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: San Francisco Giants
By Wes Yee
Took in last night’s San Jose Giants game featuring Giants top prospect, RHP Zack Wheeler. Wheeler was outstanding, going seven shutout innings with 12 strikeouts. He primarily featured an 88-89 MPH 2-seam fastball with run when pitching early in the count and dialed up his four seam as high as 96 MPH as a put away pitch. Early in the game he showed a 70-72 MPH changeup and a 75 MPH sharp spike curveball. His delivery is a bit herky-jerky with a slow leg kick and accelerated drive towards home. His arm action appears clean and he keeps his weight back well.
Wheeler projects as a #1 or #2 SP at the major league level, but will need to throw his 4-seamer more often to keep big league hitter’s respect. He threw probably 60-70% 2-seam fastballs at lower velocity. He seemed to have great confidence in his curve while limiting the usage of his changeup. The curve is a plus pitch that will get swingthroughs at all levels. It’s likely that he’ll be sent to AA sometime soon, as he showed improved command. The Giants have to like what they’ve seen in 2011, as he’s recorded over a strikeout per inning. He’s a valuable trade piece who could push for a call up as soon as 2012.
Filed under: San Francisco Giants
By Wes Yee
It’s been nearly a full calendar year since San Francisco called upon its most valued hitting prospect in recent memory. Catcher Buster Posey has lived up to the hype and more, carrying the squad to a World Series title with both his consistent offensive approach and deft work while wearing the mask. It’s this offensive and defensive value combination that has recently raised serious questions about the long term future of the 24 year old.
Posey, who’s quickly vaulted himself into the discussion of top catchers in baseball (along with the Twins Joe Mauer and the Braves Brian McCann), has been taking an absolute beating this season. He’s taken numerous balls to the head and has scuffled compared to last season, when he won the ROY over Atlanta’s Jason Heyward – who’s dealing injuries of his own. While his play has been solid this season, logic would dictate that the toll of catching will, if it hasn’t already, impact his offensive value.
Having a team’s premiere offensive player be it’s starting catcher is both a blessing and a curse. It can be a huge advantage, as most catcher don’t provide even league average offensive. The downside is the missed game, tired swings and busted knees that these guys end up with. The Twins Joe Mauer is a perfect example of this, having missed nearly all of 2011 with leg problems. The Mauer injury has to give pause to the Giants, who have played Posey almost exclusively at catcher since trading Bengie Molina in 2010.
Even with Posey in the lineup, the Giants have a mediocre offensive attack. If they’re forced to rest him once a week for his health, that’s some 30 games a season they’re without their best hitter. If they don’t rest him, they risk a tired catcher who’s unable to hit for the kind of power he showed in 2010 – or worse, an injury. If they don’t play him at catcher, his offensive value is diminished as they’ll have to use a backup at his position. There are a variety of directions that manager Bruce Bochy can take including:
Resting Posey every 4-5 games – As detailed above, this would force a backup (Eli Whiteside) into Posey’s spot.
Playing Posey at 1B – He’s shown flexibility in the past, having played all nine positions in a game while at Florida State and can play a solid first base. The problem going forward here is that first base is already crowded. Aubrey Huff is the teams’ everyday guy and has shown that he’s unusable elsewhere. Brandon Belt is coming soon and should immediately become the teams’ second or third best hitter.
Playing Posey at another position – He grew up playing shortstop but almost certainly doesn’t have major league range at the position. He’s probably athletic enough to play third base for now, but Pablo Sandoval is (when healthy) an everyday guy there. Yankees catcher Russell Martin played some third base when he was with the Dodgers and it seemed to help keep him relatively fresh.
Making a trade – No, I’m not advocating trading one of the faces of the franchise. What I’m saying here is that the Giants could benefit from bringing in another player with catcher and other positional value. Perhaps a guy who can catch once or twice a week while providing enough offense and athleticism at another position to be an everyday guy. Victor Martinez (who’s signed long term with Detroit) is exactly the type of complimentary player I’m talking about. He’s generously defensively average, can play first base and is a middle of the order bat.
The Yankees top prospect Jesus Montero might actually be a fit as well, as most think that he’ll grow out of catcher and fits better as a Miguel Cabrera type first baseman. While a Montero-type bat would be huge at 1B/C – that still doesn’t solve the Huff/Belt block. While Belt would be a piece for most teams, he’d be blocked by Mark Teixiera in New York. The Giants would need to decide that he could play the outfield if they wanted to make a move like this. The cost of Montero could also be prohibitive, he’s worth a top prospect and a proven major leaguer. It might take a Jonathan Sanchez + Zack Wheeler combination to pry him away from Brian Cashman.
Testing the Pablo limits – The Panda used to catch and he famously lost 35 lbs in the offseason. Could he offer the 3B/C flexibility that the team needs? Even if he just caught once a week that would keep Posey in the lineup while saving his knees. They’d want to explore this option in the offseason.
What they’ll really do:
Montero or another Catcher-flexible bat is probably a pipe dream and it’s likely that the team will incorporate a hybrid of the first two or possibly three options. Employing a rotation where you’re resting either Sandoval, Huff or Posey twice a week won’t hurt the lineup too much and should help keep Posey fresh. It wouldn’t shock me to see Huff traded if the team can find an American League team in need of a veteran presence. Such a move would open the spot for Belt and the occasional Posey start. Belt could play the outfield or sit on days that Posey plays first.
So 900 words later there’s still serious question about what the team will do. While no immediate solution is needed, this has to be on management’s mind going forward. As an informal KNBR survey stated, there’s no player that the team can afford to lose less than Buster Posey and catching him everyday exposes him to serious risk and fatigue. It’ll be critical to look at the Twins as a cautionary tale of wielding the double-edged sword that is an elite catcher. This will become even more important when the time comes to extend its star catcher.
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.