Baseball Returns With Spring Training Action

Although Spring Training baseball isn’t as meaningful as the regular season, and despite the fact that most of the stars on the team are removed by the fifth inning, this time of year is exciting, nonetheless, for baseball fans all around the country.

The first regular season games of the year aren’t set to take place for another few weeks, with the opening-series being played in Australia on March 22nd, but even so, today marked the first official professional baseball games of the year.Untitled

And therefore, things are finally starting to get going again.

The Phillies, Blue Jays, Pirates, Yankees, Tigers, Braves, Dodgers, D-backs, Athletics, Giants, Reds and Indians all saw action on Wednesday, with the remaining teams playing their first games of the year against another big league organization over the course of the next two days. While things are still fairly early, several players are already looking promising.

One of the biggest question marks for the 2014 season, after a couple of injured years, is Ryan Howard. Once one of the games biggest power threats, Howard hasn’t been himself as of late. But out of the gate so far this spring, including practice games, Howard looks healthy and like he’s seeing the ball really well.

Jose Bautista is another player who has had injuries hurt his stats each of the past two seasons but is looking good to bounce back this year. In his first at-bat of Wednesday’s game, Bautista crushed a ball completely out of the ballpark off the Phillies’ Roberto Hernandez. If the Blue Jays have Bautista going, he could help lead them higher up in the rankings than they finished last year.

As far as teams go, the Athletics look as though they could pick up where they left off in 2013, once their season begins on March 31st. They did extremely well against the Giants in their first matchup of the year, and with the additions they made in the offseason, they should really make some noise in the talented American League West.

It’s far too early to say for sure whether or not these trends will continue, with there still a being ton of baseball left to be played before things begin to count towards the standings. But, as stated earlier, things are looking promising for an exciting 2014 season.

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.

Why the Yankees Shouldn’t Sign Masahiro Tanaka

There are multiple teams around Major League Baseball that are currently looking to sign another pitcher to add to their rotation, and there is no pitcher on the market better than Masahiro Tanaka. Going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season in the Japanese League, Tanaka is being sought after by numerous teams, and has until January 24th to make a decision.

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Though multiple organizations around the country are reportedly interested in Tanaka, the New York Yankees are the team that could use him the most, in the minds of many, of the teams that can actually afford to make the deal. The Yankees have made a few good moves so far this offseason, and signing Tanaka to add to their somewhat weak rotation would make an immediate impact for the 2014 season.

Joining a rotation of C.C. Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda, among others, Tanaka would likely be the Yankees’ number two pitcher, behind Sabathia, and could potentially become their number one. Tanaka certainly has the talent, though there’s always the risk that he could fail in the Major Leagues, as has happened to multiple Japanese pitchers in the past. Most people, however, don’t see that occuring with Tanaka, as he has incredible stuff.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean signing Tanaka is the right thing to do.

While the Yankees are likely going to be able to use the money previously owed to Alex Rodriguez, who is going to miss all of the 2014 season, they need to look at the big picture, in my opinion. Yes, picking up Tanaka would make them a good team, but signing other players with the money would make them a really good team.

Tanaka is going to take a lot of money to sign — probably leading them to overspend to beat out the competition. To me, it would better serve the Yankees to use the A-Rod money to sign multiple, cheaper free agents to fill their needs, such as their closer role, as well as other starting pitching options.

The Yankees are rumored to be interested in Grant Balfour, who was picked up by the Orioles last month before having his deal canceled after failing their physical, reportedly due to knee and wrist issues. Assuming Balfour is actually healthy, the Yankees should be able to get him for a decent price, and, while he’s no Mariano Rivera, he would do a great job at closing out games for them, posting 38 saves with a 2.59 ERA last season.

As far as starting pitchers go, Ubaldo Jimenez would be a great alternate option for the Yankees, as I’ve felt for awhile. Though Jimenez has had his share of ups and downs over his career, he has the potential to be a good pitcher, showing that ability over the last half of the 2013 season in which he was tremendous. Should Jimenez have a bounce back year in 2014, he could easily be a steal by the Yankees.

All things considered, there are several options for the Yankees moving forward this offseason, many of which don’t include Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka.

Therefore, if I were the Yankees, I’d have to pass on Tanaka.

Q and A With Addison Russell

Addison Russell was drafted by the Athletics in the first round of the 2012 draft. Since the draft, Russell has had a great deal of success, posting above average numbers for two straight seasons. img_0095

After an inaugural professional season of 7 home runs and 45 RBI’s to go along with a .369 batting average, in just 55 games played, Russell had a 2013 season nearly as good. Despite a poor start to the year, Russell turned things around to finish out the season with a batting average of .269, to go along with 17 home runs and 60 RBI’s.

In addition to a great season statistically, Russell was selected to participate in the 2013 Futures Game up in New York City, making the 2013 season one to remember.

If Russell can continue to post the same type of numbers, it’s only a matter of time before he’s having memorable seasons at the Major League level.

Addison Russell — top prospect in the Athletics’ 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?

Around the age of five my father got me into it. He would be my biggest influence.

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

Barry Larkin. It just seemed like he was the ultimate role model. He was a great ball player and knows so much about the game.

3.) You were drafted by the Athletics in the 1st round of the 2012 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

I was at home in Pensacola, Florida. That day I was having a graduation party, so I had friends and family there to share the experience. Really, I had no idea where I was going to be picked at. But Oakland picked me 11th overall. It was all a blur. I just remember being too excited to actually pursue my dream job.

4.) You worked really hard to get in better physical shape in your last year of high school before getting drafted. How much do you attribute that work in the year before the draft to your extremely successful first (half) season in 2012?

I had to work hard. I just want to be the best I can be. Everyday running, in the weight room everyday — and also working on my skills and craft.

5.) Though you began the 2013 season a bit slow, you turned things around to have another successful year. What enabled you to turn around your season?

Just slow the game down and get my pitch and take advantage of it.

6.) You were selected to play in the 2013 Futures game, up in New York City, in July. What was that experience like? What did you take away from the game that you plan to use moving forward?

It was a great experience. I got to play with future big leaguers. What I took from the experience was that there’s a lot great players out there, and I can play with them. My work ethic will be my key. Always improving my craft in all aspects of the game

7.) The Athletics moved you all the way up to Triple-A at the very end of the 2013 season, where you had the opportunity to play in the playoffs. How was the playoff atmosphere different than any other level of baseball you had ever played up until that point?

It’s more hyped up. It’s a big move. I was just blessed to get the experience.

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

I felt alright. I felt early on I could’ve done things a little better. I finished up the year strong. Looking back, I think I had a good year. My goals for next year is just to make the adjustment early.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

My favorite show is ‘Duck Dynasty’, and I absolutely love pizza.

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

Don’t let people tell you what you can’t do. Work hard everyday. Keep goals, keep achieving them, and strive to be the best you that you can be.

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Big thanks to Addison Russell for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @Addison_Russell

Arizona Fall League TTM Requests Update #3

Awhile ago I blogged about the through the mail (TTM) autograph requests I was planning to send off to players during the Arizona Fall League. At the end of the post I stated that I was going to be publishing a blog post every time I received back any autographs. Having received one more TTM autograph requests since my last update, I figured I’d post another update — the final one of this round of autograph requests:

JAMES RAMSEY — CARDINALS’ ORGANIZATION

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James Ramsey is the Cardinals number ten prospect, and he proved to be worthy of his top ten spot in 2013. Ramsey batted .265 with 16 home runs and 51 RBI’s, between High-A and Triple-A, and participated in the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game. The Cardinals are looking to move him to the big leagues quickly, as at 24 years old the clock is ticking. But Ramsey hasn’t let them down yet, and, therefore, should easily make it to the Majors at some point in 2014.

This is the third and final update of the through the mail autograph requests I sent out to players at the Arizona Fall League in 2013. Though I may receive back one or two in the next few months, I won’t be posting an entry on it. I’ll begin doing autograph updates next March/April, when I send requests out to players at Spring Training.

Robinson Cano Agrees to Mega-Deal With Mariners

Ten years, 240 million dollars.

That’s what it took to get Robinson Cano to the Pacific Northwest.

After a long period of guessing as to whether Cano going to Seattle was purely speculation, the baseball world found out on Friday that it was in fact a reality. The five time All-Star will certainly make an immediate impact for the Mariners, but how big of an overall impact is yet to be seen.robinson-cano

Even with the signing of Cano, who batted .317 with 25 home runs and 107 RBI’s in 2013, the Mariners are still a ways from becoming a competitive team in the talented American League West division, in the minds of many.

With the Rangers and Athletics turning their already good teams into even better teams this offseason (the Rangers trading for Prince Fielder and the A’s signing Jim Johnson, among others) it’s going to be interesting to see how the Mariners fare this coming season.

But locking up a player of Cano’s caliber for the next ten years is definitely a step in the right direction.

Cano has been a consistent player over the course of his career, hitting at least 25 home runs over the past five seasons, and racking up a minimum of 85 RBI’s over that same span. He’s also been able to stay healthy, playing in at least 159 games for the past seven seasons. Both combined make for a good signing, in my mind. The Mariners needed a player like Cano.

As far as the deal goes, I don’t really feel ten years is appropriate. Cano is 31 years old, meaning by the time all is said and done with his contract he’ll be 41. Who knows what type of player he’ll be by then? But if ten years and 240 million — the third largest contract in MLB history, and the largest ever for a second baseman — is what it took to get this deal done, then I guess the Mariners had to do what they had to do. We’ll see if it pays off.

But Cano isn’t the only 2013 Yankee who found a new home on Friday.

Curtis Granderson agreed to a four-year deal with the New York Mets worth a reported 60 million dollars.

curtis-granderson-ap2I feel this is a great signing by the Mets, who have really struggled in recent history offensively. Granderson will provide some power to their lineup, in addition to being a great outfielder with great range. Though he was injured most of 2013, Granderson put together a couple of 40+ home run seasons the previous two years. It’s certainly possible that Granderson could do that for the Mets this coming season, but I see him as more of a 30 homer guy in that ballpark.

With or without the 40 bombs, Granderson will still be able serve as protection for David Wright in the lineup, who I could see having a career year in 2014. The Mets will be without Matt Harvey, who underwent Tommy John surgery in October, but they should still have a decent season, possibly finishing in third place, yet again, behind the Braves and Nationals.

As stated, while I still don’t think the Mets will have enough to beat out the Braves or the Nationals in their division, this move no doubt makes them an all around better team. A team that could surprise some people down the road, once they get all their pitching back together.

The good news of the day, if you’re a Yankees fan, is that Hiroki Kuroda agreed to a one-year, 16 million dollar contract to remain in New York for 2014.

Although this is little excitement after the loss of Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, the Yankees need pitching, and were smart to let both of them, and the money that would’ve come along with them, go.

The Yankees just signed a good replacement for Granderson, in Jacoby Ellsbury, and while I think they overspent on Ellsbury, as I stated with the Mariners’ signing of Cano, I guess the Yankees “had to do what they had to do” to lock him up. As far as losing Cano goes, they can use that money for what they really need — pitching. (And now, a second baseman).

With it uncertain whether or not Japenese phenom, Masahiro Tanaka, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season, will be available, the best starting pitcher still on the market, in my mind, is Ubaldo Jimenez.

Though Jimenez has had his share of ups and down over the course of his career, he had a decent season last year, going 13-9 with a 3.30 ERA, finishing out the season strong. Jimenez is ready for a breakout season, and would be a good fit for the Yankees, now that my original pick for Jimenez, the Twins, have signed former Yankee, Phil Hughes.

If you were a fan of the 2013 Yankees, this has been a bad week for you, as many of them have departed.

But as a baseball fan, this has been one of the most exciting weeks in Major League Baseball offseason history.

MLB Hot Stove Heating Up In First Days of December

Monday was a busy day for Major League Baseball’s Hot Stove. Several players either signed or were traded, making an otherwise slow offseason pickup a bit. I won’t take the time to go over every single deal that has taken place recently, however, I do want to give my thoughts on the main deals that took place on Monday — and one from today. Doug+Fister+Detroit+Tigers+v+Cleveland+Indians+8W2pEFs2ZpUl

The biggest deal, by far, was the Tigers trading Doug Fister to the Nationals, in exchange for Minor League player, Robbie Ray, along with Nat’s second baseman, Steve Lombardozzi, and rookie pitcher from 2013, Ian Krol. This deal helps out the Nationals most, as they have a young prospect, Anthony Rendon, who’s ready to take over at second full time, and Krol and Ray aren’t a lot to lose for a pitcher of Fister’s caliber. (Fister went 14-9 with a 3.67 ERA in 2013.)

On the Tigers’ side of things, while it doesn’t seem to make a ton of sense, they’re going to use the money saved by getting rid of Fister to sign Joe Nathan to fill their closer role. The Tigers are still left with a rotation of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Annibal Sanchez, and the signing of Nathan will help them out tremendously.

Theoretically, this furthers the case for the Tigers hanging onto Scherzer, instead of trading the 2013 Cy Young award winner, but it’s still possible that they will. What the Tigers really needed was a closer, and they’re getting a good one in Joe Nathan, who recorded 43 saves in 2013.

As far as closers go, Jim Johnson is one of the games best at the moment, and he was part of a deal between the Athletics and Orioles that sent him out to Oakland for Jemile Weeks — a low-end player who only spent eight games in the Majors last season, batting .111 — and a player to be named later. Johnson, who posted a 2.94 ERA last season while recording 50 saves, has achieved at least 50 saves for the past two seasons. (His 101 saves over the past two years is the best in baseball.) He should improve the A’s bullpen drastically.

1377582892000-USP-MLB-Texas-Rangers-at-Seattle-MarinersThe Athletics also signed Scott Kazmir to a two-year deal, who was decent in 2013, having the best season of his career since 2008, and will join a pretty good rotation of players such as Sonny Gray and Jarrod Parker.

This signing likely ends their pursuit of Bartolo Colon, who was great last season, going 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA, but was asking for more money than the A’s were willing to give him. But even if Colon leaves, the signing of Kazmir and Johnson makes them a much better team, at least as far as their pitching goes.

After the great season he had with the Rangers in 2013, batting .272 with 17 home runs and 70 RBI’s, the Red Sox signed free agent A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year contract on Monday.

This more than likely means that the Sox’ catcher from this season, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, will be headed to another team, despite posting decent stats of 14 home runs and 65 RBI’s to go along with a .273 batting average in 2013. As I stated in a previous post, I feel the Rangers would be a good fit for Saltalamacchia, however, it all depends on what the Rangers are looking to do.

With four months remaining until the 2014 season, anything can happen.