Results tagged ‘ Cubs ’

Padres Going All In for Next Season

When the dust settles a couple months from now, and spring training begins to kick off, the Padres could turn out to be the winners of the entire offseason. While the Red Sox are arguably the most improved team, with their pickups of both offensive presence and starting pitching, it’s the Padres that have done the most to improve their club in a very short amount of time.

Finishing with a record under .500 for the fourth straight season in 2014, not a lot of people likely had the Padres doing much of anything impactful this offseason that would give them any chance against the division dominant Dodgers and Giants moving forward. However, the Padres are seemingly putting together a competitive ball club, and are losing very little in the process, all thanks to their new general manager, A.J. Preller, who was given the daunting task of turning around one of the worst offenses from the previous year.Kemp-Myers

News of the Padres’ team revamp first arose during the Winter Meetings, when a trade for Matt Kemp was first reported. Although it took them over a week to finalize the deal due to a concerning physical of Kemp that showed arthritis in his hips, the Padres landed their man, getting Matt Kemp (along with 32 million dollars) and Tim Federowicz from the Dodgers, in exchange for Yasmani Grandal, Joe Wieland and Zach Eflin.

Following that initial announcement of the Kemp deal, the Padres proceeded to further improve their outfield for next season, acquiring Wil Myers as part of a three team, 11-player deal with the Rays and Nationals.

In the large swap, the Padres received Myers, Ryan Hanigan, Jose Castillo and Gerardo Reyes from the Rays, and sent Rene Rivera, Joe Ross, Burch Smith, Trea Turner, and Jake Bauers back to Tampa. The Rays then flipped Turner and Ross to the Nationals for Steven Souza and Travis Ott. (Follow all that?) In short, the Padres acquired promising young outfielder Wil Myers without giving up too much in return — just as they did with the Matt Kemp trade.

But the little loss, big return trade pattern didn’t stop there for the Padres. Shortly after announcing the Wil Myers acquisition, the Padres made yet another trade, once again for an impactful outfielder, bringing over Justin Upton and Upton1a low level prospect to be named later from the Braves. In return for Upton, San Diego didn’t have to part with too much, sending away just Max Fried, Jace Peterson, Dustin Peterson and Mallex Smith. Although three of those four players were in the Padres top twenty prospects list, the Padres were still able to maintain their top two prospects in Austin Hedges and Matt Wisler, which is truly remarkable when you think about it.

Not all of the moves the Padres have made have been large, though. Some of the smaller changes the Padres have completed that could turn out to have major impacts have also taken place over the past day or so.

As replacement for the slot lost when they traded away Yasmani Grandal, the Padres traded Jesse Hahn and R.J. Alvarez to acquire former All-Star catcher, Derek Norris, along with Seth Streich and an international signing slot from the Athletics. In addition, the Padres made a smart small move on Friday, flipping Ryan Hanigan, who they just acquired in the Wil Myers trade, to the Red Sox in return for Will Middlebrooks, who will now man the hot corner in 2015.

All of these moves for a brand new outfield, as well as an improved infield, will go a long way in improving the Padres next season. Their lineup is undeniably better, and one that will be a force to reckon with for sure. But what about their pitching? As has been proven time and time again, you don’t win games with just hitting, you have to have pitching as well. But surprisingly, despite the Padres’ dismal win-loss record from 2014, they did in fact have a good, under the radar pitching staff made up of solid players.

Due to the bad offensive production, which saw the Padres finish the season last in batting average, last in RBI’s and 28th in home runs, it was overlooked that the Padres had the fourth best team ERA in all of baseball on the season, coming out to a mere 3.27. With their big name pitchers from 2014 — Tyson Ross (2.81 ERA), Andrew Cashner (2.55 ERA), and Ian Kennedy (3.63 ERA) — still on the roster, to go along with newly acquired Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson, who is reportedly close to returning, the Padres truly have a solid team for 2015.

But they still aren’t likely done.Winnings

After obtaining Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton via trades, San Diego now has a surplus of outfielders — Seth Smith, Will Venable, Carlos Quentin, Cameron Maybin — whose spots have been filled. That assuredly means that at least one of them will be on the move, and that could end up bringing the Padres yet another piece of the puzzle.

But while the Padres are no doubt headed in the right direction and will show drastic improvement as soon as next season, I don’t think it will be enough to win the National League West division. The Dodgers and Giants are still too good, and will likely make moves of their own to get a little better before April. After finishing 17 games back of the division winning Dodgers last season, that’s too far of a jump for the Padres to make in a single season, in my mind.

However, despite that, I applaud the San Diego Padres. Following a season in which they were at the bottom of the pack in nearly every offensive category, the Padres look to have solved that in a matter of a couple weeks. If the new additions of Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton, etc., can play to their full potential, and if the down seasons by former standouts Jedd Gyorko and Yonder Alonso can be turned around, things look to be bright for the Friars.

Even if they don’t make a run at the division title, the Padres are in line to compete for at least the second Wild Card spot in 2015. Having not made the postseason since 2006, fans in San Diego have been waiting for quite awhile to see a team with this talent level be presented on the field, long wishing that some major changes would be made.

It would appear Padres fans have finally received their wish.

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

Jimmy Rollins Hits His Way Into Phillies History

As the saying goes, records are made to be broken. And with a strongly hit single to right field off of Edwin Jackson on Saturday afternoon, Phillies’ shortstop, Jimmy Rollins, broke a record that had stood for the past twenty-five years; notching his 2,235th career hit, surpassing the franchise’s all-time hit mark of 2,234, set by Mike Schmidt back in 1989.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Philadelphia Phillies

Accomplishing the milestone hit in three fewer seasons than Schmidt, Rollins gave Phillies fans something to be cheerful about, after a dismal start to the season has left them wishing for something worth applauding. Sitting in last place in the National League East division — a division that they once dominated — the Phillies are seemingly on their way to a poor overall year, but Rollins’ historic moment in the Phillies 7-4 win against the Cubs helped briefly give excitement to an otherwise dull team.

But as is to be expected when a player such as Rollins breaks an all-time record — especially a record held by a Hall of Fame player — many people are beginning to ask the question: Just because you pass a Hall of Famer on a franchise’s hit list, does that automatically make you Hall of Fame worthy?

As far as the answer goes, there seem to be three different views. The first view writes off the idea altogether, saying that Rollins’ numbers are simply nowhere close to Hall of Fame caliber; the second group doesn’t feel that Rollins is quite yet Hall of Fame worthy, but could become so if he plays well long enough; and the final portion of people (mainly Phillies fans) see him as a Hall of Fame shortstop right now.

For me, I side with the second set of people.

On one hand, I don’t think Rollins has a zero percent chance of the Hall of Fame down the road. He’s been far too good of a player for far too long for me to completely dismiss the possibility. But on the other hand, I don’t think Rollins currently has the numbers to stand up against some of the games all-time greats. However, given a few more productive seasons, I could definitely see a good case begin to be made for Rollins.

At 35 years old, Rollins still has a few good seasons left in his career, and seeing that he’s always been fairly consistent, Rollins should continue to pad his already good numbers, which aren’t as far off from Hall of Fame level as you might initially think upon a glance.

Of the twenty-two shortstops in the Hall, ten of them have fewer career hits than Rollins currently possesses, showing that there truly is no magic number of hits needed to earn election. In addition, assuming Rollins plays for another five seasons, based off of his average yearly totals, he would finish his career with around 240 homers, 1,100 RBI’s, 2,900 hits, 500 doubles, and 500 stolen bases. Given, that’s all purely speculative, but it’s interesting to note, nonetheless.

The bottom line, whether or not you’re a Phillies fan, and whether or not you feel Jimmy Rollins is going to get into the Hall of Fame eventually, you have to recognize the amazing career Rollins has put together. Even if he doesn’t go down in the record books as one of the all-time greats in baseball history, he will absolutely go down as one of the all-time greats in Phillies history. With all the fantastic players who have come through the Phillies organization over its 131-year existence, that speaks volumes by itself.

Have the Blue Jays Become the Division Favorites?

The Toronto Blue Jays are red hot.

Extending their winning streak to eight straight games after Tuesday night’s win against the Rays, in which Mark Buehrle was good yet again, picking up his league-leading ninth win, the Jays currently sit atop the American League East division standings. Having now won thirteen of their last fifteen games played, the Jays are seemingly on their way to a somewhat surprising great season.Mark+Buehrle+Toronto+Blue+Jays+v+Kansas+City+Uec8440KSDQl

And therefore, while very few people predicted the Blue Jays to do much of anything in 2014, a lot of people are now beginning to rethink their original projections. Despite the fact that there are still over 100 games remaining in the season, people are starting to believe in the Jays.

But should they? Are the Blue Jays truly the favorites in the division, or are they simply on a hot streak?

Going back to last season when they were chosen by the majority of the baseball world to win the East after the numerous offseason moves they made, the Jays went on an 11-game winning stretch, much like the one they are currently on, only to wind up finishing out the year dead last. Though their overall offense is stronger this year (they are one of only four teams in baseball with thirty or more wins) and they appear to be swinging the bats more as a whole than they did in 2013 (they were 9.5 games back on this date in 2013), with the down spiral that occurred last year, it’s certainly interesting to think about.

While I placed the Blue Jays to finish last this year in my predictions, and still don’t believe that they’ll be able to maintain this amazing pace, they have definitely been impressive to this point. From Mark Buehrle dominating in all but one of his starts — becoming the first Jay since Roy Halladay in 2009 to win nine of their first ten decisions (he appears to be a front runner to start the All-Star game) — to veteran pitcher R.A. Dickey, and the entire Jays lineup clicking, including Jose Bautsista, Edwin Encarnacion and Melky Cabrera, they could surprise some people.

As far as their offense goes, as stated, it’s definitely one of the best in baseball. The Jays lead all of the American League in team home runs by a wide margin — fourteen of which have come from Edwin Encarnacion this month alone (tying a franchise record for a month) — and they are finding a way to beat even the best starting pitchers the game has to offer. Picking up the series win over their past five series (something they hadn’t done since 2010) the Jays are setting all types of record that lead one to believe they mean business.

But even so, it’s very unlikely that things will last. As the past has shown, for the most part, you can only ride a stretch so far, and the streak they’re currently on is going to be very difficult to continue. Though it’s not impossible, it’s fairly improbable with the rotation they currently possess. While Buehrle and Dickey have been good, and should continue to be, their other pieces are average at best. A lot of people are in agreement that the Jays need one more pitching piece to truly stand a good shot at being relevant at the end of the season, and if they can pick up even one more pitcher, with the way their offense is firing on all cylinders, it could make all the difference.

The major name being discussed at the moment is the possible acquisition of Jeff Samardzija from the Cubs. Though it’s a long shot, and would likely mean giving up a top prospect such as Aaron Sanchez or Marcus Stroman which the Jays have shown they don’t want to do, it would definitely be a breath of fresh air for Samardzija who is a member of the struggling, last place Cubs. Being beneficial for both Samardzija and the Blue Jays, the trade would be a good one, but it’s one that would appear not likely at the moment.

And thus, while the Blue Jays are looking good for the time being, and very well could run away with things as time goes on, there’s still a lot of season left in which they have to maintain this level of play to stay in first place. Anything can happen, and with a somewhat weaker American League East division compared to year’s past, nearly any team stands a shot at placing first at the end of the season, Blue Jays included.

Previewing the 2014 Major League Baseball Draft

The 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft is now less than two weeks away.

Set to air live on MLB Network on June 5th, and continuing through June 7th on MLB.com, the draft has become a bigger focus each and every year as time has gone by. With teams now counting on their first few picks to make it to the big leagues within a couple of years and have an immediate impact, choosing the right player for your organization has become a huge deal. 2014-Draft

While none of last year’s first round draft picks have made the major leagues as of yet, currently, four of the 2012 first round picks have made the majors for at least a brief period of time, being Kevin Gausman and Marcus Stroman, in addition to Mike Zunino and Michael Wacha who have made the biggest impacts.

With this year’s draft being pitcher heavy, a lot of teams are going to be picking up a possible future ace of their rotation as their first pick. Though there are some good position players in the mix as well, overall, pitchers are the dominant presence, making up seven of the top ten ranked draft prospects who will go quickly come draft day.

As I did last year, I’m planning to blog about the results of the draft, along with a few of my thoughts, the day after the first round takes place. With the first five picks going to the Astros, Marlins, White Sox, Cubs and Twins, it should be interesting to see how teams play things, depending on their overall biggest needs that they need to fill for the future.

Though I’m not going to give any predictions for the order in which the players are chosen (I’m by no means a draft expert) I do want to talk a bit about the “experts'” picks for who will likely be some of the first off the board.

For the number one overall pick, no one can seem to agree who it will be, however, nearly everyone is predicting that it will be one of two left-handed pitchers: Brady Aiken or Carlos Rodon. Untitled

Aiken is one of four high school players ranked in the top ten draft prospects, and is expected to go in the top two, if not number one overall. Possessing some of the best stuff seen out of a high school pitcher in quite a while — set to be the first high school lefty to go in the top five since 2002 — Aiken is one of the younger players in the draft, currently age 17, but he could possibly be one of the most talented.

With a good fastball, as well as a great curveball and changeup, it will be up to the Astros if they want to take a chance on the young pitcher.

Or they could go with Rodon, who began the year as the clear cut first overall pick, but due to a somewhat down year by his standards — he still managed to post a 2.01 ERA despite poor run support leading to a 6-7 record — his stock has fallen a bit.

But with that said, he still has everything you want and expect to see in the number one pick. With a good, hard fastball, a really good slider, and a work in progress change up, Rodon may not be the highest ranked draft prospect, but he may have the most upside.

On the position player side of things, high school catcher Alex Jackson appears to be the favorite to be the first non-pitcher off the board. While not too many of the game’s top catchers produce big time stats at the big league level, many people feel that Jackson has the ability to do just that.

With a cannon for an arm behind the plate, as well as a real power swing that should yield a good deal of power in addition to hitting for average, Jackson will likely become one of the brightest catching prospects in baseball after June 5th.

And therefore, with so much fantastic talent, from pitchers to position players, the 2014 draft could turn out to be one of the best in years.

Jeff Samardzija Winless In 2014 Despite Sub-Two ERA

The Cubs are a bad team; nearly everyone around the baseball world knows it. Jeff Samardzija, one of the best pitchers in baseball so far in 2014, has seen that first hand more than any other player currently on the Cubs, as regardless of his terrific outings, Samardzija is yet to win a single game.Jeff Samardzija

Sitting 0-4 on the year — part a winless streak that stretches back to August 24th of last season — Samardzija’s overall performance on the year could be missed if you were to look solely at his win-loss record. But possessing an ERA of 1.46 over 10 games pitched, Samardzija has been setting himself up for success all season long, however, the Cubs simply haven’t provided any run support in his starts — the fourth worst for any pitcher in baseball — going 1-9 in Samardzija’s starts this season.

In Wednesday afternoon’s game against the Yankees at Wrigley Field, Samardzija was outstanding yet again, going seven innings and not allowing a single run. But, as has been the case so often this season, it wasn’t enough, with the Yankees coming back to tie things up in the ninth, and going on to win the game, 4-2, in the thirteenth inning. Certainly a blow to Samardzija, who appeared to have his first win of 2014 secured upon his departure.

If Samardzija played for nearly any other team in Major League Baseball, such as the Yankees, there’s a chance that he could be 10-0 on the season. Given, that’s purely speculative, and a few of those games would likely have been losses or no decisions, the basic point being made is that a pitcher can only do so much. It also takes good performances by your teammates to win ballgames.

And therefore, the question many people are asking: What value does a win truly carry?

As far as the answer goes, I’m halfway in between. On one hand, a win can say a lot about a pitcher and how well he’s pitched over the course of his outings. When you pitch extremely well, the majority of the time (unless you play for the Cubs) you’ll pick up the win. But on the other hand, as has been proven with Samardzija, you can’t just look at a win-loss record and declare who’s the best pitcher in baseball. Right now, arguably, that accolade would go to Samardzija, even though he’s yet to pick up a win.

Some people go as far as to say that the win statistic is useless and should be taken out of the game all together. Although I agree that the win isn’t as useful as some of the other stats a pitcher can post — ERA, batting average against, strikeouts per nine innings, etc. — I still think it’s a big part of the game. While it might have meant more numerous years ago when a pitcher that was pitching well would stay in the entire length of a game, there’s something special about a pitcher hitting the 20-win plateau, or only loosing a few of their numerous games pitched in a season.

Though you now have relief pitchers racking up wins that, had their team performed better, the starting pitcher would’ve notched, in addition to pitchers with bad outings still receiving the win due to a ton of run support — Chris Tillman gave up 7 runs back on April 23rd and won the game — it’s still a fun statistic to keep an eye on.

But while the win isn’t everything, and Samardzija is very unlikely to go the full length of the season without a single win with the way he’s been pitching, it doesn’t help the Cubs’ cause in terms of influencing Samardzija to stick around for the long haul. When you do your job but still lose due to being apart of a team that is among the worst in baseball, I imagine you can get frustrated very easily. As one person put it in on Twitter, “Samardzija is one of the biggest wastes of talent in the game today”. It’s truly a shame.

In the end, whether or not you agree with the win being an important stat for pitchers, you have to agree that Samardzija is putting together an amazing 2014 season. Even though he’s winless, Samardzija seems to have figured things out over the past couple of seasons, and is one of the only bright spots on the Cubs. However, for the majority of the Cubs, if they can’t figure things out for themselves as a whole fairly quickly, they may face a situation without Samardzija at some point down the road.

Better Team In 5 Years: Cubs or Astros?

After starting from a level playing field on Opening Day, there are always certain teams who find themselves falling lower and lower in the standings as a given season goes on. Though it can vary from year to year, with teams having an off season compared to their normal standards, for the last several seasons it has been two main teams: the Cubs and the Astros. Jose Altuve, David DeJesus

Currently sitting dead last in their respective divisions through a fourth of the season played, and with no signs that things will be changing in the near future, even with a good amount of the season left to go, it’s once again not looking too good for either the Cubs or the Astros. However, despite neither having finished with a winning record since 2009, their fortunes could be changing over the coming years. One thing they both have in common is their strong farm systems, which are loaded with top prospects that will be coming up to help out down the road.

For the Cubs, having not reached the postseason since 2008, they currently have prospects such as Javier Baez, who’s off to a rough start to 2014 after dominating last year; Kris Bryant, who’s expected to have 40 home run power in the majors; and Albert Almora, who is a few years away but is likely to have a big impact once he reaches Chicago. Those players, combined with those they have now, should make for a good team beginning around 2016 and continuing for the many years beyond.

To go along with their already decent major league team, the Astros, who haven’t made the postseason since 2005, have a ton of talent coming their way, including Carlos Correa, who is expected to be an all around fantastic player; Mark Appel, who’s likely to get a late season call up if he’s performing well; and Jonathan Singleton, who possesses some above average power. After losing over 100 games and being the worst team in baseball as of late, the Astros could see things turning around very soon.

The only good thing about performing so poorly each season is that you receive a high pick in the following year’s draft, with it looking likely that the Astros will take Carlos Rodon as the number one overall pick in the upcoming 2014 draft (the Cubs have the fourth overall pick.) But even so, your top picks in the draft, which subsequently become your top prospects, don’t always pan out and reach the big league level. And even when they do, for some players, it takes them a bit of time to adjust once they get the call up.

The most recent example of that being George Springer, who has hit a mere .222 with 3 home runs so far this season with the Astros after blasting 37 homers to go along with a .303 batting average as part of their farm system in 2013. Though he’s predicted to still have a great career, sometimes it just takes awhile for players to make the adjustment to big league pitching, no matter how good they are.

And therefore, while I’m not saying either the Astros or the Cubs will be winning the World Series in the coming years, I do feel that with their high level of talent from the minors on its way they will become much more competitive than they currently are, having to settle with last place finishes year after year.

With it being nearly equal in terms of current talent, and taking prospect depth into consideration, it’s somewhat difficult to predict which of the teams will be the best half a decade from now. But if I had to choose, I’d likely go with the Cubs, even though the Astros should be a lot better as well. It’s truly too close to call, and that’s something to look forward to if you’re a fan of either team — or just a baseball fan in general.

Who do you think will be the better team in five years?

2014 Spring Training TTM Autograph Update

Around a month ago, I blogged about the through the mail (TTM) autograph requests I was planning to send off to players during Spring Training. At the end of the post, I stated that I was going to be publishing a blog post every time I received back a few autographs, and now that I’ve successfully gotten back some of the requests I sent, I figured I’d go ahead and type this entry up. Of the fourteen total TTM requests I sent off, I’ve received four of them back, with them being from:

KYLE ZIMMER — ROYALS’ ORGANIZATION

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Kyle Zimmer is the number 25 overall prospect in all of baseball. Although he didn’t have a fantastic 2013 season, going 6-9 with a 4.32 ERA, Zimmer has a ton of upside moving forward, and has many people excited for Kansas City’s future. With a fantastic fastball, in addition to an arsenal of a curveball, slider and changeup, Zimmer could, potentially, see his first big league time at some point towards the end of this season.

ALBERT ALMORA — CUBS’ ORGANIZATION

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Albert Almora is the number 18 overall prospect in all of baseball. Though he played in just 61 games last season, Almora is one of the Cubs’ highly coveted core prospects — consisting of Kris Bryan, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, etc. — that are making their way to Wrigley Field. Almora is still several years away from the major leagues, but by batting .329 last year, hopes are high that he will develop into the talented outfielder that he has the ability to become.

CLAYTON KERSHAW — LOS ANGELES DODGERS

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This one doesn’t need too much explaining. Clayton Kershaw has become one of the biggest superstars over the course of the past few seasons, winning two Cy Young awards in that time frame. Going 16-9 with a 1.83 ERA in 2013, Kershaw should continue to be, arguably, the most dominant pitcher in all of Major League Baseball. He’s set to get his first start of the season on March 22nd, in game one of the Opening Series against the Diamondbacks down in Australia.

EDDIE BUTLER — ROCKIES’ ORGANIZATION

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Eddie Butler is the number 41 overall prospect in all of baseball. Pitching in the 2013 MLB futures game up in New York City, in July, Butler went a combined 9-5 with a 1.80 ERA last season, really putting himself on the map around the league. He held opponents’ batting average to a mere .180 for the entire season, and combined with other top Rockies pitching prospect, Jonathan Gray, the Rockies have a fairly good pair of young arms coming their way in the next couple of years.

I still have autograph requests out for Archie Bradley, Taijuan Walker, David Robertson, Mark Appel, Cody Asche, Kris Bryant, Kolten Wong, Mike Napoli, Jake Marisnick and James Paxton. When/if I get any of those back, assuming it’s before Opening Day on March 31st, I’ll be sure to post another update. Though, there’s no guarantee I’ll get any more back at all.

National League Predicitions for 2014

For the third season in a row, I’m making predictions (you should too) as to how I feel each Major League Baseball team will fare throughout the coming season. Although I haven’t come close yet to predicting the exact finishing order of each division (I picked the Red Sox to finish last in 2013 and they won the World Series), it’s a new year, and with it comes a new chance to luck out and get everything right.

I posted my predictions for the American League a few days ago, and today I’m going to give my predictions for the National League (along with my reasoning), starting with the National League East:

EAST

1. Braves

2. Nationals

3. Phillies

4. Marlins

5. Mets

I predicted that the Braves would win their division last season, but I didn’t see them doing so in such massive fashion. This season, I have them finishing first again, but not by nearly as much. They lost their All-Star catcher, Brian McCann, but top prospect, Christian Bethancourt, should do a good job of filling that role once he arrives at some point this season. Admittedly, they have several players — Dan Uggla, B.J. Upton, etc. — who need to bounce back this year, but having finished so high in 2013 even with those players doing poorly, if those players can be healthy, the Braves should be really good; with Andrelton Simmons and Freddie Freeman being better than ever. Their bullpen, topped of by one of the best closers in the game, Craig Kimbrel, is good, as is their starting pitching, with Mike Minor and Julio Teheran. Everything put together, they should win the NL east.

The Nationals are the only team in the division that I see as having a legitimate shot at beating out the Braves for the division title, but I just don’t think it will happen. Despite the addition of Doug Fister this past offseason to an already fantastic starting rotation of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, making their pitching staff one of the best in the division, to go along with a good bullpen, their overall lineup isn’t really that great. The Nationals have a good leadoff hitter in Denard Span, as well as showstoppers Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, who are predicted to have great seasons, but I simply don’t feel they will be consistent enough as a whole to get the job done night after night. If their offense can produce on a regular basis, they could, potentially, win the NL East, but I still have them coming in second.

As far as the Phillies go, they’ll be a much better team than they were last season, but I just can’t envision them beating out the Nationals or the Braves for either the first or second spot. Although they should have Ryan Howard back to his old self, after a couple of injury plagued seasons, as well as their All-Star second baseman, Chase Utley, those players alone won’t get the job done. They lost Roy Halladay to retirement, and that will definitely impact their starting rotation depth, however, the pickup of A.J. Burnett will do a good job of filling that hole in the starting staff. The Phillies are a relatively old team, with a lot of veterans, but they also have some young talent that will help them out this season. If young stars Ben Revere, Darin Ruf and Cody Asche can have good seasons, the Phillies should be competitive again this year, coming up just short of the postseason.

The Marlins are another team that will be better this season than the previous year, however, they aren’t even close to having all the pieces they need to make a run at the top of the NL East division. They have a fantastic pitching ace, Jose Fernandez, a great power hitting slugger, Giancarlo Stanton, as well as an underrated closer, Steve Cishek, but their team doesn’t really extend beyond that. The acquisition of Jarrod Saltalamacchia from the Red Sox will be an improvement for them behind the plate, but the Marlins didn’t do much more than that to improve their team this offseason. Their future lies with all of the young talent they currently have at the big league level — Christian Yelich, Jake Marisnick, etc. — and the talent they have on the way over the course of the next few seasons from the minor leagues. Until then, the Marlins will have to settle for fourth.

Despite the few good winning streaks that the Mets had last season, I expect them to fall back down a bit in 2014. One of the biggest reasons for their success in 2013 was Matt Harvey, who they’ll be without for the entire season. Although they have a decent starting rotation regardless, in Zach Wheeler, Dillon Gee, Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon, who they picked up from the Athletics this offseason, it still won’t be enough to finish any better than last, in my opinion. By far, their biggest addition of the winter was Curtis Granderson from the Yankees, as he should provide the Mets with some much needed power. Combined with the always consistent David Wright, Chris Young and Eric Young Jr., the Mets could very well go on some runs again this season. But with a lot of their players being question marks for how they’ll perform, last place will be where the Mets wind up.

CENTRAL

1. Cardinals

2. Reds

3. Pirates

4. Brewers

5. Cubs

After making it to the World Series in 2013, losing to the Red Sox, I look for the Cardinals to have another fantastic season, winning the NL Central division for the second straight year. They have a great rotation of Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, and Shelby Miller, among others, as well as a power throwing closer, Trevor Rosenthal. The Cardinals’ lineup is just as excellent, ranging from a great defensive and hitting catcher, Yadier Molina, who’s a great leader of their pitching staff, to an infield of Matt Adams, Kolten Wong, and newly signed Jhonny Peralta. Although they lost their above average third baseman, David Freese, Matt Carpenter should do a great job in his place, as he had a breakout season last year. Keeping with the theme, the Cards also have a great outfield which contributes both with their bats and their gloves. There are truly no weak spot for the entire team.

Competition for the second place spot in the division will be between the Reds and the Pirates, but I think the Reds will have the overall better team and will be able to overtake the Pirates. They have a great lineup of Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier, among many others, with the speedy Billy Hamilton being their biggest make or break piece this season. With the loss of Shin-Soo Choo, the Reds need Hamilton to produce from the leadoff spot. He can be a major difference maker in a ballgame, but there’s still concern with how often he’ll be able to get on base. As far as their pitching goes, it’s arguably the second best rotation after the Cardinals in the entire division. With Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto and Tony Cingrani, to go along with a strong bullpen and missle throwing closer, Aroldis Chapman, the Reds should have a really good team.

Making the playoffs for the first time in 20 years, the Pirates brought a ton of attention to themselves last season. And therefore, I’m sure many people are placing them better than third, but I can’t bring myself to. Both the Reds and Cardinals have a better starting rotation, though the Pirates still have a good one, with Gerrit Cole, Jeff Locke, and Francisco Liriano, who broke out last season. Their bullpen is more of the same, being good but not great, although they did have some good relief appearances in 2013. What it will come down to is how well the Pirates’ offense does, and how consistent each player on the team will be. As always, it’s a given that Andrew McCutchen will be fantastic, as will Pedro Alvarez. But Neil Walker, Russell Martin and Starling Marte will each have to have a breakout year for the Pirates to place any better than where I have them.

The Brewers are an interesting club, as they had a playoff contending team just a few years ago, but now don’t really have all that many star players remaining. Ryan Braun is by far their best player, and coming of a PED suspension to end last season, you have to figure he’ll produce a great season again, having something to prove to many people around the baseball world. Besides Braun, the Brewers have veteran Aramis Ramirez, who can be somewhat of an impact player, as well as Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez, who both had breakout seasons in 2013. But the Brewers’ pitching isn’t all that great, with Yovani Gallardo needing to have a good year, as well as Matt Garza and their entire bullpen being average at best. Meaning, despite any record breaking runs or major breakout seasons, the Brewers are destined to finish next to last, at best.

As with the Astros of the American League, the Cubs are a team that’s accustomed to bad seasons, not having won a World Series title in 106 years. The Cubs have an average pitching staff, with Travis Wood, Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson being the strong points. For their lineup, Anthony Rizzo is their best player, with Starling Castro, Brett Jackson and Michael Olt all having star potential, but they need to prove their abilities in the coming season. With a last place season likely on the way, all the Cubs can do is look down the road, when they have numerous prospects coming that will have a major impact on their team. Kris Bryant, who has absurd power, Albert Almora, C.J. Edwards and Jorge Soler will all be arriving to the big leagues over the next few seasons, and once they arrive, the Cubs could begin making some noise in the division.

WEST

1. Dodgers

2. Diamondbacks

3. Giants

4. Padres

5. Rockies

The Dodgers have a team similar to the one the Tigers have in the American League. If they don’t win their division, then something went horribly wrong. With one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball, made up of a 1-2-3 of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, the Dodgers should be a lot better than any other team in their division. Their great pitching continues into the bullpen, where they have some great relief options, including the always entertaining Brian Wilson as their closer. When it comes to the Dodgers’ lineup, it’s also one of the best. With a great defensive infield of Juan Uribe, Hanley Ramirez, Dee Gordon and Adrian Gonzalez, combined with a great defensive outfield of Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig, with Matt Kemp coming along at some point later in the season, the Dodgers have no weak spots on their team.

After making a lot of key moves this offseason, the Diamondbacks look to be a very good team heading into the season; possibly being the only team that could, potentially, put some pressure on the Dodgers. They picked up a veteran starting pitcher, Bronson Arroyo, to add to their already good rotation of Patrick Corbin, Trevor Cahill, etc., with the possibility that Archie Bradley plays some sort of role this season. With a decent bullpen to go along with their rotation, including newly acquired closer, Addison Russell, who will be an impact player, the D-backs have their pitching in pretty good shape. And their lineup isn’t all that bad either. Although they’re not terribly strong at some positions, they have their All-Star first baseman, Paul Goldschmidt, who is sure to post stellar numbers, as well as new pickup, Mark Trumbo. The D-backs should have a decent season.

While the Giants likely won’t place any better than third, with teams such as the Dodgers and Diamondbacks in the division, they should still be a really good team regardless. They have the best starting rotation in the division behind the Dodgers, with players such as Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, newcomer Tommy Hanson, and Tim Lincecum, who needs to turn things around this year after a couple of poor seasons. Their bullpen, however, isn’t all that fantastic, with their closer, Sergio Romo, being the only standout. But they have a fairly good lineup, especially with the pickup of Michael Morse, who will provide them some power. Their catcher, Buster Posey, will be amazing as usual, and with an infield of Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Belt, among others, the Giants have a shot at taking on the D-backs if they struggle. But I see them having a middle of the pack finish.

The Padres went on a good run last season, and I feel they will have a fairly decent run this year, but it won’t be enough to get them very far in the standings. Though the pickup of Josh Johnson will help out their starting rotation a bit, adding him to an already decent rotation that includes Andrew Cashner and Ian Kennedy, as well as a good closer in Huston Street, it won’t be quite good enough to overcome the lack of run support the Padres hitters will be providing on a consistent basis. Playing in one of the worst hitters ballparks in all of baseball, the Padres always seem to have a tough time scoring runs, despite the big dimensions aiding their pitchers. The Padres have some decent players, such as Chase Headley, Jed Gyorko and Yonder Alonso, who will certainly contribute their fair share, but it won’t be enough to place any better than fourth.

As with a lot of teams throughout baseball, the Rockies did several great things this offseason to improve their ball club, but they’ll still likely finish in last place, yet again. They have a couple of pitchers, in Rex Brothers and Juan Nicasio, who broke out in 2013, but there’s no guarantee that they can repeat that success, and the remainder of their pitching isn’t too good. That includes the Rockies’ bullpen, where there aren’t a lot of bright spots to speak of. But their lineup isn’t all that terrible. They have a great power hitting catcher in Wilin Rosario, a decent outfield with standout Carlos Gonzalez, as well as an all around great infield of Nolan Arenado, Troy Tulowitzki and Justin Morneau, who are all great both offensively and defensively. All of that will make the Rockies a team worth watching, but with pretty much no pitching, the Rockies will find themselves at the bottom.

Leave a comment below with whether or not you agree with my predictions.

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