Results tagged ‘ Astros ’

Q and A With Mark Appel

Mark Appel was drafted out of high school by the Tigers in the 15th round of the 2009 draft. However, due to his commitment to Stanford University, Appel didn’t sign, and instead went to pitch at college.

At Standford, Appel began as a relief pitcher, only receiving three starts his freshman year, where he posted a 5.92 ERA over 38 innings. Once he was made a full time starter again the next season, Appel excelled, lowering his ERA down to 3.02 for the year. In his junior year of college, after he went 10-2 with a 2.56 ERA, Appel was once again drafted, this time by the Pirates as the eighth overall pick. Many felt that Appel would begin his professional baseball career, but he decided to return to college to finish out his baseball career (and degree) at Stanford.

BBM-BeesvQCBandits-Appel-118Despite some flak from people around the baseball world for returning to college, Appel showed just how good of a pitcher he is, improving to have his best season at Stanford; setting the all-time collective strikeout record, in which he went 10-4 with a 2.12 ERA. After such a successful final year, Appel was drafted yet again, for the third time, by the Astros as the first overall pick in the 2013 draft.

Beginning his professional baseball career with Low-A Tri-City, Appel made it up to Single-A Quad Cities in 2013, going a combined 3-1 with a 3.79 ERA. Due to the 106 innings Appel had already pitched in 2013 at Stanford, he was shut down after just 38 professional innings pitched, bringing his innings up to roughly 144 for the season.

Appel has an average, to slightly above average, fastball, ranging from the lower to mid nineties, but he can crank it up to upper nineties when needed. He also possesses a good slider and a work in progress changeup that many think will come along.

Heading into his first major league Spring Training, it’s been reported that Appel could, potentially, make the big leagues out of camp “if he is one of the best five pitchers out of Spring Training”. However, as many people feel, it will likely be later in 2014, or early 2015, when Houston — his hometown — gets its first glimpse of Appel. But no matter when that is, with all of the other top prospects in the Astros’ farm system, the future would appear to be bright for them as an organization moving forward, with Appel soon to be leading the way.

Mark Appel — top pitching prospect in the Astros’ 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 first became interested in baseball when I was very young. For as long as I can remember, I have been playing some version of the sport. Growing up, my parents, as well as certain coaches throughout the years, really influenced me and encouraged me to pursue my dream of playing baseball as a way to educate myself in college and professionally.

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

Nolan Ryan was one of the all-time great pitchers and the player I looked up to the most as far as what I wanted to be on the field. He was a fierce competitor who gave his all every single time he got the ball. He competed no matter the score, circumstance, or previous result. Win or lose, you knew he was going to go out and compete again the next time he got the ball.

3.) You were drafted by the Astros in the 1st round of the 2013 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

The draft process is very interesting. As someone who has gone through it three different times in three unique situations, I feel like I have seen it all. Someone expected to get drafted goes through “interviews”, both on and off the field. In my situation, I spoke with general managers and scouting directors, as well as the local area scouts. Answering their questions off the field is important for their evaluation process so they can have a good understanding of the type of person you are. But the factor that matters most is the results on the field — how good you are at playing baseball.

The Astros and I had a number of conversations leading up to the draft and on the day of the draft, as well as a few other teams. When the time came for the pick to be made, I felt peace in knowing that I would be exactly where God wanted me to be, whether it was Houston or another team. Bud Selig announced my name and my friends and family who came to visit California (I was preparing for graduation the following week) all celebrated! It was a surreal feeling, knowing that I would be able to have a chance to play in my hometown and the team I grew up rooting for was now the same organization I was a part of. God’s grace is too great.

4.) Before being the number one overall pick in 2013, you were drafted by the Tigers in 2009, and the Pirates, eighth overall, in 2012. What made you decide to attend college instead of going pro out of high school? Why did you decide to return for your senior year at Stanford in 2012 after the Pirates drafted you so high?  

Like I said, I have been drafted three times and each were unique situations.

appelIn high school the Tigers drafted me in the 15th round, even though I told all the area scouts I spoke with that I was planning on attending Stanford. Dreaming about being a pro baseball player, it was fun to entertain the thought of signing as a senior in high school, but I knew that Stanford was where I needed to be for my future, both in baseball and in life. Unsure if I was ready to play minor league baseball, I knew college would allow me to grow up, become a man, and still play baseball at a very high level.

In 2012 the Pirates drafted me with the 8th pick in the draft. The decision to return to school for my senior season was the toughest I have ever had to make. There are a number of factors that go into a decision of that magnitude: baseball development and career, education, regrets (I will explain this one later), desires, and money. Also, as a follower of Jesus, relationships with my coaches, teammates and fans, combined with being a part of what God is doing in this world, is very important to me.

For the baseball development, I did not see an advantage to either signing or returning to school. Development really comes down to how badly you want to get better as a player. I knew that I would be able to improve both at Stanford and in the Pirates’ organization. As far as education went, it was a no-brainer to return to school. Playing my senior year allowed me to finish my degree in Management Science and Engineering. As far as regrets go, when I made my decision, I did not want to have any regrets. I didn’t want to spend my idle time thinking about what it would have been like if I chose the other option. Going back to Stanford meant I would have a chance to play in Omaha (which we didn’t achieve), finish my degree before starting a professional career, and continue to be involved in campus ministries that I had been involved with the past three years.

Those are some things that I would have wondered about a lot if I had signed. When it came down to it, money out of the question, I wanted to go back to school, not for the lack of things signing professionally had to offer (which wasn’t much), but for the mlb_a_appel_cr_400opportunities I had during my senior year at Stanford.

But, as everyone knows, money was involved. And it was a lot of money. There are two somewhat conflicting things going on with my situation. On one hand, I was offered a lot of money, and I mean a lot. And on the other hand, I wasn’t offered what I believed my value for my talents was in the draft market under the current rules. So do I stick to principle and go back to school, or do I chase the money and sign? It was a tough question to comprehend.

There are financial benefits to both options, as well as financial risks (well, maybe there were only risks for returning to school). If money was the most important thing to me, I would have signed 100 percent. I knew by returning to school, I would give up 3.8 million dollars. I also knew there were a few things that could go wrong: injury and underperformance were the two main risks. I also knew there were benefits: education, relationships, the opportunity to get better, and a potential financial gain. The thing most people don’t realize is that I had zero regrets. No matter the outcome of my senior season and the draft that followed, I would have been extremely happy with the decision.

As confirmation that I was exactly where God wanted me to be, within the first two weeks of being back at school four members from the Stanford baseball team had accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior through the team bible study! It was so cool to be a part of the work of the Holy Spirit!

5.) In your senior year of high school, you were a part time relief pitcher and didn’t become a full time starter again until your sophomore year of college. Having been both a starting and relief pitcher, which did you find more challenging?

Both relieving and starting have their challenges. I have much more experience as a starter, and at higher levels of competition, I have only started. Personally, I think the difference is the mentality and routine. A reliever needs to mentally prepare himself to pitch 1-2 innings every single night, in general. A starter must prepare mentally to pitch five or more innings once every five days. The two are difficult to compare. With that being said, I would say that starting has been more challenging for me, probably due to the difference in talent level between high school and college, but also because there is so much to learn as a starter. I feel like I learn something new every single day.

6.) 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 can be very difficult. There are many things that, as a Christian, I need to prepare for. Wherever you go, you will have decisions to make from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed that will affect both how you play and how your teammates see you — as a man of integrity or a hypocrite. From how I spend my time in the hotel room to where I go and what I do after the games, there will be temptations of various kinds; whether it is alcohol, drugs, etc. For me, reading is something that I enjoy doing, starting with the Bible, but also books for entertainment purposes. Reading engages the mind to learn and grow, especially when playing baseball every day can get repetitive and mundane at times.

Spending time with teammates is a great way to spend your free time. These are the guys that you hope to win a championship with, and in my opinion, the better the team knows and respects each other off the field the more we will play together as a unit. I also believe that building relationships is the first step to discipleship, what Jesus has called us to do as believers. Coming along side people and meeting them where they are, encouraging them and building them up, investing in their lives speaks a lot louder than just telling them about an alternative lifestyle through knowing Jesus that would be better for them. Actions always speak louder than words.

7.) The Astros haven’t been doing well lately, finishing with over 100 losses the past two seasons, but they have great talent down in their farm system. With players such as yourself, Carlos Correa and George Springer, among others, how do you see the teamMark Appel faring over the next few years?

Being a part of the Astros’ organization is an incredible blessing. Not only are they my hometown team, but I believe they are a team that will be good quickly and good for a long time. Buying in to the system now and getting to know all the players right now will build a foundation for the future of the organization at the big league level.

I believe that the Astros will be the most improved team this year, and will continue to improve year after year. As we develop and add new players to the major league team, the chances we win more and more games only increases.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2013? What are your goals for 2014?

My 2013 pro season was great. I’m not necessarily pleased with the end of year statistics as a whole, but I do believe I continued to improve and to learn about professional baseball and what to expect for my 2014 season.

This season my goals are simply to work as hard as I can every single day and allow God to take care of the rest. I am not going to worry about which level I start out at or when I make it to Houston this year (if at all). The great thing about being a disciple of Jesus is knowing that wherever I am in life, I have purpose and there is work to be done for the kingdom of God. Don’t get me wrong, I am going to work with all that I have in order to reach the big leagues, but while I’m working, I’m not going to worry, and I’ll have some fun!

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

Favorite TV show: Currently, ‘Parks and Recreation’. I can really identify with Ron Swanson. Favorite food: Steak.

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

My advice to kids hoping to play pro ball is to work hard in school, first and foremost. Secondly, have fun while you are playing. Don’t let the fun of the game be overshadowed by the worry and fear of not achieving the goals that you have for yourself. Baseball is a fun game, and I have seen too many players in college and pro ball not enjoy it because they want to be the best so badly that their desire for perfection has removed the joy they once had while playing the game. Don’t lose that childlike spirit.

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Big thanks to Mark Appel for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @MAppel26

Pitchers & Catchers Report; 2014 Autograph Requests

Due to the Dodgers’ and Diamondbacks’ opening-series that’s set to take place on March 22nd and 23rd in Australia, Spring Training action is beginning a bit earlier than usual this year. The Diamondbacks have their pitchers and catchers reporting today, with the UntitledDodgers’ pitchers and catchers reporting on Saturday. Therefore, for the first time since the Red Sox won the 2013 World Series over three months ago, baseball is finally back.

But while the Dodgers and Diamondbacks are getting started this week, the remainder of the teams won’t begin reporting until next week, anywhere from the 11th to the 17th: The Indians report date is set for Tuesday; the Cardinals and Mariners will begin on Wednesday; the Braves, Orioles, Phillies, Pirates, Nationals, Angels and Padres report Thursday; the Tigers, Yankees, Rays, Cubs, Reds, Royals and Athletics arrive on Friday; the Red Sox, Astros, Mets, White Sox, Rockies, Brewers and Giants on Saturday; the Marlins, Twins and Rangers report on Sunday; and the Blue Jays begin on Monday. (The rest of the players for all the teams will report anywhere from 3 to 7 days after their respective pitchers and catchers.)

Once all of the pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training on February 17th, there will be a mere 33 days until the 2014 Major League Baseball season gets underway in Australia. I, for one, can’t wait.

But I’m not quite ready to jump ahead to the start of the regular season just yet, as I still have a lot I want to talk about in the coming weeks. Therefore, for the time being, I’d like to take a minute to discuss something I love to do this time of year (besides watch Spring Training games on TV.) Every Spring Training, for the past two or three years, I’ve sent out a handful of through the mail (TTM) autograph requests to different players around the league. This year, I’m going to be sending out a dozen, or so, TTM’s, with the best player being Clayton Kershaw.

201303271540564290038-p2While that might seem like a long shot — and it very well may be — Kershaw, surprisingly, has been known to sign through the mail over the past few years; the only downside being that it takes over a year for him to return it to you.

Though his recent record breaking contract, and second Cy Young award, may lead to him getting even more fan mail, causing a subsequent stop of him signing for fans that write to him, Kershaw is good enough for me to take a chance on. Even if I don’t get anything back, at least I tried.

Other MLB players I’m sending to include Taijuan Walker (who made his MLB debut in 2013), David Robertson, Kolten Wong, Cody Asche, Mike Napoli and Jake Marisnick. All of these players have been known to be decent TTM signers, with Walker and Robertson being nearly automatic over the past couple years. Asche told me that he tries to sign everything that gets sent his way, so I’m fairly confident I’ll get that one back at least.

I’m also sending to several Minor League players who were invited to Major League Spring Training this year — some for the first time ever. Those players include Archie Bradley, Kyle Zimmer, Mark Appel, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora. All five of these players will be in the majors at some point over the next few years, with Bradley likely making his big league debut this season. Bradley, Zimmer and Appel have all told me that they sign TTM, so I feel like I’ll get those back. Almora has been hit and miss recently, and I doubt Bryant will, but I’m sending to both of them anyway, because you never know.

Last year I sent off eleven autograph requests to Spring Training and received back six of them, from Jason Motte, Danny Hultzen, Stephen Romero, Sonny Gray, Tyler Skaggs and Casey Kelly. That’s pretty good as far as TTM’s go. If I get back five or six of the dozen I’m sending off this year — which is what I expect to receive — I’ll be happy.

I’m planning to post a blog entry every time I receive back a couple autographs from the players I’m sending TTM requests to during Spring Training, just as I did last year. Hopefully it won’t be all that terribly long before I start getting them back (maybe a few weeks?). So be sure to check back for that over the course of the next couple months.

February Blogging Plans

I don’t really like to do too many of these type of blog posts. They mainly just serve as fillers when I have nothing else to blog about (like right now), but I suppose they’re also good, in a way, as they let you all know what to expect in the coming month.

As I’m sure you’re aware, today is the first day of February — a month that brings baseball, once again, in the form of Spring Training games. While I’m, unfortunately, not going to be heading down to any games in person, I am going to be blogging about it all, and in addition, am going to be giving my predictions for the coming season between now and the start on March 22nd. (Most of the predictions will come in March, however.)

My first planned post for this month (after this one) will cover the through the mail (TTM) autograph requests I’m sending out to players at the different MLB camps. I did the same thing last year, and have been sending out autograph requests for the past few seasons, so I always enjoy talking about it. (I’ll also be posting an update periodically whenever I receive two or three autographs back, whenever that may be.)

After that, things should pick up a bit — including the amount of baseball news.

I have an interview with the 2013 number one overall draft pick, Mark Appel, coming up this month, which is probably one of the most interesting interviews I’ve every done. It was apparent that Appel put a lot of effort into the questions, as he had a ton to say with each answer. (I always appreciate it when guys do that.)

I’ll probably do another interview — more than likely with Phillies third baseman, Cody Asche — towards the end of the month. That’ll leave just one more month (March) with interviews. I’ll be posting either one or two, depending on a few factors that I won’t discuss now.

Other than the interviews, I’ll just be writing about the baseball news as it happens.

Keep in mind, none of this is set in stone. I may rearrange things, or exclude them altogether. It’s just a basic outline to give an overall idea of what to expect in the coming month.

With so many players switching teams in the offseason, and the newcomers such as Masahiro Tanaka making their first official appearance with their teams, it should be an interesting next few weeks.

Spring Training games are now just over three weeks away . . . .

Maddux, Glavine & Thomas Elected to Hall of Fame

For the first time since 1971, there will be six living Hall of Fame inductees enshrined in Cooperstown on July 27th, in this the 75th anniversary of the museum. It was announced on Wednesday that Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas would be joining Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre, who were elected in December, as part of the 2014 Major League Baseball Hall of Fame class.

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Maddux, Glavine and Thomas — the first player elected to have played the majority of their games as a designated hitter — all received above 80 percent of the vote, and each were elected on their first time on the ballot. This marks the first time since 1999 that three first-ballot nominees (Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount) were elected, and just the second time in history.

Maddux saw the most votes, earning 97.2 percent of the 571 voters’ approval, making him the eighth highest vote getter in Hall of Fame voting history, behind Tony Gwynn (97.61), Hank Aaron (97.83), George Brett (98.19), Ty Cobb (98.23), Cal Ripken Jr.(98.53), Nolan Ryan (98.79) and Tom Seaver (98.84).

All three players were extremely deserving, no doubt about it, but many people feel that a couple of players who were just as “deserving” didn’t get enough recognition.

None more so than Craig Biggio, who received 74.8 percent of the vote, falling a mere two votes shy of the 75 percent necessary for induction. Biggio becomes the third player to miss getting in by two or fewer votes, joining Pie Traynor and Nellie Fox, who both eventually made it into the Hall of Fame.

Mike Piazza is another player that didn’t earn enough of the vote to be elected, but could’ve easily been elected in. Piazza’s percentage, as with Biggio, was likely hurt by the great amount of talent on this year’s ballot, but it’s still surprising to me that he didn’t come a bit closer.

Nonetheless, both Biggio and Piazza will likely be voted in next year.

Players who may not ever be elected, however, include Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who all saw drops in percentages from last year, and are all linked in one way or another to performance enhancing drugs (PED’s). Clemens was the top vote getter of them all, but received just 35.4 percent of the vote, down from 37.6 percent in 2013 — no where near the percentage needed. Rafael Palmeiro, who is also associated to PED’s, didn’t even receive the necessary 5 percent to remain on the ballot for next year, getting just 4.4 percent.

Palmeiro is one of 16 players from this year who will not be on the ballot for next year. Those players include the likes of Eric Gagne and Kenny Rogers, among others, who were good players but not good enough for the Hall of Fame. Jack Morris will also not be returning next year, as although he received 61.5 percent of the vote, this was his 15th and final year of eligibility.

Looking forward to the 2015 Hall of Fame ballot, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Gary Sheffield and Nomar Garciaparra will all be making their first appearance, and that could make it tough for really good players such as Mike Mussina and Jeff Kent, who received 20.3 percent and 15.2 percent of the vote this year, respectively, to make much progress. Only time will tell how the voters decide.

But one thing is for sure: Next year’s Hall of Fame class has the potential to be even more exciting than this one. And that’s truly saying a lot after the memorable class of 2014.

Q and A With Brandon Barnes

Brandon Barnes was drafted by the Astros in the 6th round of the 2005 draft. Since the draft, Barnes has had his fair share of ups and downs, however, he was able to establish himself as a Major League Baseball player this past season. But his road to the big Brandon+Barnes+Los+Angeles+Angels+Anaheim+lKW78cGJLJMlleagues wasn’t an easy one.

Playing both football and baseball in high school, Barnes received scholarship offers to play football, but they fell through, leading him to the decision to be a baseball walk on at junior college. Getting drafted in 2005, Barnes began his professional baseball career, but it would be 2012 before he would finally make it to the Majors, despite posting solid numbers in the minors.

Barnes had a good 2012 (partial) season with the Astros, playing in 43 games to end the year, however, it wasn’t until the 2013 season that he was fully given the opportunity to show off his ability to play on the big league level, and play well. In 136 games, Barnes hit 8 home runs and drove in 41 runs, batting .240, including a cycle in the middle part of the season, as well as making several outstanding catches in the outfield throughout the year.

If Barnes can continue to put together the same type of caliber seasons, both offensively and defensively, he should find himself roaming the outfield in Houston for many years to come.

Brandon Barnes — outfielder for the Astros — took the time recently to answer some of my question:

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

From the stories my parents have told me, I was swinging a bat and throwing a ball at the age of two, but I remember becoming interested when I was about four. I would say with no doubt that my grandfather was my biggest baseball influence growing up. He was always teaching me something new.

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

Growing up an Angels fan, I was always a huge fan of Jim Edmonds. I just loved the way he played. He was one of the best center fielders in the game, and he was always flying around the outfield.

3.) While in school, you played both football and baseball. What ultimately made you choose baseball?

My senior year of High School I actually quit baseball to concentrate more on football. I had some scholarship offers from some Division 1 schools, so I wanted to put all my time and effort into my school work and football. At the end of my senior year my scholarships were given to other players, and I was devastated, but I knew God had a plan. I decided to follow God’s path for me and walk on at Cypress Junior College to pursue baseball.

4.) You were drafted by the Astros in the 6th round of the 2005 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

I really did not know a whole lot about the draft and the draft process. I was just told to tune in on the computer and that I could possibly be drafted. I was at my Grandfather’s house listening on the computer. I just remember waiting and waiting, and just wanting to leave to go workout. I didn’t think I was getting drafted as high as I did. It was another blessing from God on his path for me. I was so happy, and at the same time had no idea what was going to happen next. I think I was a little overwhelmed.

5.) You spent eight seasons in the minors before finally making your MLB debut in the late part of 2012. Did it become discouraging at any point, wanting to get to the majors while being told that you never would? Did being told you wouldn’t ever make it add even more emotion to the experience during your debut?

Spending eight years in the minors was like a roller coaster for me. There were a lot of ups and downs, but with a little more downs than ups. There were a couple times where I just wanted to call it quits and go back and try to play football. My motivation was the people that told me I wasn’t going to make it. I was going to prove them all wrong and at the same time prove all the people that supported me right. There were a lot of emotions the day of my debut but no better feeling than seeing my wife and daughter in the stands. All the hard work and sacrifices that my wife had made so that I can play baseball had just overcome me, and I was so happy.

6.) This season, in addition to a fairly good offensive year, you made a lot of great plays in the outfield. Do you take more pride in your defensive game or your offensive game? What do you do to work on both?

I take a lot of pride in both parts of my game, [but] defense comes a lot more natural. I think I actually work harder on my offense. I work extremely hard on both making sure that I can help the team win on both sides. During the season I shag like it’s a real game, and I have a strict routine for my offense that I try and stick to.

7.) Back in July you hit for just the eighth cycle in Astros history. What was going through your head in your final at-bat, knowing you needed a double to complete the cycle? Would you consider that your most memorable moment of your career thus far? 

Going into that at-bat, I was aware of what was going on; just not trying to put pressure on myself. I was singing my walk-up song trying to stay calm and trick my mind. I would have to say that is one of the most memorable moments of my career for sure.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2013? What are your goals for 2014?

In 2013 I was able to show all the aspects of my game and prove that I can play in the big leagues. My goals for 2014 are to come back a more complete player, to have a better approach at the plate and to be a little faster for the base paths and defense.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

Favorite TV show is ‘Dexter’ and favorite food is fish and sushi.

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

My advice would be to practice as much as possible but have fun every second. This is a fun game, not a nine to five job. Try to learn something new about the game everyday and never give up. Don’t listen to the people that tell you that you will never make it.

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Big thanks to Brandon Barnes for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @TheBarnyard15

Billy Hamilton Living Up to the Expectations

After receiving his highly anticipated call-up to the Majors on September 2nd, Billy Hamilton finally got a chance to show off every aspect of his game on Wednesday, against the Astros, as he was placed into the lineup for the first big league start of his career.

And he wouldn’t disappoint.

Going 3-4 on the night, Hamilton would also go 4-4 in stolen base attempts — one on a pitchout — becoming the first player to have four stolen bases in their first career start since the live ball era began in 1920.

The last Reds player to record four steals in a game was Felipe Lopez, back in 2006. Though, I have a feeling this isn’t the last time you’ll see Hamilton tally a four bag night. There’s much more to come from Hamilton in the future.

But Hamilton is focused on the present, saying, “My job is to steal bases, no matter how many I get. That’s an accomplishment to get four in one game. Who knows what comes next?”

The four stolen bases Hamilton recorded on Wednesday night make a total of nine for his big league career, in just eight games — fastest to that mark since 1900. The crazy part being that he’s yet to be caught.

Showing the kind of incredible speed he possesses — stealing a total of 155 bases in 2012 — some argue Hamilton is the fastest player the game has seen since Rickey Henderson.

It’s hard to argue with that — proving his speed over and over again.

But more importantly, Billy Hamilton proved to the world on Wednesday that he can perform at the Major League level, and perform incredibly well. If his career to this point is any indication, Hamilton is going to be an extremely special player for the Reds for a very long time.

2013 Futures Game: Players You’ll See This Season

The rosters for the 2013 Sirius XM All-Star Futures Game were announced yesterday, with 50 of the minor leagues’ best players receiving the honor. The players are split into a U.S. and a World team, with the two teams set to square off against one another on July 14th, up at Citi Field in New York City. With the rosters posted, I wanted to do a post on the players worth paying attention to that will more than likely make it to the big leagues this season, and that will make a big impact for their team.

U.S. Team Roster

PITCHERS

Jesse Biddle PHI AA L L 6-4 225 10/22/1991
Archie Bradley ARI AA R R 6-4 225 08/10/1992
Eddie Butler COL A+ S R 6-2 180 03/13/1991
Kyle Crick SF A+ L R 6-4 220 11/30/1992
Taylor Guerrieri TB A R R 6-3 195 12/01/1992
Taylor Jordan WSH AA R R 6-3 190 01/17/1989
Jimmy Nelson MIL AAA R R 6-6 245 06/05/1989
Anthony Ranaudo BOS AA R R 6-7 230 09/09/1989
Noah Syndergaard NYM AA R R 6-6 240 08/29/1992
Taijuan Walker SEA AAA R R 6-4 210 08/13/1992

CATCHERS

Austin Hedges SD A+ R R 6-1 190 08/18/1992
Josh Phegley CWS AAA R R 5-10 220 02/12/1988

INFIELDERS

CJ Cron LAA AA R R 6-4 235 01/05/1990
Delino DeShields HOU A+ R R 5-9 205 08/16/1992
Matt Davidson ARI AAA R R 6-2 225 03/26/1991
Joey Gallo TEX A L R 6-5 205 11/19/1993
Brad Miller SEA AAA L R 6-2 185 10/18/1989
Addison Russell OAK A+ R R 6-0 195 01/23/1994
Joey Terdoslavich ATL AAA S R 6-0 200 09/09/1988
Kolten Wong STL AAA L R 5-9 185 10/10/1990

OUTFIELDERS

Byron Buxton MIN A+ R R 6-2 189 12/18/1993
Billy Hamilton CIN AAA S R 6-0 160 09/09/1990
Joc Pederson LAD AA L L 6-1 185 04/21/1992
George Springer HOU AA R R 6-3 200 09/19/1989
Christian Yelich MIA AA L R 6-4 195 12/05/1991

Taijuan Walker was just recently promoted from AA to AAA, however, with the level of talent he possesses, I could easily see Walker receiving a callup to the Mariners late in the season. Though only 5-7 on the season, Walker has an ERA of just 2.30, with 100 strikeouts in 90 innings pitched. He may not have a lot of time to make an impact, but on a team that isn’t likely to make the playoffs, I feel the Mariners should give him a shot.

Matt Davidson is another player that has the ability to make an impact for his team towards the end of the season. Batting .301, with 10 home runs and 46 RBI’s so far this season at AAA, Davidson should get a callup to the Diamondbacks towards the end of this year. Though the D-back’s are currently in first place, and wouldn’t necessarily need him, Davidson could be a nice addition to put them over the top once the playoffs roll around.

After setting the record for most stolen bases in a single season, with 155, in 2012, Billy Hamilton is well on his way to another 100 stolen base season, as he has swiped 49 bases so far this season. Though his bat is yet to take off, batting just .247, with 5 homers and 28 RBI’s, Hamilton needs to improve his offense, but nonetheless, he should receive a brief callup to the Reds this season. His speed alone is enough to impact any given game.

George Springer has the advantage–or disadvantage, depending on how you look at it–of playing in the poor Houston Astros organization, as they’re once again in last place, and should give Springer a little bit of time at the major league level towards the end of the year. Springer is batting .297, with 19 home runs and 55 RBI’s this year, and will likely receive his first big league experience sometime this season with the Astros.

World Team Roster

PITCHERS

Miguel Almonte KC A R R 6-2 180 04/04/1993
Carlos Contreras CIN A+ R R 5-11 205 01/08/1991
Rafael De Paula NYY A+ R R 6-2 212 03/24/1991
C.C. Lee CLE AAA R R 5-11 190 10/21/1986
Rafael Montero NYM AAA R R 6-0 170 10/17/1990
Andre Rienzo CWS AAA R R 6-3 190 06/05/1988
Eduardo Rodriguez BAL A+ L L 6-2 200 04/07/1993
Enny Romero TB AA L L 6-3 165 01/24/1991
Yordano Ventura KC AAA R R 5-11 180 06/03/1991
Michael Ynoa OAK A R R 6-7 210 09/24/1991

CATCHERS

Jorge Alfaro TEX A R R 6-2 185 06/11/1993
Christian Bethancourt ATL AA R R 6-2 215 09/02/1991
AJ Jimenez TOR AA R R 6-0 210 05/01/1990

INFIELDERS

Arismendy Alcantara CHC AA S R 5-10 160 10/29/1991
Xander Bogaerts BOS AAA R R 6-3 175 10/01/1992
Maikel Franco PHI AA R R 6-1 180 08/26/1992
Dilson Herrera PIT A R R 5-10 150 03/03/1994
Jordan Lennerton DET AAA L L 6-2 217 02/16/1986
Francisco Lindor CLE A+ S R 5-11 175 11/14/1993
Miguel Sano MIN AA R R 6-3 195 05/11/1993

OUTFIELDERS

Yeison Asencio SD AA R R 6-1 225 11/14/1989
Gregory Polanco PIT AA L L 6-4 170 09/14/1991
Jorge Soler CHC A+ R R 6-4 215 02/25/1992
Oscar Taveras STL AAA L L 6-2 180 06/19/1992
Henry Urrutia BAL AA L R 6-5 200 02/13/1987

Xander Bogaerts has just over a dozen AAA games under his belt, however, I could easily see Bogaerts making it to the big leagues this season. Batting .296, with 10 home runs and 43 RBI’s, between AA and AAA, so far this season, Bogaerts has the ability to make an impact for the Red Sox; if not this season, definitely the majority of next year. At just 20 years old, he will stand as the Sox short stop for many years to come.

Oscar Taveras isn’t quite on the same pace as he was on last season at this time, but he’s still having a great year. Batting .306, with 5 home runs and 32 RBI’s, at AAA, Taveras is sure to become a star at the major league level at some point. The only thing that could stop Taveras from reaching the majors this season would be an already overcrowded Cardinals lineup, however, he should still get a shot, just to see what he can do.

Leave a comment below with which player you’re most looking forward to seeing participate in this year’s Futures game.

2013 MLB Draft: Appel, Bryant & Gray As Top Three

Mark Appel, Jonathan Gray and Kris Bryant were ranked as the number one, two and three draft picks going into Wednesday’s 2013 first-year player draft, and that turned out to be close to dead-on. While Appel did in fact go number one overall, as predicted by many around the baseball world, Gray and Bryant went in reverse order from expected, however, they all fell within the top three as was originally thought out.

Mark Appel went first overall, getting drafted by the Houston Astros.

Mark Appel

Appel, who chose not to sign with the Pirates after they drafted him eighth overall in the 2012 draft, went 10-4, with a 2.12 ERA, this past season at Stanford University. His college career was a fairly impressive one, as Appel went 28-14 overall, with a combined 2.91 ERA, including setting the record for most career strikeouts as a Stanford pitcher. If Appel can continue to develop–though many argue he’s nearly ready at the moment–he should be pitching on the mound for his hometown Houston Astros sometime in the very near future.

Kris Bryant went second overall, getting drafted by the Chicago Cubs.

san-diego-kris-bryant-051013

Bryant, who was previously drafted by the Blue Jays in the 18th round of the 2010 draft, batted .329, with 31 home runs and 62 RBI’s, in his third season at the University of San Diego. Though Bryant has only been playing college ball for a total of three years, his numbers are intriguing, as his combined stats include a .353 batting average, with 54 homers and 155 RBI’s, between his freshman, sophomore and junior years. It’ll take a little time for Bryant to fully tap into his projected above average power, but once he figures things out, he’s sure to be a big impact player for the Cubs.

Jonathan Gray went third overall, getting drafted by the Rockies.

ncaa_a_gray_d1_600

Gray, who was previously drafted by the Yankees in the 10th round of the 2011 draft, went 10-2, with a 1.59 ERA, this past season with Oklahoma University, after playing at Eastern Oklahoma State College two years earlier, where he was just as great, going 6-2, with a 2.89 ERA. It shouldn’t take long before Gray finds himself pitching in the mile high city, as he was regarded as one of the top college pitchers and is sure to carry the same tag with him as he moves into the minor leagues. The Rockies would appear to have a can’t miss pitching prospect on their hands.

The remainder of the draft saw many surprises. A lot of players went higher than anyone expected, while others stuck around longer than many thought they would. But that usually happens every year with the draft.

The rest of the 1st round of the 2013 draft, following the first three picks, went as follows:

4. Minnesota Twins: Kohl Stewart

5. Cleveland Indians: Clint Frazier

6. Miami Marlins: Colin Moran

7. Boston Red Sox: Trey Ball

8. Kansas City Royals: Hunter Dozier

9. Pittsburgh Pirates: Austin Meadows

10. Toronto Blue Jays: Phillip Bickford

11. New York Mets: Dominic Smith

12. Seattle Mariners: D.J. Peterson

13. San Diego Padres: Hunter Renfroe

14. Pittsburgh Pirates: Reese McGuire

15. Arizona Diamondbacks: Braden Shipley

16. Philadelphia Phillies: J.P. Crawford

17. Chicago White Sox: Tim Anderson

18. Los Angeles Dodgers: Chris Anderson

19. St. Louis Cardinals: Marco Gonzales

20. Detroit Tigers: Jonathon Crawford

21. Tampa Bay Rays: Nick Ciuffo

22. Baltimore Orioles: Hunter Harvey

23. Texas Rangers: Alex Gonzalez

24. Oakland Athletics: Billy McKinney

25. San Francisco Giants: Christian Arroyo

26. New York Yankees: Eric Jagielo

27. Cincinnati Reds: Phillip Ervin

28. St. Louis Cardinals: Rob Kaminsky

29. Tampa Bay Rays: Ryne Stanek

30. Texas Rangers: Travis Demeritte

31. Atlanta Braves: Jason Hursh

32. New York Yankees: Aaron Judge

33. New York Yankees: Ian Clarkin

Competitive Balance Round A

34. Kansas City Royals: Sean Manaea

35. Miami Marlins: Matt Krook

36. Arizona Diamondbacks: Aaron Blair

37. Baltimore Orioles: Josh Hart

38. Cincinnati Reds: Michael Lorenzen

39. Detroit Tigers: Corey Knebel

So there you have it. Take a good look at that list. Make sure to follow them as the majority of them begin their professional careers. Odds are at least a few of those names will become MLB All-Stars, with the possibility that some may become a future Hall of Famer. You never know what can happen when you have so much young talent entering their given MLB organizations.

Fastest & Slowest Starts to the 2013 MLB Season

We’re just over a week into the 2013 MLB regular season, and I wanted to post a blog, just like last year, on the fastest and slowest starts to the season for both entire teams and individual players. While it’s a small sample size, the list gives you an idea of what’s been taking place so far this season. Some of the players and teams are performing nearly as well as expected, but others are putting on performances that I never would’ve predicted them to begin the season with.

FASTEST STARTS TO THE SEASON

Teams:

1) Braves (6-1)

2) Diamondbacks (5-2)

3) Rockies (5-2)

4) Red Sox (5-2)

5) Athletics (5-2)

6) Rangers (5-2)

7) Reds (5-2)

8) Mets (5-2)

The Braves currently lead all of baseball with a win percentage of .857. Justin Upton has been making a major impact, hitting six home runs in the first seven games, and I fully expected the Braves to have a season long performance like the one they’re currently starting out with. The Diamondbacks, Rockies, Red Sox and Mets are all surprising me, so far, as I expected them to all have poor seasons, and while it’s still very early, at the moment, they’re making things interesting. As far as the Athletics, Rangers and Reds go, it’s not a shock that they’re doing so well. Though I thought the Rangers would have a bit of a struggle this season, without Josh Hamilton, they seem to be doing just fine. It should be interesting to see if they can keep it up.

Players:

1) Adam Jones (.500)

2) Jed Lowrie (.500)

3) Carlos Santana (.500)

4) Michael Cuddyer (.478)

5) Carl Crawford (.450)

6) Jean Segura (.450)

*Minimum of 20 AB’s

Adam Jones is the only player on the list of fastest start players that I’m not surprised with. Having recorded a 32 homer, 82 RBI season, in 2012, Jones is in the prime of his career, and is set to have another fantastic season. For Jed Lowrie, Carlos Santana, Michael Cuddyer, Carl Crawford and Jean Segura, they better enjoy the hot start while it lasts, because I don’t see any of them having an all that spectacular year. But as with anything in baseball, there’s always the chance for me to be proven wrong.

SLOWEST STARTS TO THE SEASON

Teams:

1) Astros (1-6)

2) Marlins (1-6)

3) Padres (1-5)

4) Pirates (2-5)

5) Brewers (2-5)

6) Phillies (2-5)

7) Cubs (2-5)

After beating the Rangers, 8-2, on Opening Night, the Astros have done nothing but go down hill, ever since. With 155 games left to play, and just 94 losses away from 100, it’s likely the Astros’ season will end with yet another year of 100+ losses. The Marlins, Padres and Pirates are all teams that have the potential to win now, but it’s likely to be a year or two before they start to become big time contenders in their divisions. The Brewers and Phillies are the only teams that surprise me, somewhat, on this list, but they just haven’t performed well so far this year. And as for the Cubs, they’re just being themselves; destined to make it 105 seasons without a World Series title.

Players:

1) Jeff Keppinger (.048)

2) Ryan Hanigan (.050)

3) Aaron Hicks (.067)

4) Pedro Alvarez (.080)

5) Neil Walker (.083)

*Minimum of 20 AB’s

No one on this list surprises me, other than Neil Walker. Walker is arguably the best player on the list, but he hasn’t been able to find his groove so far this season. I look for him to get things going, however, and record another season like he has the past few years–10-15 homers and 65-80 RBI’s, with a high 200’s batting average. For Jeff Keppinger, Ryan Hanigan, Aaron Hicks and Pedro Alvarez, it will be interesting to see if they get their acts together, or if this is a sign of things to come for them this season, as things can certainly only go up.

Keep in mind, while those are the players and teams with the fastest and slowest starts to the season, there’s still a lot of baseball left to be played, and anything can happen. Only time will tell if the current trends will last; that’s why they play 162 games.

Top 10 Story Lines I’m Planning to Watch In 2013

We’re just over 48 hours away from the start of the 2013 MLB regular season, and I couldn’t be more excited. Baseball fans everywhere are making final predictions as to how they feel things will play out, as players are making their final preparations for the long 162 game season. As my last blog post until the season begins, I wanted to do a brief overview of the top story lines I’m planning to keep an eye on in 2013. They may differ slightly from yours, but I feel I covered nearly all of the major topics:

1. How the Astros will fare in the American League:

Having lost 107 games in the National League in 2012, I’m watching the Astros, not for how good they’ll do, but for how bad they’ll do. Sorry to any Astros fans reading this post, but there’s no denying that the odds are against the Astros going into the 2013 season. Playing in one of the toughest divisions in baseball, with the newly revamped Angels, they’re likely to have just as bad of a season as last year, if not slightly worse. I’d say it would be considered a good year for the Astros if they finish with less than 100 losses.

2. If Bryce Harper and Mike Trout can keep up their 2012 R.O.Y. seasons:103057-768-0

Posting some incredible stats, leading to one of the best rookie seasons in MLB history, I’m going to keep a closer eye on Mike Trout than I am Bryce Harper, but I’m planning to watch Harper nonetheless. Both won the Rookie of the Year award in 2012, for their respective leagues, and it should be interesting to see if their amazing rookie years will transfer into the 2013 season. I’m predicting Trout will once again have a 30/30 season, with Harper possibly recording the first 30 home run season of his career.

3. Who will hit the most home runs in 2013:

The 2012 home run leaders consisted of Miguel Cabrera, Curtis Granderson and Josh Hamilton, as the 1-2-3 guys, and if it wasn’t for an injured Granderson, I could see all three being near the top of the rankings again in 2013. However, with Granderson out with an injury for the first portion of the year–while I see Cabrera once again leading all players in homers, with Hamilton coming in a close second–it will likely be a new face who will round out the top three. Maybe it’ll be a guy like Adam Dunn, who’s a free-swinger? Or maybe a guy no one saw coming, who will have a breakout season? It will certainly be fun to keep track of.

4. If A-Rod comes back healthy, if at all:

While it’s 100 percent certain that Alex Rodriguez won’t return to the Yankees’ lineup until late July, there is the slight chance that he could miss the entire season. However, if A-Rod is able to work his way back this season, after having hip surgery in January, it should be very interesting to see if he can become a decent player once again. While Rodriguez will never be the great player he once was, if healthy, he has the ability to make an impact for the Yankees. Although I’m not the biggest fan of A-Rod, I still hope he comes back healthy. But I find it very unlikely that he will ever again play at a competitive level.

5. How the rookies, such as Wil Myers, will impact their teams in 2013:

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays-Photo DayI discussed this a couple months ago, in my blog post on the Top 100 prospects going into the 2013 season, but this time around I’m only focusing my attention on a handful of rookies who I feel will have the biggest impact for their team this season. Wil Myers is the number one guy on my radar, with Shelby Miller, Jurickson Profar and Billy Hamilton being the other three main rookies I plan on keeping track of. Myers was the minor league player of the year, in 2012, and I fully see him posting more of the same stats, as he begins the the year with AAA Durham. Of the four, Miller is the only player that is starting in the majors to begin the year, but they should all make it to the big leagues at some point this season, and are sure to each play a key role in their teams’ success.

6. How the Upton bro’s do for the Atlanta Braves:

You could argue that, with the addition of both Justin Upton and B.J. Upton to roam the outfield with Jason Heyward, the Braves have the best all-around outfield in all of baseball. All three players have great range, giving them the ability to make plays on balls that other outfielders couldn’t get to, but furthermore, they all have the talent to impact their team offensively as well. Both Upton’s, as well as Heyward, have the ability to blast 25+ home runs and 85+ RBI’s, as well as steal a good amount of bases. If they can perform to their potential this season, combined with the great lineup and pitching rotation they already had, the Braves could be an outstanding team.

7. What kind of a year players who ended 2012 injured will have in 2013:

The reason A-Rod had his own category, and wasn’t included in this one, is merely because his return is uncertain. All of the players in this category didn’t play at all after their injury in 2012, and will make a guaranteed comeback, within at least the first few weeks of the season. With that said, the most impactful players to end last season with an injury, that I’ll be watching in 2013, include Derek Jeter, Troy Tulowitzki and Mariano Rivera.

Mariano Rivera tore his ACL in May, while Derek Jeter fractured his ankle in October, with neither playing any more games for the remainder of the year. Rivera is expected to be ready to go Opening Day, though a slight setback for Jeter will force him onto the disable list to begin the year. In my opinion, the 2013 performances of both Jeter and Rivera will be the deciding factor for what kind of season the Yankees have. If Jeter can return quickly, and Rivera can post his usual stellar numbers, I see the Yankees being just fine.

Troy Tulowitzki injured his groin in May of last season, and although it appeared he would return towards the end of the year, he remained sidelined for the remainder of the season. A healthy Tulowitzki can impact the Rockies more than nearly any other player in all of baseball, though he hasn’t been able to stay healthy for the majority of his career. While I can’t see the Rockies finishing any better than last in their division, I’m planning to watch “Tulo” nonetheless, to see if he can finally have a successful, fully healthy season.

8. How the Blue Jays, Dodgers and Angels perform with their new additions:

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Introduce Josh HamiltonThe Blue Jays, Dodgers and Angels made the biggest splashes of nearly every other team in all of baseball this past offseason; at least of the teams that stand a chance of competing. Many have the Blue Jays going the distance, and winning it all, with the key additions of Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera and 2012 Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, to name a few, though I don’t see it happening. I find myself siding more with the opinions of those who are betting on the Dodgers and Angels to have a great season.

The Angels’ major addition of the offseason was undoubtedly Josh Hamilton, who, with the help of Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, has the ability to transform the Angels into an extremely competitive team. Hamilton might end up being the piece the Angels were missing last season, that will help them make the playoffs in 2013.

The number one addition of the offseason for the Dodgers was Zack Greinke, though they also acquired Hyun-Jin Ryu, the highly praised LHP from Korea. Adding them both, to go along with their already deep pitching rotation, could end up making the Dodgers a team to be reckoned with in 2013.

9. Whether or not the Nationals make it to the World Series:

Last season, Nationals’ manager, Davey Johnson, made the bold statement that he should be fired if the Nat’s didn’t make the playoffs in 2012. Luckily for Johnson, they did, for the first time since 1933. This season, however, it’s “World Series or bust” for the Nationals, and although I was a bit skeptical last year, I’m not putting it past them to make it all the way to the World Series this season, for what would be the first time in Nationals’ franchise history. With a fantastic lineup, as well as one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball, they should go far in the coming season, though they’ll have to make it past the favorited Braves, who many (myself included) have winning the division.

10. Which team(s) will have an unexpected breakout season:

Every season, it seems, there is a team or two that unexpectedly takes the baseball world by storm. On paper, they shouldn’t be winning, but yet they come together as a team and are able to do amazing things. The 2012 example would be the Oakland Athletics and the Baltimore Orioles, as the majority of baseball fans, going into the 2012 season, didn’t see the O’s and A’s exploding the way they did. Truly showing that baseball is extremely unpredictable. Any team has the chance to defy the odds, which is part of what makes baseball so great. Anything can happen.

Which story line from above are you most looking forward to? Leave a comment below.

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