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Numerous Players Exceeding Expectations in 2016

There are certain players around Major League Baseball who you assume are going to have amazing seasons each and every year. Clayton Kershaw is perhaps the best example of that, as he holds the league lead in strikeouts yet again and possesses a mere 1.74 ERA through seven starts in 2016. But that’s nothing new. As stated, it happens every year. However, there are several players around baseball who are posting numbers that no one expected from them.

One of those is Nick Castellanos, who has been on a tear to begin the season. Through his first 34 games, Castellanos is hitting .348, with 8 home runs and 30 RBI’s. Those are the type of numbers you would look to find from Miguel Cabrera at this point of year, but not Castellanos. Although Castellanos is a former first-round draft pick, no one expected him to get off to such an amazing start. Last season, Castellanos hit just .255 with 15 homers and 73 runs Murphbatted in. If he can continue the pace he’s on, Castellanos is set to blow those numbers to pieces when all is said and done in 2016.

Another player who is putting up career numbers to this point is Daniel Murphy. In the playoffs last season with the Mets, Murphy showed signs of greatness, hitting a home run in six straight games, but when the Nationals picked him up this offseason I’m sure they didn’t foresee the type of production he’s giving them. Despite batting below .300 each of the past four years, Murphy is currently batting .400 on the season and has collected 5 home runs and 23 RBI’s to boot. Whether or not he can keep that up is yet to be seen, but it’s certainly been fun to watch to this point.

Likewise, a pair of rookies in the National League have been posting some over the top numbers in their 2016 campaigns to this point. Trevor Story and Aledmys Diaz are both off to hot starts for their respective teams this season, with each far exceeding what was likely expected of them in 2016.

Story would likely still be in Triple-A if Jose Reyes had begun the season with the Rockies. Instead, he got off to a historic start, and has collected 11 homers and 28 RBI’s all while hitting .280. Diaz, however, is performing even better than Story. A career .276 hitter in the minors, Diaz is currently holding a .376 average on the season, with 6 blasts and 20 RBI’s for the Cardinals. Both Diaz and Story should be in the Rookie of the Year running for the National League if they can keep performing as the season goes on.

On the pitching side of things, there are far more players who are having amazing starts to their 2016 season. For that reason, I had to narrow down the list. Since I discussed four hitters, I decided to cut the long list of pitchers down to just four as well — a difficult task to do. For that reason, keep in mind that I left off some of the pitchers who I could’ve included. So if you don’t see a player you feel should be here, that’s probably why.

With all of that said, the number one pitcher who is most exceeding expectations in my mind is Jose Quintana. Although Quintana has been a standout pitcher for the White Sox over the past few seasons, he’s always been the number two behind the Ace Chris Sale. In the minds of many, Sale is still the leader of that staff, but Quintana is actually leading Sale in ERA, with a mere 1.54 compared to Sale’s 1.67. In the end, however, while Sale is still the White HammelSox’s go-to, Quintana is quickly becoming a household name around baseball.

On a Chicago Cubs’ staff that includes the likes of Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, it would be expected that a guy such as Jason Hammel wouldn’t receive the same type of attention as his fellow starters. However, he is far exceeding what was expected out of him in 2016. So far, Hammel has a 1.77 ERA over the course of seven games started for the Cubs, who are off to an amazing start as a team. Never having posted a season ERA below 3.43 in any of his previous ten seasons, Hammel is off to a great start to his campaign. It will be interesting to see if he can keep it up as the season rolls on.

Steven Wright is another pitcher who I feel is exceeding expectations in 2016. I discussed his unbelievable start to the season a few weeks ago, but despite falling off his torrid pace just a bit since that point in time, Wright is still having an unexpected year. With the pickup of David Price this offseason, he was expected to set the pace for the Red Sox’s rotations, but instead it’s Wright’s 2.36 ERA (following a 4.09 ERA last season) that is the best among their starters. As a knuckleball pitcher, you have no guarantee that he can keep up the start to the year, but so far so good for Wright.

The final player on my list of those who are having the most unexpectedly good seasons is Drew Pomeranz. Despite being the number five overall draft pick in 2010, Pomeranz has never truly been the type of pitcher he was originally envisioned to be. This season, however, he is finally showing signs of that type of pitcher. Pomeranz holds a 1.80 ERA through this point in the year, and has posted an 11.48 strikeout-per-nine rate, which is actually third best in all of baseball. With Pomeranz having career numbers, he simply had to make the list of players exceeding expectations in 2016.

So while there are still over 100 games still to be played before the full 2016 season stats are officially locked into the record books, Nick Castellanos, Daniel Murphy, Trevor Story and Aledmys Diaz on the hitting side, as well as Jose Quintana, Steven Wright, Jason Hammel and Drew Pomeranz for the pitchers, are all having seasons that no one could have predicted before things got underway on April 3rd. Although anything can happen in the many games to come, those are the players who I feel deserve the closest attention from now until the final regular season game on October 2nd.

Arenado: The Most Underappreciated Player in MLB

If I asked you to name the best player in Major League Baseball age 25 or younger, your mind would likely immediately turn to Bryce Harper, Mike Trout or Manny Machado, who have all become superstars. And you wouldn’t receive any argument whatsoever from me as to any of those players being the best in the game. It’s all opinion-based, with no one truly being right or wrong. But there is one player who I feel isn’t getting the full recognition he deserves, and that’s Nolan Arenado.

ArenadoArenado is in the highlight reels virtually every single night, and he’s won his share of recognition through awards (three straight Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger last season), but he’s still not being held in the regard that I feel he should be. Arenado is simply one of the best — if not the best — players in the majors today, yet he doesn’t receive the coverage to the same extent of Harper, Trout and Machado.

Mike Trout got off to a somewhat slow start in 2016, but has been turning things around as of late. Following an eight game start to the season where Trout recorded just one homer and batted .185, Trout has now notched seven dingers and is hitting above .300 for the season. He is undoubtedly headed for another MVP-type season, as every one of his years have been to this point. But Nolan Arenado has better numbers.

Bryce Harper, just the opposite of Trout’s season, began things on a blazing pace, but has slowed down recently. Over his last 15 games, Harper is hitting just .167, but has recorded 22 walks, leading to the best on base percentage of the Arenadoplayers listed in this blog post. With his average greatly down this season, it makes you wonder if Harper can get back on track. Even so, Harper is the type of player who can get red hot overnight. But Nolan Arenado has been more consistent.

Manny Machado has been fairly consistent, and in some ways even more consistent than Arenado, all season long, and is having another great year. He has more hits than the other three, subsequently leading the other three in batting average, and is playing great defense at third base — the American League version of Nolan Arenado. But Nolan Arenado has more career Gold Gloves.

Drowned out a bit by the historically hot start of Trevor Story in 2016, and with Arenado playing in Colorado, his accomplishments can be a bit overshadowed at times. Nolan Arenado has just as much power as any player in baseball, plays an unbelievable defensive third base, and is the best overall combination of the talents of Harper, Trout and Machado. He’s going to hit .300 every season, drive in well over 100 runs and hit 40+ home runs. Not many players can post those type of numbers year in and year out.

In the end, it’s hard to compare the four of Harper, Trout, Machado and Arenado, with them all playing different types of games, but I still feel that Arenado is the best of them all, even if it’s not acknowledged quite as often or on the same level as the other three. Arenado has the ability to win the Triple-Crown any given season, and will inevitably be one of the top players in baseball for years to come.

The most overlooked all-around player in baseball, if you ask me.

Bartolo Colon Shocks the World With a Home Run

Going into Saturday night, Bartolo Colon was a career .089 hitter with no home runs and just 9 RBI’s in 225 career at-bats. He was by no means a threat at the plate. But Colon did something he’s never done before in the Mets’ game Colonagainst the Padres — something no one really felt he was capable of. Bartolo Colon hit a home run.

As a pitcher, Colon wouldn’t necessarily be expected to be a slugger, as most pitchers aren’t very good hitters. However, Colon has been worst than most over his career, and almost laughable at times in some of his at-bats. But he changed all that (at least until his next game’s set of swings) when he pulled a 365 foot home run just over the wall at Petco Park.

Colon’s home run came off of Padres standout pitcher, James Shields, who has been a solid pitcher over the course of his career, posting an ERA below 4.00 since the 2011 season.

In addition, the homer by Colon made him the fifth oldest pitcher since 1913 to ever hit a home run (Colon is just under three weeks shy of his 43rd birthday), with Jack Quinn (age 46) being the oldest.

Despite being 10 for 129 at the plate as a Met up through his home run on Saturday evening, Colon has been a fairly effective pitcher over his career, and has continued that success into this season. A three-time All-Star and 2005 Cy Young award winner, Colon holds a career ERA just below 4.00 over the course of his 19-season career, but still won’t be viewed as much of an offensive machine despite his display of power.

Even so, picking up the win against the Padres on Saturday night, Bartolo Colon’s career statistics now stand at 221 wins, 2,270 strikeouts, and, most surprisingly, one home run.

Could We See a 30-Win Pitcher in 2016?

More and more as time goes on, the win statistic is becoming less and less relied upon when it comes to determining how good a pitcher is performing over the course of any given season. Given, there are many better stats to look at — ERA being the most comprehensive one — to determine whether or not a pitcher is having a good year, but the win isn’t completely worthless as some suggest. Detroit Tigers

After all, to receive the individual win, the pitcher had to place their team into position to pull out the victory in the ballgame. Although pitchers can still record a win after giving up 8 runs, as long as their team scores more runs in that given game (that’s what makes the pitcher-win controversial), the win is still something that a pitcher strives to notch each and every time out on the mound.

But not since 1968 has the baseball world seen any pitcher been able to record 30 or more wins. It was in that year that the Tigers’ Denny McLain tallied 31 wins in his campaign that saw him going on to win both the Cy Young award and MVP. You simply don’t see pitchers having seasons such as that one anymore. But if things continue as they have so far, it could in fact happen once again this season.

In order to have a chance of breaking the nearly 50-year drought of thirty wins in a season, a pitcher needs to be nearly perfect on the year. Back when Denny McLain recorded his milestone season, it took him 41 starts, as opposed to the 32-34 starts pitchers receive in today’s game, making perfection a necessity.

With that in mind, there are four pitchers who I feel have the only remaining shots at the coveted 30-win season this year: Rick Porcello, Jordan Zimmermann, Chris Sale and Jake Arrieta, who have all won every single start they’ve made this season.

Porcello is the least likely of the four to keep up the win streak, in my mind. While he’s had a decent season in a struggling Red Sox rotation, he’s also been the beneficiary of timely run-support. Porcello gave up ten total earned runs over his first three starts, but has settled down recently, not allowing a single earned run since April 20th. Even so, I don’t see his win-streak continuing.

StartersAs with Porcello, Zimmermann isn’t very likely to keep up his perfect start to the season, but that isn’t meant to take away anything from the start he’s had this year. Posting a 0.55 ERA over his first five starts, Zimmermann is truly breaking out as one of the top pitchers in the game. But despite playing in a Tigers uniform — the same as McLain back in 1968 — I don’t see another 30-game winner in Detroit.

Chris Sale has been one of the most dominant pitchers in the recent history of the sport, but I’m not convinced that he can hold things together to record a 30-win year. Even so, sitting at 6-0 on the season, with a 1.66 ERA, Sale is continuing to impress the baseball world with how good he is, and he’s seemingly only getting better. Perhaps he will end up proving me wrong when all is said and done.

However, if I had to put money on which of the four pitchers on my list I feel has the best shot at 30 wins this year, I would go all in on Jake Arrieta. There is no other pitcher in baseball who has been more dominant than Jake Arrieta since the second half of last season. After picking up another win on Tuesday night, Arrieta becomes the first Cubs pitcher since Mordecai Brown in 1908 to begin the year 6-0. That’s absolutely amazing when you think about it.

Despite the great starts the aforementioned starters have gotten off to in 2016, a 30-win season is obviously very difficult to achieve. Given all of the obstacles pitchers have to overcome in getting there, the odds of it happening yet again aren’t all that great. But even so, my pick to accomplish the feat, Jake Arrieta, has already defied all logic by going 17-0 over his last 19 regular season starts, dating back to last season.

The odds of that happening weren’t great either.

Latest MLB Leaders (April 3rd – April 30th)

With the first month of the 2016 MLB season in the books, I thought I’d take the first day of the new month to recap the season thus far. It’s been exciting as well as disappointing, depending on how you look at it and who you’re rooting for.

But instead of talking about the events that have taken place so far this year, I decided to make a list of different categories and beside them name the player(s) that leads that particular category. I’ve done lists like these for the past several years, and they have been well received, so I decided to do it again.

The following lists are categorized into hitting and pitching, but not AL or NL:

MLB LEADERS (AL and NL) – HITTING

Most Games Played – David Peralta (26)

Most At-Bats – Jean Segura (111)

Most Hits – Jean Segura (37)

Highest Average – Aledmys Diaz (.423)

Highest OBP – Dexter Fowler (.474)

Highest SLG – Aledmys Diaz (.732)

Most Runs – Josh Donaldson (24)

Most Doubles – Four players tied for most (11).

Most Triples – Jackie Bradley Jr. (4)

Most Home Runs – Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story (10).

Most RBI’s – Robinson Cano, Bryce Harper and Anthony Rizzo (24).

Most Base On Balls – Paul Goldschmidt (25)

Most Strikeouts – Justin Upton (38)

Most Stolen Bases – Jose Altuve (9)

Most Caught Stealing – Cesar Hernandez, Mallex Smith and George Springer (4).

Most Intentional Base On Balls – Brandon Crawford and Joe Mauer (5).

Most Hit By Pitch – Brandon Guyer (6).

Most Sacrifice Flies – Seven players tied for most (3).

Most Total Bases – Manny Machado and Trevor Story (64).

Most Extra Base Hits – Four players tied for most (17).

Most Grounded Into Double Plays – David Freese and Dustin Pedroia (6).

Most Ground Outs – Yunel Escobar (46)

Most Number Of Pitches Faced – Hunter Pence (497)

Most Plate Appearances – Jean Segura (116)

MLB LEADERS (AL and NL) – PITCHING

Most Wins – Four players tied for most (5).

Most Losses – Brett Cecil (5)

Best ERA – Jordan Zimmermann (0.55)

Most Games Started – Chris Archer and Zack Greinke (6).

Most Games Pitched – Zach Duke and Neftali Feliz (14).

Most Saves – Kenley Jansen (9)

Most Innings Pitched – Chris Sale (38)

Most Hits Allowed – Zack Greinke (47)

Most Runs Allowed – Jorge De La Rosa (24)

Most Earned Runs Allowed – Jorge De La Rosa and Zack Greinke (23).

Most Home Runs Allowed – Seven players tied for most (7).

Most Strikeouts – David Price (46)

Most Walks – Yordano Ventura (20)

Most Complete Games – Seven players tied for most (1).

Most Shutouts – Six players tied for most (1).

Best Opponent Avg. – Danny Salazar (.139)

Most Games Finished – Jeanmar Gomez (12)

Most Double Plays Achieved – Martin Perez (11)

Most Wild Pitches – Trevor May (5)

Most Balks – Twelve players tied for most (1).

Most Stolen Bases Allowed – Noah Syndergaard (9)

Most Pickoffs – Four players tied for most (2).

Most Batters Faced – Zack Greinke (166)

Most Pitches Thrown – Chris Archer (586)

Steven Wright: The “New” R. A. Dickey

In the history of Major League Baseball, there have been very few pitchers who have actually succeeded in mastering the knuckleball to the point where they were able to absolutely dominate opposing batters on a consistent basis. For the most part, pitchers who throw the knuckleball are ineffective, and have up-and-down, short-lived careers.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Seattle MarinersHowever, as with anything, there are always a few exceptions — Phil Niekro, Tim Wakefield, etc. — with the latest example of that being Steven Wright of the Boston Red Sox. Through four games started this season, Steven Wright has a 1.37 ERA, with a tick under one strikeout per inning pitched. Following an ERA of 4.09 in 2015, Wright appears to have figured things out.

On Wednesday night alone, Wright went seven strong innings against the Braves (given, Atlanta isn’t exactly a powerhouse team this season), striking out eight and giving up just two runs (only one earned run) in Boston’s 9-4 win. 

Due to his great performance to this point in the season, Wright has subsequently taken over the leading role of most dominant MLB knuckleballer, recently held by R.A. Dickey (the only other active knuckleball thrower).

With Toronto this season, Dickey has recorded a subpar 6.75 ERA, and hasn’t been all that terribly great since he took home the Cy Young award in 2012 with the Mets. That season — the only extremely fantastic season of his career — Dickey posted a 2.73 ERA over 33 starts, while striking out 230 batters, but he’s gone 40-40 with a 4.06 ERA since then.

Steven Wright didn’t actually appear in the big leagues until the season after Dickey had his breakout year, but it appears that Wright is on the verge of having a special season as a knuckleball pitcher much like the one of Dickey in 2012.

Boston could certainly continue to use successful outings from him, as their other starters hold ERA’s above 3.51, with David Price possessing a 5.76 and Joe Kelly unbelievably having a 9.35 ERA over three starts. For that reason, Steven Wright is currently being looked at as the surprising Ace of the staff, and has been a welcome surprise for the Red Sox so far this year.

While I’m not necessarily saying that Steven Wright’s 2016 season will end up being as successful as R.A. Dickey’s 2012 campaign, with him winning the Cy Young, it is definitely a positive sign for Wright of great things to come. I imagine not even Wright himself would have envisioned this good of a start to the season when things began back on April 4th, but every given baseball season is much like the knuckleball pitch itself: You never know where it’s going to wind up.

My Initial 2016 MLB All-Star Game Ballot

We aren’t even a month into the baseball season, and the 2016 Major League Baseball All-Star game ballot has already been released. I feel it’s a little too early to be casting votes for the Midsummer Classic, as some superstar players have gotten off to rough starts and will likely get back to their former glory by the time the All-Star game arrives on July 12th out in San Diego, while some previously unknown players who have busted out of the gate will likely be merely trickling along by that time.San Diego

But even so, I decided to go ahead and post a blog on the subject, regardless of the earliness of it all.

Voting itself is simple. Although there are no longer paper ballots that you can pick up and fill out at your local ballpark, you can head over to MLB.com and fill out an online ballot with the player you feel most deserves the honor for each position. You can vote up to 5 times per day, and 35 times total, for the players of your choice. (Voting is open until June 30th.)

Due to the All-Star game still being over two months away, I divided things up a bit this year. I’m going to go ahead and cast 15 votes for the players I feel are All-Star worthy as of now (the players discussed below), with a plan to go back and cast my other 20 available votes in the final week leading up to the actual game. Odds are, at least a few of them will be different, but as for right now, here are the players at each position that I feel are deserving of playing in the 2016 MLB All-Star game:

FIRST BASE:  Joe Mauer (AL),  Adrian Gonzalez (NL)

With guys such as Eric Hosmer, Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis to choose from in the American League portion of things, this wasn’t necessarily an easy decision, but I ended up going with Joe Mauer. Leading the pack in batting average, Mauer has really gotten off to a nice start of what looks to be a bounce back season.

For the National League, I chose Adrian Gonzalez. He is second in the National League first basemen group in average, and is off to an equally good start as Joe Mauer. Amazingly, Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman and Anthony Rizzo are all batting down around .200, making this a somewhat easy choice.

SECOND BASE: Ian Kinsler (AL),  Neil Walker (NL)

Picking between Jose Altuve and Ian Kinsler was rather difficult, as both have stats very similar to the other. In the end, however, I chose Kinsler for the all-around game he brings to the table. While Altuve has had a hot bat to begin the season, it’s Kinsler who I feel can continue to hold his streak the longest.

There are multiple options for National League secondbaseman, with Daniel Murphy and Jean Segura’s high averages jumping out as All-Star worthy. But I wound up picking Neil Walker, who has a combination of a good average, along with a high early homer total that make him All-Star game worthy.

SHORTSTOP:  Carlos Correa (AL),  Zack Cozart (NL)

After winning the 2015 American League Rookie of the Year award, I currently have Carlos Correa being the AL starting shortstop at the All-Star game as well. Correa plays a great defense and has just as much pop in his bat as anyone around baseball. Therefore, I picked him on my ballot.

The National League shortstop spot goes to Zack Cozart in my mind. While Trevor Story leads the pack in homers and RBI’s, the majority of those came during his extremely hot (and historic) first several games. Recently, Story has cooled off a ton, and the shortstop spot is Cozart’s to lose, in my opinion.

THIRD BASE: Manny Machado (AL),  Nolan Arenado (NL)

There are a ton of worthy candidates in the American League for All-Star game third baseman, but, unfortunately, I could only choose one on my ballot. Josh Donaldson, Mike Moustakas, Nick Castellanos and even Adrian Beltre all have cases. But I went with Manny Machado, who has been incredible to start the season.

Going against Maikel Franco and Kris Bryant was extremely hard to do, especially with them getting off to good starts, but I didn’t go with either of them. Instead, I went with Nolan Arenado. Although his stats aren’t much better than any of the other options, Arenado is one of the best both offensively and defensively at the position.

CATCHER:  Salvador Perez (AL), Wellington Castillo  (NL)

Though his average is a good distance away from the magic .300 mark, Salvador Perez is deserving of the All-Star catcher slot. He is having a great season in Kansas City, once again, and easily earns my vote. Always consistently good, Perez is one of the best catchers in the game, and should be honored as such.

Yadier Molina is always the heavy favorite for National League starting catcher, and he is once again on top in batting average. But I didn’t go with Molina. Instead, I went with breakout catcher, Wellington Castillo. Castillo is having a great year to this point, and he has a very good case for being named the starter in July.

DESIGNATED HITTER: David Ortiz

David Ortiz could be hitting .100 by the time the All-Star game rolls around and he still would be worthy of the vote. Being his final season, and with all he’s done over his career, he deserves it no matter what. But the stats are there, regardless. Ortiz more than deserves to play in his final All-Star game.

OUTFIELD

It’s never easy to narrow down several dozen players to three All-Star picks for each league, especially when you could make a strong case for a dozen of the outfield choices for each league, but it’s a requirement when casting a ballot. So, while I voted for the players who I felt were All-Star caliber players at the moment, there are a few more I would’ve liked to vote for, but couldn’t. Keep that in mind when reading the outfielders I selected for the American League and National League:

Mark Trumbo, Mike Trout and Steven Souza Jr. (AL)

Picking Mark Trumbo and Steven Souza Jr. was a bit tough, but they’re having too good of seasons for me to ignore. Although they likely won’t be the top vote-getters when all is said and done, they earn my vote for now. Mike Trout, on the other hand, was a no-brainer. Despite a slow start, Trout is heating things up, and is still a superstar.

Bryce Harper, Yoenis Cespedes and Ryan Braun (NL)

As with Mike Trout in the AL, picking Bryce Harper for National League outfield was the easiest choice of the three. But after a lot of debate between the candidates to fill the other places, I wound up choosing Yoenis Cespedes and Ryan Braun, who are each having uniquely great seasons, and are each very exciting players to watch.

Jake Arrieta No-Hits the Reds in Blowout Game

The Cubs absolutely pummeled the Reds on Thursday night, scoring sixteen runs to Cincinnati’s zero-spot. But it wasn’t the blowout by the Cubs — including the “home run cycle” of a solo homer, a two-run homer, a three-run homer and a grand slam — that the baseball world was buzzing about when the final out was recorded. Instead, it was once again Jake Arrieta.Arrieta

Arrieta only struck out six batters in the game, but he was still able to mow down the Reds’ batters, throwing the first no-hitter of 2016, and the second in his last eleven regular season starts. With the no-no, Arrieta joins Max Scherzer, Tim Lincecum, Homer Bailey and Justin Verlander as the only active pitchers with multiple no-hitters for their career.

But there’s something about Arrieta that makes this no-hitter extra special. Once a forgotten man within the Orioles’ system, in which he posted ERA’s well above 4.00 in each of his four seasons in Baltimore, Arrieta has been dominant ever since arriving on the scene with the Cubs in 2013. Through four starts this season, Arrieta is 4-0 with a 0.87 ERA, and has been the biggest part in leading the Cubs to having the best team ERA in all of baseball of 2.14.

Winning the Cy Young award last season for his historic outings, Arrieta is well on his way to doing so again this season. Having gone 20-1 in his last 24 regular season starts, with a collective 0.86 ERA, Arrieta has transformed himself into something special as of late, and there are no signs of him stopping anytime soon.

But with the Cubs now 12-4, and with the best winning percentage among all the teams in baseball, there is something more important on the minds of people than Arrieta individually. The question many people are asking with such a hot start is whether or not 2016 will finally be the Cubs’ year as had been predicted before the season began.

If Jake Arrieta has anything to say about it, the answer very well could be yes.

My First Games of 2016 Taking Place This Week

If you’ve been following this blog for any extended period of time, or if you’ve simply taken the time to peruse through the hundreds of posts I’ve written, you know that one of the many things I enjoy doing during any given baseball season is going out to the ballpark and getting autographs from some of baseball’s up-and-coming top talent.

This season, I’m planning to be much more selective than I have been in the past with which games I go to (due to a number of factors), but I still plan on making it out to my fair share of games in 2016.

ProspectsTuesday kicks off my baseball season, as I’m heading out to watch the Mudcats take on the Salem Red Sox. The top three prospects of the Red Sox farm system — Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers and Andrew Benintendi — are all apart of the current Salem team, so I’m really looking forward to attending this game.

On the other side of things, the Mudcats have their top prospect, Dansby Swanson, as well as 2014 first round draft pick, Braxton Davidson. With so much talent, I’ll either leave the game very elated — having gotten an autograph from most if not all of them — or very disappointed.

But while that game features four of the top 25 prospects in all of baseball, making it one of the best minor league games I’ve ever been to (talent-wise) in my life, the next game on the docket for me isn’t far behind.

On the following Sunday, April 24th, I’m planning on heading out to Durham to see them take on the visiting Indianapolis Indians — the Pirate’s Triple-A affiliate. I’d been looking forward to seeing this team since last season, when I projected so many good players to be apart of their roster. Three of their top four prospects makeup this team, in Tyler Glasnow, Josh Bell and Jameson Taillon, in addition to Alen Hanson, their number ten prospect. Thus, it should turn out to be a great game.

All in all, this coming week, I’m planning to see eight of the top 53 prospects in person (including Blake Snell for the Bulls). With this season so uncertain as to how often I’ll be out at the ballpark, it’s nice to get off to such a great start to the year. No matter how the season winds up panning out for me autograph-wise over the next five months, I’m still planning to blog about it all (as I have in the past) after I’ve attended my last game sometime in September.

Vincent Velasquez Completely Shuts Down the Padres

If you aren’t already familiar with Vincent Velasquez, you inevitably will be very soon.

On Tuesday afternoon against the Padres, Velasquez absolutely dominated San Diego’s lineup, allowing just three hits and striking out 16 batters over the course of his complete game shutout, in which Velasquez received 27 swings and misses. This following his first outing of the season, where Velasquez struck out nine over six innings, giving up no runs, it would appear that he’s already in midseason form. Phillies

Velasquez has now struck out twenty-five batters in just fifteen innings of work, and subsequently holds the new record for a Phillies pitcher of most combined K’s in their first two starts of the season, previously set at 20 back in 1964.

Originally a product of the Astros, getting drafted by them in the second round of the 2010 draft, Velasquez came to Philadelphia as part of the Ken Giles trade this past offseason. To this point, it would appear to be a great move on the part of Philadelphia (especially with Giles getting off to a slow start with Houston).

But Velasquez’s career hasn’t been a smooth ride to the top.

Back in 2011, Velasquez underwent Tommy John surgery (an all too common procedure at this point), forcing him to miss the entire 2011 season. In addition to the injuries, once Velasquez finally did make it to the major leagues, he didn’t immediately post the type of numbers he has recently, notching a 4.37 ERA over 19 total games pitched and 7 starts in 2015, leaving many to question him moving forward.

However, Velasquez appears ready to take off.

It certainly can’t come soon enough for Philadelphia, who has been fairly pathetic in recent years. While they dominated their opponents for a number of years in a row not too long ago, they have been in the process of rebuilding over the past few Francoseasons But other than Velasquez, the Phillies’ pitching staff merely consists of standouts Aaron Nola and Jeremy Hellickson — nothing close to resembling their rotation of 2011 that included Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay.

Likewise, the Phillies lack a good, intimidating lineup, currently possessing very little power threats within it. With Ryan Howard no longer the slugger he once was, and seemingly on his last stretch with Philly, Maikel Franco is truly the only major power threat available of what was once an efficient offensive machine.

But there is help on the way, with the Phillies holding seven of the top 100 prospects in baseball throughout their farm systems. Pitching-wise, the Phillies have guys such as Jake Thompson and Mark Appel in Triple-A, both of which are ready to help very soon. Hitting-wise, J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams are coming fast, and should be contributing to the run scoring in Philadelphia before too long.

With the win on Thursday afternoon, the Phillies have now won three straight, and five of their last six, keeping their overall record for the season at .500 (5-5). Inevitably, however, the Phillies will taper out of contention as the year goes on, and as other teams begin to figure things out, ultimately finishing at or near the bottom of the National League East division.

Even so, once every fifth day, Phillies fans will be reminded by Velasquez that their club is well on their way to transforming back into a contender once again, as it was for so many years not so long ago. Rebuilding is a process that takes time, as well as patience on both the part of the team and the fans.

But as Vincent Velasquez proved on Tuesday, the rebuild is getting closer to completion.

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