Monthly Archives: January 2011

Meet Tony Sanchez – Future All- Star Catcher of the Pittsburgh Pirates

 

MLB reports:  “With the 4th overall selection of the 1st round in the 2009 Major League Baseball Entry Draft, the Pittsburgh Pirates select, Tony Sanchez, Catcher, from Boston College.”  With those words spoken, life would never be the same for Tony.  Much publicity surrounded the most recent 1st round pick of the Pirates, centering around the reasons for his selection.  To fully understand what was transpiring, one would need to look back briefly at the recent 1st round draft history of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

2008:  Pedro Alvarez 3B – 2nd overall

2007:  Daniel Moskos P – 4th overall

2006:  Brad Lincoln P- 4th overall

2005:  Andrew McCutchen OF – 11th overall

2004:  Neil Walker C- 11th overall

2003:  Paul Maholm P- 8th overall

2002:  Bryan Bullington P – 1st overall

2001:  John VanBenschoten 1B- 8th overall

2000:  Sean Burnett P- 19th overall

With the Bryan Bullington pick still fresh in Pirates’ fans minds,  the 2006 and 2007 drafting respectively of Lincoln and Moskos were difficult to swallow.  The moves were seen largely as cost-sensitive selections, with the Pirates foregoing Morrow, Miller, Kershaw, Lincecum and Scherzer in 2006 and Wieters, LaPorta and Bumgarner in 2007 respectively.  Some missed players could be pointed to poor scouting and drafting, but others were seen by many as being salary restrictive.  The most notorious omission being Matt Wieters, a “can’t miss” catching prospect nabbed by the Baltimore Orioles in with the following 5th pick in the draft.  After selecting Pedro Alvarez in 2008, the Pirates maintained their 1st round selection of position players by choosing Tony Sanchez with the 4th overall pick.  Players left on the board were Mike Minor, Mike Leak and Drew Storen.  2009 was an interesting draft in the sense that Trout, the 25th overall pick of the Angels was just selection as MLB’s top prospect for 2011; proving that drafting is truly more of an art than a science.  But the Sanchez pick was not hailed as a victory by the analysts.  Reports seemed to indicate that the Pirates were attempting to make up for their Moskos/Wieters blunder by grabbing the best available catcher with the 4th pick, although Sanchez was considered by some to be a late 1st rounder.  Money was also thrown into the equation as Sanchez was seen as an easy sign for Pittsburgh.  But who is the aforementioned Tony Sanchez?  Lets take a look at the man behind the pick.

Standing 6’1” and weighing a solid 213 pounds, Jorge Anthony (Tony) Sanchez was born on May 20, 1988.   Tony attended Boston College and played the catcher position as a junior upon being drafted by the Pirates.  Known for having taken the “Jared Subway” diet, Tony committed himself to training and exercise and excelled on the diamond in his last season at Boston College.  In his 1st season of pro ball, Sanchez split his time between 3 minor league spots, finishing at a .309 average in 48 games, with 7 homeruns, 48 rbis, .408 obp and .539 slg.  Building upon that season, Sanchez was enjoying a solid 2010 season in Bradenton which ended prematurely by suffering a broken jaw after a beaning.  The final 2010 stat line for Sanchez was a .314 average in 59 games with 4 homeruns, 35 rbis, .416 obp and .454 slg.  Solid numbers for any hitter, especially a catcher.  Sanchez was named to the 2010 All-Star Futures Game and his future appeared to be very bright.  Despite having his season ended early, Sanchez fought weight loss and rust by rehabilitating and joining the Mesa Solar Sox for the Arizona Fall League season.  Despite subpar statistics, Sanchez did enjoy a 2-home run game on November 11th and was named a Rising Star in the AFL and most importantly, proved his health and commitment to playing to the Pittsburgh Pirates, its fans and the MLB community at large.

On February 13, 2011, Tony Sanchez will be reporting to spring training with the Pirates in Bradenton, Florida which ironically was his home field this past 2010 season.  The only other catchers drafted in the 1st round by the Pirates were Neil Walker in 2004 and Jason Kendall in 1992.  If the Pirates get a solid major leaguer like Kendall from Sanchez, the team and its fans will be overjoyed.  Baseball America has rated Sanchez as having the potential to being the first Pittsburgh catcher gold glove winner since Mike “Spanky” LaValliere in 1987.  It is time for the fans of Pittsburgh and baseball to let go of the ghosts of drafts past and live in the present and future.  Tony Sanchez, in addition to Pedro Alvarez and 2010 1st round pick James Taillon represent solid Pirates building blocks for years to come.  In his short time in baseball, Sanchez has shown that he has a potentially live bat and has received strong reviews for his work with the glove.  With an MLB ETA of 2012, the Tony Sanchez era in Pittsburgh will soon be upon us.  With a blue collar approach to the sport that will be well received in his new hometown, Tony Sanchez is starting to silence the critics and build upon the hype surrounding his play.  Remember the name: Tony Sanchez, catcher, Pittsburgh Pirates.

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Mike Napoli – The Next Jose Bautista?

MLB reports:  What a difference 48 hours make.  At this time Wednesday night, I was plotting to prepare my blog on Mike Napoli.  The theme was going to be the unappreciated and neglected catcher of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and what he needed to finally break through.  This blog was born by way of my promise on twitter to write a blog of choice for my 500th follower.  Little did I know that one of my tweeps who is a devoted Angels fan would un-follow and follow me on twitter purposely to rig becoming #500.  As a compromise, this tweep allowed me to blog on one of my favorite players who also was playing on his team, the said Mike Napoli.

We discussed the reasons why Napoli was often riding the Angels’ bench and seemed to be disliked by manager Mike Scoscia.  My theory was that 2nd catcher Jeff Mathis was built more in the Scoscia mode from his player, strong defensively with a weak bat.  Napoli on the other hand, with Adam Dunn type power in his bat, was the anti-Scoscia.  With  bat envy in mind, Scoscia continued to let Napoli rot on the bench essentially for 4 years while rotating the catchers.  This blog was meant to discuss what additional playing time and confidence would do for Napoli in allowing his talent to blossom.  At approximately 6:30p.m. on Friday January 21, 2011, everything changed when my sports radio station announced in my car while I was driving “…Ken Rosenthal reports that the Toronto Blue Jays have acquired Mike Napoli from the Angels, details to follow.”

Now please realize that I was born in Toronto and have lived in this city my whole life.  I am a life-long baseball fan, but never considered myself a Jays fan.  I admired many players throughout the years, regardless of which team they played for.  I became a fan of the Detroit Tigers based on location, which grew over time and as the team developed.  But I would never consider myself a Jays fan, not until this offseason.  First came the signings of the pitchers, Dotel, Cordero and Rauch.  The trade for Brett Lawrie.  The previous trades for Drabek, D’arnaud, Wallace and later Gose.  I started to see the vision of Alex Anthopoulos and what he was building in Toronto.  But never imagined that he would bring Napoli to my hometown team.  So what started off as a “play Napoli” piece became a “Napoli will play” blog.

To everyone who has been reading my tweets tonight, there is no need to further voice my opinions on this blog about the trade itself.  The fact that the Jays were able to unload the Wells contract in full without adding in money was a miracle in itself.  The Vernon contract was labelled by many as the most un-tradeable contract in baseball.  If AA was able to unload this albatross in itself, he would have been heralded a genius.  The fact that Vernon was traded and the Jays were able to acquire Mike Napoli was truly the icing on the cake.  Juan Rivera, in the last year of his contract at $5.25 million becomes a spare part 4th outfielder for the Jays, who may be moved before the year is out or may perform well and earn the Jays a supplemental pick in the 2011 draft.  Either way, the Rivera addition/cost is negligible in the equation.  The trade boiled down essentially to the deletion of Wells and the success of the Jays in this regard.  What I believe will be forgotten in the equation is the addition of Mike Napoli to the lineup.  By the end of the season, this will no longer be the case.

Mike Napoli (Napp-uh-lee) was born on Halloween, October 31, 1981, stands an even 6’0″ tall and weighs a sturdy 215 pounds.  I remember watching Napoli for the first time on television in 2006.  The things that stood out to me were the open buttons on his jersey and that the bat in his hand looked like a toothpick.  Very Adam Dunn like.  Napoli proceeded to crank one of the longest home runs I had ever seen in his first at-bat that I ever saw.  I was in awe.  That year Nap0li in 99 games and 268 abs hit 16 home runs, hit .228 but had a .360 obp and .455 slg.  Napoli is part of the new wave of Nick Swisher, Adam Dunn type money ball players, where batting average becomes less relevant and obp/slg/ops become more key.  Looking at the numbers, Mike Napoli has had 3 straight 20+ home runs years, last year cranking out 26 home runs playing in a career high 140 games.  For his career to-date, Napoli has a .251 avg with a .346 obp and .485 slg.  Very lofty numbers, particularly for a catcher.  Playing in an Angels lineup without many mashers, I always wondered why he never had a chance to play every day and prove what he can do.  In 2011, that chance will now come in Toronto.

Between catcher, 1B and DH, Mike Napoli should finally have a chance to truly play every day with the Toronto Blue Jays.  On a young developing team playing in a home fun friendly park, the sky will be the limit for Napoli.  Looking at Jose Bautista and what playing in Toronto has done for his career, I see very good things happening in Napoli’s career.  Dwayne Murphy and the Toronto coaching staff  did some great work with many of the Toronto hitters in 2010, particularly Vernon Wells and Jose Bautista.  Bautista in particular was always seen with power potential in his bat when coming up, but was never given the opportunity to thrive.  Working with Napoli and allowing him to grow and play every day, he will not have to press to produce each game in the fear that one false move will result in a banishment to the bench.  With new-found confidence instilled, Napoli can relax and develop into the power hitter that he was meant to be.

For all the talk of Vernon Wells leaving town, what the Jays have also done is acquired themselves their potential future cleanup hitter for the next 3+ years conceivably.  Playing at the Rogers Centre, Napoli has the potential to hit 40+ home runs, make the all-star team and win silver slugger awards.  Sound familiar?  If all goes according to my visions, the trade consummated on January 21, 2011 will one day centre on the fact that the Toronto Blue Jays acquired Mike Napoli rather than the focus on Vernon Wells being dumped on the Angels.  Welcome to Toronto Mike Napoli.  You are finally home.

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MILTON BRADLEY – “I can fix him”

MLB reports:  Milton Bradley.  The name just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?

The board game references are endless and I’m sure Milton has heard and seem them all.  For me, if I had to draw a comparison, having Milton Bradley on a team is like playing operation.  You have to hold the tweezers gently and play very carefully.  Once false move and watch out, ZAP!  Game over.  Over the years, since 2000 to be exact, 8- count them 8, major league teams have played the baseball version of operation by employing Milton Bradley on their respective teams.  The history is well-known by all MLB fans, but here is a recap for those of you new to the game:

Team 1 – Montreal Expos 2000-2001:  Drafted Milton and traded him to the Indians for Zach Day.

Team 2 – Cleveland Indians 2001-2003:  Bradley’s longest tenured team (NO joke).  Bradley had an altercation with then Indians’ manager Eric Wedge in spring training of 2004, Bradley is then subsequently traded to the Dodgers for Franklin Gutierrez and Adrian Brown.

Team 3- Los Angeles Dodgers 2004-2005:  Bradley and then teammate, future hall of famer Jeff Kent trade barbs in the media, essentially Bradley accused Kent of a lack of leadership and not knowing how to deal with black people.  With all due respect to Kent, dealing with Bradley and Bonds is a difficult task regardless of race, gender or ethnicity.  Bradley is later traded with Antonio Perez to the Oakland Athletics for Andre (gulp) Ethier. Definitely not one of Billy Bean’s finer moments.  Sorry Billy.

Team 4- Oakland Athletics 2006-2007:  Oakland represented Milton’s last team run beyond 1 year, but just barely.  On June 21, 2007  Bradley was designated for assignment by the A’s and was traded subsequently with cash to the San Diego Padres for the infamous Adrian Brown.  Quite the distinction of twice being traded for one another.

Team 5- San Diego Padres 2007:  Bradley in September of 2007 had his famous run-in with an umpire which caused his manager at the time Bud Black to restrain him and Bradley ended up tearing his ACL in the process.  Bradley ends up leaving Padres as free agent and signing with Rangers.

Team 6- Texas Rangers 2008:  While with the Rangers, Bradley had his most celebrated season in the majors, leading the AL with a 1.036 OPS.  Despite a lofty season capped by an all-star appearance, Bradley has one known incident where he sought out Royals broadcaster Ryan Lefebvre to “discuss” comments Lefebvre made about Bradley during that tame.  At the end of the season, Bradley signs with the Cubs as a free agent for a whopping 3 years, $30 million.

Team 7 – Chicago Cub 2009:  The Milton Bradley era in Chicago lasted a grand total of 1 year in Chicago, with Bradley fighting with everyone that was anyone that year and making his heavily criticized contract seem well, very ….very…..very bad.  The tables started to really turn on Milton in June of that year, first from a suspension relating to an umpire bumping and later Sweet Lou blowing up at Bradley and sending him home during a game.  The Bradley Cubs era unofficially came to an end on September 20, 2009 when the Cubs suspended Bradley for the rest of the season for disparaging remarks made by Bradley about the Cubs and city of Chicago.  Lovely exit.  Officially on December 18, 2009, Bradley was traded to the Mariners for Carlos Silva in a “your junk” for “my trash” deal.

Team 8- Seattle Mariners 2010 -?: The Mariners acquired Bradley in the hopes of rejuvenating a stagnant offence and instantly inserted Bradley as their cleanup hitter.  The low-pressure stage of Seattle was to have a calming effect on Bradley with many experts expecting a comeback season, yours truly included by drafting Milton in the 15th round of my fantasy draft that year.  In May 2010 Bradley removed himself from a game and took a two-week leave of absence for “personal reasons” which have not been explained to-date to my knowledge.  The rest of the year was a fairly meek one for Bradley, with neither his bat or his team ever getting on track.  As of the new year, Bradley was arrested on January 18, 2011 for allegedly uttering criminal threats to a female patron in his home.

Given his track record of incidents and altercations, my question is: how can so many teams and related executives have continued to give this man so many chances and employ him in baseball?  It appears that Bradley wore out his welcome in almost every city he played in and lasted only 1-2 years at a time at most stops.  The lifetime statistics are good- .272 average, .366 obp, .443 slg, but not great.  Bradley though was never a particular strong home run hitter, did not drive in or score many runs and did not steal many bases.  He did a lot of things, but none exceptionally well.  A constant malcontent and injury prone player, team after team acquired him only to be left with egg on their faces.

Then again I ask, why the fascination with Bradley?  How did he manage to have a career that lasted this long?  Simple.  Everyone wants to be considered a genius, to have a breakthrough.  Imagine the person that is able to motivate, settle down Bradley and extract all the talent out of him and turn out the results that were expected of him.  That executive would succeed where all else have failed and that is saying a lot.  One by one some great minds in baseball set out to achieve this result and one by one, each failed.  The closest achieved result was in Texas, where the Rangers led by Ron Washington were able to get an all-star year out of Bradley where he kept his nose clean for the most part and produced.   Did the Rangers lock him up that offseason.  No.  They thanked their stars for getting the results they did and left the relationship on a high note.  The result?  Bradley I read in reports contacted the Cubs during that offseason and expressed his desire to play for Chicago.  The Cubs were apparently so moved by his sincerity and gesture that they chose to sign Bradley over other available similar free agents Raul Ibanez and Adam Dunn.  Yikes.

When news spread of the Cubs signing of Bradley to his monster contract, people in the industry were floored.  The common theme that arose was “nothing good can come of this” and sure enough, nothing did.

As we are now in the year 2011 and Bradley has paid his bail and is now back resting at home, the reality is that this is a baseball player at the end of his rope.  He has now played and been blacklisted on 26% of the MLB teams and the other 74% have taken note.  We have entered a new era of major league baseball, one where speed, defence and youth has a higher premium than it did compared to recent years.  Older, slower, defensively inclined players have been pushed aside for younger, cheaper talent.  As we stand today, Manny Ramirez, Vlad Guerrero and Johnny Damon are still looking for work.  I’m sure the Mariners have a team of lawyers working as we speak trying to find a way to void Bradley’s contract.  If unsuccessful, we will probably see a release of him as the final footnote to his career.  If Vlad can still be unemployed given his strong showing last year the Rangers, teams will equally have no issue leaving Bradley dangling on the waiver wire.

In my era we have seen Joey/Albert Belle, Carl Everett, Manny Ramirez and now Milton Bradley sideshows in baseball.  Train wrecks that people criticize but can’t stop watching.  I believe executives are getting smarter and more sophisticated in judging character and personality before drafting and promoting players.  As we stand in the new MLB, we will see fewer, if any, Milton Bradleys in baseball.  Baseball executives will choose not to play “operation” with their teams and their own baseball careers.  Happy trails Milton Bradley.  The game will continue, just with a different player in your place.

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Welcome to Our First Ever Article: Aaron Hill, Aaron Hill: Where Art Thou Aaron Hill?

MLB reports:  Greetings Readers,

Based on my early run on twitter, welcome to the 1st official article entry for mlbreports.com. Please feel free to suggest topics, otherwise I will pick topics at random that interest me and I think you will enjoy.  Also all feedback is welcome, please message me any time.

So on to the article. With the help of one of my new resources, the Bill James Handbook 2011 (enjoy the plug Mr. James), I now jump into the mystery that is Aaron Hill.

2009 represented Aaron’s breakout year. A season where Hill led the AL in 682 ABs and played in all but 4 of the Jays games. 195 hits, 37 doubles, 36 home runs, 340 total bases, 103 runs, 108 rbis, .286 average and .499 slug. Fast forward to 2010. Jays fans believe the second coming of Joe Morgan is emerging in Toronto and that Hill would be the new face of this once proud franchise in the midst of rebuilding. What they got instead was the second coming of Russ Adams (exaggeration, of course, but you know what I mean). Look at Hill’s 2010 numbers last season: 108 hits, 22 doubles, 26 home runs, 208 total bases, 70 runs, 68 rbis, .205 average, .394 slug. So the question is: Which is the real Aaron Hill, the 2009 or 2010 models?

Most baseball people would argue somewhere in the middle. I would somewhat agree, but will throw in that the middle ground will lean more towards 2010. Yes I live in Toronto and no, I am not a homer or biased. Mostly. I have never been a big fan of Aaron Hill and was not ready to start engraving any hall of flame plaques after 2009. To me, Jose Bautista’s breakout is more likely to be reality than Hill’s. I see 2011 as the crossroads for Hill, where he either reclaims elite status or moves to the land of waivers, release, AAA buses etc.

There were some items of note that irked me about Hill in 2009. Walks. 42 walks, of which 1 was intentional. A .330 obp.  At first glance the .286 average that Hill sported in 2009 appears impressive.  But when you consider that it only translated into a .330 obp, something doesn’t sit right.  Hill has the reputation in Toronto of being a gritty hitter, “great #2″ who can set up the table and drive in runs.  But truth be known, for the great hitter that Hill is, pitchers found it necessary to intentionally walk him only 1 time.  That doesn’t show me a great deal of respect.  Hill in fact only took 42 walks in 2009.  In contrast, for Hill’s disastrous 2010, he was intentionally walked twice and took a total of 41 walks.  No difference whatsoever.    So studying Hill on this basis, he cannot take a walk whether he is hitting or not.  Pitchers are apparently aware of this and are not afraid to pitch to him.  2009 tells me that even if Hill can hit for a solid .286 average, the kid will not be considered any form of on-base machine.

Why the obsession with on-base percentage?  For a simple reason.  Unless you can hit like Vladdy Guerrero and scrape balls out of the dirt for home runs, a bad batting eye can lead to Jeff Francouer territory.  This is not the place to be.  We all know Francouer and his path in the major leagues.  Coming up Atlanta was seen as a hitter with power that will develop a batting eye.  That unfortunately never came and now Jeff is with the Royals last I read.  If I were him, I would be scouting out for apartments in Omaha.  Now.  But I digress.  An Aaron Hill player that refuses to take a walk and is not respected enough to be intentionally walked, will rarely make it far in a baseball career.  Of Hill’s 108 hits in 2010, 26 went deep.  Think about it.  The man was only able to have 108 hits in a full season, in 138 games and managing 528 at-bats.  Hill essentially played a full season in 2010 and a full 25% of hits were home runs.  Based on that rate, if Hill could have duplicated his 195 hits from 2009, he would have hit a whopping 50 home runs.  We are talking Jose Bautista territory, who did hit 54 home runs in 2010…and also walked 100 times.  It would take Hill 2.5 years to take that many walks.  Apparently this will not happen.  So even at 26 home runs, not a number generally to be sneezed at, Aaron Hill looked very weak in 2010.

The point that I am trying to make?  Essentially the following.  For Aaron Hill to be effective, he has to hit…and hit…and hit some more.  Even at close to 200 hits, this not a player that gets on at a very high rate.  Take away the hits, all the other numbers fall off the table.  The Aaron Hill of 2010 to me is Pete Incaviglia or Rob Deer, just less strikeouts.  In today’s mlb, players such as these are becoming less of a desired commodity.  Looking at the numbers we are seeing only one other “good” season by Hill.  2007  showed 17 home runs, 87 runs, 78 rbis and a .291 average.  160 games played that season with 608 at-bats.  Guess the number of walks?  You got it, 41 with a .333 obp.  In 4 years I don’t see any real progress, just one outlier year in 2009.

Consulting with my friend Bill James, what is expected from Hill in 2011?  Am I alone in my thinking or is one of the industry gurus in agreement with me?  142 games, 531 at-bats, 22 home runs, 76 runs, 73 rbis.  Ok.  So far so good.  But 138 hits and you guessed it, the standard 41 walks.  A .260 average, .319 obp and .446 slug.  My favourite whipping boy, Jeff Francouer, is projected to have a similar .318 obp.  Ouch.  The Aaron Hill of 2011 is an improvement of the 2010 version, but actually a regression of the 2007 model.  The hype from 2009 was just that.  Hype.  For those in the know, there were reasons to believe that there were warning signs from the beginning on Hill and 2009 should not have tempered them.  I was never a Hill backer, I will admit and have never wavered.  The Jays this past off-season traded their top starting pitcher, Shaun Marcum for the top prospect in the Brewers system.  A second basemen by the name of Brett Lawrie.  The writing should be on the wall for Aaron at this point and it’s actually a shame.  As a #7 – #9 hitter, he would have been considered steady and productive.  But being thrust into batting spots such as #2 and #5, he does not have the capabilities to produce as required.  As we all know in sports, especially in baseball, once expectations are thrust upon you, it is difficult to hide them.

By 2013 Aaron Hill will likely be on his 2nd or 3rd team and the above points will be moot.  But as the 2011 season approaches and the Jays rebuild and look to improve, excuse me while I don’t count on Aaron Hill.  I don’t expect the Toronto Blue Jays will either.

Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook .  To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.

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