Around a month ago, I blogged about the through the mail (TTM) autograph requests I was planning to send off to players during Spring Training. At the end of the post, I stated that I was going to be publishing a blog post every time I received back a few autographs, and now that I’ve successfully gotten back some of the requests I sent, I figured I’d go ahead and type this entry up. Of the fourteen total TTM requests I sent off, I’ve received four of them back, with them being from:
KYLE ZIMMER — ROYALS’ ORGANIZATION
Kyle Zimmer is the number 25 overall prospect in all of baseball. Although he didn’t have a fantastic 2013 season, going 6-9 with a 4.32 ERA, Zimmer has a ton of upside moving forward, and has many people excited for Kansas City’s future. With a fantastic fastball, in addition to an arsenal of a curveball, slider and changeup, Zimmer could, potentially, see his first big league time at some point towards the end of this season.
ALBERT ALMORA — CUBS’ ORGANIZATION
Albert Almora is the number 18 overall prospect in all of baseball. Though he played in just 61 games last season, Almora is one of the Cubs’ highly coveted core prospects — consisting of Kris Bryan, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, etc. — that are making their way to Wrigley Field. Almora is still several years away from the major leagues, but by batting .329 last year, hopes are high that he will develop into the talented outfielder that he has the ability to become.
CLAYTON KERSHAW — LOS ANGELES DODGERS
This one doesn’t need too much explaining. Clayton Kershaw has become one of the biggest superstars over the course of the past few seasons, winning two Cy Young awards in that time frame. Going 16-9 with a 1.83 ERA in 2013, Kershaw should continue to be, arguably, the most dominant pitcher in all of Major League Baseball. He’s set to get his first start of the season on March 22nd, in game one of the Opening Series against the Diamondbacks down in Australia.
EDDIE BUTLER — ROCKIES’ ORGANIZATION
Eddie Butler is the number 41 overall prospect in all of baseball. Pitching in the 2013 MLB futures game up in New York City, in July, Butler went a combined 9-5 with a 1.80 ERA last season, really putting himself on the map around the league. He held opponents’ batting average to a mere .180 for the entire season, and combined with other top Rockies pitching prospect, Jonathan Gray, the Rockies have a fairly good pair of young arms coming their way in the next couple of years.
I still have autograph requests out for Archie Bradley, Taijuan Walker, David Robertson, Mark Appel, Cody Asche, Kris Bryant, Kolten Wong, Mike Napoli, Jake Marisnick and James Paxton. When/if I get any of those back, assuming it’s before Opening Day on March 31st, I’ll be sure to post another update. Though, there’s no guarantee I’ll get any more back at all.
For the third season in a row, I’m making predictions (you should too) as to how I feel each Major League Baseball team will fare throughout the coming season. Although I haven’t come close yet to predicting the exact finishing order of each division (I picked the Red Sox to finish last in 2013 and they won the World Series), it’s a new year, and with it comes a new chance to luck out and get everything right.
I posted my predictions for the American League a few days ago, and today I’m going to give my predictions for the National League (along with my reasoning), starting with the National League East:
I predicted that the Braves would win their division last season, but I didn’t see them doing so in such massive fashion. This season, I have them finishing first again, but not by nearly as much. They lost their All-Star catcher, Brian McCann, but top prospect, Christian Bethancourt, should do a good job of filling that role once he arrives at some point this season. Admittedly, they have several players — Dan Uggla, B.J. Upton, etc. — who need to bounce back this year, but having finished so high in 2013 even with those players doing poorly, if those players can be healthy, the Braves should be really good; with Andrelton Simmons and Freddie Freeman being better than ever. Their bullpen, topped of by one of the best closers in the game, Craig Kimbrel, is good, as is their starting pitching, with Mike Minor and Julio Teheran. Everything put together, they should win the NL east.
The Nationals are the only team in the division that I see as having a legitimate shot at beating out the Braves for the division title, but I just don’t think it will happen. Despite the addition of Doug Fister this past offseason to an already fantastic starting rotation of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, making their pitching staff one of the best in the division, to go along with a good bullpen, their overall lineup isn’t really that great. The Nationals have a good leadoff hitter in Denard Span, as well as showstoppers Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, who are predicted to have great seasons, but I simply don’t feel they will be consistent enough as a whole to get the job done night after night. If their offense can produce on a regular basis, they could, potentially, win the NL East, but I still have them coming in second.
As far as the Phillies go, they’ll be a much better team than they were last season, but I just can’t envision them beating out the Nationals or the Braves for either the first or second spot. Although they should have Ryan Howard back to his old self, after a couple of injury plagued seasons, as well as their All-Star second baseman, Chase Utley, those players alone won’t get the job done. They lost Roy Halladay to retirement, and that will definitely impact their starting rotation depth, however, the pickup of A.J. Burnett will do a good job of filling that hole in the starting staff. The Phillies are a relatively old team, with a lot of veterans, but they also have some young talent that will help them out this season. If young stars Ben Revere, Darin Ruf and Cody Asche can have good seasons, the Phillies should be competitive again this year, coming up just short of the postseason.
The Marlins are another team that will be better this season than the previous year, however, they aren’t even close to having all the pieces they need to make a run at the top of the NL East division. They have a fantastic pitching ace, Jose Fernandez, a great power hitting slugger, Giancarlo Stanton, as well as an underrated closer, Steve Cishek, but their team doesn’t really extend beyond that. The acquisition of Jarrod Saltalamacchia from the Red Sox will be an improvement for them behind the plate, but the Marlins didn’t do much more than that to improve their team this offseason. Their future lies with all of the young talent they currently have at the big league level — Christian Yelich, Jake Marisnick, etc. – and the talent they have on the way over the course of the next few seasons from the minor leagues. Until then, the Marlins will have to settle for fourth.
Despite the few good winning streaks that the Mets had last season, I expect them to fall back down a bit in 2014. One of the biggest reasons for their success in 2013 was Matt Harvey, who they’ll be without for the entire season. Although they have a decent starting rotation regardless, in Zach Wheeler, Dillon Gee, Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon, who they picked up from the Athletics this offseason, it still won’t be enough to finish any better than last, in my opinion. By far, their biggest addition of the winter was Curtis Granderson from the Yankees, as he should provide the Mets with some much needed power. Combined with the always consistent David Wright, Chris Young and Eric Young Jr., the Mets could very well go on some runs again this season. But with a lot of their players being question marks for how they’ll perform, last place will be where the Mets wind up.
After making it to the World Series in 2013, losing to the Red Sox, I look for the Cardinals to have another fantastic season, winning the NL Central division for the second straight year. They have a great rotation of Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, and Shelby Miller, among others, as well as a power throwing closer, Trevor Rosenthal. The Cardinals’ lineup is just as excellent, ranging from a great defensive and hitting catcher, Yadier Molina, who’s a great leader of their pitching staff, to an infield of Matt Adams, Kolten Wong, and newly signed Jhonny Peralta. Although they lost their above average third baseman, David Freese, Matt Carpenter should do a great job in his place, as he had a breakout season last year. Keeping with the theme, the Cards also have a great outfield which contributes both with their bats and their gloves. There are truly no weak spot for the entire team.
Competition for the second place spot in the division will be between the Reds and the Pirates, but I think the Reds will have the overall better team and will be able to overtake the Pirates. They have a great lineup of Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier, among many others, with the speedy Billy Hamilton being their biggest make or break piece this season. With the loss of Shin-Soo Choo, the Reds need Hamilton to produce from the leadoff spot. He can be a major difference maker in a ballgame, but there’s still concern with how often he’ll be able to get on base. As far as their pitching goes, it’s arguably the second best rotation after the Cardinals in the entire division. With Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto and Tony Cingrani, to go along with a strong bullpen and missle throwing closer, Aroldis Chapman, the Reds should have a really good team.
Making the playoffs for the first time in 20 years, the Pirates brought a ton of attention to themselves last season. And therefore, I’m sure many people are placing them better than third, but I can’t bring myself to. Both the Reds and Cardinals have a better starting rotation, though the Pirates still have a good one, with Gerrit Cole, Jeff Locke, and Francisco Liriano, who broke out last season. Their bullpen is more of the same, being good but not great, although they did have some good relief appearances in 2013. What it will come down to is how well the Pirates’ offense does, and how consistent each player on the team will be. As always, it’s a given that Andrew McCutchen will be fantastic, as will Pedro Alvarez. But Neil Walker, Russell Martin and Starling Marte will each have to have a breakout year for the Pirates to place any better than where I have them.
The Brewers are an interesting club, as they had a playoff contending team just a few years ago, but now don’t really have all that many star players remaining. Ryan Braun is by far their best player, and coming of a PED suspension to end last season, you have to figure he’ll produce a great season again, having something to prove to many people around the baseball world. Besides Braun, the Brewers have veteran Aramis Ramirez, who can be somewhat of an impact player, as well as Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez, who both had breakout seasons in 2013. But the Brewers’ pitching isn’t all that great, with Yovani Gallardo needing to have a good year, as well as Matt Garza and their entire bullpen being average at best. Meaning, despite any record breaking runs or major breakout seasons, the Brewers are destined to finish next to last, at best.
As with the Astros of the American League, the Cubs are a team that’s accustomed to bad seasons, not having won a World Series title in 106 years. The Cubs have an average pitching staff, with Travis Wood, Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson being the strong points. For their lineup, Anthony Rizzo is their best player, with Starling Castro, Brett Jackson and Michael Olt all having star potential, but they need to prove their abilities in the coming season. With a last place season likely on the way, all the Cubs can do is look down the road, when they have numerous prospects coming that will have a major impact on their team. Kris Bryant, who has absurd power, Albert Almora, C.J. Edwards and Jorge Soler will all be arriving to the big leagues over the next few seasons, and once they arrive, the Cubs could begin making some noise in the division.
The Dodgers have a team similar to the one the Tigers have in the American League. If they don’t win their division, then something went horribly wrong. With one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball, made up of a 1-2-3 of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, the Dodgers should be a lot better than any other team in their division. Their great pitching continues into the bullpen, where they have some great relief options, including the always entertaining Brian Wilson as their closer. When it comes to the Dodgers’ lineup, it’s also one of the best. With a great defensive infield of Juan Uribe, Hanley Ramirez, Dee Gordon and Adrian Gonzalez, combined with a great defensive outfield of Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig, with Matt Kemp coming along at some point later in the season, the Dodgers have no weak spots on their team.
After making a lot of key moves this offseason, the Diamondbacks look to be a very good team heading into the season; possibly being the only team that could, potentially, put some pressure on the Dodgers. They picked up a veteran starting pitcher, Bronson Arroyo, to add to their already good rotation of Patrick Corbin, Trevor Cahill, etc., with the possibility that Archie Bradley plays some sort of role this season. With a decent bullpen to go along with their rotation, including newly acquired closer, Addison Russell, who will be an impact player, the D-backs have their pitching in pretty good shape. And their lineup isn’t all that bad either. Although they’re not terribly strong at some positions, they have their All-Star first baseman, Paul Goldschmidt, who is sure to post stellar numbers, as well as new pickup, Mark Trumbo. The D-backs should have a decent season.
While the Giants likely won’t place any better than third, with teams such as the Dodgers and Diamondbacks in the division, they should still be a really good team regardless. They have the best starting rotation in the division behind the Dodgers, with players such as Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, newcomer Tommy Hanson, and Tim Lincecum, who needs to turn things around this year after a couple of poor seasons. Their bullpen, however, isn’t all that fantastic, with their closer, Sergio Romo, being the only standout. But they have a fairly good lineup, especially with the pickup of Michael Morse, who will provide them some power. Their catcher, Buster Posey, will be amazing as usual, and with an infield of Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Belt, among others, the Giants have a shot at taking on the D-backs if they struggle. But I see them having a middle of the pack finish.
The Padres went on a good run last season, and I feel they will have a fairly decent run this year, but it won’t be enough to get them very far in the standings. Though the pickup of Josh Johnson will help out their starting rotation a bit, adding him to an already decent rotation that includes Andrew Cashner and Ian Kennedy, as well as a good closer in Huston Street, it won’t be quite good enough to overcome the lack of run support the Padres hitters will be providing on a consistent basis. Playing in one of the worst hitters ballparks in all of baseball, the Padres always seem to have a tough time scoring runs, despite the big dimensions aiding their pitchers. The Padres have some decent players, such as Chase Headley, Jed Gyorko and Yonder Alonso, who will certainly contribute their fair share, but it won’t be enough to place any better than fourth.
As with a lot of teams throughout baseball, the Rockies did several great things this offseason to improve their ball club, but they’ll still likely finish in last place, yet again. They have a couple of pitchers, in Rex Brothers and Juan Nicasio, who broke out in 2013, but there’s no guarantee that they can repeat that success, and the remainder of their pitching isn’t too good. That includes the Rockies’ bullpen, where there aren’t a lot of bright spots to speak of. But their lineup isn’t all that terrible. They have a great power hitting catcher in Wilin Rosario, a decent outfield with standout Carlos Gonzalez, as well as an all around great infield of Nolan Arenado, Troy Tulowitzki and Justin Morneau, who are all great both offensively and defensively. All of that will make the Rockies a team worth watching, but with pretty much no pitching, the Rockies will find themselves at the bottom.
Leave a comment below with whether or not you agree with my predictions.
For the third season in a row, I’m making predictions (you should too) as to how I feel each Major League Baseball team will fare throughout the coming season. Although I haven’t come close yet to predicting the exact finishing order of each division (I picked the Red Sox to finish last in 2013 and they won the World Series), it’s a new year, and with it comes a new chance to luck out and get everything right.
I’ll be posting my predictions for the National League in the next few days, but for now, I’m going to give my predictions for the American League (along with my reasoning), starting with the American League East:
1. Red Sox
5. Blue Jays
Originally, I had the Yankees winning the division, but the more I thought about it the more I second-guessed the choice. The Red Sox are far too good of a team to ignore, and should have just enough to beat out every other team in the American League East. What really puts them over the Yankees when it comes to deciding first and second place is their pitching depth. Not just their starting rotation, but their bullpen as well. From Jon Lester, Jake Peavy and John Lackey, to a top of the line closer in Koji Uehara, there is a ton of talent to keep the opposing teams from scoring runs. As far as their own lineup goes, it’s one of the best in the division, with a good mix of veterans — David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, A.J. Pierzynski — as well as young future stars — Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Will Middlebrooks. And therefore, they should be able to win the division, yet again.
The Yankees did a lot of things right this past offseason, and I really feel confident in them for the coming year, but I can’t quite see them placing first. They lost their All-Star closer, Mariano Rivera, and didn’t really address that by signing another closer to take his place. On the topic of pitching, their starting pitching improved a bit with the addition of Masahiro Tanaka, but it will take a bounce back year from C.C. Sabathia, and the rest of their rotation, for the Yankees to pitch themselves to a lot of wins. But what they lack in pitching, they more than make up for in their lineup. Newcomers Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann will go a long way in helping the offense score runs. Even without their star second baseman, Robinson Cano, to provide a major power threat, the Yankees still have a chance to go far, in this Derek Jeter’s farewell season.
There were a lot of rumors this offseason that the Rays’ 2012 Cy Young winner, David Price, was going to be traded. But that didn’t happen, which is what will help them barely beat out the Orioles, in my opinion. If Price can return to form, combined with Chris Archer, Matt Moore and the remaining players of their entire pitching staff, including newly acquired Grant Balfour to fill their closer role they lost when Fernando Rodney left, the Rays will be good to go. Their lineup is decent, with Evan Longoria and Wil Myers being the standouts, and with James Loney and Ben Zobrist likely being good yet again, their overall lineup should be good enough to compete. Towards the end of the 2013 season, the Rays went on a run, and if they can do that at the right times throughout this year, they could surprise some people.
The Orioles have the ability to beat out the Rays for third, but I don’t think they’ll be quite good enough to get there. I have them finishing next to last, as despite adding Nelson Cruz to go along with Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Chris Davis as the big impact players in their lineup, they don’t have the best pitching. Signing Ubaldo Jimenez will go a long way in making them a good team if he is able to have a breakout year, but losing their All-Star closer, Jim Johnson, to the Athletics, will hurt them at the end of games, as they have no true replacement for him. If everyone up and down the lineup and all throughout the bullpen can get going, the Orioles could move up the division ranks, and make a push. But I don’t see that happening until their top prospects Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy are full time members sometime next season.
Last season after signing so many impact players in the winter months, many had the Blue Jays making the playoffs, with some going as far as to predict a World Series championship for Toronto. I thought those predictions were a little far fetched, and I predicted a fourth place finish for them, despite having some veteran proven pitchers such as R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle. After they disappointed many by finishing dead last in the AL East last season, I’m putting the Blue Jays last again. They didn’t do a whole lot this offseason, and if anything they got a little worse by losing some players to free agency. It would take a near perfect and injury free season by their star players Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes and Brett Lawrie, as well as perfect years by all of their starting pitchers, for them to compete in their division. To me, that’s an awful lot to ask out of the Jays.
4. White Sox
There’s no reason why the Tigers shouldn’t run away with things in the American League Central. Although they lost one of the biggest bats in the game, Prince Fielder, trading him away for Ian Kinsler, who will play second, freed up their options. Meaning 2012 Triple Crown winner, Miguel Cabrera, will now move back to first, with top prospect, Nick Castellanos, taking over his spot at third base. With Jose Iglesias at shortstop, who could pick up a Gold Glove this season, there really aren’t any holes in their infield, or anywhere in their entire lineup for that matter. And that continues with their pitching staff. The Tigers have a superb starting rotation, with Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez, and strengthened the back end of their bullpen by signing proven closer, Joe Nathan. Everything combined together, the Tigers could have a magical season.
This is finally the year for the Royals, in my mind. They made a strong push towards the end of last season, with their first baseman, Eric Hosmer, beginning to play like many predicted he was capable of, but they came up just short. This season, however, the Royals have enough to finish second if they can get everything to come together. Their starting rotation won’t dominate, but it will do fairly well, from James Shields to rookie Yordano Ventura. They have one of the best, under the radar, closers, Greg Holland, and he should have a great year again. In addition, their consistent players such as Billy Butler and Alex Gordon will continue to perform, but it will take production from players like Norichika Aoki, Omar Infante and Mike Moustakas (he has something to prove this season) for the Royals to make any sort of a deep playoff push.
The Indians made the playoffs last season via the Wild Card, quickly being eliminated, but I don’t see them getting back this year. I have them finishing third, but a down year by the Royals could see them moving up a spot. Their rotation has the potential to be good, with Justin Masterson and Danny Salazar leading the way, but they lost Scott Kazmir, and need Trevor Bauer to finally come through for them more than ever. As far as their lineup goes, it’s pretty good. Yan Gomes will likely be their catcher, with Carlos Santana transitioning to third, and Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Bourn and Jason Kipnis will contribute both offensively and defensively, along with Jason Giambi providing the Indians some pop. Francisco Lindor, their top prospect, could see major league time towards the end of the season, but it likely won’t be enough to push them over the edge.
While the White Sox probably won’t do much this season, finishing next to last in my book, they will have a slightly better season than the one they had last year. Chris Sale, one of the best players on the team, will be the leader of their starting rotation, which is good but no where near great. Another spot where they have a ton of holes is their lineup, however, Jose Abreu is set to be the next big, power hitter out of Cuba, so it will be interesting to see how he does. If he can perform well, along with Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko, who have been known for years for their power, the Sox should have a decent year. One of the biggest things that will hurt them is the loss of their overpowering closer, Addison Reed, who was great at finishing out games for them. With so many question marks and missing pieces, it will take a lot for the White Sox to finish any better than fourth.
I have the Twins finishing last again, but it will likely be the final year for awhile. They have numerous top prospects coming up in the next few years, including Alex Meyer, Trevor May, Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, and those players will definitely have an incredible impact. But with the players they have for this season, they will likely have a subpar year. With a rotation of Scott Diamond, Kyle Gibson, and Phil Hughes, among others, the Twins don’t have a true ace of their pitching staff like a lot of teams do. They also no longer have Justin Morneau at first base, losing him in the second half of last year, and the rest of their infield is a question mark. One of their stronger points is their outfield, with Aaron Hicks and Josh Willingham, as well as newly signed catcher, Kurt Suzuki, but those players alone won’t be enough to win the Twins many games in 2014.
Trading away Ian Kinsler in exchange for Prince Fielder will really go a long way in helping the Rangers beat out the Athletics for the number one spot in the AL West. Adding Fielder to an already great infield of Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar, will give the Rangers their first production from first base since Mark Teixeira left in 2007. The only thing that could hurt the Rangers is their pitching, as Derek Holland will miss the first portion of the season, along with a few other of their key pieces. Yu Darvish will be dominant again, and Tommy Hanson, Martin Perez and Robbie Ross will help a bit, but the loss of their closer, Joe Nathan, will have somewhat of an effect. If newcomer Shin-Soo Choo can produce from the leadoff spot the same as he was able to do in 2013, the Rangers, and several players on their team, could have an amazing year.
As far as the Athletics go, although they’ve won the division the past two seasons and made some fairly good moves this offseason as they seem to always do, they don’t have the lineup threats that the Rangers do. They do, however, have an overall better pitching staff (especially in the bullpen) with young stars Sonny Gray, Jarrod Parker and Dan Straily leading the rotation. A pickup of Scott Kazmir and closer Jim Johnson will have a great impact on their success throughout the coming season, as will Coco Crisp and Eric Sogard, who really broke out in 2013. But it will take great seasons from Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick for the A’s to make a run at beating out the Rangers. With the seasons they’ve been able to put together without any superstars on the team, however, it wouldn’t be all that difficult for the Athletics to surprise me.
The Mariners, with all of the offseason moves they made, could potentially place better than third place, but I’m projecting them to disappoint a lot of people. The biggest signing they made was undeniably the top free agent of the offseason, Robinson Cano, for the next ten years. He will go a long way in turning the Mariners back around. But other than Cano, and possibly Corey Hart who they signed as well, there’s no major power threat in the lineup. Logan Morrison will add some average hitting, and young players such as Mike Zunino, Kyle Seager and Brad Miller will be decent. The one player that needs to produce is Dustin Ackley, but you never know with him. Their pitching should be excellent, with Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, etc., as well as new closer, Fernando Rodney, but if they don’t produce a ton offensively, it won’t do them much good.
After really disappointed a lot of people last season, the Angels could very well could do so again this year, finishing next to last in my opinion, as they didn’t do a lot to get much better this offseason. Their rotation doesn’t extend much past Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, though they did pick up promising prospect Tyler Skaggs. While Mike Trout is going to be amazingly good, as he has proven he can be, and I feel Albert Pujols will have a bounce back year, Josh Hamilton isn’t really looking all that promising. Also, although they picked up David Freese this offseason, they lost a huge impact bat in Mark Trumbo, and really don’t have any other major impact players to place in their lineup. While they certainly have the pieces to surprise many people this year if everything goes right, I just don’t see it happening for the Angels.
It’s becoming routine for the Astros to finish dead last, and they will likely do so again this season, but on a brighter note, they could possibly finish with fewer than 100 losses, which they haven’t been able to do since 2010. The Astros don’t have any impact players to speak of for their rotation or lineup, but one of their top prospects, George Springer, if called up soon enough, could play a big role in the outfield. Jarred Cosart will likely be their best starting pitcher, with players such as Jose Altuve, Chris Carter and Matt Dominguez making some noise with their bats. However, it won’t be enough to do any better than fifth. But it shouldn’t be long until the Astros are moving up in their division, as they have several fantastic prospects coming up in the next year or two. From Mark Appel to Carlos Correa, the Astros could have a very formidable team in the very near future.
Leave a comment below with whether or not you agree with my predictions.
Normally, I don’t blog about college baseball games that I attend. They simply don’t have the same talent level that comes with a Major League Baseball game – or even a minor league game, for that matter — and it’s not usually worth writing about. But the NC State versus Notre Dame game that my dad and I went to on Saturday was a bit different.
First of all, the projected number one overall 2014 draft pick, Carlos Rodon, was scheduled to make the start for State, and with his previous track record — going 10-3 with a 2.99 ERA last season — Rodon certainly goes a long way in making this year’s NC State team something special. But Rodon isn’t the only standout on the team.
In addition, Trea Turner, who’s predicted to be a top ten pick in the upcoming draft, adds excitement to each and every game, none more so than with his above average speed. With both Rodon and Turner, this year’s State team is a must see.
Which is why I found myself out at the ballpark on Saturday afternoon. I wanted to witness it all for myself before they both leave following this season.
While Carlos Rodon is usually NC State’s Friday starter, as most college aces are, a rainout on Friday forced the game to be made up as part of a double header with visiting Notre Dame on Saturday, with Rodon pitching game one:
Although he hadn’t started off the year too well, going 1-2, I was optimistic that Rodon would turn things around in his first warm start of the season.
And for the most part, I was right.
Rodon appeared to be locked in out of the gate, as he gave up just one hit, and struck out two (one of which was Craig Biggio’s son, Cavan Biggio) through the first two innings. In the third, however, Rodon lost a bit of his composure, allowing three hits, but impressed me with his ability to keep things from getting too out of hand, allowing only one run.
But while Rodon had a great start to the game, he didn’t receive any run support, as State failed to get a man across the plate through the first four innings, due to the equally strong start from Notre Dame’s Sean Fitzgerald. But Fitzgerald finally struggled enough in the fifth to allow a single run, bringing the score to 1-1.
At that point in time, I made my way around from the third base side to the first base side, which is where I spent the rest of the game, just so I could get a glimpse from a different angle of Carlos Rodon . . . . :
. . . . and Trea Turner:
When I first found my way over to that side of the ballpark, I heard of a rumor that Craig Biggio was actually in attendance to watch his son play. But since I never actually saw him, I can’t say for sure that it was true. But I digress. Back to the game.
Both pitchers continued to do well until the sixth, when each allowed two runs to the opposing squad, raising the score to 3 runs apiece. Fitzgerald was replaced after the sixth, but Rodon was left in, which would turn out to be huge for State.
Recording what would be the game winning hit in the eighth, State’s Jake Armstrong proved to be the difference maker, as he singled in Bubby Riley and Trea Turner, whose speed likely aided in his ability to score, making it 5-3, State.
Rodon finished out the game a bit shaky, allowing two hits in the ninth, but promptly got a game ending double play to lock up the fifth complete game of his career:
Rodon received the win, bringing his win-loss record up to 2-2, to go along with a 2.40 ERA on the season, striking out seven and allowing 10 scattered hits on 121 pitches. My overall impression was that Rodon was good, but not overly fantastic in this particular game, but that’s not meant to take anything away from Rodon. He’s a great pitcher, and will undoubtedly be a star in the majors at some point down the road (as will Trea Turner, who went 1-4 on the day).
As you may have inferred, I didn’t try for any autographs at this game as I usually do every time I go to a baseball game, but that’s simply because I’m going to be seeing NC State again next month, when they take on UNC at the newly renovated Durham Bulls Athletic Park on April 15th. Rodon isn’t scheduled to pitch, so I’m hopeful I’ll be able to get him to sign for me, along with Trea Turner. But either way, it’s sure to be a fun time, as always.
Below you’ll find a list of the home run milestones that *should* occur in 2014. I say should because there’s no guarantee that any given player on the list will reach the milestone; they could get injured, have a bad season, or whatever. I’ve made the same type of list the past two seasons, and they have been well-received, so I figured I’d post another one for this season.
You can’t be a pitcher. Although there are some pitchers that can hit home runs, you won’t find any on my list. Reason being is that they’re not everyday players.
You have to have hit at least one home run in the major leagues. There are several dozen players going into 2014 that haven’t hit an MLB home run, but adding them to the below list just didn’t make sense.
You have to be closing in on an even milestone, like 100, 200, 300, etc. I didn’t include anyone that’s a few homers away from number 50, 75, 125, etc. It just didn’t seem necessary.
The list is organized by player name, team, milestone they’re going for, and how many home runs they are from that particular milestone:
2014 Home Run Milestones
Ryan Doumit, Braves — Home Run Number 100 (1 home run away)
Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox — Home Run Number 100 (1 home run away)
Colby Rasmus, Blue Jays — Home Run Number 100 (2 home runs away)
Mark Trumbo, Diamondbacks — Home Run Number 100 (5 home runs away)
Brian Roberts, Yankees — Home Run Number 100 (8 home runs away)
Geovany Soto, Rangers — Home Run Number 100 (9 home runs away)
Pablo Sandoval, Giants — Home Run Number 100 (10 home runs away)
Yadier Molina, Cardinals — Home Run Number 100 (11 home runs away)
Matt Wieters, Orioles — Home Run Number 100 (13 home runs away)
Pedro Alvarez, Pirates — Home Run Number 100 (14 home runs away)
James Loney, Rays — Home Run Number 100 (14 home runs away)
David Murphy, Indians — Home Run Number 100 (14 home runs away)
Jimmy Rollins, Phillies — Home Run Number 200 (1 home run away)
Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays — Home Run Number 200 (5 home runs away)
Josh Hamilton, Angels — Home Run Number 200 (18 home runs away)
Josh Willingham, Twins — Home Run Number 200 (19 home runs away)
Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals — Home Run Number 200 (21 home runs away)
Hanley Ramirez, Dodgers — Home Run Number 200 (22 home runs away)
Brian McCann, Yankees — Home Run Number 200 (24 home runs away)
Prince Fielder, Rangers — Home Run Number 300 (15 home runs away)
Adrian Beltre, Rangers — Home Run Number 400 (24 home runs away)
Miguel Cabrera, Tigers — Home Run Number 400 (35 home runs away)
Albert Pujols, Angels –Home Run Number 500 (8 home runs away)
Spring Training is well underway, and many players are beginning to find their grooves that they hope will carry over into the coming regular season. With just over three weeks until Opening Day, on March 31st, there’s not too much time remaining for players who struggled last season to get things back on track for this year. With that said, some players certainly need to have a good year more than others.
While every player, obviously, wants to have a good, healthy season, there are numerous players who pretty much have to produce a good 2014 for one reason or another — whether it’s personal reasons, statistical reasons, or for team success as a whole. Although there are more players than those in my list below, here are the top ten players (in no particular order) that I feel need to have a really good 2014 season:
1.) Albert Pujols
After recording twelve straight seasons of 30 or more home runs (all but one of which included 100+ RBI’s) Albert Pujols faced the first bit of adversity of his career in 2013. Dealing with a nagging foot injury, Pujols only managed to post 17 home runs and 64 RBI’s, along with a .258 batting average — absolutely terrible by his standards – in 99 games played. With the down year coming as a shock to many people, especially after the acquisition of him led many to predict playoff pushes for the Angels, there will be many eyes on Pujols from his very first at-bat of the season to see if he can bounce back. I personally feel that if Pujols is healthy, the numbers will be there, and he will be a top candidate for American League comeback player of the year, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
2.) Ryan Braun
In January of 2013, a list was made public by the biogenesis clinic in Miami, Florida, connecting numerous players to performance enhancing drugs, including Ryan Braun. After being connected to PED’s back in 2011, the list raised many red flags, but Braun denied any drug use, yet again. But finally, after a 65-game suspension by Major League Baseball, Braun came clean and admitted to having used PED’s, upsetting many people around the league. Therefore, unlike anyone else on my list, Braun (who had a good season, batting .298 with 9 homers and 38 RBI’s in 61 games) needs to have a good 2014 more for his personal image rather than his talent level image. Everyone knows he’s a great player, but it will take some time for fans to get over Braun’s consistent denial of PED use — and a great season would certainly help with that.
3.) Ryan Howard
Battling injuries over the course of the past two seasons, Ryan Howard needs to have a bounce back year for him to once again be considered the major power threat that he once was. Playing in only 80 games in 2013, Howard batted a mere .266 with 11 home runs and 43 RBI’s. Considering the fact that Howard hit 33 home runs just two years prior, making it the sixth 30+ home run season of his career, the Phillies’ former star first baseman really needs to show signs of his former self this season. If Howard can perform anywhere near his previous level by staying healthy and putting many a ball into the outfield seats, not only could he very well win the 2014 National League comeback player of the year award, but the Phillies could have a real shot at having a memorable year.
4.) Derek Jeter
Announcing that 2014 would be his final season playing Major League Baseball last month, Derek Jeter needs to have a good final season to top off an already incredible career. In 2013, Jeter struggled with injury after injury, managing to play in only 17 games, and posting a .190 batting average, to go along with a single homer and 7 runs batted in. After accumulating over 3,300 hits in the big leagues over the course of his career, Jeter doesn’t need to have a good final season to be remembered as one of the best players of all-time — he’s already on that list for many people — but rather to finish out his career in Jeter fashion, going out on top of his game. I truly hope he can have a great 2014 season, and I feel he will do just that.
When David Price won the 2012 American League Cy Young award, recording 20 wins and posting a 2.56 ERA, many (myself included) felt he had a good chance at doing the same again last season. But instead, Price was faced with a midseason injury that caused his numbers to take a tumble. Posting a win-loss record of 10-8 with a 3.33 ERA — not too terrible, but somewhat disappointing for him — Price needs to bounce back in 2014 for both his sake and the sake of the Rays. Price truly can be the key for the Rays, who always seem to be on the brink of playoff baseball every season. With an improved American League East division for the coming year, Price’s season could be the difference maker for if the Rays are able to make the postseason or not.
6.) B.J. Upton
Arguably the biggest disappointment of the 2013 season, batting .184 with just 9 home runs and 26 RBI’s after a 2012 season of 28 homers and 78 runs driven in, B.J. Upton has to have a good season this year for him not to be considered a trade bust by the Braves. The Braves managed to win their division last season by a rather large margin without much production from Upton, and if they can get Upton back to his former self, the Braves could have an even better year. It will be interesting to see how B.J. Upton does in the coming year with so much negative criticism surrounding him from the 2013 season. If he can have another good season, the down year he experience will be a forgotten aspect of the past.
7.) Stephen Strasburg
There are some players that are tagged with a major amount of hype from their first appearance in the big leagues, and Stephen Strasburg is one of them. While he hasn’t disappointed for the most part, going 8-9 with a 3.00 ERA last season, Strasburg also hasn’t managed to blow everyone away and completely dominate like many believe he can. It’s been reported that Strasburg has added a new pitch to his arsenal and is throwing better than ever, and that could mean good things for both him and the Nationals. If Strasburg can find a way to tally even ten more wins than he did this past year, the Nat’s could find themselves in the running for the National League East division title, assuming everything else goes right for the rest of the team.
Having the potential to be an All-Star third baseman season after season, Mike Moustakas has yet to post an exceptional season at the major league level. Batting only .233, with 12 homers and 42 RBI’s last season, Moustakas needs to have a good season this year for him to be seen as the above average player he can be moving forward. The Royals still have several holes in their lineup, but Moustakas performing well each year would go a long way in helping them move back into contention. He’s still fairly young, at just 25 years old, and therefore has time left to live out his former hype, but Moustakas could use a strong statistical season to prove to many that he’s one of the top third baseman in the game of baseball today.
9.) Matt Kemp
Although he’s still not fully healthy, Matt Kemp is already on the radar of many people who think he will have a good 2014 season. The only question mark being his health, playing in only 73 games last year. If healthy, as with many players on this list, the numbers will be there, as Kemp is one of the premier talents in the game today, possessing 40 home run, 40 stolen base ability (coming one home run shy of doing just that in 2011, when he placed second in MVP voting). Although there is great depth in the Dodgers’ current outfield, which includes players such as Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig, if Kemp can show signs that he’s healthy, he will certainly get plenty of playing time in the coming season. He’s too good of a player to count out.
10.) Tim Lincecum
Once a Cy Young caliber pitcher, having won back-to-back awards in 2008 and 2009, Tim Lincecum has really fallen off as of late. Each of the past two seasons, Lincecum has posted an ERA over 4.00, and in addition had losing records. While the win-loss record isn’t the most important thing when evaluating a pitcher’s season, an ERA anywhere above 3.50 usually means they had a disappointing year. But with the talent that Lincecum has shown in the past, I’m not giving up on a turnaround just yet. He just really needs to have a good 2014 season — perhaps more than most of the players on this list — for him to become ‘The Freak’ pitcher he once was considered. I truly hope he can, because when Lincecum is on, he’s one of the most fun pitchers to watch in all of baseball.
There are a few players who need to have a good 2014 season who just barely missed my above list because their stats were slightly too good. One of those being Josh Hamilton, who was a major disappointment after signing with the Angles, but when you check the stats, he actually had a decent year, hitting 21 home runs and driving in 79 runs. Another example of that being Yoenis Cespedes, who had a down year average wise, hitting just .240, but posted 26 homers and 80 RBI’s. Not too bad of a season for most players.
Joining those two on the list of just misses are Giancarlo Stanton, who was injured in 2013 but still managed to hit 24 home runs and amass 62 RBI’s, along with Dan Uggla, whose .179 batting included 22 homers and 55 RBI’s, which really isn’t all that terrible. While all the players listed under the just missed category had down seasons by their standards, they managed to have somewhat decent years as far as the major league average goes. Even so, they could each use a good 2014 season to prove what they’re capable of.
Which player needs to have a good 2014 season the most? Leave a comment below.
We’re quickly approaching the opening-series of the 2014 Major League Baseball season, down in Australia on March 22nd, and so begins the predictions of where each team will finish in the coming year. Most of the time there’s a team or two that comes along and completely throws off your predictions, but that’s what makes it fun.
I’m going to be doing a separate couple of blog posts on my predictions for how I feel each team will fare this season sometime in the next week or two, but for now, I want to hear what you all think. Cast your vote below for which team you feel is most likely to win each division in 2014:
Voting ends on March 22nd.
Cody Asche was drafted by the Phillies in the 4th round of the 2011 draft. Since the draft, Asche has had a good deal of success, flying through the minor leagues — never spending a full season at any one level – and making his Major League Baseball debut in July of 2013.
After somewhat of a disappointing professional baseball debut in 2011, where he batted .192 with 2 home runs and 19 RBI’s in 78 games, Asche began climbing through the ranks at the start of the 2012 season.
In 2012, Asche posted a batting average of .324 with 12 homers and 72 RBI’s, between High-A and Double-A, before finishing out the year in Arizona as a member of the annual Arizona Fall League.
Following the great season, Asche recorded 15 home runs and 68 RBI’s the next year, to go along with a .295 batting average, earning him a callup to the majors after the All-Star break. In 50 games with the Phillies, before the end of the 2013 season, Asche blasted 5 homers and drove in 22 runs, proving why he was able to make it there so quickly.
Heading into what’s going to be Asche’s first full season in the major leagues, Asche should continue to get better and better as he gains experience, and will likely be playing the hot corner in Philadelphia for years to come.
Cody Asche — third baseman for the Phillies — 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 would say really young, around five to six. I loved playing it in the backyard with my brother and my dad. So they have to be the two who influenced me the most.
2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?
Ken Griffey Jr. He was a superstar. He did it all and played the game the right way.
3.) You were drafted by the Phillies in the 4th round of the 2011 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?
It was very stressful. Not knowing what lies ahead can be stressful, especially when you are trying to play a college season. I found out in my kitchen. We had the draft audio on and my mom and dad were with me when my name was called. Initially, thoughts were excitement, and happiness that the process was over.
4.) After getting drafted, you were assigned to Single-A and placed at second base. Having played third base up until that point, you didn’t have a very successful (half) season. However, in 2012, you were moved back to third, and did very well. Having excelled ever since, what is it about third base that makes you more comfortable?
I’m not sure it’s only third that made me feel comfortable. I think it was more just learning the ropes and getting comfortable in pro ball. Hitting wise, success is all about comfort. When you struggle it’s because something doesn’t feel right and you aren’t comfortable. So after the first year I worked on some things to help improve that, and I have been able to do well since.
5.) Your great 2012 season was capped off with an invitation to the Arizona Fall League, where you once again posted good numbers, earning you a spot on the Western Division roster of the Rising Stars game. What was that experience like? What did you take away from it?
The Arizona Fall League was awesome. I was fortunate enough to be a guy that got to play four days a week down there, so I could really work on my game. I definitely credit that time period for setting me up for a good 2013 campaign.
6.) Starting the 2013 season at Triple-A, you made your major league debut in July. What kind of emotions did you experience during your debut?
Emotions were crazy. Trying to hold back tears seeing your parents in the stands for the first time was tough, then playing on top of that made it a little crazy to start. But that is all part of it. I think the phone call I got to make to my parents the day I was called up was the most memorable part of making it up last year.
7.) What’s it like playing under Ryne Sandberg (a baseball Hall of Famer)?
He’s a great person. I think that stands out to me the most. It seems like he sincerely cares about the players, and especially myself. I think all managers have a way of showing that to their players.
8.) What do you feel went well in 2013? What are your goals for 2014?
I think in 2013 I was able to improve a ton. That’s what I really care about, just improving on a daily basis. As far as 2014 is concerned, I would like to be healthy and keep learning and finding my niche on the team so I can contribute to a winner in Philly.
9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?
TV show: Parks and Recreation. Food: Chicken parm.
10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?
Don’t sell yourself short. No matter what position or level you are at, keep faith and confidence in yourself and keep improving. Never lose your own self confidence. ——————————————————————————————————————————————
Big thanks to Cody Asche for taking the time to answer my questions.
You can follow him on Twitter: @cody_smasche
Although Spring Training baseball isn’t as meaningful as the regular season, and despite the fact that most of the stars on the team are removed by the fifth inning, this time of year is exciting, nonetheless, for baseball fans all around the country.
The first regular season games of the year aren’t set to take place for another few weeks, with the opening-series being played in Australia on March 22nd, but even so, today marked the first official professional baseball games of the year.
And therefore, things are finally starting to get going again.
The Phillies, Blue Jays, Pirates, Yankees, Tigers, Braves, Dodgers, D-backs, Athletics, Giants, Reds and Indians all saw action on Wednesday, with the remaining teams playing their first games of the year against another big league organization over the course of the next two days. While things are still fairly early, several players are already looking promising.
One of the biggest question marks for the 2014 season, after a couple of injured years, is Ryan Howard. Once one of the games biggest power threats, Howard hasn’t been himself as of late. But out of the gate so far this spring, including practice games, Howard looks healthy and like he’s seeing the ball really well.
Jose Bautista is another player who has had injuries hurt his stats each of the past two seasons but is looking good to bounce back this year. In his first at-bat of Wednesday’s game, Bautista crushed a ball completely out of the ballpark off the Phillies’ Roberto Hernandez. If the Blue Jays have Bautista going, he could help lead them higher up in the rankings than they finished last year.
As far as teams go, the Athletics look as though they could pick up where they left off in 2013, once their season begins on March 31st. They did extremely well against the Giants in their first matchup of the year, and with the additions they made in the offseason, they should really make some noise in the talented American League West.
It’s far too early to say for sure whether or not these trends will continue, with there still a being ton of baseball left to be played before things begin to count towards the standings. But, as stated earlier, things are looking promising for an exciting 2014 season.
You’ve seen it a hundred times: A player rounds third, heading for home; a strong throw from the outfield beats him to the plate; and the runner finds himself confronted with a catcher blocking his path, leaving him with no other choice but to plow over the catcher in hopes of dislodging the ball and subsequently being called safe. But due to a new rule (rule 7.13) instituted by Major League Baseball on Monday, you may never see that again.
An agreement to form some kind of rule to prevent home plate collisions was formed back in December at the Winter Meetings, however, it wasn’t until Monday that an official rule was released highlighting what will be allowed and what will not in 2014 (and beyond if the rule is successful).
The official rule is as follows:
A runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate). If, in the judgment of the umpire, a runner attempting to score initiates contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate) in such a manner, the umpire shall declare the runner out (even if the player covering home plate loses possession of the ball). In such circumstances, the umpire shall call the ball dead, and all other base runners shall return to the last base touched at the time of the collision.
Rule 7.13 comment: The failure by the runner to make an effort to touch the plate, the runner’s lowering of the shoulder, or the runner’s pushing through with his hands, elbows or arms, would support a determination that the runner deviated from the pathway in order to initiate contact with the catcher in violation of Rule 7.13. If the runner slides into the plate in an appropriate manner, he shall not be adjudged to have violated Rule 7.13. A slide shall be deemed appropriate, in the case of a feet first slide, if the runner’s buttocks and legs should hit the ground before contact with the catcher. In the case of a head first slide, a runner shall be deemed to have slid appropriately if his body should hit the ground before contact with the catcher.
Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the umpire, the catcher without possession of the ball blocks the pathway of the runner, the umpire shall call or signal the runner safe. Notwithstanding the above, it shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 7.13 if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in order to field a throw, and the umpire determines that the catcher could not have fielded the ball without blocking the pathway of the runner and that contact with the runner was unavoidable.
While the rule will take some time to get used to, for both the players and the umpires, for the most part, it’s being accepted around the baseball world. Nearly everyone agrees that the major injury to Buster Posey back in 2011 likely began the discussion for a rule of this nature to be put into place, and Posey’s manager, Bruce Bochy, has been one of the biggest advocators. Not wanting to lose a player of Posey’s magnitude in such a way again, Bochy made the statement in response to the new rule that he’s “all for it”.
However, some people aren’t completely on board, including Brewers’ catcher, Jonathan Lucroy, saying, “I’m a conservative-type guy. I like keeping things the way they are, although I do understand where they’re coming from . . . I understand the importance of [avoiding] concussions. I get it. It’s just really hard to break old habits.”
But the executive director of the MLB Players’ Association, Tony Clark, stands by the new rule. “We believe the new experimental rule allows for the play at the plate to retain its place as one of the most exciting plays in the game while providing an increased level of protection to both the runner and the catcher,” said Clark on Monday. “We will monitor the rule closely this season before discussing with the Commissioner’s Office whether the rule should become permanent.”
For me, I’m not fully for or against the rule. Collision plays at the plate can be extremely exciting, especially when it’s the potential game winning run, but I also don’t like seeing anyone get injured on an avoidable play. Although I feel that catchers have done a fantastic job in the last few years of making an attempt to move out of the base runners path and instead use a swipe tag for the out, this new rule will go a long way in ensuring that a rogue player with an altercation to settle doesn’t get away with going out of their way to knock over a catcher. I’m certainly all for that.