Finding the Baseball Connections in Super Bowl 50

Super Bowl Baseball

As a baseball fan, I obviously can’t wait until Spring Training begins in a couple of weeks (Opening Day is now just under 60 days away). But as an overall sports fan, I can’t wait for Super Bowl 50 on Sunday night between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos.

You may be wondering why I, a die-hard baseball fan at heart, would even be discussing the Super Bowl at all on a baseball blog — other than the fact that my home state’s Panthers are in the big game. Well, the answer is that there are numerous baseball connections within this year’s Super Bowl matchup, and I wanted to take the time to go over just a few of them.

To kick things off (pun intended), I’ll begin with the connection the Super Bowl’s starting quarterbacks, Peyton Manning and Cam Newton, have to baseball.

Peyton Manning was never drafted by a professional baseball team as a number of other NFL quarterbacks have been, but he does have a big connection to the sport. Manning was the back-up quarterback to former All-Star Rockies’ slugger, Todd Helton, at the University of Tennessee back in 1994. The duo ultimately went in two different ManningNewtondirections, but each made their marks in their given sports. Although the story of their connection has been told countless times before, it’s still an interesting piece of information to acknowledge, nonetheless.

As with Manning, Cam Newton was never drafted by a big league team, largely due to the fact that he gave up baseball at age 14 for fear of getting hit by the ball (ironic, now that he faces getting sacked on a weekly basis by 250-pound linebackers). While baseball wasn’t the sport for Newton, I’d say that by leading the Panthers to a 15-1 record this season and ultimately to the Super Bowl, Newton definitely discovered the right sport for him.

Digging deeper into each team’s lineups, though there are numerous players who played baseball at one point or another in their past, with some even being drafted by a major league team, the most intriguing case from both lineups is undoubtedly the Panthers’ Shaq Thompson.

Thompson was drafted by the Red Sox in the 18th round of the 2012 draft, but his career wound up being extremely short lived. In 39 at-bats with the Red Sox’ Gulf Coast League team (the absolute lowest level in their organization), Thompson went hitless and struck out 37 times. That’s right — 37 strikeouts out of 39 at-bats. Baseball was clearly not going to work out, but by making it to the Super Bowl, it’s obvious that football did.

In the end, while all of those baseball connections to the Super Bowl are interesting, I still remain a baseball fan through and through and am avidly counting down the days until baseball gets going again. With the Super Bowl upon us, that signals that Spring Training is just around the corner and that the long wait of the offseason is almost over. As baseball Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby put it, “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

Q and A With Ray Black

Ray Black was drafted by the Giants in the 7th round of the 2011 draft, but the journey to draft day wasn’t exactly a smooth one. Black underwent Tommy John surgery his senior year of high school after suffering an arm injury — the first of what would turn out to be many bad luck injuries. Thankfully, although the Tommy John surgery meant Black would have to be redshirted his freshman season, the University of Pittsburgh still honored their baseball scholarship offer to him, allowing Black to head there to play ball in 2009.Black

But the poor luck continued for Black in college when he tore his right meniscus during a workout before his sophomore season. Following a broken hand later on, Black then suffered a torn labrum after being officially drafted in 2011, which postponed him making his professional debut until all the way to April of 2014, despite being drafted almost three years prior. However, even after all the setbacks, when Black finally made his debut two years ago, he showed off every bit of the talent he possesses.

After posting a terrible 11.05 ERA over just 36.2 innings pitched in college, Black took off in 2014, and has done nothing but impress in his professional career, striking out 122 batters over his 60.1 career innings and holding opposing batters to a .146 average. In 2015 season alone, Black recorded a 2.88 ERA and struck out 51 over just 25 innings pitched.

Black spent all of 2015 at High-A, which isn’t where you’d necessarily expect to see a 25-year-old pitcher — one with a shot at making it all the way to the big leagues, that is. But Ray Black isn’t your average prospect, and there’s certainly nothing average about his fastball. Black can crank it up to triple digits consistently, and has been up around 103-104 at times. It’s that fastball that’s keeping Black as a standout in the Giants’ farm system despite numerous setbacks, and that will ultimately be the key to taking him all the way to the major leagues.

Ray Black — top prospect in the Giants’ organization — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

I started playing when I was around 4-5 with my father in the backyard. He was probably my biggest influence. He always told me, and still does to today, “Whatever you decided to do, do with 100 percent conviction”. I joke with him that he’s the most knowledgable farmer on the topic of pitching mechanics.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

My favorite player was Nomar Garciaparra. I was a shortstop growing up, and Derek jeter was the most popular choice amongst kids my age. To be honest, he [Garciaparra] was really good. Boston was my team growing up, and he played with hustle.

3.) You were drafted by the Giants in the 7th round of the 2011 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

The draft is a crazy time for a lot of guys. Most people will tell you the draft process didn’t go as expected for them. A lot of scouts had told me they didn’t see me going after the 5th round. So on draft day, I got a call in the 4th round and 6th round by the Phillies and White Sox. After brief negotiations, it was likely we wouldn’t come to an agreement, so they passed on me. I was frustrated at this time, so I started to walk out the door to meet with some friends, and my dad yelled out to me, “You just got drafted by the Giants”. I was excited. They had won the World Series in 2010, and I knew they were a good pitching organization. Shortly after, I was relieved the process was over.

4.) With you going through several surgeries before you ever even began your baseball career, what kind of effect did that have on your overall mentality? Did you ever have doubts about being able to pitch while staying healthy?

Injuries have taught me not to take the game for granted. My career could have — and probably should have — ended with my shoulder surgery. The process was difficult; I would ask “why me?”. But I kept my faith and worked through the process, knowing that light was at the end of the tunnel. There are times I overreact even to this day when I have arm tenderness, because I always assume the worst. But mentally and physically, I feel healthy and believe those injuries are in the past now.

5.) Once you were finally 100 percent healthy following the first month of the 2014 season, you were lighting up the radar gun in a way that you never had before. Hitting 100 consistently with your fastball, what do you attribute to you being able to throw faster than ever after being given a low chance of ever reaching high velocity again?

I think a lot of it had to do with the rehab process. My trainers put a program together to strengthen my arm. I’ve continued doing those exercises daily, and I take pride in my work ethic. There are always places to improve an individual’s game. For me, I strengthened my lower half, increased core exercises and continued shoulder rehab.

6.) You were selected to participate in the Arizona Fall League this past year. What did you work on most over your time spent out there? What did you take away from pitching against some of baseball’s best hitting prospects?

I really worked on my secondary pitches out there. When a good hitter is sitting fastball they’ll be able to hit it regardless of velocity. So with throwing my slider more often and showing it for strikes it takes people off my heater. I was humbled out there giving up some hits, and I held my own as well. But playing against some of the games best prospects is a privilege.

7.) Talk a little bit about life on the road: What’s the most difficult aspect of it? What do you do to pass the time?

Life on the road is difficult at times. I enjoy hunting, so it’s hard missing archery, but being around guys your own age with similar interests is enjoyable. We’ll play cards, usually watch almost every sporting event when it’s on TV, and play video games. Sometimes I feel like I’m still a kid, blessed to be able to continue playing the same game I’ve been since I was a kid.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2015? What are your goals for 2016?

This past season was a tough year for me. I got hurt early, tried my hand as a starting pitcher (which didn’t go well) and by the time I was back in the pen and throwing again I questioned my own abilities. I got to the point of being afraid of contact. I tried throwing my best pitch, every pitch, and it would make my mechanics difficult to repeat. I ended the year with a better ERA than 2014, but my WHIP was higher. So I was able to improve on stranding runners in situations I had to, and I was able to get strikeouts in key situations, like runners in scoring position with less than two outs.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

I like ‘Gotham’ right now. My favorite TV series was ‘Sons of Anarchy’, and I enjoyed ‘Band of Brothers’. I have a very deep appreciation for our military. It amazes me what they can do. And there’s nothing like deer back straps. I think everyone should experience venison.

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

I think the best advice I can give is what my father told me: Work for what you want. You can’t just wish for something to happen. If you want to be successful in anything, it starts with a strong work ethic; commit to something and do it with 100 percent conviction. Also, believe in yourself. I wasn’t always a starter; I sat at times in little league; I didn’t make every team I tried out for; I didn’t always throw the hardest. Just keep your goals in mind and work towards them daily.

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Big thanks to Ray Black for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @rayblack37

2016 Top 100 Prospects List

Over the past couple of weeks, MLB.com has been unveiling the top ten prospects list at each position heading into the 2016 season. If you take the time to briefly browse the list, you’ll see that there are tons of talented players who will be making an impact in the big leagues within a year or two. However, it’s the top 100 prospects list officially released on Friday night that gives baseball fans a true glimpse at the players most worth keeping a close eye on heading into this year.Prospect

Of the top 10 prospects in all of baseball for the start of the 2015 season, eight of them made it to the majors and made big impacts for their respective clubs, with Carlos Correa (the number three ranked prospect in 2015) and Kris Bryant (number two) winning the Rookie of the Year awards. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to the prospect lists to get an idea of which players are going to make your favorite team better upon arrival in 2016.

I’m not sure what it is about prospects that intrigues me so much, but I absolutely love studying over, and basically memorizing, the top 100 prospects list — the stars of tomorrow. I didn’t really get into it until 2012, as that’s when I began to get serious about autograph collecting, and I had to keep up with the prospects to know when a particularly talented player was coming to town. I suppose that’s why I love it so much, as I can’t get autographs from MLB players all that often — living 250 miles from the nearest MLB team — so I have to get them on their way up.

In this blog post, I’m going to tackle the prospects list in chunks (10 prospects at a time), but I’m not going to be talking about them all. That would take far too long; and besides, not every player of the top 100 is going to make an impact at the major league level in 2016. Therefore, I’m only going to cover the prospects who will likely make it to the big leagues this year, including those who don’t make it out of Spring Training but have a chance of a call up later in the season.

Keep in mind, I’m by no means guaranteeing the players I discuss below will make the major leagues this year (they could get delayed for whatever reason). In addition, there might end up being a few players I don’t mention that end up making it to the big leagues this season. I’m merely giving my own personal opinions as to which players I feel will make it to the bigs in 2016. With that said, let the debating begin:

Prospects 100-91

Matt Olson (100), Roman Quinn (99), Reese McGuire (98), Jorge Polanco (97),

Jorge Alfaro (96), Frankie Montas (95), Alex Jackson (94), Bobby Bradley (93),

Hunter Renfroe (92) and Nick Gordon (91).

Of all the players from 100 through 91, Matt Olson is the one who has the most overall potential in my mind, and is also the one with the biggest chance at a big league impact in 2016. He has a ton of power, and would be an added benefit to the Athletics at any point he were to be called up this season. Likewise, Jorge Polanco, who has already made his MLB debut, will likely get even more time at the big league level in 2016.

Those two are the only ones who I see as having any sort of big league impact in 2016, but I could see Hunter Renfroe being a September call up for the Padres, as could Frankie Montas for the Dodgers, who made his MLB debut in 2015.

Prospects 90-81

Forrest Wall (90), Kolby Allard (89), Billy McKinney (88), Gavin Cecchini (37),

Albert Almora (86), Hunter Harvey (85), Cornelius Randolph (84), Trent Clark (83),

Christian Arroyo (82) and Willy Adames (81).

Gavin Cecchini is the only player of these ten who I see as having any shot at all of a late season major league call up, but I feel it will be 2017 before he makes any sort of impact. For the other nine players, their time will likely arrive in 2017 and beyond. But the wait will be well worth it. Each of these players has the potential to be major stars at the next level for many years to come.

Prospects 80-71

Jack Flaherty (80), Amed Rosario (79), Erick Fedde (78), Duane Underwood (77),

Ian Happ (76), Daz Cameron (75), Kyle Tucker (74), Luis Ortiz (73),

Archie Bradley (72) and Jose Peraza (71).

There is a ton of young talent in this group of prospects, but only a couple of them stand any shot at making an impact at the big league level in 2016. Archie Bradley has reportedly been throwing better than ever this offseason, but last year was somewhat of a disappointment for him. Although he improved upon his disastrous 2014 season, Bradley wasn’t able to breakout as the star many feel he can be. Look for that to change this year. Jose Peraza is the other player who will spend the majority of his season in the big leagues. After being traded twice so far in his young career, Peraza will be looking to make a home in Cincinnati.

Prospects 70-61

Mark Appel (70), Amir Garrett (69), Sean Manaea (68), Braden Shipley (67),

Cody Reed (66), Kyle Zimmer (65), Nick Williams (64), Victor Robles (63),

Grant Holmes (62) and Josh Hader (61).

Former number one overall draft pick Mark Appel has yet to post any sort of above average numbers in his minor league career, but he will likely be given a chance to show if he can break through in 2016. If he gets off to a good start, expect him to spend the majority of the season in Philadelphia with the major league club.

Sean Manaea (a strikeout machine), Braden Shipley, Cody Reed and Kyle Zimmer all could see big league call ups at varying points during the season, and they all will bring a ton of talent to their clubs. In addition, Nick Williams and Josh Hader may also see time at the majors towards the latter part of the year, so this is a pretty loaded group.

Prospects 60-51

Tyler Jay (60), Gary Sanchez (59), Javier Guerra (58), Jorge Lopez (57),

Aaron Blair (56), Jake Thompson (55), Jameson Taillon (54), Michael Fulmer (53),

Jeff Hoffman (52) and Dominic Smith (51).

Gary Sachez has been on my radar for quite awhile, but look for him to make a big time impression on all of the baseball world in 2016. Sanchez is a power hitting catcher who looks like the real deal, if only the Yankees can figure out the situation with him and Brian McCann. Jorge Lopez saw time in the majors in 2015, and Aaron Blair, Jake Thompson, Jameson Taillon and Michael Fulmer all stand a shot at doing the same in 2016.

Prospects 50-41

Willson Contreras (50), Josh Bell (49), Ryan McMahon (48), Tim Anderson (47),

David Dahl (46), Manuel Margot (45), Max Kepler (44), Brent Honeywell (43),

Anthony Alford (42) and Francis Martes (41).

Josh Bell had a good minor league showing in 2015, and likely will have a chance at the big league level in 2016. He is a part of a long list of Pirates prospects who look to finally get the Pirates past the Wild Card game in the postseason in the near future. Other than him, Max Kepler could wind up playing a big role for the Twins in 2016, with Tim Anderson possibly getting a bit of time in the majors towards the end of the season.

Prospects 40-31

A.J. Reed (40), Anderson Espinoza (39), Carson Fulmer (38), Raul Mondesi (37),

Dillon Tate (36), Robert Stephenson (35), Jesse Winker (34), Jon Gray (33),

Brett Phillips (32) and Aaron Judge (31).

A.J. Reed had an unbelievable season in the minors in 2015, hitting .340 with 34 homers. I expect him to join a talented Astros club fairly quickly and give them even more added pop after having a successful year in 2015. Carson Fulmer is another player who could make a big league debut in 2016, with the remaining prospects from Raul Mondesi to Aaron Judge likely to spend a good bit of time in the majors this season as well. They all have the ability to post unbelievable numbers once they arrive for good.

Prospects 30-21

Jorge Mateo (30), Ozhaino Albies (29), Gleyber Torres (28), Clint Frazier (27),

Bradley Zimmer (26), Andrew Benintendi (25), Jose De Leon (24), Franklin Barreto (23),

Alex Bregman (22) and Sean Newcomb (21).

After losing Zack Greinke to the Diamondbacks this offseason, the Dodgers are in need of another dominant pitcher to place at the two slot behind Clayton Kershaw. Jose De Leon could wind up being that guy. For that reason, even if he doesn’t begin 2016 with the Dodgers, I expect him to get there fairly quickly. Other than De Leon, I don’t see any player making a major league impact in 2016, with the exception of Sean Newcomb who is a very special pitcher who could help the Braves at some point down the road this year.

Prospects 20-11

Austin Meadows (20), Jose Berrios (19), Nomar Mazara (18), Rafael Devers (17),

Lewis Brinson (16), Steven Matz (15), Blake Snell (14), Alex Reyes (13),

Brendan Rodgers (12) and Trea Turner (11).

Jose Berrios had a terrific 2015 season in the minors, but he should spend enough time in the majors this season to post a full seasons worth of great stats. Likewise, Steven Matz and possibly Trea Turner should spend most of their year at the highest level, with each of them already having made their first impressions in 2015.

Of all of the other players, I could easily see Lewis Brinson and Blake Snell being called up at some point during the length of the season. While they may need a little more seasoning in the minors, they should be up before too long.

Prospects 10-1

Tyler Glasnow (10), Joey Gallo (9), Dansby Swanson (8), Yoan Moncada (7),

Orlando Arcia (6), J.P. Crawford (5), Julio Urias (4), Lucas Giolito (3),

Byron Buxton (2) and Corey Seager (1).

Byron Buxton had been the number one overall ranked prospect heading into the 2014 and 2015 seasons, but his streak finally came to an end with this year’s prospect list. This time around, Corey Seager was named the number one prospect in all of baseball, with Buxton winding up as the second best prospect. Even so, both of them are sure to make huge contributions to their major league clubs in 2016.

While Buxton and Seager are likely to be the only two prospects of these ten who begin the year in the big leagues, I expect every player, with the exception of Dansby Swanson and Yoan Moncada, to make it to the majors this year. How much of an impact they make is yet to be seen, but with players as talented as the top ten are, the future of baseball appears to be in good hands.

A Strike Zone Change Would Hurt Baseball

When Major League Baseball first proposed the idea of instant replay to help get the majority of calls correct each season in baseball games around the country, I was all for it. More recently, the somewhat controversial idea of an electronic strike zone in the future to help get balls and strikes correct has me on board as well. But the push to possibly once again change the size of the strike zone has me questioning the plan just a bit. Strike

The idea behind the proposition is that the lower portion of the strike zone be moved up from its current point of below the knee to just above the knee, as it was before the change in 1996 to its current reading of the rule. Although the change wouldn’t likely take place until the 2017 season at the earliest, leaving a lot of time to work things out, I don’t really like the thought of shrinking the strike zone for a number of reasons.

First of all, pitchers who make their living working down in the zone wouldn’t be as effective anymore — the most obvious negative impact of a zone change. All of their lives pitchers have been taught to keep the ball down to limit the amount of solid contact by the hitter, but with the change they’d have to rework their mindset altogether.

On the flip side, hitters would likely see an immediate increase in the number of hittable pitches they receive. By making the pitcher throw the ball a couple of inches higher, the hitter would be able to wait out balls that were formerly called strikes until they received their pitch just a bit higher in the zone. While an inch or two may not seem like a ton, in a game where a centimeter is the difference in a home run and a fly ball to the warning track, it could make a big difference.

But while the hitter would be helped by the change, with pitchers getting the short end of the stick, it would likely be the umpires who are left having to do the most adjusting. For veterans who have been calling pitches right at the knees strikes for years, it would take a lot of time for them to make the change, in my opinion. For me, although human error is part of the game, the larger focus needs to be put on umpires knowing where the strike zone is supposed to be and calling a consistent zone all night long, both up, down, left and right (something that has been a bit of an issue over the history of baseball).

In the end, no matter where you stand on a change in the strike zone, such a change has unavoidable impact. While the move is seemingly to boost offense in baseball that has seen somewhat of a decline in recent years, I feel that offense and pitching performance are right where they need to be. After all, fifteen payers hit 35 or more home runs in 2015, with there being 18 pitchers to strike out 200 batters (including Clayton Kershaw’s 301 K’s). The best of the best players always find a way to post amazing numbers each season, whether they’re a pitcher or hitter.

Decision of Yoenis Cespedes Could Decide the NL East

After watching the majority of above average outfield free agents get plucked off the market over the course of this offseason (the most recent case being Justin Upton, who agreed to a six-year, 132.75 million dollar contract with the Tigers), Yoenis Cespedes is currently in the process of determining his fate for the 2016 season and beyond.Cespedes

Reportedly, the two teams most in the running to nab Cespedes are the New York Mets and the division rival Washington Nationals (though the Yankees have been mentioned as well).

As with every team around baseball, either team would be a better version of itself with Cespedes as part of their everyday lineup in 2016, but in this case I think the choice could wind up being more important than usual. With the Mets and Nationals going back and forth in the division last season, all the way until the latter part of the year, I truly believe that the team that gets Cespedes will be the team that holds the advantage to win the National League East division.

Back on July 31st of last year, the National held a two game lead over the Mets and were seemingly on their way to the postseason as had been expected from Opening Day. But a trade for Yoenis Cespedes by the Mets ultimately gave them what they needed to surpass the Nationals and never look back.

In 57 games with the Mets, Cespedes blasted 17 home runs and drove in 44 runs, all while hitting a cool .287. With Cespedes leading the way, New York wound up taking what was supposed to be an easy division win by the Nats and turning it a complete 180 degrees into a cakewalk division win by the Mets — an outcome that truly stunned many around the baseball world.

Sure, the Mets had a lot go right last season, and the Nationals had almost everything go wrong, but you can’t deny the impact that the lone presence of Cespedes brought to the Mets.

With the Phillies still seemingly lost heading into 2016, NLEastthe Braves working on rebuilding their club and the Marlins being much improved but still likely a third place team at best, the division will inevitably go to either the Nationals or the Mets.

On paper, the two teams are quite even. While I would give the edge to the Mets in terms of pitching staff (with guys like Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard), I would declare the Nationals the better lineup, with tons of pop including the 2015 National League Most Valuable Player, Bryce Harper, who hit 42 home runs and batted .330 a year ago. The difference maker, in my mind, for both teams comes down to one free agent: Yoenis Cespedes.

With the National League East division set to be just as competitive as ever between the Mets and the Nationals, whoever can win the Cespedes sweepstakes (given the reports are correct, and he does end up with one of the two) will hold the upper hand heading into 2016 to win the division. As history has shown since the introduction of the second wild card in 2012, winning the division is extremely important in securing a long playoff run in October.

Five Year Anniversary of ‘The Unbiased MLB Fan’

The older I get, the faster time seems to move. That’s certainly been the case with this blog, as time has truly flown by over its history. With today being January 20, 2016, I’ve officially been blogging for five full years, which equates to roughly a fourth of my life. Never in a million years did I think I would be blogging for this long.

With this being such a landmark date, I figured I would use it to recap some of the highlights of the history of this blog (a walk down blogging memory lane, if you will). I’ll cover every year of existence, but focus primarily on just the past year of writing.

Year one of this blog was fairly rough, if I may be so blunt. My writing was subpar to say the least, and I was merely writing about random things that had little to do with what was going on around the baseball world at the time. But I feel that year was simply a launching pad for what would become a true outlet for my baseball opinions.

In 2012, the first major experience to come out of this blog occured. In July of that year, I received an all-expense paid trip from State Farm to the 2012 MLB Home Run Derby in Kansas City with my grandpa. It was a fantastic time, and will likely be the best thing to ever come out of my time blogging.

The following year, I feel my writing took off in terms of quality. That was the first year I began to focus on conducting thought out interviews with various players from around baseball, as well as the year that my writing as a whole truly improved. While things still aren’t perfect, I feel that my writing has grown tremendously over the course of this blog.

2014 saw me attending the Triple-A Home Run Derby and All-Star game as the highlights of the year, but it was also a good year as a whole. There were a tons of amazing things that occurred around the baseball world, making it a terrific year of blogging — and the one in which I received the most total views. But this past year was a great year as well, and is the time frame that I’ll focus on more specifically.

Back in April, I was lucky enough to be able to attend an exhibition game in Greensboro, NC, between the Grasshoppers and the Miami Marlins. While things didn’t go as planned autograph wise, I was still able to see Giancarlo Stanton hit some absolute bombs during batting practice in person as well as Ichiro Suzuki for what may wind up being the last time. So it was an enjoyable experience, nonetheless.

Once again this past season, I spent dozens of hours out at local minor league ballparks racking up autographs from some of the game’s best up and coming stars. As I’ve done for the past three years, I recapped it all in a post where I discussed each game in detail. That’s always one of the posts that I have the most fun putting together.

Other posts that stand out in my mind from the 2015 baseball and blogging season were the posts I wrote on David Ortiz hitting his 500th homer, Bryce Harper breaking out into a true superstar, and the posts I wrote on the Cubs finally making a playoff push. All signs point towards me having a lot more to write about them all in 2016.

It remains to be seen whether or not I’ll still be blogging long enough to post a six year blogging anniversary post a year from today, but I’m not completely ruling it out. As I’ve stated, I wasn’t even planning on keeping my blog into the new year, but I changed my mind about that. Who knows where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing a full year from now. All I know is that I’m here for this season and I’m going to try to make it a fantastic year of blogging. I hope you all will continue to come along for the ride as you have for the past 1,286 days.

‘The Unbiased MLB Fan’ Fast Facts

  • Total number of words written to this point: 352,713
  • Total number of posts: 554
  • Average number of words per post: 634

 

Blogging Plans As Spring Training Approaches

We still have a few days over a month until pitchers and catchers are set to report to Spring Training on February 18th, but baseball fever is slowly beginning to take hold. While it seems like just yesterday that the Royals shocked the Mets to win the World Series in game five, the fact is that baseball is truly just around the corner.

For that reason, I felt it would be a good time to go over the things that I’ll be blogging about between now and Spring Training.

For starters, on January 20th I’ll be publishing a five-year anniversary post recapping some of the high points of this blog since I began writing it. There will certainly be a lot to go over, as a lot has happened even over just the past year. Then, at some point during the final week of the month, I’m planning to post an interview with Giants’ flame-throwing prospect, Ray Black, as well as a post on the top 100 prospects heading into 2016 when that list is officially produced on MLB.com towards the end of the month.

When February rolls around, there isn’t really anything other than an interview or two and a post on general Spring Training news that I’m planning to blog about. Other than that, everything is up in the air. It’ll all depend on what happens and how significant of baseball news it is.

But while my blogging schedule begins to become uncertain as Spring Training approaches, there’s one thing that’s absolutely certain: Pitchers and Catchers report in just over 30 days. That’s plenty to be excited about.

Q and A With J.P. Crawford

J.P. Crawford was drafted by the Phillies in the 1st round of the 2013 draft, after batting .452 his senior year at Lakewood High SchoolCrawford.

Since the draft, Crawford has made quick work of the minor leagues, thanks to his all around great gameplay that includes fantastic defense at shortstop.

Making it all the way up to Double-A in his second full professional season, Crawford recorded 6 homers and 42 RBI’s in 2015 to go along with a .380 OBP, and could very well make it to the big leagues in the very near future.

Crawford has already played in two futures games and is the bright spot at the top of a loaded Phillies farm system that looks to get them back into contention within the next few years.

J.P. Crawford — the number five prospect in all of baseball — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

I became interested in baseball when I was about 4-5. My older sister was my biggest influence. We would always push each other to do better.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

[Derek] Jeter and [Jimmy] Rollins were my favorites growing up because I played shortstop and my dad told me to watch how they respect the game.

3.) You were drafted by the Phillies in the 1st round of the 2013 draft. What was that moment like for you?

That moment was great. It was a moment I’ll never forget. Hearing your name called by the commissioner, and knowing your life is about to change. That moment really changed my life.

4.) You were selected to play in the Future’s Game in both 2014 and 2015. What was the experience like each time? 

It was such an honor to be there to partake in those events; to play with future all-stars, future hall of famers. It was great.

5.) In 2015, you were promoted to Reading after 21 games due to a superb start of a .392 average. Following your promotion, what kind of adjustments did you find yourself having to make with the transition to Double-A?

In AA, the main thing was just staying with your plan, and not trying to do too much. [Also], the pitchers knew how to pitch a lot better.

6.) With the Phillies having struggled for the past few years, how confident are you that the crop of talent (yourself included) making their way towards the big leagues will help transform the Phillies back into a competitive club?

I think we’re going to make a huge impact in a couple years if all this goes as planned. We have a great group of guys who are really close and play great team ball.

7.) Striking out a mere 54 times in 430 at-bats last season, what type of approach do you take at the plate that enables you to make contact so consistently over the course of any given season?

It’s just staying with my plan. If the pitch is a pitch you don’t wanna hit, then I take it. With two strikes, [I] shorten up and put it in play.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2015? What are your goals for 2016?

I think everything went well last year just fell one game short [of the Championship]. But next year [my goals are] to just stay consistent and healthy, and whatever level I reach I’ll be happy and ready to help my team win.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

The ‘Walking Dead’; my dad’s BBQ.

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

My advice would be to want to win — but have fun doing it!

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Big thanks to J.P. Crawford for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @jp_crawford

Griffey & Piazza Elected to Hall of Fame

After a 2015 Hall of Fame class that saw four great players getting elected, many people around the baseball world spent the past year speculating as to which players would receive the necessary 75 percent of the vote to receive induction into the Hall of Fame the next time around. On Wednesday, the long wait was finally over, as it was announced that Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza had officially been elected as the 2016 Major League Baseball Hall of Fame class.

Hall of Fame

Ken Griffey Jr. received 99.3 percent of the total vote, good for the highest election percentage ever for any player in Hall of Fame history, passing Tom Seaver who held the previous record of 98.84 percent back in 1992. Many thought that Griffey’s 2,781 career hits, 630 home runs and 1,836 RBI’s would have been enough to earn him the honor of being the first unanimously elected Hall of Famer in history, but somehow 3 of the 440 voters found a reason not to cast a vote for him. Not many people can wrap their heads around the fact that three people somehow chose to not vote for Griffey Jr., but it is what it is. He was elected — that’s all that matters.

Mike Piazza was the only other player elected, with him receiving 83 percent of the vote. I’ve always felt that Piazza was worthy of the Hall, but it took him a total of four times on the ballot for him to finally break through. He is somewhat of a controversial pick, with him not having the best stats, but the voters decided that he was a Hall of Fame player, making the jump up from 69.9 percent just a year ago. One of the best catchers of all time, Piazza recorded 2,127 hits, 1,335 RBI’s and 427 homers over the course of his career. As a 62nd round pick, Piazza goes to show that any player who has the talent and puts in the work has the potential to put up an amazing career no matter where they’re drafted.

Players I selected as part of my unofficial ballot who didn’t receive a nod from the voters include Tim Raines and Trevor Hoffman, who I viewed as worthy but still didn’t make it in. But despite the fact that they didn’t make it in once again, Raines saw a big jump up from 55 percent in 2015 all the way up to 69.8 percent this year. With him heading into his final year of eligibility in 2017, it remains to be seen if Raines will be elected. However, receiving 67.3 percent of the vote this year in his first time on the ballot, Trevor Hoffman will likely be elected in within the next year or two (as will Jeff Bagwell, who came within 15 votes in 2016).

But there are a number of players who will likely never make it into the Hall. Other than the thirteen players who will be knocked off the ballot heading into next year due to receiving less than the five percent needed — Jim Edmonds and Nomar Garciaparra being the most notable — there are several players who don’t seem to be headed to the Hall anytime soon.

Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens — the big three most connected to PED use who would all be slam dunks otherwise — received just 12.3, 44.3 and 45.2 percent, respectively, meaning the end of the road for McGwire who was in his final year on the ballot. Clemens’ 45.2 percent of the vote put him closest to making it into the Hall of Fame this year, but he would’ve needed 131 people to change their vote for him. I simply don’t see that happening, with the same holding true for every other player on the ballot with fewer percentage points than him this year.

It’ll be interesting to see which players make it into the Hall of Fame in 2017.

2016 Hall of Fame Ballot: If I Had a Vote

Each and every year there arises a major debate around the baseball world as to which players are deserving of induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. While certain players from any given year are no doubt picks, sparking little argument as to whether their career numbers are worthy of election, others players have rather borderline statistics, making things very controversial. This year was no different.

The 2016 Hall of Fame ballot has 32 players on it, with 15 of them being in their first time on the ballot. After reviewing the ballot numerous times, I gave each and every player careful consideration, but in the end I wound up placing only four on my ballot. Here are the four players I feel should make it into the Hall of Fame in 2016 (not necessarily the players I think will get elected) when the official announcement is made on Wednesday:

The first player on my ballot is Mike Piazza.

New York Mets - 2003 Season File Photos

Mike Piazza is facing his fourth time around on the Hall of Fame ballot, but after making the jump up to 69.9 percent of the vote last time around (75 percent is needed for induction), I think Piazza will finally make it in this year. In my mind, Piazza is hands down a Hall of Famer. While he doesn’t have the most impressive statistics (2,127 hits, 1,335 RBI’s and 427 home runs) in baseball history by a long shot, when you compare his numbers against the greatest catchers of all time — many of which are already in Cooperstown — Piazza is right there with the best of them.

Next, I have Tim Raines.

Raines

I’m not sure Tim Raines will ever make it into the Hall of Fame, but I have him on my ballot. There are a number of people who understandably don’t see him as worthy, with him only receiving 55 percent of the voters approval last year, but I think he did enough to make it in. Raines sits fifth all-time on the stolen base list, with the four players ahead of him each holding a spot in Cooperstown. Having blasted just 170 home runs in his career, Raines doesn’t jump off the page as a Hall of Famer, but it’s his 808 stolen bases combined with his 2,605 total hits that make him worthy.

Of the first time appearance players, the first one on my list is Ken Griffey Jr.

Griffey Jr.

This is by far the easiest selection of the entire 2016 Hall of Fame class. There is absolutely no way that Ken Griffey Jr. doesn’t get into the Hall his first go around. Although there are a number of people who are speculating the notion that Griffey Jr. could possibly become the first player to ever received a unanimous election, I don’t see that happening. There are always a few holdouts who refuse to vote for a player their first time on the ballot for a number of crazy reasons. Even so, Griffey’s 630 career home runs, 1,836 RBI’s and 2,781 hits will inevitably see him making an acceptance speech in July.

The final player on my ballot is Trevor Hoffman.

Hoffman

Picking Trevor Hoffman on my ballot is likely the most controversial pick. In my mind, he is a no doubt Hall of Fame player, but there are a number of people who don’t feel that he is worthy — especially his first time on the ballot. But there is one stat that makes him worth the selection: 601 career saves. Hoffman’s 2.87 ERA doesn’t make him a Hall of Famer, given he was a reliever, and he only struck out 1,133 batters over 1,089.1 career innings. But only Mariano Rivera (another future Hall of Fame closer) has more saves than Hoffman. Trevor Hoffman was simply one of the all time best at what he did, and he deserves enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.

Unfortunately, even with all of the great players on the ballot this year, I had to leave off the remaining 28 players, including a large number of the really good players from the ballot, including Jeff Kent, Gary Sheffield, Fred McGriff, Edgar Martinez, Larry Walker, Curt Schilling, Lee Smith and Billy Wagner — all of which have good arguments for induction into the Hall.

In addition, I’ve excluded Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Rogers Clemens, among others traced to PED’s, not based solely on their PED use, but merely because I don’t feel they should get in this time around. Not yet; maybe not even at all. I haven’t fully decided how I feel. The Hall of Fame is an exclusive club, and I’m not sure I’ll ever feel that PED players are deserving of induction.

Though you may disagree with some of the players I feel are Hall of Fame worthy and with some of the players I left off my ballot, it’s just the way I feel. Now, I want to hear from you. Of the players on the 2016 ballot, who do you want to see get inducted in July? Cast your vote below for the number of players from the 2016 ballot that you would vote into the Hall of Fame, and feel free to leave your thoughts below.

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