Results tagged ‘ MiLB ’

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.

Q and A With Cody Asche

Cody Asche was drafted by the Phillies in the 4th round of the 2011 draft. Since the draft, Asche has had a good deal of success, flying through the minor leagues — never spending a full season at any one level — and making his Major League Baseball debut in July of 2013.Untitled

After somewhat of a disappointing professional baseball debut in 2011, where he batted .192 with 2 home runs and 19 RBI’s in 78 games, Asche began climbing through the ranks at the start of the 2012 season.

In 2012, Asche posted a batting average of .324 with 12 homers and 72 RBI’s, between High-A and Double-A, before finishing out the year in Arizona as a member of the annual Arizona Fall League.

Following the great season, Asche recorded 15 home runs and 68 RBI’s the next year, to go along with a .295 batting average, earning him a callup to the majors after the All-Star break. In 50 games with the Phillies, before the end of the 2013 season, Asche blasted 5 homers and drove in 22 runs, proving why he was able to make it there so quickly.

Heading into what’s going to be Asche’s first full season in the major leagues, Asche should continue to get better and better as he gains experience, and will likely be playing the hot corner in Philadelphia for years to come.

Cody Asche — third baseman for the Phillies — 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 would say really young, around five to six. I loved playing it in the backyard with my brother and my dad. So they have to be the two who influenced me the most.

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

Ken Griffey Jr. He was a superstar. He did it all and played the game the right way.

3.) You were drafted by the Phillies in the 4th round of the 2011 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

It was very stressful. Not knowing what lies ahead can be stressful, especially when you are trying to play a college season. I found out in my kitchen. We had the draft audio on and my mom and dad were with me when my name was called. Initially, thoughts were excitement, and happiness that the process was over.

4.) After getting drafted, you were assigned to Single-A and placed at second base. Having played third base up until that point, you didn’t have a very successful (half) season. However, in 2012, you were moved back to third, and did very well. Having excelled ever since, what is it about third base that makes you more comfortable?

I’m not sure it’s only third that made me feel comfortable. I think it was more just learning the ropes and getting comfortable in pro ball. Hitting wise, success is all about comfort. When you struggle it’s because something doesn’t feel right and you aren’t comfortable. So after the first year I worked on some things to help improve that, and I have been able to do well since.

5.) Your great 2012 season was capped off with an invitation to the Arizona Fall League, where you once again posted good numbers, earning you a spot on the Western Division roster of the Rising Stars game. What was that experience like? What did you take away from it?

The Arizona Fall League was awesome. I was fortunate enough to be a guy that got to play four days a week down there, so I could really work on my game. I definitely credit that time period for setting me up for a good 2013 campaign.

6.) Starting the 2013 season at Triple-A, you made your major league debut in July. What kind of emotions did you experience during your debut?

Emotions were crazy. Trying to hold back tears seeing your parents in the stands for the first time was tough, then playing on top of that made it a little crazy to start. But that is all part of it. I think the phone call I got to make to my parents the day I was called up was the most memorable part of making it up last year.

7.) What’s it like playing under Ryne Sandberg (a baseball Hall of Famer)?

He’s a great person. I think that stands out to me the most. It seems like he sincerely cares about the players, and especially myself. I think all managers have a way of showing that to their players.

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

I think in 2013 I was able to improve a ton. That’s what I really care about, just improving on a daily basis. As far as 2014 is concerned, I would like to be healthy and keep learning and finding my niche on the team so I can contribute to a winner in Philly.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

TV show: Parks and Recreation. Food: Chicken parm.

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

Don’t sell yourself short. No matter what position or level you are at, keep faith and confidence in yourself and keep improving. Never lose your own self confidence. ——————————————————————————————————————————————

Big thanks to Cody Asche for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @cody_smasche

Baseball Returns With Spring Training Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New MLB Rule Attempts to Rid Home Plate Collisions

You’ve seen it a hundred times: A player rounds third, heading for home; a strong throw from the outfield beats him to the plate; and the runner finds himself confronted with a catcher blocking his path, leaving him with no other choice but to plow over the catcher in hopes of dislodging the ball and subsequently being called safe. But due to a new rule (rule 7.13) instituted by Major League Baseball on Monday, you may never see that again.

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An agreement to form some kind of rule to prevent home plate collisions was formed back in December at the Winter Meetings, however, it wasn’t until Monday that an official rule was released highlighting what will be allowed and what will not in 2014 (and beyond if the rule is successful).

The official rule is as follows:

A runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate). If, in the judgment of the umpire, a runner attempting to score initiates contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate) in such a manner, the umpire shall declare the runner out (even if the player covering home plate loses possession of the ball). In such circumstances, the umpire shall call the ball dead, and all other base runners shall return to the last base touched at the time of the collision.

Rule 7.13 comment: The failure by the runner to make an effort to touch the plate, the runner’s lowering of the shoulder, or the runner’s pushing through with his hands, elbows or arms, would support a determination that the runner deviated from the pathway in order to initiate contact with the catcher in violation of Rule 7.13. If the runner slides into the plate in an appropriate manner, he shall not be adjudged to have violated Rule 7.13. A slide shall be deemed appropriate, in the case of a feet first slide, if the runner’s buttocks and legs should hit the ground before contact with the catcher. In the case of a head first slide, a runner shall be deemed to have slid appropriately if his body should hit the ground before contact with the catcher.

Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the umpire, the catcher without possession of the ball blocks the pathway of the runner, the umpire shall call or signal the runner safe. Notwithstanding the above, it shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 7.13 if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in order to field a throw, and the umpire determines that the catcher could not have fielded the ball without blocking the pathway of the runner and that contact with the runner was unavoidable.

While the rule will take some time to get used to, for both the players and the umpires, for the most part, it’s being accepted around the baseball world. Nearly everyone agrees that the major injury to Buster Posey back in 2011 likely began the discussion for a rule of this buster-posey3nature to be put into place, and Posey’s manager, Bruce Bochy, has been one of the biggest advocators. Not wanting to lose a player of Posey’s magnitude in such a way again, Bochy made the statement in response to the new rule that he’s “all for it”.

However, some people aren’t completely on board, including Brewers’ catcher, Jonathan Lucroy, saying, “I’m a conservative-type guy. I like keeping things the way they are, although I do understand where they’re coming from . . . I understand the importance of [avoiding] concussions. I get it. It’s just really hard to break old habits.”

But the executive director of the MLB Players’ Association, Tony Clark, stands by the new rule. “We believe the new experimental rule allows for the play at the plate to retain its place as one of the most exciting plays in the game while providing an increased level of protection to both the runner and the catcher,” said Clark on Monday. “We will monitor the rule closely this season before discussing with the Commissioner’s Office whether the rule should become permanent.”

For me, I’m not fully for or against the rule. Collision plays at the plate can be extremely exciting, especially when it’s the potential game winning run, but I also don’t like seeing anyone get injured on an avoidable play. Although I feel that catchers have done a fantastic job in the last few years of making an attempt to move out of the base runners path and instead use a swipe tag for the out, this new rule will go a long way in ensuring that a rogue player with an altercation to settle doesn’t get away with going out of their way to knock over a catcher. I’m certainly all for that.

Q and A With Mark Appel

Mark Appel was drafted out of high school by the Tigers in the 15th round of the 2009 draft. However, due to his commitment to Stanford University, Appel didn’t sign, and instead went to pitch at college.

At Standford, Appel began as a relief pitcher, only receiving three starts his freshman year, where he posted a 5.92 ERA over 38 innings. Once he was made a full time starter again the next season, Appel excelled, lowering his ERA down to 3.02 for the year. In his junior year of college, after he went 10-2 with a 2.56 ERA, Appel was once again drafted, this time by the Pirates as the eighth overall pick. Many felt that Appel would begin his professional baseball career, but he decided to return to college to finish out his baseball career (and degree) at Stanford.

BBM-BeesvQCBandits-Appel-118Despite some flak from people around the baseball world for returning to college, Appel showed just how good of a pitcher he is, improving to have his best season at Stanford; setting the all-time collective strikeout record, in which he went 10-4 with a 2.12 ERA. After such a successful final year, Appel was drafted yet again, for the third time, by the Astros as the first overall pick in the 2013 draft.

Beginning his professional baseball career with Low-A Tri-City, Appel made it up to Single-A Quad Cities in 2013, going a combined 3-1 with a 3.79 ERA. Due to the 106 innings Appel had already pitched in 2013 at Stanford, he was shut down after just 38 professional innings pitched, bringing his innings up to roughly 144 for the season.

Appel has an average, to slightly above average, fastball, ranging from the lower to mid nineties, but he can crank it up to upper nineties when needed. He also possesses a good slider and a work in progress changeup that many think will come along.

Heading into his first major league Spring Training, it’s been reported that Appel could, potentially, make the big leagues out of camp “if he is one of the best five pitchers out of Spring Training”. However, as many people feel, it will likely be later in 2014, or early 2015, when Houston — his hometown — gets its first glimpse of Appel. But no matter when that is, with all of the other top prospects in the Astros’ farm system, the future would appear to be bright for them as an organization moving forward, with Appel soon to be leading the way.

Mark Appel — top pitching prospect in the Astros’ 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 first became interested in baseball when I was very young. For as long as I can remember, I have been playing some version of the sport. Growing up, my parents, as well as certain coaches throughout the years, really influenced me and encouraged me to pursue my dream of playing baseball as a way to educate myself in college and professionally.

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

Nolan Ryan was one of the all-time great pitchers and the player I looked up to the most as far as what I wanted to be on the field. He was a fierce competitor who gave his all every single time he got the ball. He competed no matter the score, circumstance, or previous result. Win or lose, you knew he was going to go out and compete again the next time he got the ball.

3.) You were drafted by the Astros 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?

The draft process is very interesting. As someone who has gone through it three different times in three unique situations, I feel like I have seen it all. Someone expected to get drafted goes through “interviews”, both on and off the field. In my situation, I spoke with general managers and scouting directors, as well as the local area scouts. Answering their questions off the field is important for their evaluation process so they can have a good understanding of the type of person you are. But the factor that matters most is the results on the field — how good you are at playing baseball.

The Astros and I had a number of conversations leading up to the draft and on the day of the draft, as well as a few other teams. When the time came for the pick to be made, I felt peace in knowing that I would be exactly where God wanted me to be, whether it was Houston or another team. Bud Selig announced my name and my friends and family who came to visit California (I was preparing for graduation the following week) all celebrated! It was a surreal feeling, knowing that I would be able to have a chance to play in my hometown and the team I grew up rooting for was now the same organization I was a part of. God’s grace is too great.

4.) Before being the number one overall pick in 2013, you were drafted by the Tigers in 2009, and the Pirates, eighth overall, in 2012. What made you decide to attend college instead of going pro out of high school? Why did you decide to return for your senior year at Stanford in 2012 after the Pirates drafted you so high?  

Like I said, I have been drafted three times and each were unique situations.

appelIn high school the Tigers drafted me in the 15th round, even though I told all the area scouts I spoke with that I was planning on attending Stanford. Dreaming about being a pro baseball player, it was fun to entertain the thought of signing as a senior in high school, but I knew that Stanford was where I needed to be for my future, both in baseball and in life. Unsure if I was ready to play minor league baseball, I knew college would allow me to grow up, become a man, and still play baseball at a very high level.

In 2012 the Pirates drafted me with the 8th pick in the draft. The decision to return to school for my senior season was the toughest I have ever had to make. There are a number of factors that go into a decision of that magnitude: baseball development and career, education, regrets (I will explain this one later), desires, and money. Also, as a follower of Jesus, relationships with my coaches, teammates and fans, combined with being a part of what God is doing in this world, is very important to me.

For the baseball development, I did not see an advantage to either signing or returning to school. Development really comes down to how badly you want to get better as a player. I knew that I would be able to improve both at Stanford and in the Pirates’ organization. As far as education went, it was a no-brainer to return to school. Playing my senior year allowed me to finish my degree in Management Science and Engineering. As far as regrets go, when I made my decision, I did not want to have any regrets. I didn’t want to spend my idle time thinking about what it would have been like if I chose the other option. Going back to Stanford meant I would have a chance to play in Omaha (which we didn’t achieve), finish my degree before starting a professional career, and continue to be involved in campus ministries that I had been involved with the past three years.

Those are some things that I would have wondered about a lot if I had signed. When it came down to it, money out of the question, I wanted to go back to school, not for the lack of things signing professionally had to offer (which wasn’t much), but for the mlb_a_appel_cr_400opportunities I had during my senior year at Stanford.

But, as everyone knows, money was involved. And it was a lot of money. There are two somewhat conflicting things going on with my situation. On one hand, I was offered a lot of money, and I mean a lot. And on the other hand, I wasn’t offered what I believed my value for my talents was in the draft market under the current rules. So do I stick to principle and go back to school, or do I chase the money and sign? It was a tough question to comprehend.

There are financial benefits to both options, as well as financial risks (well, maybe there were only risks for returning to school). If money was the most important thing to me, I would have signed 100 percent. I knew by returning to school, I would give up 3.8 million dollars. I also knew there were a few things that could go wrong: injury and underperformance were the two main risks. I also knew there were benefits: education, relationships, the opportunity to get better, and a potential financial gain. The thing most people don’t realize is that I had zero regrets. No matter the outcome of my senior season and the draft that followed, I would have been extremely happy with the decision.

As confirmation that I was exactly where God wanted me to be, within the first two weeks of being back at school four members from the Stanford baseball team had accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior through the team bible study! It was so cool to be a part of the work of the Holy Spirit!

5.) In your senior year of high school, you were a part time relief pitcher and didn’t become a full time starter again until your sophomore year of college. Having been both a starting and relief pitcher, which did you find more challenging?

Both relieving and starting have their challenges. I have much more experience as a starter, and at higher levels of competition, I have only started. Personally, I think the difference is the mentality and routine. A reliever needs to mentally prepare himself to pitch 1-2 innings every single night, in general. A starter must prepare mentally to pitch five or more innings once every five days. The two are difficult to compare. With that being said, I would say that starting has been more challenging for me, probably due to the difference in talent level between high school and college, but also because there is so much to learn as a starter. I feel like I learn something new every single day.

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?

Life on the road can be very difficult. There are many things that, as a Christian, I need to prepare for. Wherever you go, you will have decisions to make from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed that will affect both how you play and how your teammates see you — as a man of integrity or a hypocrite. From how I spend my time in the hotel room to where I go and what I do after the games, there will be temptations of various kinds; whether it is alcohol, drugs, etc. For me, reading is something that I enjoy doing, starting with the Bible, but also books for entertainment purposes. Reading engages the mind to learn and grow, especially when playing baseball every day can get repetitive and mundane at times.

Spending time with teammates is a great way to spend your free time. These are the guys that you hope to win a championship with, and in my opinion, the better the team knows and respects each other off the field the more we will play together as a unit. I also believe that building relationships is the first step to discipleship, what Jesus has called us to do as believers. Coming along side people and meeting them where they are, encouraging them and building them up, investing in their lives speaks a lot louder than just telling them about an alternative lifestyle through knowing Jesus that would be better for them. Actions always speak louder than words.

7.) The Astros haven’t been doing well lately, finishing with over 100 losses the past two seasons, but they have great talent down in their farm system. With players such as yourself, Carlos Correa and George Springer, among others, how do you see the teamMark Appel faring over the next few years?

Being a part of the Astros’ organization is an incredible blessing. Not only are they my hometown team, but I believe they are a team that will be good quickly and good for a long time. Buying in to the system now and getting to know all the players right now will build a foundation for the future of the organization at the big league level.

I believe that the Astros will be the most improved team this year, and will continue to improve year after year. As we develop and add new players to the major league team, the chances we win more and more games only increases.

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

My 2013 pro season was great. I’m not necessarily pleased with the end of year statistics as a whole, but I do believe I continued to improve and to learn about professional baseball and what to expect for my 2014 season.

This season my goals are simply to work as hard as I can every single day and allow God to take care of the rest. I am not going to worry about which level I start out at or when I make it to Houston this year (if at all). The great thing about being a disciple of Jesus is knowing that wherever I am in life, I have purpose and there is work to be done for the kingdom of God. Don’t get me wrong, I am going to work with all that I have in order to reach the big leagues, but while I’m working, I’m not going to worry, and I’ll have some fun!

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

Favorite TV show: Currently, ‘Parks and Recreation’. I can really identify with Ron Swanson. Favorite food: Steak.

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

My advice to kids hoping to play pro ball is to work hard in school, first and foremost. Secondly, have fun while you are playing. Don’t let the fun of the game be overshadowed by the worry and fear of not achieving the goals that you have for yourself. Baseball is a fun game, and I have seen too many players in college and pro ball not enjoy it because they want to be the best so badly that their desire for perfection has removed the joy they once had while playing the game. Don’t lose that childlike spirit.

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Big thanks to Mark Appel for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @MAppel26

Pay Increase, Stat Decrease for Some In 2014

Money talks. That was proven time and time again this offseason.

As usually happens, nine times out of ten, the team that offers a player the most amount of money will acquire the prized player; no matter if that team won the World Series the previous year or finished dead last. Offer a player more than any other team and you’ll likely have him on your squad for the next year, and even beyond in some cases.

There’s no better example of that from this offseason than the Mariners landing Robinson Cano on a 10-year, 240 million dollar contract, increasing his pay from the 15 million he earned with the Yankees in 2013 all the way up to 24 million for t131212_cano_signs_lghe next 10 seasons. While the Mariners undoubtedly overpaid for Cano, no other team offered him as much, and therefore he will play 81 games (assuming he doesn’t get injured) up in Seattle in 2014.

But that could mean a noticeable statistic drop for Cano this season.

Safeco Field is known for not being a home run friendly park. Cano goes from Yankee Stadium, with a short right field porch great for lefties like himself, where he blasted 25 or more home runs each of the past five seasons (given, not all of those were at Yankee Stadium), to Safeco field, where many are predicting that his numbers will fall. While I’m not saying that Cano is going to be a flop in Seattle — he’s far too good for that — I do believe that 2014 could be a slightly down year by his standards.

Curtis Granderson is another example of a player whose stats could tumble in 2014.

Although he was injured a lot this past season, Granderson launched over 40 home runs the previous two years, and while he usually doesn’t post a high batting average, he can be a big part of any team. But I’m not sure he can amass the same type of numbers at Citi Field, where he will spend the next 4 years in which he’ll take in 60 million dollars, as he did at Yankee Stadium. Like Cano, Granderson is losing the home run hitting paradise for a lefty at Yankee Stadium and is entering a pitcher’s ballpark. Moving across town, Granderson could have a good, but not amazing (like previous seasons), 2014.

Jhonny Peralta could also wind up being a disappointment.

Peralta’s drop in production won’t likely come from a ballpark change, but rather the fact that players coming of a performance enhancing drug suspension, such as the one Peralta served in 2013, don’t historically do all that well; such as Melky Cabrera in 2013. Getting an increased pay of over 9 million dollars for next year, there is a lot of controversy surrounding Peralta this coming season, as many people feel he didn’t deserve that kind of contract after he was found to have used PED’s. Nonetheless, Peralta will spend 2014 with the Cardinals, where it will be interesting to see if he performs as hoped.

But the whole increased pay leading to decreased stats doesn’t hold true for every player.

Some players could actually benefit greatly from a change in venue — Jacoby Ellsbury more than possibly anyone else.

Ellsbury will be part of the Yankees for the next 7 seasons, after signing a 153 million dollar contract this offseason. That comes out to an increase in pay from 9 million in 2013 to 21 million this season, and I believe, although the Yankees overpaid for him, Ellsbury will go a long way in helping the team in 2014 and beyond. I don’t think Ellsbury will have a season such as the one he put together in 2011, with 32 homers and 105 RBI’s, however, I do think he’ll improve from the 9 home runs and 53 RBI’s last season, with the aid of the short porch in right field. If he can merely stay healthy — that being a problem for him over his career — Ellsbury could really amass some great stats and have a big impact on the Yankees’ season.

jacoby-ellsbury-brian-mccannBrian McCann, being a lefty like Ellsbury, could also have a breakout season.

After somewhat of a down year in 2013 — though, he still hit 20 home runs, for the sixth straight season — McCann should be able to put together a great season; and that’s exactly what the Yankees need him to do. Having received a five million dollar pay raise from last season, McCann’s stats should go up a bit in 2014, and therefore he could easily turn out to be one of the top five most valuable Yankees this season. Though you never know how a player will perform, I’d say it’s a safe bet to say that McCann’s presence will be felt all throughout 2014.

Last on my list is Shin-Soo Choo, but he’s definitely not least.

Choo put together a fantastic 2013 season, and he was awarded for his efforts during the offseason, getting a 7-year, 130 million dollar contract, nearly doubling his salary from what he received last season. Choo isn’t a guy that’s going to hit you 30 or more home runs, knock in 100 runs, or steal 40 bases, but he is a natural at getting on base. Walking 112 times last season, Choo posted a .423 on base percentage in 2013, and that makes him extremely valuable to any club. Choo should once again post the same type of numbers, if not better, in 2014.

Which of these players will have to better year? Leave a comment below.

February Blogging Plans

I don’t really like to do too many of these type of blog posts. They mainly just serve as fillers when I have nothing else to blog about (like right now), but I suppose they’re also good, in a way, as they let you all know what to expect in the coming month.

As I’m sure you’re aware, today is the first day of February — a month that brings baseball, once again, in the form of Spring Training games. While I’m, unfortunately, not going to be heading down to any games in person, I am going to be blogging about it all, and in addition, am going to be giving my predictions for the coming season between now and the start on March 22nd. (Most of the predictions will come in March, however.)

My first planned post for this month (after this one) will cover the through the mail (TTM) autograph requests I’m sending out to players at the different MLB camps. I did the same thing last year, and have been sending out autograph requests for the past few seasons, so I always enjoy talking about it. (I’ll also be posting an update periodically whenever I receive two or three autographs back, whenever that may be.)

After that, things should pick up a bit — including the amount of baseball news.

I have an interview with the 2013 number one overall draft pick, Mark Appel, coming up this month, which is probably one of the most interesting interviews I’ve every done. It was apparent that Appel put a lot of effort into the questions, as he had a ton to say with each answer. (I always appreciate it when guys do that.)

I’ll probably do another interview — more than likely with Phillies third baseman, Cody Asche — towards the end of the month. That’ll leave just one more month (March) with interviews. I’ll be posting either one or two, depending on a few factors that I won’t discuss now.

Other than the interviews, I’ll just be writing about the baseball news as it happens.

Keep in mind, none of this is set in stone. I may rearrange things, or exclude them altogether. It’s just a basic outline to give an overall idea of what to expect in the coming month.

With so many players switching teams in the offseason, and the newcomers such as Masahiro Tanaka making their first official appearance with their teams, it should be an interesting next few weeks.

Spring Training games are now just over three weeks away . . . .

Q and A With Tyler Pike

Tyler Pike was drafted by the Mariners in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft. Since the draft, after forgoing a scholarship from Florida State University by signing out of high school, Pike has put together a couple of good years, going a combined 9-5 with a 2.18 ERA g258000000000000000592177d2aa97fa2f9d62b665955b2b58f948e88csince making his professional debut.

In 2013, Pike went 7-4 with a 2.37 ERA over the course of 22 games started, holding the opposition’s batting average to a mere .194, and earning him a spot on the Midwest League All-Star Game Western Division roster.

Despite an average arsenal of pitches — fastball, curveball, changeup — Pike is able to use all three effectively, leading many to believe that Pike could be on a fairly quick path to the majors, should things continue to go smoothly for him.

At just 20 years old, Pike is still young and has plenty of time to develop into the major league quality starting pitcher many feel he can become. Even so, it’s likely that Pike will be making his debut up in Seattle sometime in the next year or two, if all goes well.

Tyler Pike — top 10 prospect in the Mariners’ 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?

Ever since I could walk my dad put a ball in my hand, and baseball has never left me since then. My dad was definitely my biggest influence growing up. He pretty much taught me the game and how to play it, and he also played pro ball for a little. So he’s always been my idol.

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

Even though I’m a pitcher now, I never had a favorite pitcher, but my favorite player was Ken Griffey Jr. I just was in awe of his athleticism and how hard he played the game. Without his injuries, he was the best player to ever play, in my opinion.

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

It was a long process, stretching back to almost a year before I was drafted; playing in front of scouts in tournaments and showcases. I was at my house during the draft, with a couple of my friends, and the Mariners initially told me they were going to draft me in the 6th round. So in the 3rd round I was watching to see who they were going to draft, and my name popped up. I was very surprised, along with my friends. My parent weren’t even home. It was truly a great feeling, and a moment I’ll never forget. Then, later that night, I graduated high school. Great day in my book.

4.) You had originally planned on attending Florida State University before deciding to sign with the Mariners instead. What ultimately made you choose to go ahead and begin your baseball career?

It came down to wanting to start my career and dream job early, not having to wait, and with the money they offered me, I just couldn’t turn it down. I love FSU and all the baseball coaches, and still talk to them every once in awhile. It was definitely a difficult decision.

5.) It would seem that going from high school straight to professional baseball would be fairly challenging, but you have had a good deal of success so far. What has enabled you to make the easy transition? What’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed between professional baseball and the level of baseball you had played up until that point?

It was definitely hard at first, just being away from home and not being comfortable and things. But once you’re on the field none of that crosses my mind. You can’t let outside things bother you while you play. Just block it out and focus on the task at hand. The biggest difference was knowing that everyone can play at the pro level. They got drafted for a reason. You can’t take anyone lightly. Have to play hard every pitch.

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?

Life on the road isn’t all that bad. The long bus rides aren’t that fun, but you’re pretty much at the field all day, so it’s just baseball, baseball, baseball. We usually just watch TV or talk about baseball to pass the time. On off days we would sometimes go fishing or just hangout and cookout as a team.

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

I pretty much didn’t look at my stats at all. Stats are just a number, they don’t tell you a lot. You have to watch someone pitch to tell if they’re really good or not.

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

A lot went well in 2013. I worked hard on and off the field, pitched pretty well, and had a great time. 2014 brings another year and a lot of new challenges. I’ll be ready for whatever comes my way.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

My favorite TV show is ‘The Walking Dead’, and my favorite food is a good plate of spaghetti.

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

Never give up, and trust that The Lord has a plan for you, whatever it may be.  Just work your hardest and everything will take care of itself. (“Jesus said to them, ‘If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.'” – Mark 9:23)

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Big thanks to Tyler Pike for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @tpike10

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