Monthly Archives: April 2011

Bryce Harper vs. Manny Machado: Friday Faceoff

MLB reports:  For even the most casual baseball fan, the name Bryce Harper should sound alarm bells.  Considered by many experts to be the equivalent of the next Sidney Crosby in hockey, LeBron James in basketball and Peyton Manning in football, Harper is the next “big thing” in baseball.

A five-tool player in baseball is one that is able to hit for a high average, power, strong base running and speed, throwing well and fielding his position.  From all accounts, Harper is all of the above…and more.  If reports are accurate, Harper has Josh Hamilton type tools, which rarely comes around more than once in a lifetime.

Haper is all of 18 years of age, stands 6’3″ and weighs 225 lbs.  A catcher in his days at the College of Southern Nevada JC, Harper has started in pro career as an outfielder.  Drafted first overall in the 2010 draft by the Washington Nationals, Harper currently plays in the Class A South Atlantic league for the Hagerstown Suns.  Harper was the 2010 Golden Spikes Award winner as the top amateur player in the nation.

Going into today’s action, here are Bryce Harper’s 2011 statistics:

BRYCE HARPER:

2011 Season
Team League AVG G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI TB BB SO SB CS OBP SLG OPS
HAG SAL .323 19 62 14 20 5 0 5 18 40 11 17 4 2 .425 .645 1.070

In all the talk of Bryce Harper, a very talented shortstop by the name of Manuel (“Manny”) Machado seems to get lost in the shuffle.  Machado was drafted 3rd overall in 2010 by the Orioles.  At 18 years of age, Machado also stands 6’3″ but weighs 185 lbs.  Machado signed early with the Orioles and made his professional debut with short season Aberdeen in 2010.  Born in Florida, the Alex Rodriguez comparison whispers have already started with Machado.

19 games into the season, here are Machado’s 2011 statistics with the Delmarva Shorebirds of the Class A  South Atlantic League:

MANNY MACHADO:

2011 Season
Team League AVG G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI TB BB SO SB CS OBP SLG OPS
DEL SAL .315 19 73 16 23 6 2 3 15 42 13 11 1 1 .420 .575 .996

With such close proximity between Washington and Baltimore, it is likely that Machado and Harper will be facing comparisons in the minds of fans of the Nationals and Orioles for years to come.  While both are off to strong seasons in Class A, it appears that Harper has displayed the slightly stronger bat to-date.  Harper has hit more home runs, although Machado has hit more triples and struck out less.  Harper also stolen more bases and has the higher overall OPS.

One interesting difference I did find between the players are their home/road splits.  Although from a small sample size, a little more difference begins to emerge between the players when viewed:

HARPER:

Entire Season AVG G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS OBP SLG OPS
vs Left .318 22 1 7 2 0 0 5 3 7 2 1 .400 .409 .809
vs Right .325 40 13 13 3 0 5 13 8 10 2 1 .438 .775 1.213
Home Games .381 7 21 9 8 2 0 2 9 5 5 2 0 .500 .762 1.262
Away Games .293 12 41 5 12 3 0 3 9 6 12 2 2 .383 .585 .968

MACHADO:

Entire Season AVG G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS OBP SLG OPS
vs Left .333 9 3 3 1 0 0 2 4 2 0 0 .538 .444 .983
vs Right .313 64 13 20 5 2 3 13 9 9 1 1 .400 .594 .994
Home Games .385 11 39 9 15 4 1 3 10 10 7 1 1 .510 .769 1.279
Away Games .235 8 34 7 8 2 1 0 5 3 4 0 0 .308 .353 .661

While both players exhibit stronger bats at home, Machado’s numbers are drastically lower on the road.  As a younger player, this is not abnormal and a sign that he is still developing as a hitter.  On the other hand, Harper’s strong numbers on the road shows maturity beyond his years.  With such dominance at home and on the road, it does not appear that Harper can be stopped anywhere.  While AA is on the horizon for both players, I would suspect that Harper will reach the next level a little sooner.

The Verdict:

Playing the same number of games in the same league, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado have showcased that both are superstars in the making.  Machado plays a more gruelling position (shortstop) and while both are known for their great gloves, Harper’s cannon in the outfield is the talk of the scouting world.  As each continues to advance up the ranks to reach the major leagues, we will learn one day if each has what it takes to be a bona fide superstar.  We have two very good ones in the making, but the reviews and reports on Harper are too hard to ignore.  The baseball world loves this kid and for great reason: he really appears to be the real deal.  While much attention will unfortunately be deflected from Manny Machado as he continues to build his resume, it may serve to help him in the long run.  Playing in the shadow of a prospect like Harper, Machado can develop his skills without as much pressure and expectations from both the media and fans.  While I fully expect to see each both succeed, Harper has the added requirement to develop while being thrust fully in the limelight.  The smart money still lies on Harper and I fully expect that he will one of the next biggest superstars in baseball.  But don’t count out Manny Machado, who together with Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Nick Markakis should bring the Baltimore Orioles back to greatness.

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MLB 2011 Standings: Analyzing all the Divisions

MLB reports:  With nearly a month of MLB action already underway, it is time to check all six of baseball’s divisions and focus on the standings.  After the excitement and panic that accompanied the completion of the opening series for each team, it is now time to check out each division and find which teams are playing above their heads and who needs to turn up a few notches.  The MLB standings as of the morning of Thursday April 28th, 2011, look as follows:  

 AL East W L Pct GB Home Road East Cent West Streak L10
 New York Yankees 13 8 .619 9-5 4-3 6-3 5-4 2-1 Won 1 6-4
 Tampa Bay Rays 12 11 .522 2.0 6-7 6-4 4-4 8-5 0-2 Won 3 7-3
 Toronto Blue Jays 11 13 .458 3.5 6-5 5-8 3-6 2-1 6-6 Lost 1 4-6
 Baltimore Orioles 10 12 .455 3.5 7-7 3-5 5-4 4-6 1-2 Won 2 4-6
 Boston Red Sox 10 13 .435 4.0 5-4 5-9 5-6 0-3 5-4 Lost 2 7-3

AL East:  Few people should be surprised to see the empire sitting at the top of the AL East.  With the largest payroll in baseball and fielding a team of all-stars, the Yankees have proven that they can still win without a complete pitching staff.  The Rays after a slow start have turned it up and are now above .500.  With continued strong play, we may see the Rays in first by next week.  The Jays and Orioles sit in the middle of the pack as expected.  With hot and cold performances so far, both teams are two games under .500.  The Red Sox are still playing far below expectation but only sit four games out of first.  With a 7-3 record in their last ten games, the Red Sox are due for a huge tear.  Expect the toughest division in baseball to be a battle all season long as all teams could conceivably finish with a .500 record or better.

AL Central W L Pct GB Home Road East Cent West Streak L10
 Cleveland Indians 15 8 .652 9-2 6-6 6-0 5-6 4-2 Won 2 6-4
 Detroit Tigers 12 12 .500 3.5 6-5 6-7 2-4 4-2 6-6 Lost 2 5-5
 Kansas City Royals 12 12 .500 3.5 9-5 3-7 0-0 6-7 6-5 Lost 5 2-8
 Minnesota Twins 9 13 .409 5.5 4-4 5-9 5-10 3-1 1-2 Lost 1 5-5
 Chicago White Sox 10 15 .400 6.0 4-6 6-9 6-5 3-5 1-5 Lost 1 3-7

AL Central:  The top team currently in the American League:  the Yankees?  No.  The Rangers?  No.  Look out, but the upstart Indians continue to lead the AL in winning percentage.  With the Indians on top and the White Sox at .400, this division is due for what is called a market correction.  The Twins at .409 have suffered through poor play and injuries, but their time is coming soon.  The Tigers at .500 haven’t played their best ball yet.  The Royals have fallen drastically back down to earth with a recent 2-8 tailspin and should continue to fall back to the cellar.  But what about those Indians?  At 9-2 at home, their play has been fairly one-sided.  With a 6-6 road record, it is only a matter of time before the bubble bursts.

AL West W L Pct GB Home Road East Cent West Streak L10
 Texas Rangers 15 9 .625 11-4 4-5 7-5 4-2 4-2 Won 1 5-5
 Los Angeles Angels 14 11 .560 1.5 6-7 8-4 4-5 6-4 4-2 Lost 1 4-6
 Oakland Athletics 12 13 .480 3.5 4-5 8-8 2-3 6-4 4-6 Won 1 5-5
 Seattle Mariners 10 15 .400 5.5 5-8 5-7 2-1 4-8 4-6 Won 2 6-4

AL West:  The American League champion Rangers are back on a top with a convincing 15-9 record.  The Angels after a recent hot streak have cooled off, going 4-6 in their last 10.  The A’s, a traditional second half team are almost at .500.  This division should be a three-horse race right until September.  The Mariners…. at .400, are already preparing for next year.

Now we turn our attention to the National League after polishing off the junior circuit.  With so many interesting races, the National League should prove to have exciting matchups all summer long.

NL East W L Pct GB Home Road East Cent West Streak L10
 Philadelphia Phillies 16 8 .667 7-4 9-4 7-4 4-2 5-2 Won 1 6-4
 Florida Marlins 15 8 .652 0.5 10-5 5-3 6-5 5-1 4-2 Lost 1 7-3
 Atlanta Braves 13 13 .500 4.0 4-5 9-8 6-6 1-3 6-4 Won 2 6-4
 New York Mets 11 13 .458 5.0 5-8 6-5 7-7 1-2 3-4 Won 6 7-3
 Washington Nationals 10 13 .435 5.5 5-6 5-7 5-9 5-4 0-0 Lost 3 4-6

NL East:  The Phillies, led by the four-aces are on top with a 16-8 record.  But don’t look now, the Florida (soon to be Miami) Marlins are on fire at 7-2 in their last 10 and only sit 1/2 a game out of first.  With the Mets on a six-game winning streak and the last place Nationals only 5.5 games out, the NL East is becoming quite balanced and competitive.  Smart money is still on the Phillies to take the crown, with the Braves playing better than their .500 record as of today.  But so far the Marlins and Mets are surprising me, the Braves are disappointing me and the Nationals and Phillies are playing to expectations.

NL Central W L Pct GB Home Road East Cent West Streak L10
 St. Louis Cardinals 13 11 .542 6-6 7-5 2-1 4-4 7-6 Won 1 6-4
 Cincinnati Reds 13 12 .520 0.5 7-6 6-6 0-0 9-7 4-5 Won 1 4-6
 Milwaukee Brewers 12 12 .500 1.0 8-5 4-7 5-5 7-7 0-0 Lost 1 5-5
 Pittsburgh Pirates 11 13 .458 2.0 4-7 7-6 2-4 7-5 2-4 Won 1 5-5
 Chicago Cubs 10 13 .435 2.5 6-8 4-5 0-0 4-5 6-8 Lost 3 4-6
 Houston Astros 9 15 .375 4.0 5-7 4-8 3-6 4-7 2-2 Lost 1 5-5

NL Central:  For all the critics that wrote me threatening letters when I predicted the Cardinals would take the wild card, please start typing your apology letters and sending them my way.  Just kidding.  But in an expected strong division, the Cardinals are in first place with only 2 wins over .500.  Having the Pirates, Cubs and Astros in the division would do that.  For all the press that the Indians, Royals and Pirates received to start the year, the Indians are the only team left at the end of the musical chairs.  The Pirates have fallen back down to earth with an 11-13 record that should prove to only be worse as the season progresses.  The Cubs and Astros in my estimation could best hope for good drafts and 2011 being a rebuilding year.  The Reds, Cardinals and Brewers are all .500 and better and should continue to battle out for the NL Central crown and likely the wild card all season long.  Keep an eye on those teams.

NL West W L Pct GB Home Road East Cent West Streak L10
 Colorado Rockies 16 7 .696 6-4 10-3 5-2 7-2 4-3 Won 2 5-5
 Los Angeles Dodgers 13 13 .500 4.5 7-5 6-8 4-3 3-4 6-6 Won 1 6-4
 San Francisco Giants 11 12 .478 5.0 4-5 7-7 0-3 3-2 8-7 Lost 1 4-6
 Arizona Diamondbacks 10 13 .435 6.0 6-6 4-7 2-4 6-6 2-3 Lost 1 5-5
 San Diego Padres 9 16 .360 8.0 4-11 5-5 1-6 6-7 2-3 Lost 2 2-8

NL West:  Last, but not least, we come to the NL West.  A strange division which is strong some years and extremely weak in others.  The Rockies have been the class of the National League, with a league leading .696 winning percentage.  A strong 10-3 road record has carried the team, which points to a likely correction in the future.  The Dodgers, my pick for the division, sits at .500 despite multiple distractions off the field.  With the talent base in Los Angeles, they will continue to be a tough competitor.  The World Series champs, the San Francisco Giants are below .500 and we need to fight for offense in order to contend.  The Diamondbacks continue to rebuild and after a hot start to 2010, the Padres tanked in the 2nd half of last year and now sit with eight games out of first, the biggest margin in baseball.  The Padres will need some extreme smoke and mirrors to mask their deficiencies and will need to continue to rebuild to climb back to contention.

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E-MAILBAG: Ask the Reports, Wednesday April 27th

 

Thank you for reading the E-mailbag.  Please send all your questions to mlbreports@gmail.com and please include your first name and City/Country.

We will be compiling a list of your questions from our e-mailbag and posting the responses on Wednesdays.

 

Wednesday April 27, 2011

Q:  Fantasy (and real) question: who’s the best bet this year: Jurrjens, Pineda, or Masterson? Thanks! From B.E.F., DC

MLB reports:  Great question…especially mixing in the fantasy baseball and reality.  While these two spheres are sometimes contradictory, when it comes to pitchers, they are often the same.  A pitcher who does well for a fantasy team is likely the same pitcher you will want for your real-life team.  Based on this year’s needs, my pick is Jurrjens.  Simple matter is that he is still 25 but has been around for a while, so he has the experience.  After an injury plagued 2010, he has come back strong this year (although delayed).  Jurrjens has the strongest offense out of the bunch with the Braves (which has been inconsistent out of the gate but strongest bet).  Also Jurrjens is based in the NL which is better for pitchers and has the strongest bullpen out of the three, so wins will be easier to come by. 

Masterson, while a personal favorite of mine is the third pick.  He is currently pitching over his head and will come back down to earth with the rest of the Indians squad.  Masterson also usually walks too many guys (1.50 WHIP in 2010) and I do not trust him just yet.  The smoke and mirror show will be over soon…believe it.  Pineda is the darling of the bunch and while a future fantasy ace, is 22 in his first season.  On a weak Mariners squad, run support and bullpen efficiency will be hard to come by.  Pineda will also be on a strict pitch count and as he goes through the league a few more times, expect hitters to get a better handle on him.  For the surest results, go with Jurrjens.  He carries the most injury risk but the securest and most likely results this year.

Q:  Fantasy question: Gio Gonzalez or Phil Humber as last SP in 10 team H2H? Gio has had last two bad nights against LAA and BOS. Humber=Almost No-Hit.  From Richard, Roanoke

MLB reports:  Richard…Richard…Richard.  Philip Humber is 28, a Tommy John survivor and a prospect that has never panned out.  He has had a nice little stretch for the ChiSox, but the sample size is too small.  Gio at 25 is blossoming into a fantasy ace on a young Oakland pitching squad.  Gonzalez has the track record of development and has already been solid with 2 wins and a 2.70 ERA.  If the question is for a roster spot, you know my answer:  Gonzalez, without thinking .  If you own both and need to know who to play, then go with Gonzalez and make Humber pitch well for 3-5 more starts before inserting him.  Always go with the proven guy over the shaky flavor of the month.  Gonzalez by a landslide.

Q:  Did you see Zack Britton dominate the Red Sox tonight? 1st O’s rookie to win 4 games in April.  Simply Filthy. From Matt, Charm City

MLB reports:  Not bad for a 3rd round pick in 2006.  Britton has been brilliant to start the year, almost unhittable to go along with his 4 wins and 2.84 ERA.  The whole complexion of the Orioles changed when Showalter took over and they are only going to go up.  This is the only division in baseball where every team will finish with a record of .500 or better.  The Orioles have some really talented young pitchers and none is brighter than Britton.  Continue to dance up in Charm City, the sky is the limit for this talented hurler. 

Q: How much do I hate baseball after benching Ian *(&(^*^ Kennedy against Cliff Lee and the Phillies today? From Tim, Huntsville

MLB reports:  First of all, you cannot hate baseball.  That is impossible.  What you are saying, you are saying out of anger.  I will take that into account and let you off the hook.  This time.  But seriously, there is no worse feeling in fantasy baseball than having a player put up a monster game while sitting on your bench and you do not get the stats.  Or is there?  How about when a player lays an egg and digs you into a hole?  That is actually worse.  You did the right thing Tim.  If you had other options, you were smart by sitting Kennedy against Lee and the Phillies.  Its called playing the percentages.  Cliff Lee was more than likely going to get the win and with the Phillies strong offense, there was a high chance of Ian Kennedy getting smacked around.  But that is not how it turned out at the end…but that is ok.  Kennedy had a 3.80 ERA last year and still has a 4.02 ERA this year.  He pitches to a low WHIP by giving up few hits but he walks many guys.  On a Diamondbacks team that will struggle for runs and wins for their pitchers, Kennedy will be flip-flopping out of your lineup all year.  Don’t sweat it…be happy he wasn’t in there destroying your pitching stats.  It’s a long fantasy season.  One strong pitching performance never made or broke a team.  Keep playing the percentages, as everything will even out at the end.

Q:  Hey how are things tonight for you? Fantasy question. Morrow or Scherzer for rest of season? From Shane, Tampa

MLB reports:  Doing really well, thanks for asking Shane.  You picked two of my favorite pitchers to compare, well done.  Plus pitchers on two of my top picked teams, which is even better.  Scherzer is 4-0 with a 3.19 ERA this year.  He strikes out a lot of hitters but tend to have a WHIP on the higher side, in this case 1.484 in 2011.  Morrow can be almost unhittable when he is on and had the 178 strikeouts last year.  The answer is Scherzer and it is not even close.  Scherzer pitches for a stronger contender in a pitcher’s park.  Scherzer has stronger experience and health record.  Morrow is a constant injury concern and is always a tweak away from the DL.  While both pitchers can be dreadful when off, Morrow pitches in a home run hitters haven called the Rogers Centre.  Both have great run support and good pens behind them.  But Morrow has to pitch against the AL East all season and while the Royals and Indians have been hot, they will prove to be the inferior teams in the long run.  Scherzer is a strong bet at 15-18 wins and continue his development in Detroit.  Morrow is a great pitcher, but too much of a risk.  Scherzer…done deal.

Q:  Your thoughts on Peter Bourjos? Thinking of adding him as back-up for that broad Delmon Young and when/if Jerry Sands struggles too much.  From Maury, Boston.

MLB reports:  Sands will have his share of struggles, no question.  He is young and playing in a pitcher’s park.  That being said, Sands also has the most support with Ethier and Kemp hitting around him.  Delmon Young is not a pick of mine and despite his strong numbers last year, I still see him as a player that will never develop into a superstar.  Young has no patience at the plate and I believe his hack and slash ways will catch up with him.  That being said, I am not too high on Bourjos either.  His numbers last year were simply brutal and I simply do not see an upside.  If you have room on your bench though, definitely grab Bourjos as his 4 triples and 2 home runs would look good in any fantasy lineup right now.  Bourjos and Young packed together could prove to be really good trade bait for any fantasy novice in your league.  Try to acquire Alex Gordon immediately if you can, the window on him is closing fast for the few fantasy owners out there that may try to sell “high” on him, not understanding that his run is for real.  But if you can’t pull off that move, play out Bourjos and Sands and try to keep Young stapled to your bench unless he starts to get hot at the plate.  Sands is the guy I would most trust out of the three and I would continue to search for steadier solutions for the rest of the season to avoid any more stress.

Q:  There have been so many catchers that have retired and went on to become great managers. Out of the current catchers and ones who have retired the last few years, who do you think will become a manager one day and be great?  From Larry (#1 Fan)

MLB reports:  Great question from a great fan.  You are right, catchers tend to make the best managers and coaches based on their experience and knowledge of the game.  From Joe Girardi, Tony Pena, Larry Parrish, Mike Scoscia…the list goes on…and on.  Dave Duncan is an interesting case as he is one of the few non-pitchers who is a pitching coaches, as a former catcher.  It makes sense that a catcher that would know best to run a pitching squad, so its surprising more teams don’t go that way.

There are many great managers on the horizon.  Some that come to my mind are Jason Varitek, Jason Kendall, John Buck, Gregg Zaun, Gary Carter, Mike Lieberthal, Mike LaValliere, Mike Matheny, Jason LaRue and Craig Biggio (started as a catcher).  When I think of a good manager, I think of a player that had a good grasp of the game, played hard, knows the fundamentals and was a leader on and off the field.  All of these catchers have strong abilities and are solid picks for me to return to the dugout one day as a manager.  Varitek, Zaun and LaRue really stick out to me as guys that were leaders and gave everything they had on the field.  While capable of taking on any roles in baseball (Zaun is currently a broadcaster for the Jays), I could see all three becoming managers in some form one day.  With the amount of knowledge they have to give, I believe that future teams will greatly benefit from instruction and leadership from any of the aforementioned individuals.  A great question Larry, thank you for sharing.

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Patient Hitters: The Leaders in Walks

MLB reports: As many of you know from my past articles and tweets, the one quality I look for the most in hitters is patience:  the ability to take walks.  The art of the base on balls was exemplified somewhat in the “moneyball” Oakland approach and has been adopted by the Red Sox team in particular, among others.  People often ask me why I value hitters that take walks so highly.  Very simply, walks in my mind lead often to the overall development of every facet of a hitters game.  A hitter that has good judgement of the strike zone and take walks should get on base at a high rate.  A hitter that takes many walks is more likely to judge better pitches to hit, which should increase their number of hits and home runs correspondingly.  When I used to play fantasy baseball, I often looked for batters with high walk totals in filling out my rosters.  These hitters would win championships for me, as they do often for baseball teams in real life.

Patient hitters have a high value in baseball, this has become a fact of life.  Putting this theory to the test, let’s take a look at which batters sit among the leader board in walks as of today.  It will be interesting to see which of these players are considered top players, historically and coming into their own as of today.  Has the number of walks taken this year helped each player in other statistical categories?  Are each of these players better hitters for having many walks?  The results may surprise you.

1st:  Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays (19)

Last year 100 walks went hand-in-hand with a league leading 54 home runs.  This year, Bautista leads the league with 19 walks and 8 home runs.  For a man who hit .260 last year, the high walk has remained while the average has jumped to a league leading .364.  Interesting to note, none of Batista’s walks have been intentional.  Bautista for me is the poster boy of how patience and power are inter-twined.  You almost cannot have one without the other.  For anyone that doubts the value of walks, go look up Bautista’s stats again…they will astound you.

T-2nd:  Bobby Abreu, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (18)

Bobby Abreu, along with Youkilis, Adam Dunn and Swisher, is a resident in the patience club.  With 1,360 career walks, Abreu always brings on-base capabilities for any team he plays for.  Long seen as having declining power, Abreu still hit a decent 20 home runs last year.  Combined with his 87 walks, Abreu managed a .352 OBP despite a .255 AVG.  This year, with a puny one home run and .244 AVG, Abreu is sitting at an unacceptable .329 SLG.  But with a .388 OBP, the 37-year-old Abreu still has some value.  In his prime, Abreu showed that 100+ walks and a .300+ AVG could lead to 40+ home runs in a season.  But Abreu, the elder of the list, only has walks to show for any value left in his tank and is likely dependant on those walks for still receiving any playing time at all.  The end is near, but the walks continue.

T-2nd:  Joey Votto, Cincinatti Reds (18)

As a rookie, I read that Dusty Baker told Joey Votto that he should becoming more free-swinging and less patient to develop as a hitter.  Fortunately for Votto and all Reds fans, the Canadian ignored the advice and continued to grow as a hitter….his way.  Last year Votto had 91 walks, which translated to 37 home runs and a league leading .400 OBP and .600 SLG.  Hitting .324 along the way, Votto was intentionally walked eight times.  Votto fits the bill perfectly- a hitter that picks his spots, waits for the right pitches to hit and avoids the bad ones to get on base.  This year, votto has 18 walks to only 11 strike outs.  The knock on some patient hitters is that they take too many called third strikes and often hit for low averages.  As part of the core of this top list, Votto is able to not only hit many home runs but keep his average steady to high in the process.  Many experts see Votto as having surpassed Albert Pujols as the king of the NL.  Based on his numbers-to-date, I have a hard time arguing.  Votto’s bread and butter has been his eye at the plate.  The 2010 MVP and runner-up 2008 ROY can thank his walks for much of his success in baseball.

4th:  Jonny Gomes, Cincinatti Reds (17)

The fourth member of our list is the only real head scratcher in the bunch.  While all the other listed hitters are known “walkers”, Gomes has basically come out of nowhere to join the group this year.  With a career high of 61 walks in 2006 being far and away his highest season total, few people envisioned Jonny Gomes learning true patience at the age of 30.  Perhaps spending time with Votto has helped his transition.  But then, his .211 AVG would seem to indicate that he might not be fully paying attention in emulating Votto.  At a season total of six home runs, Gomes is on pace to set a career high of 35 home runs.  But looking at the full numbers, Gomes is the outlier.  Hitting in the standard Nick Swisher mold, Gomes has compensated base hits for walks.  With his 18 walks has come 23 strikeouts…which shows that he is missing as many pitches as he is taking.  It is not a bad thing that Gomes is taking many walks, but unfortunately he is swinging for the fences and striking out at a Rob Deer frequency with too few base hits.  Gomes may continue the walks, but without a steadier number of base hits to match, he may not be as productive as one may think.

T-5th:  Daric Barton, Oakland Athletics (16)

Seemingly playing forever, the 25-year-old is entering his 5th season in the bigs.  With a .368 career OBP and 110 walks last year (leading the AL), Barton is patience personified.  The only knock on Barton has been his low batting average and power.  2011 has done nothing to calm those fears, as Barton is hitting .205 with zero home runs.  Along with Gomes, Barton is sacrificing base hits for walks, but not seeing the tangible results that should come along with them.  Well…at least Gomes is hitting home runs, I really can’t see what value Barton has other than walks.  With ten home runs, Barton is slowly becoming another Travis Buck.  As Barton continues to keep first base warm for Chris Carter, I am sad to see that his patience at the plate never translated to greater things for him offensively.  Judging on his 17/20 BB/K ratio, Barton clearly is either not patient enough or judging the right pitches to hit.  Based on this slow start, it appears the one-time A’s prospect has graduated into a full-fledged suspect.

T-5th:  Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers (16)

One of my favorite hitters in the game, I always wondered what levels he could reach if he could take more walks.  Always known for a solid average and home run bat, the answer to my question started to be answered last year.  Cabrera set a career high with 89 walks last year and had correspondingly a career high 38 home runs.  This year, with a 17/12 BB/K ratio, Cabrera has already five home runs, to go with his .338 AVG, .458 OBP and .610 SLG.  These are really…really…really good numbers.  Finishing second last year in MVP, the re-born Cabrera has become everything I could have imagined as a hitter.  Together with Bautista in the AL and Joey Votto in NL, we are looking at three of the most complete hitters in the game.  Taking many walks, hitting many home runs, hitting for a high average and not striking out a ton.  Patience at the plate, waiting for the right pitches to hit and taking advantage of those pitches.  Hitting perfection.

T-5th:  Kevin Youkilis, Boston Red Sox (16) 

No conversation on walks is complete without including the Greek God of Walks himself, Kevin Youkilis.  A .292 career hitter with a lifetime .394 OBP and .497 SLG, Youk fit the mold of the perfect hitter as I discussed above.  But something has happened to Youk in 2011.  Despite his high walks and decent number of home runs (4), his average sits at .222.  Considering that Youk has hit .300+ the last three seasons, I do not expect a huge regression at the age of 32.  As long as he stays healthy, Youk should be at .290, .390 and 25 home runs.  That’s just how steady Youk is.  But given his career low average this year, I actually suspect there may be an injury concern.  I do not see Youk turning into Jonny Gomes overnight.  Everything seems to even out in the long run and over the course of the season, the real Youk should emerge.  Walks will always be there, but the rest of the game should follow as well.  But even if he remains slumping, as Bobby Abreu and Daric Barton have shown, at least taking walks brings some contribution to the table.  But unlike those two, at least Youk can still swing a power stick.  Walks truly begin and end with Youk.

Thank you for reading today’s feature on walks and the hitters who take them.  While we all have theories on the subject, think of all the best all around hitters of all time and take a look at their walk totals.  While there may have been many home run kings with low averages or hit kings with poor power, take a look at the best all around hitters and see how many times they walked.  Then tell me what you think about the value of the combination of power and patience and if you now subscribe to this theory.  I certainly hope that you do.

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Top Home Run Hitters: MLB 2011

MLB reports:  For pure fun today, I wanted to scan the major league baseball leaderboard and evaluate the top home run hitters of 2011.  While this list can change at a moment’s notice, looking at the board with over three weeks into the season is always fun.  At least my idea of fun.  I originally planned to make a top ten list, but that was going to prove to be futile.  Six hitters sit at the top of the list with seven home runs a piece and eight hitters tied for second with six home runs each.  Let’s take a close look at the top fourteen then and see which hitters are likely to remain on the list and which have caught lightning in a bottle for a few games.

First Place – Seven Home Runs

Jose Bautista:  Toronto Blue Jays

After 54 home runs last year, is anyone still waiting for a slowdown?  With 19 walks already, .359 AVG and 1.256 OPS, Bautista continues to build on the momentum of last year.  Living up to his large contract extension signed in the off-season, it appears that the new Jose Bautista is here to stay.  At 30 years of age, Bautista is showing that he has enough juice in his bat to approach another 50 home runs this year.

Adrian Beltre:  Texas Rangers

Another big contract signing entering 2011, Beltre has made good on the promise of his bat hitting in Arlington.  Inconsistent throughout his career, analysts have often said that if healthy and playing in a hitters park, the sky is the limit.  Beltre hit 48 home runs back in 2004 playing for the Dodgers and have never approached those numbers since.  At 32 and playing in one of the best hitters park in a stacked lineup, big numbers could come his way.  I see somewhat of a regression, but 30-35 home runs is a safe bet at this point.

Ryan Braun:  Milwaukee Brewers

The Hebrew Hammer has 128 career home runs in four seasons going into 2011.  He has Prince Fielder in the lineup with him.  At 27, Braun is this generation’s Ralph Kiner and Hank Greenberg.  No slowdowns ahead for this Brewer as he shoots for his first 40+ home run season.  The 2007 NL Rookie of the Year is a future MVP and his time could come this year.

Curtis Granderson:  New York Yankees

The only surprise in the top home run hitters category, Granderson has always shown glimpses of brilliance but injuries and slumps have slowed his path.  The 20/20/20/20 season in 2007 was impressive, as was the career high 30 home runs that Granderson hit in 2009 for the Tigers.  Even though he missed 26 games last year to injury, he still was able to amass 24 home runs.  Now healthy and with the short porch in Yankee stadium, Granderson has a good chance at equaling and besting his career best power numbers.  Given the Yankees lineup as well, I would not count him out.  Granderson is unlikely to remain among the league leaders in bombs, but a solid 30+ home run season is definitely in order.

Albert Pujols:  St. Louis Cardinals

Coming into this season, the Great Pujols hit a Ruthian 408 home runs in 10 seasons.  Truly our generation’s Babe Ruth, Pujols has to be considered one of the best home run hitters of all time.  With an .806 OPS, Pujols hasn’t even begun to heat up.  Pujols has Holliday and a resurging Lance Berkman for protection and going into his first free agency year, expect legendary numbers by seasons end.  This is Albert Pujols we are talking about…I do not have to say anything else.

Troy Tulowitzki:  Colorado Rockies

Still only 26 years old, Tulowitzki is working towards becoming the best player in baseball.  Missing significant time in 2008 and 2010, Tulo still has 99 career home runs going into today.  Playing in the home run haven called Colorado, all Tulo has to do is to stay healthy to succeed.  As this is an odd year, history is shown that he will likely play close to a full season.  His career high of 32 home runs is well within reach and I can see a 40+ home run season this year.  The talent and circumstances are all there…all he needs is health.

Second Place:  Six Home Runs

Lance Berkman:  St. Louis Cardinals

Going into the second tier of top home run hitters, we find some resurgent players, surprises and expected studs.  Berkman was an uncertainty coming into season.  The 35-year-old Big Puma has seen 40+ home run seasons in his career.  2010 was an injury shortened season and after getting traded to the Yankees and faltering in New York, critics began to write him off.  I was a big fan of his move to St. Louis, back to the NL Central and the opportunity to play with Pujols and Holliday.  Defense aside, Berkman’s 9 walks and league leading .725 SLG show that the Puma is back.  With the occasional days off and prime spot in the lineup, 35 home runs is my predicted total for this superstar.

Jonny Gomes:  Cincinnati Reds

The man has seem to been around forever but is actually only 30 years old.  Gomes has seen several 20+ home run seasons in his career, including 18 in 2010 playing in a career high 148 games.  With 18 walks, Gomes has disguised his poor .212 avg this season with a .386 OBP and .530 SLG.  The owner of a lifetime .332 OBP and .463 SLG, Gomes will get a fair amount of playing time this year.  While he is not the second coming of Adam Dunn, Gomes has clearly found a home in Cincinnati.  His lower average and 19 strikeouts concern me at this point as he will need to become a steadier hitter to continue to receive steady playing time.  Part of the surprises of this list, expect a return to form in order for Gomes.  Despite lofty totals, I cannot foresee a 30 home run season coming, even though he plays in that ballpark.  He is too streaky and Dusty Baker is not patient enough to stick with him.

Howie Kendrick:  Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Not one of my favorite players to cover, I have always soured on Kendrick for his inability to take walks.  With a career high of 10 home runs (twice), low stolen bases totals and inability to consistently get on base, I have rarely seen the upside of Kendrick at the plate.  This season, apparently as light switch has gone off inside his head or bat, as Kendrick is well on his way to shattering his previous power numbers and already has 10 walks on the season (last year he set a career high of 28).  Does a leopard change its spots…or does a Kendrick learn patience?  I will believe it when I see it.  I have watched Kendrick for too long to be sold on what I have seen thus far.  if he is still able to keep up this approach going into July, maybe I will cut him some slack.  Until then, I expect to see Kendrick off this list by mid-June at the latest.  A nice run, but a run is all this is at the end of the day in my opinion.

Russell Martin:  New York Yankees

The second Yankee on our list has found a new home and new lease on life in the Bronx.  Martin had a career high 19 home runs in 2007 playing for the Dodgers, earning a Silver Slugger award that year.  With an OPS of 1.099, Martin is the early favorite for Comeback Player of the Year.  Playing nearly every game this season and enjoying a healthy hip, Martin apparently has renewed drive and focus that was previously lacking in Los Angeles.  At 28 years old and continuing our trend of young superstars on the list, all Martin really has to do is stay healthy this year.  In the loaded Yankees lineup and with the short porch, Martin has a chance at 25 home runs this year.

Jorge Posada:  New York Yankees

Yankee #3 is on the downside of his career, or so we are led to believe.  The 39-year-old Posada is a full-time DH for the full-time in his career.  While his .153 AVG and .711 OPS, his 6 home runs (of his 9 total hits) is outstanding.  Too many factors are against Posada staying on the leaderboard.  Health is always a concern and despite no longer playing the field, any tweaks at this point could send the elderly Posada to the DL.  Further, his numbers are showing that when he is not hitting home runs, he is simply not hitting or getting on base.  As Posada continues his best Rob Deer impersonation, I don’t foresee great things ahead for the future hall of famer, nearing the end of an outstanding career.

Carlos Quentin:  Chicago White Sox

Both Chicago teams are represented, with the powerful Quentin starting off for the White Sox.  The likely pick for MVP had he stayed healthy in 2008, Quentin has a laundry list of injuries and ailments his entire career.  But when healthy, Quentin is always a home run threat.  With a 1.023 OPS and having Rios, Dunn, Konerko, Ramirez and Beckham in the lineup for protection, Quentin looks to best his career high of 36 home runs in 2008.  I am sitting on the fence on this one.  The potential is there, but so are the injuries.  Expect at least a couple of trips to the disabled list but assuming reasonable health, I will take 30+ home runs for Carlos.  The Adam Dunn factor cannot be discounted, as he will prove to be great protection for Quentin all season long.

Alfonso Soriano:  Chicago Cubs

A 20+ home run hitter for nine straight seasons, Soriano was written off for dead by many experts, yours truly included.  2009 was a dismal season for Soriano and although he had a steady return last year, at the age of 35 and with knee issues, little was expected from the talented Dominican.  Despite his .513 SLG this season, there are several reasons to expect a continuing decline for Soriano.  His BB/K rate this year is an abysmal 3/21, as his .244 AVG and .272 OBP.  If you ask me, I see Soriano slowly decaying into the next Yuniesky Betancourt.  Soriano is still a lock for another 20+ home run year but with the rest of his game on such a rapid decline, don’t expect much else.  If the Cubs have any other options, I expect Soriano to see more time on the bench or even a trade in order.  But at his salary, I cannot foresee any team taking a chance.

Mark Teixeira:  New York Yankees

The last player on our list and Yankee #4, Teixeira clearly did not get the memo that we are in April and not August.  A notorious slow starter, Teixeira is already up to twelve walks, .402 OBP and .621 SLG.  For the 31-year-old Teixeira who has 281 career home runs, his career high of 43 home runs in 2005 could be broken.  Considering that Teixeira has the ability to hit 10-12 home runs per month in the summer, I see a clear breakout year for this superstar first baseman.  The Yankees went out and got him for a reason.  In addition to his gold glove defense, I am smelling a possible silver slugger and MVP award in 2011.

What is the future of this list?  Hard to tell without a crystal ball, as so many factors can arise.  Injuries, playing time, lineup position…things can change.  But a trend is clear from the early season home run leaders.  Most are in the 27-30 year-old age bracket and are proven home run hitters in their careers.  I expect most of the above hitters to remain on the list, with some surprises to fade away and new players to emerge.  Other superstars, like Joey Votto and Adrian Gonzalez will join this list very soon.  But even in the short span of three weeks into the season, it is clear that even with only a few games played, the home run hitting cream is already rising to the top.

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MLB Closers Report 2011: Who is in, Who is out

MLB reports:  I get several messages a day on the state of the closers in major league baseball.  Questions asking me which players have a closing job, which are about to lose their job and which players are most likely to get save opportunities.  In my fantasy baseball days, I used to call it fishing for closers on the waiver wire:  waiting for a closer to underperform and/or get injured and lose their job and immediately pick up the heir-apparent to the throne.  How are the thirty major league teams doing in the closer department?  Let’s take a closer look at each team and find out:

1)  New York Yankees:  Mariano Rivera

With seven saves in eight opportunities and a 1.93 ERA, Mo is as automatic as they come.  Even at his advanced age, Mariano is a #1 fantasy closer, if not the top closer.  Rafael Soriano is the next in-line, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

2)  Colorado Rockies:  Houston Street

Although health is often a concern with Street, seven saves in seven opportunities with a 2.03 ERA is not.  Street has really come into his own in Colorado and as long as he can stay healthy, he is becoming nearly automatic out on the mound.  Add in fourteen strikeouts and Street is as dangerous as they come.  Lidstrom has been spectacular as well to start the year, but with health and performance issues surrounding him in the past, Lidstrom at best is a filler in case of an injury to Street.  A solid #2, Lidstrom will form a solid 1-2 punch with Street all season long (on the field and likely on the DL at some point).

3)  Atlanta Braves:  Craig Kimbrel

The youngsters debate should be over.  Six saves in seven opportunities and a 0.96 ERA.  2/14 BB/K ratio.  Kimbrel is clearly the man in Atlanta.  While Venters is very talented and the next in line should Kimbrel falter, the rope for Kimbrel grows by the day.  Atlanta appears to have found its closer for the next decade.

4)  Cleveland Indians:  Chris Perez

With the hot start of the Indians, Perez has been enjoying the ride.  Six saves in seven opportunities and a 2.25 ERA.  One area for concern:  four strikeouts in eight innings pitched.  Although Perez is becoming craftier on the mound, low strikeouts for a closer generally leads to disaster.  The Indians have some decent arms in the pen, including Rafael Perez.  But the Perez of choice is Chris.

5)  San Diego Padres:  Heath Bell

The second coming of Trevor Hoffman, Bell is a perfect five for five in save opportunities with a 1.00 ERA.  Having Bell on the Padres is like driving a brand new Mercedes while living in a bachelor apartment on the wrong side of the town.  An unnecessary luxury in many observers’ estimation.  Beware that a hot Bell will have trade rumors surround him all summer long.  The Padres have literally 4-5 closing options in the pen, so this situation is far from settled if Bell is dealt.  I could see Neshek, Qualls, Gregerson and Adams all getting their shot.  For now Bell is a top five closer unless he leaves San Diego.  If I had to watch one reliever it would be Neshek, who has come back from injury and could claim the job in the event he is called upon.

6)  Los Angeles Dodgers:  Jonathan Broxton

Broxton somehow is a perfect five for five in saves but with a 5.19 ERA, the end is likely coming near.  The hope for many baseball analysts, including my own, is that Broxton can turn it around and reclaim his form.  Kuo, once healthy, is the likely pick to take over the role.  My dark horse pick is Mike MacDougal, the veteran who has extensive closing experience.  A 1.13 ERA for MacDougal is outstanding, but his 5/6 BB/K ratio is nothing to write home about.  Guerrier may also get a look, but Kuo is the consensus pick to take over at some point.  I would like to sit here and guarantee that Broxton will recover and return to form, but I can’t promise that.  It could happen, but with each passing rocky outing, even I am starting to have my doubts.  My plan would be to remove Broxton from the role and let him work out in his kinks.  In the interim I would insert MacDougal to steady the ship and then re-insert Broxton in July.  That would be my plan, but not necessarily the same script for the Dodgers.  Keep a look out as this mess is far from settled.

7)  Philadelphia Phillies:  Jose Contreras (Breaking News:  Now Ryan Madson)

Running an eight inning scoreless run, a perfect five for five in saves opportunities with nine strikeouts, Contreras has become the man in Philadelphia.  But running a close second is Ryan Madson, a 1.00 ERA and 2/10 BB/K ratio.  The long-term solution is Madson and any hint of a Contreras downturn will insert Madson in the role.  I expect this to happen any week now and once Madson becomes the closer, he should keep it until Papelbon joins the team next year (yes, it will happen).  Please do not say Brad Lidge though, that story has been written and re-written too many times.  Injuries and production problems is the story of Lidge.  Hopefully the Phillies are smart and do not go down that road again.  The moral of the story:  Contreras today, Madson soon and Papelbon next year.

(P.S. As I am writing this, Contreras has been sent to Philadelphia for an exam and is on the DL.  Ryan Madson is the closer, funny how quickly things can turn)

8)  Kyle Farnsworth:  Tampa Bay Rays

Another closer with a perfect five for five saves record, Farnsworth owns a 1.23 ERA and zero walks allowed on the season.  I am not sure who this person on the mound is and what he has done with the real Kyle Farnsworth, but whoever this imposter is on the mound I would keep him.  All kidding aside, I am a Farnsworth fan and have wished him well for years.  But after watching him implode in nearly every stop on his major league tour, I remain somewhat skeptical.  Jake McGee, my closer pick has started off slow but with improved numbers down the road could grab the job.  Same with Peralta, although walks tends to hurt his value.  The Rays will be riding Farnsworth like a rented mule until he cannot close anymore.

9)  Neftali Feliz:  Texas Rangers

Another five for five in saves opportunities, Feliz with a 1.08 ERA has a stranglehold on the job.  Recently placed on the DL with a sore shoulder, the Rangers will turn to some combination of Darren Oliver and Darren O’Day , perhaps even Rhodes, until Feliz returns.  Don’t sweat this one, Feliz will be back soon and continuing his climb to the top of the ranks of MLB closers in 2011.  Of concern is Feliz’s 5/6 BB/K ratio, which will have to change for Feliz to be ultimately effective as the closer.  Walks tend to do very bad things to closers in the 9th but based on the the talent in his arm, Feliz will be the go-to-guy this year again.

10)  Brian Fuentes:  Oakland Athletics

Fuentes was signed to be a solid lefty in the pen and fill-in closer for the A’s.  Five for six opportunities, Fuentes has been steady for Oakland but sports a brutal 4.66 ERA.  Just like Jonathan Broxton in LA, Fuentes is likely on borrowed time unless he becomes more automatic on the mound.  Add a 5/7 BB/K ratio and the Andrew Bailey watch will continue in Oakland.  While I see Bailey getting the job in the short-run, Fuentes will find a way to reclaim the job by the summer and possibly to the end of the year.  Don’t look now though but Ziegler has not been scored upon this year and could put up a fight as well.  Keep an eye on this situation as it unfolds.

11)  Joel Hanrahan:  Pittsburgh Pirates

Five for five in saves, 2/8 BB/K ratio and a 2.70 ERA translates to increased job security for Hanrahan.  Much like Heath Bell, as Hanrahan performs well he becomes a luxury on a rebuilding Pirates team in need of prospects.  Essentially keeping the seat warm for 2010 all-star Evan Meek, look for Hanrahan to be dealt sometime in the summer and for Meek to take over the closer’s role in 2011 and for the foreseeable future.

12)  Brandon League:  Seattle Mariners

Yet another closer that is five for five in saves, League is holding down the fort until the return of Dave Aardsma.  The 3.68 ERA is ok, but three strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings is not.  League has shown good control with only one walk, but changes are still likely coming in Seattle.  Expect the Mariners to deal Aardsma and/or League during the summer if Aardsma can return and show health.  Given that Aardsma is no guarantee, there is a good chance that League can keep the role for the majority of the year.  But I would not bet on it given his shaky track record… I actually expect a dark horse to emerge at some point in this race.

13)  Carlos Marmol:  Chicago Cubs

Five for seven in saves, Marmol has the security of a long-term deal and is clearly the closer in Chicago.  His 2.53 ERA is interesting, but more telling is his 7/15 BB/K ratio.  Few closers can touch Marmol’s heat and if he could just lower his walks totals, he would become a top-five closer in baseball.  But the walks will unlikely go away this year and expect some interesting moments with Marmol as he works towards 30+ saves in 2011.  Kerry Wood is the next-in-line in case, think of him as Marmol insurance.  Marshall has been steady as well and the one surprise is Samardzija with a 3.65 ERA, but his 14/14 BB/K ratio shows the heat is there but the control is not.  But the Cubs are Marmol’s team.

14)  Leo Nunez:  Florida Marlins

Totals?  Five for five in saves, which appears to be a standard at this point in the season.  Nunez has a 2.00 ERA and is off to a hot start in Florida.  As the summer months approach, I cannot see Nunez sustaining these numbers and a few bad outings could cost him his job very quickly.  For a strong run, I appear the Marlins making a trade or picking a new horse for the job.  Webb, Dunn and Hensley may all get looks this year, but are unlikely long-term solutions.  Until then, the job is Nunez’s to lose.

15)  Jonathan Papelbon:  Boston Red Sox

For a guy on the heat seat, all Papelbon has done is go five for five in saves, with a 2.16 ERA and a 2/11 BB/K ratio.  Papelbon is as automatic as they come and with his first run into free agency on the horizon, do not expect Papelbon’s role to change in 2011.  Papelbon has an incentive to be a fantasy closing superstar and the Red Sox will happily ride him to first round picks as compensation in the off-season.  While Bard is the heir-apparent with Bobby Jenks always lurking, do not expect this move to happen until 2012, unless injury strikes.  Papelbon will look really good in Philadelphia next year.  Remember you heard it here first.

16)    J.J. Putz:  Arizona Diamondbacks

Putz has been everything that Kirk Gibson could have imagined in Arizona and more.  Five for five in saves (yes, another one), 1.13 ERA and 0/10 BB/K ratio.  Expect Putz to be an all-star this year as he leads a young Diamondbacks team back to respectability.  With no plan b’s on the horizon, Arizona will live by the Putz and die by the Putz.

17)  Joakim Soria:  Kansas City Royals

Ok…ok…ok…. let’s not get too excited people.  Soria’s five saves in six opportunities comes along with a 5.59 ERA and a 5/5 BB/K ratio.  Add ten hits allowed in 10 2/3 innings and you have some pretty ugly numbers for a top-three closer.  With the three-headed monster of Collins, Crow and Jeffress looming, I can foresee some fans starting to call for the head of Soria as the Royals continue to excel.  Don’t see it happening.  I cannot see the Royals continuing their hot start and I cannot foresee anyone unseating the great Soria.  The young Royals pitching squad needs Soria and unless he literally implodes, which I don’t see happening, Soria will be the closer for the next few years.  As the Royals build to be contenders in the next 2-3 years, they will rely on a healthy and productive Soria to carry their bullpen.  Soria is the Royals closer and do not get any other ideas on the subject.

18)  Brian Wilson:  San Francisco Giants

The Giants were the feel good story of 2011 and while the “fear the beard” motto was cute in its time, I think this story is done.  Wilson has to get away from the beard and concentrate on what he does best:  close ball games.  Although five for six in saves this year, Wilson sports a brutal 7.94 ERA a pedestrian 4/6 BB/K ratio.  The World Series champion Giants will give Wilson a lot of rope and I cannot foresee him losing his job.  But with the World Series letdown could come a return to earth for several players, including Wilson.  While he will still get 30+ saves, his numbers are showing that a market correct is in order.  Wilson needs to get re-focused…he is the only game in town as the closer for the Giants.

19)  Brandon Lyon:  Houston Astros

The poster boy for mediocre closers, Lyon remains a frustration year-in and year-out.  Four for six in saves opportunities, with a 4.32 ERA, 13 hits allowed in 8 1/3 inning and a dismal 2/3 BB/K ratio, Lyon is better suited to middle relief than closing.  Lyon is a veteran on a young Astros team and while experience is supposed to help the young pitchers, his stats are hurting the team.  With Melancon and Fulchino pitching so well, a changing of the guard is coming in Houston.  Right now my money is on Melancon becoming the closer by May.

20)  Francisco Rodriguez:  New York Mets

Together with Papelbon, K-Rod had many doubters going into the year.  Legal troubles and a declining team and numbers looked to spell the end for Rodriguez.  His four saves in five opportunities has been great, together with his 2.35 ERA.  His 6/13 BB/K ratio is showing that the arm and heat are back, but so is his wildness.  K-Rod will get 30+ saves in my estimation, but may not so pretty getting there.  Frankie is getting paid the big bucks and will have the job for 2011.

21)  Jose Valverde:  Detroit Tigers

The king of hot starts, Valverde has been four for four in saves on a very inconsistent Detroit Tigers team in 2011.  His 1.04 ERA and 2/9 BB/K ratio have been spectacular.  Valverde will have the job this year as he works towards another free agency run at seasons-end.  Benoit is the closer in waiting and while he will have the job in 2012, will be the filler when called upon.  The Tigers will stick with Valverde, period.

22)  John Axford:  Milwaukee Brewers

Pitching for a contending Brewers team, Axford’s numbers have not cut it this year.  Three for five in saves, 7.36 ERA and a 6/8 BB/K ratio means that Axford is closing on borrowed time.  I still expect Axford to get a little more rope to straighten himself out, but not for much longer.  While Saito was my pick to take over the role at the start of the season, and poor health and inconsistency have plagued him.  Same with LaTroy Hawkins, another failed closer in the Brewers’ pen.  The dark horse for the role is Kameron Loe, the former Rangers starter and Japanese baseball survivor.  Look for Loe, who has been the Brewers best reliever season to get the role any day now and to run with it into the forseeable future.

23)  Drew Storen/ (Sean Burnett):  Washington Nationals

I know your first reaction:  is Sean Burnett not the closer?  A 3.24 ERA, three for four in saves and 0/6 BB/K ratio- is that not closing numbers?  Perhaps, but Burnett is like a mirage in the desert.  You think you are seeing water, but its all an illusion.  Storen with a 0.77 ERA, two for two in saves, six hits allowed in 11 2/3 innings and 4/8 BB/K ratio is the man.  Storen has been groomed for the position is whole life and was drafted as a closer to become the Nationals ninth inning stopper.  Burnett may still get the occasional opportunity but his saves opportunities are coming to an end.  As Storen becomes nearly automatic, the job will be his for the next decade in Washington.

24)  Matt Capps:  Minnesota Twins

The Twins originally said they would bring Joe Nathan along slowly after missing a year due to surgery.  What did they end up doing?  Throwing him straight into the fire and destroying his pitching confidence and stats line.  With a 9.82 ERA and 6/5 BB/K ratio, do not expect Nathan back in the role for a LONG time.  Capps, acquired from Washington for catching prospect Ramos has now taken over the closing duties.  Three for four in save opportunities, 4.09 ERA and a 0/5 BB/K ratio shows that Capps is ready to run with the job.  Minnesota is well-known for steady starting pitching and I look for Capps to finish with a steady amount of saves.  He may not blow hitters away anymore, but with continued control look for Capps to keep the job for most of 2011.

25)  Francisco Cordero:  Cincinnati Reds

For all the doom and gloom coming out of Cinci for Cordero, he has continued to put up great numbers.  Three for three in saves, 2.00 ERA, a stingy five hits in nine innings pitched and 4/7 BB/K ratio.  The changing of the guard is coming though for the Reds as you look at Chapman’s numbers.  Throws 100+ MPH heat, nine scoreless innings, two hits in nine innings with a 7/9 BB/K ratio.  This is another case that unless the incumbent implodes or gets injured, he will retain his role.  The Reds rely on the Veteran Cordero and Dusty Baker is very loyal to his foot soldiers.  Chapman is still showing wildness and the best course is to let him continue to develop as Cordero keeps saving games.  A change is coming in 2012 but until then, Cordero is the Reds closer.  If you like to gamble though, Chapman has a decent shot at the job… he is the heir apparent and the first reliever in line if needed.

26)  Jon Rauch:  Toronto Blue Jays

One of several new additions to the Jays pen, Rauch originally was supposed to keep the role warm for Frank Francisco until he returned from injury.  Rauch on the season has a 2.08 ERA and is three for three in saves opportunities.  While his 4/6 BB/K ratio is pedestrian, Rauch will have the job for the majority of the year in my opinion.  While Francisco has the heat and the strikeout numbers, he has shown to be very inconsistent and erratic in the closers role from his time in Texas.  Francisco will possibly get a shot at the role at some point early on this season, my money is still on Rauch.  With so many closing options in Toronto including Dotel and Frasor, this situation is very difficult to handicap.  At the end of the day, you either believe in Francisco or Rauch as the closer.  My gut is saying Rauch.

27)  Jordan Walden:  Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

The next, great Angels closer, Walden has taken to the role and run with it.  Ten scoreless innings, three for three in saves, three hits allowed in 9 1/3 innings and a 5/10 BB/K ratio are all impressive.  Fernando Rodney, the veteran closer will be breathing down his neck the whole season.  If not for his 8/7 BB/K ratio, Rodney has a 2.08 ERA of his own and only blown save on the season.  As with all young pitchers, Walden will run into some trouble along the way.  The question will be how he handles adversity.  This is one team that I have faced several arguments on this season.  I see Rodney taking back his job while Walden continues to be groomed into the next big thing.  For me, experience and knowledge tends to usually win out and Rodney has an advantage in both departments over Walden.  The job is Walden’s today and for quite some time, but 2-3 blown saves in a week can change things in a hurry.  Another situation to keep an eye on.

28)  Mitchell Boggs:  St. Louis Cardinals

Where is Ryan Franklin?  One for five in save opportunities and with a 7.88 ERA.  Complaining about the fans of St. Louis won’t appease Cardinals management either.  The 27-year-old Boggs is the newest closer on the carousel, with two saves in two opportunities, 1.59 ERA and outstanding 3/13 BB/K ratio.  There are many people jumping on the Boggs bandwagon and for good reason.  The kid is apparently coming into his own and has taken the job by the reigns.  As is the case with Walden, we do not have enough of a track record to know the long-term potential of the kid.  Again, 2-3 blown saves in a week can change the situation in a hurry.  I still expect Franklin to straighten himself out and perhaps reclaim the job later in the year.  But based on his solid work to-date, the closer in St. Louis is Boggs and the job is literally his to lose.  Keep one eye open, just in case.

29)  Kevin Gregg:  Baltimore Orioles

Pitching in the Brandon Lyon sea of mediocrity, Gregg has been up-and-down this year for the upstart Orioles.  Two saves in three opportunities, 4.50 ERA, and 4/6 BB/K ratio are nothing to write home about.  Mike Gonzalez with a 10.80 ERA does not appear to be healthy and recovered to be able to compete for the role.  Jeremy Accardo has a 2.08 ERA but an alarming 6/4 BB/K ratio.   Koji Uehara, with a 1.35 ERA and 3/7 BB/K ratio is my pick for the Orioles closing job when Gregg inevitably begins to break down.  The Orioles are lucky to have several options, with Simon originally being my original dark horse until legal troubles slowed down his season.  But based on track history, I really like Uehara’s chances to claim the job by June, if not sooner.

30)  (Jesse Crain):  Chicago White Sox

I certainly saved the worst for last and the White Sox have had their share of bullpen woes in 2011.  With one team on the season, Sale and Thornton have not been the saviors that Sox fans were expecting this year.  With ERAs north of 6.00, neither one is likely to take the role anytime soon.  Ohman and Pena have been fairly weak as well and the last two realistic survivors are Santos and Crain.  Much press has been written on Santos, the converted pitcher who has pitched 9 2/3 scoreless innings with five hits allowed a 5/13 BB/K ratio.  While many experts are already picking Santos, I am looking at the dark horse, Jesse Crain to take the role.  The former Twin had a steady 2010 year and has started this year with a 1.74 ERA and spectacular 2/11 BB/K ratio.  Santos is the darling of Chicago with his flame throwing ways, but the more experienced Crain appears to be just what the doctor ordered in Chicago.  A situation that is far from unsettled, Thornton or Sale could grab a hold of the job at any time with some steady consecutive outings.  But based on current numbers and future outlook, if you want my pick- it will be Crain.  With such a strong offense and steady starting pitching, the Sox cannot afford to lose too many games in the 9th if they hope to take the AL Central.  That is where a veteran as the anchor will prove to be best solution in the bullpen.

The state of closers is always a heated discussion in baseball circles every year.  Probably the most volatile position in baseball, approximately 30% of opening day closers will still have their jobs by years-end.  With injuries and failures, closers can come and go on a weekly basis.  Today’s failed starters can be tomorrow’s superstar closers.  Next week’s stoppers can also be minor league filler by August.  All baseball fans, whether fans of teams or fantasy players, all get driven to the point of insanity because of closers.  For every Mariano Rivera, there will be three Jordan Waldens, five Jonathan Broxtons and seven Brandon Lyons.  I hope that you enjoyed reading the state of the union on MLB closers today.  Although situations may have changed while I wrote this article (see Contreras) and even tomorrow, remember to keep an open mind and focus on where the next closers will be.  The most effective relievers in the bullpen will usually get the first crack- it is the ones that can succeed under pressure that will keep their jobs.

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The Legend of Sam Fuld: A Star is Born in Tampa Bay

 

MLB reports:  How often does a 29 year-old outfielder with 155 career at-bats in the majors going into a season garner the hype that Sam Fuld has received this year? How about one with 24 career home runs in 6 minor league seasons?  Probably not many.  With all the attention surrounding Sam Fuld, MLB reports decides to look deeper into the player behind the hype.

Samuel Babson (Sam) Fuld was born on November 20, 1981. Growing up in Durham, New Hampshire, Fuld was a Red Sox fan.  Ironic considering that Fuld joined the Rays in 2011 and got his start in Tampa Bay playing alongside childhood idols, Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez.  Fuld is 5’10″ and weighs 185 pounds, hardly an imposing baseball specimen.  Over the course of his 6 minor league seasons, Fuld was a gritty on-base machine in the Cubs system.  Fuld was actually drafted twice by the Cubs, in 24th round of the 2003 draft and 10th round in 2004.  Fuld’s time in the minors showcased the type of player we could expect to see one day if given the opportunity.

In his 6 seasons in the minors, Fuld hit a combined .285.  Very impressive on its own.  Consider though that he has a career 302/254 BB/K ratio in the minors and you now have the prototypical “moneyball” player. Fuld has a career .372 OBP in the minors, combined with 106 stolen bases.  This is a player that hit 10 triples in 84 games for AAA Iowa in 2009 and 9 more in 2010.  Fuld can clearly hit, get on base and run.  With 404 runs scored in the minors, Fuld finds a way to generate offense.  So why have we not heard of Fuld before this year?  Why did the story start so late? The usual story I believe of scouting and stereotypes over numbers and production.  As Sam Fuld is showing this year, talented players will eventually produce even when “experts” discount them over the course of their entire careers.   All they need is a chance.

The biggest hindrances for Fuld I believe are two-fold.  Firstly, his lack of height and stature probably frightened coaches and scouts alike.  Big players are seen as having more “tools” and “talent”, which players like Pedroia are starting to change.  Secondly, with few home runs in the minors, 218 RBIs and .405 career minor SLG, the Cubs were not prepared to give Fuld a full chance knowing that he would be unlikely to hit for much power in the bigs.  Fuld got three cups of coffees with the Cubs, in 2007, 2009 and 2010.  He received 6, 97 and 28 at-bats per year respectively.  Despite a .252 average, Fuld had a .368 OBP during his time with the Cubs.  Fuld also had 23 walks compared to 18 strikeouts.  Fuld clearly was able to play his game in Chicago.  But one home run and .344 SLG has a way of disappointing a team in a hurry.  It is somewhat of a chicken and egg debate, as Fuld’s sample size in Chicago is a small one and with more playing time, perhaps he could have showcased greater numbers.  Not known for developing young hitters, the fit in Chicago was not there and Fuld was never going to get an opportunity in Chicago.  A change of scenery was in order.

On January 7, 2011, Fuld was essentially a throw-in as part of the blockbuster swap between the Cubs and Tampa Bay Rays.  The Cubs sent uber-prospect pitcher Chris Archer, outfielder Brandon Guyer, catcher Robinson Chirinos, shortstop Hak-Ju Lee and Fuld to the Rays for top starting pitcher Matt Garza, outfielder Fernando Perez and pitcher Zachary Rosscup.  Out of options and on a new team, Fuld had a new lease on life.  Just one problem remained:  The Rays were loaded with hitters in key positions blocking Fuld.  With Upton, Zobrist, Joyce and newly acquired Manny Ramirez in the outfield, rotating as the DH with Johnny Damon, and Dan Johnson/Casey Kotchman battling for the first base job, Fuld would need an injury or opportunity to crack the Rays line-up.  The stars were going to need to truly align for Fuld and heading into spring training, there was no talk that I can recollect of Fuld becoming the Rays saviour.  Sitting in the third week of April, the situation in Tampa Bay could not have unfolded better for Fuld’s career.  With the opportunity and off-the-charts production, the Legend of Sam Fuld was born.

First Manny Ramirez retired one week into the season.  A player that I expected to be a distraction for the team all season barely completed his time out of spring training before calling it a career. With another apparent failed substance test, Ramirez chose to go home rather than face the music before MLB officials.  With Ramirez out of the way, it was time to focus on sorting out the Rays lineup.  Going into today’s action, Joyce and Damon have been fairly steady the Rays in 2011.  Dan Johnson, Jaso and Zobrist have been very slow out of the gate with averages under .200 each respectively.  Upton has also been unable to get his bat going again this year and Longoria played only two games before missing most of the season from an oblique injury and due back sometime in May.  Starting the season with a 1-8 record, the Rays needed an ignitor to get the season going.  With little offense and the season slipping away, the Rays needed to do something fast.  The solution:  Sam Fuld.

In 18 games thus far, Fuld has only one home run for the Rays.  Funny, but nobody has noticed.  Ironically, Fuld hit said home run on April 11th, when he almost hit for the cycle.  Almost…as with a home run, triple and double, Fuld hit a second double rather than a single to complete the cycle.  That is simply the type of player that Fuld is:  heart and hustle (hey, isn’t that the motto for the 2011 Blue Jays?)  Fuld is hitting .366 on the season, with a whopping .395 OBP and .549 SLG.  Fuld leads the American League with nine stolen bases and while he has only walked four times…he is simply too busy getting base hits.  Two triples, six doubles, eleven runs and eight RBIs, Fuld helped the Rays 8-1 surge back to third place in the AL East with a 9-11 record.  Last night, in a dramatic 11th inning loss to Toronto, Fuld went 3-5 (including a triple) with three runs scored, one RBI and two stolen bases to boot.  It appears that the Rays have found their leadoff hitter for the foreseeable future, as the Legend of Sam Fuld continues to unfold.

We haven’t even touched upon Sam Fuld, the outfielder.  The best way to describe Fuld is if Aaron Rowand and Reed Johnson combined into one super defensive player.   If not for the gold-glove calibre play of B.J. Upton, Fuld would be manning center for the Rays.  With leaping catches off walls and showing great arm strength, the legend of Fuld’s glove is being well documented. Some people around baseball are already saying that Fuld could play for the Rays just based on his defensive abilities.  But with his showing of hitting abilities, patience and speed, Fuld is showing the types of tools that superstars are built on.  It is only a shame that he had to wait so long to get his chance to shine.  But as the old expression goes:  better late than never.

So what does the future hold for Sam Fuld?  Looking into my crystal ball, I am seeing a great deal of haze.  I remember Kevin Maas and Chris Shelton fans asking me the same type of question back in the day.  The response is always the same:  once the league has the book on Fuld and he has to face the same teams for the second, third and fourth times around, let’s see we he can do.  Can he hit only breaking balls?  Will Fuld be able to adjust when teams start to exploit his hitting weaknesses?  Only time will tell.  Sam Fuld is a great feel-good story.  The Legend could continue for the foreseeable future, perhaps for this entire year and beyond.  For a fan of the game that has seen too many bright stars burn out, I remain on the fence.  While I want to see Fuld succeed, there is something about 2 for 30 stretches at the plate that have a way of lowering a player’s confidence and image.  I will give Fuld the benefit of the doubt, but would like to see what he can do over this entire season before casting my vote.  In the meantime, just like everyone else, I will continue to watch in awe of the player that has simply become known as:  The Legend of Sam Fuld.

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Friday Face-off: Haren vs. Weaver, Battle of the Angels

MLBreports:  The Angels are off to a fairly hot start in 2011, with a current record through Friday of 12-7.  A big reason for the Angels winning record has been the play of its pitchers.  Particularly, Danny Haren and Jered Weaver have been off-the-charts this season as they have steamrolled hitters out of the gate.  I have received many e-mails asking which pitcher has been the best in baseball this season.  That pitcher resides in Anaheim and the million dollar question is:  Haren or Weaver?

Wins:  Weaver is 5-0 in 5 starts, with Haren 4-0 in the same number of games.  Wins is an arbitrary number, but both Haren and Weaver have won all of their starts.  For whatever its worth, Weaver has the extra win.  With both pitchers being perfect, advantage:  tie.

ERA:  Haren has a 1.16 ERA on the season, while Weaver sits at 1.23.  Too close to differentiate. Advantage:  tie.

Innings:  Weaver has pitched 36 2/3 innings in 2011 while Haren has tossed 31 innings.  Over the course of a season, this would translate into approximately 35 more innings pitched by Weaver.  Points for durability.  Advantage:  Weaver.

Strikeouts:  We all know that baseball fans love their flamethrowers and the Angels have some strong ones in this pair.  Weaver currently leads the AL with 39 strikeouts while Haren has 27.  Balls put into play create more opportunities for miscues while strikeouts are seen as the most solid outs.  Advantage:  Weaver.

Walks:  One of my most watched pitching categories, I look for pitchers that limit their walk counts.  Walks to me represents a pitcher beating themselves, rather than the batter having to get a base hit.  A pitcher who throws fewer walks creates a strong opportunity for success in my opinion.  Danny Haren has walked 2 batters all season while Weaver has walked 9.  Both pitchers are impressive in this category, but Haren has been just that much more dominant.  Advantage:  Haren.

Conclusion:  The Angels hurlers are matched up fairly closely.  Weaver is 28 while Haren is 30.  Haren is 6’5″ and Weaver is 6’7″.  They have very similar career ERAs and WHIPs.   Any major league team would love to have either pitcher on their roster.  But the younger and taller Weaver, with added innings and strikeouts in 2011 wins out over the master of control Haren.  In his last 2 seasons, Haren walked under 30 batters per season.  Weaver though led the AL in strikeouts in 2010 with 233.  With 3 All-Star game appearances under his belt, Haren beats out Weaver’s sole appearance last year.  Looking at career numbers, my pick would be to select Haren over Weaver.  I prefer control pitchers and Haren still displays the strikeouts and innings pitched to be a solid ace.  While Haren may in fact beat out Weaver by season’s end, at this point in the season Weaver is the best pitcher….by a hair.  With one solid or blowout start over the next few weeks, the tides can easily change on this one.  Enjoy your dual-aces Angels fans, they will be a pleasure to watch all season long.

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.

Ryan Tatusko: MLB Guest Blog

The players speak: MLB reports devotes this page to the players who will be writing blogs in their own words to you, the readers.

The inaugural MLB Guest Blog comes from Ryan Tatusko of the Washington Nationals.  Ryan currently pitches for the AA Harrisburg Senators of the Eastern League.

April 21, 2011

Ryan Tatusko:  This year was a different year for me in preparation for many reasons. For one, I was starting out with a new team that I really know nothing about.  Furthermore, I am going to be a full-time starter this year. In the past, when I was with the Texas Rangers, I was would routinely ping-pong between the bullpen and the starting rotation based on where they, the organization, would need me.  I would then usually stick in the rotation around the all-star game, but this year was different. The Nationals have told me that at this time they envision me as helping the ball club as a starting pitcher and that’s where they wanted to keep me.

Heading into the season as a starter, I did not necessarily change the way I went about my off-season preparation or conditioning, but I did tweak a few things here and there. For instance, as part of my bullpen sessions, I wouldn’t throw them as frequently as I would when I started the season as a reliever.  Instead, I would do fewer sessions with more pitchers.  I also made sure that I would do more long distance cardio work to build my stamina for the upcoming year. My preparation for camp has never changed in the 4+ years that I have been going.  The team you are with gives you a pretty set schedule as to what to do in terms of running, lifting, and throwing and as long as you follow it, you will be just fine and will be ready to go when camp starts.

Getting to camp this year was fun and exciting for me as I got the feeling that I was a fresh face all over again, the same feelings I got when I was first drafted by the Rangers came back.  I was excited, maybe too excited. The first few games I played in I probably tried to do too much.  But once I settled down and starting getting back to my game, I felt like I had very good success during spring training. I really wanted to work on throwing my change-up for strikes more in camp, as it seems to be a pitch that has been less effective for me as compared to my other pitches.  By the time that I left Viera,FL I felt that I made immense strides with it and I was extremely happy with the way I was throwing it and with the confidence I was displaying.

Not understanding where you are going to be assigned is one of those things that can consume you if you are not careful.  When you start to think about the potential moves that the organization could and should make, you start to drive yourself crazy and you get distracted from what you do on the mound. It’s one of those things you just got to try your best to block out and not think about as you go through your process and getting ready for the season.  There is always a rhyme and a reason that people do things and although it might not be evidently clear at the first get go as to why; you eventually find out.

I have since been assigned to AA Harrisburg to begin the year.  I have made a few starts and although one particularly has not gone the way I would have liked it too, it is still very early on in the season.  I see these starts as an opportunity for me to learn from my mistakes and to grow as a pitcher. There are numerous quotes and clichés out there that talk about having a short memory if you want to succeed at this game and they are all absolutely true. There is a fine line between learning and obsessing over particular starts.  There is always something positive and negative to get out of taking the mound, but as a player you have to be careful and not let it consume you and over-think about the process. The really good pitchers out there learn and move on the quickest so that they can devote all their time to their next outing.

I am eager to get back on the mound quickly and progress through the season.   I have never felt stronger mentally and physically and I can’t wait to see what the season has in store for me.

Thanks for reading.

Ryan

***A special thank you to Ryan Tatusko for his time and effort in preparing his guest MLB blog entry for MLB reports.  Please follow Ryan on Twitter.  In addition to being a talented pitcher, Ryan is a tremendous person and loves interacting with his fans.  A friend of MLB reports, we look forward to reporting on Ryan throughout the season as he continues his journey to Washington.  Good luck Ryan!***

To learn more about Ryan, please view our February profile of Ryan Tatusko.

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.

E-MAILBAG: Ask the Reports, Wednesday April 20th

Thank you for reading the E-mailbag.  Please send all your questions to mlbreports@gmail.com and please include your first name and City/Country.

We will be compiling a list of your questions from our e-mailbag and posting the responses on Wednesdays.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Q:  Here’s my plan:  Ozzie Guillen as General Manager, Paul Konerko as Manager and A.J. Pierzynski as a coach.  What do you think?  Sounds awesome to me :)  From Tina, Chicago.

MLB reports:  A great plan in principle, but I do not see it happening.  Firstly, I agree that Kenny Williams is on borrowed time.  After winning the 2005 World Series, the White Sox have not even had a sniff at another title.  After the Jake Peavy fiasco, I think management will eventually put Kenny’s head on the chopping block as the reason behind the White Sox recent failures.  Williams has a way of trading young talent and taking on big contracts which I think will end up being his downfall.  From there, the new general manager will likely want to bring in his own manager and will need his stamp on the team in order to gain respectability.  Also remember that the Marlins did not hire a big name head coach after the Valentine talks broke down.  Further, the Marlins had inquired as to the availability of Ozzie from the Sox in the off-season and were told it would cost them Mike Stanton in return.  If Ozzie plays out his deal with the Sox, as a coach with the 2003 World Series champions Marlins, I could see him taking over the as the manager as they open their new ballpark in Miami.  Ozzie has a great deal of experience as a manager but not as a general manager and at this stage of his career, I see Ozzie remaining in the dugout. 

To rebuild the team and start fresh, I can’t see the Sox going to an existing member of the team to take over the general manager role.  With Kenny and Ozzie likely gone, it will be up to Konerko and Pierzynski as to whether they continue on in the game in any capacity after they retire.  I have not heard great things about Pierzynski the player in terms of attitude, thus coaching to me does not appear to be a reality.  Konerko however, I can see taking such a role on as he is an extremely hard worker and well-respected in baseball circles.  But given the difficulties Sandberg had to get a major league managing job and the time Don Mattingly had to put in before landing the Dodgers gig, I can’t see Konerko getting a managing role without a great deal of coaching experience beforehand.

Q:  I’m still pulling for Jonathan Broxton.  Let’s not kid ourselves.  Who else do the Dodgers have to go to?  Kuo on DL and Jansen isn’t ready.  From Matthew, Los Angeles.

MLB reports:  Broxton is 5 for 5 in save opportunities, but that 6.14 ERA is not pretty.  Looking at the numbers, the only person with a shot is Mike MacDougal as the veteran has a very solid start to the campaign with the Dodgers.  If Broxton continues to give up runs like they are going out of style, MacDougal will get a shot.  I seriously hope for your sake and Dodgers fans everywhere, Broxton can get it together.  I don’t see many options on the horizon, you know your Dodgers pitching well.

Q:  How do you think the Jays will do against the Yankees this week?  From MLB reports Agent, Toronto.

MLB reports:  For those that are not aware, my niece was kind enough to intern on MLB reports to keep up the tweeting reports while I was away on my honeymoon in February.  Now joining us on Twitter, our agent in the field will mostly be looking after postings, articles and photographs  on our Facebook page and helping with the occasional tweets.  Great first question Ms. Agent.  The Jays had a hard-fought win last night with Travis Snider hitting the game winner in the bottom of the 10th to take the first game of the series.  Game 2 goes today and has Bartolo Colon for the Yankees and Brett Cecil for the Jays.  Should be a high-scoring game as I do not expect either starter to be very effective.  After a hard loss I expect the Yankees to come out firing early and take the 2nd game.  A 1-1 split would still be considered solid work for the Jays and much to build on going into the weekend series with the Rays.  That matchup will really show what the Jays are made of as the Rays are a tough inter-division squad with very solid pitching.

Q:  I read on the site this week about some pitchers who had been injured.  I felt that there should have been one more.  What’s the status on Jake Peavy?  It’s just a thought.  I just wanted to know how he was doing.  From Richard, Roanoke.

MLB reports:  Peavy was supposed to return on April 29th but he has been postponed due to arm discomfort.   The official word is that Peavy has soreness of the lat muscle that was reattached during his July 2010 surgery.  Peavy will be taking anti-inflammatory medicine for a week and if all goes well, could be going back to a rehab assignment by the end of the month.  Given that Peavy is getting on in years and had radical experimental surgery, I cannot understand the Sox insistence to rush him.  Looking at what happened to Ben Sheets and Brandon Webb, there is nothing to gain by rushing Peavy and everything to lose.  I can see Peavy back in uniform if all goes well sometime in May, but a relapse is very probable, if not certain.  My prediction is that Peavy will either have another surgery and/or be shut down again at some point this season.  He does not seem to be fully healed and apparently can re-injure himself at a moment’s notice.  I am a big Peavy supporter and would love to see him out on the field battling for the Sox, but sometimes the body just has a way of saying no.   Time will tell.  To see my previous updates on Webb, Sheets, Morrow and Francisco that was posted this week on the website,  please click here

Q:  What is the chance of Jhoulys Chacin on the Rockies winning the Cy Young this year? From Joe, Atlanta.

MLB reports:  At 6’3″ and at the age of 23, Chacin has not even entered his prime yet.  You are looking at his 3-0 record, 1.64 ERA and 1.091 WHIP and getting excited.  I can’t say I blame you as Chacin had a solid 2010 campaign as well with a 3.28 ERA and 1.274 WHIP.  The potential is clearly there and given what Jimenez did in 2010 (19 wins, 2.88 ERA), anything is possible.  I give his chance at winning the Cy Young this year at about 2%.  Why so low you ask?  Mostly the competition: from Halladay, to Lee, Oswalt, Lincecum, Gallardo, Greinke, Lincecum…the list goes on and on.  Chacin still plays in a difficult pitcher’s park and likely will be 2nd on his own team behind Ubaldo as the top pitcher.  Chacin still has 2-3 years to grow into ace-status and while he has a good chance at 15 wins, I think that a Cy Young is still years away.  Pitchers of Chacin’s age still tend to go through ups and downs during their growing pains.  Don’t discount the experience factor in overall Cy Young voting and final statistics.  Experience often carries the day.

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Part III – My Name is Oney: Making My Name in the Guillen World

(Welcome to part III of a III part profile and interview series with Oney Guillen)

In part III of my interview series with Oney Guillen, I explore the future of Oney.  From his current career plans, to future opportunities, to even the possibility of rejoining the White Sox organization, Oney shared many insights to his fascinating life.  I also learned about Oney’s brothers, Ozzie Jr. and Ozney and discussed their careers as well.  Without further adieu, I present to you the final section, Part III, as I give you:  Oney Guillen.

MLB reports:  After having worked in the White Sox front office previously, would you take a job with a major league team if the opportunity presented itself?

Oney:  Absolutely I would definitely join another major league team.

MLB reports:  Could you envision yourself working for an organization other than the White Sox?

Oney:  I could only see myself working for another team.

MLB reports:  Why not the White Sox?

Oney:  After everything that has happened between myself and the Sox and considering the hard feeling, I definitely don’t think that the Sox and I will ever be the same.  It saddens me because my father is the manager of the team and I still cheer for the team.  But this is how things have worked out and that is ok.

MLB reports:  What role(s) could you see yourself taking on for a major league team?

Oney:  I know that I would be a great coach or manager one day.  Perhaps I could take a job in scouting, even scouting oversees.  I would also consider just being in the front office, which in the right situation would be great because I would actually have a say in the operations of the team.  There are so many things that you can do in baseball which makes the game so great.

MLB reports:  Describe briefly your relationship with your other brothers, Ozzie Jr. and Ozney.  Do you spend much time with each of them?

Oney:  Well, my dad told us that we should always be best friends.  My dad also made sure that his boys were very close and always took care of one another.  All my brothers were very close growing up and still remain close today.  I actually live with Ozzie Jr., so we see each other and spend time together all the time. 

MLB reports:  What do the Guillen boys do for fun?

Oney:  We like to go out and just do normal guys things.  We play video games, sports…you name it.  All three of us have a great dynamic together.  For example, we can get into heated arguments but it doesn’t reach a level where we insult one another personally.  As our father taught us, we hold each other accountable for our actions.

MLB reports:  Do you spend more time with one particular brother?

Oney:  I spend more time with Ozzie Jr. because we live together and Ozney is in Miami.  I have a great relationship with Ozney though and talk to him on the phone all the time and see him as often as I can.  I have always talked to Ozney like he was a man, even when he was little…maybe that’s why I felt like he was already man a couple of years ago.  Plus Ozney is as tall as sh*t… he is huge!

MLB reports:  Getting to another subject, you have become well known for your voice on the internet, including Twitter.  After your Bobby Jenks tweets in December, did you feel that you needed to change your approach or what you could say on Twitter?

Oney:  As far as I know, the reason for Twitter is for people to be able to give their opinions.  If the truth be known, I would have never said anything on Twitter if Jenks had not spoken out about the White Sox organization or my father.  But Jenks did speak out and I felt the need to respond, to defend both my dad and the Sox.

MLB reports:  Any regrets?

Oney:  I was heated when I wrote those tweets and maybe shouldn’t have said a couple of the things I said, sure.  But I can’t take them back now.  I don’t live in the past; I learn from my experiences and just look to the future.

MLB reports:  Have you spoken with Jenks since the tweets?

Oney:  We have spoken and everything is ok.  Let’s just say that everyone has moved on.

MLB reports:  Were you approached by anyone, including the White Sox organization or your dad with regards to your tweets, including limiting or changing them?

Oney:  No.  I was not approached by anyone.

MLB reports:  Following your career in baseball, you have taken on several new roles, from Triple Crown Productions to hosting/producing on 670 The Score.  Please describe for our readers what is Triple Crown Productions and please provide background on your current projects.

Oney:  Well, Triple Crown Productions is a marketing and branding company that my brother Ozzie Jr., friend Eddie and I started about a year ago.  We started it because we know so many people in the game and we really wanted to maximize our skills the most productive way.  So far, I can report that things have been really great with our company.

MLB reports:  What are some current projects of Triple Crown?  What is http://www.ozzieguillen.com?

Oney:  We handle all of the marketing for Ozzie Guillen and look after all his activities off the field, as well as for Joey Cora and a couple of other players so far.  We put together recently the “Ozzie Roast” which was a very successful event and other projects as well, including the official website for Ozzie Guillen, which we work with Major League Baseball on.  The site is great and we will continue to grow it.  We truly feel that http://www.ozzieguillen.com will be the best athlete website ever when it is completed. 

MLB reports:  Why the delays on the website?

Oney:  We have been working on the website for over two years because the process was delayed in approvals from MLB.  I am just glad that it is finally up and running.  As far I see it, better to be late than never.

MLB reports:  I understand that Ozzie Jr. is currently broadcasting White Sox games on the radio and Oney is playing baseball for the University of South Florida.  Any updates on your brothers and how they are doing?

Oney:  Oz Jr. is broadcasting both Bulls game and Sox games and he absolutely loves it.  Oz Jr. and I have a radio show on the Score 670 that broadcasts once per week.  It’s always fun when you get to talk about sports for a couple of hours every week.  We are in the process of getting another radio show with another company as well…stay tuned…

MLB reports:  What about Ozney?  How is your little brother doing?

Oney:  Ozney is currently studying and playing baseball at Miami Dade College.  He loves living on his own in Miami and absolutely loves living life.  If Ozney stays healthy, he should do just fine on the ball field.  If you want to know the truth, I have seen many players get a chance at playing in the minors and they were horrible.  With his ability, I don’t see why Ozney with his talent should struggle.  My brother will be alright.

MLB reports:  Where do you see Oney Guillen being in five years from now?  What do you see yourself doing and how will you be connected to baseball?

Oney:  In five years, I expect Triple Crown Productions to already be established and respected in the marketing and branding arenas.  Our client list is definitely growing.  I would love to still be doing radio and stay connected to the game of baseball in that way.  But really, no one knows what the future will hold.  All I know is that I want to be healthy.  As long as that happens, I’m going to be just fine.  For my family to be healthy and happy as well…all the chips will fall where they have to.

MLB reports:  Oney, thank you again for joining MLB reports.  It has been a pleasure speaking with you and learning about you.  Thank you for giving us the inside scoop and on behalf of baseball fans everywhere, we wish you well on your future endeavors.  Please keep us up to-date so that we can give your fans the Oney reports.

Oney:  Absolutely.  Thank you as well.  It was great meeting you and thank you for sharing my story.  We will definitely keep in touch.  Thank you as well to all my fans and supporters of the Chicago White Sox and Ozzie Guillen.  To the greatest baseball fans, I say:  Go Sox!

***A special thank you to Oney Guillen for his time and effort as part of being interviewed for this interview series.  Oney agreed to share private photos from his family album as part of this series.  A thank you as well to Peter Stein, my editor in helping to prepare this piece.***

Please click here to read Part II of Oney Guillen. 

Please click here to read Part I of Oney Guillen.

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INJURY UPDATES: WEBB, SHEETS, FRANCISCO AND MORROW

MLB reports:  Many Readers have been e-mailing me to find out the status of their favorite players currently on the MLB disabled list.  One area of concern in baseball that I have addressed on many occasions is the injuries to pitchers in particular.  While batters have their share of ailments, it seems that pitchers are most susceptible to the injury bug.  If the names Dr. James Andrews and Dr. Lewis Yocum ring a bell, then you will understand what I mean.

The following players have received much requests from our readers.  From our reports, here is the updates on each player:

Brandon Webb, Rangers: 15 day DL, Shoulder Surgery

As Webb’s surgery was performed by the Rangers team doctor Dr. Keith Meister, baseball experts felt that Texas had the best read on the health of the right-handed starter.  Many experts were skeptical as to whether Webb would be able to return healthy and effective in 2011.  At this point, the future of Webb remains cloudy.  He threw a 70 pitch bullpen session with the ball club yesterday.  Webb appears to be 4-6 weeks away from returning to the Rangers, which would equate to an end of the May, beginning of June scenario.  I would be surprised at this point if Webb returns at all before the All-Star break.  Webb has further indicated that he is willing to pitch out of the bullpen depending on the team’s needs.  Conclusion:  Texas is not counting on Webb this year and any returns from the former star pitcher will be a bonus.  After such a lengthy absence from game action, it is possible that Webb’s return, if it comes to fruition, could be a short one.

Ben Sheets:  Free Agent

After undergoing arm surgery and missing the 2009 season, Ben Sheets pitched for the Oakland Athletics in 2010.  After an inconsistent start to the season, Sheet’s season ended in July when he required flexor tendon surgery.  After this additional surgery and another missed year, I would be surprised if Sheets is able to return in 2012.  At 33 years old and a history of arm issues, we have probably seen the last of Ben Sheets.  Pitchers can only endure so many arm issues in their career and Sheets has appeared to have reached his limit.  Conclusion:  Retirement is on the doorstep.

Brandon Morrow, Blue Jays: 15 day DL, Inflammation Elbow

In the continuing line of baseball pitchers with various injuries and ailments, Brandon Morrow started off the year on the disabled list with inflammation of the elbow.  The good news is that Morrow completed his final rehab stint for Class A Dunedin and is set to rejoin the Blue Jays this week.  John Farrell, manager of the Blue Jays, confirmed this morning on the Fan 590 Sportsnet radio station that Morrow is expected to start either Friday or Saturday against the Rays and re-claim a spot in the Jays rotation.  The 26-year-old Morrow has been both a starter and reliever in his career, settling in as a full-time starter in 2010.  Making 26 starts, Morrow struck out a whopping 178 batters in 146 1/3 innings that year.  The ceiling is very high on the youngster and as long as he is healthy, Morrow will continue to develop into a #2 starter for the up-and-coming Jays.  Conclusion:  Expect more visits to the disabled list in 2011 and into the future, but anything close to reasonable health will lead to improved statistics for the hard-throwing righthander.

Frank Francisco, Blue Jays: 15 day DL, Biceps

In the continuing search in baseball for closers, many baseball fans are curious as to the status of Frank Francisco of the Toronto Blue Jays.  The Jays have many bullpen options, including Octavio Dotel, Jason Frasor and Jon Rauch.  But with the trade of Mike Napoli to Texas, many people in baseball feel that Francisco is the heir apparent closer in Toronto.  A much harder thrower than incumbent closer Jon Rauch, health and inconsistency have plagued the 31-year-old Francisco throughout his major league career.  Reports indicate that Francisco threw a scoreless inning in his final rehab assignment for the class A club and will rejoin the Jays on Tuesday.  As Rauch is 3 for 3 in save opportunities, John Farrell is unlikely to throw Francisco immediately into the closer role.  But as spring training reports indicated that Francisco would be appointed the closer, the clock is likely ticking on Rauch’s 9th inning appearances for now.  Conclusion:  Once he returns and shows health, Francisco will likely start closing for the Jays within the next 2 weeks.  Health aside, effectiveness will determine whether he keeps the role.  Over the long-term, I see Rauch being the closer in 2011 for the majority of the year with Francisco returning to the set-up role he had maintained in Texas last year.

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.

MLB Scores and Player Highlights from Saturday April 16

MLB reports:  As you wake up to your first cup of morning coffee, put down your paper and get ready for all the MLB scores and player highlights (yes, stats!) from around the Majors on Saturday April 16, 2011.  Curious how your team did?  What about the players on your fantasy team? Get ready for all the MLB results and Highlights from Saturday:

Indians 8- Orioles 3 (in Cleveland)

Don’t look now but the Indians are 10-4 on the season, while the upstart Orioles fell below .500 at 6-7.  Josh Tomlin (who?) is now 3-0 for the Indians after surrendering 2 runs over 6 innings with 0 walks.  If you need a starter for your fantasy team, it may be time to take a rider on this kid.  He had a decent 2010 season so there is some history to rely on.  Jeremy Guthrie, the Orioles ace, surrendered 6 runs over 5 innings but still has a solid 3.32 ERA on the season.  Every starter on the Orioles got a hit on this night with the exception of Nick Markakis.  Remember Jake Fox, Mr. March from spring training?  Well for those ready for a breakout, Fox hit his first home run on the season and is now hitting .182 on the season.  Remember folks, this is why you should never, ever, ever count on spring training statistics.  Hafner, Cabrera, Buck and LaPorta did most of the Indians damage on this night.  Hafner and Buck each had 3 hits and Cabrera homered for the second time on the year and had 4 RBIs.  The Cabreras, Orlando and Asdrubal have been solid to start the year and Hafner looks to be finally recovering some of his lost hitting magic.

Yankees 5- Rangers 2 (in New York)

For all the doom and gloom surrounding the Yankees pitching staff this season, the Yankees are still at a respectable 8-5 record on the season.  Despite the loss, the Rangers remain one of the top teams in baseball at 10-4.  Freddy Garcia pitched 6 shutout innings and gave up only 2 hits and a walk over 85 pitches.  I wouldn’t be quick to jump on the Garcia bandwagon just yet, but so far, so good on the season.  Joba and Mo were solid in relief, Joba with his 3rd hold.  Mo is already up to 6 saves and has yet to give up a run on the season.  Soriano gave up another 2 runs in the 8th and continues to struggle to start the season.  Derek Holland came back down to earth for Texas, giving up 5 runs in 7 2/3 innings.  Texeira had his 5th home run for the Yankees and Cano hit his 3rd.  Lineup of note:  Swisher is now in the 2nd spot while Jeter hit leadoff as Girardi tried to ignite both bats.  Jeter went hitless as is now at .240 while Swisher chipped in a couple of hits.  David Murphy had 2 hits and is at .321 on the season as he continues to fill in for Josh Hamilton.  Not a bad fantasy pickup if you need an outfielder. Curtis Granderson is off to a very slow start at .238, hopefully he can pick it up soon.

Reds 11- Pirates 2 (in Cincinnati)

Remember the hot start Pirates?  At 6-8, the lustre is starting to fade and the true Pirates are starting to show up.  While the Reds at 9-5 are starting to pick up steam and look to take the NL Central title this season.  The real James McDonald showed up today, giving up 7 runs (6 earned) over 4 1/3 innings.  Mike Leake was fairly good for the Reds, giving up 2 runs over 6 innings.  Of concern is the 4 walks which he gave up, which continue to be an issue for him.  The Reds continued to hit the ball like it was going out of style, as Gomes homered twice and is up to 5 on the year, Hernandez got his 2nd and Stubbs chipped in with his 3rd.  Gomes is already up to 13 RBIs and Stubbs has 10.  Nearly every Reds starter is currently pounding the ball and Gomes batted cleanup yesterday, showcasing Baker’s confidence in him.  Grab Gomes immediately for your fantasy team.  Bruce at .224 is struggling but could be a very good buy-low candidate.  Stubbs continue to excel for the Reds in the leadoff spot and will break 100 runs scored this year.  I literally have nothing to say on the Pirates hitters. None of them currently stand out to me as very special…if truth be known, this is a glorified AAA team.  McCutchen and Walker have played fairly well and Doumit has been in the mix, but judging on overall numbers, including Alvarez at .208, this team will be scraping for runs all season long.

Royals 7- Mariners 0 (In Kansas City)

As the Pirates cool off, the Royals and Indians continue to motor along.  The Royals are tied with the Indians at the top of the Central with identical 10-4 records, while the Mariners are at 4-11 and start to prepare for the MLB draft with the 2nd overall pick and rebuilding for next year.  Sean O’Sullivan and Felix Hernandez literally traded stats lines today, as O’Sullivan pitched 5 shutout innings and 5 hits allowed, while King Felix gave up 5 runs (2 earned) over his 5 innings.  Brandon League gave up 2 runs in the 8th innings during mop-up duty, highlighting concerns that he continues to be too inconsistent to be trusted as a closer long-term.  The Royals outstanding young bullpen continued to dominate, as the three-headed monster of Crow, Collins and Jeffress shut out the Mariners over 4 innings and gave up only 2 hits.  While I would trust O’Sullivan about as far as I can throw him, the Royals bullpen appears to be for real.  With young, live arms that have together at the same time, watch for the Royals to continue to hold leads up to Soria most games.  If any of their starting pitchers can continue the smoke and mirrors show, the Royals will have a nice little team to build up until all of their prospects arrive over the next 2 seasons.  Alex Gordon went 3-4 in the 3rd spot and is now hitting a torrid .373 (see my feature article on Alex Gordon posted yesterday, outlining his career and start to the season).  Aviles chipped in with 3 RBIs and is up to 10 on the season, despite a lowly .200 batting average.  Billy Butler is also hitting a solid .373 on the season and looks to be the foundation of the Royals offense with Gordon this season.  The Mayor of Omaha, Kila Ka’aihue is at .163 and will be back in Omaha or with another AAA team by May.  Despite getting a true chance this year, Kila just does not seem to fit in with the Royals.  Aside from Justin Smoak at .283 with 2 walks, the Mariners will give the Pirates a run for their money as the worst offensive team in baseball.  Just dreadful.

Red Sox 4- Jays 1 (In Boston)

In one of those “I told you” games, I predicted the Red Sox would come out fast and hungry against the Jays and that Josh Beckett would continue his rebound.  Sure enough, the Red Sox scored 2 runs in each of the 1st 2 innings and that is all the support Beckett would need as the Red Sox are now 3-10 on the season but looking to climb.  The Jays, after a torrid start sit at 7-7.  Beckett was dominant on this afternoon, going 7 innings, with only 3 hits and 1 run allowed.  Beckett has 2 out of the 3 Boston wins on the season and his ERA is a sparkling 1.80 on the season.  Bard and Papelbon were lockdown afterwards and Paps continues to cement his hold off the closer role and prove to his doubters that he still has it.  Jo-Jo Reyes gave up 4 runs over 3 innings with an alarming 5 walks.  If Reyes gets one more start he will be lucky as it appears the Jays will have very little patience left with the struggling hurler.  On a bright note, in his first appearance of the season, Luis Perez pitched 1 1/3 innings giving up only 1 hit and getting 2 strikeouts.  The Red Sox appear to have finally found their leadoff man as Jed Lowrie went 3 for 4 with a home run, 2 RBIs and 2 runs scored.  Lowrie is hitting .500 on the season and the Red Sox would be wise to take advantage while he is hot.  Lowrie should not still be available in any fantasy leagues, but if he is, snap him up immediately off the waiver wire.  He is for real and 2011 appears to be his breakout year.  David Ortiz had 2 walks which is a good sign.  The Jays offense took the day off yesterday, although Aaron Hill had 2 hits but still continues to hit a mediocre .241 on the season.

Angels 7- White Sox 2 (In Chicago)

Don’t look now, but the Angels are getting hot.  Anaheim (yes, that is what I call them) are now 9-5 on the season and are finding ways to get the wins.  The White Sox, my pick for the AL Central, sit at 7-7.  Tyler Chatwood, the 2nd youngest player in the majors got the win, pitching 7 innings of 5 hit ball, with only 1 run allowed.  Don’t get all excited about the kid yet, he needs to show consistency over a few more starts before he will make a believer out of me.  Gavin Floyd was just awful, giving up 6 runs over 6 innings.  Howie Kendrick and Hang Conger had big games, with 2 hits, 3 RBIs and a home run each.  Conger at .286 appears to be getting a good opportunity for the Angels and if anyone needs a catcher out there, grab this kid immediately.  Howie Kendrick, for all my criticism for failing to take walks is off to a monster start, with 5 home runs.  I still don’t see enough from the kid to warrant excitement, but if you are desperate for a second baseman, he is a good very short-term stopgap.  Vernon Wells, remember him?  As part of my Vernon Watch, he actually had his first 2-hit game of the season, with a double.  Vernon is up to .140 on the season and hitting in the Anaheim ballpark, his numbers will be average this season.  Juan Pierre had a couple of hits and continues to fool most people…except for me.  Pierre is good for the occasional hit and steals, but I certainly hope the White Sox don’t count on him all season long to ignite the offense.  Konerko and Quentin each went deep for the White Sox and continued to be the glue that holds the Sox together.

Rays 4- Twins 3 (In Tampa Bay)

The most thrilling game that I watched yesterday, the Rays stormed back to win a thriller with 2 outs in the 9th on a walk-off RBI single by Johnny Damon with the bases loaded.  The Rays after starting in the cellar with the Red Sox now sit at 6-8 while the Twins continue their free fall at 4-10.  Capps gave up a run in the 8th to make the score 3-2 Twins.  Going into the bottom of the 9th, with Nathan pitching, it felt evident that the Rays would take this game.  The first hitter in the 9th, Ben Zobrist hit a bomb that tied the game and from there the wheels just fell apart for Nathan.  The Twins closer looked shell-shocked after being taken out of the game and despite early proclamations to bring him along slowly, the Twins have thrown Nathan in the fire to start the season and have been burned too many time.  Capps, despite a 4.50 ERA is the best choice for the Twins and I expect Matt to take the job back any day now.  Grab him for your fantasy bench if you can afford the space.  Jeff Niemann had a quality start, with 7 innings pitched and 3 runs allowed.  The Rays pitching is outstanding with a great deal of potential, I am exciting about every starter in the rotation.  They are that good.  If the Rays can piece together a decent bullpen, a big-if considering the early struggles of expected closer Jake McGee, the Rays will take the East as I predicted to start the season.  Scott Baker continued his hot and cold mix, this time pitching very well by giving up only 1 run over 7 innings in the no-decision.  The Rays offense has been so slow that Joyce batted 3rd and Lopez batted 4th in this game.  The Rays have to get their bats going, but appear to be a bat or two short at this point in the season until Jennings arrives.  Of note, Jennings is on fire at AAA Durham and his call should be coming sometime in May, June at the latest.  Another great bench player to reserve at this point.   The Twins bats continued their season long slumber, with Mauer out and nearly every starter on a cold streak.  With Morneau at .208, the Twins have a lot of frustration in the early part of 2011.

Braves 4- Mets 2 (in Atlanta, game 1)

The Braves started off early at home, beating the Mets behind strong pitching by veteran Derek Lowe. A long-time favorite of mine, Lowe was steady in his 2nd win of the season, giving up 2 runs over 6 innings.  Venters got his 4th hold of the season and Craig Kimbrel got his 4th save of the season.  For those expecting a battle, the smart money as I told you in the preseason was to be on Kimbrel.  Committees have rarely worked in the closing department and by not yielding a run to start the year, Kimbrel is the closer to have.  Another must pick-up on the fantasy waiver wire.  Venters, while great for holds is unlikely to get the job unless injury or poor performance by Kimbrel.  D.J. Carrasco gave up 3 runs in 3 2/3 innings for the lowly Mets and will be in the firing line all season for a Mets squad that will finish with the team last in the National League.  Alex Gonzalez had 2 home runs on the day, while Chipper Jones and rookie Freddie Freeman responded with bombs of their own.  Aside from Chipper and McCann, most of the Braves offense is struggling to start the year.  It was promising to see Freeman have a home run and 2 walks on the day.  Despite expected growing pains, he should be a good one.  The Mets continue to rely on Reyes, Wright and Davis, while Jason Bay is expected to return sometime this week.  Playing in the 2nd coming of Petco, temper expectations.

Braves 4 – Mets 0 (in Atlanta, game 2)

With the home sweep of the doubleheader, the Braves are now 6-8 on the season while the Mets are 4-10.  Watching the Mets play, I am not even sure how they have 4 wins on the year.  Jair Jurrjens, in his season debut was brilliant, pitching 7 shutout innings for the win, giving up 2 hits and 1 walk.  Yes, it was only against the Mets, but Jurrjens is back and a must pickup in all fantasy leagues if available.  Mike Pelfrey pitched ok, giving up 4 runs in 5 innings.  Eric Hinske had 3 hits in the cleanup spot for the Braves as Gonzalez tries to shake up the lineup to get their offense going.

Astros 5- Padres 3 (in Houston)

In a game that only a diehard baseball fan could watch, the young and rebuilding Astros moved to 5-10, while the Padres sit at 6-8. Nelson Figueora pitched a decent game for the Astros but Brandon Lyon was the bigger news, setting down after his early season meltdown to get his 3rd save of the season.  Lyon will occasionally implode but with 3 saves already, he should finish with 20+ saves by season’s end.  Matt Latos continued to struggle to return to form, giving up 5 runs over 6 1/3 innings.  A great buy-low candidate if I ever saw one.  Chris Johnson was the star on this day with a home run and 2 RBIs but the Astros offense has been ice-cold for most of the season, so I would not get too excited.  Chase Headley had 2 doubles and 2 RBIs in the cleanup spot and is getting a full chance to drive the Padres offense.  It still boggles my mind that Orlando Hudson is hitting 3rd in that lineup.

Cubs 8- Rockies 3 (in Colorado)

The Cubs, believe it or not, sit at 7-7 and played a great game yesterday.  The Rockies despite the loss have a brilliant 11-3 record.  Casey Coleman got his first win of the year, giving up 1 run over 5 2/3 innings.  Not much to still get excited about here.  Jason Hammel, pitched a strong game, giving up 3 runs over 6 innings in the no-decision quality start.  The key stat is the 1 walk given up.  Remember Hammel was a top prospect with the Rays years ago and is a solid starter when going well.  Paulino, with the 5 runs given up over 1/3 of an inning blew the game for the Rockies.  Morales and Lidstrom were fantastic in relief for the Rockies and have combined with Street to form a very formidable Rockies bullpen.  Alfonso Soriano had 3 hits, including his 5th home run and continued his strong start to the season.  Don’t look now but Soriano is hitting .286 with 12 RBIs on the season.  But given his age and injury track record, I expect the wheels to fall off the Soriano bus soon.  Castro with 4 hits is now up to .397 on the season and has Cubs fans very excited about his future as their leadoff man.  Tulowitzki had 2 hits and is hitting .365 on the season.  Chris Iannetta had a home run, 2 RBIs and a walk and should have a breakout year this year.

Giants 5- Diamondbacks 3 (in Arizona)

Despite an appeared slow start, the Giants record now sits at 8-6 to start the season while the Kirk Gibson led Diamondbacks have a 5-8 record.   Barry Zito appears to have an injury concern, as he was pulled after only 1 2/3 innings and giving up 2 runs.  On a bright note, Brian “fear the beard” Wilson got his 4th save, despite a 9.64 ERA on the season.   Joe Saunders, Mr. Inconsistency, gave up 5 runs in 6 innings for the D’backs with 12 hits allowed and at 0-2 and a 6.32 ERA on the season should be an afterthought for all fantasy teams.  Buster Posey had a homer run and 2 RBIs and hitting .306 season continues to be the star of the Giants.  Aaron Rowand has been reborn, going 3-4 in the leadoff spot and scored 2 runs.  With a .359 average on the season, Rowand is just what the doctor ordered for the Giants.  Stephen Drew is hitting .313 on the season and Miguel Montero continues to make a push for being one of the top NL catchers by getting 2 RBIs and hitting .415 on the season.

Athletics 6- Tigers 2 (in Oakland)

At identical 7-8 records, the Tigers and Athletics have been inconsistent to say the least to start the year.  The Athletics with slumbering bats continued to ride their good young pitching to a win.  Staff veteran Dallas Braden got his first win of the year, pitching 5 innings with 3 hits allowed, 1 run (0 earned).  Verlander was not his usual dominant self, giving up 4 runs (3 earned) over 6 innings pitched.  De Jesus, Willingham and Matsui had nice games for the Athletics.  As those three hit, so will go the A’s.  The Tigers have Miguel Cabrera at .327 and little more offense a this point.  Austin Jackson at .170 appears to be hitting into the sophomore slump for the Tigers.

Cardinals 9- Dodgers 2 (in Los Angeles)

The Cardinals, my pick for the NL Wildcard continued their rebound with another strong performance in LA, upping their record to 8-7.  My pick for the NL West, the Dodgers have fallen to 6-9.  Kyle McClellan, under the tutelage of Dave Duncan upped his record to 2-0 on the year by pitching 7 innings of 1 run ball, 6 hits allowed and 0 walks.  Perhaps the Jamie Garcia of 2011, the Cardinals will need a strong McClellan to contend this year and he is worth an immediate spot on your fantasy bench.  Clayton Kershaw was rocked on this night, giving up 5 runs in 4 2/3 innings.  As a young fantasy ace, Kershaw will have his ups and downs this year.  Theriot, Pujols, Holliday and Craig were the hitting stars of this night, although it was curious to sit Berkman after a 2-home run night the other night.  Ethier and Kemp had great nights at the plate for the Dodgers and remain the focal points of the Dodgers offense.  Kemp in particular has really come into his own and looks to be a strong early season MVP candidate.

Brewers -Nationals: Postponed

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ALEX GORDON REINVENTED: KANSAS CITY ROYALS

MLB reports:  In 2005, B.J. (Bossman Jr.) Upton went first overall in the MLB draft to the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays (now shortened to “The Rays”).  The Kansas City Royals, with the second pick nabbed University of Nebraska sensation Alex Gordon.  After being named college player of the year and minor league player of the year, Gordon made his long anticipated major league debut on April 2, 2007.  The then 23 year old Gordon was the then star prospect for the Royals.  Comparisons to George Brett were prevalent and after unlimited success through collegiate ball and the minors, a quick adjustment was expected for Gordon.  A player with his skills and natural ability simply could not fail.  Or so many of the experts in baseball thought.  The next four years began a stream of injuries, hardships, trips to the minors and position changes for Alex Gordon.  A difficult road indeed. 

I was fortunate to watch many of Alex Gordon’s games in 2007.  The rookie third baseman ended up playing almost a full season that year and finished with six hundred plate appearances.  Fifteen home runs and sixty RBIs were seen as decent, but a .247 average and 41/137 BB/K ratio indicated that Gordon was still very much inexperienced and required seasoning.  In my estimation, Gordon simply needed some seasoning and getting further experience in baseball would help me grow into stardom.  I saw some very bad habits back in that rookie year, including impatience at the plate and instances of a lack of confidence in himself as he suffered through various slumps that year.  But in no means could any expert envision what would transpire over the next three years.

As the Royals continued to lose and fall in the standings, so did Alex Gordon’s stock.  After playing in 134 games in 2008, Gordon only played partial seasons in 2009 and 2010.  Injuries continued to mount and when Gordon was not in the minors or the DL, he was struggling in the majors.  Gordon actually fell to a .215 average in 2010 with a .671 OPS.  Stories continued to mount that as he was approaching the age of twenty-seven, his time in Kansas City was done and a change of scenery was needed.  To further cause insult to injury, Gordon’s defense at third base was considered so below average that the Royals moved him to the outfield in 2010.  Now an outfielder learning a new position and hoping to get his career on track, few people knew what to expect from Gordon in 2011.  But there were signs of a rebound coming.

The top factors behind an Alex Gordon breakthrough that I predicted for the 2011 season:

1) 27 years old:  This is the age when most players seem “to get it” and there was no reason why Gordon would be different.  After a great deal of exposure to the majors, I saw confidence more than anything else as the issue.  As long as Gordon was healthy, as long as he believed in himself, there was no reason for him not to produce.

2)  Talent:  Talent does not disappear and as a former College and Minor League Player of the Year, Gordon obviously has an abundance of skills.  When I read that Gordon was rated as the purest collegiate hitter in his class and George Brett is drooling over signing him, you know that the player is something special.  Many players have heart.  Many players have drive.  But few, if any players, have the talent that Alex Gordon has.  You can’t teach talent like his and as long as he was still young and playing, I was prepared to give Gordon the benefit of the doubt.

3)  Pressure is Off:  Gordon might have been one of the players that had too much expectations placed on him too soon and the goals set for him were almost too high that no player could reach them.  Being expected to turn around the entire Royals ball club and become the next George Brett is a lot of pressure.  I believe that the pressure got to Gordon and he cracked.  Now, going into 2011, switching to the outfield and not being expected to be the foundation of the Royals, Gordon was going to be able to simply go out and play his game.  His way.

4)  The next wave:  Going in line with the third point, the Royals have many prospects on the way.  Fans of the Royals and prospects know the names Moustakas, Hosmer and Myers, the big three expected to land in Kansas City over the next two years.  The media and fans have been clamouring for these prospects, which has created hope in Kansas City.  From a team that was playing the last few years with little optimism, 2011 was promising to be the start of something very special for the Royals.  Never discount the effect of winning or the hope of winning.  It certainly has a way of uplifting players.

5)  The vets:  With the addition of Jeff Francis, Jeff Francouer and Melky Cabrera, the Royals added role players who would be strong in the clubhouse and held mold a young, up-and-coming ball club.  One of the players most likely to benefit was Alex Gordon, who requires mentorship and assistance to build his career.  Rather than getting lost in the shuffle, Gordon could be re-invented and re-born into a major league star.

I wrote several pieces and conversed with many fans during the offseason touting the return of Alex Gordon.  The above factors being key in my mind, I saw Alex Gordon as the ultimate low risk, high reward player.  For all the talk that the Royals might trade Gordon, I could not foresee that any MLB could offer a sufficient return to the Royals to cut loose a player of his potential.  I was relieved to see that Gordon played full-time in spring training and would be in the Royals lineup every day starting opening day.  The results:  Gordon, 12 games into the season going into today’s action, is hitting .345 and has a .907 OPS.  Leading the league in hits with 19 and 7 doubles, clearly Alex Gordon is finally starting to arrive.  His Royals, with a 7-0 win over the Mariners today now stand at an imposing 10-4 record.  Gordon, now the #3 hitter in the lineup, had a 3-4 day with 3 runs and 2 RBIs.  To say that Gordon is starting to meet his potential is an understatement.  Royals fans and Gordon supporters are excited, as everything seems to finally be going right.

Further, with a bullpen of Soria, Crow, Collins and Jeffress, the Royals pitching in the late innings has been lock-down and the team overall has received the pitching and hitting necessary to excel.  But while the Royals and Gordon may be on a current high, warning signs are there for both.  From a hitting standpoint, pulling Gordon and Butler aside, the Royals seem to be scoring runs with smoke and mirrors.  I see little hitting for this team until the big-three hitting prospects arrive in the next two years.  From Gordon’s standpoint, despite his newly rediscovered hitting stroke, has an alarming 3/11 BB/K rate.  But striking out at a high clip with few walks, I am worried that Gordon is still continuing his free swinging ways and has not learned patience at the plate.  So when pitchers will find his weaknesses and exploit them, the base hits he gets right now will become outs.  I am by no means predicting doom and gloom for Gordon and the Royals, just showcasing potential red flags.  But given his strong start, as long as Gordon continues his adjustments and has confidence in himself, he should be strong by the time Moustakas/Hosmer/Myers arrive.

For those that were ready to put Alex Gordon in the Hall of Fame back in 2007, that prediction may never come to fruition.  Although it seems like he has been around forever, Gordon is still only 27.  With a strong work ethic, confidence and health, Gordon could very well play for another decade in the majors.  It is time to put the George Brett comparisons to bed.  Alex Gordon is his own person and player.  From the results so far from 2011, he is a pretty darn good one.  The hope and promise continue to be there for Gordon.  Here’s hoping 2011 will  be the year that he finally arrives.

 

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A TRIBUTE TO GREGG ZAUN

MLB reports:  On March 7, 2011, after sixteen seasons in baseball, Gregg Zaun decided to hang up his spikes for a final time.  In spring training with the San Diego Padres, his tenth major league team, Zaun decided that he was not ready to continue in the game.  Zaun seemed like a great fit for the Padres, a young team on the rise that could use his mentorship to guide its up and coming pitching staff.  But being a man of integrity, Zaun apparently knew that his time had come.  After a final farewell to the baseball field, Gregg Zaun joined Sportsnet in Ontario to become a full-time member of the Toronto Blue Jays broadcasting team.  After broadcasting with Sportsnet for the last couple of years as a commentator for the playoffs, reports indicated that Zaun would one day become a broadcaster once his career was done.  While being highly capable to continue in the game as a scout, coach or future manager, broadcasting has become the fit for Zaun as he starts the new phase of his career.

A nephew of Rick Dempsey, catching apparently ran in the family as Zaunn started his career with Dempsey’s Baltimore Orioles and rejoined the team for a brief stint in 2009.  A 17th round pick in 1989, Zaun, a catcher by trade,  made his major league debut in 1995 and lasted briefly on the Orioles until moving on to Florida.  As a member of the Marlins, Zaun won his only World Series ring in 1997.  After two and a half season in Florida, Zaun bounced to the Rangers, Royals, Astros and Rockies over the next several years.  While the Gregg Zaun we have come to know and love is cool, collected, knowledgeable and intelligent, the younger Zaun of yesteryear was perhaps not as “together”.  Reports I have read indicate that Zaun in his early his career perhaps took his role for granted, apparently having a sense of entitlement based on his famous uncle before him.  Being 5’10″ and weighing 170 pounds, Gregg Zaun is not the picturesque baseball player that we would necessarily come to expect.  In the age of behemoth 6’3″+ catchers and ball players, a player of Zaun’s stature needs to show hustle and heart in order to have longevity in the game.  After several cups of coffee around baseball, the maturation and stability of Zaun finally occurred in 2004.

Gregg Zaun became a member of the Toronto Blue Jays in ’04 and proceeded to spend the best five-year period of his career in Toronto.  Zaun transformed himself into a leader on the ball club and became a fan favorite in the city.  In 2005, Zaun played in a career high 133 games and had 434 at bats.  Career highs of 162 total bases, 61 runs and 61 RBIs were set, but most telling were his 73 walks taken.  Zaun, in addition to an outstanding defensive catcher was becoming an offensive catalyst as well.  In 2006, despite playing in only 99 games, hit a career high of 12 home runs.  Despite reports of Zaun being unhappy about sharing playing time near the twilight of his Jays playing days, Zaun showed up every day without a hiccup and was a team player right until the end of the 2008 season.  Obviously Zaun’s time in Toronto was special for both him and his fans, given that Zaun continued to broadcast for the Jays in the off seasons following his departure from the team.  A definite sign of things to come.

Over the last two seasons of his career, Zaun played out the string with the Orioles, Rays and Brewers.  As the Rays were contending in 2009, Zaun became a stretch-run acquisition.  Playing fairly well, Zaun earned a contract with the Brewers going into 2010.  Unfortunately injuries cut Zaun’s last MLB season short, to a miniscule 28 games.  The thinking around baseball was that despite being 40 years old on opening day 2011, Zaun still had enough gas left in the tank that he would continue playing with his new team, the San Diego Padres.  However, as Zaun realized that he would not be able to achieve his personal goals, rather than take up a roster spot for a youngster he decided to call it a career.  While the sport lost one of its last true gamers on the field, it gained it substantially back on its television screen. 

When J.P. Ricciardi was let go as the general manager of the Blue Jays, not coincidentally Buck Martinez (the former Jays broadcaster that was fired by Ricciardi as Jays manager) returned to the team as its new play-by-play man.  Who did Buck replace?  Jamie Campbell, who was reassigned to the  position of in-game analyst during commercials for the regular season and playoffs.  Campbell, who worked with Zaun for five seasons and gave him his first start in broadcasting, is now Zaun’s full-time broadcasting partner .  It was a breath of fresh air to have Zaun return to the Jays as a broadcaster.  With a new studio set up directly inside the Rogers Centre during the 2011 to boot, fans get to witness the brilliance of Zaun’s work up close and personal during every Jays home game. 

The reality of sports is that a player’s time always has to come to an end.  Baseball is no different.  Whether a young hot-shot prospect like Brien Taylor is a first overall pick that never makes it to the majors, or a Jamie Moyer/Julio Franco type that almost plays into their fifties.  Gregg Zaun could have easily gone either way in the game.  A World Series ring in his third season in the majors.  Having a famous uncle who was a major league catcher for a whopping 24 seasons.  Zaun from all accounts came into the game with a sense of entitlement and if his first few seasons had followed suit, Zaun could have burnt out quickly.  Without the proportions of a typical star major league player, arrogant/unmotivated type players tend to not last long in the show.  But something did click with Zaun and lasted within him to allow him to have a long and productive major league career.  Unfortunately for the Gregg Zaun fans out there, that same maturity allowed Zaun to walk away from the game, even though he could have hung on for another season or two.  Apparently his time was done and now Gregg Zaun is ready to continue the rest of his career.

I have really enjoyed reading and listening to Gregg Zaun’s analysis and thoughts on the game.  In addition to being an analyst on Blue Jays broadcasts, Gregg can be found on twitter under the handle, appropriately enough @greggzaun.  In my opinion the game of baseball needs more Gregg Zauns in its ranks.  A winner with pure hustle and determination, the Gregg Zaun that I know embodies everything that is pure and great about baseball.  The future is unlimited for Gregg Zaun.  MLB reports wishes Gregg all the best as he starts the second phase of his career and get ready, you will be watching Gregg on ESPN or the MLB Network before you know it.  Remember, you heard it here first.

 

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FRIDAY FACEOFF: CARLOS PENA VS. JAMES LONEY

MLB reports:  In another first on MLB reports, I will be running a series every Friday titled “Friday Faceoff.”  The series will matchup two MLB players at the same position and consist of a five point comparison between them.  The player with the most points at the end of the faceoff is victorious.  Especially for fantasy baseball players, the faceoff will give you an edge and strategy as to how to  fill your fantasy roster and set your lineups.

In the premier edition of the Friday Faceoff, I present James Loney of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Carlos Pena of the Chicago Cubs.  Two middle-of-the-road first basemen with the potential to hit the upper tier.  Do you have either player on your team?  Do you want to have either one in your lineup?  Lets begin the Friday Faceoff and find out!

CARLOS PENA VS. JAMES LONEY:  THE FRIDAY FACEOFF BEGINS

1)  Home runs/Power:  This is an automatic win for Pena.  James Loney in his last three major league seasons has averaged a paltry twelve home runs.  In his last two years, Loney has shown a SLG under .400.  Acceptable numbers for a catcher or second baseman maybe, but certainly not from a first baseman.  While he had forty-one doubles last year, Loney simply did not have enough extra base hits as required from a power position.  Carlos Pena, for all his faults has been consistently solid in his department.  In 2007 at forty-six home runs, Pena had almost the same amount of home runs in one year as Loney has hit in his whole career.  Last year, Pena hit twenty-eight long balls in a “down year”.  With a career SLG of .490, considering the slow start to his career, Pena clearly has power in abundance.  Last year interestingly, Pena had a SLG of .407.  But considering he hit under .200, we should cut him some slack.  Another note on James Loney, in 2009 he managed only one home run at home all year.  Neither player has set the world on fire to start the year, Loney with one home run and Pena with zero.  But based on history, the winner is:  Carlos Pena.

2)  Batting Average:  A statistic long in dispute, but for what its worth Loney has the clear advantage here.  With a .288 lifetime average, Loney is far ahead of Pena’s .241 career mark.  Carlos has a career high of 138 hits in 2007 and ony 95 hits in an entire season last year.  Loney since 2008 has averaged over 160 hits per season.  While Pena has the power, Loney gets the more consistent hits.  Not the standard for a first baseman, but if average counts in your fantasy league, then congrats if you have the winner in round two:  James Loney.

3)  On-Base:  With Loney’s career OBP mark of .348 and Pena at .351, the difference between the player is negligible.  As Loney has the hits as shown above, Pena has the walks. Pena since 2007 has walked 103 times, 96, 87 and again 87 times.  Loney had 70 walks in 2009 but otherwise walks approximately 50 times per year.  Pick your choice, if you need your first baseman to get on-base consistently, as this round ends in a tie.

4)  Durability:  A difficult factor to predict given the strains of playing 162 baseball games, Loney and Pena are examples of a contrast in measuring health.  Carlos Pena will be turning 33 this year and is starting to show his age.  While being fairly durable in his career, Pena has averaged approximately 140 games and 480 at bats in the last four years.  Loney over the last three years has missed 6 games in total.  Loney has also averaged close to 590 at bats over that time.  Entering his prime this year at 27, if you want to hedge your bets on who will be healthiest this year, your winner is:  James Loney.

5)  Speed:  Stolen bases is something that you rarely look for from your first baseman in fantasy baseball but will take as a bonus.  If your league counts steals, you will be very interested to find who wins this round. Pena has twenty-three steals over his ten major league seasons, with five steals actually coming last year.  With several seasons of zero and one steal per year, Pena is not someone you would exactly call a speed demon.  Loney on the other hand had ten stolen bases last year, with seven steals each year for the previous two seasons.  At a younger age and playing on an aggressive running team with Davey Lopes on board, expect Loney’s thefts to rise in a run-and-gun offense.  In the final round, another win for: James Loney.

THE VERDICT:  Going into this article, I fully expect to be handing a trophy to Carlos Pena in the first ever faceoff.  But sometimes number crunching can differ from expectations and in this case, the results were not as I had predicted.  Carlos Pena, for all of his home runs and walks does not offer most fantasy players the same consistency on the same number of levels as James Loney.  Despite lower power totals, Loney has the durability, batting average and speed advantage.  At this point in their careers, Pena and Loney appear to be on different tracks.  Pena is starting to be on the downside of his career while Loney should be entering his prime.  After two weeks into the season, both players have shown little so far.  But as the weather heats up, both should similarly get their games going.  But based on the Friday Faceoff, with a 3-1 record and 1 tie, James Loney is the fantasy first baseman of choice on this night.  While both players are truly average choices at first with many better options available, if the faceoff is an indication, you can do worse than having James Loney on your squad.

 

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THE MYSTERY OF GEOVANY SOTO

MLB reports:  Rewind to the 2010 season.  If I told you there was a 27 year old catcher that hit .280 with 17 home runs in only 105 games that year, I bet that you would be impressed.  Add in 62 walks, a .393 OBP and .497 SLG and I would fathom that you would be very high on this player.  The same player that in 2008 hit 23 long balls in 141 games and managed a .285 average, with a .364 OBP and .504 SLG.  Again, very impressive for a catcher, as top hitting catchers are hard to find in baseball.  Yet this same player, who was an 11th round pick in 2001, was the same player that hit .218 in 2009, with 11 home runs in 102 games, with a measly .321 OBP and .381 SLG.  Fast forward to 2011 and this player is hitting an embarrassing .189 with 1 home run.  Confused?  Many baseball experts are.  Welcome to the mystery that is Geovany Soto, catcher for the Chicago Cubs.

In 2006 and 2007, Soto had barely a sip of coffee in his brief appearances in the show.  Having showcased some good pop though in 2007, Soto was handed the job in the 2008 season and ran with it.  At the conclusion of that season, the sky was the limit for Soto.  Entering the 2009 season, Soto was selected to play for his native Puerto Rico in the 2nd edition of the World Baseball Classic.  However, the discovery of marijuana use during the WBC tainted Soto’s reputation and results for that baseball season.  The mystery surrounding Soto was whether he had suffered a mere relapse or was already hitting a decline.  Reports indicated immaturity and laziness on his part and Soto’s play and results on the field were indicative of his reputation.  Much like Russell Martin was due for a change of scenery in leaving the Dodgers this past offseason, experts questioned whether Soto still had a future as a Cub going into 2010.  A rebound was in order.

2010 turned out to be a bounce-back year for Soto, despite reports of a hurt shoulder and various ailments that caused him to miss over 50 games in the season.  Having alternated good and bad seasons, 2011 represents Soto’s chance at redemption by showing consistency in consecutive outstanding seasons.  That would be the hope if one is a Soto and/or Cubs fan.  However, as his slow start has indicated, the future of Soto remains unsettled to this day.  How Geovany Soto performs remains a mystery to us all, let alone what the next few years have in store for the stocky catcher.  If I had to look into a crystal ball though, I would predict big things still for the Cubs backstop.

For all the doubts surrounding Geovany Soto, I propose that the potential is there and has never left this underrated talent.  2009 was a strange year for Soto that never seemed to get untracked.  The marijuana story created a distraction for Soto as part of the WBC and then in the MLB regular season.  Embarrassed I am sure for the negative exposure in his native country, Soto ended up having one of those years that just need to be written off.  After all, Tim Lincecum faced similar charges and scandal this past offseason and his reputation seems to have recovered more than ok.  As long as Soto is healthy, the opportunities should still be there for him and all Soto has to do is work hard and play the game the right way.  The Cubs are a team in desperate need of leadership, both on and off the field.  Geovany Soto can finally make the Cubs “his team” and help the team rise as a result.

As long as Albert Pujols is hitting .150 (already up to over .200 with a strong game tonight), Soto can be allowed a slow start to the 2011 season.  Having shown that he can produce in the past, there is no reason why Soto should not succeed this year.  Hitting in the middle of the lineup in the cozy confines of Wrigley, Soto is of  the right age and experience tha a monster season should be coming.  I truly believe that Geovany Soto has all the talent in the world and that we are just scratching the surface as to what he can do.  Why he has taken step backs and where he is headed may be a mystery, but there is no doubt that the potential and promise is still there.  In my opinion, any so called “baseball expert” that can write off a catcher with power and patience like Soto is foolish.  Jason Varitek is a name that often comes to my mind when I think of Geovany Soto.  Their style of play, bats and hustle are cut from the same cloth.  The Cubs would be thrilled if Soto could grow into the captain of their team one day.  With a breakthrough year this year, I think the Soto that was expected will emerge that will dominate and likely erase all the negative images of his past.  If all goes according to plan, by the all-star break can erase the mystery portion of his life and create a positive image and results for himself.  Gut feel, I can see this coming together for him soon.

 

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MLB Scores and Player Highlights from Monday April 11th

MLB reports:  A roundup of all the results from yesterday’s MLB action and the players that shined and ones that did not quite perform as well:

Rangers 2- Tigers 0:  The Rangers moved to 9-1 on the season while the Tigers fell to a dismal 3-7.  Alexi Ogando, the former Rule 5 pickup, upped his record to 2-0 and no runs earned on the season.  The entire Rangers pitching corps has been dominant all season and in this game Oliver got his 4th hold and Feliz with his 4th save already.  Verlander went the distant in the tough loss and now has a 3.13 ERA on the season.  Cabrera with two hits for the Tigers is now hitting .382 on the season, while Peralta is at .344.

Rockies 7- Mets 6:  The Rockies won a thriller decided in the 8th inning and are now 7-2 on the season.  Mets are still treading at 4-6.  Houston Street picked up his 5th save on the season.  Both starters, Jason Hammel and Mike Pelfrey pitched ok but nothing spectacular.  Tulowitzki hitting cleanup hit his 4th home run of the year while Carlos Gonzalez had 3 ribbies in the 3rd spot for the Rockies.  David Wright replied with his own long ball, 2nd of the season and Jose Reyes tripled among his 2 hits for the Mets.  Reyes at .340, Wright at .325 and Davis at .351 are all positive signs for the rebuilding Mets.

Rays 16- Red Sox 5:  At equivalent 2-8 records, two of the best teams in baseball have been slow out of the game.  On this day the Rays brought out their whipping sticks to take it to the Sox.  Matsuzaka, Wakefield and Wheeler all got beaten early and often, while Hellickson despite giving up five walks in 5.1 innings pitched two run ball for the win.  The big story was Sam Fuld, with 2 doubles, a triple and home run (so close to a cycle) from the leadoff spot for the Rays.  A throw-in as part of the Matt Garza trade, Fuld was the hero in this game.  The Rays pounded to the Red Sox for 20 hits, as Damon, Zobrist, Upton, Jaso and Brignac all had big games.  Crawford had two hits for the Sox in the leadoff spot and Ellsbury hit his 2nd home run of the year.

Cubs 5- Astros 4:  In a battle of central division rivals, the Cubs record is now 5-5 while the rebuilding Astros are at 2-8.  Ryan Dempster gave up 4 runs but had 9 SO in his first win of the year, while Marmol is now up to 4 saves.  Figueroa gave up 5 runs in 4 innings for the loss.  Castro had 3 hits for the Cubs in the leadoff spot and stole his first base.  Alfonso Soriano chipped in with a couple of RBIs for the Cubs. 

Athletics 2- White Sox 1:  The Athletics moved to 5-5 on the year while the White Sox felt to 6-4.  In a tough matchup, Dallas Braden pitched one run ball over six innings with seven SO, while Brian Fuentes got his 4th save of the year.  Mark Buehrle pitched 8 shutout innings and left with a no-decision.  Kurt Suzuki had two hits, including his first home run of the season, for an Oakland team that is still having a difficult time generating much offense.  Lillibridge had his first home run of the year for the White Sox.

Cardinals 8- Diamondbacks 2:  Within 4 wins apiece on the season, the Cardinals finally had a strong offensive showing against a decent Arizona squad.  Kyle McLellan, pitching Dave Duncan style ball, gave up one run over six innings for his first win of the year.  The star was Lance Berkman, with 2 home runs and 3 RBIs in the 5th spot.  Albert Pujols remains at an unsightly .150 average.

Reds 3- Padres 2:  The high-flying Reds are now 7-3 on the season, beating a tough Matt Latos and Padres team that is now 4-5.  Fantasy Ace Latos in his first start of the year gave up 3 runs in 6 innings with 7 SO.  Volquez moved to 2-0 by giving up 2 runs over 6 innings with 5 So, but remains with a 5.82 ERA.  Cookie Cordero got his 2nd save of the season.  Gomes got his 3rd home run of the young season while Brandon Phillips is hitting .410 on the season and Votto is at .444.  Orlando Hudson at 2 hits and is now at .313 for an otherwise dismal Padres offense.

Cleveland 4- Angels 0:  The 8-2 Indians, led by Willy Mays Hayes and Wild Thing are hot to start the year (major league 4?)  The Angels, after taking 2 out of 3 against Toronto now stand at 5-5.  Mitch Talbot pitched 8 shutout innings for the win, while Tyler Chatwood (who? exactly) took the loss.  Scott Downs, back off the DL pitched an inning for the Angels.  Asdrubal Cabrera is up to 4 home runs on the year (wow!) and Matt LaPorta had a 3-run bomb for the Indians.  Travis Hafner, by the way is up to a .355 average on the year and Orlando Cabrera is hitting .361.  The Angels only managed 5 hits as a team and 2 total walks, all from Bobby Abreu.  For those following my Vernon Wells watch:  Again hitting 5th as he has all year.  Another 0-4, average down to .091.  I believe a benching and move down the lineup is in order if the Angels hope to ignite their offense.  Callaspo at .353 and Trumbo with his strong power need to move up in the order.

Mariners 8- Jays 7:  In the shocker of the night, the Jays had a 7-0 lead after 6 and 7-1 lead after 7 and still managed to lose 8-7 in the 9th.  The hometown Mariners are still a low 3-7 on the year while the Jays are at an even 5-5.  Jesse Litsch pitched 5 shutout innings for the no-decision but played with fire all night with 4 walks and 5 hits given up.  Purcey, Dotel and Camp all got hit hard as the Jays bullpen imploded in Seattle.  The King was not his usual majestic self and gave up 7 runs and 12 hits in his own no-decision.  Milton Bradley got 2 hits including his first home run of the year.  Rodriguez had 3 RBIs and Justin Smoak finished with 2 hits and 2 walks.  Corey Patterson in his first game as a Jay hit a home run, while Encarnacion and Nix both had 3 hits each.  Adam Lind was 0-5 with 3 SO while Jose Bautista was 2-3 with 2 walks.

Dodgers 6- Giants 1:  In the final game of the night, the Dodgers moved to 6-4 while the World Series Champions Giants moved to 4-6.  Clayton Kershaw was his usual dominant self, pitching 6.2 shutout innings with 7 SO for his 2nd win of the year.  Madison Bumgarner has been slow out of the gates again, falling to 0-2 with 5 runs given up in 5 innings.  Andre Ethier was 2-4 with 2 RBIs and is up to a strong .368 on the season, while Matt Kemp went 1-2 and continued to show a good eye with 2 walks and is at an outstanding .441 on the season.  These 2 young hitters are truly coming into their own and Kemp is finally living up to his “Baby Manny” nickname from his rookie season, minus the issues.  Huff and Burrell both had 2 hits for the Giants, Burrell with his 4th home run and had 2 walks as well, despite hitting .222 on the year.  Posey is at .250 on the season while Brandon Belt is going to be packing his bags soon for AAA with his .143 average on the year.  A strong player and future star for the Giants, it appears some seasoning is still required for the youngster. 

 

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RUSSELL MARTIN- THE INSIDE STORY

MLB reports:  Imagine living the life of Russell Martin.  The starting catcher for the New York Yankees.  Nine games into the 2011 season, having a .300 batting average, three home runs, eight RBIs, two stolen bases and a .977 OPS.  At the tender age of twenty-eight years older, with two all-star game appearances, a gold glove and silver slugger award under this belt, the world should be at Martin’s feet.  Any person that had not followed baseball for the last couple of years and saw these statistics would be in awe of Martin.  The second coming of Munson or Berra they may ask?  Certainly would seem so, as Martin’s star appears to have been rekindled to its peak levels from 2006 and 2007.  However the road for Martin from baseball obscurity to stardom, to bottoming out and a rebirth is a rocky and fascinating one to say the least.  I present to you an inside look into Russell Martin, catcher for the New York Yankees.

My first real exposure to Russell Martin was in March 2006.  As Major League Baseball was gearing up for it’s ever World Baseball Classic (“WBC”), all of the countries involved finalizing and tweaking their rosters in anticipation of the inaugural event.  Residing in Toronto, I was reading a great deal of information and stories on the Canadian contingent.  News travelled that the expected starting catcher for Canada, a relatively unknown 17th round draft pick in 2002 for the Los Angeles Dodgers by name of Russell Martin had declined his roster spot at the last minute.  Reports indicated that Martin felt that going into spring training he had a strong chance of winning a spot on the Dodgers roster and did not want to hurt his chances by camp and auditioning for his spot in front of the Dodgers’ brass.  Dioner Navarro, the catching incumbent, was seen as a declining player and the chance to unseat him was too great for Martin to pass up.  Max St. Pierre and Pete LaForest were the catching tandem for Canada in 2006 that came within a hair of advancing to the second round (only the runs allowed to South Africa in a blowout win sealed their fate).  Martin ended up making his major league debut on May 5, 2006 and took a stranglehold of the starting catching position for the next five years in LA. 

While Canadian fans were clearly disappointed with his decision, Martin obviously made the right choice for his career.  While representing one’s country in international play is an honor and somewhat of an obligation, fighting for one’s livelihood and paycheque when it is unsettled takes the ultimate priority.  In the 2009 edition of the WBC, Martin kept his word to play for his country and finally suited up for Canada for the first round in Toronto in front of his hometown crowd.  After almost upsetting the United States in game one, Martin and his Canadian teammates went down fairly quietly in another WBC first round exit.  But with his Dodgers catching role firmly secure, it was a thrill to watch Martin play in the 2009 WBC and perform at a high level.  Having attended all the first round games in Toronto personally, my scouting report is that Martin played an excellent series.  He showed tremendous hustle and heart, playing solid defense behind the plate and grinding out at-bats.  Russell Martin left a tremendous impression on me during that series has lasted with me to this date.

Before getting into Martin’s playing career with the Dodgers, I wanted to share several interesting inside perspectives on Russell Martin, the person.  Born in Ontario, Martin grew up in Quebec and lived for a period in France.  Coming from talented bloodlines, his mother is an actress and singer while his father is a saxophone player.  Martin’s full name is actually Russell Nathan Jeans on Coltrane Martin Junior.  His father named him after the famous jazz musician John Coltrane.  Martin for the 2009 season changed the name on the back of his jersey from “Martin” to “J. Martin”.  Hailed as a classy move, Martin was paying homage to his mother as an inspiration and force in his life.  From honoring his mother and country, to playing with heart and inspiration to win both a gold glove and silver slugger in 2007, Martin appeared to have everything on his side.  That is where the move from Los Angeles to New York is a confusing and unsettled story, even to-date. 

From all accounts, Russell Martin, the baseball player, was on top of the world in 2006 and 2007.  From earning the starting catching job on the Dodgers to become one of the top two-way catchers in the game in 2007, Martin appeared to be able to do no wrong.  2008 appeared to be a blip for Martin, as his OPS dropped from .843 to .781.  Going into the 2009 season, Martin was seen at 26 to be a player just coming into his own and due for a huge rebound.  Looking back at 2009 and 2010, everything that had gone so right for Martin quickly soured.  Somehow in the span of two years Martin became a scapegoat and noted malcontent in Los Angeles.  From a gold glove catcher, Martin began to be known through baseball circles as lazy and unmotivated behind the plate.  While previously seen as a growing leader on his team, Martin and the other younger stars on the Dodgers were labeled as disrespectful and cancerous in the clubhouse.  While playing nearly full seasons and being durable from 2007-2009, Martin tore the labrum in right hip in 2010 and cast a doubt over his future in the game.  From a catcher that was walk ninety times in 2008 and steal twenty-one and eighteen bases respectively in 2007 and 2008, the Russell Martin of the last two seasons appeared to have little pop or spark in his game.  At 5’10” and 230 lbs, Martin went from a stocky and agile catcher to an out-of-shape player on the decline.  All at the tender age of twenty-eight.  Clearly a change was in order.

The Dodgers, not always known for protecting their prized prospects well, had traded away highly regarded up-and-coming catcher Carlos Santana to the Cleveland Indians for the seasoned veteran third baseman Casey Blake.  The logic at the time?  The Indians gave the Dodgers the choice of absorbing salary or giving up a top prospect.  The Dodgers chose to sacrifice Santana and save a couple of dollars.  Having had the loss of Santana still fresh in fans’ minds, the Dodgers chose not to tender Martin a contract after the 2010 season in the fear that his hip had not recovered and to save approximately six million dollars in salary.  Now a free agent in the last offseason, Martin had the choice of signing with any team of his liking.

The top noted suitors for Martin’s services all lied in the AL East:  The Boston Red Sox, the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Yankees.  Reports had indicated that other suitors were calling on Martin but looking at him at third base rather than catcher.  After being drafted at the hot corner and moved to catcher early in his career, some teams apparently were nervous about Martin’s abilities behind the plate.  The three finalist teams for Martin were apparently comfortable enough the former gold glover still had abilities to catch in the majors and all offered him apparently deals in the one year, four million dollar range.  Toronto was Martin’s hometown but had a strong up-and-coming catcher themselves by the name of J.P. Arencebia.  Sensing apparently the roadblock in Toronto, Martin from all accounts narrowed his choice to his best opportunity at a full-time catching gig and to win, the Red Sox and the Yankees.  A tough decision I’m sure, the lure of the big apple and pinstripes was too much for Martin to turn down.  With Jorge Posada newly installed as the designated hitter and the Yankees have catching prospects themselves that were not seen as ready, Martin finally with the Yankees in December, 2010.  The baseball world had no idea what to expect from Martin and anticipated his debut in the Bronx in 2011.

Off to a solid start to the year, all reports have been solid thus far on Martin.  Showing a strong presence behind the plate and with the Yankee sluggers protecting him in the lineup, his bat has been reborn.  I see Martin’s keys to success as keeping quiet, playing hard and going back to the basics that led to his successes back in 2006 and 2007.  In an environment filled with hundreds of reporters, Martin will need to be careful of what he says in New York.  It was one thing to be a confident rookie in Los Angeles, as that type of attitude quickly became seen as cocky and arrogant in later years and would be no different in New York.  As long as Martin plays hard and lets the Yankee veterans police the clubhouse, we could see Martin reinvigorate himself back to being one of the top catchers in the game.  With a track record like Martin’s, it is difficult to predict where Martin will be in the next year or two, let alone ten years.  But given what has been seen so far, I am confident to say that I see good things happening for him.  It has been a wild ride for Russell Martin; let’s hope for his sake that consistency becomes his new calling card. 

 

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Manny Ramirez: The End of a Nightmare

MLB reports:  As a fan, analyst and writer of baseball, I rarely take pleasure in the misery of others.  Some of my readers would point to Vernon Wells and my “Vernon Watch” in what I commonly refer to as a showcase of blundery.  But Vernon is the exception to the rule.  For the most part, players are athletes that train hard, play with heart and hustle and give it their all on the playing field.  With the career of Manny Ramirez unceremoniously coming to a halt yesterday, there is an overwhelming sense of relief and enjoyment around baseball circles today.  For a man who could hit baseballs like flew other, one of the greatest hitters in MLB history will go down in the baseball archives as a laughingstock and side-show act.  A shame when one looks at the statistics and career of Manny Ramirez.  But for a man who got one too many chances, the punishment fits the crime.  Today we say goodbye to a distraction and one less black eye for the glorious game of baseball.

 

The first questions most MLB fans asked me yesterday was whether Manny deserves to go into the hall of fame?  My answer is simple.  In my opinion, if I had a vote, a definite yes.  Regardless of what Manny took or didn’t take, his statistics speak for themselves.  There have been many drug cheats and cheaters of all kind in baseball over the years.  The bottom line is that not many match to Manny’s outstanding numbers.  But alas I do not have a vote to-date and from what the baseball writers have shown in recent voting history with McGwire and Palmeiro, Ramirez won’t so much as get as much a sniff of the hall.  I can see the arguments for keeping Ramirez out of the hall.  Based on his second failed drug test and choice to retire and run over facing the music cements a legacy of being a quitter and a coward.  Manny gave up on the Red Sox and the Dodgers and got run out-of-town in each instance.  A first failed drug test blamed on some sort of hormone substances.  With a second failed test, Manny decided to take his glove and go home, rather than face the music.  I cannot see fans, let alone baseball writers forgiving him for this decision.  But again fitting for a man who has made a career of bad decisions and turning his back on the game one too many times.

 

Where does the future now lie for Manny Ramirez?  Many ex-players have the option of going into scouting, managing, broadcasting, writing….the field is wide open.  Mark McGwire, got a job as the hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals, but as part of the requirement McGwire had to go on national television and give his apology.  Sort of.  But McGwire always had the eye of the public for his strong image and was somewhat cut some slack by the public.  Manny, with his quirky and aloof personality has a better chance of becoming President of the United States than a baseball coach, manager or broadcaster.  Seen as a liability, Manny is now headed into a self-imposed baseball exile, joining the likes of Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Barry Bonds as the baseball steroids/ped’s outcasts.  I could envision a day where Manny will write a tell-all book, explaining his side of “the story” while outing ex-friends and teammates in the process.  Manny just seems to be one of those guys, concerned more about himself and the almighty dollar than anything else.

 

When we all think to Manny Ramirez in ten years time, we will think of an idiot.  That will be the image in our minds.  Not the young rookie sensation on the Indians, World Series champ for the Red Sox, dreadlocks #99 igniter on the Dodgers or a two-bit player on the White Sox and Rays.  The man who chose to instantly retire rather than face his due punishment.  When faced with his first suspension last year, Manny did not speak to the media the entire balance of the season.  He is that kind of guy.  I did not imagine for the life of me in the offseason that any team would take a chance on him.  In my estimation, Manny was best served going away gracefully at the end of 2010 rather than being one last thorn in the side of an undeserving team.  When the Rays signed Manny, I said publicly that this could only end bad and that he would not last the season.  Rather than being dumped in August, Manny barely survived a week into 2011.  A 1-17 start at the plate will be the final blemish on an otherwise exceptional statistical career.  But as hall of fame voters are now showing, votes go beyond the numbers.  Manny Ramirez in the twilight of his career has been essentially a nightmare for all those involved with him.  Staring today, the nightmare is over.  Baseball does not need or want the Manny Ramirez’s of this world and my hope is that after this latest horror show, baseball will not see another Manny for a long time.  Baseball is built on hustle, teamwork, determination and heart.  Four words that were not in Manny’s vocabulary and for that transgression, we finally say goodbye to Manny for the last time. 

 

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Part II – Interview with Oney Guillen: Making My Mark in the Guillen World

(Welcome to part II of a III part profile and interview series with Oney Guillen)

MLB reports:  In part II of my interview series with Oney Guillen, I jump right into my conversation with Oney.  I tried to cover a broad spectrum of Oney’s life and career, but it was up to Oney, as the interviewee to provide the amount of detail he wanted for each of the selected topics.  My goal at the end of the series was to give the baseball world an insight as to who Oney Guillen is and more background about him as a player, son, businessman and person.  Without further adieu, I give you:  Oney Guillen.

MLB reports:  Hello Oney.  Thank you for joining me and agreeing to this interview series.

Oney:  My pleasure.  Thank you for having me.

MLB reports:  Let’s jump right into it Oney.  You were born in Venezuela and moved to Chicago in 2004.  You were a 36th round pick of the White Sox in 2007.  What were your first reactions when you found out that the White Sox drafted you?

Oney:  Well…it was an honor and very cool to be drafted.  I felt like I had worked very hard to get to that point and deserved to be drafted by a major league team.  Being drafted by the White Sox was a bonus.  I very much wanted to get my career started and play minor league baseball.  I felt that I earned it and was ready to play in the minor leagues.  I remember being curious as to what would happen to me after being drafted.  For the most part, I was just happy and grateful for the opportunity.

MLB reports:  Did your thoughts on being drafted change over time? How did you find the minor league experience?

Oney:  When I joined Bristol right after being drafted, I fit right in with my new teammates.  When I met the guys right away we got along great and it was a very interesting journey for all of us.  The truth is that playing in the minors is not as glamorous as some people think it would be.

MLB reports:  Oh No?  What was the minor league experience like for you?

Oney:  I always said that I grew up backwards as I went from being in a big league clubhouse every day as a youngster to riding the bus in the minors for many hours.  The minor league experience was able to show me the amount of baseball knowledge that I had and I often compared myself to the coaches that I met in the minors.  I realized in the minors that I had a special gift when it came to the game within the game.

MLB reports:  That’s great Oney.  It sounds like playing in the minors gave you a good idea of where your baseball future was headed.

Oney:  I knew that I had the knowledge and the ability to succeed in the game.  My challenge was to find my role in the game.

MLB reports:  How would you describe Oney Guillen the baseball player?  What do you consider your greatest baseball skills to have been?

Oney:  I was a very good defensive player and that was always my favorite part of the game.  For me it was making the great catches and making all the defensive plays, including turning two.   As a second baseman, with Venezuelan heritage, defense was always preached to me to be the key part of the game.   But aside from my defense on the field, as a player I relied heavily on my mind.  My years of experience in major league clubhouses and all the knowledge passed to me by my family and father not only helped me on the field, but it was wisdom that I was able to pass along to some of my teammates.

MLB reports:  Do you miss playing baseball?

Oney:  What I miss the most is being around the guys on the team.  I made so many friends in my minor league career and I miss being around them in the clubhouse and going to war with those guys.  I enjoyed teaching guys my age and even older players that baseball is a thinking game as much as it is physical.  It is the mental side of baseball that is usually neglected and can destroy many players’ careers.  I really enjoyed teaching my teammates how to be mentally tough and to train their brain as well as their bodies.  I miss being on the road with my teammates…many stories come to mind…

MLB reports:  Really?  Do tell.

Oney:  Let’s just say it was a really neat experience.  My playing career was definitely the highlight of my baseball career thus far.

MLB reports:  Reflecting on your playing career, what were your proudest accomplishments on the baseball field?

Oney:  Well, truth be known, my career wasn’t that long (grin).  I played for four teams over two seasons, for fifty-two total games in my career.  My favorite memory as a professional that I am most proud of is playing exhibition games in Mexico with my father Ozzie as my manager.  That was pretty cool.  My last game also happened to be in AAA with many of the White Sox stars, which was a perfect ending to my playing career. 

MLB reports:  Who was your favorite player growing up, that you most idolized and patterned your game after?

Oney:   I definitely admired the way my dad played the game.  He was hardnosed and played the game the right way.  But I most idolized Roberto Alomar growing up.  Robbie was my all-time favorite.  I admired him so much that I even tried to wear my uniform like him. 

MLB reports:  I guess it was no coincidence that you played second base.

Oney:  Correct.  Alomar definitely influenced my position choice.

MLB reports:  Did you ever get to meet Roberto and if so, what was that like?

Oney:  Roberto Alomar was a family friend, so it was great getting to spend time with him.  I got to talk to him and hang out with him on many occasions.  I will never forget my time with Robbie as he is an incredible baseball person and I had so much that I learned from my time with him.

MLB reports:  On the flipside, which current MLB player do you most enjoy watching?

Oney:  Right now, my favorite player has to be Robinson Cano on the Yankees.  Cano makes all the plays look so smooth and effortless.  In my opinion, Cano is the best player that the Yankees have right now, which says a lot since he plays on a team with so many stars. 

MLB reports:  Getting back to your father Ozzie for a moment., how much of an influence did he have on you as a baseball player and a person?

Oney:  My father and I have a very unique and special relationship, as many fathers and sons do.  Look, I got to grow up in a house with Ozzie Guillen, so it definitely was not dull.  My dad was a great player and an even better manager- but by far, his most successful job has been his role as dad.  He was always honest with his kids and never sugarcoated anything.  He always treated me like a man and brought me up to act like one.

MLB reports:  What did you most learn from Ozzie Guillen, the father?

Oney:  My dad always gave all of children love and education.  Those were the two biggest things that he could ever give my brothers and I.  My dad always told me to stand up for what I believe in and to never be afraid of anyone.  At the end of the day, my father always insisted that I tell the truth and by telling the truth, I would never have regrets.  The discipline that my father instilled within me carried me as a baseball player and into the man that I am today.

MLB reports:  Not many people know that after your playing career, that you joined the White Sox head office in the scouting and video department.  You resigned in 2010.  Do you miss it?

Oney:  Truthfully, I do not miss working in the front office.  The part of the game that I miss somewhat is being around the game itself, on the field, in the dugout and clubhouse.  Being around the game every day on the field is like a drug, it is something that I was addicted to and could never get enough of.

MLB reports:  What did you like and not like so much about working in the White Sox front office?

Oney:  From my experience, working in a major league front office really opens your eyes, as to what is really going on and how the day-to-day operations of a team works.  It was great because I learned what it took to be a part of a front office and the experiences and lessons I learned will stay with me for a lifetime.   However, what I also saw was how little some of the people that I worked with in the Sox front office knew about baseball.  I observed people that had more of a say on the team due to the mere fact that they were older or had spent more years in the front office than me.  Just because those people were older or had more years than me, when it came down to baseball knowledge some of those guys did not know very much.  The politics of that side of the game really bothered me.

MLB reports:  Did you dislike anything else about working in the Sox front office?

Oney:  I did not miss being away from home for long stretches at a time.  I’m glad that in my current role that I can be home and continue to watch the Sox.  It used to me kill me that I did not know what was going on in the front office decision-making.  Looking back, I wish things could have been handled differently.  I wish someone had had the courage to give me feedback and openly discuss my role in the head office rather than choosing to hide and not communicate with me.  Truth be known, communication was poor on both sides I guess.

MLB reports:  Any regrets of leaving the White Sox organization?

Oney:  I do not regret anything.  I do not live in the past and I feel that my life is better now as a result of my decision to leave the Sox organization and pursue other opportunities.  What transpired between the White Sox and myself was going to happen one way or another.  While I was employed with the White Sox, I was told that my father could not have his own website and twitter account as they did not fit in the team’s policies.  After the team refused to allow me to create and operate a website for my father, I decided to resign.  The ironic part is that since I departed, the team has allowed my father to have a twitter account and website.   I operate the website with my brother through our company, Triple Crown Marketing. 

MLB reports:  Let’s touch upon Triple Crown shortly.  If you would have been allowed to create and operate a website for Ozzie, do you think you still would have been with the White Sox front office today?

Oney:  No, because what transpired was going to happen, one way or another.  I feel like I was being made into a scapegoat for some team problems and I am fine with that.  I am a man that takes accountability for his actions and knows what really happened between myself the team.  But I do not regret anything that has happened.  I truly feel that everyone involved is better off this way.

MLB reports:  ………

Thank you for reading Part II of my Oney Guillen interview.  Stay tuned for Part III, the final chapter of the interview as Oney discusses his future in baseball and working for the White Sox and any other major league team.  He also comments on twitter, his brothers, his current career and what the future holds for Oney Guillen.  All coming up next week.  Subscribe to the MLB reports by following the link at the top of our site to be notified on this article and all daily baseball posts.      

       

***A special thank you to Oney Guillen for his time and effort as part of being interviewed for this interview series.  Oney agreed to share private photos from his family album as part of this series.  A thank you as well to Peter Stein, my editor in helping to prepare this piece.***

 

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2011 MLB CLOSERS- AN INSIDE LOOK

MLB reports:  As readers know from my previous articles, the closer position in my opinion is the most volatile one in all of baseball.  While I love the idea of a 9th inning hard thrower coming in to blow away the other team to get the save, the identity of the closer on each team can change day-to-day and week-to-week.  Some teams came into the season with a set closer in place, while other teams are still working by committee.  After completing opening weekend, let’s take a look around baseball to see how some closers have fared thus far.

1)  Pittsburgh Pirates- Joel Hanrahan:  After some talk of Hanrahan and Evan Meek sharing the closing duties for the Pirates, Hanrahan has taken the role and run with it.  In three games, Hanrahan already has three saves and is yet to give up an earned run.  His 5/1 K/BB ratio is great.  With Meek getting blown early and often (21.60 ERA), it looks like the Pirates have their closer for the foreseeable future.

2)  Los Angeles Dodgers- Jonathan Broxton:  With three saves of his own, Broxton looks strong to start the season.  Until you notice that he also given up two homeruns and has a 1/0 K/BB ratio.  This means that Broxton is giving up runs and not striking guys out despite being handed early season leads.  A recipe for disaster, Broxton will need to shape up in a hurry or risk losing his job in the next week or two.  Monitor this situation closely.

3)  New York Yankees- Mariano Rivera:  The only other closer with three saves on the season, Mo is just being Mo.  He is as automatic as closers come and requires no further explanation.

4)  Atlanta Braves- Craig Kimbrel:  Another possible closer-by-committee situation has turned into Kimbrel having the job exclusively to start the year.  With two saves, five k’s in two innings thus far, Kimbrel has been lights-out.  As long as he stays consistent, the job is his for now and possibly the next few years.

5)  Chicago Cubs- Carlos Marmol:  After signing a big contract, much was expected from Marmol.  The other closer besides Kimbrel to have two saves, Marmol has been hit and miss to start the year.  With few options on the horizon, expect Marmol to be good and finish with 20-30 saves for a middle-of-the-pack Cubs team.

6)  Anaheim Angels- Fernando Rodney:  With a 13.50 ERA and 4/2 BB/K ratio, Rodney is on a very short leash at this point.  With one or two more rocky outings, expect Scoscia to turn to other options until Rodney straightens himself out.  I see Rodney being the closer for the majority of the year, but April has not been kind to him thus far.

7)  Minnesota Twins- Joe Nathan:  I was at the Jays/Twins game on Sunday and got to watch both Nathan and Capps pitch.  I cannot say at this point which pitcher has the advantage, although Nathan looked very rusty after a year off.  If Nathan does not come together, I can definitely see Capps taking the job for the foreseeable future.  Coming back from injuries is tricky and I would not be relying on Nathan at this point yet.

8)  Arizona Diamondbacks- J.J. Putz:  So far, so good in Arizona.  With one save under his belt, Putz had 2 k’s in his first opportunity. After a horror of a bullpen last year, Kirk Gibson will enjoy a year of Putz as his closer in Arizona.

Remember, it is still early and much can change over the course of this month.  Closers are often one home run or blister away from losing their positions.  They are a nightmare for fantasy players and even bigger stress sources for baseball fans.  Keep your expectations in check and remember to judge the players on the totality of their work: one bad inning will rarely make or break a person’s career.

Around the Majors:  Players of Note from Monday April 4th

1)  Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis led the surging Orioles to another victory.  Roberts had a three-run home run for the O’s and Markakis chipped in with three hits of his own. 

2)  Jake Arrieta got the win for the Orioles over the Tigers, pitching six innings and only one earned run.  On the flipside, Porcello gave up five runs in five innings, with 9 hits allowed.  The Tigers pitching has been weak out of the gate.

3)  Martin Prado and Dan Uggla both homered for the Braves in a win over the Brewers.  Nice to see Uggla getting on track.

4)  Ricky Weekes continued his torrid start to the season with his third home run. Highly touted for years, if he stays healthy, 2011 could be his year.

5)  Beachy was outstanding in his first start of the year.  Only one earned run over six innings, he had a 1/7 BB/K ratio.  Kimbrel dominated for his second save by striking out the side in the ninth.

6)  Saito was bombed in the 8th for the Brewers, giving up two earned runs and three hits in the 8th.  With Axford’s struggles to boot, the closing situation in Milwaukee remains murky.

7)  Alfonso Soriano had two hits and home run for the Cubs in their win over the Diamondbacks.  Soto also chipped in with two hits as well.

8)  A-Rod and Posada both went deep for the Yankees as they beat the twins.  The Yankees bats have been on fire.

9)  Ivan Nova had a quality start for the Yankees, with three earned runs in his six innings pitched.  He finished with a 1/3 BB/K ratio.

10)  Texas remained undefeated as Nelson Cruz hit his fourth home run in four games.  Always a power threat, Cruz can break forty bombs if healthy.

11)  Elvis Andrus also went deep for Texas and is hitting .385 on the season.

12)  Derek Holland continued to show the Mike Maddux magic by having a quality start, seven innings, three earned runs and a 1/5 BB/K ratio.  Maddux is the new Dave Duncan.

13)  Milton Bradley hit third for the Mainers and finished with three hits.  With a .353 average, Milton is surprising a lot of people.  Let’s see if he can keep it up.

14)  Erik Bedard in his first start of the season after a long layover from injuries returned and pitched ok.  Three earned in five innings, Bedard gave up two home runs in the loss.

15)  McCutchen and Walker continued to lead the Pirates as they upped their record to 3-1 by defeating the Cardinals.  McCutchen hit his second home run of the year and Walker finished with three hits.

16)  Charlie Morton was the next Pirates pitcher to star.  One earned over six innings, though of concern was his 5/2 BB/K ratio.  Morton better watch those walks if he hopes to be successful this year.  A decent fifth starter, I wouldn’t expect much from him yet on a young Pirates team.

 

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The Toronto Blue Jays Reinvented

MLB reports:  2011 has been one of the most anticipated seasons in Blue Jays history. A young GM in Alex Anthopoulos has reinvented the organization from the top-down. From the hiring of experienced front office advisors, new scouts, John Farrell as manager, strong drafting and trades/ free agent signings, this is certainly not your father’s Blue Jays.

With three games already in the books, let’s take a look at some key aspects of the newest incarnation of the Jays:

1) Farrell plays to win. From switching up his lineups, getting his bench involved, pinch hits, pinch runners, pitching changes- John Farrell is an active manager. Whereas Cito Gaston was criticized for sitting on his hands, it is doubtful that Farrell sits for a moment during a game. I really like Farrell’s managing approach. If nothing else, the Jays of 2011 will never be boring.

2) Kyle Drabek is for real.  All Drabek did to start the year was take a no-hitter into the 6th and consistently throw strikes. Showing maturity beyond his years, Drabek looks to be a fixture in the Jays rotation for the next decade or so.

3) The Jays catching will be solid.  J.P. Arencebia crushed 2 home runs on opening day and Molina hit one of his own in the 2nd game of the series. Both catchers have looked comfortable behind the plate and working well with the pitching staff. Arencebia is no Johnny Bench yet, but he hits the ball hard every time out. He looks to be the next MLB catching superstar.

4) Jose is worth every penny. For the doubters of Jose Bautista, he has picked up where he left off last year. From crushing big home runs, taking walks and playing solid D, Bautista has become the face of the franchise. He is a threat every time at the plate and is receiving the respect of opposing teams. For those keeping score, Vernon Wells is hitting about .150 for the Angels thus far.

5) Adam Lind is getting there. Brian Butterfield has clearly worked hard with Lind at 1st and he is becoming above average to good in the field. Lind has also become a great clean up hitter for the Jays and should benefit from hitting behind Jose. A note to Adam though: no more first pitch ground outs with the bases loaded and two outs in the 9th inning anymore please.

6) Travis Snider is truly a superstar in the making. Please see my post on Travis from Saturday. Snider has a new stance and is much more patient at the plate. Snider had key walks and hits all weekend long. He also showcased his cannon in left on Sunday and I can see gold gloves and silver sluggers in his future.

7) The bullpen is stocked. Farrell has many weapons in his pen on any given night. From Francisco, Camp, Janssen, Rauch etc, the Jays have one of their deepest pens in history. Any starter that can give the Jays lead after 6 innings will give the team a high chance of victory. The Jays strong pen makes the team a force every game.

8) Speed. When healthy, the combination of Rajai Davis and Yunel Escobar gives the Jays boppers with an abundance of chances to drive in runs. Both Davis and Escobar are strong with their bats and legs. Having a running game gives the home run happy Jays a better balanced offense and nightmares for opposing pitchers.

9) Edwin Encarnacion and Juan Rivera. The weak link of the 2011 Jays, both men look lost at the plate. Worse, EE looks even more clueless in the field. After three games it is safe to say that no ball hit to third is safe when Encarnacion is out there. A better filler is in order until the Lawrie era begins. Rivera further is another frustration case who is only in Toronto as a salary dump by the Angels in the Vernon Wells deal. A free agent at year’s end, the rope for Rivera should be very short.

10) The atmosphere and vibe.  I have not seen Toronto this excited about the Jays in 18 years. The Jays shop had lineups all weekend and fans were cheering and on their feet throughout all of the games. With all of Toronto’s other sports teams in the gutter, the Blue Jays have a prime opportunity to become Toronto’s #1 team as well as reclaim its status as the face of Canadian sports.

 

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MLB reports – Scores and Highlights for Saturday April 2nd

MLB reports:  To the readers of MLB reports, I wanted to start off by thanking you for your support.  Once I moved to the daily format, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.  I thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to read the site and I will continue to work to bring you all the latest reports, news, highlights and analysis from around the MLB world.  A new section of our site is coming soon, titled:  “MLB Guest Blogs”.  This section will be a forum for the players themselves to provide articles for your reading pleasure on MLB reports.  There are two guest bloggers currently working on their material and I look forward to posting their entries very soon.  It is a pleasure to bring the players’ stories to you and I know you will enjoy reading what they have to say.   On another update, Part II of III in the Oney Guillen interview will be posted likely sometime in the coming week.  A riveting story of one of the most interesting characters in baseball, I commend Oney on being a first class interview.  Oney has gratuitously taken a great deal of time out of schedule to converse with me and the private family pictures he provided for the article series was truly the icing on the cake.  Last update: please be sure to e-mail your baseball questions to mlbreports@gmail.com.  Please include your name and city as part of your questions.   The E-mailbag questions and answers are posted every Wednesday on MLB reports.

 In addition to the regular daily posts on the site, you will notice that I have been including daily scores and highlights from around the majors for your reads.  These updates tend to serve two purposes: to keep the MLB fan up-to-date on how teams have performed from the previous days worth of games and to update the MLB fantasy players on the highs and lows of selected players from these games.  In addition to being a devoted baseball fan and writer, I played in the trenches of fantasy baseball for many years.  I have a strong idea of what fantasy players look for in analyzing games and I trust that my highlights will assist some of you.  Please do not hesitate to e-mail or tweet me any time with any suggestions or comments that you have on the site.  At the end of the day, MLB reports is truly here for you, the readers.  My goal is to provide you with the baseball website that best serves your needs.  All feedback is always appreciated to helping me in this process. 

With the website updates out of the way, it is time for a look at the games that were played this past Saturday:

1)  The Yankees have started off the year 2-0, pounding on the Tigers to the tune of a 10-6 final.   AJ Burnett in his season debut was good but not great, giving up 3 ER in his 5 innings of work, 5 hits, 1 BB and 6 SO.  Brad Penny in his Tigers debut lasted only 4.1 innings, charged with a total of 8 ER.  Ouch.  Mo Rivera pitched 1/3 of an inning to collect his 2nd save already in the season.  Martin, Teixeira and A-Rod all homered for the Yanks.  Austin Jackson and V-Mart replied with home runs for the Tigers.

2)  The Nationals beat the Braves at home 6-3 behind solid pitching from John Lannan, who gave up only 1 ER.  Storen gave up a home run to Alex Gonzalez and Sean Burnett pitched 1.1 scoreless innings for the save.  The Nationals closer watch will be an interesting one as Storen in my opinion will be the closer by year’s end, but word has Burnett taking the job for the time being.  Tommy Hanson did not last 4 innings in this outing, charged with 3 ER.  Gonzalez finished with 3 hits on the day and Dan Uggla also connected for the Braves.  Werth and Ramos had 3 hits apiece for the Nationals and Ankiel had the biggest blast, a 3-run blast.

3)  The White Sox continued their mastery of the Indians, moving to 2-0 on the year with an 8-3 victory.  Edwin Jackson had his typical high WHIP outing (5 hits and 4 BB in 6 IP), but gave up only 2 ER for the win.  Sale and Santos had 2 SO apiece for the dominant Sox pen.  Carrasco responded by being light up for 7 ER in 6.2 IP for the Indians, mirroring the beating taken by teammate Carmona yesterday.  Quentin, Pierre and Beckham paced the Sox with 2 hits each.  Travis Hafner’s 2 hits and first home run of the season were the only bright spots for the Indians on Saturday.

4)  The Cubs and Pirates evened their series at 1-1 with a Cubs 5-3 victory in Wrigley.  Zambrano had a quality start with 6 IP and 3 ER, Wood was solid in relief and Marmol struck out the side in the 9th for his first save.  On the flip side, Maholm dominated for the Bucs, pitching 6.2 shutout innings, 5 hits, 2 BB and 3 SO.  Meek was truly meek on this day, giving up 5 runs, 2 earned in 0.2 IP.  Castro and Soto each had 2 hits for the Cubs.  Neil Walker, followed his strong season debut with a 1-4 performance and 3 SO.  Soriano batted 7th for the Cubs, Overbay cleanup for the Pirates.

5)  The Blue Jays went to 2-0 in 2011 with a 6-1 thumping of the Twins.  Kyle Drabek pitched one-hit ball in 7 innings, 3 BB and 7 SO.  The Twins for a 2nd straight day could muster little offense against Toronto.  Liriano gave up 4 ER in his 4.1 IP, with 4 hits and an alarming 5 BB.  The Twins pitchers seemed off and should be monitored for health concerns.  Molina and Nix out of all people provided the home run power for Toronto on Saturday.  Rajai Davis was given the day off due to an injured ankle and is currently day-to-day.

6)  The Royals beat the Angels 5-4 to move to 2-1 on the year.  Soria finished for his first save and Jepsen took the loss with 2 ER in his 1.0 IP, plus 4 hits allowed.  Crowe continued to impress in the Royals pen, with 1.2 scoreless innings and 2 SO.  A possible future move to the rotation I believe could be in line.  Alex Gordon out of the 3rd spot had another 0-4 day, with an average sitting at .154 for the year.  The Angels received a home run from Torii Hunter but could not win despite 11 hits.  Vernon Wells in the 5th spot finished at 1-4 and 3 LOB, with a season average of .167.

7)  The Padres pounded the Cardinals 11-3 to move to 2-0 on the year. Clayton Richard had a quality start for the Padres, going 6.0 innings and giving up 3 ER.  Jake Westbrook was pounded for 8 ER in his 4.1 IP.  Dave Duncan is a miracle worker, but I see Westbrook as being beyond miracles.  His leash will be short.  Pujols homered for the Cardinals and Chase Headley led the Padres with 2 hits, a home run and 4 rbis.  Hudson and Hawpe went hitless in the 3rd and 4th spots again for the Padres.  Expect a lineup switch in the near future. 

8)  The Los Angeles Dodgers suffered their first defeat of the year, a 10-0 loss to the World Series Giants.  Ted Lilly gave up 4 ER in 4.1 IP.  Matt Cain was spectacular, 6 shutout innings, 5 hits, 0 BB and 3 SO.  Ethier had 3 hits for the Dodgers.  The Giants in a revamped lineup, received 3 hits from Sanchez and solid games from Tejada in the leadoff spot, Huff and DeRosa. 

9)  Houston is 0-2 to start the year as Cy-Lee and the Phillies beat them 9-4.  Lee in his return to Philadelphia pitched 7.0 innings, giving up 3 ER and 4 hits.  The most telling was his 11 SO and 0 BB. Cy-Lee is back baby.  Wandy Rodriguez pitched like he was in Cleveland, giving up 7 ER in 4.0 innings.  Carlos Lee went 3-4 with a home run and 4 rbis.  Great games by Polanco, Francisco and Ibanez.

10)  The Rays, my pre-season pick to win the AL East started off the year 0-2 with a 3-1 loss to the Orioles.  James Shields pitched well, going 7.1 IP with 2 ER, 4 hits, 2 BB and 7 SO.  Chris Tillman was pulled after 6.0 no-hit innings (bet Orioles fans loved that), with Kevin Gregg getting a Fernando Rodney save (1 hit and 1 BB allowed in 1.0 IP).  Brian Roberts starred for the Orioles with a home run and 2 hits in total and all 3 rbis.

11)  The Brewers fell again to the Reds, this time by a score of 4-2.  Shawn Marcum in his Brewers debut was ineffective, giving up 4 ER in 4.2 IP.  Wood was crazy good for the Reds, 7.0 IP, 1 ER, 4 hits, 0 BB and 7 SO.  Cordero pitched a shaky 9th, giving up 1 ER for the save.  The Chapman watch will officially begin today.  Scott Rolen had a 2-run home run and Drew Stubbs had 2 hits at the leadoff spot.

12)  The Marlins fell to the Mets by a score off 6-4 (huh? the Mets won a game before May?) Jon Niese had an effective outing, 7 IP and 2 ER.  K-Rod had a nightmarish outing, with 3 hits, 1 BB and 1 ER in 1.0 IP.  Nolasco was great for the Marlins, 7.0 IP with 2 ER and 0 BB.  Wright had a great game with a home run and 3 hits, while Ike Davis chipped in also with 2 hits.

13)  Texas kept pounding out the runs with a 12-5 butchering of the Red Sox in Arlington.  Colby Lewis had a quality start with 6.0 IP and 3 ER.  Lackey was destroyed to the tune of 9 ER and 3.2 IP (ewww).  Papi and Ellsbury went deep for the Bosox, who continued to play Crawford in the 3rd hole (not for long).  Texas had long balls from Kinsler, Torrealba, Cruz and Beltre. 

14)  The Diamondbacks lost the Rockies 3-1 despite a quality start from Hudson, with 6.0 IP and 3 ER.  De La Rosa pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings and left with a blister.  Street got the save despite giving up a run in his 1.0 IP (monitor this closer situation depending on Street’s health).  Iannetta, a strong catcher projected for the year, had 2 hits and 2 runs scored.

15)  The Mariners wrapped up the MLB action with a 5-2 victory over the A’s.  Vargas and Anderson were both solid, until Fuentes gave up 2 ER in the 9th on 3 hits for the loss and blown save.  Expect the Fuentes watch to continue for the next couple of weeks and 2-3 more outings like this could cost his job.  A healthy and effective Andrew Bailey will be great Fuentes insurance.  Chris Ray gave up 3 hits and 1 ER for the Mariners while League as closer pitched a scoreless and hitless 9th for the save.  Expect League to continue to save games until Aardsma is back, but could keep the job long-term.  Barton had 3 hits for the A’s while Ichiro had 2 hits to become the Mariners all-time hit leader, to break Edgar’s record.

 

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TRAVIS SNIDER – FROM PROSPECT TO SUPERSTAR

MLB reports:  What a difference a year makes.  2010 was a season where essentially nothing went right for Travis Snider.  From batting at the bottom of the Jays lineup all year to frequent trips to the disabled list and the minors, the then twenty-two year outfielder was beginning to lose the lustre from his prospect star status.  Rumors of immaturity and attitude haunted the young man, as well as frequent disagreements with then Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston.  Now healthy and part of the newly constructed Toronto team, Travis Snider is ready to take his game to the next level.

In my estimation, no Toronto player will benefit greater from the hiring of John Farrell as manager than Snider.  The previous regime under Gaston was not seen as “rookie friendly” to say the least.  While Snider got off to a quick start last year, he quickly started to fade early on.  In whatever approach Gaston was trying to preach to the kid, clearly it was not working.  From there, spending time in the minors and on the DL has a way of shattering a young player’s confidence.  Remember, Snider a year ago was one of the top hitting prospects in baseball and the future face of the franchise.  Watching his approach at the plate, Snider appeared to be overly aggressive to me.  A common symptom of being a young hitter, few hitters can go up to the plate and wait for their pitch in the manner that Jason Heyward does.  But after two years of less than 300 hundred at-bats and lifetime MLB avg of .255, clearly a change was needed to Snider’s game.  That change has arrived and I saw it last night.

I was expecting to see Snider hitting 8th last night but was pleasantly surprised to see him in the 7th spot.  Although not a huge difference, Farrell had Snider hitting between Encarnacion and Rivera, two veteran hitters who would be able to give him protection in the lineup.  The higher slot in the lineup to me translates to a vote of confidence for the kid.  After some solid games, I expect Snider to move up to #6 and even as high as 5th as the season progresses.  He has that much talent and hopefully the Jays let him showcase his abilities.  However, the biggest change I saw in Snider was his stance and approach at the plate.  Snider finished the night 0-2 with 2 BB and 2 runs scored.  The tone of the night for him was set in his first at-bat, when Travis was able to reach first on an error.  Snider gave a nice little fist pump after reaching base- showing his heart and desire to play the game the right way.  Although not getting credit for a hit, Travis did show great hustle and determination in that at-bat.  The rest of the night for me centered around his new stance.  The “superstar” stance as I call it. 

Dwayne Murphy has clearly invested a great deal of time in working with Snider.  His mechanics and approach at the plate are much better in 2011.  Last year, Snider looked extremely lost at the plate to me.  Last night, Snider showcased his new approach which clearly is starting to work for him.  Snider is taking more pitches and seeing the ball much better.  Both walks he took last night were hard-fought and well-earned.  It appeared to me that Travis watching video of Nick Swisher in the off-season and starting to follow his approach at the plate.  Snider has a nice fluid stroke and in opening his stance, he is able to see pitches better and wait for the right ones.  I expect to see Snider’s walk rate spike and his home run totals proportionately.  My sense is that Farrell and Murphy have much faith in the kid and he will be rewarding them with a solid breakout season in 2011.   

I won’t sit and blame Cito Gaston for all of Travis Snider’s woes in 2010.  Snider has to take responsibility for his own actions and results in the process.  But clearly the relationship between manager and player did not work in that case and a change was needed.  John Farrell has vast experience working with young players, from being a farm director with the Indians to being the pitching coach in Boston.  Farrell to win over Snider will need to play him day-in and day-out.  The greatest mistake that a young player can make is to press too hard early on, afraid that any mistakes could lead to a demotion to the bench or minors.  If Snider is allowed to play through mistakes and slumps, the law of probability will result in success coming through the flip side.  The Travis Snider that I saw on opening night was excited to be a part of the team.  He did not press at the plate and did the little things necessary to contribute to his team’s success.  Watch out for Travis Snider, the next superstar and franchise of the Toronto Blue Jays.

MLB REPORTS FROM FRIDAY APRIL 1ST:

1)  The Toronto Blue Jays got off to a fast start on the season, crushing the Twins 13-3 in the Rogers Centre.  Ricky Romero had an impressive opening day, pitching 6.1 innings, giving up 7 hits, 1 ER and 7 SO.  The key telling stat of the night was 0 walks given up by the young lefty.  Carl Pavano, on the other hand, gave up 7 runs in 4 innings of work.  Looking like the Pavano from the Yankees days, the night was simply brutal for the veteran.  Bautista and Lind had huge games for the Jays but the star of the night was the #9 hitting catcher J.P. Arencebia, going 3-4 with 5 rbis, 2 hr’s and a triple to boot.  For one day at least, the Jays look like the team to beat in the East.

2)  The Phillies squeaked out a close one in Philadelphia in their opener, with Halladay and Myers facing in a strong pitching duel.  Halladay was stellar in the 5-4 Phillies win, with 6 IP, 7 hits, 1 ER, o BB and 6 SO.  Roy is just scary good and its only the start of the season.  In the “closer implosion” series, Brandon Lyon in 1/3 of an inning gave up 6 hits and 3 ER.  Perhaps trading Lidstrom was not the brightest move for the Astros.  Baez finished with the save in this one but only because of the late 9th inning magic by the Phillies bats.  Madson pitching a clean 8th with 2 SO is still the closer at this point.  Rollins and Howard both had 2 hits in the win for the Phillies.

3)  The Pirates played their hearts out in a 6-3 win over the Cubs in Wrigley.  Kevin Correia pitched 6 solid innings, 2 ER, 1 BB and 3 SO.  Dempster on the other hand, gave up 6 ER in his 6.2 IP.  Meek and Hanrahan were lock down in the 8th and 9th for the Pirates, with 2 SO each in their respective innings of work.  For all the closer debates in Pittsburgh, that is a great situation to have.  But if opening day is an indication, Hanrahan is definitely the closer for now.  Any sign of falter though and Meek becomes the new Matt Capps for Pittsburgh.  Neil Walker at 2B and batting second had the game of his life, with a grand slam home run and walk.  McCutchen also homered and looked solid.  Castro had 3 hits in the lone bright spot for the Cubs on this day.

4)  The White Sox beat the Indians in a barn burner in Cleveland, 15-10.  Mark Buehrle had a typical outing, 6 IP, 4 ER, 1 BB and 0 SO.  Fausto Carmona got destroyed to the tune of 10 ER in 3.0 IP to get the worst start line of any pitcher on opening day.  Many players had nice stats lines in a blowout game on this day, with Santana pacing the Indians in the cleanup spot with 3 hits and a home run.  Dunn and Quentin were the beasts for the White Sox, each with a home run, Dunn with 4 ribbies and Quentin with 5.

5)  The Rangers won their opener, 9-5 against the Red Sox.  C.J. Wilson solidified his ace status with the win, giving up 2 ER in 6.2 IP and 6 SO.  Jon Lester did not have it on this day, giving up 5 ER in 5.1 IP.  The Rangers had 3 bombs, with Mike Napoli (see my article on him earlier in the offseason) leading the way with 2 hits, 3 rbis and a walk.  Crawford was hitless in his Red Sox debut and Adrian Gonzalez had 2 hits and 3 rbis.

6)  The Diamondbacks won a wild one in Coors, beating the Rockies 7-6.  Ubaldo was off tonight, giving up 5 ER in 6.0 IP.  Not what Rockies fans expected from their ace.   J.J. Putz had a clean save in the win, 1.0 IP and 2 SO.  Upton and Montero had nice games for the winners with a home run apiece.

7)  In the upset of the night, the Orioles stunned the Rays 4-1 in Tampa.  David Price, despite giving up only 5 hits and 1 BB in 7.0 IP with 7 SO gave up all 4 runs.  Guthrie shut out the Rays during his 8.0 IP, giving up only 3 hits and 1 BB.  With only 5 hits on the night, the Orioles were able to beat David Price even when he was on his game…signs that the AL East will be as tough as many expect in 2011.

8)  The New York Mets began their dismissal season with a 6-2 loss to the Marlins. Josh Johnson was unhittable early on and finished with 6.0 IP, 2 ER, 3 hits and 2 BB allowed.  The stars of the night for the Marlins were Logan Morrison and John Buck, both with a home run (Buck with the grand slam).  Gaby Sanchez also had 2 hits for the strong Marlins opening game. 

9)  In the final opening game of the season, King Felix had the season’s only complete game to-date in the Mariners 6-2 win.  Felix gave up 2 ER, 5 hits and 0 BB in 108 pitches thrown, with 5 SO.  The AL West has been put on notice.  Willingham in the cleanup spot had a home run for the A’s while the light-hitting Chone Figgins countered with a jack of his own for the M’s.  With every team getting a game into the record books, opening day is now complete!

 

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MLB Opening Day: Survival List and Highlights

MLB reports:  Going into day-two of the MLB opening day schedule, I will be in Toronto tonight to watch the hometown Blue Jays face the Minnesota Twins.  With a sold-out, packed stadium of over 50,000 screaming fans, tonight will be awesome.  Opening day is the greatest baseball day of the year and should never be missed.  I have attended all-star games and World Baseball Classic matchups and I can still say that opening day is number one.  I have not yet attended any world series games, which has its own energy and excitement..  But the start of the year, the start of the season, with hope and optimism all around- opening day is king.

With hope comes reality.  Opening day, while a great deal of fun to watch, should still be prepared for ahead of time.  For those experienced fans who have been through this before but need a refresher after a long offseason and for those new to the game, I have prepared the following tips for you.  Opening day is most enjoyable when you come to the game ready.  Here is what you need to do in order to enjoy the experience to the fullest.

1)  Pack food and water:  Check the policy of your stadium on this, but most will allow you to bring in any food and a sealed bottled of water.  Opening day gets pretty hectic, as the stadium will be full and the concessions are not yet in mid-season form.  To avoid missing any of the action in long lineups, plan ahead and bring your own munchies. 

2)  Wear baseball gear:  Coming to opening day without a baseball top/cap is unacceptable.  Preferably you should wear the colors of your home team, but any baseball clothing will do.  To get into the excitement, you have to dress the part.

3)  Bring a camera:  Opening day will last three to four hours, but pictures last a lifetime.  Be sure to capture all the moments of the game and your surroundings.  The more friends an family that you have at the game, the better the photo opportunities.

4)  Bring people:  Coming to the game with a buddy or loved one is great.  But the more people that join you in your section, the greater the feeling you will have at the game.  I have seven people in total in my group coming today, it will be a blast.

5)  Strategic bathroom breaks:  Try to go right before the game starts.  The bathrooms will be crowded all game long and hopefully your bladder can hold up for most, if not the entire game.

6)  Arrive early:  On a Friday, traffic is usually bad no matter where we live.  Add to that the number of people attending the game, the slow pace of the ushers in welcoming people, checking tickets and giving away free stuff- and you have a recipe for disaster.  Try to be at your stadium approximately two hours before game time to make sure that you can easily get in, check out the concessions and all the pre-game festivities in a relaxed manner.

7)  Bring your Smartphone:  If you have a blackberry or iphone, sending the occasional updates through twitter or facebook will make you leading edge and gives the people that follow you a chance to share in your experience.  Photo updates get bonus points.

8)  Get into the game:  Socializing throughout the game is fun.  But if you are at the point that you have no idea what inning it is and the score, clearly you are not paying enough attention.  Keep focused so that you miss any of the key game highlights and bring the game into your discussion.  The greater experience you have on opening day, the more likely you will be out for future games this season.

9)  Watch the lineup:  Your home team likely has some new faces.  Learn the roster and get to know the players on your team.  You will see them for 162 games this year and watching them live to start the year will help your knowledge.  I look for things like batting stances, pitching deliveries, names/numbers etc.  Learn your team as the better you know your guys, the harder you will support them.

10)  Savor the moment:  Enjoy every second that you are there.  Take in every sight, sound and smell from opening day from the second you enter the stadium to the time you leave.  You will only get one crack at opening day every season, enjoy this one. 

I wish everyone a great MLB opening day!  Hopefully you will get to attend a game in person over the course of the last two days.  If not, try to make sure that you are enjoying an opening day game, if it is on your computer, television or radio.  Then try to make the effort to get to a game as soon as you can to get into the spirit of the start of the MLB season.  Plan a road trip for the summer to watch some games at a park that you have never seen.  But at the end of the day, just enjoy baseball.  It is the greatest game in the world and its back for the next seven months.  It’s truly the best time of year to be a baseball fan.

MLB reports from Opening Day- Thursday March 31st:

1)      Some shaky closers to start the year as Axford imploded as the Brewers lost to the Reds, Broxton and Franklin both gave up long balls in their initial outings and Rodney got the save in a high WHIP fashion.  Remember, there will be new closers on 30-40% of teams by the end of the year.  Closer is the most volatile position in baseball.

2)      Alex Gordon, batting third for the Royals, went 0-5 with 3 SO.  My preseason pick to have a strong bounce back year, I hope that he doesn’t fail me.

3)      Checking my predictions for the opening day schedule, I finished with a 5-1 record yesterday.  The only game I missed on was the Cardinals and Padres game.  Little did I know that Pujols would ground into three double plays.  It was just one of those games.  We shall see how I do on the rest of my predictions later today.  You can view my opening day matchups and predictions on http://mlbreports.com posted on Tuesday.

4)      The Dodgers/Giants game proved to be a pitching matchup for the ages.  Kershaw and Lincecum went head-to-head and did not disappoint.  Key moment of the game occurred when the Dodgers had a 1-0 lead in the 6th with the bases loaded and two outs.  Mattingly decided to let Kershaw bat for himself.  In a tight game with little offensive opportunities, the Dodger’s manager could have cost himself the game.  In an early game and Kershaw likely to go only one more inning (which he did), you need to play to win.  Hopefully someone can explain the National League to Donny as the season progresses.  Otherwise, Kershaw looks like he is ready to break out into a superstar and Lincecum will be solid yet again.

5)      The Padres are in big trouble.  Now that Adrian Gonzalez is gone, the smoke and mirrors can be removed and the carriage is now back into being a pumpkin.  When Venable is your leadoff hitter and Orlando Hudson is batting third, you know that it will be a long year.  It looked to me like Buddy Black created a lineup by drawing names out of a hat.  With so little talent, maybe he is on to something. 

6)      Jered Weaver looked great to start the year and should be in Cy Young form.  The Angels as a team are yet again the impatient hackers on offense that they always seem to be.  Against a scuffling Luke Hochevar, the Angels stranded 15 men on base and only took one walk as a team.  The Angels will have to rely on their pitching if they hope to contend in the AL West.  Vernon Wells had a typical Vernon night.  Anaheim fans will be calling for his head by June.

7)      Great start by the Braves.  Lowe was spectacular and Heyward is mature beyond his years.  He will be the face of the franchise for the next ten to twelve years if he stays healthy.

8)      Phil Coke, the named fifth starter for the Tigers had a shaky relief outing against the Yankees.  This cannot help his chances to keep a starting role.  Hopefully the Tigers give him a chance to start and show what he can for at least a month.

 

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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