Monday, June 4, 2012

Picks 25-31

With the twenty-fifth pick, the Rays chose Richie Shaffer, a right-handed third baseman from Clemson University.  Shaffer has fantastic power but questions exist about his contact ability.  He's expected to move to first or a corner outfield spot as he's blocked by Longoria at third.  Shaffer has a high upside and, if he can make the necessary contact while avoiding high strikeout numbers, could be an excellent addition for the Rays.  He fits a need and could come quickly, plus he's a bargain this late.
Grade: B+

The Diamondbacks used the twenty-sixth pick on left-handed catcher Stryker Trahan from Acadiana High School in Louisiana.  Many comps have suggested Brian McCann and that seems fitting, although he's probably a better defensive catcher now than McCann was at this point.  Arizona recently extended Miguel Montero, so it's unclear whether they will move Trahan from behind the plate to start with him there with the flexibility to move him.  Either way, the 6'1", 215-pound slugger should hit all the way through the minors and could be a relatively early contributor.  I like this pick a lot, depending on where Trahan ends up defensively.
Grade: A-

The Brewers chose right-handed catcher Clint Coulter from Union High School in Washington with the twenty-seventh overall pick. He's a power hitter all the way and could catch or play a corner outfield spot in the future.  Coulter is a big kid with some strikeout concerns, but is a good athlete who has plenty of growth left in his game.  Solid pick by the Brew Crew, albeit a little risky.
Grade: B

With back to back first round picks, the Brewer used the twenty-eighth overall pick on Victor Roach, a right-handed outfield from Georgia Southern University.  Despite a broken wrist in February, Roache managed to sneak into the first round.  He was considered a top ten prior to the injury and if he gets healthy, could be a total steal.  Roache possess excellent power and is an athletic player, although not an overwhelming one.  He profiles as a left fielder and he's a value at this point in the draft, provided he gets back to form.  Risky, but I like it.
Grade: B+

The Rangers chose Lewis Brinson with the twenty-ninth overall pick, a right-handed outfielder from Coral Springs High School.  He's considered a Cameron Maybin clone with more pop.  Brinson is a fantastic upside pick and his athleticism is very similar to Buxton's.  He's a project, make no doubt about it, but they can afford to move him slowly.  I think he can be a center fielder long term, adding to his value.  Nice pick here despite the fact that it won't likely pay off for several years.
Grade: B+

Pick number thirty was used by the Yankees to select right-handed pitcher Ty Hensley from Santa Fe High School in Oklahoma.  A great athlete, he's exactly what you're looking for in a pitcher at 6'4" and 220-pounds.  His fastball and curveball are advanced and if he can develop a feel for the changeup, he could move quickly.  This is a high-ceiling kid that the Yankees will either be able to hold onto for the future or trade for elite MLB talent as many teams would love to have this kid.  Nice pick here for the Yankees.
Grade: A-

With the last pick in the first round, the Boston Red Sox selected Brian Johnson, a left-handed pitcher from the University of Florida.  A former Team USA player, he's struggled this year for the Gators, especially in the SEC.  He has limited upside and only sits high 80's/low 90's with the fastball.  His breaking stuff is excellent, however, and he has the stuff to be a big-league contributor, probably in the form of a back-end starter or lefty reliever.  He's signable, but there were other options here that were much more compelling.  A safe pick, but not an exciting one.
Grade: C

Picks 18-24

The Cardinals selected right-handed pitcher Michael Wacha from Texas A&M University.  Wacha's drop on the draft board is the Cardinals' gain.  He's polished, has an ideal pitcher's frame (especially if he fills out a little) and knows how to pitch.  His ceiling isn't the highest, but he could be a two or three starter for the Cardinals in just a matter of years.  If Wacha develops effectiveness with the slider and/or curve, he could be excellent.
Grade: B+

With the twentieth pick overall, the Giants chose Chris Stratton, a right-handed pitcher from Mississippi State University.  Another polished arm without the highest ceiling in the world, Stratton should be a contributor for the Giants sooner rather than later.  He knows how to pitch and has a good feel for three pitches.  He sits low-to-mid 90's with the fastball while also having feel for the breaking ball and off-speed stuff.  Solid choice here for the Giants.
Grade: B

The Braves used the twenty-first pick of the draft to select right-handed Lucas Sims from Brookwood High School in Georgia.  With the pitching depth that the Braves have, I would have liked to have seen them select a position player.  With that said, Sims could have a very high ceiling as a starter.  His value really falls, in my opinion, if he gets moved to the bullpen.  He'll have every chance to stick as a starter, though, and the Braves have been known to develop a prospect or two.  Keep your eyes peeled on his progress.
Grade: B-

The Blue Jays used their second first-round pick, twenty-second overall, to select right-handed pitcher Marcus Stroman from Duke University.  Stroman was falling fast, but is has the best stuff of any pitcher in this draft.   There are suggestions that if he signs quickly, he could be a big league contributor this fall.  Although he's only 5'9", Stroman possess great feel and has plenty of velocity to get big-league hitters out.  This very well may be the steal of the draft.  Fantastic pick at a great spot in the draft.
Grade: A

With the twenty-third pick overall, and their second of the first round, the Cardinals chose , a left-handed outfielder James Ramsey from Florida State University.  He had a huge senior year for the Seminoles and improved his draft stock big time.  He is a leader on the field and a solid player all around, but no part of his game really jumps out at you.  If he sticks in center field, his value increases big time.  If not, you may have to move him to second base since his bat doesn't profile with the power needed to play at a corner position.  The Cardinals just got a good baseball player, albeit not an elite prospect.
Grade: B

Pick number twenty-four belonged to the Red Sox and they used it to select Devin Marrero, a right-handed shortstop from Arizona State University.  I'm not sold on his bat in the least, but his glove is legit and he won't have to be an amazing hitter to have excellent value.  The Red Sox are clearly not sold on their other high-profile shortstops in their organization, and while Marrero has a high defensive ceiling, he may not have much in the way of offense.  Not a great pick, in my opinion, given the players in their system currently and Marrero's offensive question marks.
Grade: C

Picks 13-18

The White Sox used the thirteenth overall pick on Courtney Hawkins, a right-handed outfielder from Carrol High School in Texas.  A college arm was thought to go here, but Hawkins fell a little further than Chicago probably expected and the White Sox jumped at the opportunity.  He has fantastic batt speed and arm strength while being a fantastic athlete at 6'2", 210.  A future corner outfielder, he has a long ways to go but could be ready as soon as 2015.
Grade: A-

With the fourteenth selection, the Reds selected Nirck Travieso, right-handed pitcher from Archbishop McCarthy High School in Florida.  He's a full-bodied power pitcher that pitches aggressively.  There are some questions of whether he is a future starter or reliever, but it's probably too early to tell right now.  It's going to come down to how well he picks up the breaking ball and off-speed stuff.  Honestly, I think the Reds were really trying to save money with this pick and left some polished college arms on the shelf with this pick.
Grade: C+

The Indians used the fifteenth pick on left-handed outfielder Tyler Naquin from Texas A&M University.  He's a very good athlete with a fantastic arm.  Can he stick in centerfield?  I'm not sure.  His contact skills should carry him through the system while the power will be a question mark.  I'm very surprised that college pitchers haven't been more heavily pursued, but position players continue to be a hot commodity.
Grade: B-

The Nationals used the sixteenth selection of the draft on Lucas Giolito, a right-handed pitcher from Harvard-Westlake High School in California.  He was considered a much higher pick before the season, but an elbow injury dropped him from a likely top three selection to a mid first-rounder.  If he gets right, he could be the best player from this draft class.  His stuff is that incredible.  Comps are dangerous, but Verlander and Halladay are nice company.  The real question is whether or not he returns from injury as the power pitcher he has been in the past.  Boom or bust pick all the way.
Grade: B+

With the seventieth selection, the Blue Jays selected BJ Davis, outfielder from Stone High School in Mississippi.  he very well may be the fastest player in the draft and is a definite center fielder.  He has some pop considering his size, but his arm isn't spectacular.  Davis has solid contact skills and definite defensive ability as he covers a lot of ground.  Not my favorite pick, but it's what was expected of the Jays all along.  Another risk/reward player.
Grade: B-

Eighteenth overall, the Dodgers selected right-handed shortstop Corey Seager from Northwest Cabbarus High School in North Carolina.  Likely a third baseman at the next level, he can hit to all fields already and his power has come along in his senior year.  His brother Kyle is the starting third baseman for the Mariners right now, and Corey is considered much more physical with the potential to hit for more power than his impressive brother.  This was a good pick for the Dodgers, although I would have loved to see them take a player like Michael Wacha here.
Grade: B

Picks 9-12

The ninth pick belonged to the Marlins, who used it on Andrew Heaney, left-handed pitcher from Oklahoma State University.  He's been the ace of the Cowboys for three years and simply knows how to pitch.  He doesn't have the velocity of others in the draft, but should be able to come up quickly and contribute sooner rather than later.  I don't see him as a front of the rotation guy, but he will be ready to slot in as the Marlins' a number three starter in short order.
Grade: B

With the tenth pick, the Rockies selected left-handed outfielder David Dahl from Oak Mountain High School in Alabama.  He's a big kid with good speed, a solid bat and good contact skills.  If he can't stick in centerfield, he'll surely be able to make it work in right, but the bat profiles better in center.  Another high risk/high reward pick that should be a fun player to track through the minors.
Grade: B

The A's used their first pick, eleventh overall, to selected right-handed shortstop Addison Russel from Pace High School in Florida.  There are questions of whether he can stick at short because of his weight, but he has the power bat that profiles at the hot corner.  Russel is the first high schooler selected in the first round by the A's in the last five years, proving how much they like this kid.  He has excellent pop and solid contact skills meaning that he should be a quick mover if he can keep the strikeouts down while moving through the Athletics' system.  Risky pick, but high upside.
Grade: B-

The twelfth pick was used by the Mets to select right-handed shortstop Gavin Ceccini from Barbe High School in Louisiana.  I'm very high on this kid as he has the glove to stick at short long term.  He is a great athlete with excellent speed and contact skills.  Power is really the only knock on his game, but by sticking at short he won't be expected to hit bombs.  This is a very good pick as the Mets are thin on this type of talent.
Grade: A

Picks 4-8

The Orioles, owner of the fourth overall pick, selected college right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman from Louisiana State University.  Yes, Mark Appel is still on the board, probably due to signability issues.  Gausman pitches with a solid downhill delivery and should be a solid big-league pitcher.  I see him as more of a number two or three starter down the road and isn't my top choice to develop into an ace, but he's advanced and ready to contribute in the very near future.
Grade: B-

With the fifth overall choice, the Royals have taken Kyle Zimmer, right-handed pitcher, from the University of San Francisco.  Another pass on Appel, but Zimmer very well may be the best pitching prospect in the draft.  He's not pitched for a long time, having committed to the Dons as a position player, but Kyle's picked it up quickly.  He's got a fantastic pitcher's frame (6'2", 220) and has four polished pitches right now.  His fastball sits in the mid to upper 90's with a chance to hit triple digits at times.  The Royals got a very good one here.
Grade: A

As expected, the Cubs took right-handed outfielder Albert Almora from Mater Academy of Florida in one of the worst-kept secrets of the draft.  They have been enamored with the Florida prep all along and for good reason.  He's expected to a 4 or 5-tool guy with a fantastic work ethic and solid leadership skills.  He isn't as athletic as the other prep bats that have been drafted thus far, but he's no slouch either.  He may or may not stick in centerfield long term, but I see him as a solid choice that should pay major league dividends.
Grade: B

The Padres took Max Fried, left-handed pitcher from Harvard-Westlake High School with the seventh pick.  The Mark Appel free-fall continues, but the Padres weren't likely a fit for him due to the cash needed to sign him.  Fried sports both a solid fastball and curve, a la Hamels and Kershaw.  I think he's quite a ways away yet, so San Diego will have to wait quite while to see this selection pay off.  Best-case scenario, he's an ace for the Friars in three to four years.  Worst-case scenario: he's a number three or four starter that is durable and productive in four to five years.  Good, traditional pick for the Padres.
Grade: B+

The eighth pick of the draft belonged to the Pirates and they chose Mark Appel, right-handed pitcher from Stanford University.  This is a surprise pick as the Pirates weren't thought to be willing to spend the cash to land the future ace.  Adding Appel to Jameson Taillon and Gerrit Cole is brilliant as Mark was clearly the best player available.  He's polished and ready to contribute.  Cole and Appel could be Opening Day contributors in 2013, if not sooner while Taillon continues to develop positively.  Great choice for a budding franchise.
Grade: A

Picks 1-3

With the first overall pick, the Houston Astros selected Carlos Correa, right-handed shortstop from the  from Puerto Rico Baseball Academy.  Honestly, this choice shocked nearly everyone.  The University of Miami commit was definitely in the discussion, but was more of a consideration to go top three, maybe top five.  He very well may be the best player available and a few writers have suggested it, but most of us thought that Houston would take Mark Appel of Stanford.  Correa is 6'4" and may not stick at shortstop, but he is expected to be able to slide over to third without a hitch and be a potential Gold Glove fielder there.  He's incredibly athletic and should be a project well worth undertaking for Houston.
Grade: B+

Next up, the Twins selected right-handed outfielder Byron Buxton.  That's no shock.  He can do it all, is incredibly athletic and scouts think his power will develop.  He's an upside kid who was projected to the Twins all along and many people thought he could potentially go number 1.  I feel like he's a bit risky, but his ceiling is extremely high.  Young guys with his type of height and length make me a bit nervous because their swings can get a little long (Jason Heyward).  Defensively, he' is a dead-ringer in centerfield and his progress will be fun to watch as he moves through the Minnesota system.
Grade: A

With the third pick, the Mariners chose right-handed catcher Mike Zunino from the University of Florida. He's a good fit for the club as Jesus Montero won't be an everyday catcher, plus he's pretty far along in terms of development.  Zunino is a great defensive catcher in the making, but his bat isn't as up to speed as his glove.  That said, he should hit for power at a premium position on the diamond.  The Mariners didn't really have any other direction to go when Buxton went to the Twins, so I think this was the right choice for them.
Grade: B+

Draft Updates

In case you're not watching, the MLB Draft is on MLB Network right now and about to kick off.  I'll give you my thoughts and feelings on each pick as it progresses.  For review, the Astros, Twins, Mariners, Orioles and Royals have the first five picks.  Here we go!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Texas on Top

The Rangers are the best team in baseball.  There’s really little doubt about it.  At this point, in this season, I think they’ve made it pretty obvious.  They just put a public beatdown on the Angels during Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN.  If you don’t recall, the Angels were supposed to challenge the Rangers for the AL West but that doesn’t appear to be happening any time soon.  They have the second best record in baseball (to the Dodgers) and are an impressive 13-6 on the road thus far.  They’ve truly got it all: pitching, hitting and defense.

When lefty CJ Wilson left Texas for division-rival Los Angeles in free agency, most of us saw the Rangers as taking a pretty big hit.  John Daniels responded by rolling the dice on Yu Darvish, the 25 year-old phenom from Japan.  Japanese players have been  volatile in Major League Baseball, but it appears the Darvish gamble has paid dividends.  He’s jumped right into the rotation, gone 5-1 with a 2.89 ERA (3.59 xFIP) and over 10 K/9.  Derek Holland, Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison have all been reliable starters, too.  Holland is the ace of the staff and is continuing to mature while Harrison has had some tough outings and bad luck (5.23 ERA vs. 3.73 xFIP).  Neftali Feliz has been erratic but effective.  If he doesn’t get it together, though, his 3.38 ERA won’t last. 

It’s not just the rotation, though.  Texas’ bullpen has sparkled behind closer Joe Nathan (another gamble that’s paid off), setup men Mike Adams (last season’s bounty from a trade with the Padres) and Alexi Ogando.  Mark Lowe, Koji Uehara and Robbie Ross have been just as good in middle relief.  This bullpen is deep on quality arms, to say the least. 

At the plate, the Rangers can mash with the best of them.  In fact, they are the best of them  so far.  They lead baseball in runs scored (194), RBI (188), hits (353) and average (.291), are second in on-base percentage (.349), are third in homeruns with 52 (behind the Orioles and Yankees) and rank seventh in strikeout rate (17.6 %).  The team has been somewhat lucky with a .322 BABIP.  This tells us that they will have some slightly tougher luck going forward, but with their ability to hit the ball over the fence with regularity and leg out some hits (Andrus, Kinsler, Gentry), they won’t plummet.  They posted a .304 BABIP last season and a .307 in 2010, so they are consistently among the leaders of baseball in this category.  When you swing the bats like they do, hits have a way of happening.  Just ask Jered Weaver, who came off a no-hitter to throw 3.1 innings tonight, giving up 8 earned on 10 hits (he only walked one, so the Rangers swung their way to that snowman).

Josh Hamilton is playing out of his mind right now.  He has 18 homeruns and 41 RBI (leads baseball in each category) in only 31 games.  Of course that’s not sustainable, but it’s not as if he’s exactly going to disappear and hit .180 the rest of the way through the season.  This guy can hang in there and bang all season long.  Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler have been awesome table-setters with a .391 and .352 OBP, respectively.  Adrian Beltre continues to hit the ball hard and Michael young continues to be Michael Young.  Mike Napoli had one hot stretch but has cooled off and Nelson Cruz really hasn’t got it going yet.  Those two are strikeout machines (Cruz has a 24.7 K% and Napoli’s is 29.2%) but are always a threat to go yard.  Craig Gentry has been good in his spot starts and as a defensive replacement.  There are really no weaknesses here.  David Murphy is available off the bench and can contribute, too.  Opposing pitchers cringe when these guys come to town.

UZR loves the Rangers in the field, too.  They have the highest UZR rating thus far and, although there are some serious questions of sample size, the eye test proves that they play good defense.  Beltre is a Gold Glove third baseman, Andrus at short is really blossoming, has plus range and a good arm while Kinsler is above average at second.  Mitch Moreland isn’t the most potent first baseman at the plate but can pick it defensively.  Murphy and Gentry can run down anything in the outfield, Cruz is a sold right fielder and Hamilton has been much better since moving to left field full time.  Of the starters, only Mike Napoli rates as below average.  Michael Young can play all over as a super sub when he isn’t DH’ing, which offers nice flexibility, but he isn’t a great fielder.  Overall, they play solid infield defense, being strongest at short, third and first.  In the outfield, they have two above-average centerfielders who can run ‘em down, while the corner outfielders are also plus defenders. 

The one thing that can slow these guys down is the injury bug.  Hamilton in particular is a real concern.  He’s missed large chunks of the last three seasons, missing 73 games in ’09, 29 games in 2010 and 41 games last year.  Moving him to left field will help keep him on the field longer, but it’s almost a “when” instead of “if” with him.  Beltre has been solid throughout his career but missed some time last year and in ’09, plus he’s 32.  Kinsler has been dinged up from time to time and Nelson Cruz has a pretty robust injury history.  The starting pitching looks young and solid (Feliz is the only worry), but the bullpen has some injury concerns, namely Joe Nathan.  If he can stay healthy, they have enough depth to weather any other storms.

Even if injuries do bite this team, as they certainly will, the Rangers can put their top-rated farm system to use in an attempt to plug holes.  With the consensus minor league system in baseball, Texas is built for the present and the future.  If they don’t have an internal solution to fit their needs, they have plenty of pieces to flip for available big league talent. 

This club will be tough to stop as they are solid in all three aspects of the game.  They can pitch well and close down games.  They can hang up crooked numbers in any inning of any game.  In the outfield they can cover ground and the infield is full of talented fielders, too.  The top-rated farm system in baseball puts this team at the top into the foreseeable future, as well.  Simply said, the Rangers are the best team in baseball. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

AL Grades Reviewed

Last week I posted a review of my preseason divisional rankings.  We’re over 30 games in now and some trends are starting to appear.  Sample size problems still can skew things somewhat, but when you reason and look at underlying factors, some conclusions can be drawn.  Now, let’s see how I did picking these division standings, shall we?

AL East Preseason Prediction
Tampa Bay Rays
Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees
Toronto Blue Jays
Baltimore Orioles

Current AL East Standings
Baltimore Orioles
Tampa Bay Rays
Toronto Blue Jays (2.0)
New York Yankees (2.5)
Boston Red Sox (7.5)

Well, I certainly didn’t expect to see the O’s atop the standings in mid May, and neither did anyone else.  Can they stay there?  I think we all know the answer to that question.  They’ve gotten off to quick starts before but they simply don’t have what it takes to hang for 162 games in this division.  The Rays are even with the O’s currently and have been playing really good baseball, despite Longoria being on the shelf.  The starting pitching has been fantastic for Tampa Bay and that should continue.  The one thing they could use is bullpen depth.  New York is playing well, too, and Jeter is out of his mind right now.  He just became the fastest Yankee player to 50 hits in a season in history, despite the fact that he’s getting pretty old.  We all know about Rivera, so the bullpen is something to watch.  Toronto can slug but can they do anything else?  Starting pitching is a relative strength, but it’s nothing that’s going to carry them to the playoffs.  I missed on my Boston prediction, but I did throw out a ton of caution with them, mostly on injuries.  And, sure enough, they’ve been incredibly bitten by the injury bug.  Starting pitching is a problem for them as is their bullpen and outfield.  Will Middlebrooks is the lone bright spot.

I still like the Rays to win this division.  New York should challenge them all year long and the Red Sox will likely put a little mid-summer run together but I expect it to be too little too late.  The grind of the season should put Toronto and Baltimore where they belong eventually.

My Prediction Grade: C+

Preseason AL Central Prediction
Detroit Tigers
Cleveland Indians
Kansas City Royals
Minnesota Twins
Chicago White Sox

Current AL Central Standings
Cleveland Indians
Detroit Tigers (2.0)
Chicago White Sox (3.5)
Kansas City Royals (6.5)
Minnesota Twins (10.0)

Cleveland has been surprisingly solid so far.  They’re a scrappy bunch of ball players.  Starting pitching is a little problematic, which I expect to catch up with them, but their bullpen is decent, especially with Chris Perez starting to iron things out.  Detroit isn’t mashing quite as much as expected, but I think that will pick up once things heat up.  Make no doubt about it, they can still rake, but I don’t think we’ve seen them at full mojo yet.  Their starting pitching has been very good, especially with the successful addition of Drew Smyly.  The bullpen is another matter: ugly.  Chicago has been a surprise, with Jake Peavy and Adam Dunn have huge bounce-back campaigns, right about the time most of us had written them off.  Despite some bullpen uncertainties, they have a chance to hang in there for a while.  Kansas City has been up and down thus far.  Hosmer and Moustakas haven’t carried the team as much as expected and their starting pitching has been hit or miss.  Minnesota has been terrible and should likely stay that way.  Ron Gardenhire is starting to feel his seat get warm, but really that team is just somewhat devoid of talent.

If Detroit can iron out it’s bullpen woes, especially if they can acquire someone to stabilize things, they should catch the Indians no problem.  Cleveland is capable of keeping it close, though.  I don’t think Chicago is a serious contender, Kansas City doesn’t have what it will take to win the division and Minnesota severely under-gunned.

My Prediction Grade: A-

Preseason AL West Predictions
Texas Rangers
Los Angeles Angels
Seattle Mariners
Oakland Athletics

Current AL West Standings
Texas Rangers
Oakland Athletics (5.0)
Seattle Mariners (6.5)
Los Angeles Angels (7.5)

Let’s face it, the Rangers just may be the best team in baseball.  The big gamble on Yu Darvish appears to have paid off and we already knew they had one of the best in the game with Josh Hamilton.  A strong cast surrounds him and the Rangers have more than enough pitching to stay in front.  Oakland has been surprising, riding strong starting pitching and bullpen performances to a .500 record.  Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone are legit big league pitchers.  The offense is hit or miss (mostly miss) but Cespedes is adjusting fairly well to American ball.  Seattle is incredibly inconsistent.  They’ve struggled to score at times, then will hang an occasional 7 or 8-spot.  King Felix and Jason Vargas are the only reliable starters while youngsters Jesus Montero, Kyle Seager, Mike Carp and Dustin Ackley are starting to thrive at the plate.  Los Angeles has been a total surprise letdown.  Pujols’ struggles have been well documented, but the rest of the team hasn’t been stunning either.  Many players are off to slow starts and the franchise appears to continues to be plagued by the Vernon Wells trade.  Starting pitching has been a relative strength, but the bullpen is troubled, led by Jordan Walden’s sturggles and both Scot Downs’ and LaTroy Hawkins’ injuries.  They should pick it up, but they’ll have a long ways to go to catch the Rangers.

Texas should run away with this thing.  Unless severe injuries cause trouble, they look like the head of the class.  With their deep farm system, they can sustain trouble and make it through.  I like Los Angeles to pour it on here soon and easily surpass Oakland and Seattle by mid-summer.  The battle for not-last should be a tight one between the A’s and M’s. 

My Prediction Grade: A

Thursday, May 3, 2012

NL Grades Reviewed

If you've been with me here for a while, you'll remember the division-by-division season previews that went up about a month and a half ago.  I graded each team's lineup, rotation and bullpen, then predicted their finish in the division.  I thought now would be an appropriate time to go back an review those grades, given that we're over a month into the season.  Working east to west, let's see how things are shaking out.

NL East Pre-Season Prediction
1. Philadelphia Phillies
2. Washington Nationals
3. Miami Marlins
4. Atlanta Braves
5. New York Mets

NL East Current Standings
1. Washington Nationals
2. Atlanta Braves (1.0)
3. New York Mets (2.5)
4. Philadelphia Phillies (3.0)
5. Miami Marlins (4.5)

As you can tell, this race is still very close.  The Nats have been carried by uncharacteristically good pitching thus far, which I expect will regress some.  Bryce Harper has energized the offense, however, and they should continue to score runs, especially when they get Zimmerman and Morse back.  I'm surprised that Atlanta has done so well, but they're scoring runs right now and the pitching has been pretty good, as expected.  The Mets are a total surprise and I don't see them continuing this pace in the least.  Philadelphia is using their rotation to stay at .500 as the offense has been well below average.  Ryan Howard is inching closer to a return but Utley appears a long ways off still.  I'm not sure they'll be able to catch the Nats if they don't start making up ground in a hurry.  The Marlins are far from out of it, but they've really disappointed.  Heath Bell has struggled (as predicted), Stanton has shown no pop and Hanley is scuffling once again.  Their offense has been terrible thus far, plain and simple.  

I still like the Phils, Nats and Braves to fight it out, but I may have been too generous with the Marlins.  If they don't come around soon, they will have a long summer ahead of them.  Let the Mets' free fall begin in 5, 4, 3, 2…

My Prediction Grade: B-

NL Central Pre-Season Prediction
1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Cincinnati Reds
3. Milwaukee Brewers
4. Pittsburgh Pirates
5. Chicago Cubs
6. Houston Astros

NL Central Current Standings
1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Cincinnati Reds (3.5)
3. Houston Astros (5.0)
4. Milwaukee Brewers (5.0)
5. Pittsburgh Pirates (5.0)
6. Chicago Cubs (7.0)

The Cards have opened up a decent gap on the rest of the division.  Molina's earning his new deal while Beltran, Freese, Jay, and Furcal help power the offense.  Once Holliday turns on, look out.  The rotation has been solid.  Lance Lynn has been a revelation, Jaime Garcia is solid as ever and Jake Westbrook continues to get it done.  Cincinnati is trying to keep up the pace, but at .500, they'd better pick it up.  Despite Ryan Madson going down before the season, the bullpen has been the bright spot as the rotation is mediocre at best.  Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and rookie shortstop Zack Cozart are waiting to get some help as Hanigan, Ludwick and Phillips are all off to slow starts.  Houston, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh are log-jammed at 11-14.  I'll stick by my pick with Milwaukee eventually emerging, but they've already dug themselves a hole.  The Astros and Pirates are scrappy, though, and won't go down without a fight.  Neither team will make the playoffs, but they'll find comfort in stealing victories from division opponents.  Chicago is struggling, as expected.  The pitching is decent but the offense is really poor.

If the Cardinals stay hot, they could run away with this thing.  The Reds will have a hard time catching them unless the starting pitching gets better in a hurry.  Look for them to potentially make a deal for an additional starter sooner rather than later.  The rest of the pack is falling behind fast.  A big May is needed if they want to stay close.

My Prediction Grade: A-

NL West Pre-Season Prediction
1. Arizona Diamondbacks
2. San Francisco Giants
3. Colorado Rockies
4. Los Angeles Doders
5. San Diego Padres

NL West Current Standings
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. Arizona Diamondbacks (4.0)
3. Colorado Rockies (4.5)
4. San Francisco Giants (5.0)
5. San Diego Padres (8.5)

Chavez Ravine has been raucous thus far.  The white-hot Dodgers are tied for the best record in all of baseball.  How?  Matt Kemp has a triple-slash of .411/.500/.856 with 12 dingers through 25 games.  Journeyman catcher AJ Ellis is mashing, to everyone's surprise, and Andre Eithier has clearly bounced back in his contract year.  Can they sustain it?  I don't think so since Kemp can't keep this up and he's getting little help outside of Ellis and Eithier.  The pitching is going to fall back to earth eventually, too.  Most of the team's ERA's are deflated when compared to their xFIP's.  The Diamondbacks have been solid and have mitigated injuries to Chris Young and Justin Upton while also surviving a slow start from Jason Kubel.  They're a balanced offense that should continue to score runs, plus they have a deep bench.  The starters are solid and exchanging Josh Collmenter for Patrick Corbin appears to be a good move.  Skaggs and Bauer loom if there are any more issues.  JJ Putz is back on the DL, but Bryan Shaw is filling in adequately with the help of a deep 'pen.  The Rockies and Giants aren't as enticing.  Colorado continues to struggle to pitch while the offense hasn't been all that impressive either, outside of a few performances by CarGo.  The Giants are pitching well, but not as much as expected.  Lincecum's struggles have been well-documented and the offense is trying to iron out a logjam at 1st base.  Aubrey Huff has been terrible while Brett Pill has filled in pretty well.  Of course, Brandon Belt is there, too, so there's much to be desired in terms of fitting the puzzle pieces in the optimal positions.  Pablo Sandoval is out for 8 weeks with a broken hamate bone, so that's another negative for a team that is scoring runs at a below-average rate.  San Diego has a poor offense and worse pitching staff.  They'll be in the cellar all year.

I like the Diamondbacks to catch the Dodgers.  Los Angeles is a statistical nightmare, as all indicators show that they've been extremely luck and their success hinges on one player.  I'll still take the Giants over the Rox in the long run, but that's really anyone's guess.  Pitching wins out in that battle, I suppose.

My Prediction Grade: B

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Having witnessed perfection this afternoon in Seattle, I have to say that Phillip Humber’s perfect game is still running through my mind.  My work responsibilities have grown temporarily; therefore today’s game was my first live Mariners game of the season.  What a way to start!

Keeping score at games is something I like to do.  I know it’s old school, I know you can get digitized box scores and real-time updates, but keeping score with a pencil and paper just has a special way of keeping the audience engaged in the action.  Through four innings, I realized that Humber wasn’t just tossing a no-hitter, but a perfect game.  A lot of pitchers have thrown four perfect innings in history, so I wasn’t overly anxious.  The odds were still clearly against Humber remaining perfect and I expected reality to set in at any moment.

The one thing that kept me wondering if he could pull it off, though, especially after he finished the sixth, is just how he was doing it.  Humber wasn’t getting lucky, he wasn’t getting crazy called strikes by the umpire and his fielders weren't making incredible plays that were saving his bacon.  Instead, he was dominating.  Looking at the Pitch FX Data over at Brooks Baseball, you can see that he threw 67 of his 95 pitches for strikes (70%).  He was especially deadly with his breaking stuff.  The linear weights (effectiveness) of his slider and curveball were -2.56 and -2.41, respectively.  These are very impressive numbers and went along well with his above-average fastball (-1.87), which averaged 91.5mph but topped out at 94. 

A quick look at the scorecard revealed corresponding results.  There were plenty of swings and misses, especially on the curveball, which batters whiffed on 24% of the time he threw it.  But what is really impressive is just how many times Mariners batters looked baffled and hit weak pop-ups or ground-outs.  Only a handful of balls were stung all day, two to the outfield and one on the infield.  Otherwise, the Mariners went quietly as they failed to get squared-up on Humber's offerings.  Most of these outs came early in the count, too.  This has two culprits: 1) the Mariners aren’t exactly the most patient team in baseball (last in walks) and 2) they knew Humber was pounding the zone so they couldn’t afford to let many pitches go by.  In fact, a large number of the balls he threw were the product of him already being ahead in the count 0-2 or 1-2 and attempting to get the batter to strike himself out, which happened nine times today. 

When the seventh began, things started to get serious.  Casual fans and families at the park who were there to enjoy the sunshine began to catch on to what was happening.  By the eighth, fans started to cheer quietly for Humber, against the hometown team.  In the ninth, the crowd roared when Brendan Ryan struck out, much to his chagrin, to end the game and preserve the perfect performance by Phillip Humber.  Everyone had been standing for the past three at-bats and no one left when the game ended but instead applauded the effort of the White Sox hurler.

History is history, and sure it hurts when it comes against your team, but to witness something that spectacular is awesome.  It’s something I’ll surely never forget and neither will Humber.  There have been a lot of baseball games played in MLB history (over 380,000) and only 21 perfect games.  People will ask, “Who’s Phil Humber?”  He may not be a household name, but his stuff was nasty, his approach was aggressive, consistent and Seattle simply had no answer.  A tip of the cap is in order to Mr. Humber.  Well done, sir, and thank you for the experience.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Down Goes Bailey

Not to go all "I told you so" on folks, but who didn't see Andrew Bailey getting hurt from 500 miles away?  In case you haven't heard, the Red Sox' recently acquired closer is out for 4-5 months after having surgery on his injured thumb.  In a division that is so competitive, the Sox really couldn't afford to suffer this kind of blow.  They let Jonathan Paplebon walk in free agency and got Bailey from the A's in a trade.  That decision is looking like a poor one.

Bailey is no stranger to the DL.  After winning Rookie of the Year honors in 2009, he's struggled to stay on the mound with consistency.  He racked up 83 innings in his first season, but pitched just 49 innings in 2010 and only 41 last year.  Andrew's maintained his effectiveness when he's pitched, so its not as if he's a diminished player talent-wise, it's just that he isn't someone who can be counted on to close a season's worth of games.  Unfortunately, he will only be available for about half the season, similar to his performance the last two years.

How do the Red Sox respond?  They made nice move to protect from this sort of thing when they traded for Mark Melancon of the Astros.  He'll help solidify the situation as I expect him to move from the setup role to closer.  Daniel Bard is the key question.  He's transitioned from highly effective setup man to starter.  Boston thought they had an abundance of high-leverage relievers, making it possible to make Bard a starter.  I would suspect that they'll try to keep him there, but if the bullpen should struggle, moving him back to the 'pen is something I can see happening.  This will put extra pressure on Alfredo Aceves, Michael Bowden and Franklin Morales.

How the team and these players adjust to their new roles will have a lot to say about how this division shakes out.  Can Boston really contend with a bullpen that is so suspect in a division with the fire power of the AL East?  The answer is yes, but their margin for error just got much thinner.

AL West Report Card

AL West

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  This particular division is a fantastic example of that saying, given that there has been some change indeed, yet the pecking order is still clearly divided among familiar lines.  Oakland and Seattle will be looking up at Los Angeles and Texas from the bottom of the standings once again.  Albert Pujols, CJ Wilson, Jesus Montero and Yoenis Cespedes prove that while the standings may not move around too much, there’s plenty to get excited about out west.

Los Angeles Angels
Lineup: B+
Rotation: A
Bullpen: B
Notes: This lineup got a lot sexier when Mr. Pujols came to town.  It’s not often that the best player in the game is a free agent, but the Angels paid dearly to land him.  A few talented hitters in Kendrick, Morales (finally appears healthy), Aybar and Torii Hunter surround Albert.  Wells and Callaspo are less interesting pieces while the team tries to trade Bobby Abreu and find somewhere to play Mark Trumbo.  A question to ponder: when will we see Mike Trout?  The rotation may be the best in baseball, posting a four-headed monster in Jered Weaver, Danny Haren, Ervin Santana and CJ Wilson.  The 5th spot is still up in the air, but won’t matter much.  Jordan Walden begins his sophomore campaign as the closer and will get help from a string of veterans in Downs, Hawkins and Isringhausen.  That squad should be effective if healthy, but their age/durability concerns me a little bit.

Oakland Athletics
Lineup: C-
Rotation: C+
Bullpen: B
Notes: The A’s are what they are: a cobbled together group of veterans (Crisp, Pennington, Suzuki), replacement-level players with potential to be better (Smith, Reddick), and prospects getting their feet wet (Weeks, Allen, Sogard).  The only player who doesn’t fit these categories is the team’s lone big offseason purchase: Yoenis Cespedes.  He’s had a good spring and nice opening series against the Mariners in Japan, so things are looking up in that regard.  No matter what, this team will struggle to score all season long, no doubt about it.  On the mound, the rotation is functional but completely unimpressive.  The results may not be terrible, but no one is going to be excited to see McCarthy, Colon, Ross Milone and Braden take the hill.  Jarrod Parker and Brad Peacock are a different story, so we’ll be waiting to see these youngsters get their feet we when they get called up.  I see the bullpen as an underrated group.  Balfour, Fuentes and Blevins are strong vets while De Los Santos, Carigan and Cook are youngsters with high upside.

Seattle Mariners
Lineup: C-
Rotation: C+
Bullpen: C
Notes: My hometown M’s are going to stink it up on offense again this year.  Only Ackley, Suzuki and Montero are worth watching at this point.  Smoak, Seager, Carp and Saunders offer hope, but little in terms of proven production.  The sooner Chone Figgins is out of the equation, the better off the team will be.  Expect this group to be painful to watch at times.  Felix Hernandez isn’t getting much help.  Vargas is hit-and-miss, while Noesi, Beavan and Millwood are all replacement-level innings-eaters.  Keep an eye on Erasmo Ramirez, as he could be moved to the rotation if anyone struggles.  Don’t be shocked to see James Paxton and possibly Danny Hultzen get a cup of coffee come September.  The bullpen is average at best.  League gets the ninth inning duties while Shawn Kelley and Tom Wilhelmsen will try to stabilize the 7th and 8th.  It’s going to be a long season in the Pacific Northwest... again. 

Texas Rangers
Lineup: A
Rotation: B+
Bullpen: A-
Notes: This team will mash, plain and simple.  Kinsler and Andrus at the top of the order will set the table for Hamilton, Beltre, Young, Cruz and Napoli.  That sounds like a fantasy team, not a real one!  Add to the fact that they play in an extreme hitter’s park in Arlington and you have a recipe for success.  The only concern could be health, as Hamilton, Kinsler, Beltre, Young and Napoli have never been strangers to the DL.  While it isn’t as sexy a rotation as the Angles’, Texas has a nice crop of starters.  Lewis, Holland and Harrison are all proven big leaguers capable of getting the job done well.  Yu Darvish has looked good since arriving from Japan and could be a star while former closer Neftali Feliz has transitioned to the rotation.  The bullpen is very solid.  Joe Nathan takes over the 9th and, if he can stay healthy, should adequately replace Feliz.  Mike Adams, Alexi Ogando and Koji Uehara are excellent options at the back end, too.

Predicted Finish

1.     Texas Rangers
2.     Los Angeles Angels
3.     Seattle Mariners
4.     Oakland Athletics

This division should really be divided into two distinct races: the one for the top and the one for avoiding the bottom.  I like the Rangers to slightly edge the Angels.  Texas is a little more talented top-to-bottom, plus I think they have the better bullpen and I see these two playing a lot of close games against one another.  Health could have a lot to say about how this shakes out, as neither team can afford to see a star player miss a big chunk of the season and expect to stay on top.  Don’t count the Angels out by any means, I’m just betting on the Rangers.  In a total stinkfest, I have the Mariners taking third over the A’s by the slimmest of margins.  Why?  I don’t know, I suppose I don’t want to watch them finish last again. If anything, I think Seattle has a little more talent in terms of prospects and that could be the difference.