Results tagged ‘ MiLB ’

The Tommy John Epidemic Not Letting Up

First it was Corey Luebke. Then it was Luke Hochevar. Following soon after was Kris Medlen, along with Brandon Beachy, Jarrod Parker, Patrick Corbin, Bruce Rondon, David Hernandez, Peter Moylan, Erik Davis, Cory Gearrin, Bobby Parnell, Matt Moore, Josh Johnson, Ivan Nova, Pedro Figueroa and A.J. Griffin.Jose Fernandez

And now, reportedly, it’s Jose Fernandez.

Though it’s officially being classified as just an elbow strain, Fernandez would become the 18th major league pitcher to be forced to undergo Tommy John surgery (assuming the reports are true, and he has to have the surgery) since February 18th of this year. Meaning, Fernandez’s quest to win the 2014 National League Cy Young award, after placing third in 2013, would come to an end, as would his season.

While you don’t want a season ending injury to occur to any pitcher, you especially feel for Fernandez. Regardless of the fact that he has come across wrong in the past to a few, select players, he has a ton of fun out there on the mound and is an extremely humble guy. You don’t find both qualities all too often nowadays in major league players.

Coming off a career worst start in San Diego on Friday, in which Fernandez went just five innings, giving up five runs and raising his ERA from 1.74 to 2.44, the poor outing was the first indication that there was something wrong with Fernandez. Normally topping out at around 98 miles per hour on his fastball, Fernandez was throwing at around 91 when he was pulled from Friday’s game, and that drew a ton of attention his way as to what might be wrong. Now we know that there indeed was an issue.

If Fernandez has to undergo Tommy John surgery, it would be the first time in around a year that the Marlins have had to experience games without him toeing the rubber every fifth day. Without Fernandez for an extended period of time, it should be interesting to see how the Marlins fare. They’re off to a great start to the season, and if the pitching performances of Henderson Alvarez, Nathan Eovaldi and Tom Koehler can continue, as well as the hot bats of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, the Marlins should be able to hang in there.

But even so, the loss of Fernandez isn’t something you want to brush off too lightly, because, as stated, he’s not the only pitcher who has been lost from their team for the season. In addition to the 18 major league pitchers previously listed who have fallen victim to Tommy John surgery, 16 minor league pitchers have been faced with the crushing news as well — all since February 18th, which averages out to a new pitcher having to have Tommy John once every 2.5 days.

Something is obviously wrong, and something needs to be done.

The most Tommy John surgeries in a single year since it was first performed on Tommy John himself back in 1974 was 46 in 2012. Sitting just 12 away for 2014, with several months left to go in the season, it’s likely that the number 46 could be surpassed, and that should be enough to tommy-johnmake people pay attention.

With there having only been 31 pitchers to have the surgery from it’s debut in 1974 all the way up until 1997, there have been more pitchers so far (33) in 2014 to have the surgery than there were in that 23-year span. That’s a definite problem.

Though the cause for the need of the surgery has been debated, from a pitcher’s mechanics having an impact, to the number of pitches thrown in an outing, or the innings pitched in a season playing a role, more and more people are beginning to look into the stress put on a pitcher’s arm in their youth.

The theory is that with young pitchers, in Little League and such, throwing too hard, too often, and adding in breaking balls too early in their playing years, their arms can’t handle the stress, and they begin to break down long before they reach the majors and have a season ending injury. With year round leagues becoming more popular, as well as multiple leagues for some pitchers, everything combines together for something bad to happen, and that is appearing to be the case.

One solution being pointed out by a lot of people (other than telling kids to lighten up with their velocity and number of games pitched) is for young pitchers to pitch off a flat mound instead of one that’s the same height as a major league pitcher. As Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci put it, “[it] makes no sense that 13-year-old kids are pitching off the same size mound as major league pitchers. Little Leaguers should be throwing off flat ground”. I have to agree with Verducci, and if that would help minimize injuries, then I’m all for it.

While Tommy John surgery is now becoming a routine surgery, and one that many pitchers have successfully come back from (a study showed that 97 percent of pitchers make it back to the minors, with 83 percent getting back to the majors, including Tommy John who pitched 14 more years and won 164 more games after his surgery), if it can be avoided altogether, obviously, that’s the more appealing alternative.

Whatever it takes, things need to change.

If you need to lower the mound for Little Leaguers, and perhaps even the major leagues down the road — lower the mound. If you need to issue a plan for young kids with what they’re allowed to do before a certain age – issue a plan. Do something that turns around this increasing Tommy John epidemic. There are far too many of the game’s greatest pitchers having to sit out a season in their prime, and that’s beginning to get very tiresome for the fans, and, I imagine, the players themselves.

Dee Gordon, the Overlooked Billy Hamilton

When Billy Hamilton stole over 100 bases in 2011, he caught the attention of numerous people. When Hamilton broke the all-time minor league single-season stolen base record in 2012 by swiping 155 bags, he earned the respect of baseball fans across the country. And now that Hamilton has reached the major league level, with sky high expectations, he has the entire baseball world watching his every at-bat. Dee_Gordon_MLB_debut

However, while Hamilton has the potential to be a star, he hasn’t been able to get things going so far this season, batting .231 with 9 stolen bases. Nonetheless, there are still a ton of people who feel Hamilton will eventually become one of the all-time best base stealers, even with the slow start.

But there’s a player very similar to Hamilton who isn’t getting the same recognition.

Dee Gordon is on the verge of a breakout season, with him batting in the mid 300′s, including 12 stolen bases, and the speed he possesses rivals that of Billy Hamilton. From turning a ground ball into a double, to legging out a triple on what would be a double for most other players, Gordon seems to do something exciting each and every night that makes you shake your head in disbelief.

Despite never stealing more than 73 bases in the minors, Gordon can certainly run with the best of them, even if he never broke any big time records like Hamilton, and thus doesn’t get the major headlines.

The one thing that Gordon has shown the capability of doing better than Hamilton on the major league level is getting on base consistently, whether it be via a hit or a walk. In the end, it doesn’t matter how much speed you have, if you can’t put the ball in play it does you no good. (As they say, you can’t steal first.) But that isn’t a problem for Gordon, as he has shown that he can hit for a high average in addition to displaying a little pop every now and then.

So, while you should definitely watch Billy Hamilton to see if he can go on a hot streak and begin to rack up incredible numbers, be sure to keep an eye on Dee Gordon as well. While he likely will cool down a bit as the season goes on, if his first few games are any indication, this could be a very special year for the Dodgers’ leadoff hitter.

Kyle Gibson Outstanding In Coldest Ever Twins Game

Kyle Gibson was at one time ranked as one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball. However, after Tommy John surgery left him sidelined for a good deal of time, and a short 2013 major league stint left more to be desired (going 2-4 with a 6.53 ERA), the hope that Gibson would develop into the future front man for the Twins’ pitching staff began to fade away.20140411__140412GIBSON_300

But so far this season, Gibson has been proving people wrong. Nothing seems to be able to stop his great pitching — not even the coldest game-time temperature in Twins’ baseball history of a bone-chilling 31 degrees.

While cold days arguably lead to a disadvantage for hitters, with the ball not carrying as well as it usually does, cool temperatures also typically lead to poorer pitching performances. But on this day, Kyle Gibson was terrific, despite the cold weather that usually plays havoc on a pitcher’s effectiveness.

Controlling all his pitches on both sides of the plate, Gibson was able to keep the opposing hitters off balance the entire game. No one was able to figure him out throughout his eight inning shutout, earning him win number three on the year to go along with an impressive 0.93 ERA.

Things didn’t go as smoothly for Blue Jays’ starter R.A. Dickey, however.

Throwing a knuckleball the majority of the time, as he always does, Dickey didn’t have much break on any of his pitches throughout the game. Giving up five runs in the bottom of the fifth inning before being removed from the game, Dickey was far from his former Cy Young self, as has been the case for much of this season. Hopefully he can turn things around, as he can be fun to watch when things are going well.

With their pitchers beginning to click behind Kyle Gibson, and their offense running fairly efficiently, the Twins are beginning to slowly make the turn towards becoming a better team. While it will likely be another year or two before they’re making a ton of noise, with more top prospects yet to come, in Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Alex Meyer, among others, things are looking up for the Twins as an organization.

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.

My First Game of 2014; Big Autograph Expectations

After nearly seven months, I’m finally attending another baseball game.

Later today, I’m heading out to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park (DBAP), in Durham, North Carolina, where the visiting Gwinnett Braves are set to take on the defending International League Champion Bulls in game three of a four-game series. With the teams having split the series so far through two games, it’s sure to be an exciting game. Untitled

The thing I’m most excited about, besides the game itself, is seeing the DBAP for the first time since it underwent a multimillion dollar renovation this past offseason, which involved putting in new lights, new seats, a new playing surface, in addition to changing just about everything you can think of. Anything that helps make the fan experience better I always approve of.

Now, if you’ve followed my blog for awhile, you know the DBAP is one of the two local minor league ballparks – Five County Stadium, home of the Carolina Mudcats, being the other – that I frequent throughout each baseball season. Though I always enjoy a good baseball game, generally, I only go out to see a game when a good amount of prospects are set to be there, or if an MLB player is playing in a rehab game. Otherwise, I’m content to merely reading the box score each night.

As many of you are aware, within the past couple of seasons, I’ve developed a big passion for going out to games and getting autographs from the games’ most promising young players who are on their way up, and that’s the main reason I’m heading over to the ballpark tonight. Not living near any MLB teams, it’s truly my only chance to get autographs from what will likely be future MLB stars down the road, and Gwinnett certainly has plenty of them, with Christian Bethancourt, Tommy La Stella and Cody Martin, among others.

However, they’re not alone.

The Bulls definitely hold their own when it comes to roster construction. While this year’s roster doesn’t compare to the one they had last season, which saw Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and Chris Archer as part of the Opening Day roster, their lineup and pitching for this year is set to be good yet again. From Enny Romero to Nathan Karns, and many inbetween, the Bulls stand a good chance of repeating as Champions, and as such, there are numerous players I want to snag an autograph from at some point this year.

But the Braves are the team I’m going for tonight. I’m not going to be trying for any autographs from the Bulls players this time around due to the fact that I can always get them in a few weeks, as opposed to a team that may not return with the same players next time. I learned that lesson last year with Wil Myers. In taking three games to finally get Myers, I missed my chance to get the top opposing teams’ players. I won’t let that happen this time around.

The way I’m viewing the schedules right now, it’s likely that I’ll be going out to Durham often this first month, with possibly no trips to see the Mudcats until May.  The Mudcats simply aren’t that great of a team, and the teams that are going to be visiting aren’t that fantastic either. But it’s just the opposite All-Star-Game-Final-2014for the Bulls, as every team they’re playing against throughout April has some really good players on it that I hope to get autos from. Though, it’s likely that I won’t be blogging about any of it, unless things happen to change.

But that’s just the very beginning of what looks to be a great autographing season.

From May through the end of the season, both the Mudcats and Bulls are taking on loaded teams, making it difficult to decide when I want to head out to the ballpark and see certain players in person, though that’s a good problem to have.

More significant than that, however, the DBAP is hosting the 2014 Triple-A Home Run Derby and All-Star game in mid July, which will bring in numerous top prospects from the Pacific Coast League which usually never comes closer than Memphis. I truly can’t wait until then, as it’s a can’t miss experience that I’ll absolutely be blogging about.

From the exciting Bulls games to kick off the season, to the remaining strong schedules between both the Mudcats and the Bulls, and the All-Star events thrown in there as well, everything combined altogether, it’s sure to be an unforgettable season.

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.

Q and A With Nick Travieso

Nick Travieso was drafted by the Reds in the 1st round of the 2012 draft. Since the draft, Travieso has had his share of ups and downs, but overall, he’s been able to show flashes of his potential to become a top notch pitcher at the major league level, doing fairly well in a couple of minor league seasons.

UntitledIn his first full season of pro ball in 2013, Travieso spent the year with Class-A Dayton, going 7-6 with a 4.63 ERA. While that’s not overly impressive, Travieso was still in the process of learning how develop into the pitcher the many feel he can become. This season, look for Travieso to breakout.

Heading into his second full season in the minor leagues, there are a lot of eyes on Travieso, being so highly ranked. But if he can show what he’s capable of, this season and beyond, it shouldn’t be too long before Travieso finds himself pitching on the mound up in Cincinnati.

Nick Travieso — top pitching prospect in the Reds’ 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 actually played hockey before I started playing baseball. I started playing baseball when I was four. My parents got me into it because I would like to throw things around the house. My biggest influence growing up would have to be my dad, mainly because we worked every single day on fundamentals and just getting better all around. He played a huge role in my success throughout my childhood career up to now.

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

Growing up I idolized Roger Clemens. I have always been a Yankee fan, and I loved watching the way he pitched. He attacked hitters regardless of who was at the plate, and I wanted to be like him one day.

3.) You were drafted by the Reds 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?

The process was tough just due to the fact that I had always planned on attending college. When I first found out, I was with my family and a few friends at my house just watching the draft. The first thing I said was how fortunate I was to be a part of such a great and successful organization.

4.) Although you’ve played a season and a half of professional baseball to this point, having been a relief pitcher the majority of your time in high school, are you still making the adjustment to being a starting pitcher? What’s the most difficult part of the transition? Do you prefer starting or relieving?

It was a very long road for me. I was use to throwing 1-2 innings tops and taking a few days off before pitching again. I always liked closing just because I could throw every pitch as hard as I could and empty the tank knowing that I wouldn’t have to throw for a few days again. There were a lot of adjustments, but the biggest one was getting my arm in shape for more than a couple of innings and building my body to gain stamina to maintain velocity. I personally love starting now. I love being in control of the game from the very beginning.

5.) Playing for Dayton in 2013, where attendance is usually high, did pitching in front of the large crowds have any impact on your pitching?

Pitching in Dayton for the first time was something I had never experienced before. I never threw in front of more than about 1,500 people. Coming from extended spring training, where we would have maybe 5 people at a game, to Dayton, where there are 8,000+, yeah, it had an impact. My adrenaline was running, and I couldn’t really control it. But as I got more comfortable, I started to be able to control myself and start pitching the way I know how to.

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

The hardest thing about being on the road is probably the bus trips. They are brutal. The trips range anywhere from 4-12 hours, and it’s hard to do much but sleep. Our road trips usually leave either early mornings or late at night so we catch up on our sleep on the bus. Sometimes we’ll have some cards to play or some movies to watch, but other than that, a lot of us use it as rest time.

7.) Is there any one stat that you pay attention to throughout the season? Or do you try to steer clear of them altogether?

It’s hard to completely ignore stats. Although stats don’t show everything, they are still very important. I try to stay away from them as much as possible but if there is one stat I tend to look at it would be my ERA. That’s one stat that’s always out there every start on the big screen, so it’s one that, no matter how good or bad it may be, everyone can see.

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

I learned a lot in 2013; a lot about how to pitch. Everyone in pro ball can throw, but when you can pitch you have an upper hand. That’s one thing I feel went well for me. The fact that I steered away from just throwing and actually learned how to pitch. 2014 is a big year for me. It’ll be my second full season and I’m looking forward to it. I felt that the 2013 season was to get use to the whole process, but this year it’s time to get out there and battle. I just want to stay healthy throughout the season and pitch the way I know how to.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

I’m not so much a TV guy. I watch a lot of fishing/hunting shows, but lately I have been watching ‘The Big Break NFL’, just because it helps me with my golf game. I’m Cuban, so my favorite food is definitely Cuban food. It’s hard to come by during the season, so when I’m home, I take full advantage of it.

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

The two things I would say is to never give up on your dreams and to work hard. I had a lot of ups and downs throughout my baseball career, but I never gave up. You have to be able to keep pushing to make it where you want to be, and you can’t be satisfied until you get there. You have to work hard every day to beat out your opponents. One quote I live by is “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”. Never stop working.

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Big thanks to Nick Travieso for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @NTravieso21

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.

3/8/14: NC State Vs. Notre Dame

Normally, I don’t blog about college baseball games that I attend. They simply don’t have the same talent level that comes with a Major League Baseball game – or even a minor league game, for that matter — and it’s not usually worth writing about. But the NC State versus Notre Dame game that my dad and I went to on Saturday was a bit different.

First of all, the projected number one overall 2014 draft pick, Carlos Rodon, was scheduled to make the start for State, and with his previous track record — going 10-3 with a 2.99 ERA last season — Rodon certainly goes a long way in making this year’s NC State team something special. But Rodon isn’t the only standout on the team.

In addition, Trea Turner, who’s predicted to be a top ten pick in the upcoming draft, adds excitement to each and every game, none more so than with his above average speed. With both Rodon and Turner, this year’s State team is a must see.

Which is why I found myself out at the ballpark on Saturday afternoon. I wanted to witness it all for myself before they both leave following this season.

While Carlos Rodon is usually NC State’s Friday starter, as most college aces are, a rainout on Friday forced the game to be made up as part of a double header with visiting Notre Dame on Saturday, with Rodon pitching game one:

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Although he hadn’t started off the year too well, going 1-2, I was optimistic that Rodon would turn things around in his first warm start of the season.

And for the most part, I was right.

Rodon appeared to be locked in out of the gate, as he gave up just one hit, and struck out two (one of which was Craig Biggio’s son, Cavan Biggio) through the first two innings. In the third, however, Rodon lost a bit of his composure, allowing three hits, but impressed me with his ability to keep things from getting too out of hand, allowing only one run.

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But while Rodon had a great start to the game, he didn’t receive any run support, as State failed to get a man across the plate through the first four innings, due to the equally strong start from Notre Dame’s Sean Fitzgerald. But Fitzgerald finally struggled enough in the fifth to allow a single run, bringing the score to 1-1.

At that point in time, I made my way around from the third base side to the first base side, which is where I spent the rest of the game, just so I could get a glimpse from a different angle of Carlos Rodon . . . . :

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. . . . and Trea Turner:

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When I first found my way over to that side of the ballpark, I heard of a rumor that Craig Biggio was actually in attendance to watch his son play. But since I never actually saw him, I can’t say for sure that it was true. But I digress. Back to the game.

Both pitchers continued to do well until the sixth, when each allowed two runs to the opposing squad, raising the score to 3 runs apiece. Fitzgerald was replaced after the sixth, but Rodon was left in, which would turn out to be huge for State.

Recording what would be the game winning hit in the eighth, State’s Jake Armstrong proved to be the difference maker, as he singled in Bubby Riley and Trea Turner, whose speed likely aided in his ability to score, making it 5-3, State.

Rodon finished out the game a bit shaky, allowing two hits in the ninth, but promptly got a game ending double play to lock up the fifth complete game of his career:

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Rodon received the win, bringing his win-loss record up to 2-2, to go along with a 2.40 ERA on the season, striking out seven and allowing 10 scattered hits on 121 pitches. My overall impression was that Rodon was good, but not overly fantastic in this particular game, but that’s not meant to take anything away from Rodon. He’s a great pitcher, and will undoubtedly be a star in the majors at some point down the road (as will Trea Turner, who went 1-4 on the day).

As you may have inferred, I didn’t try for any autographs at this game as I usually do every time I go to a baseball game, but that’s simply because I’m going to be seeing NC State again next month, when they take on UNC at the newly renovated Durham Bulls Athletic Park on April 15th. Rodon isn’t scheduled to pitch, so I’m hopeful I’ll be able to get him to sign for me, along with Trea Turner. But either way, it’s sure to be a fun time, as always.

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