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Daily Archives: January 24, 2012

On the Verge: Talking Baseball with Jays Prospect Dwight Smith Jr.

Tuesday January 24, 2012

MLB reports – Jonathan Hacohen:  Being based in Toronto, we have heard the name Dwight Smith Jr. discussed frequently this year. Smith, drafted 53rd overall by the Jays in the recent 2011 draft, has Jays fans excited about him patrolling the Rogers Centre outfield one day soon. I was able to catch up with Dwight recently to discuss his offseason and future goals. As a second generation baseball player, Dwight enters the professional ranks with expectations already attached to him. The benefit/curse of being a high draft pick and carrying on a famous baseball name. But Dwight is ready to take on those challenges and make his name in the game. 

Like many young players, Dwight grew up admiring Ken Griffey Jr. Probably one of the best all-around talents this game has ever seen, Griffey is a great player to look up to. Interestingly though, it was Albert Pujols who Dwight favorites today. “He has so much success and yet he is still humble.”  If every baseball prospect could keep that approach, the game would definitely have more future stars in its ranks! In addition to baseball, Dwight played basketball. Many top athletes are involved in multiple sports based on their high athleticism. When asked why he chose baseball, Dwight replied, “I played basketball until my senior year, but I chose baseball because I always loved it.” With Dwight Smith as his father, I have no doubt that Jr. grew up around the game and developed a deep love for the sport. But it’s not like Smith did not have choices. If he hadn’t signed with the Jays, he would have attended Georgia Tech and played college ball. When I asked Smith if he expected to go the Jays in the draft, he said that he did not…but “was grateful they picked me.”  The baseball gods smiled down on draft day upon this outfield prospect, as I see a very good fit between the player and organization. With his strong tools and power/speed potential, Smith could be in Toronto one day very soon.

I actually grew up watching his father, Dwight Smith (Sr.) and outfield partner Jerome Walton patrolling the Wrigley outfield for the Cubs. While his dad was not a hall of famer, he was a good overall player who did everything right. He played solid defense and contributed timely hits with the bat. I asked Dwight about the influence that his dad had on his career. Talking about his dad, Dwight replied that “he was a huge influence on me and the reason why I picked up a glove and bat. I learned so much from him not only about baseball but about life that helps me each everyday perform.” I was glad to see the strong bond between father and son. But it led to me wonder how being a “jr” affected Dwight and the type of pressure it put on him as a player. Dwight responded that “…it’s a blessing and a curse  because being a 2nd generation ballplayer, so much is expected from you early and when you succeed they say it’s because your dad. Which isn’t fair to anybody because my dad never played a game for me but life isn’t fair. However, I never really felt much pressure because I have to play my game.” I found it very refreshing that Dwight could so clearly conceptualize the reality of being a 2nd generation player, but still stay focused and keep his position in the game in perspective. It is this type of thinking that I believe will lead Dwight far in the game of baseball.

Whenever I talk to a young player, I always ask them when they expect/hope to make the big leagues. Most are unwilling to put a timetable on their progress, while trying to work hard and hope that everything works out for them in the end. Dwight was a little different, as he set the goal for himself to make the show in 2-3 years. The secret for his success will be “hard work, dedication and if the good lord keeps him healthy.”  Dwight cannot wait for the 2012 season to begin, as he is looking forward to his first year of professional baseball. After this year though, life will never be the same for him. Imagine the changes. One minute he was playing the high school ball…the next he is a member of the Toronto Blue Jays!  Life can change in an instant. At the end of the day, his great baseball tools got Dwight Smith Jr. drafted and part of a Major League team. But it is focus and ambition that will carry him at the end of the day. For a team longing for more stars on its roster, help is on the way.

The Toronto Blue Jays have one of the best farm systems in all of baseball. Dwight Smith Jr. is definitely part of the new-look Jays prospects. He wants to work hard on every facet of his game until he becomes a complete player. Will we see the next Ken Griffey Jr. or Albert Pujols? Time will tell. But he definitely set the bar high for himself. Getting to know Dwight Smith Jr., he wouldn’t have it any other way.

***Thank you to Dwight Smith Jr. for taking the time to speak with MLB reports!  You can follow Dwight on Twitter (@dsmith25blujay). Dwight enjoys speaking with his fans, so please feel free to send him any questions/comments you have.  Or just wish him good luck on the season!***

 

Jonathan Hacohen is the Lead Baseball Columnist & Editor for MLB reports:  You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@JHacohen)

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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Why Triples Matter: Stocking Your Fantasy Team with Three-Baggers

Tuesday January 24th, 2012


Peter Stein (Fantasy Baseball Analyst – MLB reports): Many baseball fans are fascinated by triples, but it is certainly not a stat that people in standard Roto 5X5 fantasy baseball leagues pay any mind to. From an offensive standpoint, you are solely concerned with average, home runs, RBIs, and runs. Certainly triples contribute to a player’s offensive output, but by no means are they an asset to target in fantasy baseball. In reality, triples are often the product of a fortuitous bounce or carom and reflect more about a defensive player than the actual hitter. Nonetheless, triples are a rare occurrence and have a unique ability to excite the crowd and rally a team.

So, in fantasy baseball should we care about triples at all? On the surface the answer is no… but on a deeper level, it is actually yes. By no means is it wise to build a roster full of the league’s triples leaders. But a closer look at this stat can tell us a lot about a player.

In fantasy baseball and particularly in 5×5 Roto leagues, the goal is to find a player who can do it all: hit for average and power, produce and score runs, and steal bases. Not surprisingly, the league’s triples leaders are also at the top of the stolen bases leaderboard. It is the rare occurrence when you see a player like Curtis Granderson, who in 2011 showed his power with 41 home runs, as well as his speed with 10 triples and 25 stolen bases. The Granderson/Braun/Kemp/Ellsbury types of players are few and far between and are also on many championship rosters.

Before we go any further, let’s think about what it takes to hit a triple – namely a combination of power and speed. Triples are most commonly doubles, that are normally a double for a slower player.  Therefore, if we look at a player like Brett Gardner with 19 doubles, 8 triples, and 9 home runs in 2011, it appears that his triple output has more to do with his speed and less about his power. For someone like Granderson with the 41 home runs and 26 doubles, it appears to be an equal combination of both. Let’s look for more examples of those types of players.

Take Michael Bourn: 61 steals, 10 triples and 2 home runs in 2011. Clearly, his double-digit triple output reflects his speed and surely not his power. When I scroll down the leaderboard and see Starlin Castro, (9 triples in 2011), light bulbs instantly begin to flash. Castro’s high triple out cannot be credited to speed alone (22 steals) because he still slugged 10 home runs and 36 doubles. At 21 years of age, Castro already has an amazing blend of power and speed, which is reflected by his ability to produce a three-base hit. By looking at Castro’s triples, we can tell that he posses this coveted five-category ability. You can only expect both his power and speed to increase and in my opinion, he has the ability to put up some Soriano-like home run/sb totals.  Castro’s potential is most likely maxed out at 30/30, but this is due to the fact that he hits for average (.304 lifetime in 1137 at-bats) and is not likely to sacrifice for power. He could easily steal 40 bases and hit 30 home runs in the prime of his career.

The key is to look at the triple total for the young players who have yet to fully develop their power and speed. Triples can be a helpful future indicator of a player’s power and speed. For example, in his first full season in 2008, Adam Jones finished with 9 home runs, 7 triples and 10 stolen bases. The seven triples stand out, and although he possess great speed, the ten stolen bases indicate that he most likely did not rely solely on speed. His 9 home runs and 21 doubles demonstrate this his power also contributed to his seven three-baggers. The signs point to a player who has both speed and power. Sure enough, Adam Jones jumped to 19 home runs in 2009 and hit 25 home run with 12 stolen bases in 2011.

Triples shouldn’t even really be a concern for fantasy baseball owners, but can serve as a research aid of sorts. Look at the triples leaders and try to find the players who are not doing it on speed alone and have above average double and home run totals. If they are young and yet to reach their prime, all signs point to a player who has the ability to combine power and speed and develop into the coveted 5-category player.


***Today’s feature was prepared by our Fantasy Baseball Analyst, Peter Stein.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Peter on Twitter (@peterWstein).***

 Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan onFacebook .  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.

Omar Vizquel to the Jays: Toronto Adds Future Hall of Famer to the Mix

Tuesday January 24, 2012

Jonathan Hacohen:  The Blue Jays signed today a backup infielder to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training. But not just any infielder. Omar Vizquel. Yes, the same Omar Vizquel that will be turning 45 years of age this coming April. Entering his 24th major league season. The ageless wonder. The infield answer to Jamie Moyer. Vizquel and his 11 gold gloves will be coming to Toronto in an attempt to earn a spot on the major league roster for the coming season. 

I like this move by the Jays on many levels. With a current infield including Yunel Esobar, Kelly Johnson and Brett Lawrie, Vizquel provides depth and insurance. He is still strong defensively and can be a quality late-inning replacement. Believe it or not, he can also still hit and chip in the occasional stolen base. With Yunel Escobar still maturing on and off the field, Vizquel could prove to be the role model and mentor that the young shortstop needs to be able to take his game to the next level. Vizquel in essence would be a quasi-player-coach on the Jays, helping Lawrie and Johnson tighten their games as well. Every championship caliber team needs strong role players, regardless of the sport. For the Jays to jump to the next level, they will need Omar Vizquel type players on its roster. There are no guarantees that Vizquel will make the team out of spring training, or last a full season. But if he does, Jays fans will enjoy what they see from the Venezuelan fielding magician.

This article is as much about appreciating what value Vizquel brings to a baseball team today, as a reflection of his career to-date. I remember meeting Omar in the early 1990’s. He was a skinny guy on the Mariners and still hadn’t come into his own. I will never forget the t-shirt he was wearing during batting practice that day. It was an “Omar Vizquel” shirt, with his name and picture. This great fielding and no-hit shortstop stood at the first base line and signed autographs for over 30 minutes. He literally did not leave until every fan was looked after. Fast forward to the Vizquel today…and nothing has changed. Sure, the “Omar Vizquel” t-shirt is long gone. But he is the same Omar, engaging the fans and proud to be a major league baseball player.  For a guy that has won 11 gold gloves and had a fairly good bat for a shortstop- I only have one question. Why are we not discussing him more as a future hall of famer?

Omar Vizquel is built in the mold of many superior fielding Venezuelan shortstops before him. Luis Aparicio and Dave Conception are the most famous examples that come to mind. I always have a comparison though that I throw in every time the words Vizquel and Cooperstown are said in the same sentence. Ozzie Smith. The Wizard of Oz. I watched both players for the majority of their careers and I am at a loss for words. By no means do I want to take anything away from Ozzie Smith. Far from it. But when I start to compare the two shortstops, I see many similarities. Similar bats. Similar gloves. The numbers are there. You can argue that Ozzie was a better base stealer, or that Omar had more power. The difference in their offensive numbers are negligible. Watching both players, I would tell you that they were at similar levels with a bat in their hands. With a glove, the numbers again are not far off. Ozzie was flashier and made more errors- but then he took more chances than Omar. But to argue that either one was a better defensive shortstop would be a difficult argument to make. The Wizard had the backflips and the all-star game appearances. Omar had an almost equal amount of gold gloves (11 to 13), but less notoriety.  Ozzie made 15 all-star teams. Omar was on 3. But if Ozzie is a first-ballot hall of famer, then so is Omar.

Where I believe that Omar’s hall of fame chances are minimized are in his personality and era that he played in. While the 1980’s still had the belief of the all glove and no hit shortstops, the game evolved in the 1990’s. Cal Ripken type all-around players became the standard, with Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra entering the mix. Backflips and all, Ozzie would have faced a difficult task in unseating those offensive beasts in order to gain election to multiple all-star games. Then when you take into account that Omar Vizquel is the steady/silent type- he just simply never received the headlines that he deserved. Yes, he won countless gold gloves. But rarely do I ever hear of a discussion where he is accounted for as one of the best at his position of all time. Again, if you consider Ozzie Smith one of the best- then you have to do the same for Omar Vizquel. I know this in my heart, but I have my doubts if all the hall of famer voters will see things the same way.

As the years have gone by, so have standards and criteria for election into Cooperstown. Given though the recent ‘steroid era’ and the difficult decisions faced by the voters with candidates such as Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, a candidate one day like Omar Vizquel should be an easy choice. While 3000 hits and 500 home runs used to be automatic markers for induction, offensive numbers are not as critical as they were in recent years. When I reflect on Omar Vizquel, I see a ballplayer that played the game the right way. He stayed fairly healthy for most of his career. He had a decent to very good bat for his position. He certainly never embarrassed himself at the plate. But first and foremost, he was a premiere shortstop. One of the best, if not THE best, that baseball has ever seen. He was steady as they come. Balls hit to Omar were usually automatic outs. He certainly earned each of his gold gloves and certainly could have earned even more. I am sure when the Mariners reflect on Omar Vizquel, they wish they would have kept him rather than moving him in 1993 for Felix Fermin. That year, Omar earned the first of his gold gloves. The first of many to come.

So in considering today’s signing, this is not an ordinary minor league deal. This is a story of a baseball warrior that is beating all odds, including father time. In an age when players are retiring earlier and the game is becoming a young man’s sport, Omar Vizquel continues to hang on. Only 159 hits away from 3000, I certainly could see him reaching that mark in 2013. But regardless of whether that magic number is hit, for everything that he has produced on the baseball diamond to-date, Omar Vizquel should be in Cooperstown in the next few years. I have enjoyed watching him play all of these years and look forward to cheering his name at least one more time before he hangs up his glove for good. Check the numbers again and begin your own thought process of whether you feel that Omar Vizquel deserves a place in Cooperstown. But hopefully we can hold off on that debate for at least a couple of more years.

 

Jonathan Hacohen is the Lead Baseball Columnist & Editor for MLB reports:  You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@JHacohen)

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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