Articles By Athlon Sports
Major League Baseball has been around in some form or fashion for nearly 150 years. From the days of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams to the time when Hank Aaron became the home run king or the more recent exploits of the likes of Mariano Rivera and Miguel Cabrera, one of the things that have always been synonymous with America's pastime are the statistics and the history associated with them.
Along those lines, one of the unique things about baseball is that history can be made on any given day or night at the ballpark, especially if you are paying close enough attention. The 2013 season was no exception, as players and teams alike added their names to the record books. Here is a rundown of some of those baseball "firsts" that may have initially gone unnoticed.
IN 2013, FOR THE FIRST TIME IN BASEBALL HISTORY A BATTER…
Struck out more than 10 times in the first four games of his team’s season (Brett Wallace).
Drove in 16 runs in his team’s first four contests (Chris Davis).
Had both a hit and a strikeout in 15 straight games (Joe Mauer).
Owned a Triple Crown line of at least .340-15-60 at the end of May (Miguel Cabrera).
Hit 12 home runs in a month, yet did not draw a walk (Domonic Brown in May).
Collected 10 total bases and five RBIs in a game in one of the first two contests of his career (Yasiel Puig).
Hit two extra-inning home runs, one of which was a walk-off grand slam, in the same game (John Mayberry Jr.).
Tied an extra-inning contest with a grand slam (Kyle Seager).
Hit a home run in consecutive at-bats against Mariano Rivera (Miguel Cabrera).
Amassed 13 hits and 18 RBIs over a four-game span (Alfonso Soriano).
Homered twice in a game after the 13th inning (Matt Adams).
Knocked home a run in each of his first six postseason contests (Pedro Alvarez).
Supplied an outfield assist and a walk-off hit — both in extra innings — in a playoff game (Carlos Beltran).
Reached base in 31 consecutive postseason games (Miguel Cabrera).
Hit a second career go-ahead grand slam in the playoffs (Shane Victorino).
Charted multiple hits and multiple RBIs in all three World Series openers in which he’s played (David Ortiz).
Drove in 13 runs in his first eight World Series games (Mike Napoli).
Beat both reigning Cy Young Award winners in back-to-back starts (Justin Masterson).
Struck out 35 batters in a season before he issued a walk (Adam Wainwright).
Fanned more than 10 batters in a start of less than five innings (Alex Cobb, 13).
Pitched nine scoreless innings, walked none, struck out at least 12 and allowed only hit, yet failed to win the game (Matt Harvey).
Struck out at least 14 men, walked fewer than two and did not allow an earned run, yet took the loss (Chris Sale).
Began a season 10–0 despite not throwing a complete game (Max Scherzer).
Defeated former Cy Young Award winners in each of his first two major- league starts (Gerrit Cole).
Won five consecutive starts for one team, then made his next appearance for another (Matt Garza).
Threw a second career game in which he whiffed at least 14 batters, allowed no more than one hit and walked fewer than two (Yu Darvish).
Struck out more than 40 batters in a calendar month while issuing no more than one walk (Cliff Lee, 54).
Struck out 100 batters, but allowed fewer than 10 walks in a season (Koji Uehara).
Punched out 12 batters without allowing a hit in a playoff game (Anibal Sanchez).
Walked one batter over a span of five postseason starts (Wainwright).
Lost a postseason start in which he allowed no earned runs and two or fewer hits (Clayton Kershaw).
Started, won a World Series-clinching game for a second team (John Lackey).
Allowed no runs and struck out at least 15 foes in back-to-back games (Texas Rangers).
Hit a walk-off home run in four consecutive home games against the same opponent (Rangers vs. Los Angeles Angels).
Went 407 contests without a complete game (Milwaukee Brewers).
Boasted nine players with 200 career home runs on its roster at some point during the season (New York Yankees).
Hit 100 fewer home runs in a non-strike season than they did the year before (Yankees).
Fanned at least 13 times in each of the first four games of a season (Houston Astros).
Finished its season with 15 straight defeats (Astros).
Won four elimination games in four different cities in six days (Tampa Bay Rays).
Trotted out nine pitchers in a nine-inning playoff game (Rays).
Carried no-hitters into the sixth inning of three postseason games in a row (Detroit Tigers).
Failed to get an RBI from its cleanup hitter in 17 consecutive postseason games (Tigers).
Won the first two games of a postseason series despite batting below .150 (St. Louis Cardinals).
Won a World Series game in which all three of its pitchers used were under the age of 24 (Cardinals).
Won two straight World Series games with the winning run scoring on an error in the seventh inning or later (Cardinals).
—Compiled by Bruce Herman for Athlon Sports. This is just one of the features that can be found in Athlon Sports' 2014 MLB Preview magazine, which is available on newsstands and online now. Starting with 21 unique covers to choose from, Athlon covers the diamond and circles the bases with enough in-depth preseason analysis, predictions and other information to satisfy fans of the national pastime from the Bronx to the Bay and everywhere in between. Order your copy now!
For as much success as the SEC has on the football field, the league was one of the most maligned major conferences in college basketball this season.
The league received only three NCAA Tournament bids with teams like Arkansas, LSU and Missouri falling out of NCAA Tournament contention in the final weeks of the regular season.
The league, though, will place three teams in the Sweet 16, one team (Tennessee) needing to win three times to get there.
Was the SEC overlooked during the season or is this a case of teams getting hot at the right time?
Was SEC basketball undervalued this season?
David Fox: Certainly, the SEC going 3-for-3 on Sweet 16 teams is a mild surprise, but all this tells me is that Kentucky and Tennessee should have done more of what Florida did that what they actually did during the regular season. The Wildcats and Volunteers have finally found a formula that works, and kudos to them, they did it in the first week of the NCAA Tournament. But this could have been done months ago. The SEC was not a great league. Three bids out of a 14-team league, especially one in which two programs that actually focus on basketball (Missouri and Arkansas) didn’t make the field. Georgia and Missouri were knocked out of the NIT by Conference USA teams, shouldn’t that count for conference bragging rights as well? Tennessee and Kentucky finally started playing how they should have been performing all year. To me, that has little to do with the other teams in the league.
Braden Gall: SEC basketball was not undervalued at all. The league wasn't very good and that has nothing to do with how we now view Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee after all three made it to the Sweet 16. Florida is the best team in the nation, the world's greatest recruiting class is finally starting to play like it at Kentucky and the Vols were a popular pick to make the Big Dance in the preseason with one of the SEC's best rebounding tandem's in history. All three teams have talent, coaching and appear to be peaking at the right time. Florida being great has nothing to do with how good (or bad) the SEC was this year. Just ask Jimbo Fisher and the Florida State Seminoles football team.
Mitch Light: I don’t believe so. Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee deserve credit for playing well in the NCAA Tournament and reaching the Sweet 16, but one weekend of strong play — most notably by Kentucky and Tennessee — should not change opinions formed during the course of the entire season. The biggest issue with the SEC this season was that too many of its better teams simply did not play up to their potential. LSU and Missouri (and possibly Arkansas) had rosters good enough to reach the NCAA Tournament, but those teams simply did not play well enough to make the field. So we were left with a league that only sent three of its 14 teams to the NCAA Tournament. And that, despite the strong performance of those three teams this past weekend, doesn’t not mean the SEC was undervalued in 2014.
Nathan Rush: The SEC wasn't a deep league this season. So the 14 teams judged as a group were appropriately rated. But the best of the best — Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee — are matchups no team in the country wanted to see on Selection Sunday. Three Sweet 16 teams and possibly one (or more) Final Four team(s) is NCAA Tournament success any conference would be jealous of. The SEC was a top-heavy conference this season but it should be respected and never underrated. The SEC has a long track record of championship success in nearly every sport, including a combined five NCAA titles in men's basketball since 1996. Anyone who doubts Florida, Kentucky or Tennessee should think twice and will likely pay the price.
After winning World Series titles in 2010 and 2012, the Giants weren’t quick to embrace the notion that they had become an even-year franchise. But now they’re happily clinging to it. Anything to move beyond their tremendous disappointment last season, when they needed a strong finish in September just to avoid joining the 1998 Marlins as the only defending champs to finish in last place. The Giants decided to view it as a “flat tire” season, in the words of GM Brian Sabean, eschewing an overhaul and instead spending most of their budgeted funds to retain Hunter Pence, Tim Lincecum and Javier Lopez. Their two additions — pitcher Tim Hudson and left fielder Michael Morse — were discounted on the free-agent market because they are coming off injuries. The Giants need more than Hudson and Morse to have bounce-back seasons if they hope to keep up with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks.
The Giants didn’t come close to winning it all last season, but they took some inspiration from the team that did. The Boston Red Sox made their run because of a resurgent pitching staff, and the Giants see the potential to emulate them. They’ll certainly have to do better after their starters ranked 13th out of 15 NL clubs in ERA. Four of five starters return, with Madison Bumgarner (among the league leaders in ERA, WHIP and BAA) the only one coming off an excellent season. Matt Cain, still viewed as the rotation’s leader, pitched like his old self in the second half and should return to frontline status. Lincecum, who threw a no-hitter July 14, still strikes out a batter an inning even if he’s no longer elite at run prevention. The Giants bet $35 million that he’ll improve. They’re hoping Ryan Vogelsong’s awful season was a result of the World Baseball Classic, too. Hudson, who fractured his ankle in a season-ending collision last July, should add some smarts and fire to what already is a competitive group.
No area of last year’s club stayed healthy, and that included the late-inning relievers. Santiago Casilla (bone cyst surgery) and Jeremy Affeldt (groin surgery) both missed time after signing three-year extensions. They’ll need to get back in line behind closer Sergio Romo, who had some durability issues in the past but held up remarkably well while knocking down 38 of 43 save chances. Romo’s rate stats went up across the board, though. Regardless, the ninth inning belongs to him if he’s healthy. Heath Hembree is seen by many as the Giants’ closer of the future, even if his fastball is a few ticks slower than the 98 mph he threw in the low minors. If he doesn’t win a job in the spring, he’ll be a force soon enough. Lopez, one of the best left-handed specialists in the game, signed a three-year extension. A healthy Affeldt will allow manager Bruce Bochy to deploy Lopez more efficiently. Yusmeiro Petit, who finished an out away from a perfect game last season, is out of options and expected to make the club as a long man.
Brandon Crawford was on his way to a breakout offensive season when he jammed his hand while sliding into second base. There are many in the organization who still believe the gifted defensive shortstop will be able to hit higher than eighth in the lineup. But for now, the Giants’ pitchers are happy enough to have his glove back there. With the Braves’ Andrelton Simmons in the league, though, it’ll be tough for Crawford to win a Gold Glove anytime soon. Marco Scutaro will turn 40 in 2015, when he’ll play the final year of his contract. But his body already is beginning to betray him. Hip and back issues limited his range and defensive ability all season, and then he sustained a torn tendon in his pinky finger on a hit-by-pitch. He had surgery after the season, and the Giants are banking that his contact skills will be an asset again in the No. 2 spot in the order.
Pablo Sandoval went from World Series MVP to mega-bust while letting his weight become an issue again. The third baseman missed two weeks while on the DL, this time because of a foot injury, and he had just three home runs over a span of 303 at-bats from late May to Sept. 4. That’s when he broke out for a three-homer game in San Diego that nobody saw coming. (Well, nobody except Justin Verlander, maybe.) Sandoval is entering his walk year, and he lost significant weight over the winter. The Giants certainly need more heft from him in the lineup. First baseman Brandon Belt quietly was the Giants’ best offensive player, leading the team with an .841 OPS that ranked 14th in the NL. The hope is that Buster Posey can catch a few more games and limit his starts at first base so that Belt’s bat can stay in the lineup.
The Giants entered their final homestand with just one starting outfielder under contract, and Angel Pagan was coming off major surgery to reattach two hamstring tendons. They got a jump on the market and signed Pence to a five-year, $90 million extension that looked like a bargain given what the free-agent stars received in open bidding. It was easy to commit to Pence. He brings energy every day — he became the first Giant since Alvin Dark in 1954 to start every regular-season game — and although nothing he does is pretty, his hot streaks can carry a club. Pagan’s incredible walk-off, inside-the-park home run May 25, the first in the big leagues in nine years, marked the high point of the Giants’ season. The team’s glaring lack of depth was exposed when Pagan missed significant time after surgery on his hamstring. They’ll need him to be healthy, as well as Morse, who offers big-time power that should translate even to AT&T Park if he can stay in the lineup.
It’s hard to follow up a batting crown and an NL MVP Award. But for Posey, it might have been a bigger challenge to play out the string for the first time in his career. It went unnoticed because the Giants were out of contention, but Posey had a miserable second half. He hit .325 with 13 home runs before the break and .244 with just two homers after it, and it was evident he was swinging on tired legs. Posey acknowledged he wanted to do more lower body strengthening work over the offseason. While other offensively gifted catchers like Joe Mauer are moving out of harm’s way, Posey wants to catch as long as possible. At least there’s some peace of mind now that there’s a new rule that will protect catchers from being targeted in home-plate collisions.
Gregor Blanco’s premium defense and on-base ability make him a valuable asset, but he was overexposed in an everyday role following Pagan’s injury last season. He’s back to being a fourth outfielder and should be a regular late-inning replacement for Morse in left field. If Blanco’s playmaking ability is solid, Juan Perez’s is breathtaking. He played just 218 of the team’s 4,342 defensive innings in the outfield but led the club with eight assists. Backup catcher Hector Sanchez is a young switch-hitter who can compete against quality fastballs. Joaquin Arias returns in a reserve infield role.
With the retirement of Jim Leyland and firing of Dusty Baker, Bochy suddenly found himself the active leader in managerial victories. He’s exactly 1,530–1,530 in his career, with many years in payroll-poor San Diego holding down his winning percentage. He already has Hall of Fame credentials with his two World Series rings. Sabean might lack the trade creativity of Billy Beane, his counterpart across the bay, but he’s the longest-tenured GM in the game, and his staff continuity is extraordinary.
Surprisingly, the Giants won the season series against each of their NL West rivals last year, and their 44–32 division record was the best of the group. So they see no reason why they can’t challenge for the NL West title again, especially after spending $173 million to keep their roster together. After a couple tweaks, the parts appear to fit — if all goes to plan. But the number of what-ifs and the lack of organizational depth loom as twin concerns. The pitching talent in the minor leagues is a bit closer, but the Giants hope they won’t have to rely on it too soon. If the rotation can’t pull a Bostonian about-face, it’s hard to imagine the Giants being an even-year team again in 2014.
CF Angel Pagan (S)
Talented switch-hitter has topped 125 games just twice in his career, and is coming off hamstring surgery.
2B Marco Scutaro (R)
Despite a down year, 38-year-old was the second-hardest to fan in MLB (16.09 plate appearances per K).
1B Brandon Belt (L)
His .841 OPS was better than Carlos Beltran, Jay Bruce, Justin Upton … and yes, Buster Posey.
C Buster Posey (R)
Pledged to improve his leg strength after he struggled for just two home runs after the All-Star break.
RF Hunter Pence (R)
Bruce Bochy plans to give him a day off in 2014? Expect Pence to fight that decision with all he’s got.
3B Pablo Sandoval (S)
If the Giants don’t extend him this spring, he’ll be a sought-after 27-year-old on the free-agent market.
LF Michael Morse (R)
Lacks range, and a bum wrist led to a downturn last season, but Bochy envisions a modern-day Pat Burrell.
SS Brandon Crawford (L)
Hit just .199 against LHP, so expect Joaquin Arias to soak up a few starts against lefties.
OF Gregor Blanco (L)
If he starts 113 games in the outfield again, you know it didn’t go according to plan for the Giants.
OF Juan Perez (R)
Speed? Range? Arm strength? Accuracy? Daring when the wall is near? Check. Now if he can develop the bat…
C Hector Sanchez (S)
Inflamed shoulder held back the young switch-hitter for most of the season, but Giants like his potential.
INF Joaquin Arias (R)
Made career-high 47 starts and hit .368 on the road, but just .167 at home.
INF Tony Abreu (S)
He’s out of options and so is Ehire Adrianza, so the Giants will have a decision to make this spring.
RH Matt Cain
Became the first Giant since Carl Hubbell in 1929-37 to make 30 starts in eight consecutive seasons.
LH Madison Bumgarner
Finished with 199 Ks and became Giants’ first left-handed starter to make All-Star team since 1997.
RH Tim Lincecum
Averaged 16.3 wins during first three full seasons; 11 wins (and 14.3 losses) since.
RH Tim Hudson
Leads all active pitchers with 205 victories; he’ll take old Oakland pal Barry Zito’s place in the rotation.
RH Ryan Vogelsong
Had a 7.19 ERA in first nine starts, then it got more painful when a pitch crushed his right hand in May.
RH Sergio Romo (Closer)
His workload was well managed; he exceeded 20 pitches only 11 times and never threw more than 28.
RH Jean Machi
Splitter specialist is a slight favorite over George Kontos and Jake Dunning for final spot in the bullpen.
RH Heath Hembree
Saved a franchise-record 31 games for Triple-A Fresno; development of power slider earned him a call-up.
LH Javier Lopez
Lefties hit .156, and he allowed just 10.5 percent of inherited runners to score — lowest rate in the league.
RH Santiago Casilla
Despite missing 47 games after bone cyst surgery, his seven wins matched his career high.
LH Jeremy Affeldt
39 appearances his fewest since 2004, and his alarming 1.24 K/BB ratio was cut in half from a year earlier.
RH Yusmeiro Petit
Giants went 6–1 in his seven starts after Aug. 26 — including one memorable one-hit shutout.
2013 Top Draft Pick
Christian Arroyo, SS
The Giants went off the draft board of most prognosticators when they selected Arroyo with the 25th overall pick. Although his pure hitting ability was well known to anyone who saw him win MVP honors for the Team USA under-18 squad that won the World Championships in South Korea, it was thought that Arroyo didn’t have the physical tools or quick feet to stay in the middle of the diamond. But Arroyo made the Giants look smart after a dazzling pro debut in which he hit .326 while leading the short-season Arizona League in doubles, RBIs, slugging and OPS to add another MVP trophy to his collection. He’s smart, too; Arroyo was salutatorian of his high school class in Brooksville, Fla., where he graduated with a 4.4 GPA.
RHP Chris Stratton (23)
The Cardinals snagged NLCS MVP Michael Wacha one pick ahead of Stratton, who was set back by a vicious concussion after getting hit in the head by a line drive in 2012.
2B/SS Joe Panik (23)
Scrappy competitor saw his average dip to .257 in Double-A after hitting .247 in Single-A in 2012.
LHP Edwin Escobar (20)
Big, durable starter thrived after promotion to Double-A, and should be ready to provide big-league rotation depth.
LHP Adalberto Mejia (19)
Youngest pitcher in the Single-A California League more than held his own with two-seamer, slider, cutter and changeup mix.
OF Mac Williamson (23)
Former Wake Forest standout has legitimate right-handed power reminiscent of a younger Paul Goldschmidt.
RHP Derek Law (23)
His hard, sinking curveball is a weapon that he used to post a perfect ERA in 11 appearances against Arizona Fall League prospects.
LHP Ty Blach (23)
Command lefty was the ace of a prospect-heavy staff at Single-A San Jose, winning Cal League ERA title and also pacing the circuit with just 1.2 walks per nine innings.
RH Kyle Crick (21)
His mid-90s fastball and swing-and-miss slider should have him in the Giants’ rotation by 2016.
Beyond the Box Score
No-Nos The Giants were involved in two of three no-hitters thrown in the majors in 2013. The Reds’ Homer Bailey mowed them down July 2 at Cincinnati, the 16th time in Giants franchise history that they were no-hit. Just 11 days later, Tim Lincecum threw 148 pitches while completing a most unexpected no-hitter in San Diego. Lincecum hadn’t thrown a complete game in over two years.
Almost perfect Yusmeiro Petit nearly topped Lincecum’s feat and probably surpassed him in terms of sheer drama. The career journeyman came within one strike of throwing the 24th perfect game in major-league history Sept. 6 vs. Arizona. Eric Chavez somehow laid off a two-strike curveball before rapping a pinch single with two outs in the ninth that landed maybe 12 inches in front of Hunter Pence’s diving attempt. Petit kept his poise and retired the next hitter, then pointed to the sky with no hint of disappointment after throwing his first MLB shutout.
Error free The Giants were a subpar defensive team in 2013, committing 107 errors — tied for the third-most in the NL. Yet somehow they set a modern franchise record by playing 13 consecutive errorless games from Aug. 30-Sept. 11. “I didn’t see that one coming,” Bruce Bochy said.
Division champs It’s fascinating when you chop up the Giants’ 2013 campaign. Not only did they post a winning season series against every NL West opponent, but they haven’t dropped one to a division foe since they went 6–12 against the Padres in 2010. What killed the Giants was the NL Central (11–23) and interleague play (6–14), including a 2–8 record in AL parks in which they averaged 2.4 runs per game. They’re hoping a true DH like Michael Morse will help them do better this season.
Iron Man Not only did Hunter Pence become the first Giant since Alvin Dark in 1954 to start every regular-season game, but he also sat for a grand total of only 16 innings. Pence accounted for 98.89 percent of the Giants’ defensive innings in right field. He enters 2014 with a streak of 171 consecutive starts, the longest in the NL and second-longest in the majors behind Prince Fielder (505, 17 of them at DH). Bochy does intend to give Pence an occasional day off, though.
Wichita State’s bid for an undefeated season ended Sunday with a loss to Kentucky in a thriller in the round of 32.
The Shockers put together one of the great regular seasons in college basketball history, regardless of their strength of schedule.
Yet Wichita State didn’t reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. How should we evaluate Gregg Marshall’s team in years to come?
How should Wichita State’s 35-1 season be evaluated in the long run?
David Fox: Wichita State’s achievement of starting 35-0 will most often be remembered in the shorthand. By that, I mean the next time a team starts 25-0, Wichita State’s record of 35 consecutive wins to start the season will be the benchmark. And think about that: A team starting 25-0 still has 10 more to go before tying what Wichita State did. Moreover, the Shockers’ win over Kentucky will be remembered as one of the best NCAA Tournament games of the last decade or so, especially if Kentucky continues to advance through the tournament. Unfortunately, there will be a segment of fans that will see the next team to go on a long undefeated streak outside of a power conference and react with skepticism because Wichita State didn’t make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. That’s not the outlook anyone with perspective should have, but it’s one that’s going to persist.
Braden Gall: Wichita State had a historic season that should and will be remembered for a long time. Some will choose to only remember the final 40 minutes and not the previous 35 games. Gregg Marshall did an amazing job with his squad and they were perfect until one uber-talented No. 8-seed battled them to the proverbial death. It's not the first time that has happened to a top-seeded team and it won't be the last. To be fair, I had Louisville topping the Shockers in the Sweet 16, so I wasn't exactly "on the bandwagon" but I certainly believe that this team was seeded perfectly. Wichita State deserved to be a one-seed in the hardest bracket — and the result was an instant classic.
Mitch Light: That’s a difficult question to answer because college basketball is such a postseason sport. Wichita State is clearly an elite team — one of the best in the nation this year — but the Shockers will not be remembered by most as one of the best in recent years because they did not advance past the first weekend of the tournament. This Wichita State team has often been compared to the 2003-04 Saint Joseph’s team that went undefeated in the regular season, but that team reached the Elite Eight before losing to a No. 2 seed, Oklahoma State. Wichita State, on the other hand, only won one game in the NCAAs and lost to a No. 8 seed, Kentucky.
Nathan Rush: The Wichita State Shockers had an impressive encore following last season’s unbelievable run to the Final Four. There's absolutely no denying that. Coach Gregg Marshall’s team ran the table with a perfect 34–0 regular season record that included wins over five teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament field of 68 — Tulsa, BYU, Saint Louis, Tennessee and NC Central. Those aren't the most impressive wins. Still, the Shockers beat everyone on their schedule until running into preseason No. 1 Kentucky's greatest recruiting class since Anthony Davis and MKG. There's no shame in losing to Coach Cal's NBA roster. Wichita State definitely got a raw draw from the NCAA Tournament selection committee. But it is fitting that the team that foolishly thought it had a chance to go 40-0 took down the team that actually posted a 35-0 record. Wichita State should be proud of the past two seasons.
The Padres are coming off consecutive 76–86 seasons and a seventh straight season out of the playoffs, so naturally the fan base is getting restless. Ownership has promised to increase the player payroll by as much as 20 percent, and general manager Josh Byrnes has added starter Josh Johnson, reliever Joaquin Benoit and outfielder Seth Smith. Now it’s up to the team to deliver. It’ll take a Herculean effort to contend in a division led by the big-spending Dodgers.
This could truly be the team’s strength if it can stay away from the spate of reconstructive surgeries that have sidelined several promising young pitchers. The projected starting five are Andrew Cashner, Johnson, Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross and lefty Eric Stults. “We have the makings of a very solid rotation,’’ says manager Bud Black. Cashner, obtained for Anthony Rizzo two offseasons ago, has solidified his spot atop the rotation after starting last season in the bullpen. He’s taken a few mph off his fastball and is throwing with more control. Johnson was San Diego’s first offseason free-agent signing, getting a one-year, $8 million deal. The team received some bad news late in spring training when Johnson suffered a strained flexor tendon. He will miss the first six to eight weeks. The Padres were hoping to get the healthy version of Johnson, who was an All-Star with the Marlins in 2009-10 and led the NL with a 2.30 ERA in 2010. Johnson had bone spurs removed from his right elbow on Oct. 1 after going 2–8 with a 6.20 ERA in 16 starts with Toronto last season. So 20 to 24 healthy starts may be the best the team can hope for this season. The Padres got Kennedy from division-rival Arizona at the trade deadline, and he bounced back from a rough start with the Diamondbacks to go 4–2 with a 4.24 ERA in 10 starts in San Diego.
Byrnes added Benoit a few weeks after swapping setup man Luke Gregerson to Oakland for Smith. Benoit, who was Detroit’s closer last season, will fill Gregerson’s role and is insurance in case closer Huston Street goes on the disabled list. Street has been on the DL three times the last two seasons. Benoit had 24 saves in 26 chances in his first season as the Tigers’ closer. He was given a $15.5 million, two-year deal. Street had 33 saves in 35 chances last year. He is in the final year of a $14 million, two-year contract, with the Padres holding a $7 million option for 2015. The rest of the projected bullpen includes Dale Thayer, Nick Vincent, Tim Stauffer, Alex Torres and rookie lefty Patrick Schuster.
This is another area that should be strong, featuring shortstop Everth Cabrera and second baseman Jedd Gyorko, who had a solid rookie season in 2013. Cabrera was San Diego’s only All-Star last season, but he also brought the franchise the wrong type of publicity when he was suspended 50 games for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. Cabrera tearfully accepted responsibility, saying he took a substance to help hasten recovery from an injury just before spring training of 2012. Cabrera no doubt will be motivated to have a strong season. Among big-league rookies, Gyorko ranked first in home runs (23), on-base percentage (.301, tied with Nolan Arenado) and slugging (.444); second in RBIs (63); third in doubles (26) and fifth in hits (121). He led the team in RBIs, becoming the first rookie second baseman to lead his team since RBIs became an official stat in 1920. His .992 fielding percentage was the best-ever among major-league rookie second sackers, while his four errors were tied for the fewest among qualified players (min. 108 games).
The Padres are running out of time deciding what they’ll do with third baseman Chase Headley, who will be eligible for free agency after the season. Headley dropped off significantly following his breakout season of 2012, when he won his first Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards and finished fifth in the NL MVP voting. Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler had a rookie owner misstep when he said early last season that he had given Byrnes permission to begin negotiations that would make Headley the highest-paid player in club history. Headley countered by saying he didn’t want to negotiate during the season, then struggled on the field, with a drop across the board from his career-high numbers in 2012. Yonder Alonso returns at first base, where he made 86 starts. He hit .281 in 97 games, with all six of his homers coming before a hand injury landed him on the disabled list from June 1-July 11.
Cameron Maybin missed all but 14 games last year, and was eager to enjoy a healthy season in 2014. But a torn biceps tendon suffered early in spring training will sideline him for the first couple of months. Maybin has yet to pay off on the $25 million, five-year deal he signed during spring training 2012. It was injuries to his right wrist and left knee that led to long stints on the disabled list in 2013. Center fielder Will Venable hopes to continue the success that netted him a two-year, $8.5 million contract extension. Left fielder Carlos Quentin looks to stay healthy. And right fielder Chris Denorfia will no doubt continue playing the hustling style that has made him a fan favorite. Smith was acquired from the A’s to provide a left-handed complement to Denorfia in right. Smith won’t add much defensively, but he can hit right-handed pitching. Venable, the son of former big leaguer Max Venable, had career highs in nearly every offensive category in 2013. He also flashed some nice leather, including making a diving, game-saving catch against the Giants on June 17. Quentin, meanwhile, was limited to 82 games, third-lowest in his career, mostly due to knee injuries. He missed the final two months and had another surgery to clean out his right knee. He also served an eight-game suspension after slamming into the Dodgers’ Zack Greinke after being hit by a pitch in the shoulder on April 11. Denorfia played in a career-high 144 games, making a career-high 105 starts, including 51 in right, 36 in center and 18 in left. He set career highs with 132 hits, 10 homers and 47 RBIs.
Nick Hundley once again will be starting catcher heading into the season, this time due to Yasmani Grandal’s surgery to repair the torn ACL in his right knee. Grandal was hurt in a collision at home plate with Washington’s Anthony Rendon on July 6 and had surgery a month later. With a recovery time of 9-to-12 months, he’s not expected back before May at the earliest. Grandal, one of four players acquired from Cincinnati for Mat Latos in December 2011, started the 2013 season with a 50-game suspension for testing positive for testosterone. He had just one home run and nine RBIs in 28 games. In 60 games as a rookie in 2012, he hit eight homers and drove in 36 runs. Hundley enters the final year of a $9 million, three-year deal signed during spring training 2012. The Padres hold a $5 million option for next year. He played in a career-high 114 games in 2013, setting career-highs with 87 hits, 13 home runs and 44 RBIs. He threw out only 25.7 percent (28 of 109) of attempted base stealers.
Hundley likely will be relegated to the bench when Grandal returns from reconstructive knee surgery. Alexi Amarista can play both the infield and outfield. When healthy, Maybin could play his way back into the starting center field job. Smith and Denorfia can both be effective off the bench when not starting. Kyle Blanks hopes, once again, to prove himself worthy of a roster spot. He hit s.282 and slugged .456 against lefties last season, but struggled in the second half. Ryan Jackson and Alberto Gonzalez are battling for the final roster spot as a backup infielder. Neither brings much offense to the table.
Black returns for his eighth season, and his job appears safe despite never having led the Padres into the postseason. The new ownership group liked Black so much that they exercised his 2014 and ’15 options late in 2012. The owners — including the third generation of the O’Malley family — seem to be loosening the purse strings and allowing Byrnes to spend money.
Standing pat last offseason meant standing still in the NL West. Byrnes was busier this offseason, when he bolstered the rotation, bullpen and bench. The everyday lineup remains the same. The Padres have to get off to a strong start if they hope to contend, unlike the 5–15 start last year that left them dead in the water by mid-April. Any prolonged team offensive slump or struggles by the rotation will do them in as well. In reality, they’re probably still a year or two away from making some noise.
SS Everth Cabrera (S)
Team’s only All-Star in 2013 will be motivated after serving 50-game drug suspension.
RF Chris Denorfia (R)
Fan favorite can play all three outfield positions and is solid at the plate.
3B Chase Headley (S)
Will he stay or go? Offensive numbers dropped off dramatically after career year in 2012.
LF Carlos Quentin (R)
If his knees are healthy, Padres hope he can get 450-500 plate appearances.
1B Yonder Alonso (L)
Needs to rebound from hand injury that limited him to 97 games in 2013.
2B Jedd Gyorko (R)
Impressive rookie season in the field and at the plate showed that this kid can do it all.
CF Will Venable (L)
Solid in the field and is coming off career year at the plate that netted him an $8.55 million extension.
C Nick Hundley (R)
Enters last year of his contract as starter while Yasmani Grandal rehabs from knee surgery.
UT Alexi Amarista (L)
Solid utilityman, but not a good sign for Padres that he made 53 starts in center field.
C Yasmani Grandal (S)
Looking for redemption after drug suspension, ACL tear limited him to 28 games in 2013.
INF Ryan Jackson (R)
Has only 25 major league plate appearances and carries a .083 batting average.
OF Cameron Maybin (R)
Hurt most of 2013 and has yet to really pay off after getting five-year, $25 million deal two years ago.
OF Seth Smith (L)
Left-handed bat off the bench came at the expense of setup man Luke Gregerson.
1B/OF Kyle Blanks (R)
Probably his last opportunity to prove himself to the Padres.
RH Andrew Cashner
Hard thrower solidifies his move from bullpen to top of rotation.
RH Ian Kennedy
Appears to be on rebound; went 4–2 with 4.24 ERA after being acquired in July 31 trade with Arizona.
RH Tyson Ross
Solid back-of-the-rotation guy who had 2.93 ERA in his final 13 starts last year.
LH Eric Stults
Led Padres with 11 wins, 13 losses, 33 starts and 203.2 innings while recording 3.93 ERA.
RH Josh Johnson
Newcomer looks to return to 2010 form, when he led NL with 2.30 ERA with Marlins.
LH Robbie Erlin
The Padres won four of his five starts down the stretch last season. The lefty had a 1.97 ERA over that period and held hitters to a .227 average.
RH Huston Street (Closer)
Enters final year of contract; had 33 saves in 35 chances in 2013.
RH Joaquin Benoit
Ex-Tigers closer takes over setup role from Luke Gregerson; insurance if Street gets hurt.
RH Dale Thayer
Solid middle reliever set career highs with 69 appearances, 65 innings, 64 strikeouts and 3.32 ERA.
RH Nick Vincent
Local product was 6–3 with 2.14 ERA in 45 appearances; looking for first full big-league season.
RH Tim Stauffer
Crafty veteran has made transition from starter toreliever; 3–1 with 3.75 ERA over 69.2 innings.
LH Alex Torres
In 58 innings with Tampa Bay last season, Torres posted a 1.71 ERA and 0.897 WHIP with 62 whiffs.
LH Patrick Schuster
If he breaks camp with Padres, it’ll be a big jump for Rule 5 draftee who was in High-A last year.
2013 Top Draft Pick
Hunter Renfroe, OF
It was a busy summer for Renfroe. A few days after the Padres took him with the 13th overall pick in the June draft, he helped lead Mississippi State to the College World Series. Renfroe hit .345 with 15 homers and 65 RBIs in 66 games for the Bulldogs. After signing with the Padres for $2,678,000, he began his pro career with short-season Class A Eugene, where he hit .308 with four homers and 18 RBIs in 25 games. He was promoted to Class A Fort Wayne, where he hit only .212 in 18 games. He’s slated to start 2013 with Class A Lake Elsinore. Padres scouting director Billy Gasparino sees Renfroe as a five-tool player whose success in college makes him “a unique player.”
LHP Max Fried (20)
Promoted to Class A Lake Elsinore after going 6–7, 3.49 ERA, with 100 strikeouts in 118.2 innings at Class A Fort Wayne.
C Austin Hedges (21)
Top defensive catcher in 2011 draft class slated to start season at Double-A San Antonio.
RHP Matt Wisler (21)
Going 2–1, 2.03 ERA at Class A and 8–5, 3.00 ERA at Double-A merits promotion to Triple-A El Paso.
OF Rymer Liriano (22)
Working his way back after missing 2013 season following reconstructive surgery on his right elbow; slated for Triple-A El Paso.
RH Casey Kelly (24)
Key player from Adrian Gonzalez deal three years ago continues rehab from Tommy John surgery.
RHP Burch Smith (23)
Made big-league debut in 2013, but was an uneven 1–3 with a 6.44 ERA in four stints.
Beyond the Box Score
Local prospect Minor-league first baseman-outfielder Alex Dickerson, who went to suburban Poway High, was acquired by the Padres from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for righthander Miles Mikolas and outfielder Jaff Decker. Dickerson was named both the Eastern League Rookie of the Year and a postseason All-Star in 2013 after batting .288 (130-for-451) with 17 home runs, 68 RBIs, 61 runs scored and 10 stolen bases with Double-A Altoona. In 2012, Dickerson was named the Florida State League Player of the Year after batting .295 with 13 home runs and 90 RBIs in 129 games with High-A Bradenton.
Winfield represents Hall of Famer Dave Winfield left his position as executive vice president-senior advisor in the Padres’ front office to become special assistant to the Major League Baseball Players Association’s new executive director, Tony Clark. The move isn’t a surprise, considering that Winfield spent 15 seasons as a player representative during his 22-year big league career, which started with the Padres. After retiring, Winfield served as a founding member of the advisory board of the Major League Baseball Players Trust, a not-for-profit founded by active major leaguers in 1996.
Breeding ground Two members of the Padres’ organization were hired as big-league managers this offseason. Brad Ausmus, a special assistant to general manager Josh Byrnes, was hired as manager of the Detroit Tigers on Nov. 3. Four days later, bench coach Rick Renteria was hired as manager of the Chicago Cubs.
Roberts rises Dave Roberts was promoted from first-base coach to bench coach after Renteria was hired as manager of the Chicago Cubs. Roberts was the first-base coach for the past three seasons and had also served as the Padres’ baserunning coach since the beginning of the 2011 season, with the club having recorded an MLB-best 443 stolen bases during that time. Roberts will always be remembered for his stolen base that helped propel the Boston Red Sox to their comeback in the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees, leading to the club’s first World Series title in 86 seasons. Jose Valentin replaces Roberts as first-base coach.
Woof When the Padres’ Triple-A team moved from Tucson to El Paso, officials felt it needed a new name. A contest produced a woofer of a winner: the Chihuahuas. The other finalists were the Aardvarks, Buckaroos, Desert Gators and Sun Dogs. The Chihuahuas are El Paso’s first affiliated pro baseball team since the Double-A Diablos, an Arizona Diamondbacks farm team, left after the 2004 season.
Transfer of power In an interesting twist, the Padres swapped presidents with the Miami Dolphins. Well, sort of. Not long after Tom Garfinkel was forced out as the Padres president, the team hired Mike Dee, who held the same position with the Dolphins. Not long after that, Garfinkel was hired by the Dolphins to replace Dee. Garfinkel had joined the Padres when Jeff Moorad began his failed attempt to buy the club on a layaway plan. Dee was with the Padres from 1995-2002, joining the club as director of corporate development before several promotions that lead to his appointment as senior vice president of business affairs. Dee moved on to the Boston Red Sox and then the Dolphins.
The most expensive reboot in baseball history — professional sports history — was a success. After buying the Dodgers for a record $2.15 billion in 2012, the Guggenheim Partners group green-lighted “spare-no-expense” blockbuster trades and mega-million-dollar free-agent acquisitions that produced a $230 million payroll. The results were good — an NL West division title, berth in the NL Championship Series and the highest attendance in the majors last season. The Dodgers now enter a new phase of their rebirth as a deep-pocketed West Coast superpower. The focus this winter was not on headline-grabbing moves but on maintaining the momentum built in 2013. In particular, new management, led by team president and CEO Stan Kasten and GM Ned Colletti, has focused resources on building the kind of self-sustaining player development system that can fuel perennial championship contention.
The best asset the Dodgers have going for them — and the reason they will enter 2014 as serious threats to unseat the St. Louis Cardinals as NL champion — is a deep starting rotation led by the best starting pitcher of his generation. Clayton Kershaw, who will be 26 on Opening Day, had yet another superb season in 2013, winning his second Cy Young Award in the past three years and leading the majors in ERA (1.83) for the third consecutive season — the first pitcher to do that since Greg Maddux in 1993-95. But it wasn’t just Kershaw. As a whole, Dodgers starting pitchers had the lowest ERA in the majors (3.13) and the most shutouts (22). Before the season, the Dodgers committed more than $200 million in signing Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Both provided a return on the investment. Sidelined by a fractured collarbone early in the year, Greinke rivaled Kershaw for dominance in the second half, going 7–1 with a 1.58 ERA over his final 12 starts. Ryu won 14 games with a 3.00 ERA in his rookie season. Dan Haren has been added as a free agent this time around to bring stability to the back of the rotation, where both Chad Billingsley (Tommy John) and Josh Beckett (thoracic outlet syndrome) will be trying to return from major surgeries. Beckett, in particular, has looked completely healthy and sharp in the spring.
The Dodgers’ rotation is likely the best in baseball — and their bullpen could be the deepest in the majors as well. Going into spring training, the Dodgers will have nine relievers with at least one career save, and six with at least 17 saves in a single season — Kenley Jansen, Brian Wilson, Chris Perez, Brandon League, J.P. Howell and Javy Guerra, who is a long-shot even to make the team. Three of them — Wilson, Perez and League — were selected to All-Star teams as closers but won’t be closing for the Dodgers in 2014. That job belongs to Jansen after a season that saw him post a remarkable 111-to-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 76.2 innings. Veteran lefty Paul Maholm has a chance to make the team as a long man.
For all the attention garnered by Puig-mania last summer, the key to the Dodgers’ midseason rebirth — and possibly to their 2014 hopes as well — was Hanley Ramirez. The Dodgers were still muddling along in a win-one, lose-two rut for a few weeks after rookie Yasiel Puig’s arrival. It was Ramirez’s return from a hamstring injury that sparked their historic 42–8 run. He played at an MVP level when healthy. The Dodgers were a much better team with him in the starting lineup (51–26) than without (41–44). Unfortunately for the Dodgers, Ramirez was in the starting lineup for less than half of the team’s games. He must be healthier in 2014 for this team to reach its potential. His keystone partner, veteran Mark Ellis, has moved on as a free agent — a loss the team will feel both on the field and in the clubhouse — and the Dodgers are set to take another gamble on a Cuban defector. Alexander Guerrero was one of the best offensive players in Cuba’s top league, Serie Nacional, over the past seven seasons, primarily as a shortstop. The Dodgers gave him a four-year, $28 million contract in the hopes that he would bring that offense to the majors (and make the switch to the other side of the bag). His play hasn’t overwhelmed manager Don Mattingly, but the team still believes in him long-term. But for now, Dee Gordon will get an opportunity at second base. Defensively, the Dodgers believe he can be exceptional, and his speed is a weapon on the bases. It’s just the getting on base that’s been a problem.
Though he wasn’t quite the offensive force he was in San Diego or Boston, Adrian Gonzalez’s steady production was critical for the Dodgers during a 2013 season when injuries were constantly leaving potholes in the Dodgers’ lineup. Gonzalez drove in 100 runs, fifth in the National League, by batting .323 with runners in scoring position. That metronomic performance in the middle of the lineup figures to be a foundation piece for the Dodgers’ lineup again in 2014. Third base, on the other hand, was a black hole for most of last season with Juan Uribe, Nick Punto, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Luis Cruz offering little offensively — that is, until Uribe’s second-half rebirth. With a wafer-thin market of available options, the Dodgers crossed their fingers that Uribe’s revival was not a mirage (as Cruz’s 2012 breakout proved to be) and re-signed the veteran for two years rather than broach the delicate topic of a position switch for Ramirez.
Mattingly insists it’s “a good problem to have.” But the prospect of keeping four every-day outfielders — Puig, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford — healthy, happy and productive in 2014 is daunting. The biggest challenge could be the health part. A year ago, the four were all available for the same game just twice after Puig’s promotion from Double-A — and Kemp ended each of those games with an injury. His recovery from a second shoulder surgery and ankle surgery in the fall will go a long way toward determining how the outfield dilemma plays out. In many ways, Puig has usurped Kemp’s standing as the most dynamic player in the Dodgers’ lineup. He provided just the spark the Dodgers needed to turn around their season last year and quickly stamped himself as one of the most compelling, must-see players in the game. It will be interesting to see how many of Puig’s rough edges the Dodgers can smooth off in his second season. Ethier and Crawford are more limited players. The two left-handed batters give Mattingly a built-in matchup excuse to juggle playing time when all four are healthy.
With all the big names and former All-Stars on the Dodgers roster, the contributions of catcher A.J. Ellis go largely unnoticed. But Ellis’ workmanlike approach to handling the Dodgers’ pitching staff, and the credit he deserves for bringing out the best in Kershaw, et al., should not be underestimated. Though his offensive contributions slipped in 2013, Dodgers pitchers had a 3.06 ERA when throwing to Ellis (lowest among major-league catchers). Ellis also threw out 24 of 59 base-stealers, a percentage of 44.4 that ranked third among MLB catchers. The Dodgers are hopeful that young reserve Tim Federowicz will one day grow into Ellis’ shoes.
If the Dodgers truly will have those four every-day outfielders available on a regular basis in 2014, the bench will benefit — one of that quartet will always be there. The rest of the reserve corps is very much a question mark, however. A trio of solid role players whose contributions to team chemistry will be sorely missed — Punto, Hairston and Skip Schumaker — departed over the winter. Journeymen Mike Baxter and Justin Turner will join Scott Van Slyke as the reserves this season.
Mattingly might have been within days (if not hours) of being fired during the Dodgers’ dark days in May 2013. The team’s turnaround saved his job, and their NLDS win over the Atlanta Braves activated a vesting option in his contract for 2014. But questions about Mattingly’s in-game decision-making remain. Bench coach Trey Hillman was dismissed. And acrimony seemed to flare between Mattingly and management during a postseason press conference. Colletti remains in Mattingly’s corner, but a shadow of dysfunction hovers over the manager-management relationship.
With all the turmoil of the past two years and massive roster turnover, the Dodgers came within two games (and perhaps one cracked rib in Ramirez’s side) of reaching the World Series for the first time since 1988. Kershaw and the best starting rotation in the National League provide the foundation for another deep October run.
RF Yasiel Puig (R)
Can the Dodgers smooth out his rough edges in 2014 — and should they want to?
LF Carl Crawford (L)
Manager Don Mattingly sees Crawford as a 120-game player, better when given frequent rest.
SS Hanley Ramirez (R)
Last year was first postseason appearance after 1,095 regular-season games.
1B Adrian Gonzalez (L)
One of three players with 100 RBIs in at least six of past seven seasons (Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder).
CF Matt Kemp (R)
Has played in just 143 of Dodgers’ 274 games since first of series of injuries struck in May 2012.
3B Juan Uribe (R)
Popular teammate is a placeholder until prospect Corey Seager arrives (assuming Seager plays third).
2B Dee Gordon (L)
The speedster has a .289 OBP over the past two season in the majors, but a .385 mark at Albuquerque last summer gives hope.
C A.J. Ellis (R)
Offensive contributions took a nosedive in 2013 but handled one of the best pitching staffs in NL.
OF Andre Ethier (L)
Did yeoman’s work as fill-in center fielder last year, but offensive numbers are in decline.
C Tim Federowicz (R)
Spent 2013 on shuttle between Triple-A and L.A.; Dodgers were 24–18 in his starts.
OF Mike Baxter (L)
Plucked off waivers from Mets, Baxter could compete with Scott Van Slyke for bench spot.
OF Scott Van Slyke (R)
Provides pop off the bench — 19 of his 40 big-league hits have gone for extra bases.
INF Justin Turner (R)
Hit .267 as a reserve with the Mets over the past three seasons. Can play all four infield positions, and maybe some outfield.
2B Alexander Guerrero (R)
An offensive force in his career in Cuba, but questions remain about how much will translate in MLB. Will likely begin the season in the minors.
LH Clayton Kershaw
Kershaw has won two Cy Youngs in past three seasons and has lowest career ERA in modern era.
RH Zack Greinke
After recovering from a broken collarbone, Greinke justified the Dodgers’ $147 million investment in him.
LH Hyun-Jin Ryu
Korean star made the jump to the bigs with relative ease, giving Dodgers consistent quality.
RH Dan Haren
Has shown wear the past two seasons but went 6–5 with 3.29 ERA in final 16 appearances with Nationals.
RH Josh Beckett
Dodgers are counting on Beckett to return from major surgery.
RH Kenley Jansen (Closer)
After disastrous start, bullpen stabilized when Don Mattingly made Jansen the closer last season.
RH Brian Wilson
It was assumed Wilson would leave for a closer’s job elsewhere, but he returns as $10 million setup man.
LH J.P. Howell
Another key free agent the Dodgers were able to bring back after career-best 2.03 ERA, 1.05 WHIP in 2013.
LH Paco Rodriguez
Rookie was one of NL’s best relievers until September fade; allowed 14 of 69 inherited runners to score.
RH Chris Perez
The Dodgers will benefit if his search for redemption in Los Angeles is successful.
RH Jamey Wright
Returns on a major-league contract, ending string of eight seasons making a team on a minor-league deal.
RH Brandon League
Re-signed for three years but lost closer job early in year, and had no role at all by end of 2013 season.
2013 Top Draft Pick
Chris Anderson, RHP
Having traded away a passel of pitching prospects in 2012, the Dodgers were shopping in bulk for pitching during the 2013 draft and started with Anderson. The Dodgers believe they got a bit of a sleeper akin to Cardinals phenom Michael Wacha, who slipped to 19th in the 2012 draft. Anderson was seen as a top-10 pick before his final college season when pitching for a mediocre Jacksonville University team depressed his statistics (though he struck out 101 batters in 104.2 innings with a 2.49 ERA). The 6'4", 215-pound Minnesota native is seen as a durable workhorse who could rise quickly through the Dodgers’ system. His innings were limited at Class A Great Lakes last year, but Anderson went 3–0 with a 1.96 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 46 innings over 12 starts.
OF Joc Pederson (21)
An outfield mate of Yasiel Puig’s in Class AA Chattanooga early in 2013, the left-handed corner outfielder could be ready to rejoin him in L.A. soon.
SS Corey Seager (19)
Seager’s potential was evident with an All-Star first half in the Midwest League last year.
LHP Chris Reed (23)
The Dodgers’ top 2011 pick out of Stanford was primarily a reliever in college, but Reed topped the 100-inning mark for the first time in 2013. He went 4–11 with a 3.86 ERA for Class AA Chattanooga.
RHP Zach Lee (22)
A Class AA All-Star, Lee was the Dodgers’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2013; could challenge for a big-league spot soon.
LHP Julio Urias (17)
Was a Class A Midwest League standout despite being one of the youngest pitchers at that level in years.
RHP Chris Withrow (25)
First-round pick in 2007 shined in his MLB debut in ’13, giving up only 20 hits in 34.2 innings.
LHP Onelki Garcia (24)
Another Cuban defector, the lefthander got a taste of the big leagues and could be back after minor elbow surgery. He will be out until late May.
RHP Ross Stripling (24)
Michael Wacha’s college roommate at Texas A&M was making steady if slower progress through the Dodgers’ system. He underwent Tommy John surgery this spring, so he’s already looking to 2015.
Beyond the Box Score
One of the good guys A year after becoming the youngest player to win the Roberto Clemente Award (which recognizes a player’s commitment on and off the field), Clayton Kershaw had his charitable endeavors recognized again with the Branch Rickey Award following the 2013 season. The Rickey award honors a player who embodies the motto “Service Above Self.” Kershaw and his wife, Ellen, have founded Kershaw’s Challenge, a charitable organization that works to make a difference in the lives of at-risk children and communities in need in Kershaw’s hometown of Dallas as well as Los Angeles. The organization includes Arise Africa, which is building an orphanage called “Hope’s Home” in Zambia, among other projects.
Broadcast news Shortly after new ownership took over in 2012, the Dodgers secured a new TV rights deal that will bring in a record $8.5 billion over the next 25 years. That deal will kick in with the 2014 season, and the Dodgers will become the latest sports team to have its own regional sports network. A channel on the Time Warner Cable system, SportsNet LA, will be devoted to Dodgers coverage. Former MLB stars Nomar Garciaparra and Orel Hershiser have left ESPN to take on roles with the Dodgers’ broadcast team. Jerry Hairston Jr. retired following the 2013 season and will also be involved with Dodgers broadcasts in 2014.
About face Last season, the Dodgers became the fourth team in the divisional era (1969) to win a division title during the same season in which they were at least 12 games under .500 at one point. The Dodgers were 30–42 on June 21. They joined the 1974 Pittsburgh Pirates (14 games under .500 at one point), 1973 New York Mets (13 games under) and 1989 Toronto Blue Jays (12 games under) in rebounding to finish first in their division.
The Rockies improved by 10 wins to 74 victories under first-year manager Walt Weiss but are coming off consecutive last-place finishes for the first time in their 21-year history. The club gave Weiss a three-year contract and then embarked on a very busy offseason. The Rockies’ starters were last in the NL with a 4.57 ERA, and the back end of the rotation was a disaster. When Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin or Tyler Chatwood started, the Rockies went 49–32; otherwise, they went 25–56. Lefthander Brett Anderson, acquired from Oakland, could be an impact starter, provided he can stay healthy. That hasn’t been the case of late. The Rockies’ bullpen also was last in the NL with a 4.23 ERA, in large part because roles changed when closer Rafael Betancourt went on the disabled list three times, the last with an elbow injury that resulted in Tommy John surgery that will cost him the 2014 season. Free agent LaTroy Hawkins, a setup man for the Rockies in 2007 when they went to the World Series, will be given the opportunity to close. The Rockies also signed free agent Boone Logan and traded for Franklin Morales, who began his career in their organization. Along with Rex Brothers, they will give Weiss the luxury of three lefthanders in the bullpen. To replace retired franchise icon Todd Helton, the Rockies signed first baseman Justin Morneau, confident he will benefit from Coors Field and can still be productive despite a power drop-off in recent seasons largely due to two concussions. The Rockies seem poised to break their string of three straight losing seasons. Can they make a bigger leap and become a factor in the NL West race? Stars Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki will have to each play about 150 games. Anderson will have to log about 175 innings and make a major contribution. And the Rockies will need some luck.
De La Rosa, fully recovered from June 2011 Tommy John surgery, reached a career high in wins despite dealing with a painful bone bruise on his left thumb in his final 16 starts. The Rockies went 21–9 in his starts. Chacin missed significant time in 2012 but last year set career highs in innings (197.1) and wins (14) with a 3.47 ERA. He has been dealing with shoulder soreness for much of the spring. Chatwood was recalled from Triple-A on April 24 but missed all of August with right elbow inflammation. He found his niche in the rotation, going 8–5 with a 3.15 ERA in 20 starts. Anderson was Oakland’s Opening Day starter last year but has pitched only 163 innings the past three seasons as he dealt with Tommy John surgery, an oblique injury, and last year a stress fracture in his right foot. Juan Nicasio is the leading candidate for the fifth spot. Righties Jonathan Gray and Eddie Butler, the Rockies’ top two prospects, will begin 2014 in Double-A but are expected to be ready for the majors during the season.
Hawkins, 41, will have the opportunity to be the closer but could move back to a setup role if he falters. Brothers, a lefty who filled in for Betancourt, went 19-for-21 in save situations and averaged 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings. But he also averaged 4.8 walks, a reason the Rockies signed Hawkins to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. Logan and Morales give Weiss three capable southpaws in the bullpen. Adam Ottavino advanced from middle relief to the seventh inning. Matt Belisle and Wilton Lopez struggled last year but can be used in shorter bursts with a deeper bullpen.
The Rockies went 9–16 last year when Tulowitzki was out with a broken rib. He led National League shortstops with a .986 fielding percentage and was second in the league with a .931 OPS. Tulowitzki hit 25 home runs last season and has hit at least 24 every season in which he has at least 400 at bats. Second baseman DJ LeMahieu is solid defensively, making only three errors in 90 games at the position, and was third on the team with 18 stolen bases. He’s a reliable contact hitter who has gap power but doesn’t walk much.
Nolan Arenado became the first NL rookie third baseman to win a Gold Glove. He hit 29 doubles and 10 homers with 52 RBIs and should develop more power as he matures. Morneau suffered a concussion in 2010 and another in 2011 but no longer suffers from post-concussion symptoms. He still has some power — 17 homers for Minnesota last year, including nine in August before being traded to Pittsburgh — and should benefit from Coors Field and its spacious gaps. The left-handed-hitting Morneau hit .280 in 403 at-bats against right-handed pitchers and .207 in 169 at-bats against lefties. So right fielder Michael Cuddyer and catcher Wilin Rosario, both right-handed hitters, are options at first base against left-handed pitchers. Rosario has played only five games at the position and needs a lot of work.
Gonzalez, a three-time Gold Glove winner, will move back to center from left field following the trade of Fowler. Gonzalez sprained his right middle finger July 7 and re-aggravated it multiple times, making him a non-factor in the second half after leading the National League prior to the All-Star break in home runs, slugging percentage, extra-base hits and total bases. Gonzalez opted against surgery that might have compromised the flexibility in the finger and reported it felt good when he began swinging a bat lightly in December. Cuddyer, the reigning NL batting champion, likely won’t hit .331 again at age 35, having never hit .300 before last season. But he can be counted upon to produce runs and provide veteran leadership. His range and first-step quickness have declined. Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson, both left-handed hitters, will vie for a portion of the left-field job that is likely to be a platoon with right-handed-hitting Drew Stubbs.
Rosario has a strong arm and improved defensively but is still below average at receiving, blocking and calling a game. His main asset is his power. He led all National League catchers in home runs (19 as a catcher, 21 overall) for the second straight season and overall has improved as a hitter, staying back better on breaking pitches and using the whole field. The Rockies decided that catcher was Jordan Pacheco’s best position after watching him play first and third. His throwing is below average, but the rest of his defense is sound. After a solid rookie season in 2012, Pacheco didn’t drive the ball well last year when he had just 247 at-bats and a .588 OPS.
Stubbs and infielder Josh Rutledge will provide power off the bench as will the left-handed-hitting Dickerson, if he doesn’t platoon in left field. But Morneau, who figures to start sparingly against lefthanders, will give the Rockies a legitimate threat off the bench to change a game in one swing, something they haven’t had since Jason Giambi left after 2012. Rutledge can play second base and shortstop, along with Charlie Culberson, who can also play left field. Rutledge and Stubbs are capable base stealers.
Weiss now has the security of a three-year deal, having shown the requisite leadership, communication, organization and decision-making skills. The Rockies moved quickly in the offseason, making four trades and signing three free agents. Trading Fowler freed up $7.35 million that was put toward the acquisitions of Morneau and Anderson. Trading Drew Pomeranz and a minor-league pitcher for Anderson was a wise alternative to paying considerably more for a mid-level free-agent starting pitcher. Poor drafts from 2006-08 ended up hurting the Rockies, but they have infused better players into the system recently, most notably Gray and Butler, two potential impact starting pitchers.
The Rockies can’t afford to lose Tulowitzki and Gonzalez for extended periods again. If Anderson stays healthy, he should give the rotation four dependable starters, and the bullpen should be better. Their first winning season since 2010 certainly seems possible. And with improved offense from Arenado to go with his magnificent defense and maybe a rejuvenated Morneau, the Rockies might truly surprise and end up playing meaningful games late in the season.
LF Charlie Blackmon (L)
Hit .332 in August and September with 14 doubles, one triple, five homers, 18 RBIs and 29 runs scored.
2B DJ LeMahieu (R)
Fielding percentage was .993 in 90 games at second base with three errors in 442 total chances.
CF Carlos Gonzalez (L)
Limited to 391 at-bats by finger injury but still led team with 26 homers, .591 slugging percentage, .958 OPS.
SS Troy Tulowitzki (R)
Second in NL in slugging (.540) and OPS (.931) and led NL shortstops with .986 fielding percentage.
RF Michael Cuddyer (R)
Hit .372 with five doubles, six HRs, 19 RBIs and 17 runs scored during franchise-record 27-game hitting streak.
1B Justin Morneau (L)
Hit .207 with .247 OBP and .278 slugging with two HRs and 16 RBIs in 169 at-bats against lefties.
C Wilin Rosario (R)
Broke his own franchise record for RBIs by a catcher with 79 after setting record with 71 in 2012.
3B Nolan Arenado (R)
Hit .298 with five HRs and 34 RBIs in 242 at-bats at Coors Field and .238-5-18 in 244 at-bats on the road.
C Jordan Pacheco (R)
Hit .351 (46-for-131) against left-handed pitchers as a rookie in 2012 but just .205 (23-for-112) last year.
OF Drew Stubbs (R)
Career marks include .226 average and .652 OPS against righties, .274 with .796 OPS against lefties.
INF Josh Rutledge (R)
Average fell from .274 in 277 at-bats as a rookie in 2012 to .235 in 285 at-bats in 2013.
OF Corey Dickerson (L)
OPS in 90 at-bats at Coors Field was 1.003 compared to .576 in 104 at-bats on the road.
UT Charlie Culberson (R)
His 20 pinch-hit at-bats were third-most on the Rockies despite not joining the team until July 29.
LH Jorge De La Rosa
Set career marks in wins (16) and ERA (3.49) and Rockies went 21–9 in his starts, winning the final seven.
RH Jhoulys Chacin
Had career highs in wins (14) and innings (197.1), and cut walk rate to 2.8 per nine innings.
LH Brett Anderson
Came back Aug. 28 and made 10 relief appearances after missing four months to stress fracture in foot.
RH Tyler Chatwood
Allowed two or fewer runs in 16 of 20 starts and gave up five home runs in 111.1 innings.
RH Juan Nicasio
Wore down late last season while pitching a career-high 157.2 innings.
RH LaTroy Hawkins (Closer)
Went 13-for-14 in save situations with the Mets when he took over for injured closer Bobby Parnell in August.
LH Rex Brothers
Had 32 consecutive scoreless outings totaling 30 innings from April 10-June 28, dropping his ERA to 0.27.
RH Matt Belisle
Fourth in franchise history with 326 appearances after pitching in at least 70 games for four straight seasons.
LH Boone Logan
Only season in the National League was 2009 with the Braves when he made 20 of his 420 career appearances.
RH Adam Ottavino
Fared better at Coors Field with 2.00 ERA in 45 innings compared with 3.51 ERA in 33.1 innings on the road.
RH Wilton Lopez
In disappointing first season with Rockies, allowed a .305 average and an .803 OPS to right-handed hitters.
LH Franklin Morales
Command has been issue throughout his career with averages of 4.5 walks and 7.7 SO/9IP.
2013 Top Draft Pick
Jonathan Gray, RHP
The Rockies took Gray out of Oklahoma with the third overall pick and signed him for a franchise-record $4.8 million. He had a 4.05 ERA and two walks and 15 strikeouts in 13.1 innings at rookie level Grand Junction, where he was allowed to throw only one slider per batter because he had thrown the pitch excessively at Oklahoma. That restriction was lifted at High-A Modesto, where Gray went 4–0 with an 0.75 ERA and 36 strikeouts in 24 innings. Gray, 22, will have three plus-pitches. He sits at 95-96 mph with his fastball and has hit 102 mph. He has a tight slider and a good feel for a developing changeup. He should begin 2014 at Double-A but could join the Rockies’ rotation during the season.
OF David Dahl (19)
Severe hamstring tear ended his season at Low-A after 10 games and 40 at-bats. The Rockies’ top draft pick I 2012 could open 2014 at High-A.
1B Kyle Parker (24)
Introduced to first base at Double-A last year and played the position exclusively in Arizona Fall League. Could reach majors in 2014 and be starting first basemen in 2015.
LHP Tyler Matzek (23)
Command has improved but is still very inconsistent. Might end up in bullpen after pitching there in Arizona Fall League following a season at Double-A.
LHP Christian Friedrich (26)
Recurrence of stress fracture in lower back ended season at Triple-A on April 21 after four starts.
RHP Eddie Butler (23)
He pitched at three levels last year, finishing at Double-A, and went a combined 9–5 with a 1.80 ERA in 149.2 innings.
SS Rosell Herrera (21)
The switch-hitter was MVP of Low-A South Atlantic League, which he led with .343 average along with 33 doubles and 16 homers.
C Tom Murphy (23)
He jumped from Low-A to Double-A during 2013 and finished with combined .289 average, 22 homers and 83 RBIs in 357 at-bats.
OF Raimel Tapia (20)
He hit safely in 29 straight games and led the Rookie level Pioneer League with .357 average and just 31 strikeouts in 258 at-bats.
RHP Rayan Gonzalez (23)
He compiled a 2.68 ERA and 12 saves in 53.2 innings at Low-A with 21 walks and 70 strikeouts.
SS Trevor Story (21)
He started slow and pressed but went back to using the entire field to finish a humbling season at High-A on a positive note.
3B Ryan McMahon (19)
The 42nd overall pick in the 2013 draft hit .321 and slugged .583 in Rookie ball last summer.
Beyond the Box Score
Road woes The Rockies take two three-city road trips this year, the last ending June 1. That’s in sharp contrast to 2013, when they made five such trips and went 13–35 on them. For the second straight season, Colorado finished with a 29–52 record away from Coors Field. In their 21-year history, the Rockies have had one winning record on the road, going 41–40 in 2009.
Golden Nolan Third baseman Nolan Arenado last year became the sixth Rockies player to win a Gold Glove, joining right fielder Larry Walker (five), outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and first baseman Todd Helton (three each), shortstop Troy Tulowitzki (two) and shortstop Neifi Perez (one). Offensively, Arenado hit .267 with a .301 on-base percentage, .405 slugging percentage, 10 homers and 52 RBIs. While he split those 10 homers evenly between Coors Field and the road, Arenado had a .793 OPS at home and .619 on the road.
Hot start The Rockies began the 2013 season with a record of 13–4, reaching that mark on April 20 with an eight-game winning streak that had been preceded by a five-game winning streak. But beginning April 21, the Rockies went 61–84 the balance of the season.
Outlier Michael Cuddyer, who won the National League batting title with a .331 average, entered 2013 with a career average of .271 and a previous best of .284, which he hit with Minnesota in both 2006 and ’11.
Lefty specialist Boone Logan made a total of 205 appearances the past three seasons with the Yankees, including 80 to lead the AL and tie for the most in the majors in 2012. But Logan, a left-handed specialist, pitched just 136 innings in that three-year span. Logan pitched 39 innings in 61 games last year, including a season-high 1.1 innings five times. The most pitches he threw in a game: 25 while giving up two hits and a walk in two-thirds of an inning July 4 at Minnesota.
Troy story Despite missing 25 games with a broken rib and playing 126 games, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki hit 25 home runs, the fourth time in his career he has hit at least 25 homers in a season. Tulowitzki is just one of six shortstops in major-league history with at least four seasons of 25 home runs or more. The others are Cal Ripken Jr. (eight seasons), Alex Rodriguez and Ernie Banks (seven), Miguel Tejada (six) and Nomar Garciaparra (four).
The Diamondbacks completed two major offseason trades, moves designed to “keep up with the Joneses,” as president/CEO Derrick Hall said at the winter meetings. The addition of proven power bat Mark Trumbo should provide a middle-of-the-order complement to Paul Goldschmidt, whose breakout 2013 season earned him an All-Star berth and a second-place finish in the NL MVP balloting. Closer Addison Reed is expected to firm up a shaky bullpen. With a return to health by some and a return to form by others, the retooled D-backs again could contend in the rugged NL West.
At this time last year, lefthander Patrick Corbin was one of three candidates for the final spot in the D-backs’ starting rotation. How things change. And then change again. Corbin entered the spring as the clear No. 1 this season after blossoming in 2013, winning 14 games and striking out 178. He was one of only nine NL pitchers to work at least 208 innings, and his 9–0 start through June led to his first All-Star team appearance. Then a twinge in his elbow has him sidelined and visiting a doctor named James Andrews, never a good sign for a pitcher. So the best-case scenario has Corbin rehabbing for most of the season. The most likely outcome is Tommy John surgery. Corbin’s teammates will have to step up a notch to fill the void. Righthanders Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy will fill two of the top three spots, in some order, and both are looking to rebound after missing significant injury time a year ago. Cahill was struck in the right hip by a line drive in June and after two more starts was placed on the disabled list. While there, he tweaked his delivery to find a more consistent release point. Cahill’s hard two-seamer moves so much that he is tough to beat when he is commanding the strike zone, and the change seemed to help — he was 5–0 with 2.70 ERA in his last nine appearances. McCarthy missed nine weeks with shoulder inflammation, an issue that impacts him every year. Lefthander Wade Miley has had two consecutive double-digit win seasons and is an ideal fourth starter, keeping his team in most games. But he’ll be asked to be even better this season. Miley and Corbin finished in the top 10 in quality starts in the NL a year ago. Righthander Randall Delgado used the opportunity when Cahill and McCarthy were out to enter the rotation, and his work helped facilitate the trade of Ian Kennedy at the July 31 deadline. Long-time Cincinnati workhorse Bronson Arroyo signed with Arizona over the winter. He was brought in more or less as insurance and to give Delgado and Bradley plenty of time to develop. But now he must fill a key role. Top prospect Archie Bradley could crack the rotation at some point this season. Bradley continues to improve with a mix of a 98 mph fastball with a sharp curve.
Reed had 69 saves for the Chicago White Sox after becoming their closer two months into the 2012 season, and he should stabilize a bullpen hurt by injuries and ineffectiveness. D-backs relievers tied for the major-league lead with 29 failed save conversions and led NL bullpens with 59 home runs allowed in ’13. The D-backs recovered to win about half of the games in which there was a blown save, but the extra innings (and workload) made it more difficult on everyone. Submariner Brad Ziegler, the third pitcher used as closer, rescued the bullpen with 12 saves in the second half last year and was rewarded with a two-year, $10.5 million extension in the offseason. He is expected to return to his primary role as a setup man. Righthanders J.J. Putz and David Hernandez, bullpen horses in the D-backs’ 2011 NL West title run, look to bounce back from injuries (Putz) and ineffectiveness (Hernandez) in setup roles this season. Putz, who opened 2013 as the closer, was effective in the second half when he returned from an elbow strain. Righthander Josh Collmenter has created a niche for himself in long relief, and he was among the best in the game at that. Righthander Will Harris and lefthanders Joe Thatcher and Oliver Perez provide help.
Dual-threat second baseman Aaron Hill missed about 10 weeks after suffering a broken hand two weeks into 2013, and his production was sorely missed. Tentatively scheduled to be the cleanup hitter a year ago, he is a strong candidate to hit there again, between Goldschmidt and Trumbo. He also can hit in the No. 2 hole. Youngsters Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings could work into a platoon at shortstop, since Gregorius bats left-handed and Owings hits right. Owings was the Pacific Coast League MVP at Class AAA Reno in 2013 and has nothing left to prove at that level.
Goldschmidt signed a five-year, $32 million contract extension two days before the 2013 season and then proceeded to outperform it almost immediately. In a monster year, he tied for the NL lead with 36 home runs and led the league in most other production categories, including RBIs (125), slugging percentage, OPS and OPS-plus. He also won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger, and he led the D-backs in stolen bases. Martin Prado had a career-best 82 RBIs, and his 14 homers were one short of tying his career high in his first season with the D-backs. He was used at second base, third base and left field in 2013, but third base will be his spot this season unless injuries force a change. Prado is also versatile offensively and will likely hit second or sixth.
New left fielder Trumbo had 29, 32 and 34 home runs in his first three seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, and one veteran scout said he believed 35 dingers were possible in Chase Field, which is more hitter-friendly. Trumbo played mostly first base with the Angels, but he also took turns in left field and right field, and the D-backs believe he will be a competent defender. Gerardo Parra set career highs in six offensive categories, including doubles (43) and homers (10), in his first season as a full-time right fielder, and his arm is as much of a weapon as his bat. Parra led NL outfielders with a career-high 17 assists while winning his second Gold Glove in three seasons, first as a left fielder in 2011. A.J. Pollock, a long-shot to make the roster in 2013 until injuries struck, will play center field after finishing second among NL rookies with 12 stolen bases and 28 doubles last year. He is the best center fielder on the roster, and his breakout season made Adam Eaton expendable in the three-team trade that landed Trumbo. Adjustments will be made when Cody Ross returns from a broken hip, perhaps in May.
Miguel Montero played through lower back pain most of last season, certainly a factor in his least productive season since 2010, another injury-shortened year. At normal levels, Montero is one of the best offensive players in the league at his position, and even with a subpar 2013 has averaged 25 doubles, 15 homers and 72 RBIs the last three seasons. He provides the primary left-handed bat in the Arizona lineup.
Eric Chavez’s return is a big get for the D-backs. Chavez had 44 RBIs in 228 at-bats last season, and only Goldschmidt had a better ratio among regular contributors. Chavez will back up at first base and third base and be the prime left-handed pinch-hitter. Ross is not expected to return from his fractured hip until late April or May, at which point the D-backs will have decisions to make about outfield roles. Ross can play all three outfield positions. Cliff Pennington is an above-average defender at second base and shortstop, adding to the depth provided by Owings and Gregorius. Henry Blanco, whose defensive skills and clubhouse presence stand out, signed a minor-league contract in the offseason and will back up Montero.
Hall and managing partner Ken Kendrick demonstrated their commitment to winning now with their checkbook. With deferred salaries virtually gone and the new FOX-TV money combined with a reworking of several sponsorship arrangements, the D-backs had money to spend, and they spent it. The 2014 payroll will be the highest in team history, exceeding the approximately $102 million spent on the 2002 team in the year after the D-backs’ only World Series victory. GM Kevin Towers again was at his offseason best in landing Trumbo and Reed to fill obvious holes.
The D-backs have made it clear that they expect to compete with the defending division champ and deep-pocketed Los Angeles Dodgers and the every-other-year San Francisco Giants. Towers and manager Kirk Gibson are in the final years of their contracts. Each has two option years, but management needs to see progress for a team that faded down the stretch a year ago.
RF Gerardo Parra (L)
Hit five leadoff homers in his first extended time as a leadoff hitter in 2013.
3B Martin Prado (R)
Hit 14 home runs and had a career-high 82 RBIs in his first season with the D-backs.
1B Paul Goldschmidt (R)
The most productive hitter in the National League last season by virtually any measure.
2B Aaron Hill (R)
With health, his numbers should return to normal levels, deepening this lineup.
LF Mark Trumbo (R)
One scout suggests that 35 homers is not out of the question at Chase Field.
C Miguel Montero (L)
A workhorse, he has caught at least 1,000 innings in each of the last three years.
CF A.J. Pollock (R)
Speedy defender capped a strong rookie season by hitting .369 in his last 28 games.
SS Didi Gregorius (L)
He brings a strong arm and good range into his second season in Arizona.
INF Eric Chavez (L)
Averaged an RBI every 5.2 at-bats, second among the D-backs’ regular contributors.
OF Cody Ross (R)
Gamer remains optimistic that he can return from fractured hip in late April, early May.
C Henry Blanco (R)
Solid defender and steadying presence on the 2011 team returns to add skill and savvy.
INF Cliff Pennington (S)
A solid defender who can rise to the occasion, as his two walk-off hits in ‘13 suggest.
SS Chris Owings (R)
Earned 2013 Pacific Coast League MVP honors by hitting .330 with 31 doubles, 81 RBIs.
UT Matt Tuiasosopo (R)
The slugger appeared in 81 games for the Tigers last season and hit seven homers in 164 at-bats. He’ll provide some right-handed pop, at least until Ross is deemed fit.
LH Wade Miley
Over the final four months of 2013, the 2008 first-round pick was 7–5 with a 2.87 ERA.
RH Trevor Cahill
A midseason delivery adjustment seemed to take, boding well for the future for the former 18-game winner.
RH Brandon McCarthy
Looking to rebound from a career-high 11 losses in his first season with the D-backs.
RH Randall Delgado
Given opportunity, had career highs in wins (five), starts (19) and innings (116.1).
RH Bronson Arroyo
Made at least 32 starts each year for the past nine seasons, but carried a 4.10 ERA during that time.
RH Addison Reed (Closer)
Has 69 saves since becoming the White Sox’s full-time closer two months into 2012.
RH J.J. Putz
After recovering from elbow strain, held opponents scoreless in 22 of his final 24 appearances.
RH David Hernandez
His 241 strikeouts are sixth among National League relievers the last three seasons.
RH Brad Ziegler
Submariner leads major-league relievers by inducing 81 double-play grounders since 2008.
RH Josh Collmenter
His over-the-top “tomahawk” style is unorthodox, but the results scream effective.
LH Joe Thatcher
He has allowed 16 percent of inherited runners to score, fifth in the majors since 2009.
RH Will Harris
With a low 90s fastball and big-breaking curve, another bullpen find by general manager Kevin Towers.
LH Oliver Perez
The veteran appeared in 61 games for Seattle last season with 74 strikeouts in 53 innings.
2013 Top Draft Pick
Braden Shipley, RHP
Shipley needed a few outings to settle in at short-season Class A Hillsboro after being chosen from Nevada with the 15th pick of the first round of the draft, but he hit his stride shortly thereafter and did his best work after a late-season promotion to Class A South Bend for the playoff drive. Shipley gave up two earned runs or less in each of his four regular-season starts at South Bend to help the Silver Hawks into the playoffs, and he followed that with even better work, giving up only two earned runs in 13.2 innings in two playoff starts. Shipley is a converted shortstop who has only been pitching full-time since his junior year in high school, and because of that the D-backs see plenty of upside. His stuff is that of a top-of-the-rotation starter — he touches 97 mph with his fastball and uses a changeup as a second pitch.
C/OF Stryker Trahan (19)
After honing his catching skills in extended spring training in 2013, Trahan had 10 homers and 33 RBIs in 59 games at Class A Missoula.
RHP Archie Bradley (21)
The D-backs’ other 2011 first-round pick will bring his 98 mph fastball into competition for a rotation spot this spring.
RHP Matt Stites (23)
A bullpen component who was obtained in the Ian Kennedy trade; his fastball tops out in the high 90s.
RHP Jake Barrett (22)
A reliever who touches the high 90s; had a 1.21 ERA and 29 saves at two 2013 minor league stops.
3B Jake Lamb (23)
Showed good pop — 20 doubles, 13 home runs, 47 RBIs — in a 2013 season cut in half by injuries.
3B Brandon Drury (21)
Led the minor leagues with 51 doubles at Class A South Bend in 2013 after coming over in Justin Upton/Chris Johnson trade.
SS Chris Owings (22)
Did not appear overmatched at all in his 20-game audition last summer.
RHP Aaron Blair (21)
The 36th pick in the 2013 draft made 11 starts with seven no-decisions last season in the minors.
RHP Jose Martinez (19)
Made 10 starts in the Northwest League last summer. The good news is that he allowed just 20 hits in 38 innings. The bad news is that he walked 25.
Beyond the Box Score
Bad blood After the Los Angeles Dodgers clinched the NL West crown in Arizona on Sept. 20, a host of Dodgers moved their celebration from the visiting clubhouse to the Chase Field swimming pool, just beyond the right-center field fence. An unnamed Dodger admitted to relieving himself in the pool. Initially unfazed, D-backs righthander Brandon McCarthy spoke for many in the clubhouse when he said: “My presumption was that if it was just based on having fun and celebrating, that’s one thing. If you have some people going out of their way to be a**holes, that’s a whole ’nother thing. If it is something where you are going out to be disrespectful, then that is kind of a simple ‘grow up.’”
Inspiration Ben Petrick was not looking to get back into baseball, but when the D-backs moved into his Hillsboro, Ore., neighborhood and player personnel director Mike Bell came calling, Petrick found himself enjoying his role as a special assistant, basically a “life coach” for the D-backs’ first-year players. A storied high school athlete in Oregon and a five-year major leaguer, Petrick had his career curtailed by early-onset Parkinson’s, a journey chronicled in his autobiography, “40,000 to One.” D-backs No. 1 draft choice Braden Shipley, who started his pro career in Hillsboro last June, called Petrick “one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met. What I respect is how positive he is. That to me is inspiring. That shows me I don’t have it rough.”
Hip check Cody Ross is known as a baseball rat, willing and able to do all the dirty work required to excel. He is now a guinea pig. Ross suffered a fractured bone on the back of his right hip when his spike caught in the dirt as he approached first base on Aug. 11, and the injury is believed to be the first of its kind in baseball.
Man of his word A day after Mark Trumbo was traded to the D-backs on Dec. 10, he still made it a priority to attend the Los Angeles Angels’ annual children’s holiday party in Downtown Disney, an event he began attending while he was in the Angels’ minor-league system. He wore a plaid shirt instead of his uniform jersey, but the kids did not seem to mind as Trumbo read Christmas stories, signed autographs and traded high-fives.
Last fall in the visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park, as jubilation swirled outside, the Cardinals quietly came to grips with a sudden October ending. Several luminaries, like Carlos Beltran and retiring star Chris Carpenter, would not be returning, but general manager John Mozeliak surveyed the room and wanted the players to see past the disappointment and recognize a chance for continuation. “We’ve got a good team,” he said. “We’ve got a young team.” The Cardinals, who won a league-best 97 games, claimed their fourth National League pennant in 10 years. They reached the Fall Classic with the youngest roster in the playoffs after a season that featured 11 major-league debuts. And the Cardinals have outfitted a ring-bearing core of Matt Holliday (three World Series), Adam Wainwright (three World Series), and Yadier Molina (four World Series) with young, hotshot pitchers set to carry the club through many autumns to come.
Young and talented are the two words to describe the Cardinals’ rotation. A pitcher 26 or younger started 109 of the Cardinals’ 162 games, and rookies threw 50 percent of the innings in the World Series. In September, Joe Kelly (25) and Lance Lynn (26) combined for a 2.11 ERA, and Michael Wacha (22) had a 1.72 ERA. Shelby Miller (23) won 15 games total. All four cram into a crowded competition for starting spots after Wainwright (32), who tied for the NL lead in wins (19) and led in innings pitched (241.2). “We haven’t seen (their) ceiling,” manager Mike Matheny says. Lefty Jaime Garcia (27) was expected to return from shoulder surgery to arm the Cardinals with a rotation that could go eight deep with sky-high potential, but his shoulder did not respond well in spring training. He’s out indefinitely…again.
Matheny started the 2013 offseason with a pronouncement about 2014: Trevor Rosenthal will be the closer. The flamethrowing righty claimed the ninth inning in September and blazed through four saves and a scoreless 11.2 innings in October. An infusion of power jolted the bullpen for the postseason and will mark the late innings again. Former closer Jason Motte (elbow surgery) is back, giving the Cardinals at least five relievers who throw 98 mph or better. Lefty Randy Choate and Motte will serve as sages for a green group that could include lefty Kevin Siegrist, Seth Maness, and rookie Carlos Martinez. With Rosenthal at the end, Matheny can bridge leads from starter to closer with a familiar late-inning recipe: fast, faster and then fastest. Righties Keith Butler and Pat Neshek will cover any innings that might be available until Motte is completely sound.
When newcomer Jhonny Peralta debuts at shortstop on Opening Day, he’ll continue a Cardinals trend before trying to end it. Peralta, 31, will be the eighth different starting shortstop in eight consecutive Opening Days for the Cardinals. That instability is surpassed to Peralta’s left. Veteran Mark Ellis or rookie Kolten Wong will be the ninth different Opening Day second baseman in 12 years. The Cardinals moved All-Star Matt Carpenter back to third base to allow for Wong, a former first-round pick who brings speed, solid defense and high-average potential. With a .774 OPS vs. lefties since 2011, Ellis offers a right-handed-hitting complement to Wong and alternative starter if he falters. Peralta brings offense that the Cardinals haven’t seen at short in years. The position has averaged a .336 slugging percentage the past four seasons and provided 11 homers total since 2012. Peralta had that many in 2013. The Cardinals crave his production to stop their middle infield merry-go-round. The Redbirds will lose some defense, but Peralta is sure-handed and makes all the routine plays.
The first major move of the offseason was a farewell. The Cardinals packaged favorite son, St. Louis native and former World Series MVP David Freese in a deal with the Angels. The third baseman’s production drifted in 2013, and, due a raise through arbitration, he was in enough demand for the Cardinals to reshape the look of the infield and team defense with a trade. After leading the league in hits, runs and doubles, leadoff hitter Carpenter offers a defensive upgrade at third, and coaches believe he’ll flex more power to offset the loss of Freese and Beltran. Increased thump must come from first base, where Matt Adams takes over full-time. The left-handed-hitting slugger had 17 home runs in 108 games — a pace that would yield 29 homers given 500 at-bats. However, should top prospect Oscar Taveras prove he’s ready for a promotion this season, Allen Craig will move back to first and Adams will resume his roll off the bench.
In exchange for Freese, the Cardinals received center fielder Peter Bourjos, who is in position to win the starting job, or at least share it with incumbent Jon Jay. Bourjos’ 2013 season was hampered by a wrist injury that eventually required surgery, but he is a dynamic fielder with flashes of offensive upside. Jay, who fought fits of inconsistency, did post a .311 second-half average. Bourjos and Wong will add a new speed dimension to the lineup, one built on OBP and timely damage. The pillars of the Cardinals’ lineup bookend Bourjos — Holliday in left and Allen Craig in right. Relocated from first, cleanup hitter Craig would have two consecutive 100-RBI seasons if not for fluke injuries. He’s primed to challenge for an MVP. Annually, Holliday is one of the most productive (and underrated) outfielders — a metronome good for 90 RBIs, 20 homers and .490 slugging. On the horizon looms Taveras, the wunderkind whom the Cardinals call the best hitting prospect they’ve had since Albert Pujols. He missed much of 2013 with an ankle injury that eventually required surgery. He’ll need at least three months at Triple-A this year.
The meteoric arc of his career, from defensive whiz to arguably the best catcher of his generation, can be mapped on Molina’s arms, where he has tattoos for each of the achievements, like Gold Glove awards and championships. Molina’s average climbed to a career high (.319) for the third consecutive season in 2013, and he shepherded a rookie-rich rotation to a career-low catcher’s ERA (3.16). Recurring knee troubles for Molina reinforced the Cardinals’ need to get trustworthy backup Tony Cruz more starts. Molina is one of only two NL catchers with at least 1,000 innings behind the plate for three consecutive seasons, and in that time the discussion of his career has accelerated from MVP candidate to one of the best all-around players in the game.
In two seasons with Matheny as manager, the Cardinals have tried different approaches with the bench. First they went young and then spent $5 million to add seasoning in the second summer. Neither plan worked. Diminished by injury and lacking power, the bench faded by October. The team moved to correct that by constructing a blended bench for 2014 — part veteran, part prospect. Ellis offers seasoning, and Taveras, if he makes the team, could be a power source. Matheny does not let his backups gather rust, but he should now get more production in exchange for the playing time. There will basically be two spots for holdovers Daniel Descalso, Pete Kozma and Shane Robinson.
To lead their team in a direction reliant on homegrown talent and on-the-job development, Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and Mozeliak identified a manager who, like the coming players, was more prospect than proven. The payoff has been obvious. In two years, Matheny has nurtured the shift without any lag in the standings. A players-first motivator, Matheny, 43, has a mentor’s touch with young players as he refines his managerial skills. The Cardinals’ commitment to growing with him came with a new three-year extension through 2017. Mozeliak’s fingerprints are all over an organization that remains the envy of the industry. In three swift offseason moves, Mozeliak added a new shortstop, extra right-handed offense and improved defense, all without reaching into his purse of cost-controlled pitching or raising payroll. He has been described by his staff as the organization’s compass, pointing it toward contention.
During their third consecutive run deep into the postseason, the Cardinals spoke frequently about their organizational philosophy, “The Cardinal Way.” The form-fitting phrase was applied to their fundamentals, how prospects are cultivated, and the club’s championship expectations. With a returning core, blossoming pitchers, and additions grafted to the roster’s weak spots, the Cardinals enter 2014 set to prove that “The Cardinal Way” isn’t just a style of play but a direction — one always steering them back to October. Says Matheny: “Let’s see if we can be the best team for a long time.”
3B Matt Carpenter (L)
Returns to third after season at second surpassed in club history only by Hall of Famers like Rogers Hornsby.
CF Peter Bourjos (R)
Had a .333 average and .392 on-base percentage when hit by pitch that led to wrist surgery.
LF Matt Holliday (R)
Holliday surged to finish at .300, his 10th consecutive season with .290 average or higher.
RF Allen Craig (R)
With runners in scoring position, he’s batted .427 (109-for-255) the past two seasons.
1B Matt Adams (L)
Set club rookie record with eight homers in September, batting .315 with a .609 slugging that month.
C Yadier Molina (R)
Is the first catcher since Mike Piazza in the 1990s to have two consecutive top-five finishes in NL MVP vote.
SS Jhonny Peralta (R)
Hit .344 with a .563 slugging percentage in nine postseason starts for Tigers.
2B Kolten Wong (L)
Breakout season with Class AAA Memphis included .303 average, 10 HRs, 20-for-21 in stolen base attempts.
INF Mark Ellis (R)
Slick-fielding veteran offers needed right-handed complement and challenger to rookie Wong.
OF Jon Jay (L)
Sluggish start cost him job as leadoff hitter, though he took advantage of lower spot for a career-best 67 RBIs.
INF Daniel Descalso (L)
.199 average and .237 OBP in second half contributed to club’s search at shortstop.
INF Pete Kozma (R)
Best fielder at short on the team could lose roster spot if Cards go with another outfielder.
C Tony Cruz (R)
Reliable backup who has maintained his edge despite increasingly scarce playing time behind Molina.
OF Shane Robinson (R)
Not likely to get the 170 or so at-bats in 2014 that he has the past two years.
RH Adam Wainwright
In his second season back from elbow surgery, led majors in innings, (276.2, including playoffs).
RH Michael Wacha
Rookie won four postseason games; first pitcher born in 1990s to win World Series game.
RH Shelby Miller
First Cardinals rookie with 15 wins and 169 strikeouts since Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean had 18 and 191 in 1932.
RH Joe Kelly
Versatility could cast him in long relief, but 3.03 ERA as starter gives him claim to rotation spot.
RH Lance Lynn
His spot threatened by August struggles, Lynn finished first 200-inning season with a 2.12 ERA in September.
RH Trevor Rosenthal (Closer)
With 108 strikeouts, hard-throwing righty became first full-time reliever with 100 Ks in Cardinals history.
RH Jason Motte
Flamethrower missed all of last season recovering from a ruptured ligament in his pitching elbow.
RH Carlos Martinez
Will vie for a starting job, but electric stuff — 100 mph heat, biting sinker, darting slider — also fits setup role.
RH Seth Maness
Sinkerballer carved out role with runners on base with uncanny ability to coax double plays — 16 in 62 innings.
LH Randy Choate
Hired to serve as neutralizer for Joey Votto (and others), veteran served also as sage for young bullpen.
LH Kevin Siegrist
Riding a power fastball, sported 0.45 ERA, lowest since at least 1901 for reliever with 35 or more appearances.
RH Pat Neshek
For his career, right-handed batters have hit .181, lefties .237.
2013 Top Draft Pick
Marco Gonzales, LHP
With the 19th overall pick for the second consecutive season, the Cardinals returned to many of their familiar draft archetypes — college pitcher, athletic delivery, record of success, and steady, reliable statistics. Gonzales, a two-way player at Gonzaga, is a left-handed mirror-image of the previous year’s pick, Michael Wacha. His fastball hits around 91 mph, but it’s his command, cutter and elite changeup that made him a first-round pick. Gonzales had his innings carefully monitored during his debut and threw only 23.1 innings in eight games at two different levels. He did well and, more important, finished healthy. Gonzales is earmarked for the High-A rotation, though he’s expected to move swiftly up the system, like, well, other college picks before him.
OF Oscar Taveras (21)
Uncommonly gifted hitter poised to swing into majors this season, a year late because of ankle surgery.
OF Stephen Piscotty (23)
Made a claim for the Arizona Fall League’s MVP award with .371 average and .506 slugging, vaulting him toward majors.
LHP Tim Cooney (23)
Tall lefty downshifts from his above-average fastball to unnerve hitters, an approach he used for 148 strikeouts in 154.1 innings.
RHP Alex Reyes (19)
Power righty with 97-mph fastball relocated from New Jersey to the Dominican Republic and signed $950,000 bonus as amateur free agent.
SS Aledmys Diaz (23)
The young Cuban was signed in March to a four-year, major league deal.
Beyond the Box Score
By the book The Cardinals have done more than talk about “The Cardinal Way.” They put it in writing. Officials spent recent years organizing teachings from luminaries like longtime coach George Kissell, catching guru Dave Ricketts and pitching coach Dave Duncan into a handbook for managers, coaches and players. Manager Mike Matheny penned the chapter on attributes of a Cardinals catcher. The book isn’t for sale, but every draft pick receives a copy when he first reports.
Draft status Five players drafted in 2009 — leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter, 15-game winner Shelby Miller, starter Joe Kelly, closer Trevor Rosenthal, and cleanup slugger Matt Adams — had prominent late-season roles, and 18 of the 25 players on the World Series roster were homegrown. The Cardinals’ draft emphasis peaked in recent years by hoarding picks and speeding promotions. NLCS MVP Michael Wacha and leading prospect Stephen Piscotty were both drafted in 2012 with compensation picks acquired when Albert Pujols signed with the L.A. Angels.
Wacha mania In his final start of September, Wacha came one out shy of a no-hitter when an infield single tipped off his glove. He was just getting started. An ascendant young ace, Wacha, at 22, won four games in October and became a fall sensation. Fozzie Bear references proliferated. (Wacha is pronounced “wocka” as in the Muppet’s “Wocka, wocka, wocka!”) An area sandwich shop named a milkshake for Wacha. And St. Louis native Andy Cohen, host of Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live,” adopted a beagle and named him Wacha.
Peralta backlash The Cardinals took a prominent role in baseball’s new morality when they became the first team to sign a player suspended due to the Biogenesis probe. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta served his 50-game suspension, but his new contract was met with criticism and howls on Twitter, some of them from players. Pitcher Brad Ziegler jabbed owners for “encouraging PED use.” Manager Mike Matheny understood the critical questions. “There are people out there that may not like our stances, (that) think of us as hypocritical,” he said. “So be it. We see a guy who made a decision that he regrets. Now we’re part of his future.”
The Pirates want to prove themselves again in 2014. Last year, they ended a string of 20 consecutive losing seasons — the longest in major North American professional team sports history — and also reached the postseason for the first time since 1992. The goal is now to sustain that success rather than be dismissed as a one-year wonder. “Our focus from the start has been to put an organization in place that has a chance to be successful year in and year out,” general manager Neal Huntington says. “It’s a very difficult thing to do.” The Pirates have been building toward being a perennial contender since Huntington was hired late in the 2007 season. Those efforts started moving in the right direction when manager Clint Hurdle was hired, as the Pirates’ win totals have jumped from 57 to 72 to 79 to 94 in his three seasons. Despite last year’s success and the second-highest attendance in club history, Huntington has still been given a mandate by ownership to keep the payroll among the lowest in the game. Thus, the Pirates are going to do things the Tampa Bay Rays way and try to build a winner on the cheap.
Lefthander Francisco Liriano takes over for righty A.J. Burnett as the No. 1 starter after winning 16 games last season and one more in the postseason while capturing the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award. Liriano seems to have found a home in Pittsburgh after spending his entire career in the American League. Righthander Gerrit Cole had a solid rookie season after being called up in June and excelled in the final month. It is realistic to believe he could be the staff ace by the end of this season. Veteran lefthander Wandy Rodriguez is a big question mark. Rodriguez, who did not make a start after June 5 last season because of elbow problems, did not need surgery, but he was found to have arthritis in the joint. Righty Charlie Morton made a strong comeback from Tommy John surgery and signed a three-year, $21 million contract extension with a club option that could keep him with the Pirates through the 2017 season. Pitching coach Ray Searage has developed a reputation for being able to fix broken pitchers — Liriano being a case in point — and his pet project this year will be righthander Edinson Volquez, who was signed to a one-year, $5-million contract as a free agent. The Pirates have built good organizational depth with their starting pitching — lefthanders Jeff Locke and Andy Oliver and righthanders Jeanmar Gomez, Brandon Cumpton and Phil Irwin are options at some point in the season, along with top prospect Jameson Taillon, a 22-year-old righty.
Former journeyman Jason Grilli was a revelation last year in his first season as a closer, converting 33-of-35 save opportunities despite missing a month late in the season with a strained forearm. Grilli was impressive in the postseason, and there is no reason to believe he won’t have another big year in 2014. Righthander Mark Melancon teams with Grilli to give the Pirates a dynamic late-inning tandem. Both were All-Stars a year ago, when Melancon had a 1.39 ERA in 72 games while notching 16 saves as the backup closer. Lefthander Tony Watson has developed into a key member of the bullpen; he is both effective and durable. The Pirates have a number of other big relief arms, including lefty Justin Wilson and righthanders Stolmy Pimentel, Vin Mazzaro and Jared Hughes.
Jordy Mercer will be the starting shortstop after gradually taking playing time away from veteran Clint Barmes last season. Mercer’s offense is ahead of his defense at this stage of his career, although he did make strides with his glove in 2013. Switch-hitting second baseman Neil Walker is a dependable player who is solid in all phases of the game. His one drawback, though, is a lack of power from the right side.
Third baseman Pedro Alvarez took a step toward stardom last season when he hit 36 home runs to tie for the NL lead with Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt. Alvarez would likely increase the homer total even more by exercising better plate discipline. Most of right-handed-hitting first baseman Gaby Sanchez’s starts have come against lefthanders since the Pirates acquired him in 2012 in a trade with Miami, but they believe he can handle righthanders if given the chance. Veteran Travis Ishikawa has made strides this spring toward making the team, and could be a nice complement to Sanchez at first base. Rookie Andrew Lambo, a lefty who hit 32 home runs between Triple-A Indianapolis and Double-A Altoona last season, could wind up platooning with Sanchez or at least starting against tough righties. But the club may want to give Lambo a full season at Triple-A.
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen affirmed his spot among the best players in the game as he won the NL Most Valuable Player award last season, getting 28 of 30 first-place votes. He is the face of the franchise, and the Pirates will go as far as he can take them. Left fielder Starling Marte had a fine season in his first full year in the bigs. He has the tools to earn his way into the MVP race, too, with power, speed and a strong arm. Jose Tabata will likely be the Opening Day right fielder after finishing last season strong. However, inconsistency has been Tabata’s problem throughout his career, which is why the door could be open for Lambo or Travis Snider to gain playing time.
Russell Martin turned out to be the perfect fit for the Pirates last season after he was signed as a free agent. He provides outstanding defense, power hitting and credibility as someone who has played in All-Star games and won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger.
Chris Stewart was acquired from the Yankees in a trade to serve as the backup catcher, but a knee injury in mid-March sent him to the operating room. Tony Sanchez, the Bucs’ first-round pick in 2009, will fill that role. With Martin approaching free agency at the end of this season, the Pirates may be inclined to give Sanchez some additional starts to groom him for 2015. Barmes agreed to come back on a one-year, $2-million contract, taking a $3.5-million pay cut, to back up the middle infield positions and continue to mentor Mercer. Utility player Josh Harrison could be the top right-handed pinch-hitting option despite a .250 batting average and .282 on-base percentage in his three-year career. Assuming that Gaby Sanchez and Tabata play regularly, Snider could be the primary left-handed bench bat.
It took Huntington six years to rebuild the major-league club, the farm system and the scouting department, but the payoff came last season when the Pirates reached the postseason. Many fans and some media members called for Huntington’s firing following the 2012 season when the Pirates collapsed during the season’s final two months for the second consecutive season. To Huntington’s credit, he never deviated from the plan he put in place after being hired away from Cleveland’s front office. Hurdle has proven to be the perfect fit for the Pirates and won NL Manager of the Year honors last season. The most important thing Hurdle has done is change the mindset of everyone in the organization, making them believe the Pirates could be winners from the day he was hired in November 2010. He also has become an integral part of the Pittsburgh community with his charitable work and willingness to connect with the fans.
A lot of things went right for the Pirates to reach the postseason last year, and for a team that will have one of the lowest payrolls in the game — they were 26th among the 30 major-league teams last season — there is little margin for error. A solid core group of players is in place for at least the next few years, headlined by McCutchen but also including Alvarez, Marte, Walker, Cole and Morton. The Pirates also have a strong farm system. However, the team failed to make any splashy moves over the winter, declining to build on the momentum it gained last season and improve a roster weakened by the free-agent losses of first baseman Justin Morneau and right fielder Marlon Byrd. While that doesn’t mean the Pirates will return to mediocrity (or worse), it is tough to envision them winning 94 games again or reaching the postseason, especially playing in the NL Central, which includes two other 2013 postseason participants in St. Louis and Cincinnati.
LF Starling Marte (R)
Third player in Pirates history to have 10 triples, 12 home runs, 40 stolen bases in a season.
2B Neil Walker (S)
First Pirates second baseman to have four straight double-digit home run seasons.
CF Andrew McCutchen (R)
Was NL MVP last season, becoming first Pirates player to win the award since Barry Bonds in 1992.
3B Pedro Alvarez (L)
Former No. 2 overall pick led the NL in home runs (36) and strikeouts (186) last year.
C Russell Martin (R)
Was responsible for four of the nine walk-off wins at PNC Park in 2013.
1B Gaby Sanchez (R)
Former Miami Hurricane hit .325 in his final 50 games last season.
SS Jordy Mercer (R)
Hit .347 in September last season to seize control of the starting job.
RF Jose Tabata (R)
Venezuelan is a career .296 hitter at PNC Park, .252 on the road.
C Tony Sanchez (R)
After hitting .288 in 76 games at Triple-A last season, he hit .233 with two homers in 60 at-bats for the Pirates.
INF Clint Barmes (R)
Opening Day starter at shortstop each of the past two seasons but will now serve as a reserve.
UT Josh Harrison (R)
Two of his three home runs last season were as a pinch-hitter.
1B Travis Ishikawa (L)
Career .262 average vs. righthanders is not exactly overwhelming.
OF Travis Snider (L)
Former first-round pick of the Blue Jays underwent left foot surgery in October.
LH Francisco Liriano
3.02 ERA last season was his lowest since posting a 2.16 mark for Minnesota as a rookie in 2006.
RH Gerrit Cole
Went 4–0 with a 1.69 ERA in five September starts last year to win NL Rookie of the Month.
LH Wandy Rodriguez
Missed final 15 weeks of the 2013 season with an elbow injury.
RH Charlie Morton
Was 4–1 with a 2.67 ERA over his last 11 starts of the season.
RH Edinson Volquez
Gave up an NL-worst 108 earned runs with San Diego and the Dodgers last season.
RH Jason Grilli (Closer)
Was leading the NL with 30 saves on July 22 when he strained his forearm.
RH Mark Melancon
His 1.39 ERA last year was a team record for a pitcher who worked at least 50 innings exclusively in relief.
LH Tony Watson
Made 21 consecutive scoreless appearances, covering 20.1 innings, to end last season.
RH Jeanmar Gomez
Bucs were 8-0 in his eight starts last May and June.
LH Justin Wilson
Reverse platoon splits in 2013 as righthanders hit .189 and lefthanders batted .200.
RH Vin Mazzaro
Was “The Magnificent Mazzaro” last season, stranding 28 of 32 inherited runners in the regular season.
RH Stolmy Pimentel
Likely to make the team as a long reliever/spot starter as a rookie since he is out of minor-league options.
2013 Top Draft Pick
Austin Meadows, OF
The Pirates had two top-15 picks for the first time in their history and used the first one, at No. 9 overall, to take the multi-talented Meadows, a high school outfielder from Grayson, Ga. He is often compared to another left-handed-hitting outfielder, Cincinnati right fielder Jay Bruce, and the Pirates would love if Meadows turned into a player who regularly hit 30 home runs and drove in 100 runs. He got off to a good start, hitting .294 with five home runs in 43 games with the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Pirates, then going 9-for-17 in a five-game stint with short-season Jamestown. Meadows comes from athletic stock; his father played baseball and was a punter at Morehead State, and his mother played softball at Georgia Southern and Georgia State.
OF Barrett Barnes (22)
The Pirates top pick in 2012 has speed and power but has been unable to stay healthy as a pro. Former Texas Tech Red Raider has 308 at-bats in two seasons in the minors.
RHP Jameson Taillon (22)
Tall Texan has a good fastball/curveball mix and figures to make his major-league debut this season.
OF Josh Bell (21)
Switch-hitter who was the Pirates’ second-round pick in 2011 is starting to gain his footing in pro ball after an early knee injury set him back.
RHP Tyler Glasnow (20)
The tall, thin righthander had 164 strikeouts in 111.1 innings last season at Low-A.
SS Alen Hanson (21)
A dynamic player with speed and moderate power but may have to move to second base.
RHP Luis Heredia (19)
Conditioning issues contributed to something of a lost season in 2013, but he is still very talented.
OF Gregory Polanco (22)
A five-tool talent who played at three minor-league levels last year and will make his major-league debut this season.
Beyond the Box Score
Silver screen Rinku Singh has won just 10 games in the Pirates’ farm system and has yet to get past the Low-A level. Yet the left-handed reliever will be the subject of a major feature film along with former Pirates minor-league pitcher Dinesh Patel. “Million Dollar Arm”, scheduled to reach theaters May 16, tells the story of how Singh and Patel were signed to minor-league contracts by the Pirates after appearing on the reality show of the same name in their native India. Jon Hamm stars as agent J.B. Bernstein, who came up with the idea for a contest to find the hardest thrower in India. More than 37,000 tried out for the show before the pool was cut to 30 contestants. Singh won the contest and the $100,000 grand prize, while Patel, who was released by the Pirates following the 2010 season, was second. Neither had ever played baseball; they were training to be javelin throwers.
Professing his love Center fielder Andrew McCutchen and girlfriend Maria Hanslovan got engaged in December after dating for four years. The 2013 NL MVP popped the question on national television while appearing on the talk show “Ellen.”
Dapper Dans In addition to winning NL Manager of the Year, Clint Hurdle was honored during the offseason with the Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year award, which is presented annually to the year’s top Pittsburgh sports figure. McCutchen won the award for 2012. The Pirates hadn’t won in back-to-back years since Willie Stargell followed Dave Parker, who was honored in 1978.
Bought-in Buc Righthander Charlie Morton did not hesitate to take below market value when he signed a three-year, $21-million contract, which bought out his last year of salary arbitration and first two years of free agency. “The way I looked at it was, I wanted to be a Pirate,” Morton says. “The only way I'm going to be a Pirate is if I sign with the Pirates.”
Despite coming off their worst season in nearly a decade, the Milwaukee Brewers largely stood pat heading into 2014. While on the surface that might seem crazy, there was a method behind the madness for general manager Doug Melvin. He’s banking on his team not being hammered by injuries, the starting pitching showing up for the first half and Ryan Braun returning to his 2011 National League MVP form after being suspended for the final 65 games of 2013 for his role in the Biogenesis scandal. It’s an awfully fine line to walk for the Brewers if they want to compete in what was the toughest division in baseball a year ago. But the belief is that there’s more than enough talent returning to catch lightning in a bottle and get back into the mix with the Cardinals, Reds and Pirates.
Milwaukee forfeited its first-round draft choice by signing free agent Kyle Lohse at the end of spring training in 2013. And while the reasoning was solid, it took the veteran righthander and the rest of the Brewers’ starters half a season to get up to speed. By then, the team was well out of the race. So, this winter, the Brewers acted a bit more quickly to bring Matt Garza into the fold, the only significant addition over the winter. The former Twin, Ray, Cub and Ranger signed a four-year, $50 million deal with Milwaukee. He isn’t a superstar by any means, but he should fit nicely into this established rotation. Last season, Lohse & Co. rebounded in the second half in a big way, posting one of the best staff ERAs in the majors at 3.31 over the final 81 games. The belief is that Lohse, Yovani Gallardo, Garza, Wily Peralta and Marco Estrada can build off the momentum from that and hit the ground running in 2014. The biggest question will be whether Gallardo can return to form. His velocity was down and his pitch counts up last season, leading to a 12–10 record — and trade rumors. Gallardo has lots of mileage on his right arm but is still only 28, which works in his favor. With a full winter off, he should be rested up and looking at a bounce-back campaign. Peralta is the future ace of the staff with a high-90s fastball and devastating sinker that produces lots of ground balls. If he can continue to keep his emotions in check when facing adversity, he could become the team’s next 20-game winner. Estrada racks up big strikeout numbers with a deceptive fastball and effective changeup but hasn’t been able to be counted on for a full season since becoming a full-time starter. That needs to change this year.
The Brewers’ relief corps was one of the only areas of the team that actually surpassed expectations last season. Two of the most pleasant surprises — Jim Henderson and Brandon Kintzler — return to the closer and setup roles, respectively. Henderson is still relatively new to the job, however, and relying almost exclusively on his fastball can be dangerous. Kintzler pitched his way into the setup role after beginning 2013 as something of an unknown quantity, and it’s possible he might even get a chance to close games at some point. The Brewers brought Francisco Rodriguez back for another tour. Rodriguez had 10 saves in 25 games with Brew Crew last season prior to a trade to Baltimore. At the time of the trade, Rodriguez had a 1.09 ERA and 1.054 WHIP. He wasn’t as effective with the Orioles, but both strikeout and walk ratios improved. Tom Gorzelanny and Will Smith figure to be the team’s two left-handed relievers, and both can provide length as long men as well. The rest of the bullpen could feature youngsters Donovan Hand and Rob Wooten who made their debuts with the Brewers in 2013. The hope is the starting pitching won’t place as big of a burden on the relievers as it did early on a year ago.
The Brewers are excited about their projected starting middle infield, and rightly so. Jean Segura is coming off his first All-Star nod, and second baseman Scooter Gennett blossomed as the team’s starter after Rickie Weeks was lost to injury early last August. Both are only 24 years old. Segura showed in 2013 that he could do it all. A late-season slump left him just short of .300, but he flashed some decent power with 12 homers while also banging out 12 triples, finished second in the NL with 44 stolen bases and also played a strong shortstop. Gennett, meanwhile, seized his opportunity when Weeks went down and led the NL by hitting .358 from Aug. 5 through the end of the season. Gennett hit .324 overall with a surprising six homers while playing a better-than-advertised second base. Weeks could earn the opportunity to play against lefthanders. His $11 million salary, age, injury history and declining skills make him tough to trade, and the Brewers aren’t likely to release him. Either Segura or Gennett will fill the leadoff role left vacant by the trade of Norichika Aoki.
The Brewers need major bounce-backs at both first and third base a year after injuries to Corey Hart and Aramis Ramirez killed their lineup. First base figures to be a work in progress. Hart signed a free-agent deal with Seattle, leaving Melvin to work with a group that included Juan Francisco, Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay. Prospects Sean Halton, Taylor Green and former minor-league Player of the Year Hunter Morris may see some action there before the summer is over, but for now it’s likely a platoon between Reynolds and Francisco. Both players feature terrific raw power, prodigious strikeout totals and shaky defense. It’s not likely that the club will keep both Francisco and Overbay — both left-handed hitters — on the roster. Ramirez, meanwhile, is aiming to return to his normal productive self after appearing in just 92 games due to a left knee injury he suffered in spring training. The Brewers need him back in the cleanup spot and driving in runs, and the 35-year-old Ramirez needs a healthy, productive season if he has any hopes of securing another long-term contract.
While Carlos Gomez will continue to man center and look to build on a career year both offensively and defensively, there will be major changes in the corners as Braun moves from left field to right to make room for up-and-comer Khris Davis in left. The thinking in the moves is that Davis’ substandard throwing arm makes him only a candidate for left, while Braun is athletic enough and has enough of an arm to make the switch to right. The Brewers thought enough of Davis, who hit 11 home runs in 136 at-bats with Milwaukee last season, to trade the popular Aoki to clear space for him as a starter. Now he’ll need to deliver.
Jonathan Lucroy enjoyed the best season of his young career in 2013, with his 18 homers and 82 RBIs ranking him among the league leaders at his position. He was also durable, avoiding injury for the first time and playing 147 games. Lucroy’s next challenge is to continue to improve defensively while also continuing to hone his game-calling. He has become one of the team leaders.
Manager Ron Roenicke hasn’t had the veteran pinch-hitters he prefers since his initial season in Milwaukee in 2011. He probably won’t have any again this season, although outfielder Logan Schafer has shown the ability to succeed in the role. The non-starting half of the Reynolds-Francisco combo will also be available, as well as Weeks. Schafer is also terrific defensively and will likely be a frequent late-inning substitute in left field. Jeff Bianchi can play every position in the infield, making him a valuable piece if he can avoid injury. Catcher Martin Maldonado doesn’t hit much, but he adds so much defensively and in the clubhouse that he’ll remain the backup.
Melvin is hamstrung by the Brewers’ small-market status. And while team principal owner Mark Attanasio has shown a willingness to spend on a case-by-case basis — see the Lohse signing last spring — it’s not expected that Milwaukee’s payroll will deviate much from the mid-$80 million mark. So Melvin will continue to scour the bargain bins looking for ways to buy low and catch lightning in a bottle. The minor-league system has been bereft of impact talent at the top levels since Melvin traded much of it away in an attempt to make a run in 2011. Just about anyone deemed close to major-league ready got a shot with the Brewers in 2013. The majority of high-ceiling talent has yet to make it above Class A in the organization. Roenicke is well-regarded by his players and within baseball. He’s done a nice job under some difficult circumstances.
Melvin resisted a complete tear-down and rebuild, believing his team can compete if it stays healthy and performs up to its capabilities. Those are big ifs, however. The top of the NL Central will be tough to crack with St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati all expected to be strong once again, meaning that even if everything goes according to plan it still might not be enough for the Brewers to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
SS Jean Segura (R)
Coming off first All-Star Game appearance, but hit leadoff only twice in ’13. Needs more plate discipline.
2B Scooter Gennett (L)
Possesses surprising pop, and his left-handed bat is a nice piece for a righty-heavy lineup.
RF Ryan Braun (R)
Returns to his customary No. 3 spot, where he hit .298 with nine HRs and 38 RBIs over 61 games in 2013.
3B Aramis Ramirez (R)
His left knee wasn’t right all season, and his 12 homers were his fewest as a full-time player in the majors.
C Jonathan Lucroy (R)
Became a run-producer by default last year, and he delivered career highs in homers (18) and RBIs (82).
CF Carlos Gomez (R)
Hit in every spot in the lineup in 2013, and responded with career highs in virtually every offensive category.
LF Khris Davis (R)
Averaged a homer every 12.4 at-bats in 153 plate appearances, finishing with 11 and 27 RBIs.
1B Juan Francisco (L)
Big power, but 138 strikeouts in 385 plate appearances in 2013 don’t suggest that he’s a viable everyday player.
INF Jeff Bianchi (R)
Singles hitter whose greatest value lies in the fact he can play any infield position, as well as in the outfield.
OF Logan Schafer (L)
Tremendous outfielder. Has proven he can deliver as a pinch-hitter, which will likely be his role once again.
C Martin Maldonado (R)
Great defensive catcher whose rapport with Wily Peralta has made him a valuable piece of the puzzle.
1B-3B Mark Reynolds (R)
Batting average hasn’t touched .225 since his 44-homer season in 2009.
2B Rickie Weeks (R)
Three-year batting average decline (.269-.230-.209) has Brewers concerned his career is approaching an end.
RH Kyle Lohse
His 11–10 record in 2013 was deceiving. His bulldog mentality and veteran leadership are much needed.
RH Yovani Gallardo
Took a big step back last season as his velocity dropped and his numbers suffered.
RH Matt Garza
The veteran is 5-6 with a 4.62 ERA in his career against the Reds, Pirates and Cardinals.
RH Wily Peralta
Big righthander has ace-type stuff and began to show his tremendous promise in the second half last year.
RH Marco Estrada
Has been dominating in stretches, but just can’t stay healthy. Has also performed well in long relief.
RH Jim Henderson (Closer)
The big Canadian became Brewers’ regular closer in 2013, when he converted 28-of-32 save opportunities.
RH Brandon Kintzler
Came out of nowhere to become Brewers’ setup man with a decent fastball and great slider.
RH Francisco Rodriguez
Held left-handed hitters to a .156 average last season; curiously, righties hit a robust .342.
LH Tom Gorzelanny
Coming off shoulder surgery. Can both start and relieve but was more consistent out of the bullpen in 2013.
RH Alfredo Figaro
Fireballer had his moments as both starter and long man, but couldn’t get his breaking balls over regularly.
RH Rob Wooten
Pitched like a savvy veteran rather than the rookie he was in some tough late-inning situations last season.
LH Will Smith
Gave up 24 hits and struck out 43 in 33.1 innings with the Royals last season.
2013 Top Draft Pick
Devin Williams, RHP
The Brewers lost their first-round pick for signing free-agent pitcher Kyle Lohse toward the end of spring training in 2013. They were delighted when Williams fell to them in the second round, where they snapped him up with the 54th overall pick. Milwaukee went 33 percent over slot in giving Williams a $1.35 million signing bonus, but needed to in order to persuade him to pass on a scholarship to the University of Missouri. The 6'3" fireballer already has team officials excited with his power arm and high ceiling. In 34.2 innings of Rookie ball, he gave up 28 hits and struck out 39. Williams, only 19, is still a long way away from the big leagues, but the future appears bright for the Hazelwood, Mo., native.
CF Tyrone Taylor (20)
Considered the team’s best overall prospect, he dominated the Rookie League as an 18 year old in 2012. His progressed continued last season at Low-A.
OF Victor Roache (22)
Taken 28th overall in 2012 by the Brewers, the slugger hit 22 bombs and drove in 74 at Low-A Wisconsin last summer.
RHP Johnny Hellweg (25)
Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year in 2013 who struggled mightily in two separate major league stints. Still shows promise.
1B Hunter Morris (25)
Morris hit 24 homers in Triple-A in 2013, but the Brewers don’t feel he’s a finished product. Needs improvement defensively.
1B Jason Rogers (26)
Former 32nd-round pick who was named Brewers’ Minor League Player of the Year in 2013. Being tried at third base and in the outfield as well.
OF Mitch Haniger (23)
Advanced former college player who stood out in the Arizona Fall League. Should debut in Double-A some time this season.
RHP David Goforth (25)
Went 4–3 with 3.28 ERA and 1.07 WHIP after call-up to Class AA last season.
C Clint Coulter (20)
He was drafted in the first round in 2012 as a potential impact bat, but he has played only 33 games above rookie level heading into 2014 and is quickly falling out of favor.
RHP Taylor Jungmann (24)
Former college star who’s likely ticketed for Triple-A. Lacks electric stuff. Projects as a No. 4 or 5 starter in the majors.
Beyond the Box Score
Day-zed and confused Among the more confounding issues for the Brewers in 2013 was their inability to compete when the lights weren’t on. Milwaukee finished the season with an 18–35 record in day games, including an 8–20 record in day games played at Miller Park. Shadows creeping across the playing surface under the afternoon sun have been an issue at home since Miller Park opened in 2001, and the Brewers hit just .234 during the day compared to .261 at night.
Golden once again Carlos Gomez ended a 31-year streak for the Brewers by winning the Rawlings Gold Glove in center field in 2013. The last Milwaukee player to be so honored was Robin Yount at shortstop in 1982, when the Brewers were still in the American League. Gomez was dynamic, being credited with 38 defensive runs saved — tops among all MLB centerfielders — to go along with 12 assists. Gomez also made five home run-saving catches, far and away the most for a single season in that category.
Miserable May The Brewers knocked themselves out of contention almost from the get-go in 2013, tying a franchise record for futility in a single month by going 6–22 in May. That left them 15 games behind the pace in the NL Central — far too big of a deficit in the best division in baseball. Poor starting pitching was mostly to blame for the Brewers’ struggles, and an injury-riddled offense missing some of its big bats just couldn’t make up the frequent early deficits.
Worst at first With Corey Hart, Mat Gamel and Taylor Green all out for the season with injuries, the Brewers had no choice but to fill the void at first base with stopgaps. That left seven different players — none of whom had ever started a game at first previously in the majors — to split the position. The result: an MLB-low combined .629 OPS and spotty defense.
Youth was served All the injuries and inconsistency allowed the Brewers to get a good look at their top advanced prospects. In all, 10 different players from Class AAA Nashville — five pitchers and five position players — made their debuts. One, leftfielder Khris Davis, played himself into a starting spot for 2014, while others like pitchers Donovan Hand and Rob Wooten and outfielder Caleb Gindl proved they could at least contribute in the bigs.
It’s amazing how much perspectives can change in one year. The Reds were expected to win the NL Central in 2013 and challenge for the league pennant but fell short, settling for a spot in the wild card game against Pittsburgh. Winning 90 games and reaching the playoffs three of the last four seasons weren’t enough for Dusty Baker to keep his job, so former pitching coach Bryan Price takes over with the challenge of turning a talent-laden team into a legitimate postseason threat. It’s not as if the Reds are trying to climb out of the cellar, but when the defending NL champions (St. Louis) and an up-and-coming team with momentum (Pittsburgh) are playing in the same division, it can feel that way. The Reds have legitimate star power in first baseman Joey Votto, second baseman Brandon Phillips and right fielder Jay Bruce, but their lineup got exposed last season for having too many holes over the 162-game schedule. One guy who wasn’t a hole was leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo, now gone to Texas as a free agent. Speedy phenom Billy Hamilton will be the starting center fielder and leadoff hitter whether he’s fully ready for those jobs or not.
The Reds can win with this group. Mat Latos turned a corner in 2013 when he took the mantle of the No. 1 starter from an injured Johnny Cueto. Latos is more consistent, and the Reds generally win games he starts (43–22). Cueto must show he’s healthy — not just physically, but also psychologically. He had three stints on the DL last season because of a strained lat and was shelled in the wild card loss at Pittsburgh. Homer Bailey had a career-high 199 strikeouts last season in a career-high 209 innings, while Mike Leake set career highs for starts, wins, innings pitched and strikeouts. They all learned from Bronson Arroyo in the past but will not have his veteran presence in the clubhouse this season. Lefty Tony Cingrani should earn the final spot. He’s got a power arm but needs to show more consistency and confidence in his off-speed pitches to become truly effective as a starter.
Forget about the thought of Aroldis Chapman becoming a starter; he’s realized that he enjoys closing games. But a scary moment late in spring when Chapman was hit in the face by a line drive off the bat of Royals catcher Sal Perez had everyone in Reds camp holding their breath. He had surgery to repair some broken bones, but should heal completely and is expected to return to the mound at some point this season, perhaps before the All-Star break. That leaves a huge hole in the Reds’ bullpen heading into the season. J.J. Hoover, Sam LeCure and Manny Parra all stepped into bigger roles in 2013, and now must step into even larger roles in 2014. Hoover is probably the best candidate to close until Chapman returns. Parra became the lead left-handed setup pitcher — because of left shoulder injuries to Sean Marshall — and he stranded 24 of the last 28 runners he inherited. A healthy Marshall this season would give Price more options out of the bullpen. The same could be said for the healthy return of Jonathan Broxton from a torn flexor muscle in his right arm. Alfredo Simon has grown into this role as the long arm out of the bullpen, but he’s not exclusive to mop-up situations. Pedro Beato could log a few innings while the Reds wait for Broxton to heal surgery last August.
There was talk about trading Phillips in the offseason in part because of some of his words and actions last season that didn’t sit well with upper management. But he’s owed $50 million over the next four seasons, so the Reds will have to settle for a Gold Glove, 100-RBI second baseman who is popular with fans. Phillips will likely start the season hitting in the No. 2 hole in the lineup, but you can put him anywhere in the batting order, and he is adaptable to any role. While unlikely, he could be flipped with Votto into the No. 3 spot. Shortstop Zack Cozart had a solid final two months with an OPS of more than .700 after Aug. 1. He’s an above-average fielder (.977 fielding percentage, 83 double plays turned) with good range.
All Votto did in 2013 was get on base more than anyone else in the history of the Reds, appropriate for a player who signed a contract worth $263 million over 13 years. Opposing pitchers will do just about anything not to let Votto beat them, and he’s not about to help them. He has the most discerning eye for the strike zone in baseball — maybe too discerning at times — and he’s led the NL in on-base percentage the last four seasons and is the active career leader at .419. The Reds will need more production out of Todd Frazier at third base. He had a solid .407 slugging percentage in his first full season as a starter, but he’s prone to hot and cold streaks.
Much of the focus this spring and early summer will be on Hamilton. He spent last season at Triple-A Louisville learning to play center field after starting his career as a shortstop. The Reds aren’t concerned about his defense. He will cover any ground Bruce and Ryan Ludwick don’t in the corners. Hamilton has made his name from his work on the basepaths. He stole 13 of 14 bases as a September call-up, but that was mostly as a pinch-runner. Now he’s being asked to be the team’s leadoff hitter and get on base at the MLB level. Bruce continues to improve each season. He was top 10 in the NL in home runs, RBIs, total bases, doubles, extra-base hits and outfield assists in 2013. He earned a second consecutive Silver Slugger award last season, and he’ll be just 27 years old this season. His continued development gives the Reds a consistent threat in the middle of the lineup. Ludwick played in only 38 games because of a torn right shoulder labrum. He spent the last month of the season getting into playing shape and finding his swing. The Reds would like to keep him penciled in as their cleanup hitter, batting in between Votto and Bruce. He also is a strong clubhouse presence, something that was missed in 2013.
Veteran Ryan Hanigan was traded to Tampa Bay in the offseason to make room for Devin Mesoraco. A former first-round pick, Mesoraco showed greater command calling games behind the plate in 2013 when Hanigan was out with injury. He hit nine homers last season, and his power numbers should increase this year, but he will be in the lineup because of his defense. The Reds signed former Detroit backup Brayan Pena to fill the same role in Cincinnati this season.
Skip Schumaker, formerly with the Cardinals and Dodgers, can play just about anywhere on the field. He’ll be able to spell Hamilton in center at times, but if he’s playing there too much because Hamilton struggles at the plate, then the Reds are in trouble. There isn’t much power off of the bench, although Chris Heisey has shown that capability at times. Jack Hannahan is solid defensively as a corner infielder and gives the Reds a left-handed bat. Veteran infielder Ramon Santiago, a switch-hitter, will most likely be given the 25th spot on the roster.
The Reds have a commitment to winning from the front office of owner Bob Castellini on down. They are proactive in the community and at the stadium, all with an eye on being a championship-caliber organization. General manager Walt Jocketty and Baker had a contentious relationship that finally came to a head after the Wild Card loss at Pittsburgh. Naming Price as the new manager was a no-brainer; he built the pitching staff into one of MLB’s best the past four seasons and is respected in the clubhouse.
The Reds will again be in contention for the NL Central title and the postseason if for no other reason than their starting pitching. They have to get better production offensively from the shortstop, third base, left field and catcher positions this season, and figure out the back end of the bullpen in Chapman’s absence. Too often last season there wasn’t enough balance in the order, with the back end not contributing enough on a consistent basis. Hamilton can’t be expected to be as good as Choo leading off, but if he continues to improve throughout the season, the Reds should be fine. Another 90 wins and a postseason berth are hardly guaranteed, but this is a club capable of much more than it showed at the end of 2013.
CF Billy Hamilton (S)
Stole 13 of 14 bases in September call-up. Trick this season will be getting on base consistently.
2B Brandon Phillips (R)
Tied for MLB lead with 19 game-winning RBIs and was third with 35 go-ahead RBIs.
1B Joey Votto (L)
Has led NL in walks in three straight seasons and on-base percentage in four straight seasons.
LF Ryan Ludwick (R)
Tore labrum in shoulder on Opening Day but returned to play 37 more games. Will start 2014 healthy.
RF Jay Bruce (L)
Joined Dave Parker and Frank Robinson as only Reds with 40 doubles, 30 HRs, 100 RBIs in a season.
3B Todd Frazier (R)
Was fourth on the team with .407 slugging and .721 OPS despite just a .234 batting average.
C Devin Mesoraco (R )
Had .874 OPS vs. lefthanders but just .576 vs. righthanders last season.
SS Zack Cozart (R)
Hit .304 in final 31 appearances last season and had a career-high 15-game hitting streak in second half.
INF Jack Hannahan (L)
Had nine pinch hits to tie for the team lead and started games at three different positions.
OF Chris Heisey (R)
Injuries limited him to career-low 87 games, including 42 as the starter in left field after Ludwick injury.
C Brayan Pena (S)
Hit .297 in a career-high 243 plate appearances as backup in Detroit in 2013.
INF Ramon Santiago (S)
Batted just .215 in 433 at-bats over the past two seasons as the Tigers’ primary backup infielder.
UT Skip Schumaker (R)
Started at least eight games at four different positions for the Dodgers in 2013.
RH Johnny Cueto
Has a 2.92 ERA over last four seasons but poor start in playoffs at Pittsburgh haunted offseason.
RH Mat Latos
Went at least six innings in 28 of 32 starts, including last 12 while pitching career-high 210.2 innings.
RH Homer Bailey
Has lowered his ERA every season since 2009, including 3.49 in career-high 209 innings last season.
RH Mike Leake
Showing signs of getting physically stronger, including scoreless streak of 20.1 innings in September.
LH Tony Cingrani
Made 18 starts out of 23 appearances, allowing more than three runs in just one of those starts.
LH Aroldis Chapman (Closer)
Had 38 saves in 43 opportunities but didn’t have save chance in final nine games, including playoffs. After taking a liner to his face in a spring game, he’ll probably miss the first half of the season.
RH Jonathan Broxton
Veteran reliever is making his way back from torn flexor muscle in right arm.
RH J.J. Hoover
Led the pitching staff with 69 appearances, including scoreless streak of 26.1 innings over 23 appearances. The closing job probably falls to him.
LH Sean Marshall
Shoulder issues limited him to only 16 appearances in 2013 after averaging 77 games previous three seasons.
RH Sam LeCure
Only gave up 50 hits and had 66 strikeouts in 61 innings pitched last season.
LH Manny Parra
Revived career in 2013, stranding 30 of 35 inherited runners for the season.
RH Alfredo Simon
Long reliever tossed at least two innings in 20 of his 63 appearances last season.
2013 Top Draft Pick
Phillip Ervin, OF
Ervin had a successful first season in pro ball after the Reds selected him 27th overall in the draft. Ervin, a centerfielder from Samford University in Alabama, played in 46 games between Rookie League Billings and Class A Dayton of the Midwest League. He hit .331 with nine home runs, 35 RBIs, with a .425 on-base percentage and 14 stolen bases while getting thrown out just once. If he starts at Dayton this year, don’t expect him there too long. The Reds really like Ervin — a former MVP of the wood bat Cape Cod League while in college — and are going to give him every chance to move up through the organization quickly. He is already rated as their No. 4 prospect by MLB.com.
RHP Nick Travieso (20)
The Reds’ top pick in 2012 pitched in 17 games at Low-A Dayton with 4.63 ERA in 81.2 innings last season.
RHP Robert Stephenson (21)
Progressed from Low-A to Class AA last season. Went a combined 7–7 with a 2.99 ERA and 1.111 WHIP in his three stops in the minors.
OF Yorman Rodriguez (21)
The slender outfielder is still developing power. Last season he hit .259 with 35 doubles combined at High-A and Double-A.
OF Jesse Winker (20)
Played full season at Class A Dayton and finished with .281/.379/.463 line with 76 RBIs in 112 games.
RHP Michael Lorenzen (22)
Was second of two picks Reds had in 2013 first round. Reds like his arm enough to move him quickly from Arizona League to Double-A Pensacola last season.
RHP Daniel Corcino (23)
Struggled at Class AAA Louisville last season, giving up 141 hits in 129 IP and finishing 7–14 with 5.86 ERA. Still just 23.
LHP David Holmberg (22 )
Acquired in three-team offseason trade that sent Ryan Hanigan to Tampa Bay. Former second-round pick (2009) of the Chicago White Sox.
2B Ryan Wright (24)
Solid season at Class A Bakersfield, playing in 100 games with eight home runs, 23 doubles and 52 RBIs.
Beyond the Box Score
Left out The Reds were counting on Ryan Ludwick to provide a big bat in the middle of the lineup, but when he tore his right shoulder labrum on Opening Day sliding head-first into third base, it put a crimp in the lineup. Even with Ludwick’s return in the middle of August, Cincinnati left fielders hit just .250 with a .313 on-base percentage and .374 slugging percentage. They had a combined 14 home runs and 65 RBIs.
Inspiring fear Joey Votto has led the National League in walks three straight seasons, making him the first Reds player to do so and just the ninth player in the NL ever to accomplish the feat. Barry Bonds (2000-04) was the last player on that list. Votto’s power numbers were down last season (24 home runs, 30 doubles, 73 RBIs), but there was concern he hadn’t fully healed from two knee procedures in 2012. Let’s see how much his approach changes this season.
Stability at short Zack Cozart is expected to make his third straight Opening Day start at shortstop this year. It’s not an extraordinary streak except that he will become the first Reds shortstop to do so since Barry Larkin retired in 2004. From 1970-2004, Dave Concepcion and Larkin started 32 of 35 Opening Day games at shortstop for Cincinnati. Since Larkin’s retirement, the Reds have had seven different shortstops start on Opening Day. Only Alex Gonzalez (2007, ’09) started more than once before Cozart.
Superstar For the first time in his career, Jay Bruce didn’t increase his home run totals. He still hit 30 homers last season, and his all-around game improved. He had a career-high 43 doubles and 109 RBIs, allowing him to join Frank Robinson (1962) and Dave Parker (1985) as the only Reds players to have 30 homers, 40 doubles and 100 RBIs in a season.
Lost leader The Reds allowed Bronson Arroyo to become a free agent without offering him a qualifying contract this offseason. This was a tough move for the team but one in keeping with their player development philosophy. They’ve got young arms in Tony Cingrani and Robert Stephenson ready to push for time with at the MLB level, but Arroyo’s contributions the past eight seasons can’t be underestimated. He led the National League with 105 wins, 265 starts and 1,690.1 innings in that span. His 265 starts also led all of MLB.
At this point, mediocrity would be considered a major upgrade. The Theo Epstein era is heading into its third year, and the results from the first two are some of the most hideous in team history. The Cubs lost 197 games over this stretch, which represents the worst two-year period ever experienced by the North Side club. Epstein, the savior credited for Boston’s success, has a long-range plan, but Cubs fans seem to have short-term expectations. The fact that current management signed manager Dale Sveum to a three-year deal and then axed him after the second season caused some to wonder how well this plan is working. Most fans are willing to give Epstein and his staff time to get things turned around, but there is no denying that the product on the field has been uninspiring, and there don’t appear to be many reinforcements on the way in the very near future. There aren’t many players on the 2014 roster to get excited about other than befuddling shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo, whose first full season in the majors produced decent-but-not-great numbers. Outfielder Junior Lake could command some buzz judging by a 64-game dress rehearsal last year. But most of the other players on the roster are cost-effective patchwork pieces who could end up elsewhere at any time in order to keep feeding the beast in the minors. When new manager Rick Renteria was hired in November, he had so much pain in his hips — following October surgery — that he couldn’t make a trip to Chicago to be introduced to the media. He may be in for some equally painful moments this season.
There was some speculation that Jeff Samardzija would be a guy the Cubs would build their pitching staff around, but now it appears he is on the trade market. They didn’t deal him during the winter meetings, but he could be on the block during the season. The former Notre Dame two-sport athlete leads a staff that had moments of brilliance last year but not enough to guide the Cubs to a winning mark. He threw 213.2 innings and struck out 214 hitters but also had a 4.34 ERA to go with an 8–13 record. Travis Wood will battle Samardzija for the job as the No. 1 starter. Wood had a 3.11 ERA and made the All-Star team in 2013 but also had a losing record (9–12). He could be the subject of trade talks during the season if he continues to give up runs at a stingy pace — and if the Cubs, as expected, are out of contention early. The first year of Edwin Jackson’s surprising four-year deal resulted in 18 losses and a 4.98 ERA. Because there are three years left on the contract, it’s likely he’ll be sticking around this season since he would be difficult to move. Jake Arrieta entered spring training as a favorite for a spot in the rotation, but shoulder soreness has delayed his progress. James McDonald and Jason Hammel will likely complete the quintet, although lefthander Chris Rusin, a former fourth-round pick, gave up just 66 hits in 66.1 innings last season.
Up-and-down closer Carlos Marmol finally departed last year, and his successor Kevin Gregg (33 saves) is also gone. The Cubs signed well-traveled Jose Veras initially for the closer’s role, but there could be a couple of other candidates. The Cubs also inked a deal with lefthander Wesley Wright, who has 51 career holds. Righthander Hector Rondon concluded the 2013 season on a high note, allowing no runs and one hit over nine innings in his final nine appearances in September. Southpaw James Russell and righthander Pedro Strop will settle into roles in the bullpen as well. Strop, who struck out 42 in 35 innings after joining the Cubs last season, was considered a serious candidate for the closer’s job before Veras’ signing.
Castro went from a .307 hitter with 207 hits in 674 at-bats in his first full season in 2011 to a .245 hitter with 163 hits in 666 at-bats in 2013. He has frustrated his previous managers, but Cubs officials believe that Renteria might be able to get through to the enigmatic shortstop. Castro’s fielding remains inconsistent; he’s brilliant at times but is prone to concentration lapses. Second baseman Darwin Barney is one of the best defensive players the Cubs have had in years. He has committed only seven errors in two seasons and won a Gold Glove Award in 2012. But his .208 batting average in 2013 could find him scrambling to keep his starting job if any of the young infield prospects are ready to break into the majors.
Rizzo’s first full season in Chicago was slightly disappointing since expectations were so high. He hit 23 home runs with 80 RBIs but only hit .233 with a .419 slugging percentage. General manager Jed Hoyer is still high on the former sixth-round pick of the Red Sox, so look for Rizzo to get every opportunity to succeed in Chicago. Luis Valbuena, who hit only .218 in 331 at-bats last season, likely will be the Opening Day starter at third base, but he is simply a stopgap. If top shortstop prospect Javier Baez is ready to break into the majors anytime soon, the Cubs may toy with moving Castro to third. The Cubs also haven’t ruled out prospect Mike Olt at third this season. He struggled a Triple-A Iowa last summer after his trade from Texas, but this spring he appears completely rid of lingering concussion issues that plagued him in 2013.
The brightest spot on the team is the outfield. Lake, the left fielder, played well in his 64-game tryout last year. The 24-year-old Dominican hit .295 with 14 stolen bases in Class AAA before his call-up on July 19 and proceeded to hit .284 with the big club. Lake was known for having one of the strongest arms in the minor leagues. Center field will likely be divvied up between right-handed hitting Justin Ruggiano and left-handed hitting Ryan Sweeney. Sweeney was the Cubs’ top hitter at .295 until a rib injury suffered in June sidelined him for two months. Ruggiano showed some pop last year for Miami, hitting 18 home runs in 424 at-bats, but he struck out 114 times with a .298 on-base percentage. Nate Schierholtz hit 21 homers in 137 games playing right field last year in his first season with the team. He will be expected to be a top run-producer in 2014.
Welington Castillo had a solid season at the plate, hitting .274, and he continues to show significant improvement defensively. He missed the final two weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. Castillo is one of the few current players likely in the team’s long-range plans.
Veteran infielder Donnie Murphy could challenge for time at third base, or maybe even second if Barney’s bat continues to go soft. Olt will likely stick on the major league roster, even if he isn’t the everyday third baseman. Renteria believes he can get him enough at-bats to warrant keeping him in the bigs. George Kottaras, who has never played more than 85 games in a major-league season, will be Castillo’s backup behind the plate. Non-roster invitee Emilo Bonifacio apparently has earned a roster spot. His blazing speed and ability to play all over the field make him a valuable reserve.
The brass signed Renteria, who has no major-league managing experience, for three years with two one-year club options, which indicates that the Cubs are not just looking at him to be a caretaker over a rebuilding club. Expectations will remain low this season — and probably in 2015 — but the team is confident that Renteria will be the right man to take them to high places after the team starts to resemble a contender. For the most part, just about everyone from the old regime is out of the front office — as well as off the field — and it is pretty much full speed ahead with Epstein’s people. The Cubs owners, the Ricketts family, might be getting a little impatient about the losing, the lack of buzz and the declining attendance. Look for the team to market its MVP — Wrigley Field — heavily during the team’s 100th year at the park this season.
The Cubs’ roster has a lot of moveable — and removable — parts, and like in the past two seasons, there could be a lot of players coming and going as Epstein and his staff continue to strengthen the farm system. Renteria, a rookie manager, will have an opportunity to learn on the job in his inaugural season with the team. A run at .500 may still be an unrealistic goal for a team still working its way through a lengthy rebuild.
SS Starlin Castro (R)
He’s hit just about everywhere in the Cubs’ lineup, but leadoff might be his best option.
3B Luis Valbuena (L)
Light hitter can make himself valuable by bunting Castro to second when he reaches base.
RF Nate Schierholtz (L)
Supplied decent power last year with 21 home runs and 68 RBIs in 462 at-bats. Was it a fluke?
1B Anthony Rizzo (L)
Led the team in homers (23) and RBIs (80) last year, but that wasn’t a spectacular accomplishment.
LF Junior Lake (R)
Had a 27.8 line-drive rate in his 64-game debut. Will be dangerous if he continues at that pace.
C Welington Castillo (R)
Hit .295 in day games last year, and the Cubs still play more day games than anyone else in the majors.
CF Ryan Sweeney (L)
Veteran was leading the team in hitting (.295) before crashing into a wall in late June.
2B Darwin Barney (R)
Ace defender, but he needs to step up his offense or he could be riding the bench.
OF Justin Ruggiano (R)
Hit 18 HRs in 128 games with Miami in 2013. Should get plenty of starts against left-handed pitching.
C George Kottaras (L)
Career backup is on his fifth team in six seasons. Has solid power but strikes out a ton.
INF Donnie Murphy (R)
Broke into the majors in 2004, but has played in only 290 games, including 46 with the Cubs last year.
UT Emilio Bonifacio (S)
The switch-hitter who turns 29 in April has started as many as 20 games at six different positions in his seven-year career.
3B Mike Olt (R)
Has shown decent power in the minors, but struggled to keep his average propped up.
RH Jeff Samardzija
Ace? Trade bait? Maybe a little of both on a team that isn’t picked to do much this season.
LH Travis Wood
Won only nine games in 32 starts, but his ERA was 3.11 with a 1.145 WHIP.
RH Edwin Jackson
Opponents hit .281 off of him last year, and he was 1–7 in his final 10 starts.
RH Jake Arrieta
Went 4–2 with a 3.66 ERA and a 1.123 WHIP in nine starts after trade from Baltimore on July 2.
RH Jason Hammel
Began 2012 8-2 over first 14 starts for Baltimore with a 2.61 ERA and 1.115 WHIP. But injuries cost him about a dozen starts.
RH James McDonald
Could make a few spot starts until Arrieta is completely healthy.
RH Jose Veras (Closer)
The biggest acquisition the Cubs made at the winter meetings, Veras is the favorite to win the closer’s spot.
RH Pedro Strop
Pegged as the main setup man but could be used as a closer if Veras falters.
LH Wesley Wright
Had a 3.69 ERA in 70 appearances with Houston and Tampa Bay in 2013; will serve as a setup man in ’14.
LH James Russell
After a 7–1 mark in 2012, fell to 1–6 last year but his WHIP dropped from 1.298 to 1.215.
RH Hector Rondon
Righty reliever who held left-handed batters to a .192 average but struggled against righties (.306).
RH Blake Parker
A sparkling 2.72 ERA in 49 games got the attention of the Cubs’ brass.
RH Carlos Villanueva
Has started 44 games over last three seasons with the Blue Jays and Cubs.
LH Chris Rusin
Former Kentucky Wildcat had a 2–6 record in 13 starts but was able to keep his ERA under 4.00.
2013 Top Draft Pick
Kris Bryant, 3B
Bryant is two degrees separated from Ted Williams. Bryant learned a lot about hitting from his father, Mike. Mike Bryant was a Boston Red Sox farmhand in the 1980s and was coached by Williams. That alone won’t get a lot of notice, but slamming 31 homers in 62 college games will, and that’s what Bryant did as a junior at the University of San Diego. The Cubs snapped up the 6'5" third baseman with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. Bryant hit well last summer — a combined .336 with nine home runs in stops in Rookie ball and Low-A and High-A — but was even more impressive in the fall. He hit .364 with six homers and 17 RBIs in the Arizona Fall League and was named the league MVP. He’ll probably start in Class AA this year, and if he does well, the Cubs could be tempted to bring him up in September.
OF Albert Almora (19)
Shelved with an injury after hitting .329 and slugging .466 in 61 games for Class A Kane County. Former No. 6 overall pick is a career .326 hitter in the minors.
SS Javier Baez (21)
Top prospect could be called up to the bigs this season. Hit a combined 37 home runs last year and slugged .638 in 54 games with Class AA Tennessee. Still considered a top shortstop, he’s expected to play some second base this season in the minors.
OF Jorge Soler (22)
A left tibia injury slowed his progress, but the Cuban star still has a high ceiling as a power hitter.
3B Mike Olt (25)
He struggled at Class AAA Iowa after the Cubs acquired him in a trade, but he was dealing with issues related to a concussion.
RHP Pierce Johnson (22)
Quickly moved up the Class A ladder and is ready for bigger challenges.
RHP C.J. Edwards (22)
Had a 1.96 ERA in six starts with Class A Daytona.
1B Dan Vogelbach (21)
Has slammed 37 HRs and driven in 144 runs in first 198 minor-league games.
2B-SS Arismendy Alcantara (22)
The switch-hitter may be blocked by both Baez and Castro, but he had 36 doubles and 31 steals at Double-A last summer, splitting time between second and short.
Beyond the Box Score
100 years at Wrigley In honor of the team’s 100th season at Wrigley Field, the Cubs began to unveil 100 Great Times at Wrigley Field at their convention in January. During spring training and every regular-season home game, the team will unveil another memorable moment. Fans will also be able to follow the tributes via social media.
Back where he started Eric Hinske, who recently retired after 12 years in the big leagues, has been named the Cubs’ new first base coach. Hinske played five seasons with Toronto and also played with Boston, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, the Yankees, Atlanta and Arizona. He won World Series titles with Boston in 2007 and the Yankees in 2009. But few remember that Hinske was selected by the Cubs in the 17th round of the 1998 draft out of the University of Arkansas. He never played with the parent club and was traded to Oakland for Miguel Cairo in 2001.
Legal issues Shortstop Starlin Castro hit just .245 last year, and he may be blaming some of his struggles on a lawsuit filed in his native Dominican Republic. He is being sued by a baseball school for $3.6 million because of a contract his father signed when Castro was 16. Castro’s camp countersued, and his attorneys maintain that the original suit had a “direct impact on his duties as a professional ballplayer, leading to one of his worst-ever statistical performances.”
Walk this way First baseman Anthony Rizzo helped raise $100,000 in Parkland, Fla., in his second “Walk Off For Cancer” event in December. Rizzo, diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in May 2008, has been cancer free for five years. The money will go to the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital Foundation.
Does this add up? The Cubs ranked second in the National League in home runs (172) and first in extra-base hits (487) yet finished next-to-last in the league with only 602 runs scored. It was the fewest runs scored by the Cubs in a full season since the 1992 team only scored 593. The Cubs also ranked 27th in the majors in batting with a .238 team average.
Walk this way The Cubs’ pitchers issued 540 walks last season, the most in the NL and the third-most in the majors. Jeff Samardzija led the team and ranked seventh in MLB with 78 walks.
“Probably the same as a lot of people. Watching the (1979) Final Four with my dad in the living room when (Larry) Bird played Magic (Johnson). To me, that game got me so fired up — watching those two guys go at it. I thought it was so cool. I love Magic. But for me, Larry Bird was my hero. It was amazing how he put that team on his back.”
Russ Smith, Louisville guard:
“My favorite was watching Stephen Curry’s run through the NCAA Tournament (2008). I never really followed college basketball until I went to prep school and colleges started recruiting me, but I followed Curry. He never missed, and all his teammates knew that in order to win, he had to get the ball. Every time he made a play, it was probably the best play. I remember him going off against Gonzaga, then Georgetown — and then Davidson almost beat Kansas to go to the Final Four. He was just so much fun to watch.”
Chris Mack, Xavier coach:
Doug McDermott, Creighton forward:
“I’d have to say when (Florida’s) Mike Miller hit that shot to beat Butler at the buzzer (2000). I was watching it down in the basement in Cedar Falls (Iowa) with my brother. I was a huge Florida fan growing up. I’m not sure why, and I loved Mike Miller. My dad wound up getting me a Mike Miller jersey afterwards.
Noah Vonleh, Indiana forward:
“When Mario Chalmers hit the three to send the game into overtime against Derrick Rose and Memphis in the national championship game (2008). I was shocked and I couldn’t believe it. I thought Memphis had the game locked up, being up the entire game by a good amount. I knew Kansas was going to win in overtime."
Sam Dekker, Wisconsin forward:
“The Maryland team with Juan Dixon and Steve Blake stuck out to me. They won it all back in 2002, and that’s one of my first memories of college basketball. But the game that I remember more than anything else was an Elite Eight game between North Carolina and Wisconsin in 2005. I was a diehard Carolina fan, and was cheering for both teams. My brother had open-heart surgery and knew former Carolina player Joe Wolf. He sent him a card to get better after his surgery. I was literally rooting for both teams. I loved Rashad McCants, Raymond Felton and Sean May. I was watching that game down in Gulf Shores, Alabama — where my family went on spring break that year. I even remember the shoes Carolina was wearing.”
Sean Miller, Arizona coach:
“Michael Jordan’s game-winning shot against Georgetown in the Superdome (1982). I was watching it with my dad in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, and couldn’t believe it. I’ll always remember that play, and that game. I was thinking, ‘Man, I hope I can be good enough to go to Carolina.’”
Nick Johnson, Arizona guard:
Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado guard:
Nik Stauskas, Michigan guard:
Sometimes a coach inherits a bad team or steps into a program where the university simply does not invest in basketball. In some cases, through recruiting, Xs and Os and inspiration, that coach can turn a bad team into a good or even great one.
The guys on this list are not those coaches. Here are the 20 worst coaching tenures in the six major conference since the NCAA Tournament expanded in 1985.
Worst Coaching Tenures in Major Conferences since 1985
1. Dave Bliss, Baylor
Record: 61-57, 19-45 Big 12
Before his undoing at Baylor, Bliss took three teams to the NCAA Tournament (Oklahoma, SMU and New Mexico), but his downfall at Baylor remains one of college athletics biggest disgraces. One player, Carlton Dotson, pleaded guilty to murdering teammate Patrick Dennehy in 2003, and Bliss' actions in the aftermath did not help an already tragic situation. Bliss was found to have paid part of Dennehy’s tuition and that of another player (both NCAA violations), and then asked an assistant and players to lie to investigators about the payment, saying Dennehy had been dealing drugs. That, among other NCAA and recruiting violations put Baylor under harsh sanctions through 2010. On the court, Baylor had one winning season and never finished better than 6-10 in the Big 12.
2. Bob Wade, Maryland
Record: 36-50, 7-35 ACC
Wade took over after the drug-related death of All-American Len Bias, who had just been drafted second overall by the Boston Celtics. With an academic scandal at the end of coach Lefty Driesell’s tenure as well, Wade did not take over in College Park under ideal circumstance when he was hired from the high school ranks from Baltimore Dunbar. After three seasons, including two where Maryland went 0-16 and 1-14 in the ACC, Wade resigned amid his own allegations of NCAA violations. He was replaced by Gary Williams, who resuscitated the program and won 461 games with the Terps.
3. Bob Staak, Wake Forest
Record: 45-69, 8-48 ACC
Staak took over for Paul Tacy, who had reached the postseason in five consecutive years (three pre-expansion NCAAs, two NITs) before Staak arrived. The former Xavier coach and Connecticut player went 8-21 and winless in the ACC in his first season and never won more than three conference games during his four years at Wake. He resigned amid an NCAA inquiry into recruiting violations and was replaced by Dave Odom, who would lead the Demon Deacons to their most successful era in the 1990s and early 2000s.
4. Bill Foster, Northwestern
Record: 54-141, 13-113 Big Ten
The only program from a major conference not to have reached the NCAA Tournament, Northwestern has had its share of futile coaching tenures. Foster’s, though, was the worst. The Wildcats finished in last place in six of his seven seasons, went 2-16 in the Big Ten five times and winless once. His successor, the late Ricky Byrdsong, reached the NIT in his first season with Northwestern. And interesting footnote: Foster also preceded Mike Krzyzewski at Duke.
5. Paul Graham, Washington State
Record: 31-79, 9-63 Pac-10
The Cougars aren’t known for their basketball success, but before Graham, Washington State built a solid program under Kelvin Sampson and reached the NIT under Kevin Eastman. After Graham, Dick Bennett and son Tony Bennett built Washington State into an NCAA Tournament team. A rash of play departures also didn’t help Graham’s short-lived tenure at Wazzu.
6. Jeff Bzdelik, Wake Forest
Record: 51-76, 17-51 ACC
Bzdelik has coached in the NBA and took Air Force to the NCAA Tournament in 2006, so it’s a mystery why Bzdelik has had such meager results at a program that has been a consistent power in the ACC. The Demon Deacons have had their share of player departures, due to transfers and off-court issues, so those are possible reasons. His tenure has had fans screaming for Wake to replace him, but the athletic department must see improvement: Bzdelik had twice as many ACC wins in his third and fourth seasons (12) than he did in his first two combined (five).
7. Sidney Lowe, NC State
Record: 86-78, 25-55 ACC
Hopes were high that Lowe, a former NC State player and longtime NBA assistant, would help the Wolfpack take the next step after an unspectacular run under Herb Sendek. As NC State learned, things weren’t so bad under Sendek, who reached the NCAA Tournament in each of his last five seasons in Raleigh. Lowe recruited well, but the results didn’t come on the court as NC State never won more than six ACC games in a season and finished ninth or lower each year. Successor Mark Gottfried, however, took advantage of the influx of talent under Lowe with a Sweet 16 appearance in his first season.
8. Melvin Watkins, Texas A&M
Record: 60-112, 21-75 Big 12
Watkins’ predecessor, Tony Barone, also was a candidate for this list, which says something about the Aggies’ basketball program in the ‘90s. Watkins, though, capped his tenure in College Station with a winless Big 12 season and a 7-21 overall record. The Aggies won 10 or fewer games three times in his six seasons. If there was a silver lining, Watkins did bring Acie Law and Antoine Wright to Texas A&M. Under Law and Gillispie, Texas A&M reached the NIT in 2005 and the Sweet 16 in 2007.
9. Brian Mahoney, St. John’s
Record: 56-58, 29-43 Big East
After the departure of the program’s most successful coach, St. John’s promoted assistant Brian Mahoney to replace Lou Carnesecca, but Mahoney turned out to be the first coach in a line of four who weren’t able to restore St. John’s to the glory days. Mahoney reached the NCAA Tournament in his first season, but reached only one NIT in the three seasons thereafter. Mahoney went 17-37 in the Big East.
10. Matt Doherty, North Carolina
Record: 53-43, 23-25 ACC
Doherty played for Dean Smith at North Carolina and was a teammate of Michael Jordan’s. Those were better days for the Tar Heels. Doherty went 26-7 and 13-3 in the ACC in his first season taking over for Bill Guthridge, but he went 27-36 and 10-22 in conference the following two seasons. During his short-lived tenure, Doherty clashed with Guthridge and Smith by replacing longtime assistants and ran off players with his abrasive style. In North Carolina’s second attempt to pursue Roy Williams, the Tar Heels landed him to replace Doherty in 2003. With some of Doherty’s recruits, Williams won a national title in 2005.
11. Eddie Payne, Oregon State
Record: 50-90, 20-70 Pac-10
Since the retirement of Ralph Miller in 1989 until the hire of current coach Craig Robinson, none of the coaches in Corvallis had distinguished tenures. Payne’s best season was 7-11 in the Pac-10, but the Beavers went 3-15 in conference or worse in three of his five seasons.
12. Billy Gillispie, Kentucky
Record: 40-27, 20-12 SEC
Hopes were high for Texas A&M’s Gillispie he took over for Tubby Smith, a national title coach who never wowed the Kentucky fan base. A first-round loss in the NCAA Tournament to Marquette followed by an NIT ended his tenure in Lexington after only two seasons.
13. Ken Bone, Washington State
Record: 80-86, 29-62 Pac-12
Washington State is perhaps the toughest basketball job in the Pac-12, but Bone started off with two things in his favor: Tony Bennett had just wrapped up a successful tenure that included a Sweet 16 appearance, and he had eventual NBA Draft lottery pick Klay Thompson on the roster. The Cougars topped out at the NIT with Bone and Thompson, and bottomed out to 7-29 in the league in Bone's final two seasons.
14. Larry Shyatt, Clemson
Record: 70-84, 20-60 ACC
Shyatt took over after a successful run under Rick Barnes and was replaced by Oliver Purnell, who remade the Tigers into a postseason contender. In between, Shyatt had only two winning seasons and never finished better than 5-11 in the ACC.
15. Jerry Wainwright, DePaul
Record: 59-80, 20-51 Big East
DePaul clearly was not ready to be competitive in the Big East and had long since fallen behind in recruiting the Chicago area. An Illinois native, Wainwright couldn’t help matters. He was fired midway through the 2009-10 season amid a stretch in which DePaul went 1-35 in Big East games.
16. Fred Hill, Rutgers
Record: 47-77, 13-57 Big East
Like Jerry Wainwright and DePaul, Rutgers hoped Hill’s local ties would help revive a moribund Big East program. Hill signed McDonald's All-American Mike Rosario (who later transferred to Florida), but he never won more than five Big East games in four losing seasons at Rutgers. Hill caused further problems for his program when he got into a shouting match with the Pittsburgh baseball coach after a game between the two schools (Hill’s father is the Rutgers baseball coach). Hill disobeyed his athletic director by attending later games in the series, a development that played a role in his ouster.
17. Tony Barbee, Auburn
Record: 49-75, 18-50 SEC
Barbee arrived at Auburn after going 16-1 in Conference USA in his final season at UTEP. As a John Calipari assistant at Memphis, Barbee was expected to up the level of talent at Auburn just as facilities began to improve. That never materialized as Auburn was one of the worst teams in the SEC during his four seasons. Auburn's a tough job, but the Barbee and the Tigers were the clear bottom feeder in a league in decline.
18. Jeff Bzdelik, Colorado
Record: 36-58, 10-38 Big 12
Bzdelik makes his second appearance on the list. Again, he won at Air Force and coached in the NBA, but he couldn’t manage a winning season at Colorado. Successor Tad Boyle, meanwhile, took over to lead the Buffaloes to back-to-back postseason appearances.
19. Todd Lickliter, Iowa
Record: 38-57, 15-39
Perhaps a cautionary sign for Brad Stevens that the grass isn’t always greener. Lickliter left Butler after a Sweet 16 appearance for a failed tenure with the Hawkeyes. Iowa was a postseason regular under four coaches since the late ‘70s, but the Hawkeyes finished eighth or lower in the Big Ten each season under Lickliter.
20. Ricky Stokes, Virginia Tech
Record: 29-55, 10-38 Big East
The above record does not include Stokes’ first season when the Hokies were a member of the Atlantic 10, which was also his only winning season (16-15) in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech was already struggling before joining the Big East as a basketball member in 2000, so the Hokies’ first three seasons in the league were no big surprise.
First, our sincere condolences for anyone who isn’t able to sneak away from work on Thursday or Friday to take in one of the greatest days in the sports calendar.
With 16 games, 32 teams to follow in one day is tough enough with multiple screens but perhaps impossible with the boss looking over your shoulder.
Athlon Sports will do what it can to help you follow each team in the field with these Twitter accounts for every team in the NCAA Tournament.
For a bird’s-eye view, we’ve also included 16 must-follow national accounts to aid your viewing experience.
And of course, even if you did call in sick, we’d urge you follow these accounts for insight on every team.
The Sweet 16
@MarchMadnessTV: CBS’ official account with video of every key play
@SethDavisHoops: CBS, “Sharpie” czar
@GoodmanESPN: Jeff Goodman, ESPN
@GaryParrishCBS: Gary Parrish, CBSSports.com
@RobDauster: Rob Dauster, NBCSports.com
@MattNorlander: Matt Norlander, CBSSports.com
@NicoleAuerbach: Nicole Auerbach, USA Today
@KenPomeroy: Ken Pomeroy, kenpom.com
@JayBilas: Jay Bilas, ESPN
@PacerCK: Clark Kellogg, CBS
@bubbaprog: Tim Burke, Deadspin, GIFs and screen grabs
@BrianHamiltonSI: Brian Hamilton, SI.com
@FranFraschilla: Fran Fraschilla, ESPN
@JasonKingBR: Jason King, Bleacher Report
@ESPNDanaOneil: Dana O’Neil, ESPN.com
@DickieV: Dick Vitale, ESPN
|1. Florida: @Goldkamp247, Thomas Goldkamp, 247Sports.com|
16. Albany: @tjwilkin, Albany (N.Y.) Times Union
16. Mount St. Mary’s: @mounthoops
|1. Arizona: @ghansen711, Greg Hansen, Arizona Daily Star|
16. Weber State: @bigskybball, Jonathan Reed, bigskybball.com
|8. Colorado: @tomkensler, Tom Kensler, Denver Post|
9. Pittsburgh: @PantherLair, Chris Peak, PantherLair.com
|8. Gonzaga: @SRJimm, Jim Meehan, Spokane (Wash.) Spokesman Review|
9. Oklahoma State: @jjhelsley, John Helsley, The Oklahoman
|5. VCU: @timpearrelltd, Tim Pearrell, Richmond (Va.) Times Dispatch|
12. Stephen F. Austin: @CoachBradSFA, Brad Underwood, head coach
|5. Oklahoma: @ryaber, Ryan Aber, The Oklahoman|
12. North Dakota State: @NDSUmbb
|4. UCLA: @DufresneLATimes, Chris Dufresne, Los Angeles Times|
13. Tulsa: @CoachDManning, Danny Manning, head coach
|4. San Diego State: @sdutzeigler, Mark Zeigler, San Diego Union Tribune|
13. New Mexico State: @SimBhullar2, Sim Bhullar, 7-5 center
|6. Ohio State: @CRAFTRoomies, Aaron Craft’s roommates|
11. Dayton: @KevinKuwik, Dayton assistant
|6. Baylor: @OurDailyBears, SB Nation|
11. Nebraska: @HuskerExtraBR, Brian Rosenthal, Lincoln (Neb.) Journal-Star
|3. Syracuse: @NunesMagician, Sean Keeley, SBNation|
14. Western Michigan: @Drew_on_WMU, David Drew, Kalamazoo Gazette
|3. Creighton: @PivOWH, Steve Pivovar, Omaha (Neb.) World-World Herald|
14. UL Lafayette: @TDARaginCajuns, Tim Buckley, The Lafayette (La.) Daily Advertiser
|7. New Mexico: @GeoffGrammer, Geoff Grammer, Albuquerque (N.M.) Tribune|
10. Stanford: @wilnerhotline, Jon Wilner, San Jose Mercury News
|7. Oregon: @TheOregonDuck, mascot|
10. BYU: @drewjay, Jay Drew, Salt Lake Tribune
|2. Kansas: @RustinDodd, Rustin Dodd, Kansas City Star|
15. Eastern Kentucky: @EKUHoops
|2. Wisconsin: @JimPolzinWSJ, Jim Polzin, Wisconsin State Journal|
15. American: @auhoops, “American University Basketball. In Blog Form”
|1. Virginia: @WhiteysWorld365, Whitelaw Reid, Charlottesville (Va.) Daily Progress|
16. Coastal Carolina: @CCUHoops
|1. Wichita State: @Clearly_BallLyf, Cleanthony Early, Wichita State forward|
16. Cal Poly: @SLOcollegebeat, Josh Scroggin, SanLuisObispo.com
16. Texas Southern: @TSUMBB
|8. Memphis: @TheCAJasonSmith, L. Jason Smith, The Memphis Commercial Appeal|
9. George Washington: @MikeLonergan, Mike Lonergan, GW head coach
|8. Kentucky: @KyleTucker_CJ, Kyle Tucker, Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal|
9. Kansas State: @DScottFritchen, D. Scott Fritchen, gopowercat.com
|5. Cincinnati: @SeanKilpatrick_, Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati guard|
12. Harvard: @THCSports, The Harvard Crimson
|5. Saint Louis: @TomTimm, Tom Timmermann, St. Louis Post-Dispatch|
12. Xavier: @slrussell, Shannon Russell, Cincinnati Enquirer
12. NC State: @RyanTice, Ryan Tice, The Wolfpacker
|4. Michigan State: @joerexrode, Joe Rexrode, Lansing (Mich.) State Journal|
13. Delaware: @kevintresolini, DelawareOnline.com
|4. Louisville: @mengus22, Mark Ennis, cardchronicle.com|
13. Manhattan: @nybuckets, John Templon, nycbuckets.com
|6. North Carolina: @_andrewcarter, Andrew Carter, Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer|
11. Providence: @friarblog, FriarBlog.com
|6. UMass: @steve_hewitt, Steve Hewitt, UMass Daily Collegian|
11. Iowa: @PatHarty, Pat Harty, Iowa Press Citizen
11. Tennessee: @Ben_Fred, Ben Frederickson, Knoxville (Tenn.) News-Sentinel
|3. Iowa State: @TravisHines21, Travis Hines, Ames (Iowa) Daily Tribune|
14. North Carolina Central: @NCCUAthletics
|3. Duke: @LauraKeeley, Laura Keeley, Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer|
14. Mercer: @MercerMBB
|7. UConn: @NeillOstrout, Neill Ostrout, Manchester (Conn.) Journal Inquirer|
10. Saint Joseph’s: @HHHardwood, HawkHillHardwood.com
|7. Texas: @kbohls, Kirk Bohls, Austin American-Statesman|
10. Arizona State: @DougHaller, Doug Haller, Arizona Republic
|2. Villanova: @Brian_Ewart, VUHoops.com|
15. Milwaukee: @CoachJeterUWM, Rob Jeter, Milwaukee coach
|2. Michigan: @daycheck3, Andrew Dakich, Michigan walk on/bench mob|
15. Wofford: @WoffordMBB
The Phillies had a bleak winter. Coming off their first losing season since 2002, they made only modest additions to a team that had trouble scoring runs — and preventing them — in 2013. The framework of the club that won five NL East titles and a World Series from 2007 to 2011 remains, but age and poor health have taken the shine off what was once a star-laden group. On the hot seat, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. hopes that a high-mileage core — five of the team’s eight starting position players are 34 or older — can turn back the odometer and return the team to contention in its first full season under manager Ryne Sandberg. It won’t be easy. This club still looks closer to the breakdown lane than the high-speed lane.
The team’s strength sits atop the starting rotation, where lefties Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee form one of the elite tandems in the game. No other set of teammates in the majors combined for more innings than the 442.2 that Hamels and Lee delivered in 2013. But these guys aren’t just workhorses; they’re thoroughbreds who can dominate opposing lineups with command, smarts and pure stuff. Both reached 200 strikeouts in 2013, and they combined for 49 quality starts. If run support hadn’t been such a problem, they certainly would have combined for more than 22 wins. Hamels, the younger of the two, has dealt with a balky shoulder all spring. He will likely start the season on the disabled list, but shouldn’t miss more than two starts. Even with Hamels and Lee combining for a 2.97 ERA after the All-Star Break, Phillies starters finished with a 4.41 ERA, second-worst in the NL. There remains a huge drop after Hamels and Lee, and this team could struggle to get enough innings from the back end of its rotation. A.J. Burnett, who enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence in Pittsburgh the last two seasons, is slotted in the No. 3 hole. Burnett has made at least 30 starts for the past six seasons, but at age 37 doesn’t make the rotation any longer. Kyle Kendrick, who profiles as a No. 5 starter, had a wobbly second half in 2013 that does not instill confidence. The Phils spent $12 million on power-armed Cuban defector Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, but he has pitched just a handful of competitive innings the last two years because of a suspension in his homeland, and has also had elbow issues. Nonetheless, the Phillies hope he can be in the starting five. In recent offseasons, the Phils acquired Lee and Roy Halladay. Wary of more long-term, big-dollar commitments, the team opted for less pricey Burnett and Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona), who has a 5.03 ERA the last six seasons.
Less than two seasons after signing Jonathan Papelbon to the largest contract ever for a reliever — four years, $50 million — the Phillies began shopping their closer last July. There were no takers then and none this offseason, so the Phillies hope Papelbon, age 33 and owed $26 million through 2015, can rebound from a season in which he blew seven saves and aired his frustrations about the direction of the team. Papelbon’s fastball sagged from the mid- to the low-90s in 2013, and his strikeout rate dipped to a career-low 8.3 per nine innings. Papelbon wasn’t the only Phillies reliever to struggle in 2013. The bullpen’s ERA of 4.19 ranked 27th in the majors. The Phils need more than just Papelbon to rebound in 2014. Lefty Antonio Bastardo missed the final 50 games of 2013 on a PED suspension, and veteran Mike Adams is a huge question mark as he tries to come back from shoulder surgery at 35. Veteran Brad Lincoln, added in a trade with Toronto, should help, while three homegrown power arms offer reason for hope. Lefty Jake Diekman and righthanders B.J. Rosenberg and Justin De Fratus all gained valuable experience last season. They need to build on that and become strong contributors to a unit that needs help. The side-arming Diekman is particularly promising. He averaged 95 mph in 2013 and hit 99 several times.
Over the last decade, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley have started 1,072 games together, the most by a current middle-infield tandem. Rollins is reaching some rarified statistical air; he needs only 60 hits to pass Mike Schmidt as the franchise’s all-time leader. Utley, a blue-collar reflection of the town he plays in, is one of the most popular players in team history. While both players are club icons, the reality is they have gotten old. Both are 35 and past the apex of their careers. Rollins had the lowest OPS of his career in 2013 but did play in 160 games and remains a top defender. Utley rebounded from two years of degenerative knee problems and was productive offensively and defensively in 131 games, his most since 2009. Utley must stay healthy and productive and Rollins must improve offensively for this team to have a chance.
Is Ryan Howard ready to rock after two injury-plagued seasons? This might be the most important question facing this fragile club. Howard has missed more than half of the Phillies’ games the last two seasons, and the offense has sputtered badly. If he’s on the field — and all signs point to him being healthy — he’s a threat for 30 homers and 100 RBIs. If he’s not, the Phillies are looking at another rough season. Across the diamond, the Phils haven’t produced a homegrown regular at third base since Scott Rolen. Cody Asche showed promise in the field and at the plate in a two-month cameo in 2013 and might end up being the guy.
Desperate for some youth, the Phils received positive offensive contributions from left fielder Domonic Brown and center fielder Ben Revere in 2013. Brown, 26, was an All-Star and led the team in homers and RBIs but tailed off in the second half. Revere, 25, survived a rough April and slapped his way to .300 before suffering a season-ending broken ankle in mid-July. Neither player is strong defensively, and that’s a concern. Unwilling to pursue top free agents, the Phils signed 36-year-old Marlon Byrd to play right field. His production has ranged from poor to very good in recent seasons. The Phillies hope to see Byrd’s best as his right-handed bat balances out a lefty-heavy lineup.
Amaro raised eyebrows when he re-signed 35-year-old Carlos Ruiz for three years and $26 million. Amaro wanted a top game-caller and receiver to handle the pitching staff, and with no one ready in the minors, paid the price for Ruiz. The Phillies hope they are not paying for a lot of past performance. Ruiz had a career year in 2012 but tested positive for a banned stimulant. He struggled at the plate in the first half of 2013 but came alive in the second half, fueling hopes that he could be a solid contributor for the bulk of his contract. Pitchers love throwing to Ruiz, so they are happy he’s back. At this stage of his career, Ruiz is about a 110-game guy, so backup Wil Nieves will be important.
Sandberg, devoted to the ways of the NL, has vowed to use his bench and will have to as he tries to get the most from a well-worn roster. The problem is, this isn’t a high-quality bench. Freddy Galvis, a premium defender at three infield positions, is the best of a group that includes Kevin Frandsen, John Mayberry Jr. and Darin Ruf. Former Philadelphia All-Star Bobby Abreu is in camp, with a good chance to make the team.
Amaro has admitted to being embarrassed by the team’s decline, and his popularity in his hometown has sunk along with the club’s place in the standings. With Charlie Manuel gone, the bull’s-eye is on the GM, and he knows it. “I put myself under the gun,” Amaro said after last season’s fourth-place finish. “I’m accountable for the things that have happened.” The Phillies went 20–22 after Sandberg took over last August. He will run a tighter ship than Manuel, and with a three-year deal, has more job security than Amaro.
This club doesn’t appear to be much improved from the 73-win clunker of 2013. But with perfect health, continued excellence from Hamels and Lee at the top of the rotation, strong contributions from Utley, Brown, Revere, Ruiz and Byrd, and big rebounds from Rollins, Howard and Papelbon, the Phillies might be able to hang around long enough to make it an interesting summer. If not, Lee could be gone by the trade deadline, and management could finally commit to rebuilding.
CF Ben Revere (L)
Hit .347 in his final 65 games before season-ending broken ankle last July.
SS Jimmy Rollins (S)
He made just three errors in his final 101 games in 2013.
2B Chase Utley (L)
His .823 OPS ranked third among MLB second basemen in 2013.
1B Ryan Howard (L)
Thirty-two percent of his plate appearances the last two seasons have ended with a strikeout.
RF Marlon Byrd (R)
Career year in 2013 included .511 slugging percentage, fifth-best in the NL.
LF Domonic Brown (L)
Twelve of 27 homers and 25 of 83 RBIs last season came in torrid May.
C Carlos Ruiz (R)
Leads Phillies in batting average (.295) and on-base percentage (.374) since 2010.
3B Cody Asche (L)
Had 43 extra-base hits in 404 at-bats at Triple-A prior to July 30 promotion.
INF Freddy Galvis (S)
Valuable glove man will see time at second base and shortstop.
INF Kevin Frandsen (R)
Had 14 pinch-hits in 2013, but hit just .192 after the All-Star break.
OF/1B Darin Ruf (R)
Made 70 starts in 2013 and led club with 12 homers after the All-Star break.
OF John Mayberry Jr. (R)
Hit just .237 with .687 OPS in 863 plate appearances last two seasons.
C Wil Nieves (R)
Hit .299 in 278 at-bats for Colorado and Arizona last two seasons.
LH Cole Hamels
Received ninth-worst average run support (3.36) in MLB en route to career-high 14 losses in 2013.
LH Cliff Lee
Has 1.049 WHIP, third-best in MLB, in 666.1 innings during last three seasons.
RH A.J. Burnett
Phils need his 30-start streak to continue as well as his sub-4.00 ERA trend.
RH Kyle Kendrick
After solid start to the season, had 6.48 ERA in his final 14 starts in 2013.
RH Roberto Hernandez
Left-handed hitters feasted to .305 batting average and .905 OPS in 2013.
RH Jonathan Papelbon (Closer)
Converted just 81 percent of save chances in 2013, a career low.
RH Mike Adams
Once a top setup man, he’s a big unknown as he comes back from shoulder surgery.
LH Antonio Bastardo
A valuable contributor, but what will he be after 2013 PED suspension?
LH Jake Diekman
Hard-throwing sidearmer improved control, had 1.82 ERA in final 34 games in 2013.
RH B.J. Rosenberg
Gained confidence while striking out 17 over final 14.2 innings in 2013.
RH Justin De Fratus
Finished the season with a scoreless streak of 8.2 innings.
RH Brad Lincoln
Former first-round pick could be ready to blossom with third team.
2013 Top Draft Pic k
J.P. Crawford, SS
As Phillies scouts studied pitcher Shane Watson, their eventual top pick, before the 2012 draft, they became smitten with the smooth-fielding shortstop behind him. For a year, the Phillies targeted Crawford, and they got him with the 16th overall pick in 2013. Lakewood (Calif.) High School is a favorite of the Phillies. Before Crawford and Watson, they landed catcher Travis d’Arnaud, now a Met, from the school. Crawford, a left-handed hitter with long limbs, has the athleticism Phillies scouts love, but he’s no project. He has advanced baseball skills and projects to be a difference-maker offensively and defensively. Crawford dazzled in the Gulf Coast League last summer, hitting .345 with a .908 OPS in 39 games. He finished in the South Atlantic League, a nice jump for an 18-year-old. Moments after being drafted, Crawford said he wanted to take Jimmy Rollins’ job. In time, that should happen.
LHP Jesse Biddle (22)
The 6'4" lefty projects as a big-league starter, but might need to return to Double-A to hone control.
OF Kelly Dugan (23)
Hard-working corner outfielder has hit his way onto the 40-man roster.
3B Maikel Franco (21)
Corner infielder projects as the middle-of-the-order right-handed bat Phils have long sought.
RHP Severino Gonzalez (21)
Panamanian came out of nowhere in 2013 and dazzled with control and pitching savvy.
C Tommy Joseph (22)
Still highly regarded even though concussion at Triple-A hurt his development in 2013.
OF Carlos Tocci (18)
Batted just .209 at Single-A last season, but the Phillies love his upside and expect him in Philadelphia in 2017.
Beyond the Box Score
Back to his roots Ryne Sandberg made his name and Hall of Fame playing career with the Cubs, but don’t forget that he was originally a Phillie. He was drafted by the Phillies in 1978, made a cameo with the club in 1981 and was traded to the Cubs as a “throw-in” in the Larry Bowa-Ivan DeJesus swap that offseason. Passed over for the Cubs’ manager job in 2010, Sandberg managed the Phils’ Triple-A team for two years and now has the top job. At Sandberg’s insistence, Bowa is back with the club (he’s been a player, coach and manager) for a fourth time.
To rebuild or not Phillies management has been reluctant to rebuild, but a third straight season of no playoffs might give it no choice. “At some point we might have to do that, but not right now,” GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said in December. The comment was the first time a club official had acknowledged that rebuilding was a possibility.
Right here, kid Chase Utley took a liking to Cody Asche during spring training 2013. When Asche was promoted from Triple-A in late July, he was assigned the locker next to Utley’s. It was no accident; Utley arranged it. “I know when you’re a young guy, it’s nice to have someone who has been around to help navigate you in the right direction,” Utley says.
At the turnstiles Though the Phillies have drawn three million for seven straight seasons, attendance has dropped as the team has slipped. The Phils had drawn at least 3.5 million four straight seasons before slipping to 3,012,403 in 2013. The average attendance dropped from 44,021 in 2012 to 37,190 in 2013.
Hello, 21st century The Phillies have long been a scouting-based organization. In fact, the team’s two World Series-winning clubs were led by scouts, Paul Owens and Dallas Green in 1980 and Pat Gillick in 2008. But the Phils have added analytics to player evaluations. They added Scott Freedman, on loan from the commissioner’s office, to help institute more analytical practices during the offseason. Before you knew it, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. was citing Roberto Hernandez’ ground-ball rate as a reason for signing the righthander. “We’re going to continue to be a scouting organization,” Amaro says. “That said, I think we owe it to ourselves to look at some other ways to evaluate.”
The Mets have had five losing seasons in a row, tied with the Astros for the longest such streak in baseball. The streak coincides with the 2009 opening of Citi Field, where attendance has dropped every year. The Mets do not seem ready to contend, but with reinforcements from the free-agent market, they could challenge .500 as they wait for their breakout ace, Matt Harvey, to return from Tommy John surgery in 2015.
Even without Harvey, the Mets have a respectable rotation. They signed Bartolo Colon to a two-year, $20 million contract, hoping that Colon, who turns 41 in May and has a 2012 PED suspension on his résumé, can maintain the All-Star form he showed for the A’s last season, when his 2.65 ERA was the best of his career. Jon Niese withstood a partial rotator cuff tear to return near the end of the season, but he’s had some arm issues this spring that bear watching. He is a solid middle-of-the rotation guy, essentially a left-handed version of Dillon Gee. The healthy starter with the most upside is Zack Wheeler, who made an impressive debut last season with a 3.42 ERA in 17 starts. Wheeler, who turns 24 in May, worked 168.2 innings between Class AAA and the majors, meaning that he should be ready to cross the 200-inning threshold this season. Daisuke Matsuaka appears likely to make the rotation as a non-roster player this spring. He made seven starts for the Mets at the end of last season. In his final outing, he threw 7.2 shutout innings in a 1-0 win at Cincinnati. Elbow tendinitis cost Jeurys Familia much of the season, but he enters camp as a leading candidate for spot starts should Niese not be ready by Opening Day. One factor to watch: Colon and Gee both ranked in the top 25 last season in fly ball percentage — not as much of an advantage as it once was at Citi Field, where the walls are closer than they originally were, but still a source of strength that the Mets can exploit.
The Mets finally gave the closer’s job to hard-throwing Bobby Parnell last season, and he responded with 22 saves in 26 chances and a 1.00 WHIP, the best of his career. At 95 miles per hour, Parnell’s fastball remains his best pitch. But he threw it less often last season and utilized his curveball on more than a quarter of his pitches. The Mets lost veteran LaTroy Hawkins, who had 13 saves, to the Colorado Rockies as a free agent, but they like what they have in righty Vic Black, a former first-round pick by the Pirates, who traded him to the Mets last August in a deal for Marlon Byrd and John Buck. Black had 217 strikeouts in fewer than 180 innings in the minors. Scott Rice emerged from the shadows of a long minor-league career to establish himself as a dependable lefty from the pen. But the rest of the unit is suspect, with largely unproven Josh Edgin and Gonzalez Germen getting a chance to make the team. The Mets brought veterans Jose Valverde and Kyle Farnsworth to camp to compete for spots in spring training. Both have experience as closers, but are viewed as stopgap material at this point.
The Mets’ second baseman, Daniel Murphy, had 188 hits and 92 runs scored last season, but his on-base percentage was only .319. Murphy had some pop, with a team-leading 55 extra-base hits, but advanced metrics showed that his defense was among the worst in the majors, ranking 17th of 19 qualified second basemen in Ultimate Zone Rating, according to Fangraphs. The likely shortstop, Ruben Tejada, is a better defender but backslid badly at the plate last season, hitting just .202 in 208 at-bats, and general manager Sandy Alderson called his dedication into question. Naturally, the Mets explored options to upgrade and likely will continue to look. But Tejada is only 24 and did hit .289 as a regular in 2012.
David Wright injured his hamstring on Aug. 2, missed a month and a half, and when he returned in late September, homered in his first two games to lead the Mets to victories. Even with the downtime, Wright had a fantastic season, with a .904 OPS that was his best since 2008, the Mets’ last season at Shea Stadium. He is easily the team’s best player, and the Mets must win with him while he is still in his prime. Across the diamond, the team has options at first in Ike Davis and Lucas Duda, two lefty hitters with power who struggle against left-handed pitching. Davis is a much better fielder, while Duda reaches base more reliably. The presence of somewhat redundant players means that the Mets may trade one before the season.
The Mets’ outfield was such a shambles last offseason that Alderson cracked, “What outfield?” when reporters asked about it. He’s not joking anymore, after making three moves to put legitimate major leaguers in each position. Eric Young Jr. led the NL in steals with 46 and made 84 starts in left field for the Mets after a giveaway trade from Colorado. Center fielder Chris Young was an All-Star for Arizona in 2010, and the Mets hope he can restore his power and timing in an everyday role after slumping in part-time duty with Oakland last season. Right fielder Curtis Granderson, signed for $60 million over four years, will be counted on to have the biggest impact, with his power complementing Wright and Young in the middle of the order. Granderson is also polished and fan-friendly, an important value for the Mets as they seek to restore a tattered brand. “He brings a tremendous amount of professionalism,” Alderson said while introducing Granderson at the winter meetings in December. “He brings a personality. He brings credibility. He brings experience, and he brings talent.” That last aspect, of course, matters most of all, and after losing most of 2013 to broken bones, Granderson is eager to prove he still has it. At 33, it’s safe to expect that he does.
Travis d’Arnaud was traded for two Cy Young Award winners, Roy Halladay and R.A. Dickey, before turning 24. Injuries have restricted his playing time, but not his advancement up the professional ladder. He fractured his left foot when it was hit by a foul ball last April and played only 32 games in the minors before making his major-league debut in August. The results were inconclusive (20-for-99 with a home run), but d’Arnaud hit .286 with solid power in the minors, and there is every reason to believe he will soon be among the better hitting catchers in the game.
The Mets have some positional flexibility in Young, who can play the outfield and second base, and Duda, who can play first and a corner outfield spot, although not especially well. Josh Satin can back up at first and third, with a knack for reaching base. Juan Lagares offers superior outfield defense, while Anthony Recker is a capable backup to d’Arnaud behind the plate. Omar Quintanilla, who can play second, third and short, is a reliable backup infielder.
The financial problems plaguing Fred Wilpon, whose son Jeff runs the team, severely impacted the Mets in recent seasons. They still do not operate like a big-market behemoth, but with the burdensome contracts of Johan Santana and Jason Bay finally off their books, the Mets did spend nearly $90 million in free-agent deals. That gives Alderson and his talented assistants a better chance to build the roster as they see fit, adding the right pieces to the Mets’ exciting young talent. Manager Terry Collins, a good soldier through three years of rebuilding, has more to work with in the first season of his two-year contract extension. Collins comes from the Jim Leyland mold — neither of them played in the majors, but both command respect from their teams for the way they treat players and for keeping open lines of communication. Collins even wears No. 10 as a tribute to Leyland, who gave him his first major-league coaching job with Pittsburgh in 1992. The feisty Collins turns 65 in May, but his energy for the job has never been in question.
It feels like another bridge season for the Mets, with their ace on the disabled list all season. But it is safe to say that the team is transitioning, not merely rebuilding, and with more pricey veterans on the roster, expectations should tick upward. The Mets could surprise this season — Granderson, at his introductory press conference, noted that the Red Sox went from last place to a championship, while the Mets just finished third. But the first winning season of the Citi Field era would represent real progress, and without much star power besides Wright, that is probably the most realistic ambition to have.
LF Eric Young Jr. (S)
Credit GM Sandy Alderson with a steal (38 to be exact) in getting Young from the Rockies for Collin McHugh.
2B Daniel Murphy (L)
Set career highs in games, at-bats, hits, runs, homers, RBIs and steals last season.
3B David Wright (R)
Mets’ ongoing struggles make him the rare New York player who is probably underrated nationally.
RF Curtis Granderson (L)
Brings credibility and power, but lots of strikeouts, to a needy lineup.
CF Chris Young (R)
Mets are betting $7.25 million that his .200 average last season was an aberration.
1B Ike Davis (L)
Hit .267 in July and August before oblique injury cost him all of September.
C Travis d’Arnaud (R)
At 25, he will have the chance to start delivering on his potential, if he stays healthy.
SS Ruben Tejada (R)
Alderson said it was like “pulling teeth” to get Tejada to do extra work, but the Mets have limited options.
INF Josh Satin (R)
His .398 OBP in minors supports the notion that his .376 mark with the Mets last season was no fluke.
OF Juan Lagares (R)
Standout defender must improve .281 OBP to become an everyday player.
1B/OF Lucas Duda (L)
Big power, but similarity to Davis gives the Mets an attractive trade chip.
C Anthony Recker (R)
The team will look to improve this spot, given d’Arnaud’s youth and health history.
INF Omar Quintanilla (R)
Made 89 starts at shortstop for the Mets last season.
RH Bartolo Colon
Made 30 starts last season for the first time since 2005. Turns 41 in May.
LH Jon Niese
Partially tore rotator cuff in June but returned after seven weeks to finish strong.
RH Zack Wheeler
Won seven games in impressive debut season, with fastball averaging 94.3 miles per hour.
RH Dillon Gee
Lowered walk rate while leading staff with 199 innings. Has a 33–26 career record.
RH Daisuke Matsuzaka
In his seven starts for the Mets last season, Dice-K had a better WHIP (1.271) than in any of his years with Boston.
RH Bobby Parnell (Closer)
Lowered WHIP to 1.00 with career-best 2.16 ERA in his first full year as closer.
LH Scott Rice
Six years ago, had a 15.68 ERA for the Long Island Ducks. Now, he’s cemented a spot in the bullpen.
RH Vic Black
Came to the Mets from Pittsburgh in Marlon Byrd/John Buck trade last August.
RH Jeurys Familia
Healthy and still only 24, he gets a chance to reestablish himself in rotation.
RH Kyle Farnsworth
Had 25 saves for the Rays in 2011, but only one save and a 4.41 ERA and 1.362 WHIP in 82 games since then.
RH Carlos Torres
Rotation option is 4–8 with a 5.61 ERA in 15 career starts for White Sox and Mets.
RH Jose Valverde
Averaged 38 saves between 2007-12, but seems much older than 36 now.
2013 Top Draft Pick
Dominic Smith, 1B
After years of chasing veterans, the Mets have stubbornly held to a plan that offers no quick fixes. They have underscored that philosophy in the draft, selecting high school position players with their top picks in each of the last three years, willing to wait for the talent to blossom. Last June it was Smith’s turn to become a Met, signing for $2.6 million out of Serra High School in Gardena, Calif.; it was the most the Mets have ever given a high school prospect. Smith, who attended the draft in New Jersey, rewarded them with a strong first impression, hitting .287 with a .384 on-base percentage in the Gulf Coast League and swatting four doubles in six at-bats at rookie-level Kingsport in the Appalachian League playoffs. Smith, who attended an MLB Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., while growing up near Los Angeles, has a mature approach at the plate, with a smooth swing, solid power potential and a slick glove at first base.
SS Gavin Cecchini (20)
Has one home run and .256 average in 390 pro at-bats; Cardinals took Michael Wacha seven picks later.
OF Brandon Nimmo (20)
Had .397 OBP at Low-A Savannah, but fanned once every three at-bats.
RHP Noah Syndergaard (21)
Husky power starter could advance to majors this season. Former first-round pick of the Blue Jays.
RHP Rafael Montero (23)
Breakout season puts him on verge of big-league rotation, perhaps before Syndergaard.
C/1B Kevin Plawecki (23)
On-base machine who devours left-handed pitching.
RHP Jacob deGrom (25)
Lanky righty has overcome Tommy John surgery to become a rotation option for 2014.
SS Amed Rosario (18)
Received Mets’ largest international bonus ($1.75 million) in 2012; scouts love overall tools.
INF Wilmer Flores (22)
Can’t quite settle on a position, but is a three-time top-100 prospect on Baseball America lists.
Beyond the Box Score
Seizing the opportunity Lefty reliever Scott Rice was leading the majors in appearances, with 73, before sports-hernia surgery ended his season in early September. He allowed just one homer and at the time of his injury had the sixth-best ground-ball percentage among relievers. It was a feel-good story for Rice, who spent 14 seasons in the minors with five organizations and three independent teams.
Veterans Stadium The Mets will institute “Military Mondays” in 2014, saluting veterans by wearing beige-and-brown camouflage jerseys and caps for every Monday home game. On April 21, July 7, July 28, Sept. 8 and Sept. 15, the Mets will give complimentary tickets to active and retired military members and up to three guests. Staff, players and former Mets will visit VA hospitals on those dates, when the team will also honor a “Veteran of the Game.”
Two more for Terry Despite three losing seasons as Mets manager, Terry Collins earned a three-year contract extension just after the regular season. Collins, who turns 65 in May, has shown boundless enthusiasm and energy with an often undermanned roster. “To have a chance to take those pieces and move on absolutely is pretty exciting for me,” Collins says. “So I was thrilled when (GM Sandy Alderson) said, 'Hey, we want you to come back.' You know what? Maybe we can finish what we started.”
Lead recruiter After tying himself to the Mets through 2020, David Wright embraces the role of cheerleader and headhunter for the organization. Wright sent a text message to Curtis Granderson urging him to sign and acknowledged that bringing players to Flushing was not easy after five losing seasons. “Sometimes that first move is the hardest one, to convince a player of that caliber to come here, and maybe we get things turned around,” Wright told Newsday.
Jerry From Queens Jerry Seinfeld, who has a suite on the lower level behind home plate at Citi Field, joined the SNY broadcast booth in September for a few innings behind the mic with Gary Cohen, Ron Darling and Keith Hernandez. He said he enjoyed watching young players break in. “When you want to rebuild the team, you want to see some light on the horizon,” Seinfeld said, “and that’s what young players are.”
Asked about his offseason priorities, new Miami Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill didn’t have trouble prioritizing. “Offense, offense, offense,” he said. Formerly the club’s general manager under long-time president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest, Hill and his revamped front office went free-agent shopping. The mission: Improve the 13th team in the modern era to score 513 runs or fewer in a 162-game season. By complementing the club’s strength — a promising, young starting rotation — with more run support, the Marlins hope to achieve vastly better results in 2014. What ensued by Marlins’ standards was a spending spree. In no way did it resemble the reckless expenditures that preceded the organization’s opening of Marlins Park in 2012, when it committed $191 million to free agents Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell. All were traded after a disastrous campaign, leaving the Marlins with a prospect-rich farm system and at times an unwatchable major-league product. The Marlins, in their trudge back toward respectability, reverted to their cost-conscious spending blueprint. The additions of catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia on a three-year deal, first baseman Garrett Jones for two years, and third baseman Casey McGehee and middle infielder Rafael Furcal on one-year commitments required a modest $32.85 million outlay. What’s to keep the Marlins from a fourth consecutive last-place finish in the National League East? Start with NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez, who arguably had the best age-20 season since Dwight Gooden in 1985. Three of the Marlins’ four other projected starters — Nathan Eovaldi, Jacob Turner and Henderson Alvarez — all will be under age 25 when the regular season opens March 31. How much the club improves hinges on the progress of young position players. Outfielders Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna both had promising rookie campaigns in 2013. Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria is an athletic, gifted defender with a developing bat, and few in the game rival right fielder Giancarlo Stanton’s raw power.
On a 170-inning limit in 2013, Fernandez will have the reins loosened in 2014. He should be on everybody’s preseason Cy Young watch list. Mature beyond his 21 years due in part to a harrowing escape from Cuba as a 15-year-old, Fernandez has to transition from a nothing-to-lose scenario to shouldering big time expectations. In Eovaldi, whom the Marlins acquired from the Dodgers for Hanley Ramirez, the team has another power arm looking for a breakthrough season. He has yet to total more than 22 starts in any of his three big-league campaigns. Like Eovaldi, Alvarez could not complete a full season in 2013. He showed just how dominant he could be in the regular-season finale, when he no-hit the Detroit Tigers. That was his 17th start of 2013 and 58th of his major-league career. Turner is a former Tigers’ first-round pick who opened last season in Triple-A after a horrid spring. He was fantastic during stretches after his promotion, but like the rest of his young counterparts, he needs experience and consistency. Tom Koehler, if he doesn’t open in the rotation, likely will pitch out of the bullpen.
In non-tendering Ryan Webb and opting not to re-sign free agent Chad Qualls, the Marlins lost 142.1 innings from last season’s relief corps. The team believes they have enough in-house options to cover it. Back to handle ninth-inning duties is Steve Cishek, who in 2014 can join Juan Carlos Oviedo and Robb Nen as the only closers in club history with back-to-back 30-save seasons. As a rookie in 2013, A.J. Ramos pitched in every conceivable bullpen role and racked up 80 innings. He should vie for the club’s primary right-handed setup role. Mike Dunn will handle late-inning lefty duties, pairing with fellow southpaw Dan Jennings. Two interesting right-handed arms are Brad Hand and long-time Cubs’ closer Carlos Marmol. The Marlins acquired another promising, hard-throwing righthander in Carter Capps from the Mariners, who with a little more polish could be outstanding. Arquimedes Caminero features another power arm. He can fill Webb’s multi-purpose role of a year ago.
A rocket-armed shortstop, Furcal missed all of 2013 with the Cardinals after Tommy John surgery. The Marlins approached Furcal, 36, about starting at second, and the idea appealed to him. Conceivably, he could add a couple more years to his career on the right side of the bag. The Marlins believe Furcal paired with Hechavarria at short gives them iron-clad up-the-middle defense. Offensively, the switch-hitting Furcal is a seasoned top-of-the-order table-setter, allowing the club to move Yelich down into a run-producing spot. A glove-first shortstop, Hechavarria rivals Braves Gold Glove winner Andrelton Simmons in athleticism. Manager Mike Redmond sees a future No. 2 hitter in Hechavarria, but last season’s .227/.267/.298 slash line won’t keep him there consistently.
Although the Marlins weren’t averse to tapping into their pitching depth to acquire a third baseman via trade, they settled on McGehee, who re-discovered his swing during a championship-winning season in Japan with the Rakuten Golden Eagles. He hopes to duplicate those results with the Marlins as he keeps the position warm for top position player prospect and 2013 first-round pick Colin Moran. Across the diamond at first is Jones, an ex-Pirates teammate of McGehee’s. When the Marlins signed the left-handed-hitting Jones, it became apparent that they had given up on the oft-injured Logan Morrison. Though Jones hasn’t shown the ability to hit left-handed pitching consistently, the Marlins at least initially don’t plan to platoon him.
The general consensus is that Stanton’s days in South Florida are numbered, but the Marlins hope to build around the power-hitting right fielder. With a better supporting cast, the idea is that he’ll see more pitches and become the 40-homer, 120-RBI force the club envisions. Homegrown prospects Yelich and Ozuna both had encouraging starts to their major-league careers in 2013. Yelich is the club’s best pure hitter, and Ozuna, before going down with a fractured hand, showed much-improved plate discipline. Should Ozuna falter, the Marlins have another well-regarded prospect at the ready in Jake Marisnick.
The Marlins thought they had a cornerstone piece in Rob Brantly, but he regressed both defensively and offensively. That prompted the Saltalamacchia signing. The concern is that spacious Marlins Park might negate Saltalamacchia’s power, but the Marlins like his ability to put balls in the gap. Though the Marlins love the way Jeff Mathis works with the young staff, he hits like a backup catcher and should be limited to 50-60 games.
The Marlins signed utility man Jeff Baker, who started games at left, right, first, second, third and DH for the Rangers last season. Not only does he give the club lineup flexibility, but he batted .279 and slugged .545 with a .905 OPS in 2013. He could be a nice right-handed complement to Jones at first. Greg Dobbs will reprise his role as the club’s primary left-handed pinch-hitting option. The Marlins swapped fourth outfielders with the Cubs, sacrificing Justin Ruggiano’s power for Brian Bogusevic’s contact. Donovan Solano is the primary candidate for the remaining backup infielder spot.
The Marlins dumped Beinfest and promoted Hill and Dan Jennings (no relation to the reliever) to the top two spots in baseball operations. The front office also brought in well-respected talent evaluators Craig Weissmann, Mike Berger and Jeff McAvoy. On the field, Redmond returns for his second season as manager.
Taking a wrecking ball to last year’s lineup was a start, but don’t look for the Marlins to contend just yet. With the possible exception of Saltalamacchia, the club’s moves are stopgaps. The hope is that an injection of somewhat flawed yet battle-tested veterans not only spurs a more dynamic offense, but also enhances the development of young, cornerstone players.
2B Rafael Furcal (S)
Three-time All-Star shortstop transitioning to second after missing ’13 recovering from Tommy John surgery.
LF Christian Yelich (L)
Marlins’ first-round pick in 2010 hit .288/.370/.396 in first 273 major-league plate appearances last season.
RF Giancarlo Stanton (R)
Increased walk rate from 9.2 percent in 2012 to 14.7, but isolated power plummeted from .318 to .231.
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (S)
Coming off career year with World Series champion Red Sox, hitting 40 doubles and knocking in 65.
1B Garrett Jones (L)
Over last two seasons has a combined .266 AVG vs. righties (783 at-bats), .168 (95 at-bats) off lefties.
CF Marcell Ozuna (R)
Promoted to fill in for an injured Stanton in right field, hit .331/.371/.472 over first 142 big-league at-bats.
3B Casey McGehee (R)
Offensive catalyst for Japan Series champion Rakuten, hitting .292-28-93 with 30 doubles in 144 games.
SS Adeiny Hechavarria (R)
11 of 42 RBIs came on three HR swings, including grand slams off Jeff Samardzija and Roy Halladay.
C Jeff Mathis (R)
Started 70 games and had multiple RBIs in five straight (June 26-July 3), tying Hanley Ramirez’s club record.
1B/3B Greg Dobbs (L)
Active major-league leader as a pinch-hitter with 95 hits (including 10 in 2013), 21 doubles and 75 RBIs.
OF Bryan Bogusevic (L)
.273 hitter in 143 at-bats with Cubs last season; acquired in trade for Justin Ruggiano.
INF Donovan Solano (R)
Supplanted as projected starter at second after Furcal signing; has played four different positions since 2012.
UT Jeff Baker (R)
Batted .314 with a 1.073 vs. lefties last season and just .204/,536 against righthanders.
RH Jose Fernandez
Garnered 26 of 30 first-place votes in winning National League Rookie of the Year Award at age 20.
RH Nathan Eovaldi
According to PITCHf/x, 96.1 mph average fastball would have led all qualifying starters in the majors.
RH Henderson Alvarez
Alvarez no-hit Tigers in regular-season finale, and allowed only five hits and no walks to first 24 batters faced in the spring.
RH Jacob Turner
Brutal spring led to start in minors, but returned and logged 3.74 ERA in 20 starts.
RH Tom Koehler
In five September starts went 2–1 with 3.14 ERA and held opponents to a .225/.307/.333 slash line.
RH Steve Cishek (Closer)
After a June 4 blown save in Philadelphia, converted 29 straight opportunities to set franchise mark.
RH A.J. Ramos
Totaled 80 innings and struck out 9.7 batters per nine innings as a rookie in 2013.
LH Mike Dunn
Fourth pitcher in franchise history to total 60 or more appearances in three or more consecutive seasons.
LH Dan Jennings
Logged a reverse split, holding right-handed hitters to a .221 average while lefties hit .282 against him.
RH Carter Capps
In first two seasons with Mariners (2012-13), average fastball velocity per PITCHf/x was 96.4 mph.
RH Arquimedes Caminero
Back on track after ascent through minors slowed in 2011 due to elbow issues.
RH Carlos Marmol
Trying to rediscover some semblance of control and resurrect his once-promising career.
2013 Top Draft Pick
Colin Moran, 3B
With the sixth overall pick, the Marlins selected third baseman Colin Moran out of North Carolina. Considered an advanced college bat, Moran began his pro career with Greensboro of the Low-A South Atlantic League. He hit .299/.354/.442 in 42 games (154 at-bats) with eight doubles, four homers and 23 RBIs. What already was a long season that included a trip to the College World Series with the Tar Heels concluded in the Arizona Fall League. A spent Moran went 20-for-87 (.230) with just three doubles, no homers and 10 RBIs. Moran likely will open 2014 at Double-A Jacksonville and could make his major-league debut by season’s end in preparation for a shot at the everyday third base job in 2015.
LHP Andrew Heaney (22)
Organization’s top prospect after stellar 2013 between High-A Jupiter and Double-A Jacksonville. Should make major-league debut in 2014.
OF Jake Marisnick (23)
Center fielder with great range made major-league debut in 2013. Bat developed nicely at Double-A (.294/.358/.502).
LHP Justin Nicolino (22)
Marlins’ second-best starting pitching prospect behind Heaney went combined 8–4, 3.11 for Jupiter and Jacksonville.
RHP Anthony DeSclafani (23)
The Marlins’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year split 2013 between Jupiter and Jacksonville and went a combined 9–6 with 2.65 ERA, 23 walks and 115 K’s in 129 IP.
RHP Jose Urena (22)
At Jupiter in 2013, he went 10–7 with a 3.73 ERA and a 3.7-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
2B Avery Romero (20)
Returned to the short season Class-A New York Penn League, where he hit .297/.357/.411 in 209 at-bats with Batavia.
Beyond the Box Score
Revolving door Since Miguel Cabrera manned third base for Marlins in 2007, the club has used five different primary third basemen — Jorge Cantu, Emilio Bonifacio, Greg Dobbs, Hanley Ramirez and Placido Polanco. Last season alone, five different players started at least one game at third. Casey McGehee in 2014 stands to become the ninth player since 2008 to start at least 20 games in a season at third for the Marlins, joining: Cantu, Wes Helms, Bonifacio, Dobbs, Chad Tracy, Ramirez, Polanco and Ed Lucas.
Love the gloves The Marlins couldn’t hit in 2013, but they caught the ball surprisingly well for a 100-loss team. The 69 teams that have lost 100 or more games since the advent of the 162-game schedule (1961 in the AL and 1962 in the NL) averaged 144 errors. The Marlins committed 88.
Running low If last season wasn’t rock bottom for the Miami offense, the Marlins are in trouble this season. They scored two runs or fewer in 46.9 percent of their 162 games and went 13–63 in those contests. The Marlins will try to avoid becoming the third team ever to play at least 162 games and score 513 runs or fewer in back-to-back seasons; they would join the 1963-64 Houston Colt .45s and the 1967-68 New York Mets.
Strange superlatives The Marlins in 2013 had the tallest player in major league history (6'11" Jon Rauch). In 2014 they’ll field the major-leaguer with the longest last name. Jarrod Saltalamacchia claimed that distinction when he made his debut in 2007. Long surnames don’t faze the Marlins’ equipment staff. Remember, Tim Spooneybarger and Todd Hollandsworth both were members of the 2003 team.
Power shortage Marlins Park in its two years of existence has seen many frustrated hitters jog back to their dugout. According to Baseball Info Solutions, the venue in 2012 had a home run index of 73, meaning the ballpark reduced the number of homers by 27 percent. That was the fourth-lowest in the majors. It got worse in 2013. Marlins Park had a major-league-low home run index of 64. Giancarlo Stanton accounted for 15 of his team’s 36 Marlins Park home runs. Unlike several other teams, the Marlins have not given any indication that they’re inclined to move in the fences.
The Braves, who reeled off 14 consecutive division titles starting in 1991, captured their first since 2005 by going 96–66 to outlast the favored Nationals. They did it despite awful seasons from B.J. Upton and Dan Uggla. Those players can’t be any worse — can they? — so a very young Braves team expects to repeat as division champions, or at least contend with the Nationals, who have bigger-name stars and should get all the hype again. The Braves, who lost their NLDS to the Dodgers, still have not won a playoff series since 2001. And a couple of ill-timed injuries to pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy have tempered hopes somewhat. But the Braves’ talented core group should keep providing postseason chances in the foreseeable future.
The legacy of the 1990s Braves will be celebrated at the Hall of Fame this summer, as a team built on consistently dominant starting pitching begins to take its place in bronze in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. It’s asking a lot for any team to replicate the era of Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz & Co., but the Braves are at least in the ballpark, ranking sixth in the majors last season in starters’ ERA, at 3.51. The Braves were one of only two teams in the majors to have three starters with at least 13 victories and an ERA under 3.30: Medlen, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran. But Medlen’s 2014 season is already over, before it began. The talented righthander is having his second Tommy John surgery. The news on Beachy is similarly dismal. After receiving the bad injury news in early March, the Braves jumped quickly to sign free agent Ervin Santana, a victim of the rule regarding draft pick compensation. Santana had gone the entire winter without finding any serious suitors. Due to his abbreviated spring training, Santana, who won nine games each of the last two seasons, will likely not be with the team when it breaks camp. The righthander has averaged 187 innings over his nine-year career — all spent in the American League — and had a career-best 3.24 ERA last season with Kansas City. Veteran Freddy Garcia will take one of the available spots in the rotation. Lefty Alex Wood, who made 11 starts among his 31 appearances last season will join the group as well. Minor’s shoulder was balking a bit in spring training and may cost him a start or two. Youngster David Hale will fill the void until Minor is healthy, which shouldn’t be later than mid-April. Veteran Gavin Floyd, formerly of the White Sox, will return from Tommy John surgery at some point around midseason. Expect the Braves to bring him along slowly.
The Braves had the majors’ second-best bullpen ERA in 2012, and when injuries robbed them of some of their best arms last season, it somehow got even better. Atlanta’s relievers posted a 2.46 ERA, the best mark in the majors last season, led again by the indomitable Craig Kimbrel, who had 50 saves, an 0.881 WHIP and fanned 13.2 batters per nine innings. Two of his better setup men, Anthony Varvaro and David Carpenter, came to the Braves off waivers, and another, Luis Avilan, seamlessly replaced the injured Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters as the resident dominant lefty. Venters, a 2011 All-Star, had Tommy John surgery last May; he could be an option, although the procedure was his second, which is always trickier to return from. Jordan Walden, the former Angels closer, made a nice impression in his first season with the Braves. David Hale is another option out of the pen if his services aren’t needed in the injury-riddled rotation.
How does a player with a .296 on-base percentage rank fourth in the league in overall Wins Above Replacement? He has to play a premium position, shortstop, and field like Andrelton Simmons. His bat had some pop, with 17 homers and 59 runs batted in, but the vast majority of Simmons’ value comes from his glove. Going strictly by fielding performance, Baseball-Reference.com credited Simmons with 5.4 defensive wins above replacement — the highest single-season total in baseball history. Simmons tends to play deep to utilize his outstanding arm and has otherworldly range in all directions. His middle infield partner, Uggla, is a below-average fielder who makes a living with his bat. Uggla led the league in walks in 2012, has made three All-Star teams and has also hit as many as 36 homers in a season. Everything fell apart last year, though, as he batted just .179, with a .122 mark in September that kept him off the playoff roster.
This was a major strength for the Braves last season, with Chris Johnson leading the National League batting race for much of the summer and Freddie Freeman putting it all together with a .319 average, 23 homers and 109 RBIs. Freeman, who turned 24 in September, improves at the plate every season and ranked fourth among NL first basemen in range factor per game, after leading the league in the category in 2012. Johnson hit .321 (second in the NL) with 46 extra-base hits and played well defensively at third. He kept on going in the playoffs, batting .438 (7-for-16) against the Dodgers.
The Upton brothers realized a dream of playing together in the same major-league outfield last season, and while it ended with a playoff appearance — and a joint Sports Illustrated cover with supermodel Kate Upton — neither player had a memorable season. Justin started hot, winning Player of the Month honors in April with a mind-bending .734 slugging percentage. After that, though, he slugged just .409, and wound up with an .818 OPS that was a bit below his career average. B.J., signed to the richest free-agent deal in Braves history (five years, $75.25 million) the winter before, would have gladly taken that season over the one he posted: a .184 average, nine homers, 26 RBIs and 151 strikeouts. Right fielder Jason Heyward endured a beaning against the Mets that cost him a month late in the season. Heyward is only 24 and has power, some speed and a good eye at the plate. He could still develop into a superstar. The Braves seemed to take off last season when manager Fredi Gonzalez inserted Heyward at the top of the batting order.
The Braves lost one of their leaders — and a local favorite — in catcher Brian McCann, who signed with the Yankees without his hometown team putting up much of a fight. His departure clears the way for Evan Gattis, 27, who clubbed 21 homers in 354 at-bats but, like a lot of his teammates, had a meager on-base percentage (.291). Gattis was respectable defensively, but McCann was a master at guiding a staff and framing borderline pitches. The Braves have a top catching prospect in Christian Bethancourt, but he has played only one career game above Class AA and has a career .299 OBP in the minors.
The Braves love the versatility that Ryan Doumit provides as a switch-hitter who can back up at catcher, first base and the corner outfield spots, and he gives them a power threat off the bench. The athletic Jordan Schafer started at all three outfield spots last season and is young enough, at 27, to warrant decent playing time in case of injury or underperformance from a starter. Veteran Gerald Laird, who hit .281 last season, is among the more reliable backup catchers in the game, while Ramiro Pena can play second, short and third. Pena missed more than half the season after surgery to repair a torn labrum, but the Braves liked him enough to quickly re-sign him for another year.
Locked into a bad local cable deal for years, the Braves took a step toward generating greater revenues by securing a deal for a stadium in Cobb County that will open in 2017. For now, general manager Frank Wren has maintained a payroll below $100 million with a young but talented roster that reached the postseason in 2010, ’12 and ’13. That success has been undercut by repeated playoff failures, and manager Gonzalez is unsigned beyond this season. He has provided a smooth transition from his Cooperstown-bound predecessor, Bobby Cox, but sooner or later, the Braves must take the next step.
Pitching carried the Braves’ boom-or-bust offense, which led the NL in both homers and strikeouts (tied). The front office did little to remedy that in the offseason, but the formula did produce 96 wins. However, given the injuries to Medlen and Beachy, it will take significant improvement from a few hitters to keep the Braves in position to win again. Repeated early playoff exits have grown tiresome for all concerned.
RF Jason Heyward (L)
Unconventional leadoff man, but the Braves like giving him extra turns at bat.
3B Chris Johnson (R)
Unlikely to repeat near-batting crown, but a verystrong hitter with pop.
LF Justin Upton (R )
Braves saw his impact early, but need more consistency throughout season.
1B Freddie Freeman (L)
Knocked in a career-high 109 runs; no other Brave topped 70 RBIs.
C Evan Gattis (R)
One of four in this order with OBP below .310; that’s a huge risk for the Braves.
CF B.J. Upton (R)
After signing biggest contract in Braves history, must avoid becoming biggest bust.
2B Dan Uggla (R)
Led team with 77 walks; opposing pitchers’ fear of him was a mystery (.179 average).
SS Andrelton Simmons (R)
Surprising power, disappointing OBP, superlative glove work.
C Gerald Laird (R)
Has been backup for three different playoff teams in three years (’11 Cardinals, ’12 Tigers, ’13 Braves).
OF Jordan Schafer (L)
Led the Braves in stolen bases (22) while playing only 94 games.
INF Ramiro Pena (S)
Earned a return trip to roster as solid utility man despite injury-shortened season.
C/OF Ryan Doumit (S)
Has hit 81 of his 99 career homers as a left-handed hitter, including 12 of 14 last year.
OF Jose Canstanza (L)
Offers both speed and a handy lefty bat off the bench.
LH Mike Minor
Quietly establishing himself as one of the premier starters in the NL. May begin this season on the DL with shoulder issues.
RH Julio Teheran
Would have won Rookie of the Year Award in a runaway if he pitched in AL.
RH Ervin Santana
Royals won two of Santana’s three starts against the Braves’ NL East rivals last season.
LH Alex Wood
Delivery evokes White Sox ace Chris Sale; 3.13 ERA gives Braves hope for future.
RH Freddy Garcia
Yep, he’s still in the league and going strong. In three starts in late September for the Braves last season, he allowed just four runs in 19.2 innings.
RH Craig Kimbrel (Closer)
With Mariano Rivera retired, there’s no doubt: He’s the game’s best closer.
LH Luis Avilan
Flummoxed lefty hitters as he took over for Eric O’Flaherty.
RH David Carpenter
One of three regular Braves relievers to have ERA under 2.00 and WHIP under 1.00.
RH Jordan Walden
Defies all convention while literally jumping, both feet in air, as he delivers a pitch.
RH Anthony Varvaro
Pitches to contact, with good results (2.82 ERA last season).
LH Jonny Venters
Former All-Star eases back in after Tommy John surgery. He should be available by the All-Star break.
RH David Hale
First two starts were good enough to earn a place on playoff roster.
2013 Top Draft Pick
Jason Hursh, RHP
The Braves lost their draft position in the first round last season by signing free-agent outfielder B.J. Upton, but chose Hursh with the 31st overall pick as compensation for the departure of Michael Bourn. They liked Hursh in high school and stayed on him through his tenure at Oklahoma State, where he missed the 2012 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. A strong performance as a redshirt sophomore earned him a $1.7 million bonus from the Braves. With good action on a fastball that has touched 98 mph, Hursh reliably generates ground balls. He posted an 0.67 ERA in nine starts for Low-A Rome, although he was limited to 27 innings. The Braves want to keep Hursh as a starter and are hopeful he can advance quickly if he masters his changeup and slider, but don’t expect to see him in Atlanta this season.
RHP Lucas Sims (19)
The 21st pick in the ’12 draft, Sims went 8–0, 1.59 in his last eight starts, with 57 strikeouts in 45.1 innings for Low-A Rome.
C Christian Bethancourt (22)
Outstanding defensive catcher who could soon challenge Evan Gattis for starting role.
RHP J.R. Graham (24)
Shoulder trouble slowed his path last season, but he has shown promise since converting to pitching in the pros.
2B Tommy La Stella (25)
Dark horse to unseat Dan Uggla at second after .422 OBP at Class AA Mississippi.
RHP Mauricio Cabrera (20)
Fastball touches 100, but had control issues in Low-A (71 walks in 131 innings).
Beyond the Box Score
On the move The Braves, who have played in downtown Atlanta since moving from Milwaukee for the 1966 season, are headed 10 miles northwest of the city, to Cobb County, for the 2017 season. The team announced plans in November for a 42,000-seat stadium that will cost $672 million and replace Turner Field, which was built for the 1996 Olympics and remodeled for baseball in 1997. The Braves cited improved transportation options and the migration of their fans as a reason for the move, and Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed said Turner Field would be razed. Reed said Cobb County was contributing $450 million to the stadium project and that the city would not match.
Uggly Average Dan Uggla came to bat 537 times for the Braves last season and batted .179. Historically, that’s really tough to do. Only one other player in the division-play era (since 1969, that is) has qualified for the batting title with an average that low: Rob Deer of the Detroit Tigers in 1991. Both Deer and Uggla had exactly 80 hits in 448 at-bats and stayed in the lineup for their power; Deer hit 25 homers, Uggla 22. Good news for Uggla: Deer bounced back the next season and hit 32 homers while batting a respectable .247.
Not just a throw-in It was easy to overlook infielder Chris Johnson in last year’s blockbuster deal for Justin Upton, but the Braves knew what they were getting. The Braves and Astros are spring-training neighbors, and they had seen a lot of Johnson when he played for Houst von. Johnson also had a champion in Chipper Jones, whose godfather, Pete Dunn, had coached Johnson at Stetson. Johnson led the NL in hitting for much of the season and finished at .321.
Detour to Atlanta Reliever David Carpenter finished the 2012 season with the Toronto Blue Jays, then migrated to Atlanta with a peculiar stopover in Boston. The Red Sox needed to compensate the Blue Jays for hiring manager John Farrell, so they sent infielder Mike Aviles. But because managers cannot be directly traded for managers, the Blue Jays had to send a player to the Red Sox. That player was Carpenter, who was designated for assignment by Boston, claimed by Atlanta and in the Braves’ bullpen for good by the end of April. He posted a 1.78 ERA in 56 games but took the loss in the playoff finale in Los Angeles.
Feeling the breeze Of the 14 players in the majors last season who fanned at least 150 times, three played for Atlanta: Dan Uggla (171), Justin Upton (161) and B.J. Upton (151). The only others on the list who spent the full season in the NL were Pedro Alvarez of Pittsburgh and Jay Bruce of Cincinnati.
Top Craig Kimbrell photo from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Craig_Kimbrel_2013_Spring_Training.jpg
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 the guy in the cubicle next to you who still plays Dungeons & Dragons—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 — even Warren Buffett wants to give away a billion dollars — and bragging rights among friends and co-workers. Of course, the majority of people have no clue which teams to pick.
A region-by-region preview of this year's NCAA Tournament, complete with a rundown of March Madness' top teams, Sweet 16 sleepers to watch out for, potential first-round upsets and Cinderella stories from this year's Big Dance.
Top Team – Florida (1)
The Florida Gators (32–2, 18–0 SEC) are fresh off a perfect 18–0 SEC regular season followed by the SEC Tournament title. Florida is the top No. 1 seed in the Big Dance, their first No. 1 seed since 2007 — when the Gators chomped their way to a second straight national championship with Joakim Noah and Co. This year’s team has just two losses — at UConn (on a fluke finish) and at Wiconsin (in the season’s second game). The Gators have not tasted defeat since Dec. 2, 2013 — beating Kansas, Memphis and every team in the SEC since then. In this one-and-done era, UF has the rare star-studded senior class led by point guard Scottie Wilbekin (13.0 ppg, 3.7 apg), leading scorer Casey Prather (14.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and monster in the middle Patric Young (11.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg). Oh yeah, and the Gators are coached by two-time NCAA champion Billy Donovan. Florida is clearly the team to beat.
Sweet 16 Sleeper – Ohio State (6)
The Buckeyes have a tough in-state Round of 64 matchup with Daytona in a 6-11 potential trap game. But if Ohio State can avoid the fate of Goliath, it will face the winner of Syracuse and Western Michigan. On one hand, Cuse has gone 2–5 since opening the season with a 25–0 record. On the other hand, WMU is a No. 14 seed for a reason. The Buckeyes would have to feel good about their chances, either way. The next loss will be the last for OSU senior point guard Aaron Craft. Don’t be surprised if the overly scrappy guard hustles his way to the second weekend of the Big Dance.
Upset Alert – Stephen F. Austin (12) over VCU (5)
Wait a minute, isn’t VCU the underdog that could? Not this time. Southland champion Stephen F. Austin is on a 28-game winning streak that dates back to Nov. 23, 2013. The Lumberjacks have five players who average 9.6 points or more, including a pair of wings — Jacob Parker (14.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and Thomas Walkup (12.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg) — who both shoot over 54 percent from the field. Obviously, Shaka Smart and VCU will bring the havoc. But SFA will be ready to keep chopping wood.
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A region-by-region preview of this year's NCAA Tournament, complete with a rundown of March Madness' top teams, Sweet 16 sleepers to watch out for, potential first-round upsets and Cinderella stories from this year's Big Dance.
Top Team – Arizona (1)
The Arizona Wildcats (30–4, 15–3 Pac-12) opened the season with a 21–0 mark, including impressive wins over Duke, Michigan and UCLA. Although the Wildcats went 9–4 to close out the season — losing to UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament title game — this is still a team to be reckoned with. Junior guard Nick Johnson (16.2 ppg), freshman phenom forward Aaron Gordon (12.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg), and sophomore big men Kaleb Tarczewski (10.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and Brandon Ashley (11.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg) make UA a matchup nightmare. Coach Sean Miller has yet to lead a team to the Final Four, despite coming painfully close in Elite Eight losses at Xavier (2008) and Arizona (2011). This could be the year Miller finally breaks through for Zona’s first Final Four since Lute Olson’s Cats cut down the nets in 1997.
Sweet 16 Sleeper – Oklahoma State (9)
The Pokes will have to outlast Gonzaga in the 8-9 game and take down the best out West in Arizona. But that is doable. O-State has been a different team since Marcus Smart returned from his three-game suspension following a run-in with a fan at Texas Tech. The Cowboys are 5–2, with both losses coming in overtime, to Iowa State and Kansas, respectively. Along with Smart (17.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.7 apg, 2.8 spg), OSU features senior Markel Brown (17.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and junior Le’Bryan Nash (14.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg), giving coach Travis Ford’s team three players capable of taking over offensively. Then again, the Cowboys have looked good on paper all year, but that hasn’t translated on the court most of the season.
Upset Alert – Nebraska (11) over Baylor (6)
Warren Buffett’s billion-dollar perfect bracket may be a 1-in-128 billion longshot. But the Oracle of Omaha could get a priceless matchup in the Round of 32 if Nebraska can take down former Big 12 rival Baylor and No. 3 seed Creighton can hold serve against No. 14 seed Louisiana-Lafayette. The Cornhuskers played solid basketball since hitting rock bottom on a five-game losing streak from Dec. 28 until Jan. 12. The Huskers have wins over Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin since those dark days and appear capable of upsetting Baylor.
South Region Preview
East Region Preview
West Region Preview
Midwest Region Preview
A region-by-region preview of this year's NCAA Tournament, complete with a rundown of March Madness' top teams, Sweet 16 sleepers to watch out for, potential first-round upsets and Cinderella stories from this year's Big Dance.
Top Team – Wichita State (1)
The Wichita State Shockers (34–0, 18–0 Missouri Valley) had an impressive encore following last season’s unbelievable run to the Final Four. Coach Gregg Marshall’s team ran the table with a perfect 34–0 regular season record that included wins over five teams — Tulsa, BYU, Saint Louis, Tennessee and NC Central — in this year’s NCAA Tournament field of 68. Led by senior big man Cleanthony Early (15.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and sophomore guards Fred VanVleet (12.1 ppg, 5.3 apg) and Ron Baker (13.1 ppg), Wichita State has the balance, talent and experience to make a repeat trip to the Final Four. And if it comes down to free throw shooting down the stretch, the Shockers’ top three scorers all shoot over 82 percent from the charity stripe.
Sweet 16 Sleeper – Kentucky (8)
The preseason No. 1 team in the country didn’t enjoy the 40–0 season some in the Big Blue Nation hoped for, but the Wildcats could take down a team that still has a shot at an undefeated 2013-14 campaign. If UK can sneak past Kansas State in the 8-9 game, the Cats will go toe-to-toe with a Wichita State team that has yet to play a team as talented — at least on an individual level — as Kentucky. Coach John Calipari’s team was a botched final possession away from potentially upsetting No. 1 Florida in the SEC Tournament. The notoriously young Wildcats may be maturing at just the right time.
Upset Alert – Arizona State (10) over Texas (7)
Historically, 7-10 games are ripe for upset — and so is Texas coach Rick Barnes, who has lost a combined 10 of his 20 career NCAA Tournament Round of 64 matchups at Texas, Clemson and Providence. Even when Barnes had Kevin Durant on his roster, the Longhorns only advanced to the Round of 32. Arizona State is a difficult draw, thanks to the underrated backcourt duo of point guard Jahii Carson (18.6 ppg, 4.5 apg, 4.0 rpg) and sharpshooter Jermaine Marshall (15.0 ppg, 40.0 3P%).
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