Results tagged ‘ MiLB ’
When the plan to visit the Tennessee Smokies (Double-A affiliate of the Cubs) was originally being put into place back in early April, I was really looking forward to seeing what was sure to be an extremely talented team. With names such as Kris Bryant, Pierce Johnson, Jorge Soler, C.J. Edwards, and many other top prospects and above average players, I just knew that this game was going to be an exciting one.
That was, however, until everything went wrong.
Pierce Johnson, Jorge Soler, and C.J. Edwards all hit the disable list earlier in the year, keeping them from being at the game, and my optimism that Kris Bryant would still be a part of the team after blasting over 20 home runs in the first half of the season fell just short, as he was called up to Triple-A mere days before my arrival. And thus, Bryant joined the long list of great players who I wouldn’t have a chance of getting an autograph from.
But despite all the bad luck, my dad, grandpa and I made our way out to Kodak, Tennessee yesterday afternoon to take in the early two p.m. game against the Chattanooga Lookouts (Dodgers’ Double-A affiliate, which also didn’t have too many good players). After a quick stop for lunch, we made our way over to the Smokies’ ballpark, bought tickets, and headed inside the stadium:
All I could think about upon first glance of the field was that Kris Bryant had been playing on that very surface not all that long ago (a number of great players have played there in recent years, including Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, Chris Archer, etc.) but I tried not to dwell on it for too long. To help get my mind off of Bryant’s absence, I swung by the gift shop for a few minutes, where I browsed the wide variety of items before heading down to field level (in the extremely hot sun) with the hopes of snagging a few autographs:
As I stated earlier, the Smokies aren’t all that fantastic of a team at the moment, with so many star players hurt, but I still wanted an auto from Dustin Geiger, Christian Villanueva, Corey Black, and former big league pitcher, Storm Davis. While I was successful in getting Geiger to sign my ticket, I didn’t snag an auto from Villanueva, and never actually spotted Davis or Black.
But regardless of the subpar pregame autographing, the game itself was much more exciting. Though not ranked very highly, the one player that really stood out to me was the Lookouts’ Darnell Sweeney:
Sweeney isn’t ever going to hit for much power according to a lot of people, but he was impressive on the day, picking up a couple of hits, making some great defensive plays, and showing off his speed (he stole nearly 50 bases last season). And therefore, Sweeney is a player I’ll be keeping an eye on.
As far as the game goes, heading into the day, both starting pitchers had an ERA above six for the season, which would lead you to believe it was likely going to be a high scoring game. But things started out rather slowly, with neither team scoring through five innings played, and the most entertaining moment being the traditional chicken run that takes place every home game:
(Everyone loves a good chicken run.)
However, as the temperature began to heat up, reaching a high of 91 degrees, the game quickly heated up as well. With two out and a man on in the sixth, Christian Villanueva blasted a home run out onto the outfield grass berm, putting the Smokies up 2-0. Then, in the very next inning, Dustin Geiger copied Villanueva with a two-run dinger of his own . . . . :
. . . . moving the score up to 4-0, which is where things would end.
Upon the final out, I went back down around the dugout to try once more for an autograph, but my main target — the only other key player I had seen before the game — ,Villanueva, bolted down the dugout tunnel. Thankfully, although I never saw him prior to the first pitch, Corey Black popped out of the dugout and began to sign autos for the many people who wanted him. I was the last one he signed for, and was able to leave the game with two autographs.
Though two autographs isn’t very many, the time spent out at the game more than made up for it. Any time I can combine baseball, traveling and time spent with family, it’s sure to be a fantastic time all around.
The wait is finally over for Pirates fans.
Gregory Polanco — the 12th overall ranked prospect in all of baseball, and one of the highest praised young outfielders in years — is set to make his MLB debut later tonight against the Cubs, receiving the call after second baseman, Neil Walker, was placed on the disabled list.
Set to play right field for the Buccos, Polanco is joining an already talented outfield of Starling Marte (left) and Andrew McCutchen (center), taking over for Josh Harrison, who has done a fantastic job this year in right field, hitting near .300 and making numerous spectacular catches. Nonetheless, replacing Harrison with Polanco instantly makes the Pirates outfield one of the best in baseball.
And that’s why, in the minds of many baseball fans, the arrival of Polanco is long overdue. After getting off to such a great start to the year at Triple-A Indianapolis, the idea of a big league call up for Polanco began to gain mention (several rumors were started just in the past week regarding a promotion), but when he continued to stay hot, making it up to seven home runs and 49 RBI’s, to go along with a .347 batting average before his call up, Polanco truly left the Pirates no other choice.
With the Pirates struggling somewhat so far this season, the hope is that the young, talented Polanco will arrive on the scene and help turn things around.
Sitting three games back of .500, and 7.5 games back of first place, it’s still too early to count out the Pirates, especially now that Polanco is going to get some time for the club. Despite lofty predictions being made for this year after the Pirates made the playoffs for the first time in twenty years last season, at this point in 2013 they were eleven games above .500, which is allowing understandable concern to come into play.
But could Gregory Polanco’s mere presence truly be enough to turn around the Pirates?
Well, though it’s going to take the entire team playing better for the Pirates to go on a run, we’ve seen big time players make big time impacts before. Take Yasiel Puig for example. The Dodgers were doing terribly last season before his call up, and after Puig’s arrival, the Dodgers went on a record-breaking streak that ultimately led them to the playoffs. Sure, the entire team began playing well, but the initial spark undeniably came from Puig.
However, while it’s certainly possible that Polanco will kick start the Pirates, it’s not all that likely. The biggest difference between the Dodgers’ team, and the Pirates’ 2013 team for that matter, is pitching — bother the starting rotation and the bullpen.
Last season, the Pirates had a magical year, where nearly every one of their pitchers from top to bottom was superb. But the loss of A.J. Burnett this offseason, the recent injury to Gerrit Cole, and the terrible performance by 2013 ace Francisco Liriano, has hurt the chances of an already poor team.
And thus, it will certainly be interesting to see just what type of impact Polanco has for the Bucs. Asking him to put the whole team on his back and carry them to the playoffs for the second straight year is an awful lot to expect from Polanco, but with young phenom prospects, you never truly know what they can do.
But one thing’s for sure: Gregory Polanco is just as excited as Pirates’ fans to finally be making his way to the Steel City, regardless of the current struggles; saying in a tweet on Monday night, “Pirates fans, thanks for being patient with me . . . The wait is over. My dream has officially come true.”
Brady Aiken, Tyler Kolek and Carlos Rodon (all pitchers) were ranked as the number one, two and three draft prospects going into Thursday’s 2014 first-year player draft, and that turned out to be dead-on. Each of the three went exactly where they were predicted to go, and going so high in the draft, all of them are expected to be future stars at the major league level.
Brady Aiken went first overall, getting drafted by the Houston Astros.
Just the third high school lefty to ever be drafted first overall — the first since 1991 — Brady Aiken didn’t start off the season as the clear cut favorite to be taken as the first pick, but after the year he put together at Cathedral Catholic high school, it became more and more probable. Going 7-0 with a 1.06 ERA, striking out 111 batters in 59.2 innings this season, Aiken could take a little longer to develop than a college player, but he has a ton of upside, and is truly one of the most polished high school pitchers to come along in years. Drawing comparisons to Clayton Kershaw, Aiken becomes the third straight Astros first overall pick, and joins a loaded farm system of talented young players.
Tyler Kolek went second overall, getting drafted by the Miami Marlins.
One of the hardest throwing pitchers to ever be drafted out of high school, Tyler Kolek averages 96-98 on his fastball, but reportedly has been clocked as high as 102. Using his fastball to completely blow away the competition this past season at Shepherd high school, Kolek posted a 0.35 ERA over 60.1 innings, striking out a staggering 126 batters. While a pitcher who throws as hard as Kolek is always a concern, especially to an organization that just lost their electric flame thrower Jose Fernandez to Tommy John surgery, the Marlins are adding yet another dominant pitcher to their organization. Having already shown signs of improvement in 2014, the Marlins seem to be heading in the right direction.
Carlos Rodon went third overall, getting drafted by the Chicago White Sox.
At one point in time Carlos Rodon was viewed as the overwhelming favorite to be the number one overall pick in this year’s draft, but a slight downfall in his stats from the previous two seasons left him on the board until pick number three. Though Rodon’s velocity dropped a few miles per hour this year, it’s his terrific slider that has many people excited to see what he can do at the next level. Using all of his pitches effectively this season, posting a mere 2.01 ERA and striking out an average of just over ten batters per nine innings, Rodon is still what you look for in a front of the rotation starter. Though Chris Sale will remain the White Sox’ ace, Rodon will eventually become a close second.
The remainder of the draft saw many surprises. A lot of players went higher than anyone expected, while others stuck around longer than many thought they would. But that usually happens every year with the draft.
The rest of the 1st round of the 2014 draft, following the first three picks, went as follows:
4. Cubs: Kyle Schwarber
5. Twins: Nick Gordon
6. Mariners: Alex Jackson
7. Phillies: Aaron Nola
8. Rockies: Kyle Freeland
9. Blue Jays: Jeff Hoffman
10. Mets: Michael Conforto
11. Blue Jays: Max Pentecost
12. Brewers: Kodi Medeiros
13. Padres: Trea Turner
14. Giants: Tyler Beede
15. Angels: Sean Newcomb
16. Diamondbacks: Touki Toussaint
17. Royals: Brandon Finnegan
18. Nationals: Erick Fedde
19. Reds: Nick Howard
20. Rays: Casey Gillaspie
21. Indians: Bradley Zimmer
22. Dodgers: Grant Holmes
23. Tigers: Derek Hill
24. Pirates: Cole Tucker
25. Athletics: Matt Chapman
26. Red Sox: Michael Chavis
27. Cardinals: Luke Weaver
28. Royals: Foster Griffin
29. Reds: Alex Blandino
30. Rangers: Luis Ortiz
31. Indians: Justus Sheffield
32. Braves: Braxton Davidson
33. Red Sox: Michael Kopech
34. Cardinals: Jack Flaherty
Competitive Balance Round A
35. Rockies: Forrest Wall
36. Marlins: Blake Anderson
37. Astros: Derek Fisher
38. Indians: Mike Papi
39. Pirates: Connor Joe
40. Royals: Chase Vallot
41. Brewers: Jacob Gatewood
Make sure to follow the list of players above as the majority of them begin their professional careers. Odds are at least a few of those names will become MLB All-Stars, with the possibility that some may become a future Hall of Famer. You never know what can happen when you have so much young talent entering their given MLB organizations, and that’s reason enough to pay close attention to them all.
For the past several years, the Houston Astros have been somewhat of a laughingstock among Major League Baseball, with some people going as far as calling them a Triple-A caliber team at best. Losing over 100 games each of the past two seasons, things weren’t looking any more promising for this season, as many people predicted that the Astros could lose another 100 games in 2014.
However, while the Astros are likely to still finish last in their division, and still might reach 100 losses, they appear to be slowly turning the corner.
The biggest reason for that turn has been two of their many top prospects getting the call up to the big leagues.
First it was George Springer, who blasted 10 homers in his first month, and now it’s Jonathan Singleton, who was signed to a controversial five year, ten million dollar deal, worth a potential thirty-five million, before he ever had an at-bat on the major league level.
Hitting .267 with 14 home runs and 43 RBI’s at Triple-A before his call up, Singleton didn’t disappoint in his debut on Tuesday night against the Angels. Going 1-3 for the game, Singleton drew a bases loaded walk and blasted his first career home run — just the fourth Astros player to ever hit a home run in their first game — providing a couple of runs in the Astros’ 7-2 win over the Angels.
Overall, Singleton looked really comfortable at the plate, and along with Springer and the rest of the players currently on the Astros, they’re already becoming a good team. But even with these talented prospects now beginning to produce for the big league team — the only true power hitters for the Astros besides Chris Carter and Matt Dominguez — it’s still going to be awhile before the Astros are making any sort of playoff run. But, thankfully, the Astros have a ton of help on the way that should transform them into a competitive team.
Making their way to Houston include prospects Carlos Correa, the first overall draft pick in 2012, Mark Appel, the first overall pick in 2013, along with Delino De Shields, Lance McCullers and Mike Foltynewicz. Each of them are part of the top 100 prospects list, and with the majority of them being future game changers, it should be interesting to see how good the Astros can become within the next few years.
With the Astros set to add yet another potential star player to their organization on Thursday night, when they receive their third straight first overall pick in the 2014 MLB draft, their prospect list continues to grow and grow. And thus, it should all spell success at some point down the road, once their key prospects reach the major leagues and begin to contribute to the recently struggling club.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Every now and again, I like to post an entry covering my baseball game plans and such for an upcoming week or two, especially when it’s going to involve a rather busy schedule. Although I try to avoid too difficult of a schedule, when several good teams come to town in a short period of time, sometimes it can’t be helped. For the next couple of weeks that’s going to be the case.
Starting on Friday, I’m going to be attending the first of what will be five minor league baseball games in two weeks, to see some of baseball’s future stars in person as well as get an autograph or two from as many of them as I can. While five games in two weeks could sound hectic — and to a certain degree it is — I have it all planned out so that everything will, hopefully, go smoothly.
Friday’s game will be my sixth MiLB game of the season so far, and my first Mudcats game of 2014. (Four of the games I’ve been to have taken place in Durham, with the other game occurring down in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.) It will be the Mudcats taking on the Pelicans, who are the High-A affiliate of the Rangers.
Though I’ve seen the Pelicans once this year, and therefore have already gotten many of the players’ autographs, I couldn’t pass up seeing them once again with the level of talent on the team. From Jorge Alfaro (their number one prospect) to Joey Gallo (who led all of the minors in home runs last season, with 40) and numerous players in between, it’s sure to be a fun game.
My next game will take place sometime during the following week (I haven’t decided the exact date yet). It will be another Mudcats game, but this time they’ll be squaring off against the Blue Rocks (Royals’ affiliate).
The Blue Rocks has its fair share of top prospects, despite them having underachieved for the most part in 2014. Including names such as Raul Mondesi, Hunter Dozier and Bubba Starling (who has unfortunately seemed lost throughout his past three minor league seasons), it’s well worth the trip out to the ballpark for another game.
Then begins the somewhat crazy week of games.
On Monday, June 2nd, I’m planning on heading over to Durham (for what will be the first time in nearly a month) to see a game against the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate, the IronPigs.
While it isn’t an overall fantastic team, with Maikel Franco (their number one prospect) being the main standout, with it being a day game, it’s sure to be an enjoyable time, as is any game. But there’s just something different about a day game (not necessarily better, just different) that’s makes the game special.
Following that game, either on Tuesday or Wednesday (just not Thursday due to the 2014 MLB draft which I plan to watch on MLB Network), I’m heading back out to the Mudcats to see the opposing White Sox affiliate, the Dash.
The Dash’s roster includes names such as Tim Anderson (their first pick in the 2013 draft), Courtney Hawkins (their first pick in the 2012 draft), and future pitching star, Tyler Danish, among a few other standouts. As a team with so much high talent, it should be an entertaining game, in addition to being a good time for autographs.
The last game in the busy two week span will take place on the following Friday, when I’m heading over to Durham once again to see the visiting Pawtucket Red Sox, who have quite the team.
Currently with a roster of five of the Sox top ten prospects, including Allen Webster, Garin Cecchini, Matt Barnes, Anthony Ranaudo and Christian Vazquez, as well as some former big leaguers, the Pawtucket team is a very good one — and one that I’m really looking forward to seeing.
That game will end the planned five games in two weeks schedule, in which it should be interesting to see how much I can add to my autograph totals for the year. Over the five games I’ve attended thus far, I’ve amassed 20 autographs, with four of those being from top 100 prospects. While I haven’t blogged about any of those games (I’ll probably be blogging about at least one of the games over the next two weeks) I’m still going to do a recap at the very end of the season, like I did last year, covering how my time went out at the ballpark in 2014.
With there still being two and a half months remaining, even after the games I’ve planned out, including the 2014 Triple-A Home Run Derby and All-Star game in July (I’ll definitely be blogging about both of those), there’s going to be a ton of opportunities to add to my overall autograph totals.
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.
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?
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.
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 make 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.
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.
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.