Results tagged ‘ Athletics ’

Recap of the 2014 Baseball Winter Meetings

For the most part, I like to write about big time trades and/or signings within a day of when they occur. I feel that waiting too long to give my thoughts on a particular transaction causes it to become old news and therefore not really relevant to the everyday fast developing topics around baseball.Meetings

However, for the 113th annual baseball Winter Meetings that took place this past week in San Diego, things were happening so fast and at such a high volume that I would’ve been blogging multiple times a day to keep on top of the action. I didn’t have time to do that, nor did I want to do that. And thus, I decided to post this recap upon the conclusion of the Winter Meetings. (Keep in mind, not every single signing or trade is included in this post; just the major ones, in my mind.)

Ending on Thursday, this years meetings saw an unprecedented amount of teams signing or trading players. Practically every ten minutes news broke of a new deal or trade that was sure to shake things up in 2015 and beyond. Seeing more trades go down over the past week than the last three Winter Meetings combined, a lot of exciting things look to be in store for the 2015 season.

The Winter Meetings were kicked off with a trade of Brandon Moss by the Athletics on the very first day. Getting sent to the Indians in return for minor leaguer Joe Wendle, Moss will certainly add a bit of pop to Cleveland’s lineup, having hit 25 or more home runs each of the last two seasons.

But the A’s weren’t done parting with players. Following the departure of Moss, Oakland traded away pitching prospect Michael Ynoa to the White Sox along with breakout pitcher Jeff Samardzija, whom the A’s gave up a few of their extremely promising prospects for in a trade back in July. In return for Samardzija, the White Sox simply had to toss a few prospects to the Athletics, in SamardzijaRobertsonMarcus Semien, Chris Bassitt, Josh Phegley and Rangel Ravelo.

In my opinion, and the opinion of many others, the Athletics didn’t get back quite enough in that deal. All of this coming after the trade of Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays, many are really questioning the A’s logic.

No one, however, is questioning the White Sox. After acquiring Samardzija, a lot of people began to talk about the White Sox’ playoff chances in 2015 with their improved pitching staff. But those talks only increased when the Sox announced a four-year, 46 million dollar signing of David Robertson. After the past few seasons Robertson has been able to put together, saving 39 games last year for the Yankees, he was near the top of available free agent relievers. The White Sox adding Robertson to their roster gives their fans hope for a promising upcoming year.

The White Sox aren’t the only Chicago based team that’s setting themselves up for a nice 2015 season, however. Across town, the Cubs are also in line to be much improved. Following the addition of veteran catcher Miguel Montero to their lineup in a trade that sent two minor leaguers, Jeferson Mejia and Zack Godley, to the Diamondbacks, the Cubs Lesterobtained one of the biggest free agents heading into the Winter Meetings.

While it took awhile for him to decide on the Cubs, Jon Lester made the choice to head to Chicago for the next six years, signing a contract worth 155 million dollars. Combined with a new manager in Joe Maddon, and a talented young roster of players, it should be fun to watch the Cubs moving forward.

But although there were large deals such as the one Jon Lester signed with the Cubs that went down over the course of the Winter Meetings, there were also multiple smaller deals that could end up having large impacts on the given team(s) involved.

Francisco Liriano resigned with the Pirates on a deal worth 39 million over the next three years; and the Twins picked up Ervin Santana for the next four years, set to pay him a total of 55 million over that span. But the smaller signings I like the most are the ones the Astros made by adding Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson to their struggling bullpen, which had the worst ERA (4.80) in all of baseball in 2014. After not getting David Robertson or Andrew Miller, the Astros had to settle with these two relievers, but Neshek and Gregerson will go a long way in helping a bullpen that had 26 blown saves in 2014. Even so, the Astros aren’t likely to make the playoffs just yet.

Just the opposite, the Dodgers have been a playoff team for the past two years and seemingly would be so again in 2015 regardless of if they did anything to change their roster. But that didn’t at all stop them from making moves — big moves.

After making an impactful 4-year, 48 million dollar signing of free agent starting pitcher Bandon McCarthy, who was terrific in the second half of 2014 with the Yankees after an up and down career, the Dodgers proceeded to reshape a good portion of their team.

KempComing after weeks of rumors that the Padres were interested in Matt Kemp, the Dodgers complied with the Friars, sending Kemp and Tim Federowicz to San Diego for Yasmani Grandal, Joe Wieland and Zach Eflin.

The fact that this trade went through came as a shock to many, as Kemp is a superstar when healthy, and the Dodgers didn’t get much in return, but it needed to be done with the overcrowded Dodgers outfield.

Although the Dodgers were quoted as saying that their All-Star second baseman, Dee Gordon, was not being considered for a possible trade, the baseball world did in fact see Gordon, along with Dan Haren and Miguel Rojas, leaving the Dodgers. Unlike the Kemp trade, Gordon and company getting shipped off to the Marlins in a trade for Andrew Heaney, Chris Hatcher, Austin Barnes and Enrique Hernandez made sense, as this swap seemingly would help both sides.

Part of the trade, though, wouldn’t last even an hour. A brief time after obtaining promising pitching prospect Andrew Heaney, the Dodgers flipped him to the Angels in exchange for Howie Kendrick. In addition, the Dodgers also flipped Zach Eflin, whom they received for Matt Kemp, and another prospect to the Phillies, in a swap for Philadelphia’s franchise hits leader, Jimmy Rollins.

Doing so subsequently fills the holes left by the loss of Hanley Ramirez and Dee Gordon, and now gives the Dodgers a double play combo of Rollins and Kendrick. That’s certainly not bad at all, especially with Kendrick basically coming over for free with the trade of the newly acquired former Marlin Heaney.

But the Andrew Heaney deal with Los Angeles didn’t quiet the Marlins. After locking up Giancarlo Stanton to a 13-year, 325 million dollar deal last month, the Marlins made a promise that they would surround Stanton with talent capable of winning a lot of ballgames, and so far they’re keeping good on it.

Following the addition of Dee Gordon, Dan Haren and Miguel Rojas, Miami later made a trade for another key piece to place in their starting rotation — Reds’ solid pitcher, Mat Latos. Getting Latos for the price of Anthony DeSclafani and Chad Wallach, the Marlins could very well be setting themselves up to be a playoff contender as soon as 2015.

That’s what the Red Sox are attempting to do. Going from last to best to last over the past number of years, logic would tell you that the pattern indicates that 2015 would be another up year. Unfortunately, things don’t always follow CespedesPorcellopatterns. And thus, things have to be done to actually improve the Red Sox’ team and not leave them merely hoping for a miracle season.

The main need for Boston heading into the Winter Meetings was pitching. Signing Justin Masterson to a 9.5 million dollar contract for 2015; trading away Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster and another prospect for Wade Miley; and acquiring Rick Porcello from the Tigers by trading off Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Wilson and Gabe Speier; the Red Sox quickly added three solid pitchers to their poor rotation in a matter of days. Those three should drastically help them next season, as they already own a great lineup following the signings of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval.

So there you have it — a recap of the majority of the deals and trades that took place at the 2014 baseball Winter Meetings, and the possible impacts each move will have for each given team. As many have pointed out numerous times, this was one of the most active Winter Meetings in their long history. But nonetheless, there are still a number of valuable free agents that remain on the market.

From James Shield and Max Scherzer to Melky Cabrera and Chase Headley, there are multiple impact players that are available to any team that does what it takes to get them. With every free agent having to find a home somewhere, the exact ball club they wind up with could have a big effect on the outcome for teams in 2015.

Q and A With Billy McKinney

Billy McKinney was drafted by the Athletics in the 1st round of the 2013 draft, after batting .372 with 4 home runs and 17 RBI’s during his senior year of high school.Billy McKinney

Since the draft, McKinney has posted solid numbers between three different levels of professional baseball, hitting a combined .283, and truly showing why he was so highly thought of by the A’s in the 2013 draft.

However, despite seemingly being a big part of the Athletics’ future, McKinney was traded to the Cubs’ organization in July as part of the trade that sent Jeff Samardzija (now with the White Sox) to the Athletics.

But the trade turned out to be great for McKinney, who was batting just .241 through 75 games worth of at-bats before the swap.

Following the team change, McKinney hit .301 to finish out the season, bringing his combined average for 2014 up to .264 to go along with 11 home runs and 69 RBI’s. A great turnaround after the slow start McKinney had to begin 2014.

If McKinney can continue to develop into the player he’s expected to become, it won’t be long before he’s a part of the Cubs’ future at the major league level.

Billy McKinney — top prospect in the Cubs’ 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 tee ball when I was 3 years old. My parents [were my biggest influences], as both of them helped me in different ways. My mother helped me keep a positive attitude regardless of the situation, and my father helped with my development.

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

Josh Hamilton, [for] two reasons. One: I admired his swing and power. Secondly: I respected him for the challenges he overcame to become an MLB player.

3.) You were drafted by the Athletics 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?

It was an exciting and enjoyable time, balancing all the scout home visits, hitting sessions for various teams, and playing my final high school season. My family was fortunate to be asked to attend the draft at the MLB Studio. It was an opportunity to be there with eight other players who were expected to be drafted. When Mr. Selig called my name as an Oakland Athletic I was ecstatic, as I had always admired them being a great baseball team. I was pumped being picked by such a strong baseball club that focused on solid fundamentals.

4.) After finishing out 2013 with short-season Vermont, you were moved all the way up to High-A Stockton to begin 2014. Struggling at times with Stockton, what did you find most challenging about making the jump to that level of baseball so quickly?

Most definitely was adjusting to the quality of pitching in High-A. Some very, very good pitching in both the California League and the Florida League.

5.) In July, you were a part of a multi-player trade for Jeff Samardzija that sent you from the Athletics’ organization over to the Cubs’. How did you react when you first heard about the trade? What was it like making the switch in organizations mid-season?

I was shocked at first, although as time passed I quickly realized baseball is a business and the Cubs are a quality organization with great leadership. At first it was different, although my Daytona Cub teammates made it a very easy transition, welcoming me to the team.

6.) Upon your transition to the Cubs’ system, you were able to get a fresh start, recording solid numbers with their High-A club to finish out the year. What was it about your new team that made it easier for you to perform at a higher level than you did the first half of the season?

It was basically making adjustments in my approach to the quality of pitching in High-A and learning from previous experiences.

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?

Bus rides and downtime, although being together as a team helps ease the boredom. [We] hang out together and/or watch TV.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2014? What are your goals for 2015?

[In 2014, I] learned throughout the year and appreciated the opportunity to play for the Florida State League Championship with the Cubs. [Goals for 2015 are to] help the Cubs in anyway I can and to continue to develop as a player and person by being challenged.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

‘Modern Family’. Steak.

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

Work hard and never give up, regardless of the situation. Also, embrace your teammates, as baseball is a team sport.

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Big thanks to Billy McKinney for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @billy_mckinney

My 2014 Postseason Predictions

For the third straight season I made preseason predictions as to how I felt each division would play out, and for the third straight season I was extremely far off. For one reason or another, I’m not very good at making division predictions before a given season begins. However, with that said, last year when I did playoff predictions for the very first time I correctly predicted the World Series matchup of the Cardinals taking on the Red Sox. Unfortunately, I picked the Cardinals to come out victorious, which ultimately didn’t happen, but I was still thrilled that I successfully picked the final two teams.

This year, though, I hope to take it one step further and get the World Series winner correct as well. While I’ll likely be off, either by a little or a lot, it’s always fun to make predictions. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get lucky and have a perfect prediction of how the postseason will play out. You never can tell what may happen in October.

WILD CARD GAMES (AL September 30th & NL October 1st)

American League: Royals Vs. Athletics

Winner: Royals

Both the Royals and Athletics have had their share of ups and downs throughout the 2014 season. Neither one has a group of players that makes them definitively better than the other, and that makes it hard to predict the winner of the one game, win or go home matchup. Even so, I’m picking the Royals to pull out the win over the visiting A’s. While their offense has struggled at times, their bullpen is one of the best in baseball. If the Royals can go into the late innings with a lead, it’s as close to a sure thing as you can get.

National League: Pirates Vs. Giants

Winner: Giants

The Pirates made it to the postseason in 2013 for the fist time since 1992, winning the Wild Card game against the Reds and moving on to the division series only to be beaten out by the Cardinals. This time around, however, I don’t even have them making it that far. The Giants are looking to come into town and pick up the win that will ensure a five game series against the Nationals, and I feel that their pitching, as well as their overall offense, outranks the Pirates’ team in a one game situation.

AMERICAN LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES (Begins October 2nd)

Angels Vs. Royals

Winner: Angels

Although I have the Royals winning the Wild Card game against the Athletics, I don’t see their first playoff run since 1985 lasting past the division series. Going up against a really good offensive Angels team, the Royals will certainly be in for a challenge if they want to prove me wrong. The only question mark for the Angels that would give the Royals a true chance is their starting pitching. With no true ace that you can count on, you never know how the Angels will fare. But I think they will hit just enough to win the series.

Orioles Vs. Tigers

Winner: Tigers

This is going to be a very good series matchup, and I can’t really say for sure who will win. But I’m going with my gut that the Tigers will find a way to get the job done, despite their flaws. While the Orioles have one of the best hitting clubs in baseball, with major threats up and down the lineup, their pitching isn’t nearly as deep as the Tigers. If they want to make things hard on the Tigers, they’ll have to post some great pitching performances. But although that could happen, I see the Tigers moving on to the championship series.

NATIONAL LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES (Begins October 3rd)

Nationals Vs. Giants

Winner: Nationals

The Nationals taking on the Giants would be a good series, but I don’t think it will be too difficult for the Nationals to move on. Taking nothing away from the Giants, who are certainly a good team of players, I don’t feel they stack up against the Nationals very well at all. The Nationals have very few holes from top to bottom in both their offense and pitching. With five good starters that can go out and win big games when you need them to, it would take nothing short of a disaster for the Nats to get beaten out by the Giants.

Dodgers Vs. Cardinals

Winner: Dodgers

Pairing two of the best teams in the National League against one another, this is by far the best guaranteed-to-happen matchup of the postseason, in my mind. While the other games are sure to be exciting, this series could easily come down to a game five, with either team taking the division series title. With the Cardinals and Dodgers both having amazing teams, it’s basically a coin flip for which one will move on. But I have to give a slight edge to the Dodgers — however slight an edge it may be.

AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES (Begins October 10th)

Angels Vs. Tigers

Winner: Angels

As good as the Tigers pitching staff can be, and as bad as the Angels staff can be, it was difficult for me to select the Angels as the winners of the series. But I feel the Angels have a good enough team to beat out the Tigers, should they have any sort of issues scoring runs or pitching well, which I envision them having. Though many people are picking the Tigers to make it to the World Series, with some going as bold with their predictions as to giving them the World Series title, I have that spot reserved for the Angels.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES (Begins October 11th)

Nationals Vs. Dodgers

Winner: Dodgers

Another sure to be great series against two great teams, this is yet again a nearly impossible matchup to predict (as many of them are). If the Nationals end up taking on the Dodgers in the National League Championship series as I’m predicting, the baseball world could be in for some extremely thrilling games. Both teams have good pitching staffs and offenses that can seemingly score at will at times. What it will come down to is which of the teams is hot at the right time. For me, I’m putting my money on the Dodgers.

WORLD SERIES (Begins October 21st)

Angels Vs. Dodgers

Winner: Angels

A World Series matchup between the Angels and Dodgers would be incredible for baseball fans everywhere around the country. Not only are the two ballparks a mere thirty miles apart, but this would also be a Fall Classic matchup of two of the best teams in their given divisions. With both the Dodgers and Angels having good lineups, this could be a back and forth series. But regardless of their pitching being an issue, I feel the Angels will find a way to go the distance, coming out on top over the Dodgers.

Leave a comment with who you have winning the World Series. I’d love to hear your picks.

Heading into the Final Month of the 2014 MLB Season

It’s hard to believe, but the 2014 Major League Baseball regular season is almost over. Today marks exactly one month until the final games of the season, on September 28th, and teams are making their final push towards the postseason, with every player doing their best to finish out the season strong. With all of this going on, I thought I’d post an entry on the five main storylines I plan to watch throughout the final stretch.

200 Hits for Jose Altuve

7848827Leading all of baseball in batting average (.332) and with 14 more hits on the season than the player with the second most hits, Jose Altuve is well on his way to recording his first 200 hit season of his career. With 181 hits this year, Altuve should easily make it to what has become a somewhat rare achievement.

The last time any player recorded 200 or more hits in a season was back in 2009, when Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Ryan Braun and Robinson Cano all did it. For Altuve, he’s set to become only the second Astros player to ever record 200 hits in a season, with Craig Biggio, doing so in 1998, being the other.

Though Altuve is too far back to break Ichiro Suzuki’s all-time hit record for a season of 262 hits, it should be interesting to see how many hits he can amass in this final month.

Race for Stolen Base Lead

After Billy Hamilton set the all-time single season stolen base record for the minor leagues back in 2012, stealing 155 bases that year, many people began to proclaim Hamilton as the next Rickey Henderson. Those are some lofty expectations that Hamilton hasn’t quite been able to live up to, with Hamilton sitting on 50 stolen bases (the youngest Reds player to ever reach 50 stolen bases in a season) for the season and Rickey Henderson having stolen 100 bags in his first full year.

Hamilton currently sits eight stolen bases back of the leader, Dee Gordon, so he definitely has some work to do if he wants to finish out the year on top. But despite not running away in the stolen bases category like many people initially believed he would, Hamilton has done a phenomenal job of making adjustments this year. After a horrid start to the season, Hamilton has really turned things around, and if he can continue to get on base, he has the potential to rack up a ton of stolen bases in a short period of time.

How Jose Abreu Finishes the Year

Chicago White Sox v Kansas City RoyalsProving to have been one of the most valuable offseason pickups, Jose Abreu is posting one of the best rookie seasons we’ve seen in years.

Currently sitting on 33 home runs (he has a good shot at winning the home run crown, tied with Chris Carter and Giancarlo Stanton, and one back of only Nelson Cruz), 96 RBI’s and a .312 batting average, Abreu has done nothing but produce all season long, leading many to believe that he has the American League Rookie of the Year award completely locked up.

At one point in time, there was a good chance that Abreu would break the all-time home run record for a rookie, set by Mark McGwire back in 1987, when he blasted 49 home runs. But Abreu will inevitably come up just short of that mark, due in part to a brief stint on the disabled list earlier in the year.

Even so, Abeu will likely wind up with around 40 home runs for the season, and will be a major asset for the White Sox for years to come.

American League West Division

It can’t much tighter than it currently is in the American League West, as the Angels lead the Athletics by a mere game in the standings. With just a few more weeks of games, this is undoubtedly the division to watch most closely throughout the rest of the season. However, the wild card spots are looking to be just as intriguing, in both leagues.

On the American League side of things, whichever team doesn’t win the AL west between the Angels and A’s will end up taking the first wild card spot, but the Mariners, Tigers and even the Yankees are going to be fighting hard for that second wild card spot. In the National League, the Cardinals hold a slight lead for the first wild card, but the second one is anyone’s for the taking between the Giants, Braves, Pirates and Marlins, if they can keep pace through the month of September. It should be interesting to see which teams get the job done.

Derek Jeter’s Final Month of His Career

Derek JeterAfter having a disastrous 2013 season, in which he was injured and posted measly stats, Derek Jeter announced at the beginning of the year that 2014 would be his last. Therefore, all eyes are on Jeter to see how he performs in the final month of his farewell season. So far, Jeter isn’t doing terrible, but he’s not doing all that great either, batting just .267 with 3 home runs and 36 RBI’s.

But although Jeter isn’t producing all that much, he will still go down as one of baseball’s all-time greats, with over 3,400 career hits.

The one thing on everyone’s mind, however, is whether or not the Yankees can make the playoffs to give Jeter the chance at a sixth career World Series title.

Sitting 2.5 games back of the second wild card, there’s still a shot that the Yankees make it in, but it’s going to take a good amount of terrific play for them to reach the postseason.

Angles Find Themselves All Alone In First Place

For the first time since May of 2011, the Angels have taken over sole possession of first place in the American League West division. Heading into Monday night tied with the Athletics, who had the night off, the Angels went into Boston looking to pick up an all important win that would give them the lead in the division. Beating the Red Sox 4-2, the Angels now stand a half game ahead of the Athletics in the division, with the best overall record in all of Major League Baseball.Angels

Having been chasing down the Athletics for the first place spot since the weeks approaching the All-Star break, the Angels were finally able to move within striking distance throughout the past month or so, winning 16 of their 29 games since the break. With 2009 being the last time the Angels made the playoffs, they are well on their way to ending the drought, now that they appear to have found their groove.

But it’s certainly taken awhile to get to this point.

After signing Albert Pujols back in 2012, who had recorded 30 or more home runs every season since his debut in 2001, the Angels were expected to do big things in the west. But some bad breaks and poor play by some of their players kept them from fulfilling their potential, finishing third in the division, even with Mike Trout taking home the American League Rookie of the Year award.

Then in 2013, after acquiring yet another star player in Josh Hamilton, the Angels were predicted by many to do dominate the division, but once again, injuries (Pujols missed a major portion of the year) and poor play caused them to tumble, finishing out the season 18 games back of first.

Not exactly what you picture as a bright future.

However, while things had gone terribly wrong in 2012 and 2013, the Angels have put things together so far in 2014. With just over a month remaining in the season, the Angels look to be firing on all cylinders. Mike Trout, who has become one of the game’s youngest superstars, has been having an MVP caliber season, and is on the verge of another 30 home run year. And although Josh Hamilton has been struggling once again this year, Pujols has had a major bounce back season from 2013, approaching 30 home runs for what would be the thirteenth time in his career.

But much of the Angels’ success this season has also come thanks to the overlooked players on their roster, none more so than their leadoff hitter, Kole Calhoun. Having turned into quite the productive player for the Angels, Calhoun has done nothing but get on base time and time again this season, allowing the next hitters of Trout, Pujols and Hamilton to drive him in; being a big reason for their overall success as a team.

On the pitching side of things, Garrett Richards has been fantastic, putting up great numbers, which has been extremely important, with Angels’ standout pitchers C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver both having down years. Without Calhoun and Richards playing the way they have, the Angels could be in a much different position than they currently are.

Though you never truly know what to expect from one season to the next, I’ll be the first to admit that I never saw this type of season coming from the Angels. When I made my final standings predictions back in March, I actually had the Angels finishing fourth, just ahead of the Astros, with the Rangers winning the division. With the Angels in first and the Rangers in dead last, with the worst record in all of baseball, it just goes to show that a few breaks here and there can truly make or break an entire season for any given team.

Bautista & Tulowitzki Select Their Derby Teammates

The players who are planning to blast long balls in the 2014 home run derby were fully announced on Thursday, and, for the most part, I’m not extremely shocked with any of them. My original picks only included three of the selected players I wanted to see in the derby, but the new format for the home run derby (ten players instead of eight) threw me off when it came to making my selections.

My initial list included eight players, being Nelson Cruz, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Abreu and Yoenis Cespedes (Jose Bautista hadn’t yet been announced as the captain) for the American League, with Giancarlo Stanton, Evan Gattis, Carlos Gomez and Yasiel Puig (Troy Tulowitzki hadn’t yet been announced as the captain) for the National League.

In the end, American League captain, Bautista, selected Brian Dozier, Adam Jones, Josh Donaldson, and defending derby champion, Yoenis Cespedes. On the National League side of things, their captain, Tulowitzki, added Yasiel Puig, Todd Frazier, Giancarlo Stanton and Justin Morneau to the mix.

All in all, a very solid group of players; though I would’ve liked to have seen rookie phenom, Jose Abreu, compete (he expressed that he wasn’t interested in participating).

As stated, the home run derby is set to see a major change in rules for the first time since match play was first introduced back in 2000. Therefore, I wanted to give a brief overview for those of you who may not have heard about the changes. The new rules are as follows:

Round 1: Five players from the American League and five players from National League compete to see who can hit the most home runs, receiving seven outs instead of the previous ten (they receive the same number of outs in every following round). The top slugging player from each individual league receives a bye, jumping automatically ahead to the third round, and subsequently giving them added rest that they’ve never been rewarded with before. The second and third place hitters in the round from each league will then move onto round two, with the bottom two pairs of players being eliminated (four total).

Round 2: With the top home run hitter from the American League and the top player from the National League in the first round skipping round two, this round sees two American League hitters and two National League hitters (the second and third place finishers from round one) squaring off. The two winners will subsequently move on to round three to take on the round one winners.

Round 3: The sole winner from the American League and National League in round two of the derby is set to take on their respective league’s winner from the first round. The player from the AL who hits the most home runs in this round will move on to the final round where they will compete against the round winner from the NL.

Round 4: For the first time ever, there is going to be a round four added to the mix. This round will see the winners from round three (one from the AL and one from the NL) going head-to-head for the title of 2014 MLB Home Run Derby champion. With the number of great power hitters that are always in the mix at this point in every derby, it’s sure to be an entertaining round.

Overall, I like the changes to the derby format. Allowing the winners from the first round to skip the following round finally gives them an advantage and motivation to try and put on a show. In the past, a lot of players have hit their stride in a round (Josh Hamilton slugged a record 28 home runs in the first round back in 2008 only to tire out and lose the derby) that ended up costing them the derby due to fatigue. A break to give them a chance to regain their energy should make things more entertaining for the players and the fans.

With the field for the home run derby set with its full slate of ten players, and with the new format for this year’s derby fully explained, I wanted to take a second to give my thoughts on how I feel the derby will go.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Round one is going to be a very interesting round. Basically being unpredictable, just about any of the players on the American League side of things has the ability to get hot and win the round. With that said, however, I feel that it’s most likely going to be Jose Bautista. Though he doesn’t have the most power of the group, he has a good combination of an ability to hit for power and total homers to do well. Coming in second and third I see it being Yoenis Cespedes and Adam Jones, meaning Josh Donaldson and Brian Dozier would be eliminated.

With Jose Bautista having won round one in my mind, this round would have Yoenis Cespedes going up against Adam Jones. Though Adam Jones can hit with the best of them, I’m sticking with last year’s winner, Yoenis Cespedes. Next to Giancarlo Stanton in the National League, Cespedes has arguably the best power in the derby, and should be able to make it to round three, with Jones getting knocked out.

The final round for the American League portion of the derby would then see Yoenis Cespedes hitting off against round one winner Jose Bautista. Though somewhat difficult to predict, between these two, I’d have to move Cespedes to the championship round, just beating out Bautista.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Likely to be the more impressive round one show between the two leagues is the National League. With Giancarlo Stanton in the mix, I truly don’t see anyone as having a chance at beating him out in this round. That leaves Troy Tulowitzki, Yasiel Puig, Todd Frazier and Justin Morneau, and I feel that of those, Tulowitzki and Frazier stand the best shot at advancing, even with the always entertaining Yasiel Puig in the running. That would leave Puig and Morneau as the players to be out hit in the first round.

With there a good chance that Giancarlo Stanton will have destroyed the completion in the initial round, the second round would include NL captain, Troy Tulowitzki, taking on Todd Frazier. Though Frazier has hit his share of tape measure home runs over the course of his career, I don’t think he will have enough to overtake Tulo. And thus, it’s likely that Tulowitzki will move on to face Stanton in the next round.

After skipping the second round, Giancarlo Stanton would be taking on the previous round’s winner, Troy Tulowitzki. While anything can happen in a home run derby, and certainly has in the past numerous years, I don’t think Stanton will stumble in his quest for the championship round.

Final Round

If the final, championship round of this year’s home run derby is in fact Yoenis Cespedes and Giancarlo Stanton squaring off, it’s sure to be one of the best final rounds ever. Both Cespedes and Stanton have unbelievable power, and both have the strength and ability to put on long, amazing displays of power. Honestly, the final round could easily go either way, but to stick with my gut, your 2014 Major League Baseball home run derby champion will be Giancarlo Stanton, as many are already predicting.

Brewers Still Surprising Many With Formidable Play

It was a rather intriguing story line when the Brewers were leading the National League central division after the first full month of the season. It was somewhat of an impressive feat when they were still leading the division after the first two months had passed. But now that we’re just a couple of weeks away from the All-Star break and the Brewers are still on top, it’s beginning to become one of the most discussed topics in all of baseball.

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Predicted by many to do poorly this season (I had them finishing fourth), with the seemingly average team the Brewers have and the difficult division in which they play, the fact that the Brewers currently sit 5.5 games ahead of the second place Cardinals is incredible — especially after the Cardinals won the division fairly easily last year, with the Brewers ending up 23 games back.

But while most of the baseball world counted out the Brewers for 2014, their players felt they had just as good of a shot as anyone, which is proving to be true. “We felt good about our situation,” said Brewers’ second baseman, Rickie Weeks, on Thursday. “Obviously, a lot of the media didn’t. That’s one of the things that keeps us together in this clubhouse.”

Having achieved the most wins in all of baseball (only the Athletics have a better winning percentage), and holding the largest division lead of any other team over the second place opponent, the Brewers making the playoffs is no longer a long shot as it appeared to be at the beginning of the year. It has now become a really good possibility.

Off to the best start halfway through the season (81 games) in their franchise’s history, the Brewers not only have momentum on their side, they also have statistics. Since the Wild Card was introduced in 1995, 69 percent of teams (82 out of 118) in first place at the halfway point have made the playoffs, with 61 percent (72 out of 118) holding on to win their division.

One of the biggest reasons for the surprising performance by the Brewers as a whole has been their consistent game play by their individual players. Jonathan Lucroy, one of the game’s most underrated catchers, has done a fantastic job both defensively behind the plate as well as offensively. And despite a slightly down season for Ryan Braun (he’s still making a good contribution), Carlos Gomez, Aramis Ramirez, and Scooter Gennett are all doing their share, with Khris Davis and Mark Reynolds providing a good deal of power, regardless of their low batting averages.

On the pitching side of things, Kyle Lohse has really stepped up his game this year, doing a great job of giving the Brewers opportunities to win ballgames, and with the exception of a couple of rough starts, Yovani Gallardo has been a valuable asset as well. With a closer like Francisco Rodriguez, who currently leads baseball in saves, coming on in the ninth inning to shut down games, the Brewers have a really solid team no matter how you look at it.

With just 14 games remaining until the All-Star break, the Brewers find themselves on the verge of making some more history by surpassing the old franchise record of 54 wins at the break. That would certainly be an amazing feat. But I’m sure the majority of the Brewers would tell you, having made the World Series just once back in 1982 (they lost), their main focus is on making it deep into October.

Who I’d Like to See In the 2014 Home Run Derby

Due to the fact that the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star ballots are asking fans to once again vote for who they’d like to see participate in the home run derby (unfortunately, the votes are only a poll, and don’t actually count towards anything), it hasn’t yet been announced who the derby captains will be, as it had been by now each of the past several years. And therefore, not knowing when it will be revealed, I didn’t want to wait until then to give my take on who I’d most like to see in the derby, along with my reasoning for each pick.

While there are some players that I left off, for one reason or another, I feel the players I selected would make for a great 2014 home run derby, as they all have to ability to hit a good amount of home runs as well as doing so for big power. With the 2014 home run derby now around three weeks away, here are the players I’d most enjoy seeing take part:

American League

Nelson Cruz: One of the game’s most underrated power hitters, Nelson Cruz would be a fantastic pick for the home run derby next month. Currently leading all of Major League Baseball in home runs, Cruz would likely make it deep into the derby, possibly even reaching the final round. His ability to hit home runs seemingly at will and the overall power he possesses would make things very interesting in the derby.

Edwin Encarnacion: After breaking out back in 2012, hitting 42 home runs that season, Edwin Encarnacion has been in a groove ever since. Going on an absolute tear in May, Encarnacion has cooled down a bit as of late, but he would definitely thrive in a home run derby atmosphere. Though Target Field isn’t necessarily a hitter’s park, Encarnacion could easily make it one.

Jose Abreu: Although Jose Abreu is a rookie, he’s already done more than enough to prove that he belongs at the big league level. Coming over from Cuba to the White Sox, Abreu set a rookie record for home runs in his first month, and despite a minor setback due to an injury, Abreu hasn’t let up. If Abreu is in the derby, along with his phenom status and incredible power, he will be someone to watch closely.

Yoenis Cespedes: Winning the home run derby last season, Yoenis Cespedes is somewhat overlooked, playing for the Athletics, but he’s truly a major power threat every time he steps to the plate. Although I don’t feel he will win two years in a row, especially if the other players on my list are going up against him, Cespedes could very well surprise me, as he did in 2013.

National League

Giancarlo Stanton: If Giancarlo Stanton is one of the sluggers in the 2014 derby, I truly don’t think any other hitter stands even a slight chance. The guy is simply amazing, with arguably the most power in all of baseball. When Stanton hits a home run — which is often for him — you immediately know it’s gone. Stanton would put on an unbelievable show in the derby in a few weeks.

Evan Gattis: The true definition of a natural power hitter, Evan Gattis has raw power and can absolutely crush a ball when he squares it up. Although he likely wouldn’t make it terribly deep, with the immense talent that’s in the derby each year, he would hit his share of amazing blasts. Gattis isn’t necessarily a top pick for the derby, but I’d love to see him participate, just to see what he can do.

Carlos Gomez: While some of Carlos Gomez’s on field antics have rubbed people the wrong way, it’s a fact that he’s super-talented. Gomez isn’t a guy who hits an extremely high amount of home runs each year, but put in an environment where the only goal is to hit a homer, I think Gomez would do well. Given the underlying power that he has, Gomez might actually make it deep into the derby.

Yasiel Puig: As with Carlos Gomez, not everyone appreciates the flair that Yasiel Puig shows on a daily basis, but he’s undeniably one of the most exciting young players on the big league level today. Coming up as a rookie from Cuba in 2013, Puig helped to turn around a struggling Dodgers team, and I feel he’d put on a show in the derby (as long as he doesn’t do a bat flip after every home run).

So, those are my picks for who I’d like to see in the 2014 home run derby, up at Target Field, on July 14th. Odds are that not all of them will be selected, but I truly hoped the majority of them are in the derby. Do you agree or disagree with my picks? Who would you like to see participate? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Top Prospects Ready to Make MLB Impact

There are numerous top prospects set to make an impact in the major leagues this season, as I wrote about a few months ago, but for this particular post, I’m only focusing on the players who are ready right now to get a callup to the big leagues, but are yet to for one reason or another. Keep in mind as you’re reading, the players (in no particular order) I’ve included are yet to play a single game in the majors:13067210

Archie Bradley is the first player on my list, as he nearly made the Diamondback’s rotation out of Spring Training. Going 14-5, with a 1.84 ERA last season, Bradley is one of those players who is sure to make an immediate impact upon his first callup to the majors. Though it could be awhile longer before Bradley gets his first big league start, he’s ready now, nonetheless, to show off his stuff on the highest level.

Another player who nearly made the majors out of Spring Training, and likely should have, is George Springer. Blasting the second-most home runs of any player in the minors last season, with a total of 37, Springer is sure to be one of the key pieces for the Astros moving forward, whenever his callup takes place. With the Astros’ outfield struggling, besides Dexter Fowler, bringing up Springer would be a smart thing to do.

Gregory Polanco could end up being as big of a difference maker for the Pirates as Andrew McCutchen. Though he’s yet to prove his ability on the major league level, there are a lot of people who feel Polanco is experienced enough to make the jump. Currently in Triple-A, it will likely be a bit of time before Polanco is called up, however, his combination of speed, power, and ability to hit for average should help him stick.

Joc Pederson is more than ready to make his major league debut, but there’s a big problem he faces: he’s an outfielder in the Dodgers’ organization. With a current outfield of Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford, Pederson simply has nowhere to go. While it could be a good bit of time before the Dodgers’ figure out a solution to the situation they have with Pederson, he should be up before too long.

Currently battling an injury, Addison Russell can’t technically be called up to the major leagues until he fully recovers, which likely means more minor league time, however, he is nearly ready. Russell is coined to be the next great all around shortstop, and many people feel he has the potential to win multiple Gold Glove awards. With the Athletics’ contract to their current shortstop, Jed Lowrie, almost up, Russell will be up fairly soon.

Some honorable mentions, of player who are getting close to being major league ready but aren’t quite, include Oscar Taveras, Javier Baez, Noah Syndergaard, Alex Meyer, Eddie Butler, Jonathan Singleton, Garin Cecchini and Stephen Piscotty.

All are showing tons of major league potential, and the majority of those players should see time in the major leagues at some point in the second half of this season. The remaining few will get their first glimpse of the majors in the early part of 2015.

The Injury Bug: Numerous Players To Miss Time

Another day, another injury. It seems that’s been the common theme as of late, with Michael Bourn, Yu Darvish, Aroldis Chapman and Jurickson Profar being the most recent players to fall victim to what’s become somewhat of an injury epidemic around Major League Baseball.

While every year brings injuries throughout both the offseason and the regular season, this year seems to be above average in that department, Kris Medlenand the season hasn’t even begun yet. Including names such as Patrick Corbin, Manny Machado, Matt Kemp, and Jarrod Parker, among many others, the list of players set to miss Opening Day — the entire season for some players — due to injury continues to grow larger. Although some players aren’t that big of a loss overall, some will have a drastic impact on their team’s success.

None more so than the loss of Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen for the Braves. Both are set to miss the entire season due to the second Tommy John surgeries of their careers, and losing these key pieces to the Braves’ starting rotation will likely have a profound impact on how they perform as a whole. I had the Braves winning the National League East division in 2014, as they did last season, however, the subtraction of these players from the roster could cause them to fall down in the rankings a bit.

But the Braves aren’t the only team that could fall down a bit due to an injured player.

Patrick Corbin being out for what could be the entire season will have an effect on the Diamondback’s performance this season. Corbin really broke out last year, and was set to lead their starting rotation throughout the coming season. But without him, while the D-backs should still be a good team, they won’t be able to give the Dodgers a run for the division title like they previously would’ve possibly been able to do.

However, the team that will likely see the second biggest drop, behind the Braves, from their predicted finish will be the Athletics, who will beUntitled without A.J. Griffin for a good bit of time, but more importantly won’t have Jarrod Parker for the entire season. He, like many pitchers I’ve discussed, is undergoing Tommy John surgery that will keep him out until 2015. With Parker out, the A’s will have a difficult time overtaking the Rangers in the American League West division as they’ve done the past two seasons.

Not all of these injuries have occurred recently, though. A few players that won’t be ready for Opening Day had their injuries happen much earlier than this offseason or Spring Training.

Manny Machado, Jose Iglesias, Matt Kemp, and Matt Harvey are all missing a good deal of time due to nagging injuries from 2013, with Matt Harvey (and possibly Jose Iglesias as well) out for the full length of the season. When healthy, all have extreme impacts on their respective teams, so, obviously, not having them being their productive selves is a big loss.

But despite all of the injuries that seem to grow in number everyday, these are the types of things teams just have to play through. You have to compete with what you have. And therefore, it’s sure to be an interesting and exciting 2014 season, with there now being just six days until Opening Day.

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