero (R)     Contract says he has to be on big-league roster this year, but Dodgers have to find a position for him.

INF      Darwin Barney (R)   Last spot on the bench could be a free-for-all among Barney and the last outfiielder standing.

 

Rotation

LH       Clayton Kershaw     Madison Bumgarner stole his thunder, but Kershaw has three Cy Youngs and an MVP in past four seasons.

RH      Zack Greinke            Opt-out clause in Greinke’s contract could make this his last year in Dodger blue — if he wants to leave.

LH       Hyun-Jin Ryu            Nagging injuries, including recurring sore shoulder, limited him to 40 fewer innings in second season.

RH      Brandon McCarthy   Dodgers believe he has begun a new chapter in his career thanks to stronger shoulder, increased velocity.

LH       Brett Anderson         Dodgers are taking a gamble on oft-injured lefthander who hasn’t pitched 45 innings in a season since 2011.

 

Bullpen

RH      Kenley Jansen (Closer)     Converted 44 of 49 saves last year to become only fourth Dodgers pitcher with a 40-save season. Will miss up to the first five weeks of the season after undergoing foot surgery in February.

RH      Joel Peralta  38-year-old was one of most reliable relievers in AL over past four years with Rays.

LH       J.P. Howell    Pitched up to expectations in the first half but struggled down the stretch (11.81 ERA in September).

RH      Brandon League     Hasn’t lived up to his contract extension but was a useful piece of last year’s disappointing bullpen.

RH      Juan Nicasio            Might have found his true calling in move to bullpen with Rockies last year.

RH      Chris Hatcher           Converted catcher acquired in big trade with Marlins gives Dodgers a power arm to deploy in late innings.

LH       Adam Liberatore      Minor league success vs. lefties could give him leg up on others for a bullpen spot.

 

Beyond the Box Score

Quick stay The roster churn that followed Andrew Friedman’s hiring was so thorough that he acquired five players in a six-week span who weren’t around long enough to wear a Dodgers uniform. Lefthander Andrew Heaney, righthander Zach Eflin and outfielder Matt Long were acquired in trades then flipped to a third team in another trade. Catcher Ryan Lavarnway and infielder Ryan Jackson were acquired in waiver claims; Lavarnway was later designated for assignment to clear a roster spot and Jackson was traded to Kansas City for cash. Heaney made light of the tumultuous day that saw him go from the Marlins to the Dodgers to the Angels, posting on Twitter: “Well, Dodgers we had a good run! Great to be a part of such a storied franchise. #thanksforthememories

Legend Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully will return for his 66th season as the Dodgers’ play-by-play broadcaster in 2015. Scully (who turned 87 in November) has cut back his travel schedule considerably over the years (he broadcasts road games in California and Arizona only) but agreed to another one-year contract for the 2015 season. “Naturally, there will come a time when I will have to say goodbye,” Scully said in announcing his decision to return. “But I’ve soul-searched and this is not the time.”

No-no With no-hitters by Josh Beckett in May and Clayton Kershaw in June, the Dodgers ran their major league-high total of no-hitters to 22. But the Dodgers weren’t just doubling up on no-hitters at the big-league level in 2014. On Aug. 28, two of the Dodgers’ minor league affiliates threw no-hitters. Righthander Andres Santiago threw a no-hitter for Double-A Chattanooga, and four pitchers for the Dodgers’ team in the Arizona Summer League combined for a no-hitter.

Experience  With the hiring of Friedman as president of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi as GM and Josh Byrnes as senior vice president of baseball operations, the Dodgers enter 2015 with six former or current general managers in their front office — Friedman (Tampa Bay), Byrnes (San Diego and Arizona), Zaidi, senior advisor Ned Colletti (Dodgers), special advisor to the GM Gerry Hunsicker (Houston and Tampa Bay) and special advisor to the chairman Tommy Lasorda, who was the Dodgers’ interim GM in 1998.

 

2014 Top Draft Pick

Grant Holmes, RHP

Scouting director Logan White’s last first-round pick for the Dodgers — he took a job in the Padres’ front office this winter — fit the profile; it was the 11th time in the past 12 years the Dodgers had taken a pitcher with their first pick. White described Holmes, a big righthander from Conway, S.C., as “an advanced high school pitcher” with a good fastball and a power breaking ball rated among the best in last year’s draft class. Holmes, taken No. 22 overall, struck out five batters in two innings in his pro debut in the Arizona Summer League and was quickly moved to rookie-level Ogden. In 11 appearances at the two levels, he struck out 58 in 48.1 innings.

 

Top 10 Prospects

1. Corey Seager, SS (20) The Dodgers targeted 36-year-old Jimmy Rollins as Hanley Ramirez’s replacement at shortstop so that they wouldn’t block blue-chipper Seager’s imminent arrival.

2. Joc Pederson, OF (22) Got a taste of the big leagues as a September call-up last year and struggled but will get every chance to be Dodgers’ Opening Day starter in center field.

3. Julio Urias, LHP (18) The Dodgers are handling their precocious pitching prospect with kid gloves, limiting his pitch counts and innings. But he could arrive in the big leagues before age 20.

4. Grant Holmes, RHP (19) A high-90s fastball and a power breaking ball could allow Holmes to move quickly through the Dodgers’ system.

5. Joe Wieland, RHP (25) Acquired from the Padres in the Matt Kemp trade, Wieland got his feet wet in big leagues last year and could be first starter called if the Dodgers’ have health issues in their rotation.

6. Scott Schebler, OF (24) Schebler has continued to hit as he has risen through the Dodgers’ system — including a .310 average that put him on the Arizona Fall League’s Top Prospects team.

7. Chris Anderson, RHP (22) The Dodgers’ top pick in 2013 (18th overall), Anderson took his lumps in the hitter-oriented California League.

8.  Darnell Sweeney, 2B (24) Sweeney was on that Top Prospects team with Schebler after following up a .288 season in Double-A with a .316 average in the Arizona Fall League.

9. Austin Barnes, C (25) Barnes has a .298 average in the minors while moving between catcher, second and third base.

10. Zach Lee, RHP (23) Was lured away from playing QB at LSU, but his development has been slow (a 5.38 ERA at Triple-A Albuquerque last year).

 

— Written by Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) for Athlon Sports' 2015 MLB Preview magazine. Plunkett covers baseball for the Orange County Register.

Teaser:
Los Angeles Dodgers 2015 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, March 13, 2015 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: Colorado Rockies, National League, NL West, MLB, News
Path: /mlb/colorado-rockies-2015-preview-and-prediction
Body:

The Rockies endured their fourth straight losing season. Their 96 defeats were eight more than in 2013 and two shy of the franchise record. A regime change resulted. General manager Dan O’Dowd turned down a contract extension and resigned. So did assistant general manager Bill Geivett when he found out he wasn’t going to be O’Dowd’s replacement. Instead, Jeff Bridich was promoted to GM after three years as player development director and 10 seasons in the organization.

 

The only NL West club never to win the division, the Rockies were two games out of first place and six games above .500 on May 20. A slew of injuries followed, and they lost 76 of their final 116 games. Worse, their historic troubles on the road turned into epic failure last season. The Rockies’ 21–60 road record was the worst in franchise history. They lost 39 of their final 45 road games, including 30 of 35 after the All-Star break.

 

Offensively, the Rockies should be fine, if they can stay reasonably healthy. That wasn’t the case last year when core players Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Nolan Arenado and Michael Cuddyer, who departed as a free agent, missed substantial time.

 

Pitching is another matter. The Rockies were last in the majors with a 4.84 ERA. And the ERAs of their starters (4.89) and relievers (4.79) were the highest in the NL. Improving the rotation and the bullpen became the offseason priority.

 

Rotation

Four of the five projected starters last season were sidelined for lengthy stretches with injuries — Tyler Chatwood, Jhoulys Chacin, Brett Anderson and Jordan Lyles. The Rockies dipped into the minors, used a host of retreads and ended up tying a club record by having 15 pitchers start at least one game. Jorge De La Rosa thrives at Coors Field, where he’s 45–14 with a 3.98 ERA in 81 games (76 starts) but is ordinary on the road. Chacin made just 11 starts, the last on June 28. He was diagnosed with a strained right rotator cuff but avoided surgery. Chacin, who can be a free agent after this season, could provide a huge boost if he can give the rotation a second dependable starter at the front end. Lyles was able to develop an effective changeup during his two-month absence, brought on by a broken bone in his left (non-pitching) hand. His command can be erratic, but he has room for growth. Lefthander Tyler Matzek made his major league debut on June 11 and ended up giving the Rockies 19 starts and 117.2 innings. Prospects Eddie Butler, Jon Gray and lefthander Tyler Anderson are close to the majors. The Rockies need one of them to contribute this season at the big-league level.

 

Bullpen

Closer LaTroy Hawkins, 42, consistently throws strikes, doesn’t rattle and can hold down the ninth inning. Lefthander Rex Brothers entered 2014 as the Rockies’ closer of the future but regressed badly, posting an 8.31 ERA in 28 games after the All-Star break. Getting Brothers back to his 2013 form — when he had a 1.74 ERA in 72 games — is a priority. Veteran lefthander Boone Logan signed a three-year, $16.5 million contract as a free agent in December 2013, the largest deal the Rockies have ever given a reliever, despite the fact that he was coming off arthroscopic elbow surgery. A healthy and effective Logan would take some of the burden off Brothers. Adam Ottavino throws hard and throws. He has become a dependable setup man and could close if Hawkins falters.  Colorado also added to its supply of relief arms with a January trade for David Hale and Gus Schlosser from Atlanta and signing former closer Rafael Betancourt and John Axford to minor-league deals. If anything, these additions could help create competition during spring training.

 

Middle Infield

Tulowitzki can impact the game on both offense and defense. But staying on the field has been a problem. He played just 91 games last year before undergoing labrum repair surgery on his left hip but still hit 21 home runs and finished with a .340 average and a 1.035 OPS. In eight full seasons in the majors, Tulowitzki has played 150 or more games only twice, and in the past three seasons, he has played in just 264 games. Second baseman DJ LeMahieu won his first Gold Glove last season and along with Tulowitzki gives the Rockies solid defense up the middle. LeMahieu, who typically bats eighth, has little power but makes steady contact. 

 

Corners

Arenado, one of the game’s top defensive third basemen, can make spectacular plays in any direction. Last year, he became the fifth player to win a Gold Glove in each of his first two seasons in the majors. He missed 37 games starting in late May due to a fracture in his left finger and missed the final two weeks of the season due to pneumonia. In between, he set a franchise record with a 28-game hitting streak. First baseman Justin Morneau revived his career last season, hitting .319 to win the National League batting title and adding 17 homers and a team-leading 82 RBIs. He catches what he can reach, made just four errors and saved his fellow infielders countless miscues by picking low throws out of the dirt. Signed to a two-year, $12.5 million contract as a free agent after the 2013 season, Morneau offers veteran presence and professionalism.

 

Outfield

Left fielder Corey Dickerson, an improved but below-average defender, has a live bat and plays with notable hustle and energy. He hit .312 with 76 RBIs and led the team last year in homers (24) and extra-base hits (57). Center fielder Charlie Blackmon, who can play all three outfield positions, hit .288 with 82 runs scored, 19 homers and 72 RBIs. He set a franchise record with five leadoff homers and led all big-league hitters with 69 RBIs from the leadoff spot. Gonzalez, a very gifted two-way player when healthy, was slowed by knee and finger injuries and finished with a career-low 70 games played, just 15 in the second half.

 

Catching

Nick Hundley will be a much-needed defensive upgrade over Wilin Rosario for the Rockies, whose pitchers will benefit from Hundley’s pitch-framing, receiving and game-calling skills. He won’t be counted on for offense but will benefit from playing at Coors Field. At hitter-friendly Camden Yards last year, Hundley hit .278 with three homers and 14 RBIs in 25 games.

 

Bench

Signing free agent Daniel Descalso to a two-year, $3.6 million contract was an under-the-radar move that will pay significant dividends. He’s a left-handed hitter who can play shortstop, second base and third base  — positions where the regulars bat right-handed — and he brings a winning pedigree from the Cardinals. Catcher Michael McKenry is a capable backup who works well with pitchers and is an adept receiver. Infielder Charlie Culberson is a reliable defender who adds little on offense. Outfielder Drew Stubbs strikes out more than once every three at-bats but has power (15 homers in 388 at-bats) and speed (20-for-23 in stolen bases) and is reliable in center field. Outfielder Brandon Barnes led the majors in pinch hits last year, going 17-for-61 (.279) in that role.

 

Management

Bridich resisted any urge to move quickly and revamp the roster, holding to the belief that the Rockies were a good team early last season when healthy. That said, Bridich will listen to offers for often-injured stars Tulowitzki and Gonzalez. The latter is owed $53 million over the next three seasons, while Tulowitzki has $118 million guaranteed in a contract that runs through 2020 with a buyout the following year. Manager Walt Weiss has a bigger voice in personnel decisions than he did under O’Dowd and Geivett.

 

Final Analysis

To have any chance to contend, the Rockies must hold their own and play close to .500 on the road and dominate at Coors Field, winning at least 50 games at home. If this pattern is going to unfold in 2015, the Rockies are going to have to pitch much better than they did last season. It will take a handful of career years and/or significant contributions from young pitchers for the Rockies to make the leap to contender status.

 

2015 Prediction: 5th in NL West

 

Projected Lineup

CF       Charlie Blackmon (L)         His 28 stolen bases were the most by a Rockie since Matt Holliday (28) and Willy Taveras (68) in 2008.

3B       Nolan Arenado (R)  His club-record 28-game hitting streak was longest in the majors last year.

RF       Carlos Gonzalez (L)            Had surgery to remove benign tumor from left index finger June 10 and to repair left knee patella tear Aug. 18.

SS       Troy Tulowitzki (R)   Tied for NL lead in home runs (21) at All-Star break and led in average (.345) and OPS (1.048).

1B       Justin Morneau (L)  Hit .327 with .363 OBP and .515 slugging percentage at Coors Field and .309/.364/.475 on the road.

LF       Corey Dickerson (L)            In 200 career games, has 80 extra-base hits — 40 doubles, 11 triples and 29 homers — in 630 at-bats.

C         Nick Hundley (R)     Newcomer is very familiar with NL West after spending most of the past seven seasons with the Padres.

2B       DJ LeMahieu (R)     Led all NL second basemen in total chances (5.16), assists per nine innings (3.15) and double plays (99).

 

Bench

INF      Daniel Descalso (L)           Has fared better against LHP — .262 career average and .364 last year — than righthanders (.238/.211).

C         Michael McKenry (R)           Pitchers had 4.19 ERA in 406 innings with McKenry and 5.18 ERA in 824 innings with Wilin Rosario.

OF       Drew Stubbs (R)      Set career highs in batting (.289), on-base percentage (.339), slugging percentage (.482) and OPS (.821).

OF       Brandon Barnes (R)           Had 100 strikeouts in 292 at-bats and hit just .182 (12-for-66) with runners in scoring position.

INF      Charlie Culberson (R)        Made just one error at both shortstop, where he played 135.2 innings, and second base (129).

 

Rotation

LH       Jorge De La Rosa   Went 10–2 with 3.08 in 15 starts at hitter-friendly Coors Field, holding opponents to .228 average.

RH      Jhoulys Chacin        Rotator cuff strain limited him to 63.1 innings in 11 starts, the last on June 28.

LH       Tyler Matzek  Fourth Rockies rookie pitcher to throw a complete game shutout and first since 2001.

RH      Jordan Lyles Missed 54 games after suffering broken bone in left hand on June 4 in a tag play while covering home plate.

RH      Eddie Butler  Went 1–1 with 6.75 ERA in three starts for the Rockies; lefthanders batted .423 (11-for-26) with 1.310 OPS.

 

Bullpen

RH      LaTroy Hawkins (Closer)   Went 23 for 26 in save situations, pitched in 57 games and ranks 16th all-time with 1,000 appearances.

RH      Adam Ottavino          Held right-handed hitters to .238 average and .645 OPS in 172 AB, but lefties hit .347 with .943 OPS in 75 AB.

LH       Boone Logan           Was on disabled list four times, three with elbow soreness that led to Sept. 11 surgery.

LH       Rex Brothers            Left-handed batters hit .309 with four home runs and a .908 OPS against him in 97 at-bats.

RH      Jairo Diaz      Averaged 11.8 Ks and 2.8 walks per nine innings in 56 games combined at High-A and Double-A.

RH      Brooks Brown          Former first-round pick limited first batters he faced to an average of .115.

RH      Tommy Kahnle        Averaged 4.1 walks per nine innings but averaged 8.3 Ks per nine and held opposing batters to .206 average.

 

Beyond the Box Score

Non-Coors factor The Rockies scored a franchise-worst 255 runs on the road, the fewest in the majors, and batted .228. Only the 2010 Rockies had a lower average (.226) on the road.

Home cooking Jorge De La Rosa went 10–2 with a 3.08 ERA in 15 starts last year at Coors Field, giving him a 45–14 (.763) record at home in 79 games, 75 starts, since joining the Rockies’ rotation in 2008. The 45 wins and .763 winning percentage are franchise bests, and De La Rosa’s home winning percentage since 2008 is second in the majors only to Zack Greinke’s .782 percentage (61–17).

Going the distance Rookie Tyler Matzek threw the Rockies’ only complete game last season, a three-hit shutout against the Padres in his 16th career start on Aug. 30. It was the 12th complete game shutout in Denver and first since Jhoulys Chacin on April 15, 2011, against the Cubs.

April reign Outfielder Charlie Blackmon hit .374 (37-for-99) through the end of April with a 1.034 OPS and an average of one strikeout every 14 plate appearances. From May 1 through the end of the season, Blackmon hit .271 (134-for-494) with a .723 OPS and averaged one strikeout every 6.1 plate appearances.

Perfection Blackmon went 5-for-5 or better three times last season. Blackmon is the fifth player in the major leagues since 1900 to record three games of 5-for-5 or better, joining Hall of Famers Ty Cobb (1922), Tris Speaker (1923), Stan Musial (1948) and Tony Gwynn (1993) as well Ichiro Suzuki (2004).

June swoon While appearing in a team-leading and career-high 75 games, Adam Ottavino had a 3.60 ERA. In 13 games in June, he allowed 14 earned runs in 11.2 innings and had a 10.80 ERA. He yielded 12 earned runs in a combined 53.1 innings in 62 games in the other five months for a 2.03 ERA.

Making contact First baseman Justin Morneau, who won the National League batting title with a .319 average in his first season in Colorado, was one of the most difficult players in the league to strike out. He tied for fourth in the NL with 9.2 plate appearance per strikeout.

 

2014 Top Draft Pick

Kyle Freeland, LHP

Born and raised in Denver and drafted eighth overall out of the University of Evansville, Freeland went 1–0 with a 1.56 ERA in five starts for Rookie-level Grand Junction and 2–0 with a 0.83 ERA in five starts for Low-A Asheville. He has two well above-average pitches — a fastball that he commands to both sides of the plate, and a wipeout slider. His fastball ranges from 90-97 mph and sits at 92-93 mph, and he comes inside fearlessly to get outs, not just for intent. In instructional league, Freeland’s priority was his changeup, a pitch he didn’t throw often in college. He has the potential to be a front-of-the-rotation starter and likely will get to Double-A New Britain at some point in 2015 and the big leagues possibly in 2016.

 

Top 10 Prospects

1. Jon Gray, RHP (23) Power pitcher taken third overall in 2013 out of Oklahoma. Went 10–5 with a 3.91 ERA at Double-A Tulsa last year. Will vie for rotation spot in spring training.

2. Eddie Butler, RHP (24) Winter strength program will enable him to hold his delivery better. Has power stuff and will contend for rotation spot.

3. David Dahl, OF (21) 10th overall pick in the 2012 draft rebounded from a lost 2013 season to hit .309 in 90 games at Low-A Asheville and .267 after promotion to High-A Modesto.

4. Kyle Freeland, LHP (21) 2014 first-round draft pick should move up the system and compete for a spot in the rotation in the near future.

5. Ryan McMahon, 3B (20) Hit .282 at Low-A Asheville last year with 46 doubles, 18 homers and 102 RBIs. Has impressive power to all fields for such a young hitter.

6. Raimel Tapia, OF (21) Hit .326 with 93 runs, nine homers and 72 RBIs at Low-A Asheville. Exceptional hand-eye coordination and plus bat speed.

7. Tom Murphy, C (24) Fully recovered from shoulder injury that limited him to 94 at-bats last year at Double-A, where he hit .213 with five homers and 15 RBIs. Arm strength, accuracy and receiving skills are all above average.

8. Antonio Senzatela, RHP (20) Went 15–2 with a 3.11 ERA last year at Low-A Asheville. Added a slider to above-average fastball and plus changeup.

9. Forrest Wall, 2B, (19) Pure hitter with loose hands who batted .318 with three homers, 24 RBIs and .416 OBP at Rookie-level Grand Junction.

10.  Tyler Anderson, LHP (25) First-round pick in 2011 went 7–4 with a 1.98 ERA last year at Double-A Tulsa. If healthy, he could pitch in majors in 2015.

Teaser:
Colorado Rockies 2015 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, March 13, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: Chicago Bulls, NBA
Path: /nba/things-look-be-ending-between-tom-thibodeau-and-chicago-bulls
Body:

Breakups are hard, and they’re said to happen for all sorts of reasons. Different goals, different principles, sudden realizations about your partner’s hygiene — love is hard when it fails, and that failure often rears its thorny head through the peskiest, most seemingly forgettable details. Right?

 

There’s long been no love lost between Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau and his front office, though — and the reasons for their enmity are not exactly subtle, or secret. Despite being one of the winningest coaches in NBA history through five seasons in Chicago (compiling a .648 regular-season record) the Bulls seem to be headed for a split with their hard-charging man.

 

Once seen as a revolutionary mind who changed the nature of NBA defense, Thibs is now frequently criticized for operating with false concepts. His blue-collar, win-at-all-costs program has been linked to repetitive major injuries to key players Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Today, Rose, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson are all out of the lineup as we approach the playoffs, and Noah is still playing on a problematic knee.

 

The blame for these hurts should be sourced to a number of things. While Thibodeau’s approach certainly doesn’t help to nurture any human’s body, there are also large factors of luck, science and timing to be accounted for with the Bulls’ health.

 

But the reported issue between the Bulls’ coach and team management — led by John Paxson and Gar Forman — is Thibodeau’s management of his players’ minutes. Virtually every major NBA reporter has confirmed this tension.

 

The smoke over the fire between these two sides, though, seems misrepresented by such a small grapple. Breakups don’t happen when you don’t like your partner’s new tattoo, and they don’t arise over “minutes”; they come from a more fundamental place. 

 

The combative Thibodeau was likely never meant to last with the sensitive Paxson and Forman, who recently asked for a public apology from Thibs’ friend and Bulls critic Jeff Van Gundy. These people just don’t like each other, and it should surprise no one if they finally call it quits this summer over something deeper than what the hands of a clock say.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, March 13, 2015 - 10:37
Path: /mlb/arizona-diamondbacks-2015-preview-and-prediction
Body:

The Diamondbacks are rebooting, and it is hard to blame them. The wall-to-wall changes began with the hiring of Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa as chief baseball officer last May, and also include new GM Dave Stewart, new director of baseball operations De Jon Watson and new manager Chip Hale. While it remains to be seen if the overhaul from a 98-loss season will pay immediate dividends in a division that has produced the World Series winner in three of the last five years, at least the D-backs should be healthier after the 100-year flood of injuries to key contributors in 2014.

 

Rotation

Stewart, a four-time 20-game winner, knows pitching, and he made several moves to rework the starting rotation in his first offseason. At least three of the D-backs’ starters will be new after the trades that brought righthanders Rubby De La Rose and Allen Webster from Boston and Jeremy Hellickson from Tampa Bay. Steady righthander Josh Collmenter is penciled is as the No. 1 starter, while lefthander Vidal Nuno and righties Chase Anderson and Trevor Cahill are among the candidates for the final spot. Collmenter is intriguing. He has a severe overhand delivery that he attributes to his hatchet-throwing days as a kid in the Michigan woods. His fastball tops out at 87 mph, but he throws strikes, commands his secondary pitches and gets outs. De La Rosa has hit 100 mph in a career that was disrupted by Tommy John surgery in 2012, and he has the kind of power arm not seen around here since the Randy Johnson/Curt Schilling days. He is 8–15 with a 4.34 ERA in 44 major league appearances while averaging 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Hellickson was the AL Rookie of the Year in 2012, the first of three straight seasons of double-digit victories, before surgery to remove bone chips compromised his 2014 season. Stewart was not fazed — his best seasons came after he had bone chips removed. Webster has a three-pitch mix with a fastball that can touch the mid-90s. Nuno, obtained in a July trade for Brandon McCarthy last season, throws a handful of pitches at a variety of speeds. His inclusion would give the D-backs a lefty in the rotation. Anderson’s nine victories tied Mets righthander Jacob deGrom for the most among NL rookies last season. All-Star Patrick Corbin is expected back from Tommy John surgery in June. In January, the Diamondbacks signed 21-year-old Cuban righthander Yoan Lopez for $8.25 million. Where Lopez will start the season remains to be seen, but Arizona hopes its investment will pay dividends in the majors sooner than later.

 

Bullpen

Righthander Addison Reed returns as the closer after recording 32 saves in a hit-or-miss first season in the National League. Reed averaged 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings and had a 4.6:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but he was susceptible to the long ball, giving up 11 home runs in 59.1 innings. No other closer gave up as many. Sidearming setup man Brad Ziegler again was effective in keeping the ball on the ground, inducing nine double-play ground balls in 67 innings before missing most of September with microfracture knee surgery. He may be delayed at the start of spring training but is not expected to miss much if any of the regular season. Righthander Evan Marshall and lefthander Oliver Perez are strike-throwing setup men who can be used from the sixth inning on. Marshall had a 3.18:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio as a rookie in 2014, and Perez was at 3.17:1 as the primary lefthander out of the pen, although he is more than a situational lefty. Randall Delgado gained velocity into the mid-90s when he moved to the bullpen after struggling as a starter last April. Daniel Hudson returned in September after his second Tommy John surgery and threw well. Righthander Matt Stites has a fastball that touches 97-98 mph, but command was an issue his rookie year.

 

Middle Infield

After missing two months with a shoulder injury, Chris Owings spent the final month of the 2014 season at second base and showed well. He had 27 extra-base hits (15 doubles) and 26 RBIs in 91 games in 2014, above-average pop for a middle infielder. Rookie Nick Ahmed, obtained in the Justin Upton deal with Atlanta before the 2013 season, is considered to be the same type of plus-plus defender as departed Didi Gregorius, who was traded to the Yankees in the offseason.

 

Corners

The D-backs opened the wallet for Cuban league bopper Yasmany Tomas, committing $68.5 million over six years. Tomas will receive a $14 million signing bonus and a total of $36 million over the first four years, after which he can opt out and become a free agent. Scouts love his power; he fits best on the D-backs roster at third base, where he will be given every chance. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt has become one of the top power hitters in the game, and the D-backs’ season-ending plummet last season coincided with the fractured right hand he suffered when he was hit by a pitch Aug. 1.

 

Outfield

A.J. Pollock was emerging as a rising star before he missed three months with a broken hand after being hit by a pitch on May 31. He has speed, gap power and the range of Steve Finley and should be the starter in center field for years to come. Mark Trumbo will move from left field to right field, which should be a better fit, and his bat is a constant. Even if his home run rate was slightly down last season in his first season in the NL, Trumbo had 61 RBIs in 88 games, right on his career average. Success story David Peralta, who was playing independent ball as late as June 2013, will play left field. 

 

Catching

Tuffy Gosewisch inherits the position, which opened when Miguel Montero — and the remaining $40 million on his contract — was traded to the Cubs. Gosewisch played eight minor league seasons before making the majors in late 2013, and this will be his first shot at even semi-regular playing time. He has not shown the Montero bat, but he is a strong catch-and-throw guy and a good handler of the staff. Gosewisch has thrown out 40 percent of potential base-stealers in his short career.

 

Bench

Ender Inciarte was a valuable piece at all three outfield spots and in the leadoff position last season after injuries to regulars Trumbo and Pollock. Outfielder Cody Ross is going on two years removed from a devastating hip injury, and he offers solid production against left-handed pitchers. Catcher Oscar Hernandez was the first pick of the Rule 5 Draft from Tampa Bay and is major league-ready as a defender. Aaron Hill had 10 homers and 60 RBIs last season, when he played mostly third base the final month. Cliff Pennington is a valuable defender at three infield positions.

 

Management

La Russa was interviewed for sitting general manager Kevin Towers’ position last May before the D-backs created a new position for him, and he jumped in head-first. La Russa made the rounds of the D-backs’ minor league affiliates to familiarize himself with the personnel before hiring Stewart and Watson in late September. This is a new job for La Russa, but it is hard (read: impossible) to argue with his previous success.

 

Final Analysis

President/CEO Derrick Hall and managing general partner Ken Kendrick remain aggressive in seeking ways to compete in a large market that is one of the smallest in TV/radio reach and revenue. The D-backs wooed Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka before losing him to the Yankees, and this time landed their top international free agent target in Tomas. La Russa, Stewart and Watson provide a strong triumvirate, although it remains to be seen if the D-backs have enough pitching to compete this season. They will hit.

 

2015 Prediction: 4th in NL West

 

Projected Lineup

CF       A.J. Pollock (R)         Breakout 2014 season curtailed by broken hand; hit .324 with 14 extra-base hits in 17 games at leadoff.

2B       Chris Owings (R)    Adjusted to second base effortlessly; his 1.8 WAR (fangraphs.com) was fourth among NL rookies last year.

1B       Paul Goldschmidt (R)         Second player in franchise history with consecutive .300 seasons.

LF       David Peralta (L)      Led NL rookies (min. 325 at-bats) in slugging percentage, triples and OPS; added six outfield assists. 

RF       Mark Trumbo (R)     Finished strong with six homers and 22 RBIs in September; one RBI per 5.38 at-bats a career best.

3B       Yasmany Tomas (R)          Veteran major league talent evaluator: “The guy has potential game-changing power.”

C         Tuffy Gosewisch (R)           After eight-year minor league apprenticeship, defense-first Gosewisch gets call to replace Miguel Montero.

SS       Nick Ahmed (R)       Hit .312 with 14 stolen bases in the Pacific Coast League; Baseball America’s best defensive shortstop. 

 

Bench

OF       Ender Inciarte (L)     Hit .308 the final two months, and he was successful on 19 of 22 stolen base attempts for the season.

OF       Cody Ross (R)         Ross should be more like his old self after a full offseason of training.

INF      Aaron Hill (R)            One of six second basemen with 20-plus doubles in the last six seasons; also could see time at third.

INF      Cliff Pennington (S) Versatile sparkplug is well above average at all three infield spots and is comfortable in either batter’s box.

C         Oscar Hernandez (R)         Rule 5 pick has thrown out 42 percent of potential base-stealers in five minor league seasons.

 

Rotation

RH      Josh Collmenter      Set career highs in victories, starts, strikeouts and innings pitched after early-season move to the rotation.

RH      Rubby De La Rosa A four-game winner in 18 starts with Boston in 2014, his first extended time in a rotation.

RH      Jeremy Hellickson  Averaged 12 victories and 180 innings in Tampa Bay in 2011-13 before bone chip surgery disrupted 2014.  

RH      Allen Webster           Had five victories for Boston while yo-yoing between the Red Sox and Pawtucket a year ago.

LH       Vidal Nuno    Tied for the major league lead with seven “wins lost,” games he left with a lead that the bullpen did not hold.

 

Bullpen

RH      Addison Reed (Closer)      One of 10 closers with at least 30 saves in the last two seasons, the only to do it in each league.

RH      Evan Marshall          Stranded 24 of 29 inherited runners while recording a team rookie-record 19 holds after early May recall.

RH      Brad Ziegler  Second in franchise history with 246 appearances; will pass Jose Valverde with his eighth outing this season.

LH       Oliver Perez One of three lefties in MLB with 60 appearances and 70 Ks in each of the last two seasons.

RH      Daniel Hudson        Made three September appearances in his first major league games since two Tommy John surgeries.

RH      Randall Delgado     Averaged 11.45 strikeouts per nine innings after an April move to the bullpen, when his velocity ticked up.

RH      Matt Stites     Held lefties to a .189 average following mid-June promotion after 15 saves at two minor league stops.

 

Beyond the Box Score

Career change Rookie David Peralta’s helium-laced rise to the major leagues was as captivating as it was successful. Signed as a pitcher with St. Louis in the mid-2000s, Peralta was released in 2011 because of repeated left shoulder issues. He returned to his native Venezuela and took up hitting, working his way to independent league outposts in Amarillo and Harlingen, Texas, before D-backs scout Chris Carminucci found him. The rest is, well, history. Peralta hit .346 at Class A Visalia in 2013 and was tied with Kris Bryant for the Southern League RBI lead last season before being promoted to the parent D-backs on June 1. It took. “I was going to make it,” Peralta says. “I was going to fight for it.”

Not such a g’day The D-backs opened the 2014 major league season in Sydney, Australia, with two games in 24 hours against the Los Angeles Dodgers in late March. The D-backs lost both games a week after losing No. 1 starter Patrick Corbin for the season due to Tommy John surgery, and it never got much better. The D-backs logged about 15,500 miles and 30 hours of plane time on the trip.

Kid-friendly First baseman Paul Goldschmidt and his wife Amy are registered volunteers at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, meaning they can visit on a regular basis. Goldschmidt has helped raise more than $200,000 for the hospital the last two years, first with proceeds from a limited edition print and last year with a “Goldschmidt Bleacher Creature” keepsake toy.

Giving back Reliever Brad Ziegler is active in support of military families with his Pastime for Patriots Foundation and was one of six finalists for the 2014 Bob Feller Act of Valor Award, given annually to the major leaguer who best fits the criteria of baseball accomplishments, integrity and character, service to the country and community involvement. Ziegler’s foundation provides education-based financial assistance and tickets to major league games for military families. Last May, Ziegler dedicated the latest of the D-backs’ youth baseball fields in Prescott, Ariz., as a tribute to the memory of the 19 Granite Mountain Hot Shots who perished in the Yarnell Hill wild fire in 2013. Ziegler proposed the idea to the D-backs and attended the dedication. “I cried my whole speech,” he says.

 

2014 Top Draft Pick

Touki Toussaint, RHP

The D-backs were pleasantly surprised to find the hard-throwing righthander available with the 16th pick, and with starting pitching a stated priority, they snapped him up. Toussaint hit the low 90-mph range with his fastball at Coral Springs (Fla.) Academy last spring and struck out 86 while giving up 17 hits in 45 innings. Toussaint, who had committed to play at Vanderbilt, has an eclectic background. His father was a senator and presidential candidate in Haiti, but Toussaint and his mother moved to Florida when he was 6. His first sport of choice was soccer. He tried baseball at age 10 but quit when he struck out “22 times in 24 at-bats,” he said. He returned to the game for good at 12. His immersion in pro ball was a learning experience — 8.48 ERA in 12 games — but the D-backs believe they have seen the tip of the iceberg.

 

Top 10 Prospects

1. Archie Bradley, RHP (22) Bradley may have pushed too hard to make the major league rotation in 2014, suffering a strained right flexor tendon.

2. Yasmany Tomas, 3B (24) Most recent Cuban season produced a .290/.346/.450 line with six HRs, 21 walks, 46 strikeouts in 257 plate appearances.

3. Yoan Lopez, RHP (21) Diamondbacks signed highly touted Cuban arm for $8.25 million.

4. Jake Lamb, 3B (24) Lamb cannot do much more in the minor leagues after slashing .318/.399/.551 with 35 doubles, 14 homers and 79 RBIs in 103 games at Class AA Mobile last season.

5. Touki Toussaint, RHP (18) First-round pick in 2014 is an outstanding athlete who consistently throws in the low 90s.

6. Aaron Blair, RHP (22) A big-bodied bulldog type, Blair leads with a heavy fastball and adds a good secondary mix. He averaged 10 strikeouts per nine innings in 2014, finishing at Class AA Mobile.

7. Braden Shipley, RHP (23) The D-backs’ first-round pick in the 2013 draft, Shipley is a converted shortstop with an abundance of athleticism and a fastball that has touched the high-90 mph range.

8. Peter O’Brien, C (24) Has shown prodigious power in three minor league seasons, hitting 34 homers last season in little more than four months.

9. Robbie Ray, LHP (23) The D-backs’ return in the three-team trade that sent Didi Gregorius to the Yankees, Ray had a strong 2013.

10. Brandon Drury, 3B (22) Drury followed his minor league-leading 51 doubles in 2013 with his best year — 42 doubles, 23 homers, 95 RBIs — at two levels last year.

Teaser:
Arizona Diamondbacks 2015 Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, March 13, 2015 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: Hideki Matsuyama, Golf
Path: /golf/top-30-golfers-2015-majors-no-19-hideki-matsuyama
Body:

They’re the cream of the major championship crop, circa 2015 — the Athlon Major Championship Dream Team. Leading up to The Masters, we'll be unveiling Athlon Sports’ 30 players to watch for majors season, with commentary on each from the Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee.

 

No. 19: Hideki Matsuyama

 

Born: Feb. 25, 1992, Matsuyama, Ehime, Japan | Career PGA Tour Wins: 1 (6 on Japanese Tour) | 2014 Wins (Worldwide): 2 | 2014 Earnings (PGA Tour): $2,837,477 (27th) World Ranking: 15

 

Brandel Chamblee's Take

Matsuyama was the best iron player on Tour in 2014. He was only 116th in greens in regulation, but from every distance — from 50 yards to over 250 yards — he was in the top 30 in proximity to the hole, the consistency of which put him above great ball-strikers like Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose. At 23 years of age he has won some of the biggest events in the game, such as the Memorial and the Dunlap Phoenix, with the latter being a great predictor of success for so many of its champions. Names like Johnny Miller, Seve Ballesteros Tom Watson, Ernie Els, Tiger Woods and Luke Donald used this late-season win in Japan to launch them to great follow-up years. Matsuyama has already shown an ability to contend in majors, and this early success combined with his power and precision give him the best chance to become Japan’s first major winner.

Major Championship Résumé
Starts: 5
Wins: 0

2014 Performance:
Masters - Cut
U.S. Open - T35
British Open - T39
PGA Championship - T35

Best Career Finishes: 
Masters - T27 (2011)
U.S. Open - T10 (2013)
British Open - T6 (2013)
PGA Championship - T19 (2013)
Top-10 Finishes: 2
Top-25 Finishes: 3
Missed Cuts: 1

 

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

 

Athlon's 2015 Golf annual provides in-depth previews of this year's four majors, including the top 30 players to watch this season. One of these elite players, Billy Horschel, also takes you tee to green with full-swing instruction and short game essentials. BUY IT NOW.

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, March 13, 2015 - 10:27
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/nba-salary-cap-confirmed-take-big-jump
Body:

The NBA’s giant new TV deal, worth a reported $24 billion and penned this past fall, gave way to an inevitable trend: more money for players.

 

A big jump in the salary cap was confirmed this week, by ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. Windhorst’s sources estimate that the cap, currently at about $63 million, will jump closer to the $88-$92 million range this summer. Such a development will surely be a boon for the upcoming free agent class.

 

LeBron James anticipated this event when he signed his most recent deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers, giving himself an opt-out clause after one year so he may renegotiate.

 

News of the jump in the cap comes after the players’ union declined a cap “smoothing” proposition, which would continue to pay players 51 percent of basketball-related revenue. The “smoothing” would mean a steady increase in the cap, but would ultimately net the players less than they’re capable of negotiating for.

 

Windhorst estimates that James, for instance, could be making as much as $30 million per year on a new deal, up from his current rate of $22 million.

 

The bigger picture here is a little clearer now, and it tells us that a future lockout is looking more likely. With aggressive, principled new leader Michele Roberts at the helm of the NBAPA, the players aren’t backing down from the owners, and the fight for a bigger share of the pot is on.

 

While the cap jump is a concession of sorts by the owners, they’re still likely to toe a hard line in 2017, when both sides have an opt-out clause from the current collective bargaining agreement. An era of increased transparency — in which we regularly learn unsavory things about ownership groups — has given players greater clout in Adam Silver’s NBA, and they appear quite ready to utilize it.

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 12, 2015 - 17:47
All taxonomy terms: Los Angeles Lakers, Steve Nash, NBA
Path: /nba/steve-nash-still-getting-paid-lakers
Body:

Maybe you forgot that Steve Nash is on the Los Angeles Lakers — we couldn’t blame you. He’s played just 65 games for L.A. over three seasons, including only 15 last year, and none this season.

 

But the 41-year-old is, in fact, still being paid $9.7 million by the team this year, despite being eliminated from the action before the action even began. An injury caused by lifting his bags was a sure omen that Nash should retire, but he hasn’t made that official yet.

 

You can’t blame him for waiting out his contract, and wanting to cash in on the last year’s worth of money on it — any one of us would likely do the same, in his shoes — but Nash’s involvement in any off-court Lakers duties has reached a level that’s straight-up comic. He didn’t even participate in a recent team photo:

 

Nash has been working a bit with rookie point guard Jordan Clarkson (one of the few bright spots on a sunken franchise), but has otherwise seemed totally absent from team affairs. Jeremy Lin said his invite for Nash boot camp was lost in the mail.

 

 

With Nash’s minimal input into Lakerland, it’s easy to imagine that he’s exacting a sort of revenge on the team that repeatedly thwarted him during his multiple-MVP-winning prime with the Phoenix Suns. While Nash is probably not doing that, his circumstances today are still funny and surreal when viewed through the lens of yesteryear — his poetically strange end with a broken Lakers team goes to show the weird ways in which fate and karma can work in the NBA.

 

Let’s try to remember the good times we had with Steve, though. He was once an innovative, electric player who turned every game he played into event viewing. And, of course, he also took part in one of the most memorable fan-athlete moments of our times, when he completed this epic highway beer handoff:

 

— John Wilmes

@johnwilmesNBA

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 12, 2015 - 10:09
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/2015-fantasy-baseball-rankings-outfielders
Body:

Opening Day of the 2015 MLB season is less than a month away, which means fantasy baseball is just around the corner. For some leagues, drafts have already begun or will soon begin and Athlon Sports is here to help.

 

Besides providing our comprehensive Fantasy Baseball Big Board, we also have our positional rankings, courtesy of Bruce Herman. These are pulled straight from this year’s 2015 MLB Preview magazine, which is available at newsstands everywhere and for purchase online.

 

Rankings Key

A: FRANCHISE PLAYER — You need one to compete, two to win, three to dominate.

B: CAREER YEAR — Veteran with a strong possibility of delivering his best season.

C: SLEEPER — Could be a great acquisition at a price or draft slot below his true value.

D: ROADBLOCKED — Rank has been lowered because there is no current opportunity to play regularly.

E: DECLINER — Expect moderately to significantly worse stats than in 2014.

F: INJURY RISK — Has had a recent injury that could affect performance.

G: INVESTOR’S SPECIAL — Top prospect whose immediate impact may be minimal.

 

Batting stats are expressed AVG-HR-RBI-R-SB. Positional eligibility for specific players may vary depending on league, as well as other Web sites and resources.

 

2015 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Outfielders

 

TIER 1

1. Mike Trout, Angels (A)

Trout’s recent proclivities to muscle up at the dish and gear down on the bases dent his overall fantasy yield. His AVG fell .036, his SBs from 33 to 16, and his line drive percentage from 23.0 to 18.9. Yet, even after the “worst” of his three seasons, he’s cavernously better than anyone else.

2. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins (A,B)

Pujols and A-Rod are the only active players to have hit 150 roundtrippers at a younger age than Stanton, and with the roto-value of a home run greater than at any point since 1992, he’s a monumental property. Furthermore, he’s settled contractually and will be playing on his best team yet.

3. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates (A)

He’s not what could be termed “elite” in any category, but Cutch is close enough in all of them to comprise a package that can serve as a the hub of a roster. The only squishy spots are that he’s yet to drive in 100 runs, and he’s at an age when SBs are going to be a lesser component of his game.

 

TIER 2

4. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers (B)

He may be a flake at times, but not a fluke. Although Puig didn’t take a major stride forward as a sophomore, he held his own as pitchers made adjustments. This could be the year the stats — not just the flashes of ability — cascade out of him.

5. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies (F)

Gonzalez would be an easy Tier 1 if not for the knee surgery and generalized fragility that threatens to age him before his time. No more 20-SB seasons, but if he can approach his .311-27-91-91 average from 2010-13, he’s still in rarefied air.

6. Michael Brantley, Indians

Brantley renovated solid numbers in five categories into superlative ones. He hit .050 above his career average, doubled his HR high to 20, and added personal bests of 97 RBIs and 23 SBs. Because improvement has come in steps, it’s apt to be sustainable.

7. Adam Jones, Orioles

Fellow center fielder McCutchen gets more run but, since 2011, Jones has held the edge in HRs by 19 and RBIs by 17. The divergences are in steals and AVG, but at least he’s kept the latter predictably between .277 and .287 six straight times.

8. Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox (F)

Because he’s sat out between 34 and 98 games in three of the last four years, Ramirez’s bidders typically do so while squinting, making strange sounds and mumbling disclaimers. A healthy Hanley in Fenway rivals McCutchen as a five-category force.

9. Carlos Gomez, Brewers

Gomez’s 66 HRs the last three years are more than twice as many as any other player who’s also stolen 100 bases. He’s hit exactly .284 with 73 RBIs two years in a row and, as an all-or-nothing type, those are about his upper limits.

10. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays

With 187, Bautista is the game’s home run king of the past five seasons despite missing 135 games. He was relatively healthy in three of those — each 100-run/100-RBI blockbusters. Medical memoir and middlin’ batting averages keep him out of Tier 1.

11. Hunter Pence, Giants

Pence is a baseball-playing machine. You can throw a rosin bag over his seven full, unerringly productive seasons. The metric of the 162-game average — .280-24-89-88-13 — is extra-meaningful in his case because he’s played at least 154 in all seven. A broken forearm in his first spring training game will limit his numbers this season, as he likely won’t make his debut until the middle of May.

12. Christian Yelich, Marlins

The only 2014 player in a 22-or-younger season with more hits or runs scored than Yelich was Trout, and the Marlins rookie stole more bags (21). A batting title contender-in-the-making, he never seems to slump.

13. Justin Upton, Padres (E)

Once enigmatic, Upton has finally clarified that he is a “star” without the “super.” Which is just fine, since he averages .279-24-80-90-16 since 2009. He’s been unfazed by Petco’s dimensions — a .900 career OPS there.

14. Ryan Braun, Brewers (F)

Whether it was his lack of “vitamins,” an obstinate thumb injury or just the normal ebbs and flows of the game, Braun was a shadow of the masher who led the NL in TBs and runs between 2007 and 2012. That said, he’s capable of a “Nelson Cruz.”

15. Yoenis Cespedes, Tigers (B)

Playing at a park far more suited to right-handed power than his last two, Cespedes has his best opportunity to finally unleash his purported promise. His failure to make adjustments compromises his upside, but this could be his first 30-HR season.

16. Jacoby Ellsbury, Yankees

Ellsbury is caught in a vortex between being a power player and a speed player. Joe Girardi couldn’t decide either, starting him 49 times at leadoff and 93 times in the three-hole. His 16-HR/39-SB campaign split the difference and probably best represents who he is.

17. Bryce Harper, Nationals (B)

It wouldn’t take much for Harper to crack Tier 1, but until he finds a way out of this star-crossed loop he’s in, he’s tough to trust. He saved 2014 from being a washout with power spurts in August and October.

18. Starling Marte, Pirates

If a 2013-14 output of 25 HRs, 71 SBs and a .286 AVG doesn’t dazzle you, take note that Marte is the only player in the game to have done it. His power is still embryonic, and his AVG must be viewed through the lens of an MLB-high .373 mark on balls in play.

 

TIER 3

19. Jason Heyward, Cardinals

Heyward is a short cab ride from Bustville, and now he’ll have to regroup in a park where he’s batted .234. Addressing his 2014 OPS of .477 against lefties would be a good place to start. He’s just 25, so there’s still a pulse to his promise.

20. Jay Bruce, Reds

Bruce called 2014 “the most embarrassing year of my life.” To which scores of fantasy players who squandered a premium pick on his .217-18-66-71-12 responded: “Tell me about it.” This isn’t a very accommodating era for extreme-strikeout, extreme-pull power hitters.

21. Ben Revere, Phillies

Revere takes a lot of grief for power that extends to the edge of the outfield grass, but as a two-category role player on an otherwise well-appointed fantasy team, he can be the exclamation point. He’s doinked .301 since 2012, averaging 46 SBs per 150 games.

22. J.D. Martinez, Tigers

What do Alex Presley, Jesus Guzman, Robbie Grossman and L.J. Hoes have in common? They were outfielders the Astros chose to keep ahead of Martinez last spring. Starting in Detroit by June, he outstripped his career AVG by 64 points (.315) and, with 23, nearly doubled his HR/AB % to 5.2.

23. Billy Hamilton, Reds

Still a rudimentary hitter (.195 AVG when infield hits are discounted), but he’s not entirely without punch (39 XBHs, solid line drive rate of 21.1%). Though his 70.9% success rate was in the bottom 10 of 50-SB men over the past 25 years, he has historic thievery aptitude.

24. Matt Kemp, Padres (E,F)

Kemp is a Tier 1 talent with a Tier 5 skeletalature moving to a park where good hitters go to commit statistical suicide. His past glories and fast finish (MLB-high .606 second-half slugging) are not to be slighted, but there’s a lot of push-back to his comeback.

25. Lorenzo Cain, Royals (B)

Because his rep is “glove first” and he doesn’t clear fences, Cain has been a soft fantasy play. We tagged him as a “C” last year, and he added .050 to his AVG (.301) and doubled his SBs (28). There’s still some evolution left, and we’re projecting .310-70-10-60-35.

26. Leonys Martin, Rangers

Martin is precisely where Cain was two years ago, comparably styled and with a similar ceiling. He’s a more aggressive thief, though — one of only eight players with 30-plus steals each of the last two years.

27. Gregory Polanco, Pirates

There are only two questions with Polanco: “How good can he be?” and “How fast can he get there?” A young Vladimir Guerrero comes to mind. Reluctantly promoted by the Bucs last summer due to need, he interspersed wows and warts.

28. Alex Gordon, Royals (F)

Gordon has severely underperformed and overperformed at times in his career, but his last two seasons have been identically positioned in the upper (but not close to elite) strata of outfielders. Underwent wrist surgery on Dec. 30.

29. Jayson Werth, Nationals (E)

Werth, Cabrera, Trout, Beltre, McCutchen, V-Mart and Cano are the only players with a triple crown line of at least .304-41-164 the last two years. He’s at the bottom end of that array, though, and he turns 36 in May.

30. Mark Trumbo, Diamondbacks

Revere turned inside-out — a two-trick pony (HRs, RBIs) best-suited for a roster than can absorb 450 empty outs. Homered only once in his first 55 games back from a foot injury last year, but had five in the final eight days.

31. Marcell Ozuna, Marlins

Homered his age (23), but he’s at the crossroads where many young power hitters need to decide whether they’re going to round out their craft or just sell out for the longball.

32. Denard Span, Nationals (E)

Had the year we’ve long waited for, three-category-wise: .302 AVG, 94 runs, 31 SBs. We’d advise banking only on his more established levels of .285, 70 and 20. Unexpected muscle core surgery also will delay his arrival to the end of April or early May.

33. Charlie Blackmon, Rockies

Surviving a mad scrum for a Rox outfield post last spring, a late-developing Blackmon put a death grip on it with a .288-19-72-82-28 shocker. He was ordinary the last two months, though, so stay wary.

34. Rusney Castillo, Red Sox (C)

Castillo is a wild card, but he passed every test after signing in August. Comparables? We searched for players who hit .285-.300 with 10-to-15 HRs and 20-to-30 SBs, and came up with such names as Dustin Pedroia, Shane Victorino — and some guy named Jackie Robinson.

35. Brandon Moss, Indians (F)

Since Moss stopped pinballing around the “4-A” landscape at age 28 in 2012, he’s concocted one of the 10 highest percentages of HRs/100 ABs (6.28) in the game. AVGs are plunging in inverse proportion to his prodigious strikeout totals.

 

36. Melky Cabrera, White Sox (F)

37. Corey Dickerson, Rockies (E)

38. Brett Gardner, Yankees (E)

39. Adam Eaton, White Sox (E)

40. Carl Crawford, Dodgers

41. Kole Calhoun, Angels

42. Matt Holliday, Cardinals (E)

43. George Springer, Astros (F)

 

TIER 4

44. A.J. Pollock, Diamondbacks

45. Alex Rios, Royals

46. Joc Pederson, Dodgers (C)

47. Shin-Soo Choo, Rangers (F)

48. Dexter Fowler, Cubs

49. Steven Souza, Rays (C)

50. Khris Davis, Brewers

51. Josh Hamilton, Angels (F)

52. Austin Jackson, Mariners

53. Nick Markakis, Braves (F)

54. Angel Pagan, Giants (F)

55. Michael Cuddyer, Mets (E)

56. Desmond Jennings, Rays

57. Wil Myers, Padres (F)

58. Jorge Soler, Cubs (C)

59. Dustin Ackley, Mariners (B,C)

60. Oswaldo Arcia, Twins

61. Michael Saunders, Blue Jays (C)

62. Mookie Betts, Red Sox (C)

63. Avisail Garcia, White Sox (C)

64. Evan Gattis, Astros

 

TIER 5

65. Danny Santana, Twins

66. David Peralta, Diamondbacks

67. Allen Craig, Red Sox (F)

68. Drew Stubbs, Rockies (D)

69. Jon Jay, Cardinals

70. Michael Bourn, Indians

71. Nori Aoki, Giants

72. Chris Coghlan, Cubs

73. Curtis Granderson, Mets

74. Josh Reddick, A’s

75. Arismendy Alcantara, Cubs

76. Torii Hunter, Twins (E)

77. Marlon Byrd, Reds (E)

78. Shane Victorino, Red Sox (F)

79. Juan Lagares, Mets

80. Kevin Kiermaier, Rays

Teaser:
2015 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Third Basemen
Post date: Thursday, March 12, 2015 - 10:00

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