Articles By Charlie Miller

Path: /mlb/chicago-cubs-mt-rushmore-franchise-four
Body:

Major League Baseball is promoting an effort to identify the best four players in each team’s history with their "Franchise Four." We selected our choices for Mt. Rushmores a few years ago. Here are updated versions for all 30 teams. Who are the four baseball players that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.

 

Chicago Cubs Mt. Rushmore

The Chicago Cubs haven’t had much to crow about since, well, for a long time. More than 100 years, and we’ll leave it at that. So the number of great Hall of Fame players is not what you would think for a franchise that’s been around this long.

 

Ernie Banks
Anyone with the nickname Mr. Cub must be included, right? Banks played in more than 2,500 games and had more than 2,500 hits — all with the Cubs. He also had 512 home runs, most of them as a shortstop. But Chicago fans' love affair with Banks went far beyond the playing field.

 

Cap Anson
Most of the Wrigley faithful are thinking, “Who?” But Anson had 3,012 hits for the Cubbies, although 1,000 of them came before Grover Cleveland’s first administration.

 

Billy Williams
The arguments begin to get a bit dicey at this point. Williams teamed with Banks for most of 2,500 games and is ranked in the top four in many all-time categories.

 

Ron Santo
Perhaps known more for his defense than offense as a player, Santo ranks as the second best offensive player in team history behind Anson (according the Baseball-Reference.com WAR stats). Santo was a Cub through and through as a player and later as a broadcaster.

 

Close Calls
Most New Age Cubs fans probably want to chisel Ryne Sandberg’s face on the mountain rather than cut through the ivy hiding Anson’s. Granted, Sandberg’s career numbers stack up well versus Santo’s. But the gutsy Santo was a gritty player who would do anything to help his team. It's unfortunate he played prior to the WGN Era, which launched Sandberg's popularity.

 

That same group of fans would also like to see Mark Grace’s image as well. The first baseman lacked power and isn’t in the top 10 in slugging.

 

Most fans today would mention Fergie Jenkins as the top pitcher, but Charlie Root had 201 wins for the Cubs, 34 more than Hall of Famer Jenkins. It was difficult leaving both of them off the list.

 

 

Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him [email protected]


 

Other teams' Mt. Rushmores:

American LeagueNational League
Baltimore OriolesArizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red SoxAtlanta Braves
Chicago White SoxChicago Cubs
Cleveland IndiansCincinnati Reds
Detroit TigersColorado Rockies
Houston AstrosMiami Marlins
Kansas City RoyalsLos Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles AngelsMilwaukee Brewers
Minnesota TwinsNew York Mets
New York YankeesPhiladelphia Phillies
Oakland A'sPittsburgh Pirates
Seattle MarinersSan Diego Padres
Tampa Bay RaysSan Francisco Giants
Texas RangersSt. Louis Cardinals
Toronto Blue JaysWashington Nationals

 

Teaser:
<p> The question posed recently whether Derek Jeter should be considered as part of the Yankees’ Mt. Rushmore piqued my interest. Not really the Jeter-Yankees part, but the idea that teams should have their own Mt. Rushmores. Who are the four individuals that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple. Even two guys sitting in a bar can figure that out, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 14, 2015 - 18:00
Path: /mlb/cincinnati-reds-mt-rushmore-franchise-four
Body:

Major League Baseball is promoting an effort to identify the best four players in each team’s history with their "Franchise Four." We selected our choices for Mt. Rushmores a few years ago. Here are updated versions for all 30 teams. Who are the four baseball players that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.

 

Cincinnati Reds Mt. Rushmore

The salad days for the Cincinnati franchise were clearly the 1970s. Of the Reds’ 15 postseason appearances in their history, six of them came during that decade. Those were the days of the Big Red Machine, artificial turf, Riverfront Stadium and doubleknit uniforms. During that decade, the Reds averaged better than 95 wins a season and had six MVPs. But the winning actually started the decade before. From 1961-81, the Reds had just two losing seasons, going 76-84 in 1966 and 79-83 in 1971. Johnny Bench, in the discussion for best catcher all-time, and Pete Rose, baseball's all-time hits leader, are clear members of the quartet. Nos. 3 and 4 require earnest study.

 

Johnny Bench
Logging close to 15,000 innings behind the plate took on toll on the Hall of Fame catcher. During his Rookie of the Year season in 1968, Bench caught in 154 games, the third-highest total since World War II. He earned MVP awards in 1970 and ’72. He led the NL in home runs twice and RBIs three times. Defensively, he is considered one of the best ever. As part of his 14 All-Star seasons, he was awarded 10 consecutive Gold Gloves. Bench hit 10 postseason homers for the Reds, five in the World Series.

 

Pete Rose
Charley Hustle has gained as many detractors over the years as he had fans in the 1970s, but there is no denying his impact on the franchise. As the leadoff hitter and catalyst for the Big Red Machine, Rose collected 3,358 hits with the Reds including hit number 4,192, celebrated at the time as the hit that broke Ty Cobb’s all-time record. He’s also the franchise record holder in runs, doubles and total bases.

 

Barry Larkin
The fourth overall pick in 1985 played his entire career in his hometown of Cincinnati. He was named to 12 All-Star teams, won three Gold Gloves and was named MVP in 1995. He amassed 2,340 hits, second in team history behind Rose, and scored 1,329 runs, which ranks third in a Reds uniform.

 

Frank Robinson
The NL MVP in 1961 scored and drove in more than 1,000 runs while with the Reds. Robby finished in the top 10 in MVP voting six times during his 10-year career in Cincinnati, including his Rookie of the Year season in 1956. A little more than three months after his 30th birthday he was traded to Baltimore in a deal the Reds would rue for years.

 

Close Calls
It’s tough to leave off a Hall of Fame second baseman with back-to-back MVP awards, but Joe Morgan was with the team for just nine seasons and his accomplishments fall just short of those of Robinson and Larkin.

 

An argument could be made that the demise of the Big Red Machine began with the trade of Tony Perez to Montreal in December of 1976.

 

One of the most charismatic, upbeat managers of all-time, Sparky Anderson led the Big Red Machine for nine seasons, winning five division titles and finishing second three times.

 

One of the first stars in Cincinnati, Edd Roush won batting titles in 1917 and ’19.

 

The shortstop of the Big Red Machine, Dave Concepcion, is second all-time in games and third in hits.

 

Eppa Rixey — one of the great names in baseball — is the all-time leader in wins for the Reds with 179.

 

Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him [email protected]
 

Other teams' Mt. Rushmores:

American LeagueNational League
Baltimore OriolesArizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red SoxAtlanta Braves
Chicago White SoxChicago Cubs
Cleveland IndiansCincinnati Reds
Detroit TigersColorado Rockies
Houston AstrosMiami Marlins
Kansas City RoyalsLos Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles AngelsMilwaukee Brewers
Minnesota TwinsNew York Mets
New York YankeesPhiladelphia Phillies
Oakland A'sPittsburgh Pirates
Seattle MarinersSan Diego Padres
Tampa Bay RaysSan Francisco Giants
Texas RangersSt. Louis Cardinals
Toronto Blue JaysWashington Nationals

 

Teaser:
<p> The question posed recently whether Derek Jeter should be considered as part of the Yankees’ Mt. Rushmore piqued my interest. Not really the Jeter-Yankees part, but the idea that teams should have their own Mt. Rushmores. Who are the four individuals that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple. Even two guys sitting in a bar can figure that out, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 14, 2015 - 18:00
Path: /mlb/colorado-rockies-mt-rushmore-franchise-four
Body:

Major League Baseball is promoting an effort to identify the best four players in each team’s history with their "Franchise Four." We selected our choices for Mt. Rushmores a few years ago. Here are updated versions for all 30 teams. Who are the four baseball players that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.
 

Colorado Rockies Mt. Rushmore
For a franchise that began in 1993, there has been very little to celebrate. With no division titles, the Rockies have made just three postseason appearances as the National League wild card team, and won two playoff series, both in 2007 before getting swept in the World Series. Amazingly, there have been just six managers and virtually only three first basemen in team history. Beyond Todd Helton and Larry Walker, there is plenty to argue about.

 

Todd Helton
There is no doubt that Helton is Mr. Rockie. He may be challenged over the next 10 years by Troy Tulowitzki—if Tulo remains with the team—but for now there is no argument. He is the franchise leader in games, hits, runs, homers, RBIs, total bases and more. The career .316 hitter has more than 2,500 hits and 1,300 walks. He has topped 1,400 in both runs and RBIs. He owns three Gold Gloves to boot. Helton, who once started at quarterback at the University of Tennessee (ahead of Peyton Manning), will receive serious Hall of Fame consideration in 2019.

 

Larry Walker
Ranking second to Helton in all those categories is Walker. The former right fielder leads the franchise in average and OPS. Walker signed as a free agent prior to the 1995 season and put together nine-plus outstanding seasons in Denver, including an MVP season in 1997. As a member of the Rockies, Walker won three batting titles, a home run crown and five Gold Gloves in addition to his MVP award.

 

Troy Tulowitzki
It’s way too early — or so it seems — to put Tulowitzki on Mt. Rushmore. But, he has made nine consecutive Opening Day starts. Only Helton (16) and Walker (8) have more more Opening Day starts for the Rockies. He’s creeping up the all-time lists, and Tulo is poised to become the most beloved of all. He certainly earns brownie points here by signing a long-term deal and showing loyalty to the franchise, although that player-club relationship seems to be a bit strained now.
 His spotty injury history may prevent him from overtaking the Toddfather.

Aaron Cook
So maybe you didn’t expect to see a pitcher on the Rockies’ mountain. Chances are that he’ll be usurped by Carlos Gonzalez in a few years. But for now, we like the franchise leader with 74 wins. He’s the only Colorado pitcher to start more than 200 games and log more than 1,300 innings.

Close Calls
Clint Hurdle managed the team to its only appearance in the World Series.

In the days before the humidor, hitters like Vinny CastillaDante Bichette and Andres Galarraga posted huge numbers in the thin air of the Mile High City.

The aforementioned Carlos Gonzalez was on pace to join the group a few years ago, but injuries have dramatically slowed his production.

Matt Holliday’s career in Colorado was brief, but he won a batting title and will always be remembered for scoring the winning run in the 13th inning of the one-game playoff that put the Rockies into the playoffs in 2007 (even if he never really touched the plate).

Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him [email protected]

 

Other teams' Mt. Rushmores:

American LeagueNational League
Baltimore OriolesArizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red SoxAtlanta Braves
Chicago White SoxChicago Cubs
Cleveland IndiansCincinnati Reds
Detroit TigersColorado Rockies
Houston AstrosMiami Marlins
Kansas City RoyalsLos Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles AngelsMilwaukee Brewers
Minnesota TwinsNew York Mets
New York YankeesPhiladelphia Phillies
Oakland A'sPittsburgh Pirates
Seattle MarinersSan Diego Padres
Tampa Bay RaysSan Francisco Giants
Texas RangersSt. Louis Cardinals
Toronto Blue JaysWashington Nationals



 

Teaser:
<br />
Post date: Tuesday, July 14, 2015 - 18:00
Path: /mlb/miami-marlins-mt-rushmore-franchise-four
Body:

Major League Baseball is promoting an effort to identify the best four players in each team’s history with their "Franchise Four." We selected our choices for Mt. Rushmores a few years ago. Here are updated versions for all 30 teams. Who are the four baseball players that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.
 

Miami Marlins Mt. Rushmore

The Miami Marlins have existed for just 22 full seasons, joining the National League in 1993. Success has been rare and fleeting. The Marlins have posted just six winning seasons in the their 22 campaigns and have yet to win a division title. However, the 1997 and 2003 squads parlayed wild card berths into World Series championships. With spotty attendance and no baseball-only stadium until 2012, the Marlins have been unable (some would say unwilling) to retain or sign high-priced players. So there are no long-tenured stars in Florida history. This Mt. Rushmore will change dramatically over the next 10 years or so. The State of Baseball in Miami isn't great right now. The 2013 season was the franchise's second-worst in history.

 

Hanley Ramirez
The All-Star shortstop was a perennial MVP candidate during most of his tenure in Miami. He was Rookie of the year in 2006, and won a batting title with a .342 average in 2009 when he was MVP runner-up. Although he  played just six and a half seasons, he ranks first in total bases and runs created for the franchise. He is second in runs and hits.

 

Jeff Conine
An original Marlin, Conine was selected from the Kansas City Royals in the expansion draft. He was an integral part of both championship teams in Florida, batting .304 in 32 postseason games for the Marlins. Conine earned MVP honors in the 1995 All-Star Game, the only Marlin so honored. He is second on the Marlins all-time list in games and RBIs, third in hits and total bases.

 

Giancarlo Stanton
Prior to the 2015 season, Stanton signed the richest contract in baseball history. With his first home run of the season, he became the franchise's all-time home run leader. And he has crept into the top 10 on most other offensive lists.

 

Miguel Cabrera
Cabrera made his major league debut on June 20, 2003 and quickly became a fixture in the Marlins’ lineup. During his five seasons in South Florida, Cabrera received MVP votes every year. He averaged .313 with 28 homers and 105 RBIs per season. Those numbers increased to 32 home runs and 115 RBIs if you eliminate the half season in 2003. Cabrera hit four postseason home runs during the Marlins’ championship run in 2003.


Close Calls
Jim Leyland, the manager who led the Marlins to their first title, deserves some mention.

 

Dave Dombrowski, the general manager who built the Marlins' championship team in 1997, also had a hand in rebuilding the club prior to the 2003 title.

 

Third baseman Mike Lowell ranks first in RBIs and second in total bases.

 

The ageless Livan Hernandez was just 24-24 in his four seasons with the Marlins, but he was 4-0 in the 1997 postseason, earning MVP honors in both the NLCS and World Series.

 

No one has more hits or scored more runs in a Marlins uniform than second baseman Luis Castillo.

 

Jack McKeon managed the team to the title in 2003 after taking over a losing team 38 games into the season.

 

Josh Beckett won just 41 games in five seasons, but the 2003 World Series MVP had one Mt. Rushmore moment as he shut out the Yankees at Yankee Stadium in Game 6 to clinch the Series.

 

Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him [email protected]

 

Other teams' Mt. Rushmores:

American LeagueNational League
Baltimore OriolesArizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red SoxAtlanta Braves
Chicago White SoxChicago Cubs
Cleveland IndiansCincinnati Reds
Detroit TigersColorado Rockies
Houston AstrosMiami Marlins
Kansas City RoyalsLos Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles AngelsMilwaukee Brewers
Minnesota TwinsNew York Mets
New York YankeesPhiladelphia Phillies
Oakland A'sPittsburgh Pirates
Seattle MarinersSan Diego Padres
Tampa Bay RaysSan Francisco Giants
Texas RangersSt. Louis Cardinals
Toronto Blue JaysWashington Nationals



 

 

Teaser:
<p> With spotty attendance and no baseball-only stadium, the Marlins have been unable to retain or sign high-priced players. So there are no long-tenured stars in Florida history. This Mt. Rushmore will change dramatically over the next 10 years or so.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 14, 2015 - 18:00
Path: /mlb/los-angeles-dodgers-mt-rushmore-franchise-four
Body:

Major League Baseball is promoting an effort to identify the best four players in each team’s history with their "Franchise Four." We selected our choices for Mt. Rushmores a few years ago. Here are updated versions for all 30 teams. Who are the four baseball players that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers Mt. Rushmore

The Dodgers’ franchise owns a rich history in both Brooklyn — for 74 seasons dating to 1884 — and Los Angeles, where the Dodgers have played since 1958. There was only one World Series title in Brooklyn (1955), but the team made nine World Series appearances while in Brooklyn, six of them coming in the franchise’s final 11 seasons there before moving west. There have been nine World Series appearances since moving to L.A., with the Dodgers winning five of them, the latest coming in 1988.

 

Jackie Robinson
For reasons that transcend the game itself, Robinson arguably belongs on baseball’s Mt. Rushmore. In his relatively short career with the Dodgers, Robinson won NL Rookie of the Year, an MVP in 1949 and the hearts of Dodgers fans, many of whom initially shunned the Hall of Famer. With his speed, defense, determination — not to mention talent — he was a catalyst in every aspect of the game.

 

Sandy Koufax
Four pitchers have more wins in a Dodgers’ uniform than Koufax, including three Hall of Famers. But during a five-year stretch from 1962-66, Koufax averaged 22 wins, seven shutouts, a 0.926 WHIP and 1.95 ERA. Suffice it to say that any manager would sign up for those numbers just once. And two months before his 31st birthday, Koufax turned in his uniform, citing elbow pain as becoming too severe.

 

Duke Snider
The Duke had seven All-Star seasons in Brooklyn before moving west and having another two solid seasons in Los Angeles. From 1953-55 he finished in the top four in MVP voting each season, narrowly missing the award in 1955, falling just five points shy of teammate Roy Campanella. He is the Dodgers’ all-time leader in home runs and RBIs and is second in total bases and third in runs.

 

Vin Scully
It’s true that the historic franchise has several players and at least a couple of managers worthy of having their likenesses etched in Dodger stone, but Scully’s list of honors and awards and Hall of Fame memberships is endless. He received a lifetime achievement Emmy Award 20 years ago. Scully began broadcasting for the team in Brooklyn in 1950. The native of New York made the move west with the team and has become synonymous with the franchise. Always working alone in the booth, the adept storyteller’s warm, conversational commentary not only describes the action on the field, but bestows upon listeners insight and knowledge in as entertaining way as anyone ever has from behind the microphone. Current Dodger Clayton Kershaw was not yet born when the legendary voice was inducted into the broadcasters’ wing of the Hall of Fame in 1982.


Close Calls

Zack Wheat, the franchise’s all-time leader in games played, hits and total bases, led the team to two World Series.

 

Perhaps there has never been an ambassador for the game of baseball like Tommy Lasorda, not to mention an ambassador for Dodger Blue.

 

Working on one-year contracts, Walter Alston managed the team from 1954-76, leading the Dodgers to seven World Series, winning four. He had just four losing seasons, and of the 20 95-win seasons in team history, Alston was at the helm for seven of them.

 

Roy Campanella was an All-Star in eight of his 10 major league seasons, winning the MVP award three times.

 

Third all-time in games played as a Dodger, Pee Wee Reese tops the list in runs and is second in hits.

 

An intimidating presence on the mound, Don Drysdale won 209 games in his career spent exclusively with the Dodgers.

 

Dazzy Vance was 28-6 with a 2.16 ERA as NL MVP in 1924, his best season.

 

No one won more games, logged more innings or had more strikeouts as a Dodger than Don Sutton.

 

Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him [email protected]

 

Other teams' Mt. Rushmores:

American LeagueNational League
Baltimore OriolesArizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red SoxAtlanta Braves
Chicago White SoxChicago Cubs
Cleveland IndiansCincinnati Reds
Detroit TigersColorado Rockies
Houston AstrosMiami Marlins
Kansas City RoyalsLos Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles AngelsMilwaukee Brewers
Minnesota TwinsNew York Mets
New York YankeesPhiladelphia Phillies
Oakland A'sPittsburgh Pirates
Seattle MarinersSan Diego Padres
Tampa Bay RaysSan Francisco Giants
Texas RangersSt. Louis Cardinals
Toronto Blue JaysWashington Nationals

 

Teaser:
<p> This is the latest in the series naming the greatest individuals in the history of each franchise — or each franchise's own Mt. Rushmore. The question was posed earlier this season whether Derek Jeter should be considered as part of the Yankees’ Mt. Rushmore. That certainly piqued my interest. Not really the Jeter-Yankees part, but the idea that all MLB teams should have their own Mt. Rushmores. Who are the four individuals that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple. But it isn't as easy as it sounds. Let the arguments begin.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, July 14, 2015 - 18:00
Path: /mlb/best-picks-50-years-mlb-draft
Body:

With the MLB Draft this week, it’s fun to look back at the some of the best picks over the past 50 years of the draft. Here’s the best selection at each of the first 40 positions in the draft.

 

1 Ken Griffey Jr., Seattle, 1987

Certainly there are numerous No. 1 overall selections worthy of being named the best. But I’ll take Griffey over Chipper Jones, Alex Rodriguez and David Price.

Best of the 2000s: David Price, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 2007

 

2 Reggie Jackson, Kansas City Athletics, 1966

The struggling A’s were more than happy to hear the Mets call Steve Chilcott’s name to begin the second draft in history.

Best of the 2000s: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers, 2004

 

3 Robin Yount, Milwaukee, 1973

The Hall of Famer edges out long-time teammate and fellow Hall member Paul Molitor, who was taken third four years later.

Best of the 2000s: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 2006

 

4 Dave Winfield, San Diego, 1973

The big outfielder was drafted in the NFL and both the ABA and NBA.

Best of the 2000s: Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals, 2005

 

5 Dale Murphy, Atlanta, 1974

Tough call over Dwight Gooden and Buster Posey. The Giants’ catcher will likely earn this spot in a few years, but if his career ended today, he would fall short.

Best of the 2000s: Buster Posey, San Francisco, 2008

 

6 Derek Jeter, New York Yankees, 1992

Clearly, this presents the classic argument of best performance on the field vs. the most significant impact on the game. Barry Bonds was an awfully good player, but was never as revered or considered the “face of the game” as Jeter was.

Best of the 2000s: Zack Greinke, Kansas City Royals, 2002

 

7 Frank Thomas, Chicago White Sox, 1989

Clayton Kershaw is not in the Hall of Fame yet, so this goes to the big tight end from Auburn, who quickly became the Big Hurt and a Big Star in Chicago.

Best of the 2000s: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers, 2006

 

8 Todd Helton, Colorado, 1995

The greatest player in Colorado history once started at quarterback at the University of Tennessee with Peyton Manning on the bench.

Best of the 2000s: Mike Leake, Cincinnati, 2009

 

9 Kevin Appier, Kansas City Royals, 1987

Appier has four more wins and six fewer losses than Barry Zito.

Best of the 2000s: Mike Pelfrey, New York Mets, 2009

 

10 Ted Simmons, St. Louis, 1967

I’ll take Simmons’ complete game over Mark McGwire’s power.

Best of the 2000s: Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco, 2007

 

11 Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh, 2005

I’m taking the Pirates’ center fielder over Greg Luzinski and Max Scherzer.

Best of the 2000s: Max Scherzer, Arizona, 2006

 

12 Kirk Gibson, Detroit, 1978

The All-America wide receiver from Michigan State delivered one of the most dramatic home runs in history in the 1988 World Series—but not for the team that drafted him.

Best of the 2000s: Jered Weaver, Anaheim Angels, 2004

 

13 Paul Konerko, L.A. Dodgers, 1994

Konerko hit just four of his 439 career home runs for the team that drafted him. Manny Ramirez was a nice pick by the Indians at this spot as well.

Best of the 2000s: Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox, 2010

 

14 Jason Varitek, Seattle, 1994

After making this terrific pick, the Mariners dealt Varitek AND Derek Lowe to the Red Sox for Heathcliff Slocumb.

Best of the 2000s: Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves, 2007

 

15 Jim Rice, Boston, 1971

Condredge Holloway, Roger Quiroga, Ed Kurpiel and David Sloan were among the 14 players chosen before Rice in 1971. The Hall of Famer spent his entire career with Boston, winning an MVP trophy in 1978.

Best of the 2000s: Chase Utley, Philadelphia, 2000

 

16 Lance Berkman, Houston, 1997

Berkman joined Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell as a full-time member of the Killer Bs in 2000.

Best of the 2000s: Nick Swisher, Oakland A’s, 2002

 

17 Roy Halladay, Toronto, 1995

Doc Halladay is second in wins, strikeouts and shutouts on the Blue Jays’ career lists.

Best of the 2000s: Cole Hamels, Philadelphia, 2002

 

18 Willie Wilson, Kansas City, 1974

Wilson played center field and batted leadoff for the Royals’ AL pennant winners in 1980 and ’85.

Best of the 2000s: Sonny Gray, Oakland A’s, 2011

 

19 Roger Clemens, Boston, 1983

As great as Clemens was for the Red Sox, he couldn’t reverse the curse in Boston.

Best of the 2000s: Shelby Miller, St. Louis, 2009

 

20 Mike Mussina, Baltimore, 1990

Mussina should be in the Hall of Fame one day, and could easily be joined there by Torii Hunter, drafted at No. 20 by the Twins in 1993.

Best of the 2000s: Trevor Plouffe, Minnesota, 2004

 

21 Rick Sutcliffe, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1974

The Dodgers figured this whole scouting and drafting thing pretty quickly with several solid picks over the first 10 years of the draft.

Best of the 2000s: Ian Kennedy, New York Yankees, 2006

 

22 Craig Biggio, Houston, 1987

With more than 3,000 hits and All-Star starts at both catcher and second base, Biggio is second to no one here, not even Rafael Palmeiro and his 3,000 hits and nearly 600 homers.

Best of the 2000s: Kolten Wong, St. Louis, 2011

 

23 Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston, 2005

Billy Beane was selected at No. 23 by the Mets in 1980. But his playing career didn’t measure up to Ellsbury’s.

Best of the 2000s: Phil Hughes, New York Yankees, 2004

 

24 Terry Mulholland, San Francisco, 1984

The left-handed Mulholland gets the nod due to longevity and lock of competition. Toronto manager John Gibbons was selected with the pick right after Beane.

Best of the 2000s: Randal Grichuk, Los Angeles Angels, 2009

 

25 Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels, 2009

I know that if Trout’s career ended today, he would not likely measure up well to Bill Buckner. But I’m going with Trout anyway.

Best of the 2000s: Matt Cain, San Francisco, 2002

 

26 Alan Trammell, Detroit, 1976

Many experts believe the talented shortstop should be in the Hall of Fame. I’m not one of them, but I don believe he is the best player of guys drafted at No. 26.

Best of the 2000s: Blake Swihart, Boston, 2011

 

27 Vida Blue, Kansas City Athletics, 1967

The left-handed pitcher was named American League MVP in 1971, the year before his A’s reeled off three straight World Series titles.

Best of the 2000s: Rick Porcello, Detroit, 2007

 

28 Lee Smith, Chicago Cubs, 1975

When Smith, a former collegiate basketball player, lumbered out to the mound, it was usually lights out for opponents. He is one of only three pitchers with more than 450 saves.

Best of the 2000s: Colby Rasmus, St. Louis, 2005

 

29 George Brett, Kansas City Royals, 1971

The Hall of Famer remains the face of the Kansas City Royals franchise. Brett won batting titles in three different decades and played in two World Series, winning one.

Best of the 2000s: Adam Wainwright, Atlanta, 2000

 

30 Mike Schmidt, Philadelphia, 1971

This Hall of Fame third baseman was taken one pick behind Brett in 1971. The two were their respective leagues’ best third basemen throughout the 1970s and ’80s.

Best of the 2000s: Noah Lowry, San Francisco, 2001

 

31 Greg Maddux, Chicago Cubs, 1984

It’s too bad the Cubs couldn’t hang on to Maddux through his free agency in the early 1990s.

Best of the 2000s: J.P. Howell, Kansas City Royals, 2004

 

32 Lee Lacy, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1969

A lean group features Dave Valle, Dave Magadan and Jon Farrell. See why I chose Lacy?

Best of the 2000s: Jake Odorizzi, Milwaukee, 2008

 

33 Milt Wilcox, Cincinnati, 1968

I’ll take Wilcox since he has four more wins (119) than Dave Burba. Although, Mike Gallego has the highest WAR (17.1) from this slot.

Best of the 2000s: Jeff Mathis, Anaheim Angels, 2001

 

34 Mark Gubicza, Kansas City Royals 1981

The Royals’ stalwart piled up 132 wins in his career.

Best of the 2000s: Todd Frazier, Cincinnati, 2007

 

35 Mark Langston, Seattle 1981

The left-handed starter who played most of his career in Seattle just edges Johnny Damon.

Best of the 2000s: Kevin Plawecki, New York Mets, 2012

 

36 Johnny Bench, Cincinnati, 1965

In the first year of the draft, Ray Fosse, Gene Lamont, Ken Plesha, Raldolph Kohn, Ken Rudolph, Donald Johnson and Dick Horton were the seven catchers drafted ahead of Bench. Every team passed on Bench once, and 15 of the 20 teams at the time passed on him twice.

Best of the 2000s: Chris Coghlan, Florida Marlins, 2006

 

37 Frank Viola, Minnesota, 1981

Mike Scott, drafted by the Mets in 1976, won a Cy Young in 1986 but had just two seasons with a sub-3.00 ERA. Viola won a Cy Young in 1987 and finished his career with 176 wins.

Best of the 2000s: Adam Jones, Seattle, 2003

 

38 David Wright, New York Mets, 2001

The seven-time All-Star has established himself as Mr. Met (no, not the guy with the big baseball head), but has played in as many as 140 games just once in the last five seasons.

Best of the 2000s: Noah Syndergaard, Toronto, 2010

 

39 Don Baylor, Baltimore, 1967

The 1979 American League MVP once played in three successive World Series with three different teams (1986 Red Sox, 1987 Twins, 1988 A’s). Joey Gallo, recently called up by the Rangers, may one day take over Baylor’s space here.

Best of the 2000s: Lance Lynn, St. Louis, 2008

 

40 Larry Gura, Chicago Cubs, 1969

There’s not much competition for this position, but Gura won 111 games in nine years with the Royals.

Best of the 2000s: Huston Street, Oakland 2004

 

Teaser:
Who is the best player drafted No. 1 overall? Griffey? A-Rod? Chipper? What about the best player selected No. 10 overall? The best at each spot are all here from No. 1 through 40.
Post date: Tuesday, June 9, 2015 - 16:24
All taxonomy terms: MLB, MLB, News
Path: /mlb/50-best-baseball-nicknames-ever-2015
Body:

What is it with nicknames and baseball? In high school I played with Doggie, Bird, Soup, Clone, Rooster, T and White Legs. Nicknames and baseball players just seem to go together like bat and ball. For as long as young boys and men have been batting baseballs around, they have given each other descriptive nicknames for facial features, deformed body parts, the way they played the game, hair color and, the most popular, shortening their surnames. In fact, some players with nicknames were given nicknames for their nicknames. 

 

Here are the 50 best—and often very politically incorrect—nicknames in baseball history.

 

50. Don Mossi
Ears
 (
also The Sphinx)
Perhaps you had to see Mossi to really appreciate the name. In Ball Four, Jim Bouton said Mossi “looked like a cab going down the street with its doors open.”

 

49. Ernie Lombardi
Schnozz

Not to allow Mossi and his ears steal all the thunder, the catcher who was also known as the world’s slowest human had a beak of monumental proportions. But the catcher hit his way into the Hall of Fame.

 

48. Nick Cullop
Tomato Face

Cullop spent 23 years in the minors, hit 420 home runs and had 2,670 hits, both minor league records when he retired.

 

47. Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown
Three Finger

Known more commonly as Three Finger Brown than by Mordecai, Brown capitalized on losing most of his index finger in a childhood farming accident. Apparently that helped him throw a devastating curveball described by Ty Cobb as the toughest in baseball.

 

46. Don Zimmer
The Gerbil

Despite the success for the Red Sox in the late 1970s, Zim is blamed for the team’s collapse in 1978, ultimately losing a playoff game at Fenway Park (commonly known as the Bucky Dent game). Because of this, lefthander Bill Lee, with whom Zimmer often sparred, gave him the name Gerbil.

 

45. Bill Lee
Spaceman

And speaking of Lee, it wasn’t as though he was a mental giant himself. The lefthander’s outrageous, often irreverent personality and his fearless rhetoric earned him the name Spaceman, allegedly, from John Kennedy (the Red Sox utility infielder, not the former President). Just being left-handed in Boston was probably enough.

 

44. Jim Grant
Mudcat

Grant, who became one of the most successful African-American pitchers in the 1960s, credits Leeroy Irby for the nickname. Seems Irby thought Grant was from Mississippi and others were happy to make the name stick.

 

43. Jim Hunter
Catfish

Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finely often seemed more interested in flashy P.R. than winning baseball games. Evidently, this nickname was a product of the PR-conscious Finley more than any angling the Hall of Fame pitcher might have done in his home state of North Carolina.

 

42. Randy Johnson
Big Unit

Okay, get your mind out of the gutter. Former Expos teammate — yes, Johnson was originally a member of the Expos — Tim Raines once collided with him during batting practice, looked up at the 6’10” hurler and proclaimed, “You’re a big unit.”

 

41. Mark Fidrych
The Bird

The affable righthander enjoyed talking to the baseball while on the mound and manicuring the mound on his hands and knees between innings. But it was because of his resemblance to Big Bird of Sesame Street fame that Fidrych was given his name.

 

40. Marc Rzepczynski
Scrabble

Some surnames scream for nicknames, like Yastrzemski with Yaz, and Mazeroski with Maz. But there are few names that could earn more points in the famous word game than this lefthander’s.

 

39. Doug Gwosdz
Eye-chart

Ancestors of the former catcher of the San Diego Padres must have misspelled this name somewhere down the line. But as astute teammates surmised, his jersey resembled those charts hanging on walls in optometrists’ offices.

 

38. Johnny Dickshot
Ugly

First of all, that is his real name. And secondly, he referred to himself as the “ugliest man in baseball.” So, we have no qualms about Dickshot making the list.

 

37. Luke Appling
Old Aches and Pains

Dubbed by teammates, it’s unclear whether the name was given in jest. But it is clear that Appling didn’t mind complaining about the physical demands of the job all the way to the Hall of Fame.

 

36. Roger Bresnahan
The Duke of Tralee

Nothing really unusual about this name; after all many players were named in honor of their hometowns. Earl Averill was the Duke of Snohomish after his hometown in Washington. But, Bresnahan was from Toledo. For some reason he enjoyed telling folks he was born in Tralee, Ireland.

 

35. Bob Feller
Rapid Robert

Taking the American League by storm as a teenager led to this nickname as well as The Heater from Van Meter (Iowa).

 

34. Edward Charles Ford
The Chairman of the Board

Well known as Whitey because of hair color, the lefty dominated the American League for 16 seasons as a member of the Yankees. As a tribute to his calm, cool demeanor in tough situations, he became known as the Chairman of the Board.

 

33. Leon Allen Goslin
Goose

Several sources agree on how Goslin acquired his name. Evidently, he waved his arms as he chased fly balls, had a long neck, and was not the most graceful player.

 

32. Willie Mays
Say Hey Kid

There is no definitive agreement on how Mays acquired this classic name.

 

31. Mickey Mantle
The Commerce Comet

Mantle, a star athlete from Commerce, Oklahoma, was offered a football scholarship by the University of Oklahoma, but wisely chose baseball.

 

30. Joe Medwick
Ducky-Wucky
(also Muscles)
According to Baseball-Reference.com, fans called Medwick Ducky-Wucky more than merely Ducky, presumably because of his gait, or perhaps the way he swam. Teammates, seemingly out of self-preservation, never called him Ducky-Wucky, but chose instead the name, Muscles.

 

29. Brooks Robinson
Vacuum Cleaner

If you ever saw Brooksie do his work around the hot corner, you would quickly understand the moniker. Teammate Lee May once quipped, “Very nice (play)...where do they plug Mr. Hoover in?”

 

28. Aloysius Harry Simmons
Bucketfoot Al

With an exaggerated stride toward third base. Bucketfoot Al bashed major league pitching at a .334 clip on his way to the Hall of Fame.

 

27. Lynn Nolan Ryan
Ryan Express

No one readily admits giving him the name, but any hitter who stood in the box against Ryan is keenly aware of what the name means.

 

26. Darrell Evans
Howdy Doody

One look at the famous puppet and a glance at the power-hitting lefty, and you’ll know why.

 

25. Dennis Boyd
Oil Can

Born in Mississippi (where beer may be referred to as oil), the colorful righthander carried the nickname on to the major leagues.

 

24. Johnny Lee Odom
Blue Moon

Reportedly, a classmate in grade school thought Odom’s face looked like the moon. Really?

 

23. Frank Thomas
Big Hurt

Given to Thomas by White Sox broadcaster Ken Harrelson. Thomas put the big hurt on American League pitching for 19 years.

 

22. Garry Maddox
Minister of Defense

If you watched Maddox patrol center field for the Phillies in the 1970s, you immediately get the name.

 

21. Mike Hargrove
Human Rain Delay

And you think Nomar Garciaparra invented the step-out-of-the-box-and-adjust-your-batting-gloves routine. Nope. Seasons changed between pitches when he was at bat.

 

20. Daniel Joseph Staub
Le Grand Orange

Known as Rusty by the Texans while with the Colt .45s, he became Le Grand Orange in Montreal as a member of the original Expos.

 

19. Jimmy Wynn
Toy Cannon

His small stature and powerful bat led to this moniker.

 

18. Steve Balboni
Bye-Bye

Presumably, Balboni was given the name because of his propensity to hit home runs. It may also be noted that a double meaning could be bye-bye, as in “He gone” back to the dugout because of his propensity to strike out.

 

17. Joakim Soria
The Mexicutioner

A two-time All-Star when he was the Royals' closer, Soria has since undergone Tommy John surgery and returned to ninth-inning duties with the Rangers. Besides switching uniforms, Soria also would appreciate not being known by his nickname, as its association with the violence in his native country hits a little too close to home.

 

16. Frank Howard
The Capital Punisher

While playing in the nation’s capital, Howard punished AL pitching for 237 home runs in seven seasons, twice leading the league with 44, and finishing second in 1969 with 48.

 

15. Carl Pavano
American Idle

After signing a four-year, $38 million deal with the Yankees prior to the 2005 season, Pavano made just nine starts in four seasons, going 3-3 with a 5.00 ERA.

 

14. Lawrence Peter Berra
Yogi

Evidently when Berra sat with arms and legs crossed a friend suggested he looked like a Hindu yogi. Now the term Yogi is associated with malaprops more than Hindu.

 

13. Mariano Rivera
The Sandman

Good night batters.

 

12. Rickey Henderson
Man of Steal

One look at his stats and you understand this one: 1,406 career steals and a record 130 in 1982.

 

11. Shane Victorino
The Flyin’ Hawaiian

Victorino plays the game with endless energy and spunk, but his heritage rules the day.

 

10. Vince Coleman
Vincent Van Go

A true artist of the stolen base.

 

9. Ken Reitz
Zamboni

Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon marveled at how the St. Louis third baseman could pick up everything.

 

8. Pablo Sandoval
Kung Fu Panda

The loveable Giant Panda.

 

7. Fred McGriff
Crime Dog

One of ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman’s nicknames that actually stuck. Thanks McGruff, the cartoon Crime Dog.

 

6. Kenny Rogers
The Gambler

“Every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser. The best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”

 

5. Jose Bautista
Joey Bats

Bautista was terrific as Joey Bats in “The Hitman” on YouTube. He’s been even better as himself for the Blue Jays.

 

4. Harry Davis
Stinky

Poor Davis lost his job as Detroit first baseman to some kid name Hank Greenberg in 1933.

 

3. Ron Cey
The Penguin

Playing for Tommy Lasorda in the minor leagues must have had its pros and cons. Having your manager dub you Penguin because of your awkward running style would probably fall on the con side.

 

2. William Ellsworth Hoy
Dummy Hoy

As if anyone needed reminding, here’s a clear indicator of just how far political correctness has come in 100 years. William Ellsworth Hoy lost his hearing and ability to speak as a result of childhood meningitis. At only 5’4”, he was difficult to strike out and was the first player to hit a grand slam in the American League. He died in 1961, just five months shy of his 100th birthday.

 

1. George Herman Ruth
Babe 
(also the Bambino, Sultan of Swat, The King of Sting, The Colossus of Clout)
Babe was the only major leaguer large enough for five larger than life nicknames.

 

 

Teaser:
50 Best Baseball Nicknames Ever
Post date: Monday, May 25, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/baseballs-all-time-valentines-day-lineup-2015
Body:

With MLB training camps set to open in Florida and Arizona, no doubt there are a few WAGs missing their sweethearts today. In honor of the Day of Love, we present the all-time Valentine’s Day lineup including Flowers, a Rose, Candy, a Cookie, a Jewel and an appearance by Cupid himself.

 

Starters

 

C

Tyler Flowers

The former 33rd-round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves posted career highs across the board while catching 124 games for the White Sox in 2014. Flowers hit 15 home runs and doubled his RBI total (from 24 in 2013 to 50), but could use a little more discernment (159 SO , 25 BB) at the plate.

 

1B
Paul Goldschmidt

Every lady loves a little gold for Valentine’s Day, and the Diamondbacks certainly struck the mother lode with their first baseman, a future National League MVP.

 

2B
Cupid Childs

The pudgy second baseman was one of the best players of his era, but has received only modest support for the Hall of Fame over the years. He amassed 1,721 hits over a 13-year career. All but 189 of those hits came in the 1800s while playing for the Quakers, Stars, Spiders, Perfectos and Orphans. He was a part of multiple trades, once for Gid Garner, another time for Cub Striker. Also known as Fats and Fatty, according to Baseball-Reference.com, the Grand Rapids Democrat called him “the most curiously built man in the baseball business ... he is as wide as he is long, yet there are few men who can get over the ground faster than the ‘dumpling.’”

 

3B
Cookie Lavagetto

Cookie was an all-star for Brooklyn from 1938-41, and then spent the next four years serving his country. Thank you for your service, sir.

 

SS
Bobby Valentine

Once a budding prospect in the Dodgers’ system, this Valentine was on his way to stardom in the city of Angels when a gruesome collision with an outfield wall derailed his career. With nearly 1,200 wins and one National League pennant in his 16 seasons as manager of the Rangers, Mets and Red Sox, Valentine also fits the bill as the ideal skipper for this unique team.

 

LF
Jim Ray Hart

The sweet-swinging Hart averaged .290-29-92 with an OPS+ of 136 over his first four seasons in the bigs. Unfortunately, he was overshadowed by guys named Mays, McCovey and Cepeda in the same lineup.

 

CF
Pete Rose

No player ever got to first base more than the all-time hits leader. He wasn’t bad at scoring either.

 

RF
Ellis Valentine

No prudent base runner dared to sneak an extra base when this Valentine was throwing darts from right field.

 

SP
Sugar Cain

Cain pitched in an offensive era in the 1930s for the Philadelphia A’s, St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox, so he didn’t win many games. Evidently, he wasn’t afraid to issue free passes. He led the league in walks once, logged more than 100 in three successive seasons and ended his career with 5.6 BB/9IP.

 

SP
Abraham Lincoln “Sweetbread” Bailey

The righthander fashioned a non-descript career with only six starts and 46 relief appearances, but this name must be on any list compiled in February.

 

SP
Scott Diamond

Signed as an amateur free agent by the Braves in 2007, this lefthander was a bona fide Diamond in the rough, going 18-22 from 2012-13 as a member of the Twins’ rotation. He showed considerable more polish in 2012 (12-9, 3.54 ERA, 31 BB in 173 IP) than '13 (6-13, 5.43 ERA, 36 BB in 131 IP).

 

SP
Slim Love

At 6-7 and 195 pounds, we’re guessing his frame is the origin of the name. He won 13 games for the Yankees in 1918 and gave up only eight home runs in his career, but some who victimized him are memorable names: Swede Risberg and Hap Felsh of Black Sox fame, Smoky Joe Wood, George Burns and, of course, the Babe.

 

RP
Lynn Lovenguth

The journeyman won 193 games in the minors for eight different organizations, but pitched a scant 27 innings for the Phillies and Cardinals in the 1950s. Evidently, Lynn wasn’t exactly the loving sort. He was reportedly kicked out of the dugout by his own manager, Cot Deal, in the minors for complaining about a lack of defensive support.

 

Reserves

 

1B
Jewel Winklemeyer Ens

The first baseman didn’t see much action in the majors, but he played with Hall of Famers Max Carey, Pie Traynor and Kiki Cuyler with the Pirates. Yet there was only one authentic jewel on that team.

 

1B
Diamond Jim Gentile

With a nickname like Diamond Jim and a surname pronounced “jen-TEEL” the slugging first baseman must be in the Valentine’s Day lineup. He was third in AL MVP voting in 1961, the year Roger Maris hit 61 home runs, Mickey Mantle slugged 54 and Norm Cash batted .361.

 

1B/OF
Corey Hart

Averaging 29 home runs for the Brewers from 2010-12, Hart was broken during the 2013 season in what ended up being his final go-round with Milwaukee. He wound up in Seattle, but was no Hartbreaker for Mariners fans, hitting just .203 with six home runs in 68 games.

 

IF
Rudolph Valentino Regalado

Yep, that’s his name. Whether or not the backup infielder made women in Cleveland swoon or not is unknown. But in 91 games for the Indians he had no effect on pitchers whatsoever.

 

OF
Candy Maldonado

A personal favorite of mine ever since his pennant-clinching pinch-hit for my Strat-O-Matic team in 1989.

Teaser:
Baseball’s All-Time Valentine’s Day Lineup
Post date: Friday, February 13, 2015 - 14:00
Path: /mlb/2014-world-series-preview
Body:

These San Francisco Giants have been here before. Twice recently, actually. Having won the World Series in 2010 and ’12, this team oozes postseason experience. No stage is too big for these guys, no spotlight too bright. In contrast, the American League champion Kansas City Royals have two players with World Series experience. James Shields made one start in the 2008 Series for Tampa Bay and tossed 5.2 scoreless innings. Second baseman Omar Infante had one plate appearance off the bench for Detroit in 2006, and was the Tigers’ full-time second baseman in 2012. The experienced Giants have eight players who were part of both the 2010 and ’12 champions. Another six players were part of one or the other. San Francisco had won 40 postseason games prior to this season since the Royals last played in October in 1985.

 

Before his arrival in San Francisco, manager Bruce Bochy led the San Diego Padres to the World Series in 1998. Bochy managed the Padres for 12 seasons and guided the team to four division crowns. He just completed his eighth season in San Francisco. Kansas City skipper Ned Yost is managing in the postseason for the first time this year.

 

Both teams feature terrific bullpens and win with determination and grittiness. Opportunistic is probably the best way to describe the offenses, and the Royals will create opportunities with speed, while the Giants won’t.

 

The experienced Giants will not likely beat themselves. They make very few mistakes in the field and on the bases. The young, brash Royals may be susceptible to a little overexcitement causing a few mistakes. With such good bullpens and both managers playing a conservative style, one mistake could cost a game.

 

San Francisco Giants

Lineup

The quartet of Panik, Posey, Pablo and Pence anchors an opportunistic lineup that went through a stretch of scoring 13 of 20 runs in the postseason that weren’t produced by a hit. Specifically, it’s Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval, the 2010 World Series MVP, that will carry the team. Travis Ishikawa led the Giants with seven RBIs in the NLCS, three of them coming on the final swing of the series. He won’t start against left-handed starter Jason Vargas, but Ishikawa could be a factor in late innings against the right-handed-heavy Kansas City bullpen.

 

Rotation

The rotation begins with one of the best in baseball in lefthander Madison Bumgarner. The NLCS MVP won the wild-card play-in game and Game 1 of the NLCS. Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy have pitched well recently, but are basically six-inning pitchers. Should Peavy, Hudson or Game 4 starter Ryan Vogelsong falter early, expect a short leash with Yosmeiro Petit and Tim Lincecum available in the bullpen.

 

Bullpen

The Giants’ success rides on the relief corps. Lefties Jeremy Affeldt and Javier Lopez set up the late innings for Sergio Romo, the closer in the 2012 World Series, and Santiago Casilla, the current closer. With lefties Affeldt and Lopez, Bruce Bochy has more matchup options than the Royals. With the exception of allowing Jean Machi face Oscar Taveras in Game 2, Bochy pretty much controlled all the late-inning matchups in the NLCS.

 

Bench

There are few names most fans will recognize, but outfielder Juan Perez will see some time in left field vs. lefties and in the late innings, and Michael Morse provides serious pop off the bench as evidenced by his game-tying homer in the clinching game of the NLCS.

 

Defense

The Giants aren’t as spectacular defensively as the Royals, but they make all the plays and will not beat themselves. Brandon Crawford is a gem at shortstop.

 

Keys to Winning

The bullpen, no doubt, will carry a heavy load. Other than Bumgarner, Giants starters will not go deep into games. Bochy is a master at getting the matchups he wants, and the relievers know their roles. Catcher Posey must control the Royals’ running game, or Kansas City could create big innings.

 

Key Players

Posey may be the most important cog for the Giants because he anchors the lineup and he’ll be responsible for thwarting the Royals’ best offensive asset — their ability to steal bases. Lefty reliever Lopez will face Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas with games on the line.

 

Kansas City Royals

Lineup

Their recent power surge in the postseason belies the fact that the Royals were last in the majors in home runs this season. Their hallmark is the stolen base, not the long ball. KC defeated the A’s in the wild-card game with seven steals and no homers. Then they tagged the Orioles for four homers in four games with only one steal. Centerfielder Lorenzo Cain was named ALCS MVP and he must be involved in the offense. Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler all can be streaky. Now is not the time for slumping.

 

Rotation

Ace James Shields was acquired from the Rays in 2013 for this moment. He has been a horse and can go toe-to-toe with Madison Bumgarner of the Giants. Flamethrower Yordano Ventura will likely pitch Game 2 at home with vets Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas going at San Francisco. All the Royals ask is that these guys get a lead into the seventh inning.

 

Bullpen

There is no doubt that the pen is the strength of this team. Closer Greg Holland has saved six of their eight wins this postseason, including all four wins in the ALCS. He is reliable and can be dominant. Setup man Wade Davis is the best in the business and earned a pair of wins over Baltimore. Kelvin Herrera owns the seventh inning. The three each made 65 or more appearances with ERAs better than 1.50. No team in history has ever had two relievers accomplish that in the same season, let alone three.

  

Bench

Manager Ned Yost won’t use his bench to pinch-hit much, but he loves calling on speedsters Terrance Gore and Jarrod Dyson to pinch-run.

 

Defense

The only hint of weakness on defense is Mike Moustakas at third. Otherwise, Gold Glove candidates flash leather all over the field.

 

Keys to Winning

Similar to the Giants, the Royals will ask the pen to do some heavy lifting. The starters must keep the team in the game through five innings. Kansas City cannot afford to abandon the running game. Speed is the club’s best asset, and they must keep pressure on the Giants’ defense.

 

Key Players

Starters Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas, who both pitched well at home in the ALCS, must step up on the road now. Lefty swingers Gordon, Hosmer and Moustakas will see a steady diet of lefthanders out of the San Francisco bullpen.

 

Prediction

Giants in 5

Teaser:
In a World Series matchup of two wild card teams, the veteran Giants face the young Royals.
Post date: Monday, October 20, 2014 - 22:30
Path: /mlb/cardinals-and-giants-meet-again-nlcs
Body:

Game 1         Oct. 11         8:00  at St. Louis        

Game 2         Oct. 12         8:00  at St. Louis        

Game 3         Oct. 14         4:00  at San Francisco                          

Game 4         Oct. 15         8:00  at San Francisco                          

Game 5*         Oct. 16         8:00 at San Francisco        

Game 6*         Oct. 18         4:00  at St. Louis        

Game 7*         Oct. 19        7:30  at St. Louis        

*If necessary

 

If you think you’ve seen this movie before, well, you’re right. This is the third time that the Giants and Cardinals have met in the NLCS since 2002 and the fourth overall. Despite some talk of Adam Wainwright not being completely healthy, he will be St. Louis’ Game 1 starter opposite Madison Bumgarner. Wainwright was tagged pretty hard by the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLDS, while Bumgarner has been solid in his two postseason starts. Rising star Lance Lynn of the Cardinals faces the veteran Jake Peavey in Game 2. Tim Hudson and John Lackey will be the Game 3 starters. Factor in Shelby Miller for St. Louis and Ryan Vogelsong for the Giants in Game 4, and the Cardinals have an advantage in starting pitching.

 

Cardinals Advantage

The Cardinals’ patient approach at the plate makes pitchers work, and Peavy and Hudson don’t really pitch deep into games anyway, so getting to those two pitchers early could spell doom for the Giants. In three postseason starts against St. Louis, Peavy is carrying a 9.88 ERA. Granted, two of those starts came in 2005-06 when names like Pujols, Edmonds and Rolen were anchoring the Cardinals, but last season the Cardinals knocked him out after four innings. The Cardinals’ bench is proven in the postseason, so Mike Matheny will feel comfortable making double-switches, in the middle innings if necessary. The Giants really don’t have that luxury.

 

Giants Advantage

Manager Bruce Bochy rarely gets outmanaged from a preparation standpoint or during the in-game chess match. If Wainwright and Bumgarner perform as they have recently, the Giants can steal Game 1 and home-field advantage. If the Cardinals win Game 1, the series could be over quickly.

 

Key Players

Tim Lincecum may be called on to bail out struggling starting pitchers, much like he was a few years ago. In 2010, he threw 17.2 innings in the postseason and allowed just nine hits and five walks. However, the Cardinals touched him for four runs in 6.2 innings in the NLCS…The Cardinals acquired pitcher John Lackey for moments like this. He is likely the Cardinals’ pitcher for Games 3 and 7 should the series go that far. At any rate, he will be on the mound for at least one critical game on the road in San Francisco...Hunter Pence, Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval will be asked to carry the Giants’ lineup, and are all three capable. But the free-swinging approach by Pence and Sandoval works to the advantage of the Cardinals’ pitchers…Leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter struggled for much of the postseason last year, but knocked around Dodgers’ pitchers at a .375 clip in the NLDS. He is both a table-setter for Matt Holliday, Jhonny Peralta and Matt Adams, as well as a run producer himself.

 

Key Stats

The Cardinals are a relatively home-grown team with 17 of the 25 players active for the NLDS drafted and developed by the Redbirds. An 18th, Adam Wainwright, is about half-developed by St. Louis. He spent two seasons in the Cardinals’ system after his first four professional seasons were spent with Atlanta…The Giants have 12 home-grown players on their postseason roster…St. Louis second baseman Kolten Wong was drafted seven spots ahead of Giants second baseman Joe Panik in the first round in 2011…This marks the fourth consecutive season that the Cardinals have played in the NLCS. The Braves with five in a row from 1995-99 and the Yankees with four from 1998-2001 are the only teams to match that streak in the wild card era…The Giants took four of seven in the season series this year, winning three of four in St. Louis. The two teams did not meet in the second half.

 

Prediction: Cardinals in 6

Teaser:
f you think you’ve seen this movie before, well, you’re right. This is the third time that the Giants and Cardinals have met in the NLCS since 2002 and the fourth overall
Post date: Friday, October 10, 2014 - 13:09
Path: /mlb/royals-orioles-meet-alcs
Body:

The Baltimore Orioles last won the World Series in 1983, the Kansas City Royals in 1985. Neither team has been back to the Fall Classic since then. Few experts expected either team to be in this position this season. But here we are, with two teams coming off of sweeps in the ALDS. The Orioles have decent starting pitching, a powerful lineup and an extremely good bullpen. The Royals have better starting pitching, a lineup that looks to manufacture runs and as talented a bullpen as anyone. Don’t expect either team to cough up a lead after the sixth inning. Both managers are coming off the first postseason series wins of their careers.

 

Orioles Advantage

The most glaring advantage is in the dugout. Manager Buck Showalter is a master at using his entire 25-man roster and relishes a good chess game. Showalter won’t miss any opportunities, and at some point Royals manager Ned Yost will make a critical error…The Orioles’ bench is more potent than Kansas City’s and will be the difference in at least one game.

 

Royals Advantage

With the injuries to catcher Matt Wieters and third baseman Manny Machado, and the suspension of first baseman Chris Davis, most managers would choose the Royals’ lineup over Baltimore’s going into a seven-game series…The Royals are even better than the Orioles in closing out wins. The Combination of Wade Davis and Greg Holland in the eighth and ninth innings is as lethal as there is in the majors.

 

Key Players

Game 1 Oct. 10 (8 pm) at Balt.
Game 2 Oct. 11 (4 pm) at Balt.
Game 3 Oct. 13 (TBD) at KC 
Game 4 Oct. 14 (TBD) at KC
Game 5* Oct. 15 (TBD) at KC
Game 6* Oct. 17 (TBD) at Balt.
Game 7* Oct. 18 (TBD) at Balt.
*If necessary, all times ET
Expect to see catcher Caleb Joseph more in this series. He nailed 48 percent of would-be basestealers this season, much better than Nick Hundley’s 19 percent…Wei-Yin Chen, scheduled to pitch Game 2 for Baltimore, must prevent the Royals from stealing home-field advantage — or going back to Kansas City up 2-0. The lefty hasn’t had great success against the core of the Royals’ lineup. Lorenzo Cain, Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer all have a good history against Chen…Kelvin Herrera, one of Kansas City’s excellent setup men, has been adept at stranding runners this season. He stranded 34 of the 43 runners he inherited this season, and had just one blown save/hold opportunity in 21 chances. The bridge from the starters to Wade Davis and Greg Holland is Herrera, and he will likely be called upon in every game.

 

Key Stats

In more than 200 innings this season, there were only four stolen base attempts with Baltimore’s Chris Tillman on the mound, and only one was successful…Kansas City led the majors with 153 stolen bases (the Dodgers were second with 138), and enjoyed a success rate of 81 percent, among the best in the majors…The Royals are 72-1 when leading after the seventh inning…The Orioles are 75-7 when leading after the seventh…Baltimore pinch-hitters hit .313 to lead the majors this season. The American League average was just .223. Kansas City subs hit just .209 with only nine pinch-hits, tied with Houston for fewest in the big leagues.

 

Prediction: Orioles in 6

Teaser:
The Baltimore Orioles last won the World Series in 1983, the Kansas City Royals in 1985. Neither team has been back to the Fall Classic since then. One will break that string this year.
Post date: Thursday, October 9, 2014 - 15:19
Path: /mlb/dodgers-cardinals-rematch-nlds
Body:
GAMEDATETIMELOCATION
Game 1 Oct. 36:30Los Angeles
Game 2  Oct. 49:30Los Angeles
Game 3 Oct. 6TBASt. Louis
Game 4* Oct. 7TBASt. Louis
Game 5*Oct. 9TBALos Angeles

*If necessary

 

Perhaps the marquee pitching matchup this postseason will be Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers vs. Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals in Game 1. Should the series go five games, the two aces will likely face off once again in a rematch in Game 5. But when these two teams met in the NLCS a year ago, the two Cy Young candidates combined for three losses, as St. Louis won in six games. The Cardinals won the first game, 3-2 in 13 innings and Game 2, 1-0, as NLCS MVP Michael Wacha pitched a gem, outdueling Kershaw. We can expect another series of close games that likely won’t be decided until Game 5. The Dodgers won four of the seven regular season matchups, winning three of four in Los Angeles in late June.

 

Dodgers Advantage

There are threats up and down the Dodgers’ lineup. There is very little margin for error for the St. Louis pitchers…The Dodgers will also be playing with a bit of a chip on their shoulders. In Game 1 of last year’s NLCS, Hanley Ramirez was hit by a pitch and suffered a rib injury that severely limited his effectiveness the rest of the series. He was 0-for-9 with four strikeouts over the final three games.

 

Cardinals Advantage

Beyond the Wainwright-Kershaw matchup, the Redbirds have an advantage in starting pitching given the questionable availability of Hyun-Jin Ryu. Dan Haren is the Dodgers’ likely fourth starter…St. Louis also has a deeper bullpen than Los Angeles. If the Cardinals get to the Dodgers’ pen early, that could spell doom for the men in blue…With Seth Maness and Sam Freeman in front of Carlos Martinez, Pat Neshek and Trevor Rosenthal, manager Mike Matheny may have a quick hook this series.

 

Key Numbers

Adam Wainwright won his final four starts of the season with a 0.55 ERA over 33 innings. Opponents batted just .197 over those four games…Meanwhile, Kershaw’s numbers are off the charts. In 17 of his 27 starts this season, he allowed one run or less. He gave up more than three runs just once…The eight projected starters are batting .200 off of Wainwright in their careers; .292 off of Lance Lynn; .358 off of John Lackey; and .452 off of Shelby Miller…Dodgers’ second baseman Dee Gordon led the National League with 64 stolen bases this season. The combination of Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina has allowed just six stolen bases over the past three seasons. During that time, seven runners have been nailed.

 

Key Players

Hyun-Jin Ryu hasn’t pitched since leaving his start on Sept. 12 after one inning due to shoulder issues. In Game 3 of the 2013 NLCS with the Dodgers down two games, Ryu shut out the Cardinals over seven innings on three hits and a walk. His availability for this series would be a huge boost for Los Angeles…Relievers Carlos Martinez and Pat Heshek will likely be used in high-leverage situations, possibly even in the ninth inning. Other than Wainwright, the Cardinals’ starters — Lance Lynn, John Lackey and Shelby Miller — don’t pitch deep into games, which will put Martinez and Neshek in key roles.

 

Prediction

Dodgers in 4

Teaser:
The Men in Blue seek revenge for loss to Redbirds in 2013 NLCS.
Post date: Friday, October 3, 2014 - 10:07
Path: /mlb/giants-invade-washington-nlds
Body:
GAMEDATETIMELOCATION
Game 1 Oct. 33:00Washington
Game 2  Oct. 45:30Washington
Game 3 Oct. 6TBASan Francisco
Game 4* Oct. 7TBASan Francisco
Game 5*Oct. 9TBAWashington

*If necessary

 

The Nationals stormed through the second half and finished with the league’s best record. Much of their success was due to pitching. The starting pitching down the stretch was tremendous, and having a deep bullpen took pressure off of the starters to get deep into games. The lineup core is the same as took the field two seasons ago as favorites against St. Louis in the NLDS. Adam LaRoche, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and Jayson Werth no doubt still feel that sting and are determined not to drop this series. The Giants, led by the calm Bruce Bochy, methodically and quietly go about the business of winning. The Giants exercised tremendous patience at the plate in their wild card win over Pittsburgh. If they become the free swingers we are accustomed to seeing, this could be an easy series win for the Nats. Washington won five of the seven meetings this season, including three of four at San Francisco.

 

Nationals Advantage

Pitching, pitching, pitching. When Gio Gonzalez is the forgotten man in the starting rotation, it must be pretty good. Stephen Strasburg ended the season with three scoreless outings, Jordan Zimmermann tossed a 10-strikeout, one-walk no-hitter in his final start, and Doug Fister won 16 games after missing the first month of the season.

 

Giants Advantage

This team has had success in the postseason before, winning two of the previous four World Series. The manager and the players know how to win big games. At home, or on the road, this team will not be rattled. This team can be streaky offensively, especially Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval, and even Buster Posey to some degree. If that trio gets hot, this will be a tough lineup to get through.

 

Key Numbers

Gregor Blanco, who will lead off for the Giants, carries a low .251 OBP leading off games this season…Pablo Sandoval’s batting average off of the Nats’ first three starters is .424 in 33 at-bats…Stephen Strasburg ended the season with 20.1 scoreless innings…San Francisco’s Game 2 starter Tim Hudson made two starts against Washington this season, winning both with a 0.73 ERA in 12.1 innings. The righthander is 18-5 with a 2.35 ERA in 31 career starts vs. the Nats…Washington pitchers were 19-8 in September with a 2.55 ERA, and that includes a 22-hit, 15-run debacle in the second game of doubleheader against Miami on the final Friday of the season…Over his last seven starts, Gio Gonzalez owns a 4-1 mark with a 2.36 ERA and .191 batting average against. And he’s the Nats’ Game 4 starter.

 

Key Players

San Francisco’s Game 1 starter Jake Peavy gives the Giants an excellent opportunity to steal a game in Washington. The Giants won eight of Peavy’s 12 starts after coming over from Boston, including his last six. Over his last nine outings, Peavy has a 1.35 ERA and opponents are batting .218…It will be interesting to see what kind of memory Washington reliever Drew Storen has. After saving 43 games in 2011, he missed significant time in 2012, making just 37 appearances, all after the All-Star break. He entered the deciding Game 5 in the ninth with a two-run lead before a couple of walks and hits by Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma wrecked the Nats’ season. He did not regain the closer’s role until last month when he had 10 saves in September. Will the 2012 NLDS memory haunt him in this series?

 

Prediction

Nationals in 4

Teaser:
The underdog Giants visit top-seeded Washington in the first round of the National League playoffs.
Post date: Friday, October 3, 2014 - 09:54
Path: /mlb/kansas-city-los-angeles-alds-preview
Body:
GAMEDATETIMELOCATION
Game 1 Oct. 29:00Los Angeles
Game 2  Oct. 39:30Los Angeles
Game 3 Oct. 57:30Kansas City
Game 4* Oct. 6TBAKansas City
Game 5*Oct. 8TBALos Angeles

*If necessary

 

Overview

The Kansas City Royals ended the longest current postseason drought in North American Big Four sports, then won a multi-come-from-behind thriller in 12 innings over Oakland to earn the right to play the team with the best record in baseball. Now ace James Shields should be available for only one start in the ALDS. The teams split six games this season, both winning two of three at home.

 

Angels Advantage

The Angels have the best player in the game in Mike Trout, two former postseason heroes in Albert Pujols and David Freese, a terrific, deep bullpen and a proven manager. So what’s not to like? Only two things could prevent the Angels from advancing: A disappearing act by Trout in his first postseason experience; or sketchy starting pitching beyond Jered Weaver getting exposed.

 

Royals Advantage

Momentum is on the Royals’ side, if that really means anything. The players have been playing under playoff pressure for more than a month now, so there should be no problem finding that edge. The Angels have been on cruise control for about a month. Can they find that extra gear needed to win in October?

 

Key Numbers

The Angels outhomered the Royals 10-1 in their six head-to-head meetings this season…The Royals were seven of eight in stolen base attempts against the Angels. The Royals must generate offense with speed and doubles in the gaps…Shortstop Alcides Escobar had four of the Royals’ seven steals…The Angels kept Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler in check this season. The three combined to bat just .217 with two extra-base hits over the six games this season.

 

Key Players

Mike Trout, arguably the best player in the game, batted .409 with three bombs in the six games against Kansas City this season…Kansas City center fielder Lorenzo Cain was in the middle of much of the offensive excitement for the Royals in their wild card win over Oakland. He batted .370 with 16 total bases in the six games vs. Los Angeles this season…The Royals have been so good closing out wins this season. Closer Greg Holland and setup man Wade Davis combined to throw seven scoreless innings against Los Angeles this season without allowing a hit.

 

Prediction: Angels in 3

Teaser:
The favored Angels have the best player in the game in Mike Trout, two former postseason heroes in Albert Pujols and David Freese, a terrific, deep bullpen and a proven manager.
Post date: Thursday, October 2, 2014 - 11:38
Path: /mlb/baltimore-detroit-alds-preview
Body:
GAMEDATETIMELOCATION
Game 1 Oct. 25:30Baltimore
Game 2  Oct. 312:00Baltimore
Game 3 Oct. 53:30Detroit
Game 4* Oct. 6TBADetroit
Game 5*Oct. 8TBABaltimore

*If necessary

 

Overview

There’s a retro feeling (circa early 1970s) in the air in Baltimore. The Orioles won five of the first six AL East titles from 1969-74 with Detroit winning the other. The two long-time AL East rivals — prior to realignment in 1994 — have never met in the playoffs. The Tigers are veterans of the postseason having won 17 postseason games over the past three years and appeared in the last three ALCS, winning in 2012. Baltimore won the wild card game two years ago and lost to the Yankees in the ALDS.

 

Orioles Advantage

Baltimore can bash and score runs in bunches. Keeping the ball in the park will be a key for Detroit pitching. The Orioles also have a reliable bullpen with Zach Britton collecting 37 saves in his first season as a closer. Setup men Darren O’Day, Tommy Hunter and lefty specialist Andrew Miller can shorten the game and rarely cough up leads.

 

Tigers Advantage

The Tigers have playoff experience and a huge advantage in one critical area — starting pitching. In the playoffs, it’s crucial that teams be able to run out a starting pitcher with the ability to shut down most any lineup. With the past three AL Cy Young winners starting the first three games, the Tigers can do that. Baltimore will need superhuman efforts from starting pitchers to keep the O’s in games and get to the bullpen. Navigating the Tigers’ lineup begins and ends with Miguel Cabrera. In addition to being one of the top hitters on the planet, he has hit Baltimore pitching especially well over a short sample.

 

Key Numbers

Baltimore’s Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and J.J. Hardy have no home runs and only eight RBIs in a combined 127 at-bats off of David Price…No current Tigers players have ever driven in a run off of Baltimore’s Wei-Yin Chen…

 

Key Players

Nelson Cruz has playoff experience and isn’t afraid of the big stage. In his career, he has hit .333 in 84 at-bats off of Detroit’s big three starters with eight homers and 18 RBIs. That projects to 52 bombs and 118 ribbies over 550 ABs…Baltimore starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez had a clunker of a start at Detroit in his first outing this season. After his second start, his ERA checked in at 2.83. Over the past three months, it has dropped to 2.09…Bud Norris may be a forgotten man in the Orioles’ rotation, but Baltimore has won his last six starts and nine of his last 10. Norris threw seven shutout innings in a 1-0 loss in the start prior to that streak…Joakim Soria has been the Tigers’ most effective reliever, but manager Brad Ausmus continues to use Joba Chamberlain as his setup man and Joe Nathan as the closer.

 

Prediction: Tigers in 4

 

Teaser:
With three former Cy Young winners, Detroit's starting pitching will be too much for Baltimore's potent lineup.
Post date: Thursday, October 2, 2014 - 11:06
Path: /mlb/athlon-sports-2014-mlb-all-star-teams
Body:

On Sunday night, July 6, MLB will announce the All-Star teams for the big game at Minneapolis on July 15. As always, fan voting will determine the starting position players for each league. Players vote for reserves and pitchers with managers filling out the teams. Rosters consist of 34 players — that’s right, 34 — and each club must be represented. In advance of the big announcement, here are my selections for the two rosters.

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Starting Lineup
2B Dee Gordon, Los Angeles
Proving to be a demon on the basepaths, Gordon already has 40 steals and 11 triples.
RF Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles
You never really know what to expect from Mr. Excitement.
CF Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh
The reigning NL MVP is having another MVP-type season.
SS Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado
If his body holds up, Tulo could be a runaway choice for MVP honors.
LF Giancarlo Stanton, Miami
No one hits more tape-measure shots than Stanton, which makes him a fun participant in the Home Run Derby.
1B Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona
Goldschmidt is seventh in OPS, third in RBIs, second in runs and first in doubles.
DH Anthony Rizzo, Chicago   
There is no overwhelming choice at DH for the NL, and Rizzo is having a fine season.
C Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee
With his .334 batting average and 28 doubles, Lucroy is finally able to unseat Yadier Molina.
3B Todd Frazier, Cincinnati
Frazier has been the big producer in Cincinnati.
SP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles
Kershaw has no peers.
 

Reserves
C Evan Gattis, Atlanta
The Atlanta catcher recently went on the DL, but he leads NL catchers with 16 bombs and is hitting .345 against NL East rival Washington and hit .353 in June.
C Yadier Molina, St. Louis
Offensively, Molina has slipped of late, but no catcher controls the running game or guides pitchers any better.
1B Matt Adams, St. Louis   
Very little has gone right for the Redbirds’ offense this season, but Big City leads NL first basemen with a .318 average. But with only nine homers and eight walks, he’s sixth in OPS.
1B Adam LaRoche, Washington   
His .906 OPS is second to Goldschmidt among first basemen.
2B Daniel Murphy, New York
The Mets must be represented and Murphy is their lone .300 hitter. The decision is either Scooter Gennett of Milwaukee at second and Bartolo Colon as the Mets’ rep. I think Murph makes more sense.
2B Chase Utley, Philadelphia
Utley is the lone Phillie, but is deserving in his own right with a .287 average the best WAR at the position.
3B Anthony Rendon, Washington
With Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman both healthy now, Rendon may see more time at second base in the second half, but he’s been solid both offensively and defensively for the Nats at the hot corner.
3B Aramis Ramirez, Milwaukee
Ramirez, who has spent some time on the DL, has the third-best OPS behind Frazier and Rendon.
SS Starlin Castro, Chicago
This may be the easiest position to call. Tulo is clearly the starter and there’s little competition for the backup.
OF Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee
Gomez is without a doubt the fourth-best outfielder in the NL so far this season.
OF Corey Dickerson, Colorado
Teammate Charlie Blackmon appeared to have a spot nailed down earlier, but Dickerson is among the top six in average, RBIs and runs among NL OFs.
PR Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati   
His overall stats may not be worthy, but he turned a corner offensively with a .327 average in June. And there isn’t a better choice for a late-inning pinch-runner.
 

Pitchers
SP Adam Wainwright, St. Louis
One of the league’s two 11-game winners leads the senior circuit with a 1.89 ERA.
SP Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati
The Reds’ ace has led the NL in ERA up until his last start this week. His current 1.99 ERA is the highest it has been since April 11.
SP Josh Beckett, Los Angeles
The author of the Dodgers’ first no-hitter this season is fifth in the league with a 2.37 ERA.
SP Tim Hudson, San Francisco
The veteran has been a huge lift for the Giants this season.
SP Julio Teheran, Atlanta
Quickly and quietly, Teheran has become the Braves’ latest ace.
SP Jason Hammel, Chicago   
He may be wearing a different uniform by the time the All-Stars congregate in Minneapolis.
SP Zack Greinke, Los Angeles
The righthander is tied with Wainwright with 11 wins and is seventh in ERA.
RP Francisco Rodriguez, Milwaukee
K-Rod was looking for a job just before spring training, and now he leads the league with 27 saves. His 0.897 WHIP is the best of his career.
RP Huston Street, San Diego
The only full-time closer without a blown save, Street owns a 0.77 WHIP and 0.90 ERA.
RP Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta
Kimbrel has 59 Ks and just 33 hits and walks combined.
RP Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati
He’s whiffed more than half of the batters he’s faced this season.
RP Tony Watson, Pittsburgh
Every bullpen needs an extra lefty and left-handed hitters are slugging just .263 against Watson.
 

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Starting Lineup
2B Jose Altuve, Houston
Robinson Cano is having a solid season for the Mariners, but Altuve leads the league in batting, hits and steals.
CF Mike Trout, Los Angeles
His stats are as eye-popping as his talent would suggest, but he’s still outperformed AL outfielders.
1B Miguel Cabrera, Detroit
Miggy is on pace for an eight-year low in homers, but a career best in doubles. Could be a sign of a decline in power.
DH Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto
The Jays’ first baseman is really a DH and makes perfect sense to start against the left-handed Kershaw.
RF Nelson Cruz, Baltimore
A critical signing for Baltimore, Cruz is among the league leaders in home runs and RBIs.
3B Josh Donaldson, Oakland
The AL leader among third basemen in homers, runs and RBIs narrowly edges Adrian Beltre, who had a short DL stint early in the season.
LF Michael Brantley, Cleveland
The leftfielder is second among AL outfielders with a .312 average and is perfect in nine stolen base attempts.
C Sal Perez, Kansas City
Adept behind the plate as well as at the plate, Perez leads AL backstops with 26 extra-base hits.
SS Erick Aybar, Los Angeles
A close call between Aybar and Alexei Ramirez, but Aybar has batted .313 over the past month and a half, while Ramirez has slumped to .230 in June.
SP Felix Hernandez, Seattle
We’ll give King Felix the nod slightly over Masahiro Tanaka.
 

Reserves
C Derek Norris, Oakland
He has fewer at-bats than most AL catchers, but his average is better than .300, his OBP tops .400 and his SLG is higher than .500.
1B Jose Abreu, Chicago
Prior to his injury, Abreu was in line for serious MVP consideration.
2B Robinson Cano, Seattle
His .323/.382/.447 slash line looks very good — until it is compared to Altuve’s.
2B Ian Kinsler, Detroit
laying with a chip on his shoulder after his trade from Texas over the winter, Kinsler is fourth in the league in hits and second in runs.
2B Brian Dozier Minnesota
The relatively unknown second baseman leads the AL with 61 runs. He should receive the loudest ovation during player introductions.
3B Lonnie Chisenhall, Cleveland
He’s a little shy of the necessary plate appearances to qualify, but his .344 average and .960 OPS are easily best among AL third basemen.
3B Adrian Beltre, Texas
He leads his position with 90 hits and is slugging better than .500.
3B Kyle Seager, Seattle
Four third basemen seems like overkill, but we couldn’t leave Seager off the team.
SS Alexei Ramirez, Chicago
A month ago, Ramirez would have been my guy at short, but a recent slump relegates him to the bench.
OF Jose Bautista, Toronto
The Blue Jays’ slugger narrowly missed the starting assignment over Cruz.
OF Adam Jones, Baltimore   
Jones leads AL outfielders with 107 hits.
OF Melky Cabrera, Toronto
The former All-Star Game MVP is second to Jones with 106 knocks.
 

Pitchers
SP Masahiro Tanaka, New York
Likely to be the favorite of most fans to start, I think Hernandez is more deserving.
SP Mark Buehrle, Toronto
The wily vet is having the best first half of his stellar career.
SP Scott Kazmir, Oakland
The one-time ace of the Rays made five dismal minor league starts in 2011 and one in the majors before settling for an Independent league in 2012. It’s an amazing story that he’s back in the majors, let alone performing at an All-Star level.
SP Yu Darvish, Texas
He’s third in the league with a 2.42 ERA.
SP Chris Sale, Chicago
He missed a month earlier this season, but is 7-1 with a sparkling 2.30 ERA.
SP David Price, Tampa Bay
Likely to be traded at any moment, Price leads the AL with 131 innings and 153 strikeouts. Amazingly, he’s walked just 17 batters.
RP Koji Uehara, Boston
The Boston closer hasn’t been as lights out as he was in the second half last season, but he’s still performed at an All-Star level.
RP Greg Holland, Kansas City
The Royals’ closer has blown just one of his 24 save opportunities.
RP Dellin Betances, New York
Yankees manager Joe Girardi has made Betances an integral part of the club’s bullpen. He’s given up 21 hits, walked 16 and struck out 78 — more than twice as many Ks and hits and walks combined.
RP Sean Doolittle, Oakland
He was drafted out of Virginia as a first baseman, made it to the majors as a lefty specialist out of the pen and is now one of the best closers in the league with 0.67 WHIP.
RP Wade Davis, Kansas City
A reliable setup man in front of Holland, Davis has 16 holds and more Ks than baserunners allowed.
RP Zach Britton, Baltimore  
The Orioles’ third-round draft pick in 2006 was considered a high-level prospect as a starter. But he’s found a home in the Baltimore bullpen where he’s held opponents to a .181 batting average, and lefties have a .386 OPS.

Teaser:
On Sunday night, July 6, MLB will announce the All-Star teams for the big game at Minneapolis on July 15. As always, fan voting will determine the starting position players for each league. Players vote for reserves and pitchers with managers filling out the teams. Rosters consist of 34 players — that’s right, 34 — and each club must be represented. In advance of the big announcement, here are my selections for the two rosters.
Post date: Saturday, July 5, 2014 - 14:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB, MLB, News
Path: /50-best-baseball-nicknames-ever-2014
Body:

What is it with nicknames and baseball? In high school I played with Doggie, Bird, Soup, Clone, Rooster, T and White Legs. Nicknames and baseball players just seem to go together like bat and ball. For as long as young boys and men have been batting baseballs around, they have given each other descriptive nicknames for facial features, deformed body parts, the way they played the game, hair color and, the most popular, shortening their surnames. In fact, some players with nicknames were given nicknames for their nicknames. 

Here are the 50 best—and often very politically incorrect—nicknames in baseball history.

50. Don Mossi
Ears
 (
also The Sphinx)
Perhaps you had to see Mossi to really appreciate the name. In Ball Four, Jim Bouton said Mossi “looked like a cab going down the street with its doors open.”

49. Ernie Lombardi
Schnozz

Not to allow Mossi and his ears steal all the thunder, the catcher who was also known as the world’s slowest human had a beak of monumental proportions. But the catcher hit his way into the Hall of Fame.

48. Nick Cullop
Tomato Face

Cullop spent 23 years in the minors, hit 420 home runs and had 2,670 hits, both minor league records when he retired.

47. Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown
Three Finger

Known more commonly as Three Finger Brown than by Mordecai, Brown capitalized on losing most of his index finger in a childhood farming accident. Apparently that helped him throw a devastating curveball described by Ty Cobb as the toughest in baseball.

46. Don Zimmer
The Gerbil

Despite the success for the Red Sox in the late 1970s, Zim is blamed for the team’s collapse in 1978, ultimately losing a playoff game at Fenway Park (commonly known as the Bucky Dent game). Because of this, lefthander Bill Lee, with whom Zimmer often sparred, gave him the name Gerbil.

45. Bill Lee
Spaceman

And speaking of Lee, it wasn’t as though he was a mental giant himself. The lefthander’s outrageous, often irreverent personality and his fearless rhetoric earned him the name Spaceman, allegedly, from John Kennedy (the Red Sox utility infielder, not the former President). Just being left-handed in Boston was probably enough.

44. Jim Grant
Mudcat

Grant, who became one of the most successful African-American pitchers in the 1960s, credits Leeroy Irby for the nickname. Seems Irby thought Grant was from Mississippi and others were happy to make the name stick.

43. Jim Hunter
Catfish

Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finely often seemed more interested in flashy P.R. than winning baseball games. Evidently, this nickname was a product of the PR-conscious Finley more than any angling the Hall of Fame pitcher might have done in his home state of North Carolina.

42. Randy Johnson
Big Unit

Okay, get your mind out of the gutter. Former Expos teammate — yes, Johnson was originally a member of the Expos — Tim Raines once collided with him during batting practice, looked up at the 6’10” hurler and proclaimed, “You’re a big unit.”

41. Mark Fidrych
The Bird

The affable righthander enjoyed talking to the baseball while on the mound and manicuring the mound on his hands and knees between innings. But it was because of his resemblance to Big Bird of Sesame Street fame that Fidrych was given his name.

40. Marc Rzepczynski
Scrabble

Some surnames scream for nicknames, like Yastrzemski with Yaz, and Mazeroski with Maz. But there are few names that could earn more points in the famous word game than this lefthander’s.

39. Doug Gwosdz
Eye-chart

Ancestors of the former catcher of the San Diego Padres must have misspelled this name somewhere down the line. But as astute teammates surmised, his jersey resembled those charts hanging on walls in optometrists’ offices.

38. Johnny Dickshot
Ugly

First of all, that is his real name. And secondly, he referred to himself as the “ugliest man in baseball.” So, we have no qualms about Dickshot making the list.

37. Luke Appling
Old Aches and Pains

Dubbed by teammates, it’s unclear whether the name was given in jest. But it is clear that Appling didn’t mind complaining about the physical demands of the job all the way to the Hall of Fame.

36. Roger Bresnahan
The Duke of Tralee

Nothing really unusual about this name; after all many players were named in honor of their hometowns. Earl Averill was the Duke of Snohomish after his hometown in Washington. But, Bresnahan was from Toledo. For some reason he enjoyed telling folks he was born in Tralee, Ireland.

35. Bob Feller
Rapid Robert

Taking the American League by storm as a teenager led to this nickname as well as The Heater from Van Meter (Iowa).

34. Edward Charles Ford
The Chairman of the Board

Well known as Whitey because of hair color, the lefty dominated the American League for 16 seasons as a member of the Yankees. As a tribute to his calm, cool demeanor in tough situations, he became known as the Chairman of the Board.

33. Leon Allen Goslin
Goose

Several sources agree on how Goslin acquired his name. Evidently, he waved his arms as he chased fly balls, had a long neck, and was not the most graceful player.

32. Willie Mays
Say Hey Kid

There is no definitive agreement on how Mays acquired this classic name.

31. Mickey Mantle
The Commerce Comet

Mantle, a star athlete from Commerce, Oklahoma, was offered a football scholarship by the University of Oklahoma, but wisely chose baseball.

30. Joe Medwick
Ducky-Wucky
(also Muscles)
According to Baseball-Reference.com, fans called Medwick Ducky-Wucky more than merely Ducky, presumably because of his gait, or perhaps the way he swam. Teammates, seemingly out of self-preservation, never called him Ducky-Wucky, but chose instead the name, Muscles.

29. Brooks Robinson
Vacuum Cleaner

If you ever saw Brooksie do his work around the hot corner, you would quickly understand the moniker. Teammate Lee May once quipped, “Very nice (play)...where do they plug Mr. Hoover in?”

28. Aloysius Harry Simmons
Bucketfoot Al

With an exaggerated stride toward third base. Bucketfoot Al bashed major league pitching at a .334 clip on his way to the Hall of Fame.

27. Lynn Nolan Ryan
Ryan Express

No one readily admits giving him the name, but any hitter who stood in the box against Ryan is keenly aware of what the name means.

26. Darrell Evans
Howdy Doody

One look at the famous puppet and a glance at the power-hitting lefty, and you’ll know why.

25. Dennis Boyd
Oil Can

Born in Mississippi (where beer may be referred to as oil), the colorful righthander carried the nickname on to the major leagues.

24. Johnny Lee Odom
Blue Moon

Reportedly, a classmate in grade school thought Odom’s face looked like the moon. Really?

23. Frank Thomas
Big Hurt

Given to Thomas by White Sox broadcaster Ken Harrelson. Thomas put the big hurt on American League pitching for 19 years.

22. Garry Maddox
Minister of Defense

If you watched Maddox patrol center field for the Phillies in the 1970s, you immediately get the name.

21. Mike Hargrove
Human Rain Delay

And you think Nomar Garciaparra invented the step-out-of-the-box-and-adjust-your-batting-gloves routine. Nope. Seasons changed between pitches when he was at bat.

20. Daniel Joseph Staub
Le Grand Orange

Known as Rusty by the Texans while with the Colt .45s, he became Le Grand Orange in Montreal as a member of the original Expos.

19. Jimmy Wynn
Toy Cannon

His small stature and powerful bat led to this moniker.

18. Steve Balboni
Bye-Bye

Presumably, Balboni was given the name because of his propensity to hit home runs. It may also be noted that a double meaning could be bye-bye, as in “He gone” back to the dugout because of his propensity to strike out.

17. Joakim Soria
The Mexicutioner

A two-time All-Star when he was the Royals' closer, Soria has since undergone Tommy John surgery and returned to ninth-inning duties with the Rangers. Besides switching uniforms, Soria also would appreciate not being known by his nickname, as its association with the violence in his native country hits a little too close to home.

16. Frank Howard
The Capital Punisher

While playing in the nation’s capital, Howard punished AL pitching for 237 home runs in seven seasons, twice leading the league with 44, and finishing second in 1969 with 48.

15. Carl Pavano
American Idle

After signing a four-year, $38 million deal with the Yankees prior to the 2005 season, Pavano made just nine starts in four seasons, going 3-3 with a 5.00 ERA.

14. Lawrence Peter Berra
Yogi

Evidently when Berra sat with arms and legs crossed a friend suggested he looked like a Hindu yogi. Now the term Yogi is associated with malaprops more than Hindu.

13. Mariano Rivera
The Sandman

Good night batters.

12. Rickey Henderson
Man of Steal

One look at his stats and you understand this one: 1,406 career steals and a record 130 in 1982.

11. Shane Victorino
The Flyin’ Hawaiian

Victorino plays the game with endless energy and spunk, but his heritage rules the day.

10. Vince Coleman
Vincent Van Go

A true artist of the stolen base.

9. Ken Reitz
Zamboni

Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon marveled at how the St. Louis third baseman could pick up everything.

8. Pablo Sandoval
Kung Fu Panda

The loveable Giant Panda.

7. Fred McGriff
Crime Dog

One of ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman’s nicknames that actually stuck. Thanks McGruff, the cartoon Crime Dog.

6. Kenny Rogers
The Gambler

“Every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser. The best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”

5. Jose Bautista
Joey Bats

Bautista was terrific as Joey Bats in “The Hitman” on YouTube. He’s been even better as himself for the Blue Jays.

4. Harry Davis
Stinky

Poor Davis lost his job as Detroit first baseman to some kid name Hank Greenberg in 1933.

3. Ron Cey
The Penguin

Playing for Tommy Lasorda in the minor leagues must have had its pros and cons. Having your manager dub you Penguin because of your awkward running style would probably fall on the con side.

2. William Ellsworth Hoy
Dummy Hoy

As if anyone needed reminding, here’s a clear indicator of just how far political correctness has come in 100 years. William Ellsworth Hoy lost his hearing and ability to speak as a result of childhood meningitis. At only 5’4”, he was difficult to strike out and was the first player to hit a grand slam in the American League. He died in 1961, just five months shy of his 100th birthday.

1. George Herman Ruth
Babe 
(also the Bambino, Sultan of Swat, The King of Sting, The Colossus of Clout)
Babe was the only major leaguer large enough for five larger than life nicknames.

 

Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie.

Teaser:
50 Best Baseball Nicknames Ever
Post date: Wednesday, April 2, 2014 - 16:04
Path: /mlb/washington-nationals-2014-preview
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Washington Nationals

The 2013 Nationals were built to win the World Series — then-manager Davey Johnson’s infamous boast, “World Series or bust,” became their de facto motto, and later their epitaph — which makes their flame-out all the more puzzling. Now, after getting younger in the manager’s office (with the hiring of Matt Williams to replace the retired Johnson), deeper in the rotation (a trade for Doug Fister that didn’t cost them any essential parts) and a year older and wiser across the board, it would be easy to sit back and say the 2014 Nationals appear on paper to be a championship-caliber squad. But we all know how that worked out for them last year.

Rotation
The December trade that brought Fister from Detroit to Washington may go down as one of GM Mike Rizzo’s finest moments. While everyone expected the Nats to acquire a fifth starter to replace the departed Dan Haren, Rizzo went out and nabbed a No. 2 starter — although thanks to the Nationals’ enviable depth, Fister is more realistically a No. 4 in D.C. In any case, a front four of Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Fister (not necessarily in that order) is as good or better than any in the game. The fifth spot could be either Tanner Roark or Taylor Jordan; most likely Roark, who was impressive in four of his five September starts in 2013. Lefthander Ross Detwiler moves to the bullpen.

Bullpen
What was expected to be a strength for the Nats in 2013, after the free-agent signing of closer Rafael Soriano, instead became a liability. Soriano was fine, but Drew Storen regressed all the way to Triple-A, and the lack of a reliable lefty specialist cost the Nationals in the first months of the season. For now, most of their top horses — Soriano, Storen, Tyler Clippard, Ross Ohlendorf — return to the pen in 2014, and a trade with Oakland brought them situational lefty Jerry Blevins. Detwiler will pitch out of the pen — at least to start the season — and could be extremely valuable. But Storen, who lost the closer’s job in 2012, remains a candidate to be traded, and a cynic might point out that Clippard’s declining strikeout rate (from 11.1 per nine innings in 2010 to 9.3 last season) portends trouble for their top eighth-inning man. In other words, as with all bullpens, the Nationals’ is a bit of a crapshoot. But there are many major league managers who would love to have a Storen-Clippard-Soriano trio in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.

Middle Infield
Fourth-year second baseman Danny Espinosa was hit by the perfect storm of adversity in 2013 — a nagging shoulder injury, a precipitous drop in performance (.158/.193/.272 in 167 plate appearances) and the looming presence of a younger replacement (Anthony Rendon) — and fell all the way to Triple-A Syracuse, where he spent the rest of the season after his June demotion. Rendon, meantime, more than held his own, hitting .265/.329/.396 as a 23-year-old and validating his status as the sixth overall pick of the 2011 draft. A natural third baseman, he also made a mostly flawless switch to the middle of the infield. It remains to be seen what Espinosa’s future with the Nats looks like, but the departure of utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi in the Fister trade makes that one possibility. As for shortstop, it is the most iron-clad position on the entire field for the Nationals, with veteran Ian Desmond coming off a second straight Silver Slugger award. The only question with him is how much it will cost the Nationals to extend him when the time comes.

Corners
At the beginning of 2013, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and first baseman Adam LaRoche were two of the surest things on the Nats’ roster. By the end of the season folks were questioning if either would be back in 2014 — at least at their incumbent positions. Zimmerman’s problems throwing the ball across the diamond, at times, were bad enough that a move to first base appeared on the near horizon. And LaRoche, after a dazzling 2012 at the plate, dropped more than 100 points of OPS in 2013. But both showed enough improvement late in the season to restore some faith, at least for now, and they return in 2014 to their usual spots. Zimmerman remains a consistent .280/25-homer/90-RBI, middle-of-the-order bat, and when his throwing motion is smooth, one of the top glove men in the game at his position. And LaRoche is still just a year removed from a 33-homer, 100-RBI year. Given the salary commitments ($12 million for LaRoche, $14 million for Zimmerman), the Nationals can only hope they stay healthy and produce.

Outfield
Center fielder Denard Span was the Nationals’ biggest acquisition of last offseason — a speedy center fielder, acquired in a trade with Minnesota, who was supposed to shore up the leadoff spot and allow Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth to man the corners. Span, though, was a disappointment offensively, posting a .327 on-base percentage that was the worst of his career and was 30 points below his career average. By July, he had lost his everyday leadoff job and was often benched against lefties. Nonetheless, the entire Nationals’ outfield returns intact. With Span, the team must hope he gets on base at a higher clip. Washington signed free agent Nate McLouth away from Baltimore and he should push Span. And with Harper and Werth, the only hope is that they stay healthy. Harper, the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year, put up impressive numbers last year for a 20-year-old (.274/.368/.486) but was never the same after running into the wall at Dodger Stadium in May. Werth, too, had a resurgent season that saw him post the highest OPS (.931) of his career, but he also missed 33 games due to a variety of injuries.

Catching
All that you need to know about Wilson Ramos’ impact on the Nationals is the fact that they went 48–29 when he was in the starting lineup last season, and 38–47 when he wasn’t. The problem is the number of games in the latter category. He missed most of 2012 following knee surgery and lost huge chunks of time in 2013 due to hamstring issues, with the Nationals relying on Kurt Suzuki in his place. But once Ramos returned for good, on July 4, the team’s fortunes began to change. He posted a .784 OPS the rest of the way, and the Nats got hot enough to make a run — which ultimately fell short — at the playoffs. If Ramos stays healthy all season in 2014, he will be among the best catchers in the game.

Bench
The Nationals had what they thought was a versatile, functional bench in 2013, except that almost everyone — Lombardozzi, Chad Tracy, Tyler Moore, Roger Bernadina, et al. — underperformed. All but Moore are gone now, and the Nationals seem prepared to go into 2014 with a bench anchored by right-handed corner types Moore and Scott Hairston, and the lefty hitting McLouth. There isn’t a strong utility infielder candidate, although Espinosa could wind up in that role if he doesn’t re-claim the second base job from Rendon. The backup catching duties will be handled by Jose Lobaton, who was acquired from Tampa Bay.

Management
It was clear by the end of 2013 that the Nationals needed a fresh direction and a fresh voice in the manager’s office, and Rizzo tapped into his own past to make it happen, hiring the 48-year-old Williams — whom Rizzo had come to respect years ago when both were in the Diamondbacks organization — to replace the 70-year-old Johnson. Williams brings a fiery demeanor and an appreciation for sabermetrics to the job, but perhaps the biggest takeaway from the Williams hire was how firmly Rizzo controls the reins of the Nationals’ baseball operations after five years on the job.

Final Analysis
The Nationals spent most of 2013 stagnating. In hindsight, much of the blame can be placed at the feet of Johnson, whose “World Series or bust” decree was an albatross in the clubhouse and who never managed to motivate his talented team. Fister was the shiniest addition to the Nats’ 2014 roster, but the biggest move may have been the hiring of Williams as manager. What the Nationals needed even more than innings pitched was a culture change, and if Williams’ approach works, 2014 may see the Nationals fulfill Johnson’s 2013 boast.


Lineup
CF    Denard Span (L)    
He owns a career .351 OBP, but dropped to career-worst .327 in 2013.
SS    Ian Desmond (R)    
Third-round pick in 2004 is Nats’ final link to franchise’s Montreal days.
LF    Bryce Harper (L)    
Most important stat in 2014? Games played. If he’s on the field, he’ll produce.
3B    Ryan Zimmerman (R)    
Finished strong in 2013, with 11 of his 26 homers coming after Aug. 31.
RF    Jayson Werth (R)    
He was one of game’s best hitters in second half of 2013, but turns 35 in May.
1B    Adam LaRoche (L)    
Could find himself sitting against lefties if production doesn’t improve over 2013.
2B    Anthony Rendon (R)    
Only seven homers as rookie in 2013, but Nats believe he will develop more power.
C    Wilson Ramos (R)    
If he’s healthy, he’ll hit — but played only 103 games in 2012-13 combined.

Bench
OF    Nate McLouth (L)    
Free-agent signee plays all three outfield positions and is one of top baserunners in the game.
OF    Scott Hairston (R)    
Production slipped in 2013, but still only two years removed from 20-homer season for Mets.
1B/OF    Tyler Moore (R)    
Never got untracked in 2013, but was crucial part of Nats’ vaunted 2012 bench.
INF    Danny Espinosa (S)    
Nats still believe he’s an MLB-level starter, but lost his job ast second base to Rendon early last season.
C    Jose Lobaton (S)    
Not much of a hitter, but Nats like his defense and intangibles behind the plate.

Rotation
RH     Stephen Strasburg    
Pivotal year ahead: Nats want him to make leap to unquestioned ace, workhorse.
LH    Gio Gonzalez    
Gave up nearly twice as many homers in 2013 as year before, in similar number of innings.
RH    Jordan Zimmermann    
His 19–9, 3.25 season in 2013 announced his arrival as co-ace of Nationals’ staff.
RH    Doug Fister    
With no DH and a better defensive infield behind him, he should thrive in Washington.
RH   Tanner Roark
Nats believe he's ready after posting a 0.913 WHIP in 53.2 innings last season.

Bullpen
RH    Rafael Soriano (Closer)    
Strikeouts per nine innings pitched fell from 9.2 in 2012 to 6.9 in 2013.
RH    Tyler Clippard    
Made 30 multiple-inning appearances in 2010, but only four the past two seasons combined.
RH    Drew Storen    
Midseason demotion to Triple-A was controversial, but he was better pitcher when he returned.
LH    Jerry Blevins    
Effectiveness against both lefties and righties means Nats will use for full inning on occasion.
LH    Ross Detwiler    
Has front-line stuff, but took step back in 2013 amid injuries, inconsistency.
RH    Craig Stammen    
Underappreciated piece, he has two straight years of sub-3.00 ERA and 80-plus innings pitched.
RH    Ross Ohlendorf    
Invaluable in 2013 as swing man, with seven starts (3–1, 3.52 ERA) and nine relief appearances.


2013 Top Draft Pick
Jake Johansen, RHP
Having lost their first-round pick to the Yankees as compensation for the signing of Rafael Soriano, the Nationals had to wait until the 68th overall pick to make a selection in the June amateur draft. But their choice of Dallas Baptist University righthander Jake Johansen already looks like a coup. Johansen, a 6'6" flamethrower, signed within 24 hours of the draft and breezed through the short-season New York-Penn League, posting a 1.06 ERA in 10 starts while holding opposing batters to a .147 average — good enough that the Nationals decided to challenge him with a promotion to Low-A Hagerstown, where he struggled initially but also threw five scoreless innings in a playoff victory. With a fastball that tops out at 99 mph and a full arsenal of complementary pitches, he has a bright future — beginning, one suspects, with a return to Hagerstown in April and a possible move to High-A Potomac by midseason.

Top Prospects
RHP Lucas Giolito (19)
The Nats’ top pick in 2012 returned from elbow surgery to post fine 2013, with 1.96 ERA combined in rookie ball/short-season A.
RHP A.J. Cole (22)
Traded to Oakland in Gio Gonzalez deal, reacquired in Michael Morse trade; could arrive in D.C. in 2014.
OF Brian Goodwin (23)
Good athlete, also has great strike-zone awareness; played 2013 at Double-A (.252/.355/.407).
1B/3B Matt Skole (24)
Freak elbow injury cost him nearly all of 2013, but returned to play in Arizona Fall League.
OF Steven Souza (24)
Big numbers at Double-A (.300/.396/.557), strong showing in Arizona Fall League have him poised for big leagues in 2014.
OF Michael Taylor (23)
Speedster repeated High-A in 2013 and hit .263/.340/.426 with 51 stolen bases in 58 attempts.

Beyond the Box Score
Balance of power It isn’t difficult to see where Bryce Harper must improve in 2014 if he is to progress from phenom to perennial MVP candidate, as his talent suggests he should. In 2013, he posted a .947 OPS against right-handed pitching, but just a .648 mark against lefties — a difference of nearly .300 points. He was actually better against lefties as a 19-year-old rookie in 2012, which suggests that the regression may have been a result of his nagging injuries.
Elbow issues Stephen Strasburg pitched through discomfort in his right elbow and forearm throughout much of 2013, according to agent Scott Boras, the result of bone chips that were removed over the winter. Strasburg still managed a fine season, posting a 3.00 ERA, but was plagued by chronic lack of run support in finishing with an 8–9 record.
On Board The Nationals decided to keep their coaching staff largely intact, including retaining bench coach Randy Knorr. This held the potential for an awkward situation, since Knorr also interviewed for the managing job that ultimately went to Matt Williams. In an effort to cut through the awkwardness, Knorr flew to Williams’ home in Phoenix in November and spent four days with him discussing baseball and watching Arizona Fall League games.
Werth the money At the 2013 All-Star break, Jayson Werth had posted numbers (.297/.363./.466) that were roughly in line with his career norms. The Nationals’ highest-paid player, Werth was nearly three years removed from the breakout 2010 season that earned him the seven-year $126 million contract. But then, Werth got hot and never cooled off. He hit .339/.432/.600 in the second half, winning NL Player of the Month for July and placing 13th in MVP voting.
Big Money The Nationals’ payroll has risen significantly, from around $68 million in 2011 to around $93 million in 2012 to around $118 million in 2013, and it is likely to rise again in 2014, given the contractual and arbitration-based raises of some of their core players, as well as the addition of Doug Fister. But the Nationals are also coming off a large attendance bump in 2013, and despite an ongoing dispute with the Orioles over right fees from their shared MASN deal, the Nationals will also receive higher fees in future years.

Teaser:
It would be easy to sit back and say the 2014 Nationals appear on paper to be a championship-caliber squad. But we all know how that worked out for them last year.
Post date: Monday, March 17, 2014 - 15:23
Path: /mlb/texas-rangers-2014-preview
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Texas Rangers

Short on their normal offensive production and long on injuries to their rotation in 2013, the Texas Rangers have their fingers crossed that a revamped lineup will hit again and that their starting pitchers will remain healthy this year, although the good health part is not off to a rousing start. Prince Fielder, acquired in a blockbuster trade for Ian Kinsler, is expected to put pop into a lineup that managed a relatively low 176 homers in 2013. Shin-Soo Choo was added a month later as the everyday left fielder and leadoff man. Matt Harrison, a former 18-game winner, is expected to return to the rotation after missing all but two starts, and the Rangers are hoping that Alexi Ogando can stay healthy, too. Harrison’s back is balky and that could prevent him from making his first start until mid-April. Lefthander Derek Holland may miss half the season after knee surgery. The only major piece missing from this team entering spring training was a closer, but Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz are still competing for the job. Manager Ron Washington has indicated he may use both depending on situations, at least until one proves worthy of the job full-time. Even with health issues in the rotation and a question of closing, this team has enough talent to contend in the American League West for a sixth straight season.

Rotation
Yu Darvish led major league baseball in strikeouts (277) and finished second in American League Cy Young voting. Darvish also held opponents to an AL-best .194 average and posted the fourth-best ERA (2.83). His critics point to multiple starts in which he surrendered late leads, as well as an over-reliance on his slider. The Rangers have urged him to work on his fastball command. Holland, one of three lefthanders in the rotation, logged a team-high 213 innings but was only 10–9 after another roller-coaster ride. Included were two complete-game shutouts, but also wins in only two of his final 14 starts and a 1–3 mark in September. He will be a welcome addition for the second half. Lefty Martin Perez is facing his first full season after holding onto a rotation spot after a June 22 call-up. He won 10 games and was the Rangers’ starter in their tie-breaking game against Tampa Bay. The biggest questions marks are Harrison and Ogando. Harrison was the Opening Day starter in 2013 but made only two starts before having back operations in April and May for a herniated disc. He later had surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in his right shoulder. Ogando, meanwhile, hit the disabled list three times with arm issues. He returned as a starter in September and pitched well enough to again convince management that he belongs in the rotation. Ogando has thrived as a starter in his career (19–12, 3.40 ERA in 48 starts). But many believe he is better suited as a reliever. The Rangers signed veterans Tommy Hanson and Joe Saunders to fill in gaps until all health issues are resolved.

Bullpen
The Rangers aren’t sure about their closer after Joe Nathan, who saved 80 games the past two seasons, wasn’t re-signed. Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz, former All-Star closers, should be near the form they showed before undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2012. Tanner Scheppers, who emerged as a top-flight setup man in 2013, could grab the job. The team’s primary lefty relievers will be Neal Cotts, coming off a terrific comeback season, and Robbie Ross, a starter in the minors who will be given a chance in the spring to return to that role. Jason Frasor, who finished with a flurry last year, re-signed early in the offseason and is the bullpen’s veteran presence along with Soria. A third veteran could be Jose Contreras if he makes the team as the long man. A pair of lefties, Joe Ortiz and Michael Kirkman, will be among the competitors for that spot.

Middle Infield
After a season of biding his time, 21-year-old Jurickson Profar will be an everyday player in 2014. Profar, a shortstop in the minors, played well defensively in flashes at second base when Kinsler was out of the lineup, but his bat lagged. Profar, baseball’s top prospect entering 2013, hit only .234 in 286 at-bats, and the switch-hitter batted only .188 from the right side. He’ll have Elvis Andrus as a double-play partner. Andrus, one of the longest-tenured Rangers (six years with the team) at just 25, is the face of the franchise. He opened the second half in 2013 with a 16-game hitting streak and ended up hitting .313 in his in final 64 games. Andrus finished with a .271 average, down 15 points from 2012, but he drove in a career-high 67 runs and stole a career-best 42 bases. The Rangers would like to see him drive the ball more.

Corners
The combination of Fielder at first base and Adrian Beltre at third gives the Rangers a top pair of corner infielders. Fielder fell out of favor in Detroit after a lousy postseason and a sub-par regular season, but he still hit .279 with 25 homers and 106 RBIs. The Rangers will take that at first, where Mitch Moreland has struggled. Most believe that Fielder, a left-handed slugger, will flourish at Rangers Ballpark. Beltre was the Rangers’ MVP after leading them with 30 homers, 92 RBIs, a .315 batting average and a .509 slugging percentage. Defensively, though, Beltre was off his game, possibly because of persistent leg injuries, and missed out on a third consecutive Gold Glove. He still is considered one of the best defensive third basemen in the game. The Rangers, though, will take a hit defensively with Fielder at first.

Outfield
The Rangers filled a significant lineup hole just before Christmas. They reached a seven-year, $130 million agreement with Choo, who will be the left fielder and leadoff man. He should score more than 100 runs if he gets on base as frequently as he did last season (.423 OBP). Leonys Martin and Alex Rios will join Choo. Martin, the center fielder, has one of the top arms in the game. He needs more patience at the plate, but he is a serious threat to steal bases. So is Rios, who stole 16 of his 42 bases with the Rangers after an August trade from the White Sox. The right fielder swatted 18 homers with 81 RBIs, and he figures to bat fifth in the lineup.

Catching
Geovany Soto will be the regular catcher after playing behind A.J. Pierzynski in 2013. Soto thrived in September and became the catcher pitchers preferred behind the plate. In particular, Darvish favored Soto, who is considered a better receiver than Pierzynski. Soto batted .440 in September, another reason for his promotion. That’s 246 points higher than his backup, J.P. Arencibia, batted in 2013 with Toronto. Once a franchise cornerstone, Arencibia fell out of favor in Toronto after hitting .194 with 148 strikeouts and only 18 walks in 2013. Still, he hit 21 home runs and is viewing his stint with the Rangers as a fresh start.

DH/Bench
The Rangers turned away several teams that were interested in Moreland, who lost his job at first base to Fielder but will be the top choice at designated hitter against right-handed pitching. Moreland has power (23 homers), but he hasn’t been able to find a consistent stroke at the plate. He batted only .232 — .194 over his final 98 games — in 2013. Arencibia is the primary backup catcher, but Robinson Chirinos can catch as well as play first and third. Adam Rosales is a valuable utility infielder. Engel Beltre is a speedy defensive ace who can play all three outfield spots.

Management
Washington enters his eighth season as manager. Fans continue to belly-ache about his love for the bunt and question his bullpen management, but no other manager in franchise history has won more games or achieved more in the postseason. Tim Bogar replaces Jackie Moore as bench coach. Jon Daniels has control over all baseball moves, and his recent track record suggests he has been among the game’s best general managers.

Final Analysis
Any worries among the fan base, and possibly inside the organization, about the 2014 season were quieted in December with the addition of Choo. He fills a big hole in the lineup and puts the Rangers in a position to score a bunch of runs — as usual. Now, the worry turns to the pitching staff, where the rotation needs to stay healthy.



Lineup
LF     Shin-Soo Choo (L)    
The Rangers love his knack for getting on base, and his power and speed fit well atop the lineup, too.
SS     Elvis Andrus (R)    
Batted .313 in 64 games after the All-Star break to prevent the worst offensive season of his career.
1B     Prince Fielder (L)    
Four homers, 15 RBIs and a .592 slugging percentage in 13 career games at Rangers Ballpark.
3B     Adrian Beltre (R)     
Collected 14 homers, 40 RBIs in July and August 2013, but only two homers, 10 RBIs in September.
RF     Alex Rios (R)    
Fit in seamlessly after August trade, hitting .280 with 19 extra-base hits and 16 steals in 47 games.
DH     Mitch Moreland (L)    
Woeful stretch in final 98 games (.194) has sent him from regular first baseman to part-time DH.
C     Geovany Soto (R)    
Fewer tweaks in his swing produced a .440 September average and faith that he can return to All-Star form.
CF     Leonys Martin (L)    
Hit .281 in 2013 in 108 games as the No. 8 or No. 9 hitter in 2013, but only .238 in 31 games atop lineup.
2B     Jurickson Profar (S)    
The former top prospect struggled in his first year, but the belief is he will flourish with regular playing time.


Bench
C     J.P. Arencibia (R)     
A lousy 2012 (.194, 148 Ks) led to his breakup with Toronto. The Rangers like his power and durability.
OF     Engel Beltre (L)     
Out of options, the speedy defensive ace could take on the same role as Craig Gentry the past few years.
INF     Adam Rosales (R)    
Rangers liked this high-energy player who can play all four infield spots enough to claim him twice in ’13.
UT    Robinson Chirinos (R)    
He can catch and play the infield corners, and his presence could allow Soto and Arencibia to DH some.


Rotation
RH     Yu Darvish    
The Cy Young runner-up led baseball in strikeouts and is on the verge of becoming a true ace.
LH     Matt Harrison    
Coming off of three surgeries, the former 18-game winner is the key to this rotation’s success in 2014.
LH     Martin Perez    
He finally showed the promise the Rangers had seen in the minors, and now he’s a rotation fixture.
RH     Alexi Ogando    
Despite three stints on the disabled list, Ogando is in the rotation plans, though some see him as a reliever.
RH    Tommy Hanson    
Was a consistent starter for the Braves from 2009-12, but struggled with the Angels last season with a 5.42 ERA and 1.548 WHIP.
LH     Derek Holland    
After knee surgery, the Rangers don’t expect him back until around the All-Star break.

Bullpen
RH     Neftali Feliz (Closer)    
Worked in winter ball to help regain his pre-Tommy John velocity. Could get first chance to close.
RH     Joakim Soria     
The former All-Star has the experience and work ethic the Rangers want at the back end of pen.
RH     Tanner Scheppers    
A candidate to be the closer, Scheppers excelled as a setup man in 2013 and is likely to start 2014 there.
LH     Neal Cotts    
Returned to the majors for the first time in four seasons and won a league-high eight games in relief.
LH     Robbie Ross    
Don’t be surprised to see this lefty start games, but early in the season his value will be as a reliever.
RH     Jason Frasor    
The veteran re-signed early in the offseason, hoping the Rangers can put him in the postseason again.
LH     Joseph Ortiz    
Lefty opened 2013 on the roster but bounced between Triple-A after hitting some rookie road bumps.


2013 Top Draft Pick
Alex Gonzalez, RHP
The Rangers ended four straight years of using their first pick on a high school player by taking Gonzalez, a righthander from Oral Roberts, and he advanced enough after his professional debut to be considered among the organization’s top prospects. Gonzalez had a few early hiccups in July, a result of missing up in the strike zone, but was pitching in the High-A playoffs two months later. He could very well open 2014 at Double-A. Gonzalez’s best pitch is a cut fastball that was hailed by some experts as the best in the draft. He throws a slider that has more tilt and depth than the cutter, and continues to work on a changeup that could become a plus pitch. Gonzalez is part of the next wave of pitchers in the Rangers’ system. The problem, though, is that they are all at or on the cusp of Double-A. That could play into the favor of Gonzalez, who has more polish.

Top Prospects
OF Lewis Brinson (19)
The 29th overall pick in 2012 impresses with his athleticism, arm and power, but he is a strikeout machine who needs to make more contact.
2B Rougned Odor (20)
Loaded with talent and desire, the Venezuelan could eventually push Jurickson Profar for a big-league job.
C Jorge Alfaro (20)
He will likely open 2014 at High-A Myrtle Beach after a big 2013 at Low-A Hickory and a strong Arizona Fall League.
RHP Luke Jackson (22)
After finishing 2013 with a flourish at Double-A, Jackson rates as the minor-league pitcher closest to joining the Rangers.
3B Joey Gallo (20)
The top power hitter in the minors, Gallo crushed 40 homers in 2013.
SS Luis Sardinas (20)
Injury-plagued early in his career, Sardinas is finally showcasing his talents.


Beyond the Box Score
No more Nolan Nolan Ryan resigned as the Rangers’ CEO in October and sold his small ownership stake, ending a tumultuous year in which his role was put into question after general manager Jon Daniels added president of baseball operations to his title. The Rangers went 536–437 during Ryan’s six seasons with the organization.
Strange pick The Rangers made the biggest splash of the annual Rule 5 Draft at the winter meetings when they selected second baseman Russell Wilson — the same Russell Wilson who stars at quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks. Wilson was drafted in the fourth round by Colorado in 2010 and played parts of two minor-league seasons. He was on the Rockies’ inactive list when drafted by the Rangers, who admire his character and hope to show him off at spring training to their minor leaguers as an example of the kind of makeup it takes to be successful.
New career? Lefthander Derek Holland, known as much for his baseball accomplishments as his off-the-field quirkiness, landed a small role in the opening scene of the movie “Dumb & Dumber To”. Holland was captured with former teammate Justin Grimm re-enacting the tuxedo scene from the original move starring Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, and the producers invited him after seeing clips of his performance. The movie is scheduled to be released later this year.
Boot camp In the second inning of the Rangers’ Sept. 26 game against the Angels, three players combined for four errors, all with two outs, to help turn a 3–1 lead into a 4–3 deficit. Mitch Moreland started it by bobbling a grounder at first base, and former second baseman Ian Kinsler booted a grounder and threw a ball away two batters later. An Adrian Beltre throwing error on the next play capped the sloppiness.
Walk-off Wonders The four-error inning didn’t cost the Rangers as they beat the Angels on a walk-off homer for the fourth straight game at Rangers Ballpark. The streak started July 29, as Geovany Soto won it with a solo homer in the ninth, and Leonys Martin hit a three-run game-winner in the 10th the next night. Adrian Beltre took his turn July 31 with a leadoff homer in the ninth, and Jurickson Profar started the ninth on Sept. 26 with a pinch-hit shot to right field.

Teaser:
Even with health issues in the rotation and a question of closing, this team has enough talent to contend in the American League West for a sixth straight season.
Post date: Friday, March 14, 2014 - 12:54
Path: /mlb/seattle-mariners-2014-preview
Body:

Seattle Mariners

It’s been a rollicking offseason in the Pacific Northwest that began, actually, in the final week of September when manager Eric Wedge exited in a public pique over his failure to receive a long-term contract extension. Wedge elaborated on his frustration to the Seattle Times in an early December article that portrayed the Mariners’ front office as a meddling, dysfunctional mess. That story ran after general manager Jack Zduriencik hired Lloyd McClendon to replace Wedge but before the club finalized details on the winter’s most eye-popping move: signing free-agent second baseman Robinson Cano to a 10-year deal for $240 million. The Mariners were, in fact, linked to virtually every major free agent on the market along with several intriguing trade targets (including Rays pitcher David Price and Royals designated hitter Billy Butler). They did sign free-agent first baseman/outfielder Corey Hart and acquired Miami first baseman/outfielder Logan Morrison prior to the holidays, but Zduriencik and his staff entered the new year with a roster imbalance that suggests further moves are necessary to turn a 71–91 club into a postseason contender.

Rotation
Any rotation that starts with Felix Hernandez and includes Hisashi Iwakuma has a chance to be special. Now add two of the game’s top prospects, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, and the Mariners have the potential to run out one of the game’s better units. A few complications cropped up during spring training. Iwakuma has a finger injury that could cost him a month or more. Walker’s shoulder is flaring up. The club hopes it’s nothing serious, but Walker will take it easy this spring. Veteran righthander Scott Baker will fill in for at least a handful of starts at the beginning of the season. The mix for more permanent spots at the back end of the rotation includes Brandon Maurer, Erasmo Ramirez and Blake Beavan.

Bullpen
Last season left some painful memories for the relief corps. The bullpen coughed up 13 walk-off losses and 14 more defeats in which the winning run scored in the opponent’s final at-bat. The M’s also set a franchise record with 15 extra-inning losses. That’s a lot of bad bullpen work. Seattle signed former Rays closer Fernando Rodney to rescue the group. After excelling in the World Baseball Classic, Rodney struggled for much of last season. He was almost unhittable in 2012 with a 0.777 WHIP and 0.60 ERA. He converted 48 of 50 save chances. Last season was bit of a different story. He blew eight chances, saved 37 with a 3.38 ERA and 1.335 WHIP. The M’s believe he can return to his 2012 form. Rodney’s setup mates will be Danny Farquhar, who secured 16 saves in 18 chances after becoming the closer in early August, and former closer Tom Wilhelmsen. The latter was erratic last season, which is why he lost his job, but he was a reliable option a year earlier in compiling a 2.50 ERA in 73 games. So there’s bounce-back potential there. Yoervis Medina produced a solid rookie season with a 2.91 ERA and 71 strikeouts (but 40 walks) in 68 innings. Lefty Charlie Furbush held opponents to a .199 average and struck out 80 in 65 innings. That hope isn’t necessarily hopeless.

Middle Infield
Adding Cano, one of the game’s premier players, is a game-changer. The arguments against his massive deal, and there are plenty, are generally aimed at its long-term risk, i.e., how long he can remain a dominant player. But right now? There’s not much not to like. Cano, 31, is durable and has averaged 25 homers and 99 RBIs along with a .307/.358/.508 slash over the last seven years. He is a five-time All-Star, a two-time Gold Glove winner and a five-time Silver Slugger recipient. Adding Cano turns former first-round pick Nick Franklin into a trade chip. Franklin showed potential last season as a rookie, and club officials say it’s possible he battles Brad Miller for duty at shortstop or even shifts, like Dustin Ackley, to the outfield. More likely, Franklin heads back to Triple-A Tacoma for regular playing time (he has options) until the Mariners find an acceptable trade. Miller became the shortstop at midseason, which is when the M’s could no long tolerate since-departed Brendan Ryan’s ultra-anemic bat. Miller is the anti-Ryan; he has hit throughout his minor-league career, and batted .265 last year in 76 games, but generally rates below average in advanced defensive metrics.

Corners
Third baseman Kyle Seager was picked by the Seattle chapter of the BBWAA as the club’s MVP for each of the last two seasons. That says a lot about the Mariners, because his numbers, while solid, are hardly All-Star quality. Still, the problem isn’t Seager; it’s what the Mariners have put around him. Speaking of which … check the crowd at first base. Incumbent Justin Smoak’s size and swing seems to offer enviable switch-hitting power potential, and he has hit 39 homers over the last two seasons. But he’s also batted .227 with a .387 slugging percentage. The Mariners’ response was to sign Hart and acquire Morrison in a trade for reliever Carter Capps. McClendon says that Smaok is his guy at first base — for now anyway. The general view outside of Seattle is it’s a matter of time before Smoak gets traded, and Hart and Morrison split time at first base and DH. For now, converted catcher Jesus Montero, the erstwhile franchise cornerstone, appears ticketed for Tacoma.

Outfield
The Mariners hope Ackley follows the route that Alex Gordon blazed in Kansas City in rising from a disappointing can’t-miss prospect into an All-Star by shifting from the infield to the outfield. Like Gordon (2005), Ackley (2009) was a No. 2 overall pick in the draft. Early indicators are promising. Ackley batted .285 with a .354 on-base percentage in 68 games after returning June 25 from one month of outfield training at Tacoma. He probably fits best in a corner. The center field job could fall to Abraham Almonte, a rookie who flashed potential over 25 late-season games. Michael Saunders is versatile enough to play any of the three spots but must rebound at the plate to get regular time. Defensively, McClendon doesn’t want to use Hart or Morrison in the outfield, but he may have to at times.

Catching
Mike Zunino batted just .214 with five homers and 14 RBIs as a rookie last year in 52 games after not doing much better earlier in the season at Tacoma. His ratings in the major defensive metrics aren’t pretty either. Even so, club officials see Zunino, the third overall pick in the 2012 draft, as a long-term answer behind the plate. The M’s had better be right, and Zunino had better stay healthy (he missed more than a month last season because of a broken hand). The tentative backup is veteran John Buck.

DH/Bench
The DH plan is to rotate Hart, Morrison and Smoak. Veteran Willie Bloomquist returns to serve as the utilityman. He’s a solid addition who can do everything but pitch and catch. After Franklin Gutierrez announced he would sit out this season dealing with gastrointestinal issues, the door opened for Cole Gillespie, who batted .203 in limited time with the Giants and Cubs last season.

Management
Zduriencik deserves credit for paring down a bloated payroll to the point where he could attempt to remake the club through a series of high-profile moves. But he’s entering his sixth season, and it’s time to show progress.

Final Analysis
Adding Cano makes any team better. Adding Hart, Morrison and Bloomquist should help a roster that last year often appeared overly young and overmatched. The rotation has the potential to be among the league’s best. But is this a playoff contender as the roster is currently set up? Not unless a lot of things go right.


Lineup
LF    Dustin Ackley (L)    
Second pick of the 2009 draft regained status last
season as key part of future.
CF    Abraham Almonte (S)    
Lefty-heavy lineup could push him toward top. Hit .314 and slugged .491 in Triple-A.
2B    Robinson Cano (L)    
How will he respond to always being in spotlight? The pressure will be on the $240 million man.
RF    Corey Hart (R)    
Knees a concern because his righty bat is big element. Hit 87 HRs over last three seasons in Milwaukee.
3B    Kyle Seager (L)    
Consistent performer — has hit .258, .259, .260 last three seasons — should improve with better cast.
1B    Justin Smoak (S)    
Had only 50 RBIs despite hitting 20 HRs last year.
DH    Logan Morrison (L)    
Acquired from Miami in a December trade. Not a great fit in outfield but must play somewhere.
SS    Brad Miller (L)    
Has decent pop for a middle infielder but needs to improve defensively to solidify infield.
C    Mike Zunino (R)    
Rookie year wasn’t great but has tools to be a top-flight catcher.


Bench
C    John Buck (R)    
The durable veteran has logged at least 398 plate appearances in nine of last 10 seasons.
UT    Willie Bloomquist (R)    
Solid veteran should help in many areas. Drafted by the Mariners in both 1996 and ’99.  
OF    Cole Gillespie (R)    
For his career, he’s a .207 hitter as a starter but that jumps to .294 coming off the bench.
OF    Michael Saunders (L)    
Could regain regular spot if bat bounces back. He hit .236 in 2013.


Rotation
RH    Felix Hernandez    
Prototype for a No. 1 starter. ERA has been under 3.10 in four of the last five seasons.
RH    Hisashi Iwakuma    
By end of last season, nobody anywhere was better. Allowed only three earned runs in last five starts. A sprained tendon in his finger will delay the start of his season.
RH    Taijuan Walker    
There’s a reason other teams keep asking about the No. 43 pick in the 2010 draft. Shoulder inflammation during the spring has management a bit concerned.
LH    James Paxton    
If not for Walker, would be getting a lot more attention. Shined in four starts last season.
RH    Erasmo Ramirez    
23-year-old native of Nicaragua is the best bet to win starting job in spring training.
RH    Scott Baker    
After missing 2012, Baker made three starts for the Cubs late last season — two of them were very good. He’ll fill in for Iwakuma and Walker until they are pronounced healthy.


Bullpen
RH    Fernando Rodney (Closer)    
Considering last season was a bit of a struggle, 37 saves isn’t too shabby. He should enjoy pitching in spacious Safeco Field.
RH    Danny Farquhar    
Was 16-for-18 in save opportunities after getting job. Struck out 79 in 55.2 innings.
RH    Yoervis Medina    
Command still an issue but projects as top setup man. Allowed 49 hits in 68.0 innings as a rookie.
LH    Charlie Furbush    
A power arm — struck out 80 in 65 innings in ’13 — who should be top lefty setup man.
RH    Tom Wilhelmsen    
Looking for bounce-back year after rocky 2013 in which ERA increased from 2.50 to 4.12.
LH    Lucas Luetge    
Fits well as unit’s situational lefty on a staff that lacks southpaws.
RH    Brandon Maurer    
Likely swingman if he fails to win job in the starting
rotation. Made 14 starts last season.
RH    Stephen Pryor    
Will the hard-throwing righthander be recovered from his back injury by Opening Day?


2013 Top Draft Pick
D.J. Peterson, 3B
The 12th overall pick, Peterson, 22, quickly validated the Mariners’ assessment that he provides impact potential as a right-handed power bat before his season ended in a beaning that resulted in his jaw being wired shut. Prior to that, he had a .303/.365/.553 slash with 13 homers in 55 games at short-season Everett and Low-A Clinton. Club officials will watch closely to see how Peterson, who played collegiately at New Mexico, responds in his return. Assuming no problems, he’ll be back on a very fast track. It’s not impossible that he gets a late look this season, although 2015 seems more likely. Some scouts aren’t sold on his defensive skills at third base and believe he’ll eventually shift to a corner outfield spot.

Top Prospects
LHP Danny Hultzen (24)
Was one of the top lefty pitching prospects in baseball entering 2013 but could miss all of 2014 while recovering from surgery on rotator cuff and labrum.
LHP James Paxton (25)
Has big-time potential and is penciled into rotation but could end up back to minors if command issues surface.
RHP Victor Sanchez (19)
Draws strong marks for strike-throwing skills at his age after allowing just 18 walks last season in 113.1 innings.
LHP Tyler Pike (20)
Command is an issue, but he’s on fast track after yielding only 73 hits in 110.1 innings at Low-A Clinton.
SS Chris Taylor (23)
Has made quick progression in two pro seasons; ended last year at Class AA Jackson. Has .411 on-base percentage in 183 games.
RHP Edwin Diaz (20)
Made major jump last year in allowing only 18 walks and 45 hits in 69 innings while compiling 1.43 ERA at short-season Pulaski.


Beyond the Box Score
Eight and counting Felix Hernandez has recorded at least 150 strikeouts in each of his first eight full big-league seasons. The only other pitchers to achieve that feat are in the Hall of Fame: Walter Johnson (1908-15) and Bert Blyleven (1971-78). Johnson ran his streak to 11 years; Blyleven did it in his first 10 full seasons.
Century mark When Hernandez got his 100th career victory April 22 in a 7–1 win at Houston, he became the sixth-youngest pitcher, at 27 years and 14 days, to hit triple figures since the divisional era began in 1969. Those who were younger: Dwight Gooden (24, 215 days), Bert Blyleven (25, 76 days), Fernando Valenzuela (26, 162 days), Don Gullett (26, 199 days) and Vida Blue (26, 361 days).
Youthful achievement Taijuan Walker became the youngest starting pitcher in franchise history to record a victory when he worked five scoreless innings Aug. 30 in a 7–1 victory at Houston. Walker was 21 years and 17 days old. The previous record belonged to Travis Blackley at 21 years, 240 days on July 1, 2004, in an 8–4 victory over Texas at Safeco Field.
Historic slam Kyle Seager became the first player in big-league history to hit a game-tying grand slam in extra innings when he went deep with two outs in the bottom of the 14th inning on June 5 against White Sox closer Addison Reed. It merely prolonged the agony. The Mariners lost 7–5 in 16 innings. It was one of a club-record 15 losses in extra innings.
1-2 punch Hisashi Iwakuma (2.66) and Hernandez (3.04) combined for a 2.84 ERA at the front of the Mariners’ rotation. That marked the lowest combined ERA by two starting pitchers (who pitched sufficient innings to qualify for the ERA title) in franchise history. Those marks were also the fifth- and sixth-lowest qualifying ERAs in franchise history. Hernandez holds the club record at 2.27 in 2010.
Iron man Robinson Cano has not only been one of the best second basemen in baseball since breaking into the Yankees lineup in 2005, he’s also been one of the most durable players in the game. Cano has played in at least 159 games in seven straight seasons and started at least 150 games at second base in each of those seasons.

Teaser:
Adding Cano makes any team better. But is this a playoff contender as the roster is currently set up? Not unless a lot of things go right.
Post date: Friday, March 14, 2014 - 12:30
Path: /mlb/oakland-2014-preview
Body:

Oakland A’s

The A’s won two straight division titles and followed with a bunch of offseason moves. It was business as usual for a team with a relatively tiny payroll, so-so attendance and an antiquated ballpark. The A’s don’t rebuild. They recreate — even when they’re good, and they were good in 2013 en route to winning 96 games and running away with a division that included the high-spending Rangers and Angels. GM Billy Beane still felt the need to deal for relievers Jim Johnson and Luke Gregerson and outfielder Craig Gentry and sign starting pitcher Scott Kazmir and utility infielder Nick Punto. With ace Bartolo Colon and closer Grant Balfour (Oakland’s two All-Stars last season) lost to free agency, the A’s again must prove themselves against the big boys of the division, which welcomes the Mariners’ Robinson Cano. Given their track record, the A’s seek nothing less than an AL West three-peat.

Rotation
With Colon no longer around, the co-aces figure to be Sonny Gray, 24, and Jarrod Parker, 25. A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily are in the same age group, which makes Kazmir the old man at 30, a decade younger than Colon. The rotation ranked second in ERA in the AL and first in complete-game shutouts and opponents’ batting average, and Gray was around for only 10 starts. Oakland’s latest phenom to hit the rotation, Gray won the division-clinching game and threw eight shutout innings in a memorable playoff duel with Justin Verlander. A’s fans are eager to see the Vanderbilt product over a full season. He has a 96 mph fastball, wicked 12-to-6 curve and bulldog mentality that makes up for a slight frame. Parker has had time to rest after ending his season with fatigue and a forearm strain, coming in the wake of a 19-start unbeaten streak, the longest by an A’s starter since Lefty Grove in 1931. The Kazmir signing (two years, $22 million) made Brett Anderson, who started the 2013 opener, expendable, and he was dealt to Colorado. But Kazmir is a risk, considering that he struggled in independent ball in 2012 before making 29 starts for Cleveland last year.

Bullpen
The A’s broke ground when acquiring Johnson as their closer. They have a history of creating closers, including Balfour and Andrew Bailey and going back to Jason Isringhausen and even Dennis Eckersley. With Johnson, they’ve got a ready-made closer who saved 101 games the past two years for Baltimore. The bullpen was deep, and now it might be deeper with the addition of Johnson, who’s replacing Balfour (38 saves), and Gregerson, who boasts one of the game’s most effective sliders. Returning setup men Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle and Dan Otero combined for a 2.52 ERA. With the absence of Anderson and Jerry Blevins, who was dealt to the Nationals, Doolittle won’t have much left-handed company unless Tommy Milone — an effective starter in 2012 who fell from grace in ’13 —former Rockie Drew Pomeranz or Fernando Abad, acquired from the Nationals in November, is in the mix. An ace in the hole down the stretch could be former Brave Eric O’Flaherty. The accomplished lefty setup man is coming off Tommy John surgery last May, so he could be back in top form for the second half.

Middle Infield
Jed Lowrie is the undisputed shortstop. Not necessarily a defensive whiz, Lowrie makes the routine plays and is coming off his most durable and productive season, appearing in 154 games, 57 more than his previous high. He was the projected second baseman last year but played mostly short, because Hiro Nakajima of Japan spent the season in the minors. The A’s finished 2013 with an Eric Sogard-Alberto Callaspo platoon at second and added Punto. Sogard is something of a cult figure with his spectacles and aggressive style, prompting fans to embrace “Nerd Power.” But the double-play combination won’t wow you — the A’s turned only 112 DPs, fewest in the majors and fewest by an Oakland team in a non-strike season. Meantime, big-time prospect Addison Russell was solid in the Arizona Fall League and could play some shortstop for the A’s by season’s end.

Corners
Third baseman Josh Donaldson and first baseman Brandon Moss give the A’s plenty of pop. Donaldson might have been the majors’ best position player not to make an All-Star team or win an MVP or Gold Glove. But in Oakland, he was cherished. The former catcher had a breakout year and was especially adept in clutch situations, hitting .336 with runners in scoring position and going 8-for-12 with the bases loaded. His All-Star chances improved with the news that Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, the league’s MVP, was moving from third to first. Moss is a dead pull hitter who hit 30 homers and struck out 140 times. Nate Freiman, a Rule 5 acquisition, platooned with Moss for much of the season and could continue to hang around for at-bats against lefties unless Callaspo — mentioned by manager Bob Melvin as an option at first base — supplants him. Lefty-swinging Daric Barton, the team’s longest-tenured player, was re-signed to a non-guaranteed contract. He’s a better defender than Moss, so his presence allows Moss to DH.

Outfield
Left fielder Yoenis Cespedes and right fielder Josh Reddick seek bounce-back years. Reddick should be stronger after undergoing postseason surgery on his right wrist, which bothered him last summer. Cespedes is more of a mystery. The Home Run Derby champ had similar power numbers to 2012, but his average slipped 52 points to .240, and his on-base percentage dropped 62 points to .294. It has been speculated the A’s might trade Cespedes, but they were 165–96 the past two years with him in the lineup, 25–38 without. At 34, Coco Crisp remains a valuable leadoff man and defensive center fielder, bringing oomph to the lineup when healthy. He’ll get some help. Gentry was acquired from Texas, where he posted a .373 OBP. He should be an upgrade over last year’s fourth outfielder, Chris Young, whose OBP was .280.

Catching
The A’s wouldn’t mind some stability. Last season began with a Derek Norris-John Jaso platoon. It ended with Stephen Vogt as the No. 1 catcher. Vogt is a nice story, having been acquired on the cheap from the Rays to provide depth in the minors. Jaso sustained a concussion and Norris broke a toe, and suddenly Vogt was playing (and succeeding) in the majors, hitting well and shedding his image as an iffy defender. Pitchers are comfortable throwing to Vogt. Once again, it’s likely that Jaso and Norris will see most of the time, with Jaso also getting some at-bats as DH.
 
DH/Bench
At times last season, Melvin platooned at four spots, and it could be more of the same in 2014. Gentry will get significant time as the fourth outfielder, considering the health record of the top three guys. The A’s snagged two other outfielders from the Nationals: Corey Brown, whom they drafted in 2007 and shipped to Washington in the Josh Willingham trade, and Billy Burns, who stole 74 bases in 81 attempts in the minors. The switch-hitting Punto could find himself anywhere on the infield, perhaps mostly at second. Tampa Bay catcher Chris Gimenez was claimed off waivers as insurance. The lefty-swinging Jaso could get plenty of DH at-bats, but Melvin plans to rotate other players at DH, including Moss, Cespedes and Crisp.

Management
No one works a roster quite like Melvin, who was named AL Manager of the Year in 2012 and finished third in the voting last year. Melvin platoons at several positions, relies heavily on left-right matchups and again has a group of versatile players furnished by Beane. No GM was busier in December than Beane, who pulled off five trades and a free-agent signing over nine days. In one 48-hour stretch, Beane traded for Johnson, Gregerson and Gentry and signed Kazmir, in the process replacing free agents Colon, Balfour and Young.

Final Analysis
The A’s appear at least as well-rounded as last year. The bullpen is deeper with Gregerson, and the bench is deeper with Gentry and Punto. As always, it starts with the rotation, and the A’s must prove they can flourish without Colon, who had 18 wins and a 2.65 ERA. The A’s finished 5.5 games ahead of the Rangers, who added Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo. Oakland’s most expensive acquisition was Kazmir at $22 million, but the A’s never try to keep up with their free-spending division foes. They simply try to outplay them, which they have designs on doing for a third straight year.

Lineup
CF     Coco Crisp (S)     
Energizes lineup. Set career highs in homers, walks and runs and played errorless ball.
3B     Josh Donaldson (R)     
Can he improve on finishing fourth in MVP voting? His 174 hits were A’s most since Mark Kotsay’s 190 in ’04.
SS     Jed Lowrie (S)     
Coming off career year (.290, 15 HRs, 75 RBIs). Eligible for free agency after the season.
LF     Yoenis Cespedes (R)     
Average dropped by 52 points and slugging dipped from .505 to .442 from first to second MLB season.
1B     Brandon Moss (L)     
Grip and rip, and never mind a two-strike approach. Led A’s with 30 HRs, 140 strikeouts.
RF     Josh Reddick (L)     
Coming off wrist surgery, looking for bounce-back season after his homers total dipped from 32 to 12.
DH     John Jaso (L)     
Life is safer as a DH. Missed final two months with concussion, which left his catching career in jeopardy.
C     Derek Norris (R)     
Season hit detour with broken toe suffered in August. After returning, hit .325 in 40 at-bats.
2B     Eric Sogard (L)     
Hit himself onto roster in spring training (.444) and stuck all year, appearing in 130 games.

Bench
OF     Craig Gentry (R)    
Superior runner and defender, and he can play any spot in the outfield.
INF     Nick Punto (S)     
Could share time with Sogard at second and play short or third when Lowrie or Donaldson rest.
INF     Alberto Callaspo (S)     
Candidate to platoon at either first or second. Played six positions in big-league career but never at first.
1B    Daric Barton    (L)    
The seven-year veteran had 488 plate appearances in 110 games at Triple-A Sacramento last season; just 120 in 37 games with Oakland.

Rotation
RH     Sonny Gray     
Huge expectations for the kid who was selected over Bartolo Colon to start Game 5 of ALDS.
RH     Jarrod Parker     
Fatigued late last season. Diagnosed with forearm strain that didn’t require surgery.
LH     Scott Kazmir     
Will he live up to the highest average annual value ($11 million) ever for an A’s starter?
RH    A.J. Griffin     
Entering second full season. Won 14 and led staff with 200 innings, finished with elbow tendinitis.
RH    Dan Straily     
Trying to avoid the Sacramento shuttle, which he took several times in 2013. Still managed 27 starts.


Bullpen
RH     Jim Johnson (Closer)    
Struggled early last season for the Orioles, but a 50-save season is a 50-save season.
LH     Sean Doolittle    
Tough against both righties and lefties. Would have been good closer option if A’s hadn’t acquired Johnson.
RH     Luke Gregerson     
Accomplished setup man with mean slider. In five years with Padres, had 2.88 ERA and 1.092 WHIP.
RH     Ryan Cook     
Posted 2.54 ERA but allowed 50 percent (15 of 30) of inherited runners to score. He’s dealing with shoulder inflammation during the spring.
RH     Dan Otero     
Worked way into a setup role by yielding three earned runs in final 35.1 innings (0.76 ERA).
RH     Jesse Chavez     
You know you’ve got a quality long reliever when he throws the final 5.2 innings in an 18-inning win.
LH     Drew Pomeranz     
Hoping to improve away from Coors Field. Could make team as reliever/spot starter.

2013 Top Draft Pick
Billy McKinney, CF
The A’s love on-base percentage, and McKinney’s was .585 as a senior at Plano West Senior in Plano, Texas — 36 walks, just six strikeouts in 130 plate appearances. After McKinney was selected 24th overall in the draft, his parents rented “Moneyball,” the movie that offers a slightly fictionalized portrayal of GM Billy Beane’s behind-the-scenes work during the A’s 2002 season, including emphasizing OBP. “Awesome movie,” said McKinney, who quickly signed and accumulated a .387 OBP in 55 games in rookie league and Low-A. Scouts love his left-handed swing, which he modeled after Josh Hamilton’s, having grown up in Texas close to the Rangers’ ballpark. McKinney played center in his first pro season, but he could be moved to a corner. In 243 plate appearances as an A’s minor leaguer, 15 of his 70 hits went for extra bases: nine doubles, three triples, three homers.

Top Prospects
SS Addison Russell (20)
The 2012 first-round pick hit .302 with .389 OBP in first two pro seasons; could be A’s shortstop by 2015 with Jed Lowrie’s contract expiring after 2014.
RHP Michael Ynoa (22)
Signed as 16-year-old in 2008. Progress slowed by injuries but had a 2.14 ERA in 15 starts at Class A Beloit last year.
SS Daniel Robertson (19)
In Russell’s shadow, also from 2012 draft (34th pick overall). Hit .277 with Beloit. Could switch positions down the road.
CF Billy Burns (24)
Obtained in Jerry Blevins trade. Stole 74 bases in 81 tries in Nationals’ farm system last season.
3B Renato Nunez (19)
Collected 19 homers and 85 RBIs in A-ball three years after being signed out of Venezuela.
1B Matt Olson (19)
The 47th overall pick in 2012 had low average (.225) but hit 23 homers with 93 RBIs at Beloit.

Beyond the Box Score
Consistency The A’s were the only team in the majors with winning records all six months of the regular season. In fact, the streak is 10 months, dating to June 2012. Problem is, they’ve had two straight losing Octobers, dropping the Division Series in five games to Detroit in back-to-back seasons.
Couple of pros Nate Freiman, who hit .274 as a rookie, isn’t the only athlete in his family to reach the pro ranks. His wife, Amanda Blumenherst, was on the LPGA tour for several years, and Freiman served as her caddy in offseasons. They met at Duke, where they were the school’s senior athletes of the year in 2009. How’s Freiman’s golf game? “I can’t even shoot under 100. I’m the least competitive person on the golf course,” he says. Blumenherst stepped away from the tour late last year to travel with her husband.
Clean shaven Josh Reddick trimmed his long beard in November, having lost a “beard off” to pro wrestler Daniel Bryan. Reddick made the announcement by sending his cleaner-looking mug out on Twitter. The right fielder had a breakout 2012 with 32 homers and 85 RBIs. In 2013, a bearded Reddick hit 12 homers and 56 RBIs, but the reason for the decline wasn’t about facial hair as much as a sore wrist that required postseason surgery.
Quick start The A’s have been known as a second-half team, amping it up when the weather warms up. But last year, they had two solid halves. Of the franchise’s last eight playoff teams, dating to 1992, only last year’s club was in sole possession of first place at the All-Star break. The A’s were 56–39 at intermission and weren’t bad after, either, going 40–27 and leading the majors in second-half homers for the second straight year.
Back, back, back Bob Melvin usually throws batting practice to Yoenis Cespedes but took a break in July. Cespedes was invited to the Home Run Derby, and Melvin wasn’t planning to be in New York for the All-Star Game. So third-base coach Mike Gallego became Cespedes’ designated batting-practice pitcher. Gallego threw to Cespedes in the days before the derby. At the big event at Citi Field, he served up 32 home run pitches. Cespedes easily won it, beating Bryce Harper in the final round.

Teaser:
The A’s finished 5.5 games ahead of the Rangers, who added Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo. Oakland’s most expensive acquisition was Scott Kazmir at $22 million, but the A’s never try to keep up with their free-spending division foes. They simply try to outplay them, which they have designs on doing for a third straight year.
Post date: Friday, March 14, 2014 - 12:08
Path: /mlb/los-angeles-angels-2014-preview
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Los Angeles Angels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Houston Astros

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Teaser:
The Astros will probably be bottom-feeders in the league once again, but they have improved and should benefit from the arrival of more of their top prospects, including George Springer, Jonathan Singleton and pitcher Asher Wojciechowski.
Post date: Friday, March 14, 2014 - 10:26
Path: /mlb/new-york-yankees-2014-preview
Body:

As is always the case it seems, there is no shortage of big stories in the Big Apple. Long-time shortstop and captain Derek Jeter is retiring after the season. Alex Rodriguez became a one-man bizarre reality show before reluctantly taking his 162-game medicine. And, oh yeah, the Yankees lost their best player to free agency when Robinson Cano signed with the Seattle Mariners in December. On the field, the way the Yankees’ roster is constructed, with aging, big-name players prone to injury and little help from the farm system, seasons like 2013 are bound to happen. The roster folded in on itself under an avalanche of injuries, and it took lots of front-office scrambling simply to field a team. The miracle is that the Yankees stayed in contention until the final week, and found a way to win 85 games. The departure of Cano does not help matters, but the influx of several dynamic free agents will make the Yankees dangerous again, as long as they have better health than they had last season — which, of course, is no sure thing.


Rotation 

The Yankees’ rotation posted a 4.08 earned run average last season, ranking 18th in the majors. And that included Andy Pettitte, who gave the team a mostly solid 30-start performance in his farewell campaign. Of course, it also included Phil Hughes, who struggled on his way out of the Bronx. So the club wasted little time over the winter in bolstering the group with the addition of one of the best pitchers in Japan in recent years, Masahiro Tanaka. After posting a 24-0 record last season, Tanaka was eager to show off his talents in the U.S. In addition to Tanaka, the front end of the 2013 rotation returns to the Yankees in CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova. Sabathia had the most wins on the staff, but Kuroda was the better pitcher until his late-season fade. Sabathia went 14–13 with a career-high 4.78 ERA and allowed the most earned runs in MLB. His average fastball velocity, 91.3 mph, was the lowest of his career. The Yankees must hope that, with a full season since his elbow clean-out in 2012, Sabathia can find more high-level consistency, like Kuroda showed for much of the season. Kuroda was 0–6 with a 6.56 ERA in his last eight starts, but his ERA was 2.33 through mid-August. He is 39, but if the Yankees manage his innings better, they could prevent another late-season collapse. Nova’s wicked curveball, which he uses more and more, helped him shake a wobbly start to the season and finish strong. For the back end, the Yankees are counting on Michael Pineda to be back after two years of shoulder problems and minor-league ineffectiveness. That’s a risky bet. Pineda’s career is on the line as he tries to prove he is healthy and can be effective once again. They have David Phelps, Adam Warren and David Huff around to compete with Pineda for the last spot.


Bullpen

The scene on the Yankee Stadium mound in late September, when Pettitte and Derek Jeter removed Mariano Rivera from his final appearance in the major leagues, was an emotional highlight that will resonate for many years. Now, the team must move forward with David Robertson in the role. There are worse fallback scenarios; Robertson has a strong strikeout rate, a track record of success in pressure situations, and the lessons absorbed from pitching alongside Rivera for six years. The bridge to him is a much bigger issue. In a free-agent market that yielded three-year contracts worth $5 million or more per season for Joe Smith and Boone Logan, the Yankees, perhaps, were wise to pass. But that leaves them with a bullpen riddled with questions beyond Shawn Kelley, Preston Claiborne and lefty Matt Thornton, 37, who signed for two years to replace Logan. Youngsters Cesar Cabral, a lefty, and righthander Dellin Betances will be given opportunities to impress during the spring.


Middle Infield 

The Yankees took exception to Cano’s assertion that they disrespected him during free agency, pointing out that they did offer to pay him $25 million per year for seven years. But even the Yankees have limits, and they were not as desperate as Seattle to hand over a 10-year deal to a player already past his 31st birthday. So Brian Roberts takes over at second base, after signing with the Yankees over the winter. The two-time All-Star spent 13 seasons in Baltimore and three times hit as many as 50 doubles in a season. But injuries have limited him to 192 games over the past four seasons, hitting just .246. Across the bag is Jeter, or so the Yankees hope. Jeter turns 40 this June and was limited to 17 games last season with continuing problems caused by his broken ankle. It’s unwise to ever doubt an all-time great, but it is natural to expect a regression, perhaps a significant one, for a player at Jeter’s age who essentially missed a full season and faced questions about his range on defense, even when healthy. But it’s highly doubtful Jeter won’t exit this game with style and success.


Corners 

Mark Teixeira missed almost all of last season after tearing the tendon sheath in his wrist while swinging a weighted bat preparing for the World Baseball Classic last spring. Teixeira finally succumbed to surgery, and at 34 in April, he should be able to resume his career as one of the most productive switch-hitters in the game. The Yankees should be realistic, though; since posting a .963 OPS in 2007, Teixeira has experienced a decline in OPS every year since. He remains a well above-average defender at first base, with five Gold Gloves in his career. Kelly Johnson takes over for Rodriguez at third. He is prone to striking out, but as a lefty with power, he’s a safe bet to hit 20 or more home runs. He has made just 16 appearances at the hot corner — all of them last season with Tampa Bay — but showed decent range.


Outfield 

The Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153 million contract, taking away a sparkplug from the rival Red Sox and teaming him with Brett Gardner in the outfield. As left-handed hitters with exceptional speed, Ellsbury and Gardner are very similar players and add a different dynamic to an order that should have thunder in the middle. Ellsbury may slow down near the end of the deal, but for now, he and Gardner give the Yankees a tandem that should rattle plenty of pitchers and restore the Yankees’ position as a high-powered offense. In right field is Carlos Beltran, whom the Yankees snapped up within hours of losing Cano to Seattle. The Yankees wanted Beltran for only two years but committed to him for three and $45 million. Beltran, who turns 37 in April, showed with the Cardinals that he has plenty of high-quality baseball left in a possible Hall of Fame career. He will require regular time off and should see some time at DH.


Catching 

The Yankees badly miscalculated after the 2012 season, letting Russell Martin sign with Pittsburgh for the relatively affordable price of two years and $17 million. Rather than wait for reinforcements from the farm system, the Yankees splurged on Brian McCann for five years and $85 million. They made McCann their top priority, valuing his lefty power bat, his success with young pitchers and his no-nonsense demeanor, which fits well with the Yankees’ serious self-image. Expect McCann, a seven-time All-Star in his 20s, to have a strong start to his 30s as an anchor in the middle of the lineup.


DH/Bench

The Yankees never could have expected 17 homers and 50 RBIs in 58 games last season from Alfonso Soriano. But that’s what they got after re-acquiring Soriano in a trade with the Chicago Cubs, and the acquisition of two prominent outfielders in the offseason means that the Yankees can stash Soriano at DH now and then. Most likely, Soriano will continue to strike out a lot with a low on-base percentage, but he seemed invigorated by returning to New York and still has difference-making power. The Yankees’ fourth outfielder will be Ichiro Suzuki, but he could be dangled as trade bait. Manager Joe Girardi will sort out playing time at second and third among Johnson, Roberts, Eduardo Nunez and Brendan Ryan, giving the Yankees better depth, on paper, than they had for most of last season.


Management 

Hal Steinbrenner showed considerable restraint in sticking with his scouting and player development team despite its lack of results in recent years. He also retained Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman after the team failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Team executives find Steinbrenner harder to read than his bombastic father, George, but he has grown into the role atop the Yankees’ hierarchy and clearly understands the importance to the brand of spending big on marquee names. Cashman’s pro scouting department is highly regarded and generally finds one or two low-cost impact players every year.


Final Analysis 

The Yankees have enough players in the latter stages of their primes to form a relentless lineup. If they stay reasonably healthy, they will contend in the AL East.


Lineup
CF     Jacoby Ellsbury (L)     
Hopes to join Ruth, Lyle, Boggs, Clemens and Damon as ex-Red Sox to win a ring with the Yanks.
SS     Derek Jeter (R)     
Turns 40 in June, but led league in hits just two years ago before his ankle betrayed him.
RF     Carlos Beltran (S)    
Has postseason OPS of 1.128 in 51 games. Now on his sixth team in the major leagues.
1B     Mark Teixeira (S)     
Dropped the weighted bat from his workouts after a wrist injury wiped out almost all of his 2013.
C     Brian McCann (L)     
Seven-time All-Star fills catching void and could see spike in power numbers in the Bronx.
DH     Alfonso Soriano (R)     
Averaged just 12.9 at-bats per homer for Yankees, a pace that seems unrealistic to sustain.
LF     Brett Gardner (L)     
Skill at working deep counts leads to strikeouts, but excels on defense and on the bases.
2B     Brian Roberts (S)     
Fun fact: He was the last batter at the original Yankee Stadium (grounded out to first).
3B     Kelly Johnson (L)     
Should hit at least 20 homers for Yankees, but strikes out a lot.


Bench
C     Francisco Cervelli (R)     
Handles staff well, but missed time with injury and drug suspension in 2013.
INF     Brendan Ryan (R)     
Defensive whiz should replace Jeter late in games; will that be awkward for the Captain?
INF     Eduardo Nunez (R)     
Supersub should get lots of starts at third base and plenty of time elsewhere.
OF     Ichiro Suzuki (L)     
Glut of left-handed-hitting outfielders could prompt Yanks to trade him.


Rotation
LH     CC Sabathia     
Accepts his responsibility to return to ace status after subpar year.
RH    Masahiro Tanaka    
The 25-year-old Japanese import features a nasty splitter.
RH     Hiroki Kuroda     
Yanks must find ways to rest him during season to keep him fresh in September.
RH     Ivan Nova     
Re-established his status as a mid-rotation anchor with strong second half.
RH     David Phelps     
First order of business for the former 14th-round pick: reducing walk rate (3.6 per nine innings).


Bullpen
RH     David Robertson (Closer)    
Moved locker last year to be next to Mariano Rivera and learn from the game’s greatest closer.
RH     Shawn Kelley     
Strikeout specialist (71 in 53.1 innings) comes in handy with men on base.
RH     Adam Warren     
Former fourth-round pick is in the mix for a starting role; could be ready for next step.
RH     Preston Claiborne     
Slumped at the end of the 2013 season, but was rare farm-system find.
LH     Matt Thornton    
Held lefties to a .235 average last season for the White Sox and Red Sox.
RH     Michael Pineda     
After losing two full seasons to shoulder woes, Pineda’s once-promising career is on the line.


2013 Top Draft Pick
Eric Jagielo, 3B
The Yankees, who have looked to Alex Rodriguez (for better or worse) at third base for a decade, might have gotten his long-term successor in Jagielo, who hit .266/.376/.451 over 51 games for Staten Island in the New York-Penn League. Damon Oppenheimer, the Yankees’ scouting director, told MLB.com that Jagielo was a “physical left-handed hitter with plus power” — in other words, precisely the kind of hitter who can thrive at Yankee Stadium. Jagielo turns 22 in May, and he needs more time in the minors. But Jagielo, the Big East Player of the Year in 2013 at Notre Dame, has experience with the wood bat, hitting 13 homers in the Cape Cod League in 2012. Jagielo was the first college position player taken in the first round by the Yankees since John-Ford Griffin in 2001. Incredibly, the last college position player drafted by the Yankees in the first round to actually play for the team was Thurman Munson, chosen fourth overall in 1968.

Top Prospects
RHP Ty Hensley (20)
Missed all of last season after surgery to repair labrum in his hip. Big righthander has a high ceiling but needs to stay healthy.
OF Slade Heathcott (23)
Steadily climbing the ladder; .349 career OBP is good, but has shown little power.
C Gary Sanchez (21)
Posted .364 on-base percentage in 23 games at Class AA after hitting 13 homers in 362 at-bats for High-A Tampa.
OF Tyler Austin (22)
Hit .322/.400/.559 in 2012, but wrist injury hampered him last season and again in Arizona Fall League.
OF Mason Williams (22)
Progress stalled after promising ’12; hit just .153 in 17 games at Class AA.
C J.R. Murphy (22)
Mariano Rivera’s final catcher is now blocked by Brian McCann (and probably Sanchez, too).
RHP Rafael De Paula (23)
Yanks’ only Futures Game representative had a 6.06 ERA in 11 games for High-A Tampa.

Beyond the Box Score
Wasting no time The Yankees had their busiest offseason day in years on Dec. 6. In the morning, they learned they had lost Robinson Cano to the Mariners for 10 years and $240 million. In the afternoon, they re-signed Hiroki Kuroda for one year and $16 million, and at night, they signed Carlos Beltran for three years and $45 million. Also during the day, they lost outfielder Curtis Granderson — whom they were not trying to retain — to the Mets for four years and $60 million, while officially announcing Kelly Johnson’s one-year, $3 million agreement. And how did general manager Brian Cashman start that action-packed day? By rappelling down a 22-story building in Stamford, Conn., with Bobby Valentine, of course.
Dwindling viewers The Yankees launched the YES Network in 2002, and it instantly became an overwhelming success. But ratings plunged last season, with the Yankees’ aging, injury-ravaged roster failing to reach the playoffs. The Yankees lost 31.2 percent of their viewers on YES compared to 2012, losing about 111,000 viewers per game and leaving an average of about 244,000. Even in 2008, when they previously missed the playoffs, the Yankees’ games still attracted an average of 405,000 viewers. Now we know why the Yankees were so aggressive this offseason.
Human vacuum Shortstop Brendan Ryan spent less than three weeks with the Yankees last September, but they fell so hard for his glove that they signed him for two more years. Reliever Shawn Kelley, his teammate in Seattle and New York, described Ryan’s slick fielding: “I was telling everybody when we got him, you’ll see balls that, normally your whole career, you just assume are hits, and it’s like: ‘Oh wait, he got to it. Oh wait, he threw it. Oh wait, he got the guy out!’ Think about him doing that for six months, and the runs he saves over a season. If something gets by him, you know: ‘O.K., they earned that hit. If he couldn’t make the play, that’s my fault.’”  
Player/publisher Derek Jeter doesn’t like to look beyond his playing career just yet, but in November he made an exception. Jeter announced that he was starting his own publishing imprint, Jeter Publishing, a partnership with Simon & Schuster. Jeter told the New York Times that the venture would combine his interests in business and in books, film and TV. “I think this sort of sets the blueprint for post-career,” he said.

Teaser:

The Yankees have enough players in the latter stages of their primes to form a relentless lineup. If they stay reasonably healthy, they will contend in the AL East.
Post date: Monday, March 10, 2014 - 11:31
Path: /mlb/baseballs-mt-rushmores-all-30-teams
Body:

Every MLB team should have its own Mt. Rushmore — four individuals that have risen above all others for each organization. Here is one man’s opinion for all 30 Mt. Rushmores from Aaron Cook for Colorado to Babe Ruth for New York. Depending on the organization and how long the franchise has existed, some teams were difficult to find four worthy players. Most teams provided ardent debate.

Below, you’ll find links to all 30 Mt. Rushmores.

 

American LeagueNational League
Baltimore OriolesArizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red SoxAtlanta Braves
Chicago White SoxChicago Cubs
Cleveland IndiansCincinnati Reds
Detroit TigersColorado Rockies
Houston AstrosMiami Marlins
Kansas City RoyalsLos Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles AngelsMilwaukee Brewers
Minnesota TwinsNew York Mets
New York YankeesPhiladelphia Phillies
Oakland A'sPittsburgh Pirates
Seattle MarinersSan Diego Padres
Tampa Bay RaysSan Francisco Giants
Texas RangersSt. Louis Cardinals
Toronto Blue JaysWashington Nationals

Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him [email protected]

Teaser:
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Post date: Monday, March 3, 2014 - 10:00

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