Archive for the ‘ Dailies ’ Category

Darwin Barney Shines In Spring Training Kickoff

The first game of the 2016 Major League Baseball Spring Training month of March saw the Philadelphia Phillies taking on the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday afternoon. While these games don’t count in the standings and show no definite signs of how any team will fare in the regular season, you have to figure that the Blue Jays (they won 5-2) are headed for another postseason run,Barney with Philadelhia on the flip side still in the process of rebuilding.

Even so, if it wasn’t for one player in Toronto’s lineup, things may have turned out quite differently on the day. Darwin Barney is currently still batting a thousand in the books, after going 3-3 with five total RBI’s for the game. Although you can’t take such a quick start as a sign of things to come, especially with pitchers not at the top of their game yet, it is certainly nice to see for Barney.

After being a regular player for the Cubs from 2011 through 2013, Barney hasn’t been able to stay consistent in the majors since being traded to the Dodgers in 2014. Spending nearly 100 games in the minors last season before being traded to the Blue Jays, Barney wasn’t with Toronto long enough to be eligable for their postseason push, which was obviously disappointing for him.

But if game one of Spring Training is any inclination, Darwin Barney looks to be on a mission to become an everyday player again in the big leagues, with ultimate hopes of still playing big time games come October.

2016 Final MLB Standings Predictions

It’s finally March 1st, which means Spring Training games are officially here.

Over the course of the next few days, each and every team around Major League Baseball will put their club on display in live games for the first time in 2016. With some teams being completely different than they were last season — some have improved, some have gotten worse — it gives fans the chance to see glimpses of what to expect and look forward to when the regular season begins next month, even though Spring games have proven to not provide much standing as to how the regular season will go.

As has been the case over the course of this blog, March also brings my predictions and overall thoughts leading up to the new year in baseball. This year will prove to be no different.

But to kick things off, I’m going to allow you, the reader, to let your opinions be known by giving you the opportunity to vote for which team you think has the best shot at winning each division. (Be sure to vote for all six, and not just the top few.) I’m going to be doing a separate couple of blog posts (one for the American League and one for the National League) on my predictions for how I feel each team will fare this season sometime in the last week of the month, 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 2016:

Blogging Plans As Spring Training Games Grow Closer

With less than a week until baseball games are once again being played down in Florida and Arizona as part of Major League Baseball’s annual Spring Training, the topics surrounding the coming season are growing by the day. March 1st is set to be the first of a month of matchups between teams in both the Cactus League and the Grapefruit League, and with them will inevitably come numerous takeaways and subsequent predictions regarding the 2016 regular season.Spring

As a baseball fan, I myself have several predictions of my own for what I feel will unfold over the course of this season. Although some of those things will undoubtedly fail to come true, I still find it enjoyable to lay out some of my thoughts this time of year as to what’s to come. With that in mind, I thought I’d discuss a brief overview of what’s to come from this blog as the season inches closer over this final month.

Although a lot of the things I write about will be related to news that is impossible to foresee, the first post of the month is going to give the readers a chance to let their opinions be known. As I’ve done for the past several seasons, I’ll be uploading a post with polls that let you all vote for which team you feel stands the best chance at winning each division in 2016. It’s always fun to see what people from around the baseball world have to say regarding those polls.

Once that is up, I’ll be publishing a blog post revealing the players who are likely to reach a home run milestone in the coming season, which winds up being an interesting post to look at in order to see what to look forward to from some talented players in the year to come. In addition, I plan to publish two more interviews at some point in the first and last weeks of the month, with both of them being with really talented pitchers; as well as a post on my own predictions for each team individually, regarding their fate in the standings at season’s end.

However, while all of those posts are planned out, as previously stated, the majority of the things I write about in March will simply be about whatever is going on around baseball at that point in time. Like the coming season, anything can truly happen.

Q and A With Scooter Gennett

Scooter Gennett was drafted by the Brewers in the 16th round of the 2009 draft, after hitting .470 his senior year at Sarasota High School.

GennettMaking a steady climb through the minors from 2010 through 2013 — including an appearance in the 2012 Futures Game in Kansas City — Gennett debuted at the big league level in June of 2013. By batting .324 with 6 homers and 21 RBI’s over 69 games his rookie year, Gennett set himself up nicely to be a big part of the Brewers moving forward.

Gennett once again had a solid year in 2014, where he hit 9 home runs with the Brewers to go along with 54 RBI’s. However, this past year not everything went quite as smoothly as the previous two seasons for Gennett, with him hitting a few rough spots throughout the year.

Following an unfortunate freak injury to begin the season, Gennett proceeded to produce subpar numbers for the Brewers, leading to him being sent down to the minors midseason. But despite the setback, Gennett was quickly brought back up to finish out the end of the year in Milwaukee, and wound up with 6 homers and 29 RBI’s for the season.

While 2015 was a somewhat down year for Scooter Gennett, he should see a bounce back to his former self in 2016. If everything goes as planned, he is likely to be the everyday second baseman for the Brewers all of this upcoming season.

Scooter Gennett — second baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers — 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 got into baseball when I was 2 years old. My dad and I would play all the time, and he started teaching me everything about the game. I’d say he was my biggest influence in the sense that he taught me everything I know.

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

My favorite baseball player was always Barry Larkin. As a small kid growing up in Cincinnati, I admired how he played the game. He was a professional and took the time to say hi to young kids like myself. I really respected him for that.

3.) You were drafted by the Brewers in the 16th round of the 2009 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

Well, to be honest, I thought I would have gone sooner. So as an 18 year old, I was pretty upset [laughs]. But I was with my family and girlfriend (now wife) at our house listening to the whole draft on a laptop. Once I finally heard my name, I was excited and just ready to get my career started.

4.) Your official full name is Ryan Joseph Gennett, but are known as Scooter around the baseball world. While you’ve told the story a few times before, for those who don’t know, briefly retell how you received the nickname Scooter that has stuck with you ever since.

I was a bad kid and didn’t listen very often, especially in the car. I would always undo my car seat belt while my mom was driving, so she would have to stop the car and get out. One day she wanted to teach me a lesson on seatbelt safety and scare some sense into me. So when I was like 4 years old she pulled into a police station where an officer came over to talk to me. When the officer asked me what my name was, I thought I was getting arrested so I quickly thought of an alias, Scooter Gennett, named after my favorite muppet babies character “Scooter”. I didn’t respond to Ryan at all for about a year after the incident, afraid that I would still get in trouble, so Scooter just stuck around.

5.) After a couple of good seasons in the minors in 2010 and 2011, you were selected to take part in the 2012 Futures Game in Kansas City. What was that experience like?

Being in the Futures Game was really a great honor. To know that I was selected to play amongst the best talent was just a really amazing feeling.

6.) Over the course of your Major League career, you’ve hit .307 against righties but just .123 against lefties. As a left handed batter, how do you differ your overall approach when facing southpaw pitchers? Is there anything you’re working on to attempt to improve your production against lefties?

I can only hope I get the opportunity to face more lefty starters this year to show what I can do. Throughtout the minors I never had a problem with lefties, and I know I can hit them. Like anything, I just need consistent at bats against them. It’s the consistency that is key.

7.) In 2015, you were placed on the disabled list early in the year, and after a somewhat poor return you were sent down to the minors for around a month before being recalled. What was your overall take regarding being sent down? Did that experience change the way you go about every day in the majors now?

Being sent down last year just really showed me to enjoy everyday in the big leagues and to do my best everyday. You really never know when your last game might be, so enjoy every moment you have playing at that level because it really is such a blessing. I wouldn’t say I worked harder when I got sent down. It was just a reminder to do the very best you can everyday. That goes for life in general, also.

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

I feel my attitude was good in 2015, especially while getting sent down. I think that went well for me, and I am going to continue keeping a positive outlook. My goals for 2016 are just to play everyday and stay healthy!

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

I’m a Netflix guy. I watch a movie every night before bed, and I will literally give any movie a shot. As for a show I’m just now watching, ‘The Bible’ series on Netflix is pretty awesome. My favorite food is definitely beef tips and noodles — yummy.

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

I would tell kids that if baseball is in their heart, to never give up on their dreams. No matter how many people tell you you can’t do something or you will never make it, if you want something bad enough you can achieve any goal! It’s all about having faith and the right mindset.

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Big thanks to Scooter Gennett for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @Sgennett2

Impact Players Still Teamless As Spring 2016 Begins

Although games aren’t scheduled to be played until March 1st, for every baseball fan Spring Training officially begins when pitchers and catchers first report. Five clubs saw their pitchers and catchers report on Wednesday, with the remaining teams’ hurlers and backstops trickling in over the next few days, leaving every team with their respective pitchers and catchers in camp by Sunday. Print

Therefore, baseball is finally back.

But for a number of free agent players who have yet to find homes so far this offseason, Spring Training is going to have to wait — at least for now. Before they can report to a camp, every free agent needs to come to terms with a team that they’ll wind up calling home for the 2016 season.

Given, there’s still over a month until the regular season, and most if not all of the free agents will sign before too long. But time is slowly running out. With that in mind, I thought I’d go over the free agent players still on the market, position by position, who are more than capable of still helping out a big league club, but have yet to sign for one reason or another.

Beginning with the starting pitching role, the best remaining free agent starter who remains up for grabs is Yovani Gallardo. While Gallardo has been linked to talks with the Orioles, he is still technically in play for all thirty clubs. Although he isn’t going to be the ace of any team’s staff, Gallardo is still a really good pitcher who you can count on for numerous innings (180+ for each of the past seven seasons) and will give his team a chance to win each and every night.

Appropriately following the starting pitcher in this post is the relief pitcher, with there being several quality reliever options remaining. The one that stands out the most to me, however, is Casey Janssen. He didn’t have the best season in 2015, but a three year stretch from 2011-2013 saw him as one of the best relievers in the game. With him holding a career ERA of Morneau3.63, Janssen doesn’t immediately jump off the page, but he can be an asset to a number of teams.

Justin Morneau leads the pack of available free agent first basemen. After a 17-homer season back in 2014, Morneau only played in 49 games last season due to injuries which ultimately held his numbers down. But I look for Morneau to have a bounce back season in 2016, if he can be healthy. Although his days of dominating the first base position are likely over, the days of him being a solid player definitely aren’t.

At second base, the only free agent left is Dan Uggla, making him the only option to discuss. I’m not sure what the future holds for Uggla, who was once one of the best second baseman in baseball. Uggla blasted 30+ homers for five straight seasons early in his career and has been an impactful player, but he hasn’t had a very productive season since 2013. However, with all of that said, Uggla could surprise some people if given a chance.

David Freese manning the hot corner is something any team would want to see, but for some reason he has yet to be signed. Freese is a reliable third baseman who you can count on year in and year out to hit double digit homers and drive in runs in the majority of key situations. After all, Freese was the reason the Cardinals survived game six of the 2011 World Series and ultimately went on to win. He falls under the low risk, high reward type of player, and would be a nice pickup for any team.

The shortstop position is currently one of the weaker spots as far as free agents is concerned, but Ian Desmond is the big player of the group. Following a somewhat mixed departure from the Nationals, where Trea Turner looks ready to take over the shortstop role, Desmond has been linked to a number of teams this offseason but has yet to land anywhere. Even so, Desmond is still a valuable player, coming just one homer shy in 2015 of a fourth straight 20+ home run year.Fowler

As far as the outfield, there are a number of above average free agents still there for the taking. Looking merely at the position as a whole — not individually at right, left and center — the the top three free agent outfielders in my mind are Austin Jackson, Dexter Fowler and Marlon Byrd. They’re each mid-to-upper .200’s career hitters, and each had solid 2015 campaigns. For that reason, while they still remain without a team to call home, chances are they won’t be that way for long and will have some amount of impact this coming season.

Despite every position previously mentioned having players available to sign, if your favorite team is in need of a catcher, they’ll have to look for other options besides free agency. There are no remaining catchers on the market, making it the only position without a single player left. However, there are more than plenty of other positions to snag above average players from that can impact any roster.

As history has shown, the majority of free agents always wind up signing with a team, even if it takes until the very last second to do so. But now that Spring Training is upon us, they no longer have the luxury of sitting back and waiting for the right offer and the right time to arrive. With spring being the time teams find themselves and form chemistry each year, the time for free agents to begin their final pushes towards signing is now.

First for Cubs: World Series or All-Star Game?

It was reported recently that Wrigley Field will be the site of the Major League Baseball All-Star game sometime in the very near future. Logic would point to them being the hosts in 2019, after the All-Star game has been on display in San Diego this season, Miami in 2017 and Washington D.C. two years down the road. However, no official announcement has been made as to the exact year the midsummer classic will be held up in Chicago.Cubs

The last time the Cubs hosted the All-Star game was back in 1990, with standout players such as Wade Boggs, Ken Griffey Jr. and Rickey Henderson, among many others, leading the American League to a 2-0 win over the National League. With such a long drought, it would seem only right that the Cubs receive another All-Star game.

Even so, as everyone around the baseball world knows, it’s not the 26-year All-Star game drought that the Cubs are famous for; it’s their 71-year World Series appearance drought (108 years since their last World Series title). But despite the fact that the Titanic sinking is more recent history than the last World Series Championship for the Cubs, there are many people who believe that 2016 could finally (this time for sure) be the Cubs’ year.

Currently possessing an unbelievable roster — even better than the one that took them to the postseason in 2015 — the Cubs appear to be in good shape headed into this year. They added veteran John Lackey this offseason to their already good rotation of Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta. Combine that with the pickup of Jason Heyward to man the outfield, and young stars Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell and Anthony Rizzo looking to build on great 2015 campaigns, the Cubs are definitely a team to watch closely this coming season.

With all of their talent, however, comes the question of which is more probable to come first: a World Series Championship for the Cubs or an All-Star game at Wrigley Field?

Given that Chicago (as previously stated) won’t be able to host the All-Star game until at least 2019, the Cubs have three full seasons to realize the dream that has been used as a trivia question for decades. But just getting to the Fall Classic is extremely difficult, as has been proven in the past, so your guess for which comes first is just as good as mine.

Despite all of that, I have to find myself believing in the Cubs and their chances of finally winning the World Series in the next three seasons. Sure, some of that belief may just be me as a baseball fan hoping for the Cubs to break their century-long World Series drought, but I honestly think they have a group of guys that can pull it off. Only time will tell if they win a title before they once again host an All-Star game, but after 108 years of disappointment, why can’t 2016 (or 2017 . . . or 2018) be their year?

Could We See Multiple 50-Homer Players in 2016?

Ever since Babe Ruth burst onto the scene in 1919 with his single-season record breaking year of 29 home runs (more than some entire teams back then) — subsequently leading to his many superstar seasons that included 60 home runs in 1927 — baseball has been in love with the long ball. In fact, ever since 1983 there has been at least one player each and every season to hit 40 or more home runs, showing just how much baseball has come to depend on the big fly.Ruth

With 40 home runs no longer being quite the extraordinary feat that it was back when Ruth was in the middle of his Hall of Fame career — nine total players hit 40+ in 2015 — the new number of astonishment has risen to 50 or more homers in a season, which hasn’t been done in the past two seasons.

The most recent player with 50 or more homers in a season was Chris Davis in 2013, when he hit 53 with the Orioles. But I feel that there is a good chance of at least one player basting 50 homers in 2016, with the slightest of chances that multiple players accomplish the feat.

While more than one player hitting 50+ home runs would seem somewhat unlikely, it’s not as rare as you might think. Sure it’s tough to do, but it was done as recently as 2007 when Alex Rodriguez (54 homers) and Prince Fielder (50 homers) did just that. It was also done in 2006, 2002, 2001, 1999-1996, 1961, 1947 and 1938, with four players hitting 50 or more in both 1998 and 2001.

I don’t see another 1998 or 2001 on our hands, but I do feel that 2016 could become the 12th season in MLB history with two or more players hitting over 50 home runs in a single season.

Of all of the player in baseball, there are three who I feel stand the best shot at 50 this season: Giancarlo Stanton, Chris Davis and Bryce Harper.

Giancarlo Stanton was injured for most of the 2015 season, but as history has shown, he has just as much power as anyone in baseball right now, and is right up there with the all time great power hitters. In the 74 games he did play in 2015, Stanton blasted 27 home runs. If you were simply to double those numbers, Stanton would’ve theoretically hit 54 home runs in 148 games played. While those numbers can’t be taken literally, due to them being mere projections, Stanton undoubtedly has 50+ home run potential, and with the Marlins moving in the fences, I think 2016 will finally be his year if he can stay healthy.

50HomersBut even though Stanton has the best shot at 50, I think Chris Davis, who is no stranger to big production numbers, has a good chance as well. In 2015, Davis hit 47 home runs, but had 4-5 additional homers robbed by fantastic plays in the outfield over the season. Even so, Davis actually has a 50-homer season under his belt, as previously stated, hitting 53 in 2013. Returning to the Orioles for the next seven seasons, Davis is likely to hit well over 200 home runs over the course of that contract, and I could easily see him popping 50 of them in 2016 alone.

The last of the players on my top three 50 homer candidates list is Bryce Harper. He’s still extremely young, at just 23 years old, but having hit 42 home runs last season, I could envision 50 from him in 2016. His power is undeniable, and with him taking a fantastic approach at the plate last year — either drawing a walk or waiting for his pitch and crushing it — I think Harper will continue to produce MVP caliber numbers for the next several seasons. Whether or not he surpasses 50 homers in 2016 is yet to be seen, but it is certainly not out of the question.

Despite the fact that Spring Training hasn’t even begun, it’s never too early to glance towards the regular season, and I have the feeling that 2016 is going to be an unbelievable year around Major League Baseball. Although there’s the chance that my prediction is way off and no players at all hit 50 or more home runs this coming season, the potential for it to occur is there. That’s more than enough reason to get people around the baseball world excited for the regular season to get underway in less than two months.

Finding the Baseball Connections in Super Bowl 50

Super Bowl Baseball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q and A With Ray Black

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

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

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

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

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

You can follow him on Twitter: @rayblack37

2016 Top 100 Prospects List

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

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

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

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

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

Prospects 100-91

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

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

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

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

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

Prospects 90-81

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

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

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

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

Prospects 80-71

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

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

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

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

Prospects 70-61

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

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

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

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

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

Prospects 60-51

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

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

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

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

Prospects 50-41

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

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

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

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

Prospects 40-31

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

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

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

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

Prospects 30-21

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

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

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

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

Prospects 20-11

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

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

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

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

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

Prospects 10-1

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

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

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

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

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

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