Red Sox phenom, Mookie Betts, can do it all. He’s a great outfielder, a fast runner, and can even tap into some power every now and then.
Things got kicked off for Betts in the very first inning of the game. Bryce Harper cranked a ball deep toward the outfield bullpens, which looked to be gone off the bat. But Betts did a great job getting a jump on the ball, making the leap at the wall and robbing Harper of a home run.
In the bottom half of the inning, Betts continued his great day. After a walk, Betts slid in safely to second on an attempted steal attempt. Wisely noticing that no one was covering third base, due to the shift on the current batter, David Ortiz, Betts took off for third and successfully swiped that bag as well. Two stolen bases on one attempt.
But not to go without showing off all of his tools, Mookie stepped to the plate in the bottom of the second and cranked a three-run homer over the green monster in left field to give the Red Sox a 4-0 lead.
All in a day’s work for Betts.
With all of the contributions from Betts — who went 2-4 on the day, with 4 total RBI’s — the Red Sox cruised to a 9-4 win over the Nationals. If things can continue to go the way they did on Monday for both Mookie Betts and the Red Sox, 2015 could end up being special years for both of them.
While my first official baseball game of 2015 took place just a few days ago, with the Miami Marlins taking on their Single-A affiliate in Greensboro, North Carolina, tomorrow is set to kick off my 2015 minor league baseball regular season.
With the Wilmington Blue Rocks in Myrtle Beach to take on the hometown Pelicans, it’s sure to be a good game, as both teams have a decent roster. However, the Pelicans’ overall roster is stronger and full of more prospects — nine of their top 30 prospects — so that’s the team I’m going to be trying hardest for autographs from.
Every year for the past several years, I’ve headed out to a baseball game a dozen or so times a year to get autographs from some of the best up and coming talent in the game. On Friday, I’m looking forward to seeing the likes of Billy McKinney, Duane Underwood and Jen-Ho Tseng, among many others. It should be a fun time and lead to a fun game against Wilmington, which possesses Bubba Starling and Dominique Taylor — two of the Royals top prospects.
No matter what happens on Friday, this is just the beginning of what is set to be an exciting 2015 season of baseball game outings. I’m not sure of any specific games I plan on going to past this Friday, but I’m really looking forward to the next five months of baseball ahead . . . .
Exactly three years to the day after the last time I attended a major league exhibition game against one of their minor league affiliates, I was back out at the ballpark on Friday (along with my grandpa) for the first time in nearly seven months. This time, however, it wasn’t the home of the Mudcats or Bulls — the ballparks I normally attend — but rather the home of the Grasshoppers. With the Miami Marlins in town, I made the long trek out to the stadium with the sole purpose of grabbing some autographs from the numerous good players their roster possesses.
With that in mind, my grandpa and I arrived to the ballpark an hour before the gates opened, which allowed me to be one of the first people inside when people were first allowed in at 1:00 on the dot. But despite being through the gates first, due to the long walk to the tunnel where the Marlins would be coming in and out of, there were numerous people already surrounding the area. And thus, I had settle with a spot behind a couple of people — a spot I had to squeeze my way into.
The Marlins were already on the field taking batting practice when I first arrived . . . :
. . . so I just stood there with everyone else and waited for the Marlins to return back through the tunnel and into the clubhouse.
But the wait certainly wasn’t a boring one. When Giancarlo Stanton — one of the greatest power sluggers currently in baseball — stepped into the cage, all eyes were placed on him, and he didn’t disappoint. Stanton quite simply put on one the most unbelievable batting practice show I’ve ever seen. I had heard a ton about the displays of power he shows off during BP, but actually seeing it in person was amazing.
A few minutes after Stanton concluded his showing off, the Marlins began to wrap up their on field activities and one by one exited the field. As they did so, a great number of the players stopped to sign autographs — with the exception of Michael Morse, who I didn’t see sign a single autograph all day long — but I had an extremely hard time getting them to sign for me. Everything was going wrong — whether it was people blocking me out, the players signing on the opposite side of the tunnel, or them just skipping over me. It was appearing to be one of those days.
With all that went wrong, I only managed to get an autograph from Brett Butler and Donovan Solano before the game. Giancarlo Stanton signed for a lot of people . . . except me. And even Ichiro signed some autographs . . . on the opposite side of the stadium. (Like I said before — it was one of those days.)
Once it became apparent that I wasn’t going to succeed in getting anyone else’s autograph, I reunited with my grandpa back at our ticketed seats to take in the pregame introductions. For the most part, the Grasshoppers didn’t have any extremely noteworthy players, however, they did have the 2014 number two overall draft pick, Tyler Kolek, as part of their roster (on the right below):
For the Marlins, Ichiro and Stanton by far received the biggest applause when they were announced, but it was equally exciting to see every player on their team in person. (Christian Yelich, Giancarlo Stanton and Michael Morse, all pictured below, were the ones I enjoyed seeing the most):
Starting the game for the Grasshoppers was the Marlins’ A.J. Ramos, who gave up a home run to Giancarlo Stanton on the very first pitch he saw. Coming back from a gruesome injury to end 2014, Stanton crushing one during an actual game setting against a big league caliber pitcher appeared to prove that he will be unaffected during the season as some suggested he may be.
Off to a quick 2-0 lead in the first, thanks to the Stanton blast, the Marlins put out Tom Koehler as their starter on the mound against the Grasshoppers, and he was terrific on the day. It was nice to see the Marlins — both their pitching and lineup — do so well with all of the high expectations placed on them for the 2015 season.
It was also nice to see Ichiro in person once again:
Going one for three on the day, this was more than likely the last time I’ll ever see the future Hall of Famer in person, and I did my best to take it in. There are very few players that I would pay just to see them play, but Ichiro is definitely one of them — as is Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout.
Once all was said and done, the Marlins pulled out the win (not surprisingly), 9-6. However, I wasn’t around to see the final few innings of the game. After getting removed from the game in the fourth and fifth innings for replacement players, Giancarlo Stanton, Ichiro, Michael Morse and Christian Yelich, among others, made their way to the clubhouse during the seventh inning stretch. With me not wanting to miss the possible chance at getting an autograph from any of them, I made my way out of the ballpark gates and down the corner to where the players’ exit/entrance is located.
I was one of the first 50 people down there, but before too long, there were around 200 people, I would estimate, trying for autographs from the players as they left. It took around an hour of standing around for the players to begin emerging from the ballpark, but before long they began coming out in bunches.
Michael Morse and Christian Yelich were the first two out, with both briskly walking past everyone without stopping. Next out was Marcell Ozuna, Adeiny Hechavarria, and Ichiro, who simply waved before making his way onto the bus.
It began to seem as if every player was going to make a nonstop trek to the bus. However, when Giancarlo Stanton came through the doors, he became the first to decide to stop and sign autographs. But before I had the chance to blink, things went from two deep to a cluster of 50 or so people pushing and bumping into each other all surrounding Stanton and making it virtually impossible for me to get within arms distance of him. So with all hope lost for an autograph, I settled for a picture of him instead, which I had to take by raising my camera high above my head:
After Stanton boarded the bus, things settled down again, and I was finally able to get to the front row. By doing so, I succeeded in getting an autograph from Tom Koehler, as well as Steve Cishek, who I got a better picture of than Stanton due to the quieted crowd:
In the end, I didn’t walk away with an autograph from Ichiro or Stanton (I truly didn’t expect to when the day began), but I did walk away with yet another memory of a great time out at the ballpark. Every time I go to a ballgame, I always have a different, but special, experience.
My sights are now set on the 2015 minor league season, which begins on Thursday.
Each and every season, there are always players with something to prove. Whether they’re looking to show that they can play at a competitive level that they’ve never lived up to; looking to show that they can be the dominant player they once were; or simply are looking for a good year for their team to have a good year — there are numerous players that you could categorize as having very important seasons coming up.
With that said, not every player that needs a good season is on the list I put together below. I can think of a few dozen players that arguably need to post solid numbers in 2015, but I couldn’t include them all, and had to make some difficult exclusions. Just the opposite, there could be a few players on my list that you don’t think need a good season. Either way, this is just a list of ten players — not necessarily the “top ten” — that I feel need a good 2015 season for one reason or another:
1.) Justin Verlander
For the majority of his career, Justin Verlander has been an unbelievable pitcher. But for the 2011, 2012 seasons, he was on an entirely different planet. Going 41-13 with a 2.52 ERA over those years, and racking up a Cy Young award and MVP for his efforts in 2011, Verlander was arguably the best pitcher in baseball. Lately, however, he hasn’t been the same player. Since 2013, Verlander has posted a combined 3.99 ERA over the course of 66 starts. Given, some of that may have been due to some injuries — injuries that Verlander claims are completely healed now. Now that Max Scherzer is gone, if the Tigers stand any shot at making the World Series like they play for every year, they need a dominant Justin Verlander each and every start throughout the coming regular season.
2.) Ryan Howard
Injuries have not been kind to Ryan Howard over the past three years or so. The once feared slugger, with MVP caliber numbers year after year after year, hasn’t put up very much production for the Phillies in quite awhile. After hitting 58 home runs in 2006, and putting up 45+ home runs and 136+ RBI’s in the three years following that historic season, Howard has failed to hit more than 23 home runs in a season since. Battling aforementioned injuries, Howard played in less than half the Phillies games in 2012 and 2013, but had a decent season last year, with 23 homers and 95 RBI’s over 153 games played. But those numbers aren’t good enough for the Phillies or their historically verbal fans. If he wants to regain both his stardom and the support of the fans, Ryan Howard needs a healthy, productive 2015.
3.) Jackie Bradley Jr.
Unlike the previous two players on my list, Jackie Bradley Jr. doesn’t make the top ten for me because he has fallen from previously good seasons. Bradley still has something to prove — both to the Red Sox and their fans. Once one of the top prospects in all of baseball, Bradley’s Gold Glove caliber defense has been shown off at the big league level, however, his ability to hit hasn’t yet arrived. It needs to do so in 2015. With so much outfield depth for the Red Sox — including Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo — it may already be too far gone for Bradley to make his all around game appear for the Red Sox. However, if he does in fact get the chance this season, he needs to show the Red Sox that he isn’t just a good outfielder but an all around good baseball player.
4.) Bryce Harper
As with Jackie Bradley Jr., the 2015 season is a crucial one for Bryce Harper. While Harper hasn’t underperformed, he hasn’t lived up the unbelievable hype either. Cranking out just 13 home runs last season, all while battling injuries, Harper needs to have a healthy, breakout year this season. If Harper can stay healthy, and can fully tap into his power, he truly has 40 home run potential. And remember, despite the fact that he’s been in the big leagues for three seasons, Harper is still just 22 years old. There’s still plenty of time for him to develop into the superstar player he was coined when he was drafted first overall in 2010. If the Nationals can perform well as a whole, along with their pitching staff staying healthy, and with Bryce Harper thrown into the mix, the World Series is theirs to lose.
What can I say? Alex Rodriguez could hit 80 home runs this season and people still wouldn’t like him. But while Rodriguez can’t win back the majority of the fans around baseball, he still needs to have a good season, for his sake at least. Coming back from a 162-game suspension in 2014 for further performance enhancing drug use, A-Rod is heading into the season having not produced for the Yankees since 2010, when his streak of thirteen straight seasons with 30+ homers and 100+ RBI’s ended. No one expects him to return to that form this year, but the Yankees need him — even if they don’t want him. Their team is still a big question mark, with all the talent in the world but no guarantee things will go as planned. Alex Rodriguez needs to perform for the Yankees season to have a shot at a great one.
6.) Curtis Granderson
Curtis Granderson has never been a superstar player, but he has been a consistent outfielder over the course of his eleven year career. For six straight seasons (2007-2012), Granderson was able to post upwards of 20 home runs a season, with 2011 and 2012 being his best years by far, with 40+ homers and 100+ RBI’s. Since then, however, Granderson hasn’t been the same. While he hit 20 home runs last season for the Mets, he only batted .227. Though he’s never been a guy that hits for a high average — an all or nothing type hitter — Granderson still needs to hone things in a bit in the coming season. The Mets are getting Matt Harvey back, and if Curtis Granderson can produce along with the rest of the team, the Mets could end up shocking some people.
7.) Melvin Upton Jr.
Formerly known as B.J. Upton, Melvin Upton Jr. definitely needs to have a good season. After losing Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis, and Melvin’s brother, Justin Upton, in trades this offseason, the Braves are widely regarded as a much weaker team than they have been recently. While they could still be a playoff team, it will take production from every single player — and that includes Upton Jr. Since leaving the Rays following a 28 homer, 78 RBI 2012 season, Upton Jr. hasn’t been the same, batting a combined .198 over the past two years. He needs to step up his game and bring his totals back to the former standout player he used to be. However, with reports that Melvin Upton Jr. will miss the first month or so with a foot injury, things aren’t starting off too well for his 2015.
Tim Lincecum has picked up two World Series rings over the past three years (he has three rings overall), but he did little in those two seasons to produce for the Giants. After back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2008 and 2009, when Lincecum went a combined 33-12 with a 2.55 ERA, Lincecum hasn’t been anywhere close to that level over the past few seasons. Since 2012, Lincecum is a combined 32-38, with a staggering 4.76 ERA. Those are certainly subpar numbers for ‘The Freak’. For a guy who has gone from a dominant starter to a part time reliever, it truly is unfathomable what has gone wrong with Lincecum and his performance. With so much uncertainty, this is a make or break season in my mind for Tim Lincecum. I’ll certainly be rooting for him.
9.) Joc Pederson
The only rookie on my list, and the second youngest player (Bryce Harper is six months younger than Pederson), Joc Pederson is the player that you don’t really know what to expect, but needs to have a good year anyway. It’s a lot of pressure on Pederson, but with the Dodgers trading away Matt Kemp to the Padres this offseason, they’ve now cleared the spot for phenom prospect Pederson to take over moving forward. After having the first 30 homer, 30 stolen base season in the Pacific Coast League since 1934, Pederson made his major league debut in 2014, but didn’t really live up to the hype, batting just .143 and striking out 11 times in 28 at-bats (admittedly, a small sample size). Even so, there are a lot of people who still believe Joc Pederson will be able to fill Matt Kemp’s shoes.
10.) Ichiro Suzuki
This is an interesting case. Ichiro Suzuki could quit right now and have Hall of Fame worthy numbers. But with him stating that he wants to continue playing for several more years, and not getting a lot of offers this past offseason, he needs to play well. Unlike last year with the Yankees, he should see more playing time with the Marlins in 2015, which should allow his always consistent numbers to be there. But with the Marlins only willing to offer him a one-year contract, he needs to prove that he is worth taking a chance on in the future. Sitting just 156 hits shy of 3,000 for his major league baseball career, Ichiro may not get there in 2015. So if he wants to reach the amazing milestone, it’ll take at least one more season, which will likely come from a good season this year.
*Originally, I had Josh Hamilton on this list, but in light of his current off the field battle, I decided to replace him with Curtis Granderson. I certainly wish Josh Hamilton the best.
For the fourth 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 Giants finishing third in their division in 2014 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 several 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:
If the Nationals don’t win 100 or more games this coming season, it would absolutely shock me. They have such a good team from top to bottom that there is a really good chance of them repeating as National League East division champions. After winning 96 games in 2014, the Nationals spent this offseason getting even better. Adding Max Scherzer to a rotation that now includeds Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, each and every game allows the Nats a good shot at a victory. Their bullpen is just as good, and their lineup is one the best in baseball. With Ian Desmond, Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper, among many others, Washington has forces both offensively and with their pitching staff. Combining together their amazingly good starting rotation with their talented lineup, the Nationals should be able to win a ton of games.
Coming up second to the Nationals, I think the Marlins will be really improved in 2015. Playing in a weaker division, with the Braves taking a step back and the Mets and Phillies still finding themselves, the Marlins should easily pull out a Wild Card spot this year. Although they’ll be without phenom Jose Fernandez until midseason, their pitching rotation is still very solid. Henderson Alvarez, Mat Latos and Dan Haren should perform well for Miami, with their bullpen consisting of one of the most underrated closers in the game today, Steve Cicshek. If their pitching staff can do well, then they should be a good team. Their lineup is going to be good either way, however. With speedy Dee Gordon, superstar Giancarlo Stanton, and veteran Ichiro Suzuki, the Marlins have a nice combination of players. They will surely be a really good team in the coming regular season.
For the Atlanta Braves, it’s a true mystery how they will fare in the coming season. On one hand, they still have a decent team with a lot of good players. But on the other hand, they lost a few key pieces of their team this offseason. And therefore, your guess is as good as mine. Nonetheless, I have the Braves coming in third, just ahead of the Mets. They lost Jason Heyward, but picked up a decent replacement in Nick Markakis. And despite having a below average outfield now that Justin Upton is a Padre, the rest of their lineup isn’t that bad. With Andrelton Simmons, Chris Johnson and Freddie Freeman still apart of their offensive squad, they should be able to score runs. Their pitching should do a good job of preventing runs as well. Though not overly dominant, the Braves have Julio Teheran, Shelby Miller and Alex Wood, along with Craig Kimbrel to slam the door in the ninth. Things could be interesting in Atlanta.
I was somewhat of a believer in the Mets having a special season up until the news came out that Zack Wheeler needed Tommy John surgery. Now, however, I feel that they will likely come up just short of a potential second Wild Card spot. But even so, they have a decent team that will win a good chunk of games. Juan Lagares had a breakout season in 2014, and if Curtis Granderson can bounce back, along with David Wright, the Mets could surprise me. Their rotation isn’t great, but it isn’t horrible either. Jacob deGrom should have another solid season, with Bartolo Colon doing well. Beyond that, they have Dillon Gee, and the return of phenom Matt Harvey. In the end, it’s how their pitching fares that will determine what kind of year they have. The Mets may not end up pulling out a spectacular season, but they could definitely have a few impressive streaks throughout the year.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Phillies were the most dominant team in the National League East, and one of the best in all of baseball. But things have gone downhill very fast. With virtually no pitching, beyond Cole Hamels, Ken Giles and Jonathan Papelbon, the Phillies are going to have a difficult time keeping opposing teams off the board in the coming year. On the flip side, they will likely also have struggles of their own of scoring runs. No longer with Jimmy Rollins, the Phillies have to rely on Chase Utley and Ryan Howard — two players who have been up and down over the past several years — to produce for the majority of the team’s run. But while the fate of those two players are up in the air, the Phillies still have the speedy Ben Revere and talented third baseman Cody Asche. They should help out what is otherwise a worn out team. I truly don’t think things will be too pretty in Philadelphia in 2015.
The Cardinals are sure to have a battle on their hands to win the division with the resurgence of the Cubs and the always good Pirates, but I think they have the talent to pull it off. Their pitching is good, having a good mix of both veterans — Adam Wainwright and John Lackey — as well as young stars — Marco Gonzalez and Michael Wacha. Their pitching alone will go a long way in winning them a lot of ballgames. To make those pitchers even better, the Cards have Yadier Molina behind the plate, who is an extremely valuable asset to their team, as he has been for years. Beyond that, Matt Adams, Kolten Wong and Matt Carpenter are sure to have good years, as are Matt Holliday and newly acquired Jason Heyward, who came over from the Braves this offseason. No matter what, they will likely have a great season, with a long run into the playoffs looking like it could be a good possibility.
It is going to be an exciting season in Chicago, no doubt about it. The White Sox are looking like they’ll have a great year, and the Cubs certainly have the talent to do the same. The Cubs’ offense is loaded with a lot of young talent, given it is unproven for the most part on the big league level. Still, with names like Jorge Soler, Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, along with Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantra, and Miguel Montero, the Cubs have a strong player at every spot in the lineup. And that’s before Kris Bryant is even a part of the mix. Set to come up in mid April after hitting 43 homers in the minors last year, Bryant could be an All-Star for years to come. On the pitching side of things, the Cubs don’t have a rotation that will dominate every team in their way, but it is good enough to get the job done. After the pickup of Jon Lester this offseason, they should have a good enough team to make a push for a Wild Card.
The Pirates finally broke their long playoff drought in 2012, but although they’ll be good again this coming season, I don’t think they’ll make it to the postseason in 2015. Their pitching staff is merely okay, with guys like Gerritt Cole, A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano, and their bullpen is a bit iffy. It comes down a lot of times to how well a team’s pitching performs from one night to the next, so that could turn out to be a big issue with the Pirates. As far as their lineup is concerned, it is actually a pretty good one. With an outfield of Gregory Polanco, Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte, the have a great combination of hitters that also play great defense. That extends into the infield, where they have Neil Walker, Josh Harrison and Pedro Alvarez. So, will they go on a run and make it to the postseason? That remains to be seen. But as far as I can see, they’ll likely come up just short.
It is somewhat difficult to place the Reds in fourth place in the National League Central division with the great level of talent that they posses, but it’s simply where I find them falling when the season has concluded six months from now. Despite a rotation that is lead by Johnny Cueto, that’s basically where their dominant pitching ends. Sure, the Reds have Homer Bailey and Mike Leake, with Tony Cingrani looking to bounce back in 2015, but they don’t have the arms to compete with the three teams I have finishing ahead of them — even with the flame throwing Aroldis Chapman as their closer. But what they lack in pitching, they make up for in offense, which is what will keep them from falling into last place. From the speedy Billy Hamilton to Todd Frazier, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and Devin Mesoraco, the Reds should have a decent lineup in 2015, but will have little to show for it in the end.
For the Brewers, it looks to be a rough season for them. In my opinion, the Reds are the only team they could potentially swap spots with, assuming something goes wrong with the Reds and things go really right with the Brewers. I’m not trying to knock the Brewers — they’re a good team. But they simply don’t have the talent in their lineup or pitching that can have me place them any higher. While their pitching staff isn’t horrible, it isn’t great either. With Mike Fiers, Kyle Lohse, and Matt Garza, and a bullpen that has Francisco Rodriguez as their closer, the Brewers are a true mystery for how they will perform this season. Their bright spot, however, is their lineup. Jonathan Lucroy, Scooter Gennett, Aramis Ramirez, Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez will all combine to lead to a good amount of runs, but I don’t feel it will be on a consistent enough basis for the Brewers to do all that well this season.
I see the Dodgers easily repeating as division champions in 2015. Offensively, they got a little weaker, losing Matt Kemp to the Padres as well as Hanley Ramirez to the Red Sox, but it is still a very deep lineup regardless. Joc Pederson — Kemp’s replacement — is looking to have a good year in center field, as are his outfield partners, Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier. For the infield, the Dodgers picked up veteran Jimmy Rollins to replace Ramirez at short stop, as well as Howie Kendrick, who should make for a good double play partner for Rollins. Everything together leads to a solid offensive bunch. But the Dodgers also have a lot of pitching talent, beginning with Clayton Kershaw. Coined by the majority of people as the best pitcher in baseball, Kershaw mans a staff that includes Zack Grienke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and now Brandon McCarthy. It could be an exciting year in Los Angeles.
It may also be another fun season in San Francisco, but I don’t think it will all lead to another World Championship. Even so, the Giants should be a very good team — good enough to give the Dodgers a run for their money. A pitching staff lead by Madison Bumgarner, and containing Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Jake Peavy, not to mention a really good bullpen, the Giants should be able to prevent runs on a very consistent basis. And they should be able to score a lot of runs as well. With Buster Posey leading the charge, complimented by Brandon Belt, Hunter Pence (once he returns) and Brandon Crawford, the Giants should have a good offense capable of competing with any team in the league. But what really gives them a little added help is their manager, Bruce Bochy, who has become known as one of the best managers in the game in recent history. Bochy may be managing yet another postseason bound team.
If you had asked me on the final day of last season where I thought the Padres would place in 2015, there’s a good chance I would’ve placed them fourth, if not in dead last place. They simply weren’t a very good team last year. However, things should be much different than they were in 2014. The Padres’ general manager, A.J. Preller, did an unbelievable job this offseason of revamping their roster, snatching up numerous high level additions via free agent signings or trades. With a completely different outfield, now made up of Justin Upton, Wil Myers and Matt Kemp, as well as an infield that now includes Will Middlebrooks to go along with Jedd Gyorko and Yonder Alsono, and offseason pickup Derek Norris behind the plate, this Padres team looks to be on a whole other level offensively. Combine that with a pitching staff of Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross and James Shields, this Padres team will be interesting to watch.
I really believed in the Diamondbacks last season, but they really disappointed a lot of people, who had predicted them to do well. Now, with them losing a couple of players this offseason, and not doing much to get all that much better, I see the D-backs finishing next to last in the division. With the exception of Paul Goldschmidt, Mark Trumbo and newcomer Yasmany Tomas, Arizona doesn’t have too much power in their lineup. They have a few other good players — namely A.J. Pollock, Jake Lamb, Aaron Hill, etc. — who could help them win some games, but it’s going to come down to how their pitching performs. Patrick Corbin — a breakout pitcher from 2013 — is set to come back from Tommy John surgery, and he will help the D-backs immediately. But beyond him, their staff — Jeremy Hellickson, Daniel Hudson, etc. — is a bit of a mystery as to how they will pitch every fifth day. We’ll just have to wait and see.
In a few years from now, I could see the Rockies finally making a climb in the divisional standings with all of the prospects they have on the way, however, this year is not the year. I have them finishing dead last in the National League West division, as they simply can’t compete with the other teams in their division over the long 162-game season. They have a decent catcher in Wilin Rosario, as well as Nolan Arenado, Troy Tulowitzki and Justin Morneau in the infield, and Carlos Gonzalez, Corey Dickerson and Charlie Blackmon in the outfield. So the offensive side of the team is there. But what they have in lineup strength, they lack in pitching depth. The Rockies have no true ace of the staff, with all of their starters being major league average at best. And their bullpen isn’t all that spectacular either. Meaning, no matter how well their lineup produces, their pitching will likely be a big letdown.
Leave a comment below with whether or not you agree with my predictions.
A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about the through the mail (TTM) autograph requests I had received back from Spring Training, having received back an auto from Mark Appel and Sam Tuivailala. At the end of the post, I stated that I was going to be publishing a blog post once I had received back a few more autographs, and now that I’ve successfully gotten back some more of the requests I sent, I figured I’d go ahead and type this entry up:
DUSTIN ACKLEY — SEATTLE MARINERS
Dustin Ackley has been up and down over the course of his big league career, but he really broke out last season. Hitting a career high 14 home runs and 65 RBI’s, Ackley had a great season for the Mariners in 2014, and is looking to continue that into this year. If he can perform the way he is capable of, combined with the rest of the Mariners living up to their potential, Seattle could have a very formidable team this coming season.
JOE KELLY — ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
It’s truly a mystery how Joe Kelly will pitch this season for the Red Sox. Coming over from the Cardinals in 2014, Kelly had a fall back season of a 4.20 ERA over 17 starts after a good 2013 of a 2.69 ERA over 15 games started. But despite the downfall in stats, I look for Kelly to have a good 2015. Though he won’t likely win Cy Young award — as he jokingly predicted awhile back — Kelly will still have a noteworthy year.
TONY LA RUSSA — HALL OF FAME MANAGER
This one is rather self explanatory. Receiving induction into the Hall of Fame in 2014, Tony La Russa is truly one of the best managers of all time — and a personal favorite of mine. A three time World Series championship manager, racking up 2,728 wins over his 33 years, La Russa was absolutely amazing at what he did. Though he didn’t put together all that great of stats as a player, batting just .199 for his career, his managerial stats will likely stand the test of time.
I still have autograph requests out for Rob Kaminsky, Jacob Gatewood, Scooter Gennett and Doug Fister. When/if I get any of those back, assuming it’s before Opening Day on April 6th, I’ll be sure to post another update. Though, there’s no guarantee I’ll get any more back at all.
For the fourth 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 had the Angels finishing fourth in their division last year and they made it to the postseason), 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
4. Blue Jays
It was somewhat difficult to pick the Red Sox to win the division. For a team that went from last to first to last again, it would only make sense that they would once again be a first place team. But that isn’t why I designated them at the top. Although their pitching staff is somewhat of a question mark, their lineup is really good. With veterans David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli, combined with newcomers Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, the Red Sox are stacked top to bottom with talent; and there’s plenty more on the way in the minors that could make impacts at any moment during the season. Their pitching isn’t the best, but it isn’t the worst either. They still have recently dominant closer, Koji Uehara, and despite losing John Lackey and Jon Lester in 2014, they picked up Joe Kelly, Justin Masterson, Wade Miley and Rick Porcello. Everything combined together, it should lead to a lot of wins.
As hard as it was for me to put the Red Sox at number one, it was equally as difficult for me to place the Orioles in second. I was one of the people ranting when they lost Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis and Andrew Miller that the Orioles would do badly in 2015. But with careful consideration to their roster, and looking at the ball clubs of the other teams in the division, I placed them near the top. With Kevin Gausman, Wei-Yin Chen and Bud Norris, among others, the Orioles rotation is fairly decent. And despite the loss of Miller, their bullpen is pretty good as well, so the run prevention should be there. The question mark is what kind of impact will losing Cruz have on their offense. The subtraction of 40 home runs is sure to have an impact, but they still have Adam Jones, Jonathan Schoop and Manny Machado to put together runs. While it won’t lead to a division title, a second place finish isn’t impossible.
The Yankees could wind up being really good or really bad, all depending on the production and health of each player on their team. So I feel confident with placing them in the third place slot. They have the ability to finish higher, with several above average players on their squad, but I’m not confident that it will happen. Still, with a rotation that consists of players such as CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda, and a bullpen that ends with Dellin Betances slamming the door in the ninth, their pitchers alone could win them a good amount of games. But pitching isn’t any good if your offense can’t score runs. Brian McCann needs to step things up after a below average season, as do Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. Beyond that, the return of Alex Rodriguez should be . . . well . . . interesting. With so much uncertainty, the Yankees’ season will be one of the most intriguing to watch.
I might could see the Blue Jays edging out the Yankees, but I’m placing them at four in the division anyway. With the pickups of Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson to help strengthen their overall lineup — a lineup that already had star hitters Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes and Edwin Encarnacion — the Jays will be good enough to score a lot of runs. But the question is whether or not their pitching staff will be able to prevent them on a consistent basis. Mark Buehrle will likely have another great year, with R.A. Dickey having a mix of good and bad starts throughout the season. What it comes down to for me is Daniel Norris. With Marcus Stroman now out for the season, it’ll take a great year from Norris to overcome Stroman’s loss. He has the potential to do so, but it will take him living up to expectations. That is going to be the difference maker in a fourth place team and a team that makes a few good runs at the second wild card spot.
The Rays won the American League East division as recently as 2009, however, I don’t think they’ll be able to pull out anything over a last place finish in 2015. Like the Blue Jays, the Rays could easily make a jump in the division rankings, but a lot of things can go wrong to keep them from getting there. First off, while their pitching staff still consists of Alex Cobb, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi, the loss of David Price last season and having Matt Moore out until midseason while rehabbing his Tommy John surgery will have an impact on their ability to shutout opposing teams. On the flip side, their lineup is merely decent, as with the exception of Evan Longoria, they have no proven big time bats at all. The Rays have James Loney, Asdrubal Cabrera and Kevin Kiermaier, among others, who can help the club out significantly, but no one on the team can carry it by themselves. It will take a team effort for the Rays to have any big success in 2015.
3. White Sox
The Royals may or may not actually outplay the Tigers in the upcoming season, but it sure will be fun to watch them go back and forth in the division rankings. The Royals proved to everyone in 2014 that they weren’t messing around anymore, making it to the World Series and putting up a good fight against the Giants. In 2015, expect them to perform close to the same. While I’m not guaranteeing a World Series appearance, they still have a rotation that consists of Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, Jason Vargas, among others. And if their rotation can get to the sixth inning, it’s basically a lock for a win, as their bullpen, with Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and dominant closer, Greg Holland. Their lineup is still strong, despite the loss of All-Star designated hitter, Billy Butler, with Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain to lead the way. They should be a great team this season.
As far as the Tigers are concerned, they could turn out to be the winners of the division when all is said and done, but I’m placing them in second, nonetheless. For me, their pitching will be the key in where they place in the division. Their downfall in the 2014 postseason, their bullpen, isn’t any better than it was back then. In addition, their starting rotation is somewhat of a question mark now with Doug Fister and Max Scherzer both in Washington. But what they lack in pitching they more than make up for in offense. That’s why they’re as high as they are. Consisting of J.D. Martinez, Ian Kinsler, Yoenis Cespedes, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez (once he returns from injury), the Tigers are loaded from top to bottom in their lineup. But if their pitching doesn’t come through, offense can only go so far. Even so, I believe the Tigers will win far more than their far share of games in 2015, making yet another return to the playoffs.
The White Sox did more than their share to get better throughout this offseason. Picking up Jeff Samardzija to go along with an already decent rotation that includes Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, among others, and adding David Robertson to their bullpen, the Sox pitching staff is good enough to compete in 2015. What things will come down to is if their offense can perform. Jose Abreu will likely have another year close to that of his impressive rookie debut in 2015, and that alone will go a long way in making the Whit Sox competitive. But in addition, the White Sox picked up Adam LaRoche and Melky Cabrera to go along with Alexei Ramirez, Emilio Bonifacio and Adam Eaton. If everything goes as planned, it could turn out to be an exciting season in Chicago. But even so, I don’t think they are a good enough team to win the division. They’ll have to battle it out for a Wild Card spot at best.
Playing in such a strong division, I don’t feel the Indians can finish any better than fourth, despite being a good team. Their lineup is strong, with Yan Gomes set to have a breakout year, along with Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley as well as established veterans Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher. With players like that set to take the field each and every day, the Indians should be able to score their fair share of runs. However, while they can score runs, they may not be able to consistently prevent the opposition from scoring them. Beyond Corey Kluber, who is undeniably their ace after he won the Cy Young award in 2014, the Indians have Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar and Gavin Floyd, but none of them have been able to prove they can be good in the majority of their outings. Whether or not their pitching can come through will tell the tale for how their season turns out.
Unfortunately, the Twins are likely facing a last place finish, yet again. Minnesota has tons of pitchers who have shown flashes of greatness at times over the course of their career, but they currently rest as a huge question mark. Kyle Gibson, Phil Hughes, Tommy Milone and Ricky Nolasco all have great potential to have a good 2015, but none are a slam dunk by any means. On the flip side of the coin, their lineup could be either good or bad this season, all depending on numerous factors. With guys like Joe Mauer to lead the way, along with Torii Hunter, Brian Dozier and Aaron Hicks, there is always the chance that the Twins make some sort of run during the season and wind up doing better than I am expecting. However, it would take nearly everything going right for them, and with so much unpredictability, I just don’t see that happening for them — at least in 2015.
When all is said and done, the Mariners could turn out to be the best team in all of the American League. From top to bottom, they are an extremely solid team, and will win a ton of games in 2015. For starters, their rotation is terrific. With Felix Hernandez leading the pack, and Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton also in the mix from one night to the next, any team facing the Mariners will inevitably have a battle on their hands to score runs each and every night. But Seattle should have no problem with that. Just missing the playoffs last season, the Mariners proceeded to get better in the offseason, picking up Nelson Cruz to go along with fellow slugger, Robinson Cano. Also possessing Mike Zunino, Brad Miller, Kyle Seager, etc., the Mariners have very few holes in their entire roster. For me, if they fail to win the division in 2015 they didn’t live up to their full potential.
But with all of that said for the Mariners, the Angels will certainly do their part in giving them a run for their money in the American League West. After posting a near 100 win season in 2014, the Angels are looking to have another postseason push this time around. I think C.J. Cron is going to have a breakout season, with David Freese having a bounce back year. In addition, the Angels got a bit stronger by adding long time Ray, Matt Joyce, to go along with Albert Pujols and Mike Trout, both of which will have another star year. It’s their pitching, though, that controls how they do in 2015. Last season, Garrett Richards truly made a name for himself, and he should have another good season this year. But after that, things are truly unpredictable. C.J. Wilson, Matt Shoemaker and Jered Weaver all have a lot of potential to be good, but whether or not they actually do will determine how the Angels finish 2015.
A lot of people — myself included — gave the Athletics a hard time this offseason when they made several moves that seemed to weaken their team. However, now that the dust has settled, and people have been given the chance to look at those moves, they truly didn’t hurt them that bad. Even so, a finish any better than third in 2015 would truly stun me. The Angels and Mariners are simply too good. Nonetheless, with Sonny Gray, Jesse Chavez and Jarrod Parker leading the pitching staff, the A’s will still be able to find a way to hang in the mix. I liked the offseason pick up of Josh Phegley to go behind the plate, as well as the acquisitions of Brett Lawrie, Billy Butler, and Marcus Semien. All are good players, and each will give a little something to the club. But despite the amazing ability of the A’s in recent years to have an average team on paper that blew away the competition, I don’t think that will happen this season.
The Rangers are somewhat of a disappointing team. A recent powerhouse team in the division, the Rangers aren’t likely to do much better this season than they did in 2014. But they could end up surprising a lot of people if everything happens just right. After all, they have several players looking to redeem themselves from a down 2014 season. Prince Fielder being the biggest example of that, as he came over from the Tigers to the Rangers only to play in 42 games all year. I look for him to have a much needed bounce back season, however. But while Fielder may have another star caliber year, the Rangers took a true hit this past week, with Yu Darvish undergoing Tommy John surgery, meaning he will miss the entire 2015 season. That is a true blow to the Rangers, even with Derek Holland and Yovani Gallardo to fall back on. I don’t think things will turn out well enough for them to finish very high in the standings.
Year after year, the Astros have been promising to have a great team that can compete with all of the other teams in the division. But despite visible improvement in 2014, I don’t feel that they stand a chance at taking on the Mariners, Angels or Athletics. If anything, they may compete for fourth place with the Rangers, but that’s as good as I could possibly see them doing. But it’s not for a lack of talent. The Astros have a good lineup, with sluggers Chris Carter and George Springer, along with Jon Singleton, Jose Altuve and pickup Evan Gattis, but their pitching will likely be too below average for them to post any big win numbers. Beyond Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh, the Astros truly don’t have much pitching to speak of. The Astros as a whole will likely have their moments, with some great games coming here and there, but the Astros postseason bound season will have to wait at least one more year.
Leave a comment below with whether or not you agree with my predictions.
Below you’ll find a list of the home run milestones that *should* occur in 2015. 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 three 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 2015 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:
2015 Home Run Milestones
Alexei Ramirez, White Sox — Home Run Number 100 (1 home run away)
Michael Morse, Marlins — Home Run Number 100 (1 home run away)
Carlos Santana, Indians — Home Run Number 100 (2 home runs away)
Mike Trout, Angels — Home Run Number 100 (2 home runs away)
Miguel Montero, Cubs — Home Run Number 100 (3 home runs away)
Stephen Drew, Yankees — Home Run Number 100 (3 home runs away)
Yadier Molina, Cardinals — Home Run Number 100 (4 home runs away)
David Ross, Cubs — Home Run Number 100 (5 home runs away)
James Loney, Rays — Home Run Number 100 (5 home runs away)
David Dejesus, Rays — Home Run Number 100 (6 home runs away)
Chase Headley, Yankees — Home Run Number 100 (7 home runs away)
Matt Wieters, Orioles — Home Run Number 100 (8 home runs away)
Brandon Moss, Indians — Home Run Number 100 (9 home runs away)
Carlos Gomez, Brewers — Home Run Number 100 (9 home runs away)
Ian Desmond, Nationals — Home Run Number 100 (9 home runs away)
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Marlins — Home Run Number 100 (11 home runs away)
Melky Cabrera, White Sox — Home Run Number 100 (12 home runs away)
Asdrubal Cabrera, Rays — Home Run Number 100 (13 home runs away)
Freddie Freeman, Braves — Home Run Number 100 (14 home runs away)
Chris Carter, Astros — Home Run Number 100 (15 home runs away)
Buster Posey, Giants — Home Run Number 100 (17 home runs away)
Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks — Home Run Number 100 (17 home runs away)
Brian McCann, Yankees — Home Run Number 200 (1 home run away)
Nelson Cruz, Mariners — Home Run Number 200 (3 home runs away)
Josh Hamilton, Angels — Home Run Number 200 (8 home runs away)
Hanley Ramirez, Red Sox — Home Run Number 200 (9 home runs away)
Victor Martinez, Tigers — Home Run Number 200 (11 home runs away)
Michael Cuddyer, Home Run Number 200 (13 home runs away)
Jayson Werth, Nationals — Home Run Number 200 (14 home runs away)
Mike Napoli, Red Sox — Home Run Number 200 (14 home runs away)
Hunter Pence, Giants — Home Run Number 200 (15 home runs away)
Evan Longoria, Rays — Home Run Number 200 (16 home runs away)
Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals — Home Run Number 200 (16 home runs away)
Jay Bruce, Reds — Home Run Number 200 (18 home runs away)
Matt Kemp, Padres — Home Run Number 200 (18 home runs away)
Prince Fielder, Rangers — Home Run Number 300 (12 home runs away)
Adrian Beltre, Rangers — Home Run Number 400 (5 home runs away)
Miguel Cabrera, Tigers — Home Run Number 400 (10 home runs away)
For the first time in awhile, the Cubs could be relevant in 2015.
A big reason for that is their young, future superstars who showed signs of their potential in the Cubs’ Spring Training game against the Indians on Tuesday afternoon.
Hitting back-to-back-to-back home runs off of the Indians’ Trevor Bauer — a player who really needs to figure out once and for all if he’s ever going to be the star pitcher he was once hyped as –, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant each gave the Cubs reason to look forward to this year.
But there is a really good chance that Bryant (the number 2 prospect in all of baseball) may not begin the season in Chicago. For several reasons — none of which really involve talent level — the Cubs have made known that their likely plan is to send Bryant to Triple-A for the first portion of the season. To me, although I can comprehend the reasoning, that could turn out to be a mistake.
I understand that leaving Bryant in the minors for a few weeks allows them another full year of control over him, and that leaving him in the minors through June would save the Cubs some money. But that’s major production that the Cubs could truly use this year, in my opinion, if they want a true shot at the postseason.
The Cubs owe it to their fans, after so long without a World Series, to put out the best team possible on every given day of the regular season each and every year. In order for that to happen, the Cubs need to have Kris Bryant playing third base on Opening Day.
A couple weeks 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 nine total TTM requests I sent off so far, I’ve received two of them back, with them being from:
MARK APPEL — ASTROS’ ORGANIZATION
The number one overall draft pick by the Astros in 2013, Mark Appel was regarded as one of the best college pitchers in the country coming off a strong senior season at Stanford. However, he hasn’t yet lived up to those numbers. Posting a 6.91 ERA over the course of 18 games started in 2014, Astros fans will surely be watching to see whether or not Appel can get things going this year. Ranked as the number 30 prospect in all of baseball, there are still plenty of people that believe he can . . . and will.
SAM TUIVAILALA — ST. LOUIS CARDNALS
It’s very possible that you’ve never heard of Sam Tuivailala. But that’s not because he isn’t a valuable asset of the Cardinals’ organization. Able to reach 100 miles per hour on his fastball, Tuivaila is an under the radar player in every sense of the word. With 170 strikeouts over the course of 108.1 career relief innings pitched in the minors, Tuivailala has already been able to show his talents on the major league level, making his big league debut last season. Expect him only to get better in the years to come.
I still have autograph requests out for Rob Kaminsky, Jacob Gatewood, Dustin Ackley, Joe Kelly, Scooter Gennett, Tony La Russa and Doug Fister. When/if I get any of those back, assuming it’s before Opening Day on April 6th, I’ll be sure to post another update. Though, there’s no guarantee I’ll get any more back at all.