By Wes Yee
They might run different clubs now, but both Theo Epstein of the Cubs and Ben Cherington of the Red Sox extolled much the same message in their introductions. Building an organization focused on “sustained success” sounds like a nice cliche, but it’s a key component of team construction that organizations emphasize to varying degrees. Texas and their young general manager Jon Daniels has taken this to heart, building what many in the game are starting to recognize as a model organization – one built to last.
So, what separates the Rangers from some of the other marquee franchises in the game? Yes, they’re in the World Series, but any team that makes the playoffs has some chance of playing for the title. What sets Texas apart is the structure of their club. While they have elite talent in their lineup, they haven’t committed ungodly amounts of money to individual players. Only Michael Young and Adrian Beltre make more than $10M. Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Mike Napoli and Nelson Cruz will combine to make less than $25M in 2011. Texas is just 13th in baseball in total team salary, at $91.89M. Many of their best players are still on their rookie contracts. The six players below (with 2011 salaries), with the exception of Moreland, have all played critical roles in the clubs success:
Neftali Feliz 457,160
Elvis Andrus 452,180
Derek Holland 431,810
Alexi Ogando 430,150
Matt Harrison 428,830
Mitch Moreland 426,000
So their current major league team is cheap, cost controlled and talented. But that alone doesn’t make bode for sustainable success. Indeed, Texas will likely lose its ace for a second consecutive year, in CJ Wilson. It’s how equipped they are to replace him, and how equipped they were to replace Cliff Lee a year ago, that shows just how strong a position they are in.
Jon Daniels was promoted to GM in 2005, but it wasn’t until 2007 when he began taking the steps that have put the Rangers in such an enviable place. Beginning with the Mark Teixeira trade, which netted Texas Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison, Neftali Feliz and Elvis Andrus, Daniels has made building a strong farm system one of his key priorities. While they’ve drafted reasonably well, where they have excelled is in the international market. LHP Martin Perez has been on the scene for a couple of years now as a potentially top of the rotation arm. He’s battled inconsistency yet reached AA as an 18 year old. He’s 20 now and could reach the bigs in 2012.
Texas’ most exciting prospect, perhaps its top player, is shortstop Jurickson Profar. Profar, who burst onto the scene at the 2011 Futures Game, is just 18 years old and has only just now completed his first full season of pro ball. He’s shown serious promise, hitting 12 home runs with 23 steals at High-A Hickory. He’s a plus defender with projectability in all five tools. David Perez and Miguel De Los Santos are right behind Martin Perez in Texas starting pitching pipeline. De Los Santos made major strides in 2011, striking out 142 in just 94.2 innings. He could move quickly in 2012.
Just as exciting for Rangers fans is the signing of dual 16 year old Dominicans Ronald Guzman and Nomar Mazara. The two received record bonuses of $3.5M (Guzman) and $5M (Mazara). Both are obviously years away from the big leagues, but offer some potential first-division talent in years to come.
What Daniels has achieved in Texas, and what Cherington and Epstein will seek to match, is to create a sustainable baseball machine that can lose key players and replace them from within. Cost-controlled young players are one of the most valuable assets in baseball, and Texas has capitalized by building a system that is both flush with high end talent and deep. Their new TV deal, which pays them $80M per year, only makes them all the more dangerous. Already pundits are floating names like Fielder and Pujols as potential free agent pickups. Texas hasn’t been considered a big dog over the past decade, but with a contending big league team, a stacked farm system and a big budget, we could be looking at the closest thing to a dynasty this game has seen since the 90’s Yankees.
Filed under: Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals
By Wes Yee
There’s been plenty of clamor over the past week about the upcoming All Star Game, and certainly an event that brings together the game’s best and brightest is well worth the attention. All Star Weekend, though, is more than just the Major League Game. One of the true hidden gems is the Futures Game, a showcase of many of the game’s top prospects.
It’s an opportunity to get a first look at many of the minor leaguers who will populate major league rosters in the years to come. Like the major league game, every organization is represented, with a maximum of two per team. Past Futures Games MVP’s included future stars Alfonso Soriano (1999), Jose Reyes (2002) and Billy Butler (2006). Last year’s game served as a coming out party for OF Mike Trout (Angels), Eric Hosmer (Royals) and Jeremy Hellickson (Rays). Other players to reach the majors from the game include Zach Britton (Orioles), Dom Brown (Phillies), Lonnie Chisenhall (Indians), Dan Hudson (Diamondbacks), Jordan Lyles (Astros), Mike Minor (Braves), Logan Morrison (Marlins), Mike Moustakas (Royals) and Ben Revere (Twins).
This year’s game offers a similarly star studded crop, headlined by the Nationals’ Bryce Harper. Trout will also return, and will no doubt be a focus for many. Some players to keep an eye on:
Shelby Miller (Cardinals) – Miller is a hard throwing right hander and along with Julio Teheran is considered to be one of the top pitchers left in the minor leagues. He’s struck out 119 in 91 innings between High A and AA ball this year while putting together a 2.47 ERA.
Matt Moore (Rays) – Moore has torn up AA, striking out 115 in 89.2 innings. He’s put up a 2.21 ERA and has also thrown a no hitter.
Tyler Thornburg (Brewers) – Thornburg has generated Tim Lincecum comparisons due to his small (5’11, 185) frame. While his stuff isn’t as good, he has struck out over a batter per inning and has just a 1.47 ERA in 14 starts this year.
Paul Goldschmidt (Diamondbacks) – Goldschmidt has been fantastic in 2011, he’s already hit 25 HR and proven that his 2010 Cal League performance (35 HR), is no fluke.
Manny Machado (Orioles) – The third pick in the 2010 draft has just gotten his feet wet with 212 plate appearances but has Orioles fans dreaming of a poor man’s Alex Rodriguez.
Gary Brown (Giants) – Brown, also a 2010 first rounder, is one of the fastest players in baseball (34 steals in 2011) and has shown more power than expected (7 HR) for San Francisco’s High A team.
Carlos Martinez (Cardinals) – This skinny (6’0, 165 lb) right-hander has drawn rave reviews in 2011 by throwing his fastball in the high 90’s. He’s just 19 years old and has Cardinals fans dreaming big.
Julio Teheran (Braves) – Teheran has started twice for the big league club with mediocre results. His performance in AAA has been anything but, he’s thoroughly dominated, going 9-1 with a 1.79 ERA. His command is his calling card, as he’s allowed just 72 hits and 25 walks in 95.2 innings. He sits in the low 90’s but can reach the upper 90’s when pitching for a strikeout.
Arodys Vizcaino (Braves) – It shouldn’t shock anybody to see the Braves with another top pitching prospect. Vizcaino was stolen from the Yankees in the Javier Vazquez trade. He throws in the high 90’s and has reached triple digits on a number of occasions. He’s battled injury but has one of the best fastballs in the game.
Jurickson Profar (Rangers) – Profar has baseball people very excited. This 18 year old shortstop already has people wondering where Texas will move Elvis Andrus when he’s ready. He’s shown flashes of power (8 HR in 2011) and plays brilliant defense. He’s a quick riser with a ceiling that seems sky high.
Filed under: Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays
By Wes Yee
While the AL East certainly isn’t decided four days into the 2010 season, the Orioles’ Buck Showalter had to be pleased with an opening weekend sweep of the defending division champion Rays. Showalter, whose comments about Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein and Yankees Shortstop Derek Jeter drew early controversy, got 12 dominant innings from youngsters Chris Tillman and Zach Britton. Tillman, who turns 23 on tax day, didn’t allow a hit before being removed after six shutout innings. Tillman, just another piece acquired in the Erik Bedard deal, pitched half seasons in the majors in 2009 and 2010. He posted 5+ eras in both seasons, with troubling walk rates. That problem jumped his pitch count over 100 on Saturday, and kept him from having a shot at a no-hitter. Nonetheless, it was an excellent 2011 debut for a very talented pitcher.
Britton was nearly as good, allowing a single run on a bunt in six strong innings. It was electric debut that saw the 23 year old flash a 91-94 mph sinker with excellent armside run. He also showed excellent command of a mid 80’s changeup, which he used for four of his six strikeouts. Some scouts pegged Britton, who actually was slated for AAA before the Brian Matusz injury, as the Orioles best pitcher in Spring Training. He showed great maturity and poise, pitching in a close debut game against an albeit weakened Rays lineup.
While 3-0 Baltimore sits atop the East on April 3, it’s far too early to snatch the favorite cap off of the 0-3 Red Sox staggering heads. Showalter’s young staff will no doubt suffer some growing pains along the way, but for the first time in years it seems like the O’s have righted the ship.
Filed under: Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, San Francisco Giants, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers
By Wes Yee
AL East – Boston Red Sox – Certainly the chalk pick, Boston won 89 games without their two best players in Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia. This year they’ve added Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. If you can’t understand this pick, you’re probably reading the wrong blog.
AL Central – Minnesota Twins – Justin Morneau is back. Joe Nathan is back. This team won 94 games without either of them last year and, despite improvements in Chicago and Detroit, should have enough to win the Central.
AL West – Oakland Athletics – Texas won the division by 9 games last year, and it wasn’t even that close. In 2011 however, they’ll replace Cliff Lee with the unproven Alexi Ogando. Adrian Beltre joins the club, but it’s hard to pick a team with Colby Lewis and CJ Wilson as frontline starters against an Oakland rotation that can run out Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez, all of whom could be the #1 on the Rangers.
AL Wild Card – New York Yankees – The Rays had the best record in baseball last year, but will miss the playoffs due to the rise of Boston and major losses in the bullpen and with Carl Crawford. New York benefits by holding steady, adding Rafael Soriano and presumably getting an offensive boost sometime later in the year from top prospect Jesus Montero
NL East – Atlanta Braves – What about the Phillies? Well despite their much hyped four aces, this is a team in steep decline. Chase Utley’s 2011 is in serious question, Jimmy Rollins is barely replacement level and Jayson Werth is playing right for Washington. Atlanta has added a slugging 2B in Dan Uggla, and should have a healthy Jason Heyward in the heart of the order. Tommy Hanson had an unlucky 2010 and should rebound to 15+ wins.
NL Central – Milwaukee Brewers – I love pitching, and they have the best of it in the Central. Zack Grienke should be dominant provided he returns healthy. Shawn Marcum and Yovani Gallardo match up well with anybody’s 2+3 starters and Prince Fielder should have a bounceback year.
NL West – San Francisco Giants – The defending champs will need their vaunted bullpen to repeat their performances as their rotation was taxed severely pitching late into the calendar year during their championship run. Rookie Brandon Belt should inject some life into the offense.
NL Wild Card – Philadelphia Phillies – There’s just no way a team with Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels doesn’t make the playoffs. Is there?
Filed under: Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Rays, Uncategorized
By Wes Yee
2010 was a year of serious emergence in baseball. Much hyped prospects Buster Posey of the Giants and Jason Heyward of the Braves stepped forward and established themselves as bona fide stars. St. Louis’ Jaime Garcia threw up a sub 3 ERA and Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez nearly won the MVP.
This season there’s a whole new list of players primed to make an impact. While perhaps the biggest names in the prospect world (Bryce Harper and Mike Trout) may not see major league time this season, there is a group of young players who will influence playoff races.
1. Jesus Montero, Yankees – This beastly catcher has drawn comparisons to Frank Thomas and Miguel Cabrera in the batter’s box. He improved consistently as a 20 year old in AAA in ’10 and should break camp with the team thanks to the injury to Francisco Cervelli. While his defense has drawn serious long term questions, Montero has a cannon arm and is blocked only by a declining Russell Martin and the hobbled Jorge Posada. An injury (not unlikely given their histories) to either would open up full time at bats for Montero. With a healthy and reinforced Red Sox lineup, Montero’s bat will be counted on to provide additional offense in an aging lineup. If he succeeds early, Yankees Manager Joe Girardi will have no choice but to find a place for him to play.
2. Michael Pineda, Mariners – Baseball Reference lists the intimidating Pineda at 6’5, 180. Reports from Spring Training, however, have him at 6’7, 260. He’s a flamethrowing righthander who can touch the high 90’s. Opponents hit just .227 against him in the minors and he showed good control. Philadelphia GM Ruben Amaro has to be upset that he picked Phillipe Aumont over Pineda when trading Cliff Lee after the 2009 season. Pineda has shown that he’s ready now, and he too should break camp with the major league club.
3. Brandon Belt, Giants – Belt led the minors in hitting and OPS in 2010 and has held his own in Spring Training. Giants management has already announced that he’ll hit 7th if he breaks camp with the club, and even if he doesn’t, he’ll be up by June. While it’s his bat that entices people, his defense is outstanding, starting with an arm that touched 93 mph in high school. He moves well and could offer a consistent RBI man with 20-30 HR power. Think of Belt as a first baseman in the Todd Helton mold. Athletic with a great approach and ability to hit for average.
4. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Twins – Nishioka won the Pacific League batting title in 2010 and is known for plus speed. He’ll be an integral part of a contender in Minnesota, playing up the middle for a strong defensive team. Don’t expect any power, but I’d be surprised if he didn’t hit at least .300 with 25 steals.
5. Manny Banuelos, Yankees – Banuelos won’t break camp with New York, but he should be in the majors sometime this summer. He’s a lefty who sits in the low 90’s and can touch 95. He has outstanding command and major league capable off speed pitches. The major concern with Banuelos is workload, he’s never gone more than seven innings in a game or 108 innings in a season. This could work out for the Yankees though, as limiting his workload early could conserve some innings for the big league club upon his call up. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him break in as a reliever, a la Aroldis Chapman.
6. Jake McGee, Rays – McGee was one of the top starting pitching prospects in the minors in 2008 when he blew out his elbow. He moved to the bullpen last year and showed a high 90’s fastball. With Rafael Soriano and the rest of the Rays bullpen gone, McGee is expected to step in and pitch crucial innings. He’ll be a big reason behind the Rays success or failure in 2011.
7. Freddie Freeman, Braves – Freeman has received a decent amount of hype already, as he’s been photographed as a Jason Heyward sidekick. He’ll open the season as the starting first baseman and will be counted on to fill the void left by Chipper Jones’ youth and Derrek Lee’s departure. He’s strong athletically and I expect to see an Ike Davis type rookie season.
8. Julio Teheran, Braves – Teheran, the minors’ top pitching prospect, sits in the 94-96 mph range and throws a dominating changeup. He’s just 20 years old and will probably start the season in AAA. His stuff is elite and if Atlanta gets desperate due to injury in the rotation or ineffectiveness in the bullpen you could see him get a callup. Atlanta’s bullpen lacks experience after the retirement of Billy Wagner and their rotation includes Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson, two older pitchers.
9. Jeremy Hellickson, Rays -Hellickson has been much discussed. He has a relatively low ceiling compared to the other pitchers on this list but is also more proven than any of the others. He’ll be the #4 or #5 starter but really slots in behind David Price as the Rays second best pitcher.
10. Lonnie Chisenhall, Indians – Chisenhall isn’t big at 6’1, 200 but hit for good power in 2010 (17 HR in 460 AB) and tore up Spring Training this year. He’s been sent to minor league camp, but that was before Jason Donald injured his hand. Jack Hannahan, Jason Nix and Luis Valbuena should start the season at third for the Tribe, but none have the pedigree or staying power that Chisenhall will offer once he’s called up, likely in May or June – late enough to delay his arbitration clock.
Filed under: Boston Red Sox, Hobby, New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers
By Wes Yee
Spring training is underway and it’s time to start prepping for the baseball season. That means pulling those jerseys, t-shirts and hats out of the closet and… updating your Twitter following? Social media is here to stay and the game of baseball has jumped in with both feet. Without further ado, six ways that social media can improve your baseball experience:
1. Following your favorite players on Twitter – This one’s obvious. If you’re on Twitter, odds are that you already do this. If not, it’s a great gateway into the value of the tool. Following your favorite (or least favorite) players gives you a glimpse into their day to day lives and personalities previously unavailable to all but those in the clubhouses. My favorite player on Twitter is Giants closer Brian Wilson. Major League Baseball has compiled a list of big leaguers with Twitter accounts here: http://twitter.com/#!/MLB/players/members
2. Getting the latest in team news – More and more news is broken every day on Twitter. Baseball news is no exception. You’ll hear about transactions, rumors and lineup updates on Twitter hours or days before you see them updated on the team websites or even on major media websites.
3. Interacting with beatwriters and team personnel – This could have fallen under the previous heading but the interaction factor makes this it’s own point. Twitter has become the best way to get the insights that you want, in some cases on demand. Many beatwriters and even some team personnel will answer questions and seek answers to the questions posed to them from the Twitterverse. There’s nothing better than getting instant analysis from a reporter like Peter Gammons, Buster Olney, Keith Law or Jim Callis.
4. In game updates and intelligence – This one seemed counterintuitive to me for quite some time. I didn’t buy a ticket to a game to stare at my cellphone. That said, I flip flopped on this big time during the Red Sox – Giants series at AT&T park last summer. Then Victor Martinez took a foul tip off the thumb and left the game. Now without social media I’d have no clue what happened. Luckily though, I pulled out my trusty HTC Hero and quickly reported what I found – that Martinez had gone for X-Rays on his thumb. In any game situation with confusion you want to know what happened, if you’re at home you’ve got a reporter there to inform you. With social media, that reporter is accessible to you in the ballpark.
5. Ticket Specials – Discounts and marketing is prevalent on Twitter and Facebook. While this can at times get annoying, it can also work out well for you as a baseball fan. Teams like the Giants often alert their Twitter followers and Facebook “likers” of special ticket deals and promotional events via social media. These events often sell out quickly, and learning instantly rather than waiting for an email can save the average fan a good deal of stress and money.
6. Comedy – The baseball season is ever so long and it’s always nice to break up the monotony with a little hardball themed humor. Social media is great for this, my favorite sources are:
Old Hoss Radbourne – Self described as a “Pitching deity; dapper gent.” This deceased HOF brings the snark to sports analysis. His tough guy tweets are highly enjoyable.
Cyborg Hanson 48 – This “HIGH VELOCITY AUTOMATON PROGRAMMED TO THROW HUMAN BASE BALL” machine brings the humor in binary tones that never cease to entertain.
Deadspin – If I need to explain this, you’re probably not a big sports fan.
Filed under: Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Seattle Mariners, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers
By Wes Yee (@WesYee)
The Mariners traded Cy Young winner Cliff Lee Friday, shipping the surgical left handed south to the first place Rangers. Texas sent top prospect Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matthew Lawson back to Seattle.
Texas gets a legitimate ace for the remainder of 2010. Lee, who has dominated the AL after starting the season on the DL, makes the Rangers the prohibitive favorite in a division that they were already leading. However Lee is likely a rental, Texas’ ownership situation is in flux and even in good times the team has not been the top level free agent destination that New York or Boston have been.
Seattle comes up big here with Smoak. Smoak, the Rangers top pick in 2008, is a cornerstone first baseman who should anchor the Mariners lineup for years to come. Beavan is a hard throwing righty who has shown some promise. The Mariners robbed Philadelphia in the offseason, giving up just J. C. Ramírez, Phillippe Aumont and Tyson Gillies. None are close to the caliber of a prospect that Smoak is. Even Aumont, the centerpiece of Philadelphia’s end, is not considered to be significantly better than Beavan, the secondary piece. If you line up the prospect hauls that the Phillies got and compare it to Smoak alone the deal is laughable.
But despite all of this, New York is the winner. That’s right, the Yankees, who failed to execute what looked like a done deal earlier in the day, are the winner in this trade. The Yankees were poised to send top prospect Jesus Montero and others to Seattle, only to have the trade fall through based on injury concerns of minor leaguer David Adams, the secondary piece that would have come along with Montero. So why are they the winners?
This year: The Yankees are STILL the team to beat in the AL, having put together the best record in a division that has seen both Tampa Bay and Boston fade in and out – Boston due to injuries and Tampa Bay due to inconsistent play. Most media sources have New York atop their power rankings with their current rotation of Sabathia, Hughes, Pettitte, Burnett and Vazquez. This team remains the prohibitive favorite to win the World Series in 2010. And no, I’m not trying to put the jinx on. Okay maybe I am. Also, Lee going to Texas means that neither the Rays nor the Red Sox add the dominant left hander.
Next offseason: Lee WILL be a free agent, which gives New York a chance to pursue him without giving up Montero. The team will have slightly MORE leverage, as Lee wouldn’t have created any goodwill in pinstripes that could force their hand. Either way, money isn’t an issue and if New York wants him they’ll get him.
Further down the line: Lee would make an excellent lefty combo with former teammate Sabathia for the next 5-6 years – whatever his next contract gives him. But the real value of this trade falling apart for New York is that Montero remains in New York. Montero, who has an 80 (on the 20-80 scouting scale) power and for some scouts hit tool, is just 20 years old and is already in AAA. Coming into 2010 he was considered the premiere bat outside of Michael Stanton and Jason Heyward. Consider those he was ranked above – Buster Posey, Brennan Boesch, Carlos Santana, Austin Jackson, Pedro Alvarez, Smoak, Starlin Castro.
Montero has been compared to Frank Thomas and Miguel Cabrera, a hitter with the ability to hit for high average and league leading type power. New York can use him at catcher, but more than likely he’ll end up as a DH for them down the line, as long as Mark Teixiera is at first. A bat of his caliber just doesn’t come around often, and the three months of Cliff Lee that they lose out on will be repaid many times over with big seasons from Montero.